SuttaCentral

An unique experiment - First time on a buddhist forum


#41

This is how Buddhists reach the non-existence of a self. Based on the Buddha’s (informed) “opinion”.

The non-Buddhist view is that the consciousness & sentience that arises from the intersection of the aggregates is annihilated at death, is not reborn, nor is it born again, nor are there any births that are any form of continuation of anything that existed in the now-dead nonexistent consciousness, in the “former” sentience.


#42

It is only Buddhist that believe in the non-existence of a self.

The non-Buddhist view is that the consciousness & sentience that arises from the intersection of the aggregates is annihilated at death, is not reborn, nor is it born again, nor are there any births that are any form of continuation of anything that existed in the now-dead nonexistent consciousness, in the “former” sentience.

In the materialist reductionist view, there is still a self that exists but is anihilated at death. No other person except the Buddha ever claimed that there never was a self to begin with.

And it is from this fact that the “supreme confidence in the Buddha” of a stream enterer comes from. Since one can investigate and find out that this is indeed true, the person will think “no other person except the Buddha found this fundamental thing out. All others didn’t even come close” and therefore “he can never have any other teacher except the Buddha”. Imagine if there was a bushman that believed cars are pushed by mysterious spirits. All his bushman shamans tell him the same. One person comes to him and explains how the car actually works. He investigates and sees that indeed there is no spirit, that it’s just the engine and all the parts etc. Can the bushman ever take as his teacher one of the bushman shamans that told him there is a mysterious spirit that is pushing the car ? Would he have any doubts that it might be so ? He would laugh at such ideas and consider them stupid, same as modern humans would laugh at them.


#43

If I may throw in: there is not one ‘non-Buddhist’ experience. Although it seems like ‘the mystical experience’ of unity is somehow similar across cultures.

Again I would like to press for a quote. Where do you find in the suttas “There is no self, and there never has been”? I can assure you, a quote like this doesn’t exist. And to make this the main message of the Buddha, I’d like to see 100s of quotes like this actually. What we instead find is “X is not atta, Y is not atta” which is just different.

Can you provide a quote where Ajita Kesakambali refers to a self? Instead we find

there is nothing given, bestowed, offered in sacrifice, there is no fruit or result of good or bad deeds, there is not this world or the next, there is no mother or father, there are no spontaneously arisen beings, there are in the world no ascetics or Brahmins who have attained, who have perfectly practised, who proclaim this world and the next, having realised them by their own super-knowledge. This human being is composed of the four great elements, and when one dies the earth part reverts to earth, the water part to water, the fire part to fire, the air part to air, and the faculties pass away into space. They accompany the dead man with four bearers and the bier as fifth, their footsteps are heard as far as the cremation-ground. There the bones whiten, the sacrifice ends in ashes. It is the idea of a fool to give this gift: the talk of those who preach a doctrine of survival is vain and false. Fools and wise, at the breaking-up of the body, are destroyed and perish, they do not exist after death. (see DN 1, DN 2, MN 72, MN 102, SN 12.17, SN 22.81, SN 44.10, AN 4.234, AN 8.11/12)

And going back to the debate, I’m (in character) nowhere nearer to be convinced by what I still see as a reductionist argument. Partly because I’m not willing to follow your style of ready answers, partly because you don’t address my main argument. I feel you just say that ‘I don’t look hard enough’ which puts reasoning and intellect on a pedestal (and makes a lot of sense). I never claimed to compete in analysis and intellect, I refer much more to a synthetic experience.


#44

Here are just some random quotes that I could find in a small search:

“Therefore, bhikkhus, any kind of form whatsoever, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, all form should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’

“Any kind of feeling whatsoever … Any kind of perception whatsoever … Any kind of volitional formations whatsoever … Any kind of consciousness whatsoever, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, all consciousness should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’

SN 22.59

Should one infere from this sutta that the Buddha considered the baby body, the current body, the current perception, etc. to be “me, myself” ? - also notice the parts I highlighted from the sutta

At Savatthi. “Bhikkhus, those ascetics and brahmins who regard anything as self in various ways all regard as self the five aggregates subject to clinging, or a certain one among them. What five?

