The Not-Self Strategy

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The Not-Self Strategy

Postby Ngawang Drolma. » Mon Jan 19, 2009 8:06 am

Hi friends :)

I just found this commentary from Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Not-Self that I've pasted below. Two things came to mind. Why was Lord Buddha willing to discuss not-self so clearly, but he didn't offer a reply when he was asked if there was no-self?

Secondly, in the following specific verses the Buddha seems to point to the idea that All is illusion. I've sort of resisted that word, illusion, because it suggests something that appears to be there that isn't, like a mirage. And it also implies nonexistence which is not how I understand emptiness at this point.

Saying... is it the case that there is anything else... is it the case that there is not anything else... is it the case that there both is & is not anything else... is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else, one is differentiating non-differentiation. However far the six spheres of contact go, that is how far differentiation goes. However far differentiation goes, that is how far the six spheres of contact go. With the remainderless fading & stopping of the six spheres of contact, there comes to be the stopping, the allaying of differentiation.


So any comments are appreciated.

Thanks! /\


The Not-self Strategy
by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

The following two passages, taken together, are often offered as the strongest proof that the Buddha denied the existence of a self in the most uncertain terms. Notice, however, how the terms "world" & "All" are defined.

Ananda:

It is said that the world is empty, the world is empty, lord. In what respect is it said that the world is empty?

The Buddha:

Insofar as it is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self: Thus it is said that the world is empty. And what is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self? The eye is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Forms... Visual consciousness... Visual contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self.

The ear...

The nose...

The tongue...

The body...

The intellect is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Ideas... Mental consciousness... Mental contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Thus it is said that the world is empty.

— S xxxv.85

What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & odors, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is termed the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range.

— S xxxv.23

MahaKotthita:

With the remainderless stopping & fading of the six spheres of contact (vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, & intellection) is it the case that there is anything else?

Sariputta:

Do not say that, my friend.

MahaKotthita:

With the remainderless stopping & fading of the six spheres of contact, is it the case that there is not anything else?

Sariputta:

Do not say that, my friend.

MahaKotthita:

...is it the case that there both is & is not anything else?

Sariputta:

Do not say that, my friend.

MahaKotthita:

...is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else?

Sariputta:

Do not say that, my friend.

MahaKotthita:

Being asked... if there is anything else, you say 'Do not say that, my friend.' Being asked... if there is not anything else... if there both is & is not anything else... if there neither is nor is not anything else, you say, 'Do not say that, my friend.' Now, how is the meaning of this statement to be understood?

Sariputta:

Saying... is it the case that there is anything else... is it the case that there is not anything else... is it the case that there both is & is not anything else... is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else, one is differentiating non-differentiation. However far the six spheres of contact go, that is how far differentiation goes. However far differentiation goes, that is how far the six spheres of contact go. With the remainderless fading & stopping of the six spheres of contact, there comes to be the stopping, the allaying of differentiation.

— A iv.174

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


Continued...http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/notself.html
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Jan 19, 2009 8:40 am

Greetings Drolma,

Drolma wrote:Why was Lord Buddha willing to discuss not-self so clearly, but he didn't offer a reply when he was asked if there was no-self?


One reason is because to someone who did not understand anatta, they would have interpreted the response in such a way that led to eternalism, annihilationism, or nihilism.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby Cittasanto » Mon Jan 19, 2009 8:53 am

without knowing who the Buddha was talking to but I suspect I know who, but cant think where it is to be certain!
the buddha has answered allot of his questions and the asker had not fully understood, the Asker was not ready for the answer so the Buddha remained quiet, have a look at 5 ways to answer questions according to the buddha
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby Individual » Mon Jan 19, 2009 3:03 pm

Drolma wrote:Hi friends :)

I just found this commentary from Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Not-Self that I've pasted below. Two things came to mind. Why was Lord Buddha willing to discuss not-self so clearly, but he didn't offer a reply when he was asked if there was no-self?

The substantial claim, "There is no self," is contentious philosophically, doesn't really help anybody along the path, and is also unprovable. As scientists and logicians know, you can't prove a negative (even attempting to do so is a fallacy called "negative proof").

So, the Buddha was pretty clear in saying that, among the Five Aggregates (any conceivable experience), no self can be found and anyone who claims otherwise, such a claim could be easily deconstructed logically and refuted. But as for the ultimate existence of self and\or the true nature of self, that is something only Buddhas and perhaps some Arahants would know, and there's no way they could teach such a thing to others, nor would there likely be a reason to.

