Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

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Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Feb 05, 2010 9:52 pm

Greetings,

The idea for this topic spawned spawned from a discussion in the Early Buddhism forum on Johannes Bronkhorst and Early Buddhism (viewtopic.php?f=29&t=3523). Setting aside here the matters of what other religionists believed and the possible influence of that on the presentation of the Buddha's anatta teaching...

How can anatta be the object of insight? What is the object? What is the benefit?

I present my take on this subject, making reference to the following sutta

SN 22.59: Pañcavaggi Sutta (aka Anatta-lakkhana Sutta)
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .nymo.html

Thus I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Benares, in the Deer Park at Isipatana (the Resort of Seers). There he addressed the bhikkhus of the group of five: "Bhikkhus." — "Venerable sir," they replied. The Blessed One said this.

"Bhikkhus, form is not-self. Were form self, then this form would not lead to affliction, and one could have it of form: 'Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.' And since form is not-self, so it leads to affliction, and none can have it of form: 'Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.'

"Bhikkhus, feeling is not-self...

"Bhikkhus, perception is not-self...

"Bhikkhus, determinations are not-self...

"Bhikkhus, consciousness is not self. Were consciousness self, then this consciousness would not lead to affliction, and one could have it of consciousness: 'Let my consciousness be thus, let my consciousness be not thus.' And since consciousness is not-self, so it leads to affliction, and none can have it of consciousness: 'Let my consciousness be thus, let my consciousness be not thus.'

"Bhikkhus, how do you conceive it: is form permanent or impermanent?" — "Impermanent, venerable Sir." — "Now is what is impermanent painful or pleasant?" — "Painful, venerable Sir." — "Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this is I, this is my self'"? — "No, venerable sir."

"Is feeling permanent or impermanent?...

"Is perception permanent or impermanent?...

"Are determinations permanent or impermanent?...

"Is consciousness permanent or impermanent?" — "Impermanent, venerable sir." — "Now is what is impermanent pleasant or painful?" — "Painful, venerable sir." — "Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this is I, this is my self'"? — "No, venerable sir."

"So, bhikkhus any kind of form whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near, must with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: 'This is not mine, this is not I, this is not myself.'

"Any kind of feeling whatever...

"Any kind of perception whatever...

"Any kind of determination whatever...

"Any kind of consciousness whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near must, with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: 'This is not mine, this is not I, this is not my self.'

"Bhikkhus, when a noble follower who has heard (the truth) sees thus, he finds estrangement in form, he finds estrangement in feeling, he finds estrangement in perception, he finds estrangement in determinations, he finds estrangement in consciousness.

"When he finds estrangement, passion fades out. With the fading of passion, he is liberated. When liberated, there is knowledge that he is liberated. He understands: 'Birth is exhausted, the holy life has been lived out, what can be done is done, of this there is no more beyond.'"

That is what the Blessed One said. The bhikkhus were glad, and they approved his words.

Now during this utterance, the hearts of the bhikkhus of the group of five were liberated from taints through clinging no more.


The thrust of this sutta is that the five aggregates are anatta because they are dukkha, and because they are anicca, and I assume it goes without saying that we take as given that dukkha and anicca are observable realities.

If A is directly observed, and B is adequately demonstrated and accepted to be a logical consequence of A, as it was to those who received the above teaching... can we not say also that B is known?

In this way, I believe we can know that all dhammas are "not self" (even if this so-called "no self" remains an unproveable, speculative, ontological proposition)

"Not self" may be ontological by nature, but I believe that ontological proof of the non-existence of that "I" within the loka of experience, is sufficient knowledge to uproot all craving. Greed (attraction) and aversion (repulsion) have no meaning when there is no subject/object dichotomy in which they can operate.

So in answering the question of "How can anatta be the object of insight? What is the object?", I suggest that...

Once you know the relationship between dukkha and anatta, or anicca and anatta.... insight into one brings insight into the other. In other words, the object of insight needn't be anatta, in order for the not-self characterists of all dhammas to be known.

As for "What is the benefit?" I quote again from the above sutta...

