The Great anattā/anātman debate

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
davidbrainerd
Posts: 1011
Joined: Fri Jul 01, 2016 3:12 am

Re: On anattā/anātman

Post by davidbrainerd »

justindesilva wrote:The self is hiding within "lobha, dosa and moha" or in other words greed,aversion, and delusion.
With maithri.
No, actually Buddha explicitely says one of the reasons you know the aggregates are not-the-self is because those things are in the aggregates.

The other reason is he says nothing impermanent can be the self and the aggregates are impermanent. So are greed, ill-will and delusion. Which reminds me of a vaguely remembered reference from the Tao Teh Ching: Even a whirlwind cannot last all day, and its made by heaven and earth, so how much moreso is human anger transient.
User avatar
Mkoll
Posts: 6544
Joined: Wed Dec 05, 2012 6:55 pm
Location: Texas

Re: On anattā/anātman

Post by Mkoll »

davidbrainerd wrote:
justindesilva wrote:The self is hiding within "lobha, dosa and moha" or in other words greed,aversion, and delusion.
With maithri.
No, actually Buddha explicitely says one of the reasons you know the aggregates are not-the-self is because those things are in the aggregates.
Hi davidbrainerd,

Can you (or anyone who knows it) provide the sutta where this is said, please? Thank you.

:anjali:
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
davidbrainerd
Posts: 1011
Joined: Fri Jul 01, 2016 3:12 am

Re: On anattā/anātman

Post by davidbrainerd »

Mkoll wrote:
davidbrainerd wrote:
justindesilva wrote:The self is hiding within "lobha, dosa and moha" or in other words greed,aversion, and delusion.
With maithri.
No, actually Buddha explicitely says one of the reasons you know the aggregates are not-the-self is because those things are in the aggregates.
Hi davidbrainerd,

Can you (or anyone who knows it) provide the sutta where this is said, please? Thank you.

:anjali:
I will look for it. And I think I'm going to start a project of creating an index of ideas in the suttas. Because sometimes you remember something and it takes so long to find it again. Time to get organized I guess.
User avatar
cjmacie
Posts: 690
Joined: Wed Dec 26, 2012 4:49 am

Re: On anattā/anātman

Post by cjmacie »

davidbrainerd wrote:
...a project of creating an index of ideas in the suttas. Because sometimes you remember something and it takes so long to find it again...
Somewhere once I heard mention that there are "concordances" (systematic list of word occurrences) of the Pali Canon. (I think it was some scholar, like maybe Ven. Analayo, Ven.Sujato, or B. Bodhi.)

Anyone here know of such? Availability?

I should probably ask this on SuttaCentral too.

(DhammaWheel search didn't seem to come up with much)
User avatar
Coëmgenu
Posts: 3181
Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2016 10:55 pm
Location: Whitby, Canada

Re: On anattā/anātman

Post by Coëmgenu »

I have made extensive use of bolding here, I don't want it to seem like I'm "yelling" at anyone. The bolding is just to stress certain words/concepts.

davidbrainerd wrote:
cappuccino wrote:
davidbrainerd wrote:This is just odd linguistic taboos.


It is odd, a person gone, yet speaking. Yet everything said by Buddha, was said after he was gone.


I wish you'd speak in longer paragraphs rather than koans, but I guess you mean that you think he actually referred to himself in the 3rd person as Bhagava and more importantly Tathagata, rather than that this is a convention of the formal language the sutta compilers decided to impose on the finished product. And thus you think he's saying he's gone while still there.


Why couldn't he have called himself Bhagava? Tathāgata? Anyways, I am pretty sure cappuccino is making reference, in that first sentence he wrote, to something like the "does the Tathāgata persist after death" discourses found in a number of the few Pali Canon suttas I've read. To quote one instance of this discourse emerging in a dialogue between the Buddha and Poṭṭhapāda:

26. "Well, Lord, is the soul the same as the body,... is the soul one thing and the body another?"
"I have not declared that the soul is one thing and the body another."
27. "Well, Lord, does the Tathāgata exist after death? [...]"
"I have not declared that the Tathāgata exists after death."
"Well, Lord, does the Tathāgata not exist after death,... both exist and not exist after death? ...neither exist nor not exist after death?"
"I have not declared [...]."

(DN Sutta 9, 26-27, truncated)


When you, davidbrainerd, criticize cappuccino for voicing these questions aloud, you remind me of a bit later in the sutta:

31. Then the wanderers, as soon as the Lord had left, reproached, sneered and jeered at Poṭṭhapāda from all sides, saying: "Whatever the ascetic Gotama says, Poṭṭhapāda agrees with him: 'So it is, Lord, so it is, [...]' We don't understand a word of the ascetics Gotama's whole discourse: 'Is the world eternal or not? -Is it finite or infinite? -Is the soul the same as the body or different? -Does the Tathāgata exist after death or not [...]?'"
Poṭṭhapāda replied: "I don't understand [...] whether the Tathāgata exists after death or not [...]. But the ascetic Gotama teaches a true and real way of practice which is consonant with the Dhamma and grounded in Dhamma. [...]"

(from the same sutta, later, similarly truncated for brevity)


I'm not saying cappuccino is Poṭṭhapāda, obviously, but the parallels still stand. You probably don't consider this to be an "authentic" sutta though, given your predilections for a sola scriptura hermeneutic that seeks to harmonize and alter the texts so that they can stand alone as complete Buddhadharma: something the suttas were never intended to do and don't do, even when approached with the appropriate hermeneutic.

cappuccino wrote:Yet everything said by Buddha, was said after he was gone.