“Thus this way of regarding things and the notion ‘I am’ have not vanished in him. As ‘I am’ has not vanished, there takes place a descent of the five faculties—of the eye faculty, the ear faculty, the nose faculty, the tongue faculty, the body faculty. There is, bhikkhus, the mind, there are mental phenomena, there is the element of ignorance. When the uninstructed worldling is contacted by a feeling born of ignorance-contact, ‘I am’ occurs to him; ‘I am this’ occurs to him; ‘I will be’ and ‘I will not be,’ and ‘I will consist of form’ and ‘I will be formless,’ and ‘I will be percipient’ and ‘I will be nonpercipient’ and ‘I will be neither percipient nor nonpercipient’—these occur to him.

SN 22.47

When we try to provide some content for this notion of a self, we can only do so in relation to the 5 aggregates. As I said, most people can see the body is not their self, most go towards 2 ideas: that consciousness is the self or that the aggregates as a whole are the self.

“If anyone says, ‘The eye is self,’ that is not tenable. The rise and fall of the eye are discerned, and since its rise and fall are discerned, it would follow: ‘My self rises and falls.’ That is why it is not tenable for anyone to say, ‘The eye is self.’ Thus the eye is not self.


“Now, bhikkhus, this is the way leading to the origination of identity. i One regards the eye thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self.’ One regards forms thus…One regards eye-consciousness thus…One regards eye-contact thus…One regards feeling thus…One regards craving thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self.’

MN 148


#45

And I forgot this important one:

"Well then — knowing in what way, seeing in what way, does one without delay put an end to the effluents? There is the case where an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma — assumes form to be the self. That assumption is a fabrication. Now what is the cause, what is the origination, what is the birth, what is the coming-into-existence of that fabrication? To an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person, touched by that which is felt born of contact with ignorance, craving arises. That fabrication is born of that. And that fabrication is inconstant, fabricated, dependently co-arisen. That craving… That feeling… That contact… That ignorance is inconstant, fabricated, dependently co-arisen. It is by knowing & seeing in this way that one without delay puts an end to the effluents.

Let’s take for example a computer. Buddha gave the example of a musical instrument and the sound produced by it, but a computer is an even better example. We have the screen of the computer or witch so many inconstant images appear. This is similar to consciousness. Because of the physical side of the computer (the hardware) and because of the immaterial side of the computer (the software) - all kind of images appear on the screen of the computer. They are inconstant, change all the time. Nothing of them remains, what the screen displayed 2 years ago at 12:55 same day, nobody even remembers.

In the case of a human, there is this consciousness that always changes. But there are other components of this organism, of this assembly of aggregates. One component being feeling, another being the lack of information about a particular matter (ignorance). Because there appears this feeling that “this perception of the elephant is my perception” + the lack of information that this is not so, there appears the opinion that “there is a self, otherwise why would this feeling appear?”. But that opinion appears due to other reasons. It appears due to contact witch produces feeling. This feeling that “this perception is my perception”, coupled with the ignorance condition being present, give rise to this opinion that “there is a self”.

That contact is impermanent. That feeling is impermanent. That ignorance is impermanent. None of them is the self. There is no self to be found, just like there is no self within a computer. There are just things that arise and change due to conditions. And this feeling that “this perception is my perception” - this feeling that we feel when we think about this, this is caused by the “tendency for conceit”. Just like the tendency to drink alcohol will cause the feeling of wanting to drink alcohol at a particular time to appear, this tendency for conceit gives rise to that feeling that “this perception of the elephant is my perception”. Or a betters example is that of the Transilvanians that I gave before, with the tendency for calmnes coloring all their experience.

The opinion that there is a self is removed at stream entry though understanding how things really work and how there really is no self, just like there is no self in a computer. But the tendency for conceit is removed only at arahantship. And this tendency is linked with craving. Craving/this tendency for conceit are like 2 faces of the same coin.