Drolma wrote:Secondly, in the following specific verses the Buddha seems to point to the idea that All is illusion. I've sort of resisted that word, illusion, because it suggests something that appears to be there that isn't, like a mirage. And it also implies nonexistence which is not how I understand emptiness at this point.

Certain passages in the Tipitaka say the world is like an illusion, but obviously this is apparently at odds with the reality of suffering, the "orderliness" of the dhamma, and the description of the world in terms of the 12 nidanas and five aggregates.

I understand this nuance basically the same way you might understand The Matrix, the movie with Keanu Reeves. Our apparent existence in Samsara (the Matrix) is conditioned by the mind acting within a framework of rules. That is, the apparent physical experience (and apparent reality) is conditioned by the way that one mentally reacts to it. Because of this, there is somewhat of a blur between reality and non-reality, a false dichotomy between the two. One might ask, "What do you mean by reality?" If, by reality, you mean the presence of the Five Aggregates, the 12 Nidanas, and the 3 marks of existence, etc., then yes, reality exists. But if, by reality, you mean the ultimate or fundamental nature of the world, of the Five Aggregates, etc., then reality is void and in this sense could be seen as an illusion.

That is, in the Matrix, or in a dream, you wouldn't consider the Matrix or a dream to be a "real" place. Reality would be the means by which the Matrix or the dream, functions, the reality you wake up to. But let's say you're trapped within the Matrix or within a dream, well, you can delude yourself be calling it an "illusion," but regardless, so long as you're stuck there, it's as real as real could possibly be.

With metta :heart:,
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby bodom » Mon Jan 19, 2009 7:21 pm

No-self or Not-self?
by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... self2.html

Some writers try to qualify the no-self interpretation by saying that the Buddha denied the existence of an eternal self or a separate self, but this is to give an analytical answer to a question that the Buddha showed should be put aside. Others try to draw inferences from the few statements in the discourse that seem to imply that there is no self, but it seems safe to assume that if one forces those statements to give an answer to a question that should be put aside, one is drawing inferences where they shouldn't be drawn.

So, instead of answering "no" to the question of whether or not there is a self — interconnected or separate, eternal or not — the Buddha felt that the question was misguided to begin with. Why? No matter how you define the line between "self" and "other," the notion of self involves an element of self-identification and clinging, and thus suffering and stress. This holds as much for an interconnected self, which recognizes no "other," as it does for a separate self. If one identifies with all of nature, one is pained by every felled tree. It also holds for an entirely "other" universe, in which the sense of alienation and futility would become so debilitating as to make the quest for happiness — one's own or that of others — impossible. For these reasons, the Buddha advised paying no attention to such questions as "Do I exist?" or "Don't I exist?" for however you answer them, they lead to suffering and stress.

To avoid the suffering implicit in questions of "self" and "other," he offered an alternative way of dividing up experience: the four Noble Truths of stress, its cause, its cessation, and the path to its cessation. Rather than viewing these truths as pertaining to self or other, he said, one should recognize them simply for what they are, in and of themselves, as they are directly experienced, and then perform the duty appropriate to each. Stress should be comprehended, its cause abandoned, its cessation realized, and the path to its cessation developed. These duties form the context in which the anatta doctrine is best understood. If you develop the path of virtue, concentration, and discernment to a state of calm well-being and use that calm state to look at experience in terms of the Noble Truths, the questions that occur to the mind are not "Is there a self? What is my self?" but rather "Am I suffering stress because I'm holding onto this particular phenomenon? Is it really me, myself, or mine? If it's stressful but not really me or mine, why hold on?" These last questions merit straightforward answers, as they then help you to comprehend stress and to chip away at the attachment and clinging — the residual sense of self-identification — that cause it, until ultimately all traces of self-identification are gone and all that's left is limitless freedom.

:namaste:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby Ngawang Drolma. » Mon Jan 19, 2009 8:16 pm

Hi friends,

Thanks so much for your replies! I'm afraid I haven't made myself clear at all.

I was musing about what the difference might be between no-self and not-self, as the text I quoted seems to make a distinction. Sorry if my phrasing was clumsy. I'm not even sure if there is a distinction between the two and I don't think I'm expressing myself well at all.