This second sentence is most likely reference is most like to fact every single word that was "said" by the Buddha we have only through the preserved Buddhadharma, not through transcriptions of exact words. If there is any "superauthentic" layer of Buddhavacana in the Pali Canon it would be impossible to distinguish from the general preserved teachings surrounding it, which are said to constitute authentic Buddhavacana for the reasons I just gave.

davidbrainerd wrote:I wish you'd speak in longer paragraphs rather than koans[...]


Cappuccino needs to speak in koans to balance out people like me who type giant walls of text.
*I am looking for a sufficiently humorously self-depreciating emoji and not finding one*.
:coffee:

davidbrainerd wrote:As to the Upanishads that teach a corporate self being later than Buddha, that's merely nonsense invented by Western materialist Buddhist scholars to help prop up their materialist misreading of the suttas.


:jawdrop:
Ummm.... OK. I guess if you want to write off years and years of well-established interdisciplinary research and fact compiled by Buddhists, non-Buddhists, Hindus and non-Hindus, all of whom have literally no stake in the issue of when the Brahman-Atman polarity emerges in Upanishadic philosophy with respect to Buddhist history and therefore no reason to lie.....

I...... guess? Thats ok? I mean, you are fine throwing out most of Buddhism as nonsense too it seems, so I guess I should have seen it coming that you would have a similar opinion of Western academic inquiry coupled with Vedanta self-narratives.

Perhaps most profoundly, the atman is described as the eternal self that is never born and never dies, lasting throughout eternity. Thus the notion of atman transformed into an abstract, cosmic principle equivalent to the ground of being itself. Atman is the true, radiant self, which "is not born, nor dies. / This one has not come from anywhere..." Furthermore, it is "unborn, constant, eternal, primeval, this one / Is not slain when the body is slain" (Katha Upanishad II).

(from the New World Encyclopedia http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Atman)

The Upanishads tell us that the core of our own self is not the body, or the mind, but atman or “Self”. Atman is the core of all creatures, their innermost essence. It can only be perceived by direct experience through meditation. It is when we are at the deepest level of our existence.

Brahman is the one underlying substance of the universe, the unchanging “Absolute Being”, the intangible essence of the entire existence. It is the undying and unchanging seed that creates and sustains everything. It is beyond all description and intellectual understanding.

One of the great insights of the Upanishads is that atman and Brahman are made of the same substance.

(from the Ancient History Encyclopedia entry on the Upanishads http://www.ancient.eu/Upanishads/)

The ascetics responsible for the production of the Upanishads sought the nature of the true Self. They rejected naturally that idea that the true Self was the body, but also rejected the idea that it was the mind, both that which perceives and that which understands, or the mind. Rather the true Self is hidden "inside" the body and the mind, imperceptible to all but the most ardent inquirerer. The true Self (atman) of all sentient beings— beings who have consciousness—in fact is Brahman. When, in meditation (yoga), one removes all the objects from one's consciousness, one has nothing left but pure consciousness, an awareness without content; this is the true Self, the atman. Furthermore, the Self (atman) is actually Brahman, so that human consciousness is really universal consciousness (purusha); there are not many consciousnesses but ultimately only one. One's true self (atman) is Brahman.

In contrast to vedic religion, concern for earthly benefits derivable from sacrifice is absent in the Upanishads; rather in these texts, the human problem is conceived differently: existence itself is the problem, so that the religious goal now is release (moksa) from the endless cycle of birth and rebirth that characterizes existence (samsara). The realization that one's true nature is Brahman is the means by which one passes into the infinite and escapes rebirth into the cycle of life. This is because to realize one's Self results in the cessation of desires and this leads to not being reborn.

(from Crandall University, lecture notes from Dr. Barry D. Smith's course on the Upanishads http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/grphil ... .htm#U321B, bolding is mine)

And lastly, this lecture by an associate of "The Hindu Academy", Jay Lakhani, the relevant section being entitled "What Are Upanishads?" from approx 12:47-14:30:
.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cuc04Og5UAo.


How are all of these unrelated sources unified on the matter of this conspiracy by "Western materialist Buddhist scholars to help prop up their materialist misreading of the suttas"? These people have no stake or interest in advancing an innovative sect of "materialist Buddhism".

The earliest Upanishads were formed around 500BC (Encyclopedia Brittanica https://www.britannica.com/topic/Upanishad), Buddha was born around 500BC, he started preaching shortly after Awakening, age 35, then he died at age 80. The Upanishads were just starting to be written when Buddha was born. They definitely weren't considered "Holy Texts" equal to the already-established Vedas were during his lifetime, there is no mention of Upanishadic discourse in the Pali Canon (aside from the Abhidhamma). I don't really see where you are coming from, pretending like this is an unreasonable belief when it is well-established by specialists and non-specialists alike from both East and West.

davidbrainerd wrote:...to help prop up their materialist misreading of the suttas.


