Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby Sylvester » Tue Aug 13, 2013 3:33 am

Thanks pulga!

Perhaps Laurence Mills may have had access to the Ven's draft MN? Did any of his notes ever make their way into the Mahamakuta edition of his "A Treasury of the Buddha's Discourses from the Majjhima-nikaya"? I lost both volumes when I was moving home.

But I'm puzzled by the Ven's point. If there's a search for this ontology, one might look to √bhū, surely not √bhu as suggested by the Ven. Or was this just a typeset error in footnote 46/1?
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby danieLion » Mon Aug 26, 2013 6:14 pm

Hi,

(1)

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 of this:

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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(2)

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?

Also:
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:
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).

Kindly,
dL
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby Gena1480 » Mon Aug 26, 2013 11:46 pm

the Buddha
said those ascetics and brahmins who regard anything as self
all regard five aggregates of clinging or certain amongs them
regard form as self
self possessing form
form as in self
self as in form
same goes for other 4 aggregates.
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby pulga » Tue Aug 27, 2013 2:03 am

danieLion wrote:
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.


"We" have to assume? You and who else?
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby Sylvester » Tue Aug 27, 2013 2:40 am

danieLion wrote:(2)

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.



Hiya DL

It's one of the editorial idiosyncrasies of Ven T when he translates. Perhaps he's experimenting with different expressions, or perhaps he thought the context required another rendition. I don't know. So, on to his translation of SN 12.38 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html -

What one intends, what one arranges, and what one obsesses about:[1] This is a support for the stationing of consciousness. There being a support, there is a landing [or: an establishing] of consciousness.

But when one doesn't intend, arrange, or obsess [about anything], there is no support for the stationing of consciousness. There being no support, there is no landing of consciousness.


Actually, if you look carefully at my post that you found objectionable, I said -

So, if this "unestablished consciousness" exists but is not-self, does it lead to affliction or not?

The problem with his "unestablished consciousness" translation is that it totally ignores a gigantic clue in SN 12.38 on the subject. In that sutta, the subject is patiṭṭhā viññāṇassa from this passage -

Ārammaṇe asati patiṭṭhā viññāṇassa na hoti.

There being no support, there is no establishment of consciousness.


The subject/noun is not consciousness, but the establishment of consciousness. This is glaringly obvious to anyone who's prepared to see that viññāṇa/consciousness has been inflected into a genitive case, which makes it subordinate to another noun via a case relation.

He's translating appatiṭṭha as if it were an adjective of consciousness, but the sutta leaves one in no doubt that the noun in question is not consciousness but "establishment", ie the process that leads to the rebirth potential being crystallised within a certain bhava.


I was not criticising his translation of SN 12.38 but the other places where the reference does pop up :tongue:

This is in fact one of the most vexing aspect of Pali past participles and you'll see this in a short survey below of how the participle appatiṭṭhita (unestablished or not established) is understood and translated in Ven T's translations. But first, take a stab at this thread, where some of the problem with this past participle had earlier been addressed - viewtopic.php?f=23&t=12515#p189616. A huge doctrinal issue turns on a deceptively simple grammatical question - is appatiṭṭhita functioning adnominally (ie an adjective) or adverbally (ie as a verb).

Here's what my short survey of Ven T's understanding of consciousness and appatiṭṭhita from ATI has shown up -

1. SN 12.38, already discussed, where we also have patiṭṭhā. This can be translated either as "establishment" or the "support for establishing". Based on his translation -

patiṭṭhitaṃ tattha viññāṇaṃ virūḷhaṃ ...
Tadappatiṭṭhite viññāṇe avirūḷhe āyatiṃ punabbhavābhinibbatti na hoti

consciousness lands there and increases ...
When that consciousness doesn't land & grow, there is no production of renewed becoming in the future.


Ven T is clearly acknowledging the past participle as a verb (although some compromise had to be made to render it into idiomatic English as present tense verbs, instead of a past participle).

2. SN 22.53, where he translates -

tadappatiṭṭaṭhitaṃ viññāṇaṃ avirūḷhaṃ anabhi saṅkhacca vimuttaṃ

Consciousness, thus not having landed, not increasing, not concocting, is released.


Again, we see the word functioning in a verbal sense, rather than an adnominal.

3. SN 22.54 and SN 22.55, where he now veers off on a tangent with the very same Pali pericope -

Tadappatiṭṭhitaṃ viññāṇaṃ avirūḷhaṃ anabhisaṅkhacca vimuttaṃ

Consciousness, thus unestablished, not proliferating, not performing any function, is released


Does this look like a verbal or an adnominal to you?

Just one barely noticeable switch in sense is enough to completely switch the focus from the non-establishment of consciousness to there being an unestablished consciousness.

If you look at the pattern in these suttas, all of them have a standard structure, ie (1) posit a case, and then (2) posit the negation of the case. So, in SN 12.38 and SN 22.53 to 55, the case (1) concerns the establishment of consciousness or consciousness being established in this-or-that, leading to its opposite in case (2). Case (1) is about an event, ie establishment, thus case (2) concerns its negation, ie establishment not taking place. As such, in both case (1) and case (2), patiṭṭhita and its negation appatiṭṭhita should be interpreted consistently as verbals, rather than adnominals. I don't see that happening with Ven T's translations which lead to the emergence of the unicorn "unestablished consciousness".

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?


I've seen poor BB struggle with this. In my bootleg copy of his draft SN, he actually translated that passage as -

“But, bhikkhus, when one does not intend, and one does not plan, and one does not ha
ve a tendency towards anything, no basis exists for the maintenance of consciousness. [66
] When there is no basis, there is no support for (the establishing of) consciousness. Whe
n consciousness is not established and has not come to growth, there is no production of f
35 uture re-becoming.


While the context of the sutta demanded that the word be treated as a verbal rather than an adnominal, the negator used was "a", rather than "na" which is otherwise used for verbs. I suppose grammar prevailed over context in BB's translation.

Also:
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?


It's based on a recollection of something I read. Sorry, but I cannot furnish the authority now.

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.


I use the term "ontic" in the rather specialised sense (begging your forgiveness) as used by Quine. It simply works out to be a logical operator which asserts "X exists". "Ontology" is much broader than ontic status, as it enquires further into the nature of how X exists etc etc.
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