Individual has picked up on the nuance I suggested in the word illusion. I read this bit I've quoted below at another forum, but obviously we don't need to get into a big conversation about Nagarjuna at a Theravadan site. But I thought I'd found a similar expression in the canon ;)

If it's the case that it's true, that samsara is really illusion then I will take time to truly understand and investigate these specific kinds of teachings.

Thanks very much,
Drolma /\

As Nagarjuna says in MMK chapter 1, verse 10:

If entities are relative,
They have no real existence.
The formula "this being, that appears"
Then loses every meaning.

Thus, phenomena are not just without svabhava (independent being), they are without parabhava (conditioned, other-dependent being) as well. They are beyond all extremes. Dependent arising is pure illusion. Like a mirage, it appears although it is not real.
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Jan 19, 2009 8:38 pm

Good Summary BBB,

I agree that using the "strategy" argument and focussing attention on "seeing through the Self in the aggregates", rather than trying to debate the subject, is probably the most productive use of time. What concerns me is when some argue: "The Buddha didn't specifically say there was no self anywhere, so when I'm done I'll find the 'Real Self', which is like ...". I've heard this sort of argument from some "Insight Meditation Teachers".

Metta
Mike
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby Ngawang Drolma. » Mon Jan 19, 2009 8:44 pm

mikenz66 wrote:Good Summary BBB,

I agree that using the "strategy" argument and focussing attention on "seeing through the Self in the aggregates", rather than trying to debate the subject, is probably the most productive use of time. What concerns me is when some argue: "The Buddha didn't specifically say there was no self anywhere, so when I'm done I'll find the 'Real Self', which is like ...". I've heard this sort of argument from some "Insight Meditation Teachers".

Metta
Mike


Very nice point, Mike. I reject this ego-self/real-self to some degree because it always seems counter-productive. "Sit down and destroy the ego in meditation" makes as much sense to me as saying "ooga booga."

Thanks,
Drolma
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby Ngawang Drolma. » Mon Jan 19, 2009 10:03 pm

I guess another way to ask this is, is there a way to understand and discuss emptiness beyond dependent origination and off of the meditation cushion?

/\
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Jan 19, 2009 10:44 pm

Greetings Drolma,

Drolma wrote:I guess another way to ask this is, is there a way to understand and discuss emptiness beyond dependent origination and off of the meditation cushion?

All things are not-self, not-I, not mine (anatta) and are in a constant state of transience and flux (anicca).

I can't recall the Buddha teaching anything about emptiness (sunnata) that couldn't be rephrased in terms of anicca and anatta.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby Individual » Tue Jan 20, 2009 2:37 pm

mikenz66 wrote:Good Summary BBB,

I agree that using the "strategy" argument and focussing attention on "seeing through the Self in the aggregates", rather than trying to debate the subject, is probably the most productive use of time. What concerns me is when some argue: "The Buddha didn't specifically say there was no self anywhere, so when I'm done I'll find the 'Real Self', which is like ...". I've heard this sort of argument from some "Insight Meditation Teachers".

Metta
Mike

The Buddha didn't say either there was no self "anywhere" or that the practice leads to discovery of the true self. He said that among the five aggregates, among the various aspects of experience and apparent reality, no self can be found, clinging to self, and self-view is harmful. In this way, it's much the same way Richard Dawkins might describe God: We cannot say conclusively that there is no God anywhere at all, but we can say that, based upon the evidence and definitions provided, there is no evidence to support the idea of a God. The same idea seems to apply to self.

Despite this, the Buddha also often used the notion of "self" in his teachings, and not simply briefly uttering pronouns. The Dhammapada has an entire chapter devoted to it.

Dhammapada 12: The Self
If one holds oneself dear, one should protect oneself well. During every one of the three watches the wise man should keep vigil.

Let one first establish oneself in what is proper, and then instruct others. Such a wise man will not be defiled.

As he instructs others so should he himself act. Himself fully controlled, he should control (others); for oneself, indeed, is difficult to control.

Oneself, indeed, is one's saviour, for what other saviour would there be? With oneself well controlled one obtains a saviour difficult to find.

By oneself alone is evil done; it is self-born, it is self-caused. Evil grinds the unwise as a diamond grinds a hard gem.

Just as the creeper overspreads a Sal-tree and destroys it, the man who allows his wickedness to overcome him, suffers as much as his enemy would have him suffer.

