Emptiness and the true self

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Emptiness and the true self

Postby Returntospirit » Sat Dec 26, 2009 11:55 pm

I can't quite grasp the concept of emptiness and the reality of who I am. Until this moment I thought that the true self was the awareness behind the body and the mind. The mind is thinking and I am aware of that but I am not the one who is thinking. But upon reading about emptiness I begin to wonder what emptiness is and who am I if no real self exists. I would like some wisdom on this matter. Please give me your thoughts. Thank you.
Returntospirit
 
Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Dec 26, 2009 11:52 pm

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby Ben » Sun Dec 27, 2009 12:07 am

The doctrine of anatta is profound and hard to grasp.
Metzinger put it well when he suggested that the self is merely a computational aid to help process data streams from a number of diverse simultaneous sensory inputs.
kind regards

Ben
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

- Hereclitus


Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global Relief

Buddhist Life Stories of Australia

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com
User avatar
Ben
Site Admin
 
Posts: 15892
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:49 am
Location: Land of the sleeping gods

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby Returntospirit » Sun Dec 27, 2009 12:11 am

But who is the experiencer or the silent witness who is aware of everything? And what is emptiness?
Returntospirit
 
Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Dec 26, 2009 11:52 pm

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sun Dec 27, 2009 2:44 am

Returntospirit wrote:But who is the experiencer or the silent witness who is aware of everything? And what is emptiness?


Sounds like you may be looking for a Hindu forum with that "experiencer" and "silent witness" thing.
Certainly not Theravada buddhism.

Rather than a "witness", buddhism usually states that any given experience is a dependently arisen event.
Rather than experiencer experiences the experienced, it says with conditions, there is experience.
However, because subsequently there is another experience, and another, etc. some mistakenly think think that there is a common element, and experiencer, if you will.
This is where the problem begins.

The absence of such an experiencer is emptiness.
My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: Huifeng's Prajnacara Blog.
Paññāsikhara
 
Posts: 980
Joined: Wed Oct 14, 2009 5:27 am

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby Cafael Dust » Sun Dec 27, 2009 2:52 am

There's just this.
Not twice, not three times, not once,
the wheel is turning.
Cafael Dust
 
Posts: 194
Joined: Thu Aug 13, 2009 2:55 pm

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby Returntospirit » Sun Dec 27, 2009 3:17 am

Paññāsikhara, I agree with you. This subject might be best directed to Hinduism but my understanding of the 7 stages of consciousness (just in case you don't know what I'm talking about here is a link http://www.psycanics.com/modules.php?na ... cle&sid=45 ) is that Buddha attained the 7th stage. But do we not need to go through all the stages in order to access the highest (enlightenment) ? I am stuck in stage 4, Self awareness, how do I move beyond that into Samadhi and the higher stages?
Returntospirit
 
Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Dec 26, 2009 11:52 pm

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Dec 27, 2009 3:21 am

Returntospirit wrote:Paññāsikhara, I agree with you. This subject might be best directed to Hinduism but my understanding of the 7 stages of consciousness (just in case you don't know what I'm talking about here is a link http://www.psycanics.com/modules.php?na ... cle&sid=45 ) is that Buddha attained the 7th stage. But do we not need to go through all the stages in order to access the highest (enlightenment) ? I am stuck in stage 4, Self awareness, how do I move beyond that into Samadhi and the higher stages?

This is warmed over Westernized Hindu stuff that nothing really to do with Buddhism in general and certainly nothing to do with the Theravada.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
User avatar
tiltbillings
 
Posts: 19029
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:25 am
Location: Turtle Island

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby Ben » Sun Dec 27, 2009 3:25 am

Returntospirit wrote:But who is the experiencer or the silent witness who is aware of everything? And what is emptiness?


For there is suffering, but none who suffers;
Doing exists although there is no doer;
Extinction is but no extinguished person;
Although there is a path, there is no goer'.

-- Vism XVI, 93


Sabbe dhamma anatta: all phenomena are not self (empty)

-- The Integrity of Emptiness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... iness.html

-- Nakulapita Sutta: To Nakulapita, SN22.1: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
kind regards

Ben
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

- Hereclitus


Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global Relief

Buddhist Life Stories of Australia

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com
User avatar
Ben
Site Admin
 
Posts: 15892
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:49 am
Location: Land of the sleeping gods

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby Ben » Sun Dec 27, 2009 3:31 am

Returntospirit wrote:Paññāsikhara, I agree with you. This subject might be best directed to Hinduism but my understanding of the 7 stages of consciousness (just in case you don't know what I'm talking about here is a link http://www.psycanics.com/modules.php?na ... cle&sid=45 ) is that Buddha attained the 7th stage. But do we not need to go through all the stages in order to access the highest (enlightenment) ? I am stuck in stage 4, Self awareness, how do I move beyond that into Samadhi and the higher stages?