Whose materialist reading of the suttas? Yours?

davidbrainerd wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote: The historical-materialist hermeneutic of Western textual criticism


This is an interesting word you've coined, this "historical-materialist," particularly the "materialist" part. Is the implication that rather than allowing for the possibility that some inauthentic material could be added to a canon we should believe some spiritual entity is preserving the canon? I don't see how that idea could work for orthodox Theravadins who beleive Buddha just ceased to exist when he died. Tibetans have their spiritual entities emanating themselves down as guardians of traditions (e.g. Dalai Lama), but Theravada doesn't (there's no atman), meaning a historical-materialist approach to the text is quite natural. If anyone were to make the argument that Buddha is floating around as a spirit somewhere preserving the canon, they'd be verbally crucified.


I don't know what causes you to bring up the idea that anyone here, myself included, is arguing in favour "Buddha [...] floating around as a spirit somewhere preserving the canon". I certainly haven't said anything to that effect.

What the term "historical-materialist hermeneutic of textual criticism" refers to is the tendency for the West, academically and non-academically, to approach texts, sacred and secular, with the misconceived notion that they are to be treated only on their own material terms, that they speak to primarily historical truths, and that they seeks to communicate a "true reading" that is materially sound (i.e. "true" within the context of historical-materialism, "the doctrine that nothing can be said to be historically existent except matter, its movements, and modifications").

This is the hermeneutic you are applying to the suttas, and once you understand what I mean by that, you will understand why I call your approach a sola scriptura approach to reading truth out of early Buddhist literature.

Doctrines and viewpoints that presume sola scriptura approach texts with the assumption that they communicate truth primarily through a historical-materialist hermeneutic (for the benefit of people on this forum who might be newer to the English language, not to be patronizing, I'll say "hermeneutic" means "method of analysis to find authored 'truth' in a given text"). A Protestant Christian applying sola scriptura, reading the Bible, assumes that it speaks to a historical-materialist truth (i.e. the events materially happened exactly as they are written). This is a misapplied hermeneutic because the Bible (as well as the Pali Canon) quite obviously was not designed to primarily communicate a historical-material truth (i.e. Noah's Flood, the Exodus, contradictions in the Bible, etc), and prior to late 1600s had never been read that way.

My good friend iohannes can point you to a wealth of secular and sacred historical scholarship which supports the existence of an Enlightenment revolution in Biblical hermeneutics should you also decide this to be another conspiracy, barring that though, you can check here on wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_literalism).

The historical-materialist hermeneutic is well-applied in manners concerning histories authored by the recent West (post 1700), and in instances when we "read truth" out of physical objects, such as Arctic Ice-Core samples or geological formations, but it is ill-applied to ancient history and ancient sources because it retrojects scientific Western thinking onto cultures and text-products of cultures that are, by definition, foreign to the modern Western modes of scientific and historical inquiry as well as modern Western metaphysical materialism.

This is the process that occurs when a text that is *not* speaking to a historical-materialist paradigm of truth is (mis)read with a historical-materialist hermeneutic.

1. Person reads text presuming a complete standalone historical-materialist truth is to be found within said text.
2. Person encounters contradictions either a) inside the text itself and/or b) between the material-historical truth that appears to be indicated in the text and the physical reality directly around him (which he views from a historical-materialist perspective, regardless of if he also believes in God, or devas, or whatever).
3. In order to maintain the supremacy of his hermeneutic, he must a) decide which sections of text must have become corrupted, and produce a convincing or unconvincing reason as to why, or b) decide whether the sections of text are false or the apparent reality around him is false.

Conservative Christian creationists in America, the UK, and Australia, due to their hermeneutic of the Bible, decided that the apparent reality around them was false, rather than the text or their hermeneutic of text being at fault. Scientists, according to this view, as well as the greater part of the entirety of modern society, are part of a grand conspiracy to undermine Biblical truth with scientifically fabricated falsehoods about the nature of the world. That was how they dealt with contradictions generated by their hermeneutic.

The solution of classical Protestantism, as reasoned out by Martin Luther, was to alter the text in question (the Bible) by "harmonizing it", which meant throwing out select texts he found objectionable:

The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.

("The Confession of Faith of the Westminster Assembly of Divines", Article III, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Conf ... estminster)


You share your solutions to the contradictions you appear to find with Luther and his classical Protestants.

1.You read the Sutta Nikaya presuming that it is a standalone historical-materialist work in which there is intended to be found a historical-materialist truth.
2. You encounter apparent contradictions inside the text itself (particularly between Dhp 153-4 and MN 22, for instance, using examples from what you have said here).
3. Instead of exercising epistemological humility, and questioning your hermeneutic that produced a flawed reading of the text, you decide that MN 22 is inauthentic and invent, based on no evidence, a narrative that a "king [was] trying to quell noisy dissent when trying to force convert his realm to one religion and dissension in this religion [was] making it hard for him to do". I can only assuming you are accusing Ashoka of Dharma-contamination?
davidbrainerd wrote:I feel no compulsion to harmonize the passages that obviously require a self or soul (like Dhammapada 153-154) with the suttas that seem clearly inauthentic
Declaring certain suttas inauthentic is a harmonization effort, just as much as it was when Luther declared the apocrypha inauthentic.

davidbrainerd wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote: "Oh I see your village Buddhism from, Thailand, or Sri Lanka, or whatever... Let me teach you what Buddha REALLY said with my superior textual criticism that can sort out the mess that you put your suttas into."


