The closest Thanissaro’s ever come to defining “soul” has been done tongue-in-cheek. When he was young, he conceived of “the soul” as “a glowing piece of leather in a dark space”--(see second reference below).
Pepper is not a very astute observer, or at least has extremely poor contextualizing skills. From the blog the OP cites, he says:
In his essay “No-self or Not-self?” he [Thanissaro] makes it clear that his understanding of the teaching of anatta is that there is, in fact, an eternal soul....
However, in his essay, “The Not-self strategy
, Thanissaro says exactly the opposite
The dimension of non-differentiation, although it may not be described, may be realized through direct experience.
Monks, that sphere is to be realized where the eye (vision) stops and the perception (mental noting) of form fades. That sphere is to be realized where the ear stops and the perception of sound fades... where the nose stops and the perception of odor fades... where the tongue stops and the perception of flavor fades... where the body stops and the perception of tactile sensation fades... where the intellect stops and the perception of idea/phenomenon fades: That sphere is to be realized.
— S xxxv.116
Although this last passage indicates that there is a sphere to be experienced beyond the six sensory spheres, it should not be taken as a "higher self." This point is brought out in the Great Discourse on Causation, where the Buddha classifies all theories of the self into four major categories: those describing a self which is either (a) possessed of form (a body) & finite; (b) possessed of form & infinite; (c) formless & finite; and (d) formless & infinite. The text gives no examples of the various categories, but we might cite the following as illustrations: (a) theories which deny the existence of a soul, and identify the self with the body; (b) theories which identify the self with all being or with the universe; (c) theories of discrete, individual souls; (d) theories of a unitary soul or identity immanent in all things. He then goes on to reject all four categories” (my bold).
Pepper evidently also overlooked Thanissaro’s book Selves & Not-Self: The Buddha’s Teachings on Anatta
, where (in chapter 2) he clarifies his views on “the soul”:
None of these interpretations fit in with the Buddha's actual teachings, or his actual approach to the question of whether there is or is not a self. They misrepresent the Buddha both for formal reasons — the fact that they give an analytical answer to a question the Buddha put aside — and for reasons of content: They don't fit in with what the Buddha actually had to say on the topic of self and not-self.
For example, with the first misinterpretation — that the Buddha is denying the cosmic self found in the Upanishads — it turns out that the Upanishads contain many different views of the self, and the Buddha himself gives an analysis of those different kinds [DN 15]. He finds four main varieties. One is that the self has a form and is finite — for example, that your self is your conscious body and will end when the body dies. The second type is that the self has a form and is infinite — for example, the view that the self is equal to the cosmos. The third type is that the self is formless and finite. This is similar to the Christian idea of the soul: It doesn't have a shape, and its range is limited. The fourth view is that the self is formless and infinite — for example, the belief that the self is the infinite spirit or energy that animates the cosmos.
The Buddha says that each of these four varieties of self-theory comes in three different modes as to when and how the self is that way. One is that the self already is that way. Another is that the self naturally changes to be that way — for example, when you fall asleep or when you die. The third is that the self is changeable through the will. In other words, through meditation and other practices you can change the nature of your self — for example, from being finite to being infinite.
Multiply the four varieties of self by their three modes, and you have twelve types of theories about the self. All of these theories the Buddha rejects. He doesn't agree with any of them, because they all involve clinging, which is something you have to comprehend and let go. This means that his not-self teaching is not just negating specific types of self — such as a cosmic self, a permanent self, or an ordinary individual self. It negates every imaginable way of defining the self....
[A]ll of these ways of creating a self can be analyzed down to the five aggregates: form, feeling, perception, fabrication, and consciousness. The Buddha doesn't say that these aggregates are what your self is; they're simply the raw materials from which you create your sense of self [SN 22.99].
As he notes, you can create four different kinds of self out of each of these aggregates. Take the form of the body as an example. (1) You can equate the aggregate with your self — for example, you can say that your body is your self. (2) You can also say that your self possesses that aggregate — for example, that you have a self that possesses a body. (3) You could also have the idea that your self is inside that aggregate — for example, that you have a self inside the body. A few years back, I got into a discussion with my older brother about how we had visualized the soul back when we were children. We both imagined that it was something inside the body, but we had different ideas about what it looked like. Mine was less imaginative. Because the English word "soul" sounds like "sole," the bottom of your shoe, I thought my soul looked like a glowing piece of leather in a dark space. However, my brother was more imaginative. His soul looked like a rusty can with an iron rod stuck in it. Where he got that image, I have no idea.