Any kind of [aggregate] whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near must, with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: 'This is not mine, this is not I, this is not my self.'

"Bhikkhus, when a noble follower who has heard (the truth) sees thus, he finds estrangement in form, he finds estrangement in feeling, he finds estrangement in perception, he finds estrangement in determinations, he finds estrangement in consciousness.

"When he finds estrangement, passion fades out. With the fading of passion, he is liberated. When liberated, there is knowledge that he is liberated. He understands: 'Birth is exhausted, the holy life has been lived out, what can be done is done, of this there is no more beyond.'"

That is what the Blessed One said. The bhikkhus were glad, and they approved his words.

Now during this utterance, the hearts of the bhikkhus of the group of five were liberated from taints through clinging no more


That is my present understanding. I put it forward at a topic of discussion and encourage others to present their views, whether they agree or otherwise, with the presentation above.

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)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby seanpdx » Fri Feb 05, 2010 9:59 pm

retrofuturist wrote:The thrust of this sutta is that the five aggregates are anatta because they are dukkha, and because they are anicca, and I assume it goes without saying that we take as given that dukkha and anicca are observable realities.


And I have merely one (multi-part) question.

Why is it that my atta cannot be dukkha? Cannot be anicca? Why is it that things which are dukkha and/or anicca are not fit to be called my atta?

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Re: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby cooran » Fri Feb 05, 2010 10:06 pm

And merely one [more] (multi-part) question. :tongue:


Why have Atta or Niratta? Why assume or reject? Why not keep an open mind on all speculative theories?
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Re: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Feb 05, 2010 10:09 pm

Greetings Sean,

seanpdx wrote:Why is it that my atta cannot be dukkha? Cannot be anicca? Why is it that things which are dukkha and/or anicca are not fit to be called my atta?

My take would be that the assumptions underlying self-view hold that atman is permanent and blissful.

Interestingly, I've never heard it suggested otherwise, which is presumably why it passes by as an unstated assumption.

As I've never investigated the doctrines of soul-theorists (Eastern or Western), I can't really give an informed response beyond that.

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: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby seanpdx » Fri Feb 05, 2010 10:19 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Sean,

seanpdx wrote:Why is it that my atta cannot be dukkha? Cannot be anicca? Why is it that things which are dukkha and/or anicca are not fit to be called my atta?

My take would be that the assumptions underlying self-view hold that atman is permanent and blissful.

Interestingly, I've never heard it suggested otherwise, which is presumably why it passes by as an unstated assumption.

As I've never investigated the doctrines of soul-theorists (Eastern or Western), I can't really give an informed response beyond that.

Metta,
Retro. :)


And the notion that the atman is permanent and blissful precedes buddhism. That is why one cannot set aside "the matters of what other religionists believed and the possible influence of that on the presentation of the Buddha's anatta teaching".

Sorry. I'm pretty sure one reason I'm not a cop is because I'd be sued for entrapment a lot. :tongue:

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Re: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby seanpdx » Fri Feb 05, 2010 10:22 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Interestingly, I've never heard it suggested otherwise, which is presumably why it passes by as an unstated assumption.


Not entirely related, but a bit of trivia:

The "jiva" (the atman of Jainism) is blissful, but apparently is not unchanging. Presumably (at least in early Jainism?), it can change shape along with the physical vessel. I believe this was from Bronkhorst, but I'd have to look it up. =D

(doesn't much change the anatta teachings... since it's still blissful, the khandhas are not a jiva either!)

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Re: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Feb 05, 2010 10:22 pm

Greetings Cooran,

cooran wrote:Why have Atta or Niratta? Why assume or reject?


I agree. The Brahmajala Sutta shows the wrong views into which people can fall when they do assume or reject.

The Buddha taught the middle way between belief is existence/non-existence in SN 12.15.

"By & large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by (takes as its object) a polarity, that of existence & non-existence. But when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'non-existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one.

cooran wrote:Why not keep an open mind on all speculative theories?


The Buddha spoke in praise of nippapanca. Nippapanca is the absence of mental proliferation (i.e. the opposite of papanca) and is an attribute of nibbana.