Easy to do are things that are hard and not beneficial to oneself, but very, very difficult, indeed, to do is that which is beneficial and good.

Whosoever rejects the words of the noble, righteous Arahants, such a fool, because of his false views, brings forth on his head ruin and destruction, like the banana-tree which dies when it has borne fruit.

By oneself, indeed, is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself, indeed, is one purified. Purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one purifies another.

For the sake of others' welfare, however, great, let not one neglect one's own welfare. Clearly perceiving one's own welfare, let one be intent on one's own goal.


Dhammapada 25: The Monk (except)

By self do you censure yourself. By self do you examine yourself. Self-guarded and mindful, O Bhikkhu, you will live happily.

Self, indeed, is the protector of self. Self, indeed, is one's refuge. Control, therefore, your own self as a merchant controls a noble steed.

And then, on several occasions, he said have the self as one's island, as one's refuge, as it says above.
The best things in life aren't things.

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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby Jason » Tue Jan 20, 2009 3:48 pm

Drolma,

To begin with, please forgive me for such a lengthy reply. It is simply my hope that my attempt at thoroughness will be helpful.

One thing that still troubles me about the accepted "orthodox" view concerning the Buddha’s doctrine of anatta is that the Buddha only said that the five khandhas should be observed as anatta. When he referred to the "the all," "the world" and "the cosmos," he was referring to the five khandhas or the six sense spheres. While this seems to cover everything, we must differentiate between our presumptions and our actual experience. For most of us, as unenlightened beings, we do not know the answer for sure. We must follow the Buddha’s path to see the truth for ourselves. The Buddha never said that there is nothing beyond the experience of the five khandhas, he simply said that one would not be able to explain such a thing because it lies beyond range. That does not equate saying that there is nothing there. As for the inclusion of nibbana in the term "sabba" (the all), Thanissaro notes:

    The Commentary's treatment of this discourse is very peculiar. To begin with, it delineates three other "All's" in addition to the one defined here, one of them supposedly larger in scope than the one defined here: the Allness of the Buddha's omniscience (literally, All-knowingness). This, despite the fact that the discourse says that the description of such an all lies beyond the range of explanation.

    Secondly, the Commentary includes nibbana (unbinding) within the scope of the All described here — as a dhamma, or object of the intellect — even though there are many other discourses in the Canon specifically stating that nibbana lies beyond the range of the six senses and their objects. Sn 5.6, for instance, indicates that a person who has attained nibbana has gone beyond all phenomena (sabbe dhamma), and therefore cannot be described. MN 49 discusses a "consciousness without feature" (vinnanam anidassanam) that does not partake of the "Allness of the All." Furthermore, the following discourse (SN 35.24) says that the "All" is to be abandoned. At no point does the Canon say that nibbana is to be abandoned. Nibbana follows on cessation (nirodha), which is to be realized. Once nibbana is realized, there are no further tasks to be done.

    Thus it seems more this discourse's discussion of "All" is meant to limit the use of the word "all" throughout the Buddha's teachings to the six sense spheres and their objects. As the following discourse shows, this would also include the consciousness, contact, and feelings connected with the sense spheres and their objects. Nibbana would lie outside of the word, "all." This would fit in with another point made several times in the Canon: that dispassion is the highest of all dhammas (Iti 90), while the arahant has gone beyond even dispassion (Sn 4.6; Sn 4.10).

    This raises the question, if the word "all" does not include nibbana, does that mean that one may infer from the statement, "all phenomena are not-self" that nibbana is self? The answer is no. As AN 4.174 states, to even ask if there is anything remaining or not remaining (or both, or neither) after the cessation of the six sense spheres is to differentiate what is by nature undifferentiated (or to complicate the uncomplicated — see the Introduction to MN 18). The range of differentiation goes only as far as the "All." Perceptions of self or not-self, which would count as differentiation, would not apply beyond the "All." When the cessation of the "All" is experienced, all differentiation is allayed.

When I read the discourses of the Buddha, whether they are translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Bhikkhu Bodhi, etc., I get the picture that the Buddha did not teach a doctrine of self at all.* One reason is that in MN 2, both the views of "I have a self" and "I have no self" are considered to be "inappropriate attention." To have any position or view of self is "a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views." One who is bound by any such view concerning a self is not freed from suffering and stress. So, in this way, we can see how observing the not-self characteristic of the five khandhas, the all, the world, etc. leads one to dispassion, to relinquishment, to being unfettered, to release. This appears to me to be an active process that is done by the meditator. It is an observation, a contemplation and a realization, i.e., it is a teaching that one utilizes.