#46

I’m sorry, but here you completely lose me and I don’t understand why you keep bringing these quotes as if they are valid comment to what I mentioned. Yes, there are 100s of suttas saying that the khandhas, ayatanas, dhatus, kaya, sankhata and anything else you like is not atta. You seem to say ‘it means: there is no self!’ and my question is (again!): why didn’t the say Buddha himself what he ‘means’? And he didn’t say: there is no atta!

What, the Buddha suddenly got shy saying the truth, or was intimidated by a backlash?
Would you please agree to the obvious, namely that you can’t find a straight-forward quote?


#47

Everybody naturally thinks there is something that can be considered as a Self.

“And if I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self — were to answer that there is no self, the bewildered Vacchagotta would become even more bewildered: ‘Does the self I used to have now not exist?’” SN44.10

This shows how if someone were to be told there is no self (rather than told what is there cannot be considered as Self) confusion would arise, and would not be the considerate thing to do.

Having said that I suspect Vaccagotta perhaps didn’t know or had a wrong idea of what the aggregates were, which is why the Buddha couldn’t use those to describe this situation, and/or perhaps he wasn’t quick witted enough to understand this concept, at this point in time.

with metta


#48

I know this has been a classic explanation for why the Buddha didn’t say it in this particular sutta. But I have two objections:

  1. We find this only once (or maybe one-two times more)
  2. We have many suttas with highly developed monks and arahants - they would not have been confused - and somehow the Buddha still doesn’t proclaim the 'no-self-doctrine’
    How do you explain that?

#49

B.Bodhi says in his paper that saying such things would be interpreted as siding with the anihilationist back in those days. It would be interpreted as meaning there is no after life, there is nothing after death, etc. Buddha says it too that that would make him side with the anihilationist.

And we also have another reason given in that sutta that we spoke before. That particular person in question would have interpreted that there was a self but now is no more, while Buddha position is that there never was a self to begin with.

But as I said, this is a special kind of topic, different from the usual “did buddha say this” kind of one. If you do believe there might be a self existing, then you need to point out some basis for this, you need to provide some content for it. You can’t just say “there is a god” or “there is a spagghete monster” and they say “it is made out of nothing, it basically doesn’t exist at all, yet it still exists somehow, it’s not just an imaginary idea”.

You will find that whatever idea might come to mind will always be one of the 5 aggregates or a certain one among them. And then, you can easily see that that aggregate is not the self.

We have many suttas with highly developed monks and arahants - they would not have been confused - and somehow the Buddha still doesn’t proclaim the 'no-self-doctrine’
How do you explain that?

The suttas were meant for memorization. In all suttas we see that Buddha was extremely careful not to say thing that might make others misinterpret his doctrine or give grounds for twisting it.


#50

Same objection: So the Buddha couldn’t say “There has never been a self”? Not even to fellow arahants?


#51

Well, if this is not saying the same thing but actually saying a different thing…

“Therefore, bhikkhus, any kind of form whatsoever, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, all form should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’

“Any kind of feeling whatsoever … Any kind of perception whatsoever … Any kind of volitional formations whatsoever … Any kind of consciousness whatsoever, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, all consciousness should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’

As for the semantics of Pali and why a particular phase is not used, I am not an expert. Luckily there are thousands of pages about the problem and, being a human, I poses the capacity for complex thinking required for infering.

As for why I showed only a couple of suttas and not the thousands of pages that I keep speaking about: it’s because I can’t search 10k pages of sutta pitakka and copy past 2k of them here.


#52

You repeat the khandhas = anatta again - I think this is understood. In spite of my poor pali I can assure you that there are many ways to say “There is no self” “A self doesn’t exist” “A self never existed” - and they are not in the suttas.

Other people did. It’s just not there.