Surely you don't think the average village Buddhist is an academically orthodox Theravadin pushing anatta to the extreme of denying there is a soul to be reborn, get enlightened and go to nibbana. The average village Buddhist would be making the same arguments I am making against academic orthodoxy, just as your average Christian follows a much looser definition of the Trinity than what academic theology says is technically orthodox.


Theravadin orthodoxy is neither "academic" nor has it ever had a special "academic orthodoxy" for scholarly-minded monks or laypeople. It is well-established in all circles of anything you could call "mainstream Buddhist orthodoxy" that the anatta-teaching and the Sutta Nikaya do not point to a true self or permanent soul. Only in the wildest fringe groups is this complicated by dissent of any sort because it is a foundation belief to the faith. Even in Mahayana, there is no doctrine of a true self (not even the Tathāgatagarbha doctrine advocates for this, although people often claim so).

Yes, average Christians lack the technical Hellenistic vocabulary of Greek metaphysics that would be necessary to expound the trinity exactly as academics do, or as the bishops at the Council of Nicaea did, but every orthodox Christian (small 'o') can say: "God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit". No Greek metaphysical vocabulary required. Similarly, all orthodox Buddhists can say "all things are not the self" or "the self is absent in all things", in their respective languages, without needing a greatly expanded Indic vocabulary to get into the nitty-gritty of an exhaustive list of all specific manners and ways that X or Y isn't self.

We are assuming orthodox Buddhists and Christians here, not just anyone born whose parents happened to follow X or Y religion, and who half-learned random facts about the tradition. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy require that the practitioner actually take some interest in their religion and want to follow it.

What you are doing is taking an interest in the religion, but not on its own terms. You are trying to stretch Buddhism over the canvas of the Western historical-materialist mindset because you aren't questioning your own hermeneutic.

Earlier in this post, I mentioned that when you came to step 3 of the process of altering a text based on historical-materialist hermeneutical assumptions, you should have exercised "epistemological humility". If you have done that instead, you would have perhaps stumbled upon the correct Theravada hermeneutic that is appropriate for reading the texts because it is the same hermeneutic that produced the texts, therefore appropriate by default.

Here it is:
Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:
davidbrainerd wrote:I hope you're not talking about the silly monk in The Questions of King Milinda who says a chariot is none of the parts of the chariot by itself nor the combination of the parts, but then turns around and says it is the combination of the parts. He can't even see that he contradicted himself. He's clearly no Buddha.
Whether the monk Nāgasena really existed is a moot point. I think it more likely that the Milindapañha used a fictitious character to illustrate what might otherwise have been a dry doctrinal treatise.
This is an example of the appropriate hermeneutic to be applied to the suttas. Like I said earlier, the suttas were never intended to and don't constitute a standalone "do-it-yourself" complete Buddhadharma, even when approached with the appropriate hermeneutic.

Your historical-materialist hermeneutic causes you to read "The Questions of King Milinda" as a historical-materialist text, when that isn't what it is, or what any of the suttas are, for that matter. Whether the suttas contain historical-materialist "truth", or not, is secondary to their purpose, which is the communicating of the perspective of the "truth" that they were written to communicate: Buddhadharma. The monk in question, whom you have hastily deemed "silly", need not have ever materially existed, as pointed out by Bhante Bhikkhu Pesala, because a historical-materialist hermeneutic should not been presumptively applied to these texts.

The fact that you determine that the monk "can't even see that he contradicted himself" illustrates that somewhere, either consciously or unconsciously, you are placing yourself as superior in discernment and attainment than the very compilers of the Pali Canon itself. You are presuming that they compiled this document, preserved it, disseminated it, without noticing these apparent discrepancies. These things are already well-noticed and well-accounted-for in the teaching. The West aren't the first people to look critically at the Theravada scriptures, the Theravadins have been doing it far longer.
davidbrainerd wrote:
mikenz66 wrote: These are not modern, revisionist, ideas. The issues are discussed ancient commentaries, such as the Visuddhimagga:
:anjali:
Mike
Yep, the atheist/materialist infiltration had already started by the 5th century AD/CE. And? Its not ancient if it ain't BCE.
If you are seriously and legitimately trying to argue that Buddhaghoṣa is an atheist, or a materialist, "infiltrating" the Dhamma, why are you interesting in being a Buddhist? You obviously consider your own Western cultural viewpoint and ideologies superior to anything that Theravada hermeneutics and teaching can provide you.

What you seem to do be doing is creating your own sect of pseudo-Buddhism rather than humbling the notions of cultural superiority embedded in your hermeneutic application and just meeting Buddhism, in its fullness and entirety, on its own grounds, to learn about it on neutral terms, without preconceptions that certain things are "wrong" because they don't make sense on your first-glance.

Like I said before, you can't think that Western moderns are the first people to realize that some things in the Pali Canon, when viewed on purely materialistic ground, do legitimately appear to contradict each other on the surface. We didn't compile it, we didn't preserve it for years. All of the "apparent" contradictions in the Pali Canon, in the Dhamma in general, as it has been preserved in the School of the Elders, are accounted for and explained if you are willing to embrace the fullness of the tradition and the proper pedagogical hermeneutic implied in the phrase "fullness of the tradition".
The thus come thus gone,
who has neither came nor went,
enthroned on men’s breath,

like the still turtle,
withdraws six appendages
and is clothed in light --

illuminating
the unilluminated
with three shining cures.
User avatar
Coëmgenu
Posts: 3181
Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2016 10:55 pm
Location: Whitby, Canada

Re: On anattā/anātman

Post by Coëmgenu »

Mkoll wrote: To get a better idea of the community and its variety, I suggest going out to monasteries and communities in the real world and making your discoveries that way. Maybe you are already doing or planning to do this, in which case, sadhu!