[* I do not advocate a theory of self, only the idea that these very questions are considered a hindrance to the actual practice.]

Another reason I say this is found in MN 63. In this exchange, Malunkaputta demands that the Buddha answer ten questions concerning positions that are "undeclared, set aside, discarded by the Blessed One" — whether the cosmos is eternal or not eternal; whether the cosmos is finite or infinite; whether the soul and the body are the same or the soul is one thing and the body another; whether after death a Tathagata exists or does not exist, both exists and does not exist or neither exists nor does not exist — or else he will leave the Sangha. The Buddha responds by asking Malunkyaputta: "Did I ever say to you, 'Come, Malunkyaputta, live the holy life under me, and I will declare to you that 'The cosmos is eternal,' or 'The cosmos is not eternal,' or 'The cosmos is finite,' or 'The cosmos is infinite,' or 'The soul & the body are the same,' or 'The soul is one thing and the body another,' or 'After death a Tathagata exists,' or 'After death a Tathagata does not exist,' or 'After death a Tathagata both exists & does not exist,' or 'After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist'?" Malunkaputta, of course, answers no. The Buddha further explains:

    "Malunkyaputta, if anyone were to say, 'I won't live the holy life under the Blessed One as long as he does not declare to me that "The cosmos is eternal,"... or that "After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist,"' the man would die and those things would still remain undeclared by the Tathagata."

It is clear to me that the teachings on anatta, when looked at closely, are not merely assertions that we have no self. Far from it. They become something much more—a method for deconstructing our false perceptions about reality, as well as an important tool in removing the vast net of clinging that holds beings fast to the cycle of birth, ageing and death. It seems to me that if the Buddha wanted to teach a doctrine of self, he would have taught that we have a self, or that we do not have a self, or that we have a self that is impermanent, or that we have a self that is permanent and finite, or that we have a self and it is permanent an infinite, or that we have a self separate from the body, or that we have a self that is the same as the body, etc. Instead, the Buddha taught his followers ways in which they could use what they had available to them (the five khandhas) to realize what was beyond them (nibbana). However, the question will inevitable arise, "What is beyond them?" But, in AN 4.174, Sariputta warned that asking what remains after the remainderless stopping and fading of the six contact-media complicates non-complication.

When Thanissaro says that anatta should be used a strategy, it is because that beyond being studied, these teachings are meant to be put into practice as well. Without the compliments of observing the precepts, meditation and direct insight into phenomena, nobody's understanding of what the Buddha taught will ever be complete. It should be remembered that the Buddha said his teachings were not to be used simply to argue with other contemplatives, they are meant to be skillfully put into practice. To focus on only one side of the practice is to destroy this carefully constructed balance designed by the Buddha.

To me, what the Buddha seems to be teaching in regard to anatta is that anywhere whatsoever one may look for a permanent and ever-lasting self, one will simply find oneself grasping at unsatisfactoriness and inconstancy out of ignorance [of the Four Noble Truths]. The conditioned world is ruled by conditionality and not by a hidden self. The Buddha went on to explain that not only was the body not-self, but the mind was not-self as well. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are not-self because they are unsatisfactory and inconstant. But, the Buddha did not stop there. He explained that if anyone were to say:

    "'Repudiating this All [referring to the five aggregates], I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range" (SN 35.23).

So, while the question remains open if there is actually "something" there or not, to even speculate as to the answer is clearly going against the Buddha's teachings. Everything that we can possibly experience in this body and mind of ours is unsatisfactory and inconstant; therefore, everything that we can possibly experience in this body and mind is also said to be not-self. However, looking beyond this body and mind for an eternal essence that can be viewed or grasped onto as a self is impossible. As the Buddha said, such a thing lies beyond range. A search in that direction only leads one to grief.