Isn’t it funny - when we think of Buddhism and what it distinguishes from any other religion, we say “In Buddhism there is no self” - and yet, we can’t come up with a quote by the Buddha saying “There is no self” :thinking:

He spoke about toothbrushes, worms in the feces, heaven and hell, magic powers, but that he wouldn’t say


#53

From B.Bodhi essay:

"As the discussion makes clear, the proposition “there is no Atman” was the position maintained by the anihilationist, the materialist philosophers who held that death marks the complete end of personal existence. The anihilationist assume that the existence of a self - a permanent atman - is a necessary condition for an afterlife and the operating of kamma; thus by denying the existence of such a self, they intend to reject any type of an afterlife along with it’s coroolary, the moral efficacy of kamic action.

When the Buddha refuses to accept the anihilationist thesis that “there is no self”, he refuses because he can not consent to the consequences the anihilationist wish to draw from such a denial, namely, that there is no conscious survival beyond the present life. In contrast, when modern interpreters of Buddhism take anatta to mean “there is no self” they are not saying that the anatta-teachings entails the anihilation of the person at death. Rather, they are simply trying to state in the abstract the premise that underlies the Buddhas more concrete instructions on the contemplation of no-self. While this assertion may go beyond the way the anatta-teaching is expressed in the suttas, it is not proper to support one’s argument by identifying the position of the modern interpreters with the anihilationist doctrine found in the Nikayas and then point to the Buddha’s rejection of the anihilationist view as ipso facto implying rejection of the other. The purport of the two is altogether different, and to identify them while aware of the difference seems to be a disingenuous move.

I would add that there are also other suttas where some ask Buddha that “if there is no atman, then who gets reborn, who experiences the results kamma?” and the Buddha replies that “some think that they can twist my teachings like this” - showing that this kind of thing B.Bodhi is describing was indeed a problem. He then continues with the usual "with volitional formations… then this… etc. "


#54

So do you assume there is something other than the aggregates that is usually considered as the Self?

I dont understand this at all. In the second sermon itself Anattalakkhana sutta SN22.59, he says the aggregates arent the self.

I wonder if you even read the Vaccagotta sutta I posted:

“If, Ānanda, when I was asked by the wanderer Vacchagotta, ‘Is there a self?’ I had answered, ‘There is a self,’ would this have been consistent on my part with the arising of the knowledge that ‘all phenomena are nonself’?” SN44.10

with metta


#55

Not at all. I mean to say (and hoped - failing - to show it in this ‘debate’) that back then it was pointless to discuss the existence of atta, and so it is today. That an atta (or a detached meta-creation-principle) exists ‘somewhere out there’ without any possibility to interact or experience is simply irrelevant and pointless to discuss and teach. There might be parallel universes outside of our reach - who cares? At least if someone is on a quest for personal liberation.

I could say “There is somewhere a primal principle that just sits in another dimension not accessible by anyone - it cannot reach us, we cannot reach it”. And even if the Buddha himself said “No, he ain’t” I would say “Well, how do you know? You just have your khandhas as well and can’t touch anything beyond them” -what would be the point discussing this?

So my point is - as was the original topic about Bh. Thanissaro vs. Bh. Bodhi - that the Buddha was a pragmatic soteriologist and not interested in ontology. What can be discussed is the khandhas and ayatanas and conditionality, and how all this affects our happiness or unhappiness. And this is exactly what we find in the suttas.


#56

Buddha spent quite some time discussing it…

There might be parallel universes outside of our reach - who cares? At least if someone is on a quest for personal liberation.

I could say “There is somewhere a primal principle that just sits in another dimension not accessible by anyone - it cannot reach us, we cannot reach it”. And even if the Buddha himself said “No, he ain’t” I would say “Well, how do you know? You just have your khandhas as well and can’t touch anything beyond them” -what would be the point discussing this?

A better example would be discussing the existence of a spirit that pushes cars. If you would see a bunch of bushmans that just saw a car for the first time in their life, discussing weather this spirit is good or bad, weather it is the spirit of an eagle or that of a tiger, what would you do ?

I tell you what I would do. I would show them every element of that car engine, explain in detail how all of them work, etc. If they start going with their bushmen questions about spirits again, I keep telling them “with the electromotor doing this… then this…” just like Buddha always pointed people to “when volitional formations… then this” when they believed a self exists.