:anjali:
Greetings,

I've been in the process of reaching out to a temple in Scarborough, but I am somewhat timid in person for all my false internet bravado, which impedes my progress :embarassed: lol. I'll chat with them eventually though.
Mkoll wrote: Please don't take this forum as representative of the Theravada community—I think it is very easy to get a very specific (dare I say "warped") perception of Theravada practice and practitioners if your primary source of information is the internet.
I figured as much once I realized that "orthodox" could be something of a dirty word on certain areas of the forum :lol:

That being said it seems to me to be a pretty accurate cross section of the extreme diversity and auto-didactic quality that Western Dhamma often has. Various people coming to the teaching from extremely diverse background, all of whom are culturally foreign to traditional settings of Dhamma-transmission. Its fun to engage in even if sometimes fruitless.

I'll go to the Mahavihara-moderated areas for any serious questions about orthodoxy and what is consider truly representational of the tradition. Or better yet an actual in-person encounter with a real practitioner lol.

Discussion about orthodoxy continued here: http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 18#p390018
The thus come thus gone,
who has neither came nor went,
enthroned on men’s breath,

like the still turtle,
withdraws six appendages
and is clothed in light --

illuminating
the unilluminated
with three shining cures.
Cormac Brown
Posts: 355
Joined: Sun Dec 22, 2013 10:10 am

Re: On anattā/anātman

Post by Cormac Brown »

Goofaholix wrote:Spiny offered that "Nibbana isn't a self" and you countered with "it's not correct to say this.", there's no difference between this and saying we can assume nibbana to be self as far as I can see.
So what if someone were to say in this thread, "Cormac's a despicable fool," and a moderator, perhaps one who doesn't entirely disagree (not unreasonably, I might add) with the statement on terms of verbal accuracy, were to see the comment. Is it not still conceivable that they might, despite their lack of disagreement in one sense, nevertheless inform the accuser that, "It's not correct to say this," due to the fact that it is deeply unhelpful, and might increase rather than decrease suffering and disharmony?

If he were to have said, "Nibbana is self," I'd have said the same. It isn't correct to say this. Apart from the fact that adopting such standpoints is a cause for internal and external conflict (as this thread clearly displays), it's not something the Buddha declared.

As I've said, the Buddha, as per Abhaya Sutta, only uttered things that were both true and beneficial. "Beneficial" meaning leading to the end of suffering. He never, ever said, "There is no self," nor did he ever say "Nibbana is not self," nor did he ever say "Nibbana is the true self." The truth or falsehood, or, I'd suggest, total inappropriateness of these statements, is something only someone who's reached Nibbana can really know. However, what we can certainly infer from the Buddha's teachings as per the suttas is that none of these statements are in any way beneficial to those of us seeking to end suffering.

I have heard that some years ago an article was run in a Thai newspaper on whether Nibbana is self or not-self. Various commentators to-ed and fro-ed over arguments for either possibility: "Yes, it's self," said one, "No, it's not," said another. Then came an interview with Ajahn Maha Boowa. When asked, "Is Nibbana self or not-self?" he replied simply, "Nibbana is Nibbana." Nibbana has nothing to do with the kind of labelling we're typically obsessed with. It's completely free of it. So "it's not correct" to adopt either of these positions. If we do so, we're trying to make Nibbana into something that fits our preconceptions, and in doing so we block the way there. Sariputta, in supremely refined terms, seems to suggest as much here:
"AN 4.174 PTS: A ii 161 Thai 4.173
Kotthita Sutta: To Kotthita
translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
© 2002

Then Ven. Maha Kotthita went to Ven. Sariputta and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to Ven. Sariputta, "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?"

[Sariputta:] "Don't say that, my friend."

[Maha Kotthita:] "With the remainderless stopping & fading of the six contact-media, is it the case that there is not anything else?"

[Sariputta:] "Don't say that, my friend."

[Maha Kotthita:] "...is it the case that there both is & is not anything else?"

[Sariputta:] "Don't say that, my friend."

[Maha Kotthita:] "...is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else?"

[Sariputta:] "Don't say that, my friend."

[Maha Kotthita:] "Being asked if, with the remainderless stopping & fading of the six contact-media, there is anything else, you say, 'Don't say that, my friend.' Being asked if ... there is not anything else ... there both is & is not anything else ... there neither is nor is not anything else, you say, 'Don't say that, my friend.' Now, how is the meaning of your words to be understood?"

[Sariputta:] "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?' objectifies non-objectification.[1] 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?' objectifies non-objectification. However far the six contact-media go, that is how far objectification goes. However far objectification 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 objectification.

Note

1.
See MN 18. As Sn 4.14 points out, the root of the classifications and perceptions of objectification is the thought, "I am the thinker." This thought forms the motivation for the questions that Ven. Maha Kotthita is presenting here: the sense of "I am the thinker" can either fear or desire annihilation in the course of Unbinding. Both concerns get in the way of the abandoning of clinging, which is essential for the attainment of Unbinding, which is why the questions should not be asked."
(My note: Ven. T renders papanca objectification: it is variously rendered "proliferation, complication.")

