I've been reading Buddhist Thought in India by Edward Conze (which I will be quoting liberally, so please forgive me). I'm not sure whether or not his scholarship is considered dated at this point in time, but I find his book very thought-provoking and informative. It certainly appeals to my speculative side, which might be a negative thing since speculative thoughts about kamma and rebirth within the context of anatta kept interrupting awareness of the breath. Luckily, I recovered quite well today and am looking forward to some serious time on the cushion for the uposatha.
This brings me to the point of my post. Conze's chapter on 'Doctrinal Disputes' among the 'Sthaviras' opens with a description of Puggalavada/Pudgalavada teachings. He explains reasoning that led this school to posit the existence of a real Self (puggala). [I have added numbers by the quotes to delineate each reason and I have omitted the reasons which don't relate to the topic I want to discuss]
The non-Puggalavadin schools, and Conze himself, vehemently [and rightly, I think] rejected this self-view. However, Conze immediately moves on to another point, which is really what I want to discuss.Buddhist Thought in India, Part II, Chapter 2.1 wrote:1. To the Vatsiputriyas transmigration seemed inconceivable without a person...If there is no person, who then transmigrates? Who else could wander if not the person? For it is absurd to say that it is the Wandering (samsara) which wanders...
2. There are, further, in each individual a number of factors which outlast the fleeting moment...A similar reasoning [there must be an "I" which is the subject to "a number of factors which outlast the fleeting moment] may also be applied to karmic actions, and their retribution. It is the same person ["person" being puggala, the real Self] who first acts, and then reaps his reward or punishment. [kammic formations, both in terms of this life and future lives]
I bolded the last part of this melange of excerpts because it seems like a nice summary of the reasoning behind the development of depersonalized, seemingly permanent dhammas performing the functions of supposed "selves." Mainly, it seems these schools wanted to explain the mechanism of becoming with relation to individual kamma production in the context of depersonalized samsaric existence.Buddhist Thought in India, Part II, Chapter 2.1 wrote:I sometimes suspect that their [the Puggalavadins'] main crime consisted in acting like the boy who honestly said that the emperor had no clothes on. Everyone else knew that this was so, but pretended that it was not.
The urge to deviate from the strict Abhidharma interpretation of anatta was felt in many sections of the Buddhist community, alike among Sthaviras, Mahasanghikas, and Mahayanists, and I do not see how one can avoid the conclusion that the Theravadin orthodoxy narrowed the original teaching so as to make it logically more consistent with itself. So strong indeed is the practical and theoretical need for the assumption of a permanent factor in connection with the activities of a 'person', that in addition to the Pudgalavadins other schools also felt obliged to introduce it more or less furtively in a disugised form, though the word 'self' remained taboo at all times...
Personal 'continuities' [as defined by Conze, "the activities, past, present and future, which in mutual causal interrelation, constitute a continuous and uninterrupted series, it is a stream of consciousness which remains identical with itself in spite of the perpetual change of its elements..."] perform at least two functions of 'self' in that (1) each continuity is separate from others and (2) is constantly there, though not permanent...they [Sthaviras] took great care that this chain of events, though continuously replacing constituents, should be constantly there, and that no interstices should interrupt the continous flow of causality...In order to definitely eliminate the disruptive effect of such gaps, the later Theravadins put forward the theory of 'life-continuum' (bhavanga) which is subconscous and subliminal...Likewise the Sautrantikas taught the 'continous existence of a very subtle consciousness' and also the Mahasanghikas had a basic (mula) consciousness and believed that karma matures in the subconscious mind where thought has no definite object.
The hankering after a permanent personality hardens still further when another sect, the Samkrantikas, teach that the skandhas transmigrate from one life to another. Or when the Mahisasaka distinguish three kinds of skandhas, those which are instantaneous, those which endure during one life, and those which endure until the end of samsara. Concepts like these were designed to escape from the straitjacket of the Abhidharma, and try to establish the equivalent not only of an empirical but also of a true self...