There's nothing wrong with an "open mind", but when an "open mind" become the pretense for mental proliferation and internal conflict, it is harmful to the thinker.

To that end, Thanissaro's "translator's introduction" to...

MN 18: Madhupindika Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

... offers a useful synopsis of the problems associated with papanca and clinging to soul-theories.

This discourse plays a central role in the early Buddhist analysis of conflict. As might be expected, the blame for conflict lies within, in the unskillful habits of the mind, rather than without. The culprit in this case is a habit called papañca. Unfortunately, none of the early texts give a clear definition of what the word papañca means, so it's hard to find a precise English equivalent for the term. However, they do give a clear analysis of how papañca arises, how it leads to conflict, and how it can be ended. In the final analysis, these are the questions that matter — more than the precise definition of terms — so we will deal with them first before proposing a few possible translation equivalents for the word.

Three passages in the discourses — DN 21, MN 18, and Sn 4.11 — map the causal processes that give rise to papañca and lead from papañca to conflict. Because the Buddhist analysis of causality is generally non-linear, with plenty of room for feedback loops, the maps vary in some of their details. In DN 21, the map reads like this:

the perceptions & categories of papañca > thinking > desire > dear-&-not-dear > envy & stinginess > rivalry & hostility

In Sn 4.11, the map is less linear and can be diagrammed like this:

perception > the categories of papañca

perception > name & form > contact > appealing & unappealing > desire > dear-&-not-dear > stinginess/divisiveness/quarrels/disputes

In MN 18, the map is this:

contact > feeling > perception > thinking > the perceptions & categories of papañca
In this last case, however, the bare outline misses some of the important implications of the way this process is phrased. In the full passage, the analysis starts out in an impersonal tone:

Dependent on eye & forms, eye-consciousness arises [similarly with the rest of the six senses]. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as a requisite condition, there is feeling.
Starting with feeling, the notion of an "agent" — in this case, the feeler — acting on "objects," is introduced:

What one feels, one perceives (labels in the mind). What one perceives, one thinks about. What one thinks about, one "papañcizes."
Through the process of papañca, the agent then becomes a victim of his/her own patterns of thinking:

Based on what a person papañcizes, the perceptions & categories of papañca assail him/her with regard to past, present, & future forms cognizable via the eye [as with the remaining senses].
What are these perceptions & categories that assail the person who papañcizes? Sn 4.14 states that the root of the categories of papañca is the perception, "I am the thinker." From this self-reflexive thought — in which one conceives a "self," a thing corresponding to the concept of "I" — a number of categories can be derived: being/not-being, me/not-me, mine/not-mine, doer/done-to, signifier/signified. Once one's self becomes a thing under the rubric of these categories, it's impossible not to be assailed by the perceptions & categories derived from these basic distinctions. When there's the sense of identification with something that experiences, then based on the feelings arising from sensory contact, some feelings will seem appealing — worth getting for the self — and others will seem unappealing — worth pushing away. From this there grows desire, which comes into conflict with the desires of others who are also engaging in papañca. This is how inner complications breed external contention.

How can this process be ended? Through a shift in perception, caused by the way one attends to feelings, using the categories of appropriate attention [see MN 2]. As the Buddha states in DN 21, rather than viewing a feeling as an appealing or unappealing thing, one should look at it as part of a causal process: when a particular feeling is pursued, do skillful or unskillful qualities increase in the mind? If skillful qualities increase, the feeling may be pursued. If unskillful qualities increase, it shouldn't. When comparing feelings that lead to skillful qualities, notice which are more refined: those accompanied with thinking (directed thought) and evaluation, or those free of thinking and evaluation, as in the higher stages of mental absorption, or jhana. When seeing this, there is a tendency to opt for the more refined feelings, and this cuts through the act of thinking that, according to MN 18, provides the basis for papañca.

In following this program, the notion of agent and victim is avoided, as is self-reflexive thinking in general. There is simply the analysis of cause-effect processes. One is still making use of dualities — distinguishing between unskillful and skillful (and affliction/lack of affliction, the results of unskillful and skillful qualities) — but the distinction is between processes, not things. Thus one's analysis avoids the type of thinking that, according to DN 21, depends on the perceptions and categories of papañca, and in this way the vicious cycle by which thinking and papañca keep feeding each other is cut.