Similarly, the path leading to Nibbana has nothing to do with questions leading only to confusion, such as, "Is there a self?" "Is there no self?" "What is the self?" These are the questions of ayoniso manasikara/inappropriate attention: "Am I? Am I not? What am I?". Questions coming from ignorance, and leading only to increased ignorance. If we've arrived at answers, such as "There is a self," or "There is no self," we can only have arrived at these positions by asking these inappropriate questions. How could we be anywhere but mired in confusion? When we take the question of whether or not there is a self (i.e. Do I exist? Do I not?) to be an important one, we're not on the path - we're fooling around in the bushes. And it's getting dark.

Anatta is a quality of phenomena. It cannot mean, "No self." (Unless you're Scottish, of course, in which case it'd still be a colloquial abbreviation of "Not self.") "Sabbe dhamma anatta" means "all phenomena are not self." Could "sabbe sankhara anicca," mean "all formations are no permanent?" No. It'd be nonsense.

The OP expressed an interest in the question of what anatta is, and this is the only correct answer. It means "not self" not "no self." It is a characteristic of phenomena, not an ultimate doctrinal, philosophical truth on the existence/non-existence of a soul. It is also a meditative technique - a perception to be applied to phenomena in order to bring one's views closer in line with the truth, and to bring an end to clinging and suffering. This technique, rightly used, blasts views and standpoints of all kinds, including "There is no self," to smithereens. As the Buddha implies in Satta Sutta, it "smashes up" form, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, intentions, consciousnesses, so that they are "unfit for play." People still infatuated with views such as "There is no self," or "There is a self," are not adults in this Dhamma - they are like the little children in this same sutta still infatuated with their sandcastles; too in love - too identified- with their precious little views to blow them apart. They're philosophers, trying to end suffering by churning out views: not practitioners aiming at the cessation of views.
"Abandoning what he had embraced,
abandoning self,
not clinging,
he doesn't make himself dependent
even in connection with knowledge;
doesn't follow a faction
among those who are split;
doesn't fall back
on any view whatsoever."

Sn 4.5
“I in the present who am a worthy one, rightly self-awakened, am a
teacher of action, a teacher of activity, a teacher of persistence. But the
worthless man Makkhali contradicts even me, (saying,) ‘There is no
action. There is no activity. There is no persistence.’ "
AN 3.138, trans. Ven. Thanissaro
Spiny Norman
Posts: 7619
Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 10:32 am
Location: Andromeda looks nice

Re: On anattā/anātman

Post by Spiny Norman »

Sure, anatta means not-self. But if the aggregates are not-self and Nibbana is not-self, then there is no self to be found.
Buddha save me from new-agers!
User avatar
Goofaholix
Posts: 2997
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:49 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: On anattā/anātman

Post by Goofaholix »

Cormac Brown wrote:So what if someone were to say in this thread, "Cormac's a despicable fool," and a moderator, perhaps one who doesn't entirely disagree (not unreasonably, I might add) with the statement on terms of verbal accuracy, were to see the comment. Is it not still conceivable that they might, despite their lack of disagreement in one sense, nevertheless inform the accuser that, "It's not correct to say this," due to the fact that it is deeply unhelpful, and might increase rather than decrease suffering and disharmony?

If he were to have said, "Nibbana is self," I'd have said the same. It isn't correct to say this. Apart from the fact that adopting such standpoints is a cause for internal and external conflict (as this thread clearly displays), it's not something the Buddha declared.
This is a very contrived and weak argument attempting to justify a non-sensical statement.

If were to say in this thread, "Cormac's a despicable fool", the moderators would likely step in because it violates normal standards of decency, and I'd expect they would go further just say "It's not correct to say this".

This is quite different from expressing disagreement with a statement that should be reasonably obvious to anyone who has a reasonable understanding of core Buddhism terms
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah
binocular
Posts: 8292
Joined: Sat Jan 17, 2009 11:13 pm

Re: On anattā/anātman

Post by binocular »

Spiny Norman wrote:Sure, anatta means not-self. But if the aggregates are not-self and Nibbana is not-self, then there is no self to be found.
I don't mean to make light, but to me, thinking like that above is thinking too far ahead. I take it I will know Nibbana once I get there, but until then, I can only speculate about it, and that's not exactly helpful.
Hic Rhodus, hic salta!
Spiny Norman
Posts: 7619
Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 10:32 am
Location: Andromeda looks nice

Re: On anattā/anātman

Post by Spiny Norman »

binocular wrote:
Spiny Norman wrote:Sure, anatta means not-self. But if the aggregates are not-self and Nibbana is not-self, then there is no self to be found.
I don't mean to make light, but to me, thinking like that above is thinking too far ahead. I take it I will know Nibbana once I get there, but until then, I can only speculate about it, and that's not exactly helpful.
It is not about speculating, it is about trying to understand what the Buddha taught, based here on what the suttas describe. Can you reference any suttas which describe Nibbana as a self or soul?
Buddha save me from new-agers!
User avatar
Coëmgenu
Posts: 3181
Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2016 10:55 pm
Location: Whitby, Canada

Re: On anattā/anātman

Post by Coëmgenu »

So there are two different translations of the anattā-teaching floating around: no-self, and not-self.