When people try to use nibbana as an example of what lies beyond range but can be experienced at some point, they also forget to include the various teachings concerning that attainment. For one, to even experience nibbana, all forms of self-view must be abandoned. There is no longer any thoughts of "I," "me" or "mine." Intellectually trying to uncover a self in that experience is essentially trying to complicate the uncomplicated. As the Venerable Sariputta explained when he was asked if there was anything remaining or not remaining (or both, or neither) after the cessation of the six sense spheres:

    "The statement, 'With the remainderless stopping & fading of the six contact-media [vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, & intellection] is it the case that there is anything else?' complicates non-complication. The statement, '... is it the case that there is not anything else ... is it the case that there both is & is not anything else ... is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else?' complicates non-complication. However far the six contact-media go, that is how far complication goes. However far complication goes, that is how far the six contact media go. With the remainderless fading & stopping of the six contact-media, there comes to be the stopping, the allaying of complication" (AN 4.174).

I do not enjoy delving too deeply into this particular topic because it is ultimately unskillful, and considered by the Buddha himself to be inappropriate attention. Our focus is taken off of the immediate practice, and instead becomes lost within speculative thoughts about the various views of self. It is a trap that the noble disciple must learn to avoid, for it only leads one to more suffering, more becoming, more craving and it does not lead one to the abandoning of ignorance, abandoning of craving, nibbana. As the Buddha cautioned his followers in regards to these kinds of inappropriate attention thus:

    "This is how he attends inappropriately: 'Was I in the past? Was I not in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? Having been what, what was I in the past? Shall I be in the future? Shall I not be in the future? What shall I be in the future? How shall I be in the future? Having been what, what shall I be in the future?' Or else he is inwardly perplexed about the immediate present: 'Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? Where has this being come from? Where is it bound?'

    "As he attends inappropriately in this way, one of six kinds of view arises in him: The view I have a self arises in him as true & established, or the view I have no self... or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive self... or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive not-self... or the view It is precisely by means of not-self that I perceive self arises in him as true & established, or else he has a view like this: This very self of mine — the knower that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & bad actions — is the self of mine that is constant, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and will stay just as it is for eternity. This is called a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. Bound by a fetter of views, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person is not freed from birth, aging, & death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. He is not freed, I tell you, from suffering & stress" (MN 2).

That is why words tend to fail when it comes to the overall meaning of "anatta." The Dhamma is not merely a collection of words, it is something to be experienced. What I believe sincere practitioners of the Dhamma should try to do is to keep everything that the Buddha taught in context. The Buddha did not teach anatta as a doctrine of self, he taught anatta as part of his overall strategy to overcome suffering. There are those who will automatically disagree with this statement, but if we put the Buddha's entire forty-five years of teaching into context, we will see that it revolves solely around one goal:

    "Both formerly & now, it is only stress that I describe, and the cessation of stress" (SN 22.86).

If we start from here and then ask what part does anatta play in achieving this goal, we can unveil its important and vital role.

    "There are these three forms of stressfulness, my friend: the stressfulness of pain, the stressfulness of fabrication, the stressfulness of change. These are the three forms of stressfulness" (SN 38.14).

One of the main points to be understood in the realization of the First Noble Truth is that the three characteristics of existence are present in all conditioned things. The Buddha teaches that whatever is inconstant (anicca), that is, whatever is subject to change and conditionality, is stressful (dukkha). To hold onto anything that is inconstant, subject to change, break-up and dissolution is a cause for suffering. Why, then, would you want cling to something that is impermanent, and by it's very nature stressful, as a self? When looked upon in this way, we can see how observing, contemplating and realizing anatta is part of this strategy to end suffering.

    "And what Ananda is contemplation of anatta? Herein, Ananda, a monk having gone to the forest or to the foot of a tree or to a lonely place contemplates thus: 'The eye is not the self; visible objects are not the self; the ear is not the self; sounds are not the self; the nose is not the self; smells are not the self; the tongue is not the self; tastes are not the self; the body is not the self; bodily contacts (tangible objects) are not the self; the mind is not the self; mental objects are not the self.' Thus he dwells contemplating not self in these internal and external bases. This, Ananda, is called contemplation of anatta" (AN 10.60).


I think that in addition to all of this, listening to The Three Characteristics and Five Aggregates by Thanissaro Bhikkhu might help to shed some more light onto why the Venerable Thanissaro teaches anatta in this way. Furthermore, I feel that one thing which should always be kept in mind is that the purpose of the Buddha's path is not to clone someone else's insights but to develop our own. The point I believe Thanissaro Bhikkhu is trying to convey with his "Not-self Strategy" is that one should not only study the teachings but put them into practice as well. It is only then that one is able to know, through their own experience, these same insights.