This is new-ageism and not related to Buddhadhamma. If you want to attain the highest attainment, Nibbana, you need to start walking on the path: The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... toend.html
kind regards

Ben
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

- Hereclitus


Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global Relief

Buddhist Life Stories of Australia

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com
User avatar
Ben
Site Admin
 
Posts: 15892
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:49 am
Location: Land of the sleeping gods

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby IanAnd » Sun Dec 27, 2009 6:15 am

Returntospirit wrote:I can't quite grasp the concept of emptiness and the reality of who I am. . . . But upon reading about emptiness I begin to wonder what emptiness is and who am I if no real self exists. I would like some wisdom on this matter. Please give me your thoughts.

Paññāsikhara's explanation goes to the heart of the matter and is most succinctly correct about this (although this is not to say that others who have contributed are wrong). The realization of emptiness (and hence anatta) is a matter of insight as the result of personal insight into the processes that go into making up a "self." When one penetrates the meaning and significance of dependent co-arising (paticca samuppada) one realizes that there is no self other than the aggregate of elements that make up the five clinging aggregates (pancakkhandha) of personality view. That is your answer in a nutshell. On the other hand, realizing that nutshell is what the practice of the Buddhadhamma is all about.

Where you have gotten off the beaten path toward this insight and knowingness is in giving credence to the link you gave regarding the so-called "seven stages [or states] of consciousness." The explanation of consciousness given by that site is "wrong view" according to Buddhadhamma (and anyone else who has gained insight into the matter).

In order to overcome that wrong view, you would have to focus on cultivating a correct understanding of these phenomena according to the Dhamma. That cultivation entails observing the phenomena of consciousness in more detail than the "mystical" interpretation given on that site. (By the way, one of the definitions of "mysticism" is: "vague, obscure, or confused thinking or belief." This is what I'm referring to by using the word "mystical" to describe the interpretation of consciousness given by that site.).
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
User avatar
IanAnd
 
Posts: 399
Joined: Mon Oct 19, 2009 5:19 am
Location: the deserts of Arizona

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby phil » Sun Dec 27, 2009 6:29 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:
Returntospirit wrote:But who is the experiencer or the silent witness who is aware of everything? And what is emptiness?


Sounds like you may be looking for a Hindu forum with that "experiencer" and "silent witness" thing.
Certainly not Theravada buddhism.

Rather than a "witness", buddhism usually states that any given experience is a dependently arisen event.
Rather than experiencer experiences the experienced, it says with conditions, there is experience.
However, because subsequently there is another experience, and another, etc. some mistakenly think think that there is a common element, and experiencer, if you will.
This is where the problem begins.

The absence of such an experiencer is emptiness.



Hi Pannasikhara and all

Of course what you say is absolutely spot on from the point of view of the high deeper teachings, but as a beginner at the prey of very powerful gross defilements I find myself appreciating some Theravadin teachers who acknowledge that for those of us who are starting out, there *will* be the sense of an observer of what is going on. I mean, whether we understand the deep teachings in theory or not, that sense will be there. So the "silent witness" that Return to Spirit refers to seems to me to be in line with the way we will have to experience things for a good little while, if you know what I mean. What is that silent witness, that observer? As you say of course and as the teachers I refer to say of course, that silent witness will also be seen through. But to develop the conditions that lead to seeing through it, it seems to me that silent witness, that sense of a self that is headed in the right direction, is helpful, I think. But let it be said that I have been listening to a lot of Thanissaro Bhikkhu recently, and as we know he is not one to rush perceptions of anatta to say the least! :smile:

True self - not. A deluded sense of self? No fast way around it as far as I (so to speak) can see, and it can be put to good use by those of us who are primarily focussed on weakening the power of very gross defilements which have to be weakened before there can be conditions for the kind of panna that really sees anatta, or so it seems to me. I am very much about becoming a better person, a more wholesome-minded person, even as I understand in theory that in reality it is all about the operation of impersonal dhammas that are anatta etc. But I know some people who push that kind of deep understanding on beginners too soon (not saying that you are doing that) and who say that it must come to dominate one's Dhamma understanding right from the beginning. And of course that's not how the Buddha taught. I'm studyning Dhammapada these days, in Pali, with the commentary, and I'm interested by how many references to atta and taking care of atta and controlling atta and atta as one's master and so on and how few reminders there are in Buddhagosa's commentary that it is all about impersonal dhammas etc. Because anyone who studies Dhammapada should know that without needing to have it pointed out? No, I don't think so, because the Buddha didn't teach the deep truths to people until he knew their minds were ready, right?

Anyways, just a few of my thoughts on an interesting topic! Thanks.

Metta,

Phil
I hope that every time I post it will be accompanied by a wish for the wellbeing of everyone in this sangha and all beings.
(so I don't have to write "metta" every time!)