Ultimately, by following this program to greater and greater levels of refinement through the higher levels of mental absorption, one finds less and less to relish and enjoy in the six senses and the mental processes based on them. With this sense of disenchantment, the processes of feeling and thought are stilled, and there is a breakthrough to the cessation of the six sense spheres. When these spheres cease, is there anything else left? Ven. Sariputta, in AN 4.174, warns us not to ask, for to ask if there is, isn't, both-is-and-isn't, neither-is-nor-isn't anything left in that dimension is to papañcize what is free from papañca. However, this dimension is not a total annihilation of experience. It's a type of experience that DN 11 calls consciousness without feature, luminous all around, where water, earth, fire, & wind have no footing, where long/short, coarse/fine, fair/foul, name/form are all brought to an end. This is the fruit of the path of arahantship — a path that makes use of dualities but leads to a fruit beyond them.

It may come as cold comfort to realize that conflict can be totally overcome only with the realization of arahantship, but it's important to note that by following the path recommended in DN 21 — learning to avoid references to any notion of "self" and learning to view feelings not as things but as parts of a causal process affecting the qualities in the mind — the basis for papañca is gradually undercut, and there are fewer and fewer occasions for conflict. In following this path, one reaps its increasing benefits all along the way.


For more on papanca, I recommend Bhikkhu Nanananda's "Concept And Reality", or failing that, "Magic Of The Mind" (which I know you have a copy of!)

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: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Feb 05, 2010 10:26 pm

Greetings Sean,

seanpdx wrote:And the notion that the atman is permanent and blissful precedes buddhism. That is why one cannot set aside "the matters of what other religionists believed and the possible influence of that on the presentation of the Buddha's anatta teaching".


I agree... but it's deliberately "out of scope" for this discussion in the Meditation Forum, because there's already an existing topic in Early Buddhism to explore that angle.

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: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby seanpdx » Fri Feb 05, 2010 10:31 pm

A slightly more on-topic response. I skimmed (very very quickly!) Thanissaro's intro that you posted, and one of the three or four sentences I actually paid attention to was this: "rather than viewing a feeling as an appealing or unappealing thing, one should look at it as part of a causal process". I believe it was Gombrich (could be wrong?) who wrote that much of the teachings in buddhism could stem from the hypothesis that there is no accurate word for "process" in pali.

Were that the case, it would actually make anatta as a basis for insight rather neat and tidy, dontcha think?

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Re: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby Chula » Fri Feb 05, 2010 11:13 pm

retrofuturist wrote:"What is the benefit?"

To avoid unnecessary complication in these matters, it's always useful to remind oneself why one takes up the practice in the first place:

MN 22: Alagaddūpamasutta
“Monks, do you see any clinging in the form of a doctrine of self which,
in clinging to, there would not arise sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief & despair?”
“No, lord.”
...
“Even so, monks, whatever is not yours: Let go of it. Your letting go of it will
be for your long-term happiness & benefit.”
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

More readings on Anattā from the Canon:
http://dhammatalks.org/Archive/Retreats ... Anatta.pdf

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Re: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby Abyss » Fri Feb 05, 2010 11:35 pm

seanpdx wrote:Why is it that my atta cannot be dukkha? Cannot be anicca? Why is it that things which are dukkha and/or anicca are not fit to be called my atta?

Because "atta" involves the idea of mastery over what is regarded as "self". See MN 35 (which unfortunately is not availabe at accesstoinsight.org). Anicca and dukkha show that such mastery is an illusion, since we cannot command things to be permanent and pleasant.

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Re: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Feb 05, 2010 11:40 pm

Abyss wrote:See MN 35 (which unfortunately is not availabe at accesstoinsight.org).

There is a translation here:
http://awake.kiev.ua/dhamma/tipitaka/
Specifically:
http://awake.kiev.ua/dhamma/tipitaka/2S ... ta-e1.html

These translations are not as reliable as Bhikkhu Bodhi's but it is useful that there is a complete MN online...