    "The Lord Buddha taught that his Dhamma, when placed in the heart of an ordinary run-of-the-mill person, is bound to be thoroughly corrupted, but if placed in the heart of a Noble One, it is bound to be genuinely pure & authentic, something that at the same time can be neither effaced nor obscured.

    So as long as we are devoting ourselves merely to the theoretical study of the Dhamma, it can't serve us well. Only when we have trained our hearts to eliminate their 'chameleons' — their defilements — will it benefit us in full measure. And only then will the true Dhamma be kept pure, free from distortions & deviations from its original principles" (Phra Ajaan Mun Bhuuridatto).

I hope that I have not misrepresented the Venerable Thanissaro or the Dhamma as expounded by the Blessed One in any way.

Jason
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby Ngawang Drolma. » Tue Jan 20, 2009 7:38 pm

Wow Jason, thank you so much /\ I've read your words very carefully and they provide wonderful context and elaboration.

Best,
Drolma
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby Jechbi » Sun Aug 23, 2009 1:24 am

-- bump --

:reading:
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby Macavity » Sun Aug 23, 2009 2:25 am

    Thanissaro: The Commentary's treatment of this discourse is very peculiar. To begin with, it delineates three other "All's" in addition to the one defined here, one of them supposedly larger in scope than the one defined here: the Allness of the Buddha's omniscience (literally, All-knowingness).


The commentary's treatment isn't 'very peculiar', nor even a little bit peculiar. Thanissaro simply misunderstands what the commentator is doing. Buddhaghosa's account of the different senses of "all" simply follows normal commentarial practice. When commenting on a sutta collection, when an important term crops up for the first time the commentator will summarize the various meanings that it has, illustrating each meaning with examples from other suttas. Later, when the same term crops up again the commentator will avoid repeating himself by simply giving the definition: "this means X in the sense of Y" and referring the reader back to his earlier and fuller treatment.

So it's not that there are different "alls", but rather that when "all" is used as a substantive in the suttas it can denote a variety of referents depending upon the context.

Now what is 'very peculiar' is that Thanissaro —who has done so much work with commentaries, especially Vinaya commentaries— is apparently not able to distinguish the different expository modes that the commentators employ.
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby Jechbi » Sun Aug 23, 2009 3:45 am

Hi Macavity,

Another thing that's peculiar is that you focus your criticism on your perceptions of Ven. Thanissaro's analytical ability rather than on what he has to say.

What do you think of Jason's comments above? And how about this:
Ven. Thanissaro wrote:... in ultimate terms nothing conclusive can be proved by quoting the texts. Scholars have offered arguments for throwing doubt on almost everything in the Canon — either by offering new translations for crucial terms, or by questioning the authenticity of almost every passage it contains — and so the only true test for any interpretation is to put it into practice and see where it leads in terms of gaining release for the mind.
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
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Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby Macavity » Sun Aug 23, 2009 5:01 am

Jechbi wrote:Another thing that's peculiar is that you focus your criticism on your perceptions of Ven. Thanissaro's analytical ability rather than on what he has to say.


Well give me a chance! I've only just read the thread (at your request) and I don't have the time to immediately respond to everything in it. My responses, should I feel like making any further ones, will have to be delivered piecemeal.

What do you think of Jason's comments above?


I don't agree with them. As a non-mystical sort of Buddhist, for me words don't "fail when it comes to the overall meaning of "anatta."

And how about this:


Ven. Thanissaro wrote:... in ultimate terms nothing conclusive can be proved by quoting the texts. Scholars have offered arguments for throwing doubt on almost everything in the Canon — either by offering new translations for crucial terms, or by questioning the authenticity of almost every passage it contains — and so the only true test for any interpretation is to put it into practice and see where it leads in terms of gaining release for the mind.


I don't agree that "putting it into practice" is the only true test for any interpretation. (I suspect Thanissaro has either not thought through the implications of what he is saying here or else he's just expressing himself rather clumsily). I have often met with proposed interpretations of this or that teaching of the Buddha that I could reasonably reject without troubling to put them into practice to see where they take me. And I'm sure that you have too.

Kind regards,
Ciarán
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby Jechbi » Sun Aug 23, 2009 3:23 pm

Macavity wrote:I have often met with proposed interpretations of this or that teaching of the Buddha that I could reasonably reject without troubling to put them into practice to see where they take me. And I'm sure that you have too.