Kammalakkhano , bhikkhave, bālo, kammalakkhano pandito, apadānasobhanī paññāti
(The fool is characterized by his/her actions/the wise one is characterized by his/her actions/Wisdom shines forth in behaviour.)
(AN 3.2 Lakkhana Sutta)
User avatar
phil
 
Posts: 487
Joined: Tue Mar 03, 2009 5:08 am
Location: Tokyo

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sun Dec 27, 2009 10:04 am

Returntospirit wrote:But who is the experiencer or the silent witness who is aware of everything? And what is emptiness?

Emptiness means the absence of any experiencer — any person or being, self or soul.

There is only the experience. There is walking, but no one who walks; there is talking, but no one who talks; there is thought, but there is no thinker. The idea of a self or soul, person or being is just that — an idea or concept. It is empty and void of substance, and has the nature of an illusion. That is, the so-called self seems very real, and we all make use of the concept, but if we examine the reality systematically and carefully, the emptiness of the illusion will gradually become apparent.

This difficult topic is the first subject dealt with in the Debate of King Milinda: A Question on Concepts
AIM WebsitePāli FontsIn This Very LifeBuddhist ChroniclesSoftware (Upasampadā: 24th June, 1979)
User avatar
Bhikkhu Pesala
 
Posts: 1921
Joined: Thu Jan 29, 2009 8:17 pm

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby Stephen K » Sun Dec 27, 2009 11:31 am

I highly recommend this lecture on the Five Aggregates and the Three Marks of Existence (impermanence, suffering, and nonself) by Bhikkhu Bodhi:

http://www.bodhimonastery.net/courses/T ... stence.mp3
With metta,
Upāsaka Sumana (Stephen)


My philosophy is simple: Saying 'yes' to the positive and 'no' to the negative; because the positive is so much better than the negative.

Stop the evil; start and continue the good.
User avatar
Stephen K
 
Posts: 774
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 2:53 pm

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby acinteyyo » Sun Dec 27, 2009 12:51 pm

Hi Returntospirit,

the matter is already very well explained above. So I won't say much in addition.
If you want to find "the one" who is walking, "the one" who is talking "the one" who experiences thinking and so on..., examine those phenomena seriously. Everything of those phenomena which is impermanent cannot be considered as "the one". You asked "who am I..."? Everything which is impermanent cannot be considered as "I am this". Any phenomenon of which you find out that it is impermanent, you will know that this is not-self, not yours, not "I am this". Try to do it every moment, with everything. You will come to the conclusion that there is no thing which can be considered as "I am this" and then you'll see that the question "who am I" itself is an improper question, because such a question takes for granted that there actually is anything which can be considered as "I am this". You won't try to find a "who" anymore.
If you want to understand this truly, you have to examine your body, consciousness, feeling, perception and mind. Then understanding will arise and confusion about "the one" will cease.

best wishes, acinteyyo
Pubbe cāhaṃ bhikkhave, etarahi ca dukkhañceva paññāpemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ. (M.22)
Both formerly, monks, and now, it is just suffering that I make known and the ending of suffering.
Pathabyā ekarajjena, saggassa gamanena vā sabbalokādhipaccena, sotāpattiphalaṃ varaṃ. (Dhp 178)
Sole dominion over the earth, going to heaven or lordship over all worlds: the fruit of stream-entry excels them.

:anjali:
User avatar
acinteyyo
 
Posts: 976
Joined: Mon Jun 01, 2009 9:48 am
Location: Neuburg/Donau, Germany

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby chownah » Mon Dec 28, 2009 1:38 pm

I think the Buddha taught that we should do our best to have no doctrine of self whatever....and I take this to mean that it matters not if there is a self or is no self or there is a "true" self or is not "true" self. If you are trying to ascertain which of these exist or don't exist or what they are or aren't they you are probably trying to develop a doctrine of self.....better to do your best to just see that things happen and that one of the things that happens is an idea that there is some grand thing called me.
chownah
chownah
 
Posts: 2542
Joined: Wed Aug 12, 2009 2:19 pm

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby withoutcolour » Sat Jan 02, 2010 1:46 am

I'm not sure if this is helpful or not, but I had an interesting insight into this recently... I was doing some vipassana on the three marks of existence, and was thinking about anatta... and later that day, "I" was feeling joyful and peaceful at work (go figure!), and rather than thinking "How nice, I feel great!" I thought, "There is a feeling of peacefulness", as in, the skandhas are coming together at this particular point in time, and *there exists* peacefulness and happiness, rather than *I am the owner* of those particular emotions.
Similarly, today I was a little irritated, and I acknowledged it as "There is anger" as opposed to "I am angry."
Because I did not put the label of an owner on it, it became far less powerful, and dissipated much faster than usual. Which is also a powerful way to penetrate impermanence (anicca) too. (and a great way to handle negative emotions as well!)
I know this is a little more subjective, but, hey, if it helps...