At any rate, those are examples of a self conceived of as being inside the body, the third way you could define a soul around the aggregate of form. (4) The fourth way that you can create a sense of self around an aggregate is to say that the aggregate lies inside your self. For example, you have a cosmic self that encompasses your body, that is larger than your body, and your body moves around within that vast self.
All of these ways of defining the self, the Buddha says, cause suffering. This is why he advises you ultimately to put them all aside. But some of them do have their uses on the path, which is why he has you develop them in a skillful way before you drop them.
So instead of getting into a discussion as to which type of self is your true self — or your ultimate self or your conventional self — the Buddha is more interested in showing you how your sense of self is an action. The adjectives he uses to describe actions are not "ultimate" or "conventional." They're "skillful" and "unskillful." These are the terms in which he wants you to understand your selves: Are they skillful? Are they not? And because skill can be understood only through mastery, the Buddha wants you to master these actions in practice (my bolds).
Furthermore, Thanissaro is consistently against eternalism, which, in his translation of the Ananda Sutta
(SN 44.10), he defines as “the view that there is an eternal, unchanging soul.”
But there’s a bigger issue here. “atman” does not equal “soul.” mal4mac’s OP says that for a Buddhist to believe in
a soul is a big no-no. But in which discourse(s) does the Buddha say a Buddhist can’t believe in
a soul? The Buddha simply said that the belief in the atman as a permanent self is irrelevant to liberation. But he doesn’t forbid belief in what we
call a “soul.” He doesn’t say anything about “souls.” This distinction is important. Without it, we let a straw man get created without even noticing it. Comments like [quote=”Sylvester”]I suspect the Upanisadic concept of ‘atman’ is a lot more sophisticated than the theory of a postmortem soul.”[/quote] is on the right track but only reveals half the problem. The other half is that what we understand as “soul” was not even on the Buddha’s radar. As far as I know, the first use of this word was in Beowulf
, which I’m pretty sure the Buddha didn’t read.
In other words, how/why would the Buddha forbid something (belief in a soul) he had no knowledge of? It’s a non sequitur
And phenomenological distinctions like ontic and ontological put the cart before the horse yet again. In order for phenomenology to matter to the teachings of the Buddha we have to assume that the Buddha was a phenomenologist and studied Husserl and Heidegger. Silly. The Buddha took a “middle-way” approach to annihilationism versus eternalism, leaving plenty of room for personal continuity. This is all Thanissaro is up to and all you can infer from the entire
body of his work.
When Thanissaro has a view or belief about something, he is always clear and forthright about it. To accuse him of sneaking in an eternal soul doctrine into his views on anatta
smacks of a smear campaign.
Finally, if you really want to know if Thanissaro believes in an eternal soul or soul, ask him yourself.
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Re: “unestablished consciousness/viññanam anidassanam/patiṭṭhā viññāṇassa”
Benjamin, Sylvester: Thanissaro doesn’t use the phrase “unestablished consciousness” in the talk (Benjamin) cited here viewtopic.php?f=13&t=18229&start=20#p256667
(this is a more user friendly link to that talk: http://www.audiodharma.org/talks/audio_player/299.html
) and from which Sylvester contructs later posts.
Sylvester: the only reference I could find where Thanissaro uses the phrase “unestablished consciousness” is here
, but only in footnote 1, and not in translation; and he does not use it in SN 12.38, like you said in this post: viewtopic.php?f=13&t=18229&start=20#p256682
Furthermore, in this same post you use Bhikkhu Bodhi’s (BB) translation who does
use the phrase “unestablished consciousness.” So did BB maked the same translation/interpretation error you’ve accused Thanissaro of?
Sylvester wrote:I'm told that this sort of syntax is employed in Indian argument to make ontic commitments about things, rather than the ontological status of how they "are".
I think Ven T is misinterpreting, since his translation is good and makes sense, if the interpretation were correct.
Who are you told this by? What are your reasons for thinking the ontic/ontological distinction is a true dichotomy? And are you saying Ven T’s “misinterpretation” is that he’s making an ontological assertion rather than an ontic assertion? He’s consistently against ontologizing.(3)
pulga wrote:Atthi emphasizes that a thing “is” – that it exists....
Doesn’t this contradict SN 22.62, the Niruttipatha Sutta
pulga wrote:... it was the Theory of Categorial Intuition that gave Heidegger the insight to write Being and Time, and that turned Godel into an enthusiastic Phenomenologist.
The teachings of the Buddha could roughly
be categorized as phenomenalistic, but not phenomenological (cf., e.g., David J. Kalupahana, Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism
, p. 70).