Kind regards,
Ciarán

Yes, that's true. Very good point.

Actually, I'm interested in hearing more criticism of the "not-self strategy" and how it might be just plain wrong. In a different thread, you wrote that Ven. Thanissaro's position is to "dismiss the classical Theravada understanding of anatta as a speculative view." And judging from what I've read elsewhere, I understand that he may in fact depart from commentarial understandings. Yet at the moment I don't have any problem at all reconciling what Ven. Thanissaro wrote in his two essays with my own (limited) understanding at this stage. I'm perfectly open to the possibility of changing my mind about this. I assume there are nuances that I'm not aware of. If you have time to put your criticism here, I feel I would benefit.

I may challenge you about it, and if I do, it is with the intention of better understanding these positions, not to try to prove a point. I sense that you are more familiar with many of these texts than I am. I appreciate your participation here.

Metta
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But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby flyingOx » Sun Aug 23, 2009 8:32 pm

I’m sorry for not debating on Buddhist writings concerning the self, but scientifically speaking, the self is nothing more than a forty hertz frequency evolved from the back propagated cognitive loop-like activities that collects residually remaining energies from the excess that is built up and concurrently flowing into the singular, conscious awareness through sensory phenomena during wakefulness and REM sleep. If Gautama Buddha said anything along those lines, then I would have to say that I whole-heartedly concur. ;)
One is encouraged to seek the truth, but be warned if you ever find it, you will be treated as blasphemous.
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Postby clw_uk » Mon Aug 24, 2009 1:58 am

from what i have read and can remember, this is the only sutta that states the view "there is no self" is annihilationism. In all other suttas (from memory) and from a quick glance at the brahmajala sutta, annihlationists always proclaim "I have no self" or "there is a self but it gets destroyed at death"


I think then that perhaps we have a slight corruption of the text on our hands. If i am correct then it should read as

Having taken a seat to one side, Vacchagotta the wanderer said to the Master, 'Now then, Venerable Gotama, is there a self?' When this was said, the Master was silent.

'Then I have no self?' For a second time the Master was silent.

Then Vacchagotta the wanderer got up from his seat and left.

Then, not long after Vacchagotta the wanderer had left, the Venerable Ananda said to the Master, 'Why, sir, did the Master not answer when asked a question asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer?'

'Ananda, if I, being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self, were to answer that there is a self, that would be conforming with those priests & contemplatives who are exponents of eternalism (i.e., the view that there is an eternal soul). And if I... were to answer that he has no self, that would be conforming with those priests & contemplatives who are exponents of annihilationism [craig- the taking of the view "I have no self"] (i.e., that death is the annihilation of experience). If I... were to answer that there is a self, would that be in keeping with the arising of knowledge that all phenomena are not-self?

'No, Lord.'

'And if I... were to answer that there is no self, the bewildered Vacchagotta would become even more bewildered: "Does the self which I used to have, now not exist?"'


So my take is he was asking

Do i have a self
silence
Do i have no self
silence

reason - Said yes to self this would be ignorant understanding, said that he had no self it would be the same since the question was framed in the sense of "I have no self" and was coming from an "I"

Then the Buddha states "all dhammas are not self" and then if he were to give the answer (in line with supermundane understanding) "there is no self" this would have confused Vacchagotta into thinking "Does the self which I used to have, now not exist?" because he was approaching the Buddha and framing his whole questions in terms of "I"

Its kinda the same tact the Buddha took with "cosmos is eternal or not eternal?. He remainded silent here since they were questions that were coming from the preconceived notion of "I"



It seems to me that if a person says "no self" is annihilationism then this is wrong understanding on the persons part since for something to be annihilated it must be seen to exist in the first place

So if you say no self is annihilationism that means you think there is a self now since something can only be annihilated if its seen to exist


So i cant see how "no self" is annihilationism unless you already think there is a self


Whereas "I have a self" or "there is self" is obviously ignorance and "I have no self" or "there is self but it gets annihilated" is the same


For one who understands Dhamma "no self" cant be annilation view since they understand that "self" only arises in the first place because of clinging and not as a set existing entity


metta
“ Your mind is likewise blocked. But the right road awaits you still. Cast out your doubts, your fears and your desires, let go of grief and of hope as well, for where these rule , then the mind is their subject." Boetius
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