The self is just like the supposed spirit that pushes the cars - a thing that is just not there and nobody can find it. And things work just as well without the tiger-spirit pushing the car, and you can prove it. The dhamma is “inviting one to come and see”.

If one were to come at you and tell you “there might be a tiger spirit in an alternative reality that is actually pushing your car and you just don’t see it but it exists” - would you have any doubts about it’s existence, since you know how cars work based on engines ? Would you be like “yea man, there deffinitely might be this tiger spirit from an alternative reality pushing my car. I mean I can’t verify it and prove it wrong, so it might be true why not ?”


#57

That’s exactly the point of using the ‘known’ aggregates. Since the unknown is exactly that -the’re unknown, to suggest that the Soul can be based on it is quite meaningless and actually even more than that -entirely based on that person’s imagination, which in turn is just a mental fabrication (sankhara).

with metta


#58

There are actually valid philosophical questions about the universe and kamma to have based on the suttas, but again they don’t help with declaring the magga… Why is the system of kammic retribution the way it is? Why is there always a heaven and hell - in every reiteration of the universe? Why are the khandha and the mahabhuta apparently always the same? These meta-constants are not addressed, and rightly so.

But on the other hand these are unknowns that are not mental fabrications, they are implied in what the Buddha said and they heavily affect how the magga itself is constructed in order to work. They are just irrelevant to expound - you know the simile of the poisoned arrow well.

First you confidently said there are 100s of suttas where the Buddha states that there is no self. Now you quote B.Bodhi to explain why there are none. So we are back to opinions I guess and the suttas don’t speak for themselves…

Also the materialists don’t say “There is no self”, but yes, it is implied that there has never been one. So they were right - and they were wrong?

If it was wrong for the Buddha to say “There is no self and never been one” because it brought him in uncomfortable proximity to annihilists - why do we (large parts of Buddhist community) think it is right today to declare Buddhism as a spiritual system “where a soul even has never existed”? The dangers of hedonistic materialistic nihilism are much bigger today than in religious ancient India, don’t you think?

These ‘bushmen’ taught the Bodhisatta how to attain the neva-saññā-nā-'saññā-ayatana, if I may recall.

The Buddha’s appearance was much more Socrates among the philosophers of Athens than the benevolent western missionary-engineer who brought finally some intelligence to wild people.


#59

I am wondering “Is there water?”. Do we have water?

If water does not exist then what do I drink everyday? What is that liquid?

If water exists then when I look deeper into it, I only see 2 Hydrogen and 1 Oxygen (H2O). I do not see “water” in there! Where is it?

When 2 hydrogen combined with an oxygen, we get what so-called “water”. If not, we do not have “water”. Is this true?

Can we find a “permanent/real water” which contains no hydrogen and oxygen anywhere?

So, does water exist or not?


#60

Even here on earth, there are beings less happy than us (animals). Whatever beings there might exist in this universe, certainly they can be more happy and less happy than humans. They don’t need to be angels with wings, they can look like octopus or whatever form they might have, all that matters is that they are happier then humans therefore labeled heavenly beings.

Also the materialists don’t say “There is no self”, but yes, it is implied that there has never been one. So they were right - and they were wrong?

There are very few materialist that hold the opinion that there is no self. Something like 99.(9) believe there is a self that exists and gets anihilated at death.

If it was wrong for the Buddha to say “There is no self and never been one” because it brought him in uncomfortable proximity to annihilists - why do we (large parts of Buddhist community) think it is right today to declare Buddhism as a spiritual system “where a soul even has never existed”? The dangers of hedonistic materialistic nihilism are much bigger today than in religious ancient India, don’t you think?

Because that’s the opinion expressed in the suttas. As for dangers, the constant danger that has existed ever since Buddha times was the constant attempt to introduce a self into the teachings.

I would also want to ask a counter-question of my own: If there is a self, why did Buddha no claim that there is a self ? If he believed the question is unanswerable, why is it not listed among the inconjurables ? Why didn’t he at least hint somewhere in some sutta that such was his opinion ?