Whether or not anattā is a doctrine or not has more to do with individual readings of things that people associate with the word "doctrine" than the definition of doctrine itself, which basically just means "belief to be held" or "teaching". I'll continue to use the word doctrine because that is the language I was brought up in, but as Cormac Brown has pointed out:

Cormac Brown wrote:Not-self. As I tried to show in my first post, adding that "t" on the end will make it a lot simpler, and is in fact the only sensible translation. Sabbe dhamma anatta: "all phenomena are no self," just doesn't make any sense. And it isn't ever used in the Canon outside of a descriptive context with reference to phenomena. Never as an ultimate doctrine on the absence of a soul/entity.


The "self" in the "no-self" translation of the word/concept/teaching/doctrine of "anattā" is not, I don't think, intended to be "self" in the sense that "absolutely nothing exists that could ever be said to be a self".

I think the "self" in the "no-self" translation is the "self" that appears to us through the interaction of dhammas and our senses/perceptions. That is to say, the "self" in "no-self" is the delusional self, the intuitive self, the unquestioned self.

In fact, if it is utterly impossible to form a viable stable definition of self within the Buddha's teaching, I think it can be safe to say "no-self" as long as you are educated on the subject of the fact that

The familiar world of substantial objects and enduring persons is, according to the dhamma theory, a conceptual construct fashioned by the mind [added bolding for effect] out of the raw data provided by the dhammas. The entities of our everyday frame of reference possess merely a consensual reality derivative upon the foundational stratum of the dhammas

(from page 3 of Bhikkhu Bodhi's Abhidhammattha Sangaha: a Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma)


Putting aside the issue of the authenticity of the Abhidhamma and the veracity of its teachings, I think if we take this specific teaching and evaluate it on its own terms, regardless of if the Abhidhamma is Buddhavacana or not, its actually a pretty reasonable statement. Each of us lives simultaneously via an agreed-upon consensus-built mode of understanding the world and also via an inner experiential mode of perception that is tempered by our individual attainments, delusions, and fetters. These delusions and fetters change our "inner world" that is experienced by us.

Within our own minds, there is a "conceptual construct fashioned by the mind out of the raw data provided by the dhammas" and tempered, in most cases, by fetters and delusions. Now one could be a fundamentalist about it and say something like "therefore the external world doesn't exist" but I don't think that is in the spirit of the intentions of this passage.

I think that this passage directly related to the Buddha's statement in Cormac Brown's quote:

Cormac Brown wrote:Sabbe dhamma anatta: "all phenomena are no[t] self,"

(added 't')


Even the dhamma or "phenominon" of experiencing and believing there to be a self is "not-self".

Since its impossible for normal sentient beings to safely conjecture or realize any viable definition of self in the mind, since that would constitute a dhamma and be "not-self", that is where "no-self" lies, as a teaching, because it is impossible to conjecture an accurate reading of "self", regardless of the issue of if a "true self" exists or not. One could say, actually, that is it, by the Buddha's teaching, equally impossible to safely conjecture or realize any viable definition of "true self" in the mind either, since that would also constitute a dhamma and be "not-self".

No-self isn't necessarily a metaphysical statement about absolute truth. But it is a metaphysical statement about the world as we perceive it. That much seems to make sense.

I tentatively agree with Ven. Thanissaro in as much as his discourse points out that "no-self" can lead to profound misconceptions about annihilism. But I would also say "not-self" also has an equal tendency to produce, in people who lack the necessary background in Buddhist discourse, to point to this misconceived line of reason that I have seen bandied about here:

"X is not-self, Y is not-self, Z is not-self, Buddha must be saying this because the true self is not these things"

So I think it might be a matter of pick-your-poison. If there isn't a sufficient background in Buddhist discourse, no-self and not-self are going to lead to different wrong assumptions and worldviews. The moral of the story is to learn more before assuming that you know what no-self or not-self is I guess lol.
Spiny Norman wrote:This is all rather convoluted for my taste. The simpler explanation is that liberation consists of realizing that "self" is a fiction
I would adjust your quote, if you will allow me, to read, instead:
The simpler explanation is that liberation consists of realizing that "realizing the self" is a fiction
In order to posit the existence of a self, regardless of if it is a "true self" or if it is the simple "self" that exists in sentiments such as "I have the name Caoimhghín" or "I own this house", you have to first "realize selfhood", whether that realization is accurate or not. Buddha teaches that all dhammas are "not the self". The "realization" of realizing the self is a dhamma. Therefore the "self" that was realized was "not-self". That is how "no-self" originates as a mode of understanding anattā.

I think that small adjustment in detail might actually harmonize the no-self/not-self disagreements (which, to be honest, seem more rooted in the particularities of the English language and different peoples' different connotations about what "self" means) as they relate to how one could possibly go about understanding anattā in relation to liberation and Buddhadharma. But maybe I am naively optimistic.
:hug:
The thus come thus gone,
who has neither came nor went,
enthroned on men’s breath,

like the still turtle,
withdraws six appendages
and is clothed in light --

illuminating
the unilluminated
with three shining cures.
User avatar
Goofaholix
Posts: 2997
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:49 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: On anattā/anātman

Post by Goofaholix »

Coëmgenu wrote: I think that small adjustment in detail might actually harmonize the no-self/not-self disagreements (which, to be honest, seem more rooted in the particularities of the English language and different peoples' different connotations about what "self" means) as they relate to how one could possibly go about understanding anattā in relation to liberation and Buddhadharma. But maybe I am naively optimistic.
:hug:
I don’t think there is a no-self/not-self disagreement, it’s pretty well know that not-self is the correct translation. Perhaps if a small adjustment is required it could be changed to a verb, “notting-self” or “not-selfing” I suppose.

