Alex123 wrote:Rather his explanation was that speculative metaphysical views are irrelevant (and perhaps an obstacle) to the actual path.
This has tended to be my reading of that section in MN 2, as well. In terms of anatta, the 'a-' seemed to be functioning as the 'a-' in atheism, such that it meant atta as a topic was wholly set aside, pro and con alike.
On the other hand... sakkaya-ditthi and asmimana are fetters, so if anatta is taken to cover these two fettering aspects of experience then I think we might want to consider anatta as covering more than a simple rejection of metaphysics.
In reading Greater Magadha
by Bronkhorst, I find some interesting suggestions. He suggests that the twin ideas of [a] kammic retribution and [b] rebirth were cultural aspects of Greater Magadha, and that the Buddha's renunciate contemporaries would have primarily been dealing with related soteriological issues.
Some folk took an approach that dealt with [a] kamma specifically, such as the Jains who felt that you had to burn up old kamma and stop new kamma. The Ajivikas (may have) agreed that kamma did have to come to an end, but that there was no practice as such that would change the timeline over which this happened; they seem to have encouraged patient endurance, if anything.
But others may have approached the problem of [b] rebirth by saying that a special knowledge of a Self that was beyond kamma was the liberating notion, and coming to know the Self for oneself was the way beyond infinite rebirths. While this sort of talk is altogether absent from the Vedas, it forms important parts of the Upanisads. Bronkhorst builds up an argument for this idea, but it's not clear-cut.
Brahmins, by contrast, would have been concerned with ritual purity and other complex cosmological soteriologies, but without kamma and rebirth as central (or even present) ideas; perhaps this is why they come in for special ridicule, as their metaphysics were culturally distant as well as being non-Buddhist.
The Buddha additionally said that kamma was only one among many causative possibilities, while the other groups tended to think of kamma as the single responsible factor. He also described kamma in mental terms rather than in the prevailing physical context.
It may be the case that anatta as a term for us ought to refer to the twin fetters of sakkaya-ditthi and asmimana which are otherwise taken to be givens (Western phenomenology tends to treat them as such, at any rate).
Otherwise, the point of anatta seems to be that there is no Self that is apart from conditionality such that knowledge of that Self would free one from rebirth and kamma (conditional/-ing processes). But since almost no one talks like that these days in the West, some of the Canonical discussions about anatta may simply no longer be applicable, perhaps even unnecessarily confusing...