Mike

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Re: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Feb 05, 2010 11:46 pm

Greetings Sean,

seanpdx wrote:I believe it was Gombrich (could be wrong?) who wrote that much of the teachings in buddhism could stem from the hypothesis that there is no accurate word for "process" in pali.

Were that the case, it would actually make anatta as a basis for insight rather neat and tidy, dontcha think?


I would be more inclined to associate observation of "process" with direct observation of anicca (with anatta being a secondary, indirect observation) - you would be observing change and dependent arising.

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: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby seanpdx » Fri Feb 05, 2010 11:57 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Sean,

seanpdx wrote:I believe it was Gombrich (could be wrong?) who wrote that much of the teachings in buddhism could stem from the hypothesis that there is no accurate word for "process" in pali.

Were that the case, it would actually make anatta as a basis for insight rather neat and tidy, dontcha think?


I would be more inclined to associate observation of "process" with direct observation of anicca (with anatta being a secondary, indirect observation) - you would be observing change and dependent arising.

Metta,
Retro. :)


In this particular case, I'm using anatta as an object of insight that's predicated on seeing the anicca inherent in the khandhas. I think it mostly amounts to the same thing, differentiated only by the degree of focus on "anatta" or "anicca". Or, you know, something along those lines. =)

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Re: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby vinasp » Sat Feb 06, 2010 1:39 am

Hi retrofuturist,

I am wondering what your understanding of annica is. Could you comment on this sutta? Thanks.

"Venerable sir, it is said 'true knowledge, true knowledge'. What now, venerable sir, is true knowledge, and in what way has one arrived at true knowledge?"
"Here, bhikkhu, the instructed noble disciple understands form, its origin, its cessation, and the way leading to its cessation.
He understands feeling ...
He understands perception ...
He understands volitional formations ...
He understands consciousness, its origin, its cessation, and the way leading to its cessation.
This is called true knowledge, and in this way one has arrived at true knowledge."

Connected Discourses of the Buddha, Bhikkhu Bodhi, page 967. [ SN 22. 114 (2) ].

Best wishes, Vincent.

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Re: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby retrofuturist » Sat Feb 06, 2010 2:04 am

Greetings Vincent,

I'm not quite sure exactly what you want me to comment on, and in what context. My understanding of anicca is summarised by Sakka in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta thusly...

Sakka, in DN 16 wrote:Impermanent are all component things,
They arise and cease, that is their nature:
They come into being and pass away,
Release from them is bliss supreme.


How does your line of inquiry tie back to the topic at hand?

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: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby vinasp » Sun Feb 07, 2010 1:59 am

Hi retrofuturist,

When the five aggregates cease, what is there to observe?

Best wishes, Vincent.

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Re: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Feb 07, 2010 2:16 am

Greetings Vincent,

As I understand it...

The five aggregates are categorisations or classifications for what is experienced.

When a certain pain (feeling) arises and ceases, that is cessation of that feeling, but not of the feeling aggregate in toto. The cessation of feeling in toto is known temporarily in the formless jhanas, when only their absence can be observed. When consciousness finds no footing in aggregates, they can be said to have ceased.

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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vinasp
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Re: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby vinasp » Sun Feb 07, 2010 5:59 am

Hi retrofuturist,

Ah! ... Thanks. For me they are classifications of mental-objects ( objectified form, objectified feeling etc. ). I do not wish to disturb your discussion - so I will not enquire further.

Best wishes, Vincent.

Jack
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Re: Anatta as the basis for insight - What object? What benefit?

Postby Jack » Tue Feb 09, 2010 9:46 pm

[quote="retrofuturist"]Greetings,

How can anatta be the object of insight? What is the object? What is the benefit?\
===
Here are my thoughts. While doing vipassana, one notices that phenomena arises at the six sense doors without our "I" managing, controlling and making it happen. At the end of the sitting meditation, we stand up and begin walking meditation again without an "I" being involved. We look for that "I", that controlling self, and don't find anything.

jack


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