But as its written above, there is no true self, no permanent thing that is *you*, you are not the thinker, you are not your thoughts. These thoughts simply exist as a coming-together of the five aggregates (skandhas).

I've struggled with this concept for so long, but I've been meditating on it a lot, and it seems to be coming together a bit more lately. It's so hard to get rid of self because of the way we're raised, but we've got to keep emptying our jug until we can get rid of all concepts.

Best of luck, keep up the good work! :buddha1:
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ
sabbe sattā sukhita hontu
User avatar
withoutcolour
 
Posts: 105
Joined: Sun Dec 13, 2009 7:53 pm

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby Grindle's Grindis » Fri Jan 08, 2010 6:42 pm

Maybe I'm wrong but to say explicitly that "there is no self" is a form of nihilism, which would fall into wrong view. As far as I know the Buddha didn't say that there is no self, but that there is no "self" in any "thing". No things belong to a self. Therefore nothing could be "me" or "mine". So the "pure citta", or the "enlightened mind" (for want of a better term) is not "something", but it's not "nothing", either. It's what remains after everything else has been seen through, dropped, shattered, exploded, however you want to say it's no longer causing you confusion. Like anatta, it's totally beyond intellectual comprehension. It is realized instantly, unexpectedly, in a flash of intuition, so they say. I hope you're blessed with a good teacher to help you find your way.
Grindle's Grindis
 
Posts: 3
Joined: Fri Jan 08, 2010 6:26 pm

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby dolphin » Sun Jan 17, 2010 5:13 am

Hi

I recall for quite a while believing that "I" am empty or not real.

then one day, i actually felt the implcation of that deep in my gut. I felt disorientated at first and shaken deep inside. The reality of "me" acutally not being real as such felt a little scary.

Then the days went by and I found that there was still eating, sleeping, laughing, working and so on. And it mattered less and less to me.

Now, sensing the emptiness within and without seems like a blessing. For some time now, a subtle joy seems to emanate out of emptiness or the dwelling on it, whether in or out of meditation. I can't explain why.

Metta
dolphin
dolphin
 
Posts: 8
Joined: Sat Jan 16, 2010 3:03 pm

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Jan 17, 2010 8:57 am

Grindle's Grindis wrote:Maybe I'm wrong but to say explicitly that "there is no self" is a form of nihilism, which would fall into wrong view. As far as I know the Buddha didn't say that there is no self, but that there is no "self" in any "thing". No things belong to a self. Therefore nothing could be "me" or "mine". So the "pure citta", or the "enlightened mind" (for want of a better term) is not "something", but it's not "nothing", either. It's what remains after everything else has been seen through, dropped, shattered, exploded, however you want to say it's no longer causing you confusion. Like anatta, it's totally beyond intellectual comprehension. It is realized instantly, unexpectedly, in a flash of intuition, so they say. I hope you're blessed with a good teacher to help you find your way.

Interested in from where this point of view arises.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
User avatar
tiltbillings
 
Posts: 19029
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:25 am
Location: Turtle Island

Re: Emptiness and the true self

Postby Nibbida » Mon Jan 18, 2010 4:03 pm

Here's the most succint explanation I can give. All things (& and people) are empty of a separate, permanent, inherent existence. That is, nothing exists separately or permanently because of dependent origination (cause-and-effect) and impermanence (everything is in a constant state of change). In this sense, no thing called a "self" exists because there is no thing that is separate or permanent. "Self" is a concept, a frozen snapshot we superimpose on elements of experience. What we are is a changing, interdependent set of mental and physical processes (5 aggregates), rather than a thing. The "witness" is just another process that observes the other processes. When you have an experience of emptiness, all of those mental and physical processes are still there, but that's all. The illusion of a self behind all of it diminishes or disappears.

I find Thich Nhat Hanh's cloud in a book example helpful:

"If you are a poet, you will clearly see that there is a cloud
floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud there will be no
water; without water, the trees cannot grow; and without trees you
cannot make this paper. So the cloud is in here. The existence of
this page is dependent on the existence of a cloud.... The paper is
made of all the non-paper elements to the extent that if we return
the non-paper elements to their sources ... the paper is empty.
Empty of what? Empty of a separate self.... Empty, in this sense,
means that the paper is full of everything, the entire cosmos."


(Being Peace, 1987: 45-46)
"Dispositions of the mind, like limbs of the body, acquire strength by exercise." --Thomas Jefferson

Facebook Meditation Page: http://snurl.com/yoga9vipassana
User avatar
Nibbida
 
Posts: 459
Joined: Sat May 02, 2009 3:44 am

Next

Return to General Theravāda discussion

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot], Yahoo [Bot] and 5 guests