[Conze goes on to describe various consciousnesses and concepts which were proposed in various schools in order to explain in an impersonal, dhamma-centered way the issues the Puggalavadins 'explained' by proposing a person]
All these theoretical construction are attempts to combine the doctrine of 'not-self' with the almost instinctive belief in a 'self', empirical or true. The climax of this combination of the uncombinable is reached in such conceptual monstrosities as the 'store-consciousness' (alaya-vijnana) of Asanga and a minority of Yogacarins, which performs all the functions of a 'self' in a theory which almost vociferously proclaims the non-existence of such a 'self'...
It provides a substratum for the activities of a 'continuity' over some length of time, and acts as the bearer of 'psychic heredity'. In that it accounts for the cohesion between the causally interrelated moments of one 'continuity', it gives rise to the illusory notion of an 'individual' or 'person'. It also acts as a receptacle for all the seeds which will bring fruit at a future period...
One concept I find particularly confusing/strange is consciousness continuity. I have a few impressions (based on my limited knowledge) which seem to contradict the idea of consciousness continuities as separated from other khandas. I have read repeatedly that consciousness arises from the contact between sense base and sense organ. Upon death, contact ceases and therefore consciousness, with respect to one particular life/being, should cease. Consciousness continuity seems to imply that consciousness can exist without a base.
At the same time, I can see the other side of this issue based on the relationship between the nidanas. Consciousness arises as a result of sankharas, which are themselves conditioned by ignorance. In this case, the base for the arising of consciousness would be the sankharas. After consciousness, comes name and form. However, Conze, in his discussion of paticcasamupada, proposes that "what is more certain is that also the scholastics did not regard the links as merely consecutive, but as simultaneously present in one and the same experience." This seems to have some basis in the suttas.
Additionally, these 'continuities' as proposed by various schools (according to Conze) have the quality associated with self-view of being 'constantly there.' That seems to imply that consciousness is not arising or falling, just persisting. Can something truly be constantly there whenever it must be caused by something else before it can arise?Nalakalapiyo Sutta wrote:It is as if two sheaves of reeds were to stand leaning against one another. In the same way, from name-&-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness, from consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form...
So, here are the issues I would like to address in this topic.
1) Is Conze correct in his assertion that most schools, including the Theravada (he specifically mentions bhavanga as well as the cross-sectarian notion of luminous mind as interpreted to the point of 'pseudo-selfhood'), have developed pseudo-selves?
2) If so, to what extent has the Theravada engaged in this type of speculation? How has the Theravada (both its sutta-based and Abhidhammic forms) 'answered' the questions brought up [in this topic at least] by the Puggalavadins?
3) Is consciousness continuity possible? How?
4) If consciousness continuity and pseudo-self is impossible or wrong view, what replaces it (conceptually) if anything?
5) Is the development of 'pseudo-selfhood' the natural result of trying to explain the process of kamma fruition, one of the unanswerables mentioned in the suttas?
6) Anything else you guys would like to add.
As a side note, after reading the 'Doctrinal Disputes' chapter, I started thinking about similes for samsara/individual kammic input which could avoid pseudo-self view. Here is what I came up with, and I'd like to know what you guys think:
Samsara/conditioned existence is a really, really complex rubix cube (conventionally, of course). Within the rubix cube, there are smaller rubix cubes (representing the conventional web of causes and conditions, of which we are a part) which are connected to and inseparable from the entire matrix. Kamma operates within this rubix cube matrix, and is this model's equivalent of the person who manipulates a rubix cube. Whenever we act in ways that produce kammic results, the rubix cube (in this case, one of the smaller rubix cubes within the matrix) is manipulated. It's face is turned this way, or that way, giving the rubix cube a new face (kammic result). At the same time, the movement of this particular rubix cube affects the entire rubix cube matrix, since everything is linked together as cause and condition. So, the smaller rubix cube (which is really not isolated from the rest of the matrix ultimately, but only by ignorant perception) acquires a new appearance. Or the rubix cube's components are shifted into various spaces within the matrix, and a new seemingly discrete, microrubix cube is formed based on the ignorant making of wholes (becoming). There was never an actual, discrete, smaller rubix cube outside of perception of it's place/appearance before it is affected. Nibbana, in my view could be a couple of different things.