The point is the Buddha never posited anything to replace self view, we never stop doing that never stop notting, and we don’t speculate that there may be something as yet undefined to which it does not apply.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah
User avatar
Coëmgenu
Posts: 3181
Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2016 10:55 pm
Location: Whitby, Canada

Re: On anattā/anātman

Post by Coëmgenu »

Goofaholix wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote: I think that small adjustment in detail might actually harmonize the no-self/not-self disagreements (which, to be honest, seem more rooted in the particularities of the English language and different peoples' different connotations about what "self" means) as they relate to how one could possibly go about understanding anattā in relation to liberation and Buddhadharma. But maybe I am naively optimistic.
:hug:
I don’t think there is a no-self/not-self disagreement, it’s pretty well know that not-self is the correct translation. Perhaps if a small adjustment is required it could be changed to a verb, “notting-self” or “not-selfing” I suppose.

The point is the Buddha never posited anything to replace self view, we never stop doing that never stop notting, and we don’t speculate that there may be something as yet undefined to which it does not apply.
The conflict was mostly dealing with "is 'no-self' annihilist or not".

Basically, what I understood of the miscommunication was that I, Spiny Norman, and a few others, seem to come from the side of English Dhamma dispensation that was taught that "no-self" terminology is a valid way of teaching the anattā teaching in English. Cormac Brown put forth Ven Thanissaro's critique of the 'no-self' terminology. Several people (myself included) from this, wrongly assumed that Cormac Brown was arguing that "yes, there is some sort of self" by arguing against the "no-self" terminology. One of the crucial misreadings of "not-self" terminology presented here was the idea that Buddha said "Dhammas are not-self, X is not-self, Y is not-self, because Buddha was arguing that there WAS a true self that was none of these things", which to be fair is something that Cormac Brown never said.

That is only one strata of the disagreements that have been on this thread. Other ones include "what constitutes Buddhavacana, the entire Canon or the Suttas?" and "is the grammatical function and declension of anattā relevant to its meaning?" but I am not addressing those currently.

No-self has a long tradition of being the word used by Buddhists in their English dispensation, it replaced older words like "soullessness" or "egolessness" in late-1800s translations of Buddhist texts.

Cormac Brown, through his education via reading Ven Thanissaro's dispensation, pointed out, quite rightly, that this well established convention has the potential of leading to the annihilist fallacy.

The conflict I was talking about was the disagreement over whether or not "no-self" was an appropriate way to explain the anattā-teaching, so I offered a way of reading the term "no-self" that is an expression that refers to the impossibility of formulating a viable self-view in Buddhist context, rather than an expression of "there is no you, you die and thats it", thats all.

No-self and not-self each have their pitfalls if there isn't sufficient guidance to explain what the terms mean in their respective contexts.
The thus come thus gone,
who has neither came nor went,
enthroned on men’s breath,

like the still turtle,
withdraws six appendages
and is clothed in light --

illuminating
the unilluminated
with three shining cures.
Sylvester
Posts: 2204
Joined: Tue Mar 10, 2009 9:57 am

Re: On anattā/anātman

Post by Sylvester »

Here's an interesting finding from the Agamas.

Tilt had previously cited MA 62 (which has no parallel in the Pali), a sutra recording King Bimbisara's stream entry and awakening to the No-Self realisation. The text makes it clear that it was not talking about not-self (非我 found in a subsequent passage) but about no-self (無我). Previous discussion here - http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... 00#p295718

This is not an isolated occurence. SA 110 is the parallel to MN 35. Both record Saccaka canvassing Ven Assaji for the Buddha's teaching. MN 35 records Ven Assaji summarising it as follows -
This is how the Blessed One disciplines his disciples, Aggivessana, and this is how the Blessed One’s instruction is usually presented to his disciples: ‘Bhikkhus, material form is impermanent, feeling is impermanent, perception is impermanent, formations are impermanent, consciousness is impermanent. Bhikkhus, material form is not self, feeling is not self, perception is not self, formations are not self, consciousness is not self. All formations are impermanent; all things are not self.’ That is how the Blessed One disciplines his disciples, and that is how the Blessed One’s instruction is usually presented to his disciples.”
The same event is record in SA 110 as follows -
阿濕波誓言:「火種居士!世尊如是說法教諸弟子,令隨修學。言:『諸比丘!於色當觀無我,受、想、行、識當觀無我。此五受陰勤方便觀,如病、如癰、如刺、如殺,無常、苦、空、非我。』」
The not-self (非我) characteristic is predicated upon each of the 5 Aggregates being without-self (無我). Or as MA 62 puts it - 無我, 空我 (no-self, empty of self). Isn't this SN 35.85?

Over and over, this pattern repeats itself in the Samyukta Agama; here's a selection - SA 33, SA 34, SA 58, SA 76, SA 110.

Rather than to suggest that the Buddha did not declare "no-self" (which He in fact does in MN 22), it might be more fruitful to ask why the no-self pronouncements are rarer in the Pali, compared to the Samyukta.
Post Reply