Using the Upanishads to see non-self

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Using the Upanishads to see non-self

Postby nem » Wed Feb 20, 2013 1:48 am

All,

After studying and practicing the Bhudda's dhamma for some time now, I had been stopped at the point of not "seeing" non-self. On a whim, I decided to read the Upanishads merely to understand the Hindu tradition, and maybe know more about the traditions pre-dating and related to the Bhudda's dhamma. The Upanishads, contrary to the Dhamma, are a celebration of self, an invocation to find the self, a Supreme Self, becoming one with reality. However, through reading the Upanishads I came to understand better what the concept of Self implies and means, what the Bhudda meant about not-self, and how acceptance of a real concept of Self is intrinsically tied up with craving for this Self, and suffering results due to volitional action of chasing after this elusive self. Perhaps this all links into dependent origination, it is hard to know.

So, the purpose of this message is to encourage fellow practitioners to study and contemplate the Upanishads, and see what understanding you can gain about the Self, and self as Brahman, as reality, and contemplate the implications of that. I have found it to be of great benefit in my personal practice. The concept that arose during meditation, was of my birth, naming, crying and the response of others to that crying, this level of interaction. Thereafter. I could see that my "I, me, mine" arose from the conditions at birth, for example, the response of others to my crying perhaps cemented my perception of a self, and it went forward from there, the ego being formed from this chain of causation. "I" can find the irony, in having gained better understanding of non-self, by studying a different tradition that seems to have wrong view according to the Dhamma. May be as they say, the Dhamma is everywhere. On some level, I get the sense that the stories told by the Upanishads, although seemingly teaching contrary to the Dhamma, maybe it does not teach wrong view, but only explain one facet of the Dhamma. Perhaps the Bhudda understood this and took the concept of Brahman and Atman, and understood that when followed to the end, it is empty of anything that could be related to, in the sense of "exists or does not exist."

That is what "I" got from the Upanishads. To read these Hindu texts, seems beneficial for the insight that they offer into self, for the better understanding of non-self. As much as the Upanishads encouraged unification of the ego with the ultimate self, the Dhamma practice inclines us toward dropping any concept of this. So maybe to drop self, it's useful to understand the concept of self and then look for where this concept lies in our own minds.

-metta
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Re: Using the Upanishads to see non-self

Postby Sylvester » Thu Feb 21, 2013 4:32 am

I think it's pretty important to contextualise the Buddha's teachings, be it concerning non-self or critiques of other Vedic/Upanishadic beliefs. For one, I don't believe it is possible to contextualise MN 1 without reading the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, especially Cap III, 6th Brahmana, where the elements, Prajapati and Brahma are discussed. The Upanishads also throw a different light on how we should interpret some Buddhist concepts, eg the word "sabbaṃ" (the All). In its Buddhist sense, it refers to what the Buddha limited to the enumerations in SN 35.23. This was surely in reaction towards the Upanishadic "sarva", the theories of which we see criticised in SN 12.15 (but often confused with the Sarvastivadin idea of "sarvam asti" instead).

The problem lies in dating - which text can we be certain that the Buddha was encountering in His time? The class of Upanishadic literature developed over a long time frame, and scholars are fairly confident of the Buddha's acquaintance with only several texts. Should the later Upanishadic content inform our interpretation of "self" as recorded in the early suttas?
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Re: Using the Upanishads to see non-self

Postby IanAnd » Fri Feb 22, 2013 4:47 am

nem wrote:To read these Hindu texts, seems beneficial for the insight that they offer into self, for the better understanding of non-self. As much as the Upanishads encouraged unification of the ego with the ultimate self, the Dhamma practice inclines us toward dropping any concept of this. So maybe to drop self, it's useful to understand the concept of self and then look for where this concept lies in our own minds.

Whatever works [to help clarify], works.

To borrow the words of our Zen brethren: The sound of one hand clapping.

Sadhu! :namaste:
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: Using the Upanishads to see non-self

Postby ancientbuddhism » Fri Feb 22, 2013 10:26 pm

Sylvester wrote:The problem lies in dating - which text can we be certain that the Buddha was encountering in His time? The class of Upanishadic literature developed over a long time frame, and scholars are fairly confident of the Buddha's acquaintance with only several texts. Should the later Upanishadic content inform our interpretation of "self" as recorded in the early suttas?


There is substantial evidence that the Buddha (and his adherents) was familiar with early Upaniṣadic concepts, specifically found in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka and Chandogya Upaniṣads; whereas the later Upaniṣadic material, specifically the Kaṭha Upaniṣad, contained material polemical to early Buddhist thought.
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

A Handful of Leaves
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Re: Using the Upanishads to see non-self

Postby Sylvester » Sat Feb 23, 2013 4:47 am

Thanks Bhante. Yup, those were the 2 texts I was thinking of, in terms of what scholars are certain the Buddha was familiar with,
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Re: Using the Upanishads to see non-self

Postby nem » Sat Feb 23, 2013 6:08 am

Thanks for clarifying some of this background regarding the timeline. In my practice, it seems beneficial to apply and practice by comparing Therevada teachings to alternative teachings. The Bhudda asked us to verify. Canki sutta MN 95 is very useful, in providing an objective way to evaluate the Bhudda and other teachers. Section 18 "Are there in this venerable one states based on hate..that lead to their harm and suffering for a long time.." Although the Upanishads do not teach from hate, they are teaching the search for self which certainly does lead to our harm and suffering for a long time, because where is this self? We live our lives, possibly many times, with the suffering of longing to find it, and never find it. Ajahn Chah and Krishnamurti seemed to have the understanding as did the Bhudda. They taught that there was no Ajahn Chan, there was no Krishnamurti, just name and form. Studying these teachers, also seems beneficial. I had studied teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, who says that there is no difference between the observed and the observer, they are the same. This comes back to non-self. But I never understood until I listened to Krishnamurti speaking on the observer of violence, the perpetrator, the violence being the same thing. It's wonderful that we have so many teachers, thinking from different perspectives and we can study them to arrive at the truth.
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