Can a Stream Enterer or even an Arahant have a soul?
When a person becomes a Stream Enterer, they have abandoned three wrong views:
View of Self: A stream-enterer no longer holds the belief in a permanent and unchanging self (or soul). They understand the impermanent and interconnected nature of all phenomena, including themselves.
View of Rituals and Practices: They don’t believe that merely performing rituals or following religious practices alone will lead to liberation. They understand the importance of inner transformation and insight.
View of Doubt: Stream-enterers have reduced or eliminated doubt about the teachings, the Buddha, and the path. They have a clear understanding of the Four Noble Truths and the efficacy of the Buddhist path.
My personal view is that a Steam Enterer or even an Arahant can have a soul, but recognize that it is impermanent and changing. What do you think?
I made the edit from believe to have in a number of places in this question because I think have is more descriptive than believe. I use to believe the soul was permanent and unchangeable. Now I see the soul as impermanent and changing. I think this is a much better way to believe and have a soul.
I used to believe in a soul, in the sense that it is my personal identity.
But now I believe that the “soul” is an artificial construct, and our sense of “consciousness” is also an illusion.
I like to think that our minds are actually very similar to an AI neural net. We are born with the “hardware” which allows us to react to inputs (the 5 senses) and we create outputs which then control the rest of our body. The outputs can also feedback into the inputs (the so-called “mind door”).
When we are born, the weights of the layers of the neural net are all zero. Our minds are then “trained” on the sensory data presented to us for the rest of our lives. Our karmic burden creates a set of hyper-parameters which are then laid over the weights, and influences how the weights get altered.
I think scientists say babies are born without a sense of identity, or self-consciousness, but only develop one after about 1-2 years. I think “consciousness” therefore is an artificial construct created when our minds have enough training that we start developing a sense of self-preservation which then leads to self-awareness. This is an automatic process, all sentient beings eventually develop this.
This is why some AI researchers are now considering the possibility that AI neural nets are on the brink of developing “sentience”.
When we die, we are reborn into a new body with a new mind, with all the weights reset to zero. That’s why there is no “soul” - it does not get preserved across births. We simply develop a new consciousness, inheriting the karmic burden from our previous lives.
This is not a new “theory”, it’s been articulated in various forms in various philosophies. Most recently in the TV series “Westworld”
BTW, one of the best explanations I have come across describing exactly how a neural net in a language model work, this is an illuminating article by Stephen Wolfram (creator of Wolfram Alpha and Mathematica):
Of course, our minds isn’t just a language model (although no doubt it has its own version of a language model) but is a neural net trained on sensory input directly.
Can anyone who is knowledgeable in Pali give a good translation of the following sentences?
There is no self.
There is a (the) self.
I/We/You/Each person do not have a (the) self.
I/We/You/Each person have a (the) self.
A (the) self can not be seen/found/known.
A (the) self can be seen/found/known.
I (as the Buddha speaking) do not see/find/know a (the) self.
I (as the Buddha speaking) see/find/know a (the) self.
Because I can not find anything (even in the similar meaning) for the above sentences in the Pali canon. Please correct me if I am wrong.
Personal note: Instead, I found that the Buddha declared all theories about self only leads to suffering (MN22). To which, I understand as even theory about “no self” is still within category “theory about self”. Also, I instead found in MN2 about these 2 views: “perceive a self with not-self” or “perceive not-self with a self”. These views are declared by the Buddha to also lead to suffering.
Again, as personal note, following what is in the Pali sutta, I don’t see any evidence to support an idea “a Stream Enterer or an Arahant have a soul”. Also, no evidence to support an idea “a Stream Enterer or an Arahant does not have a soul”. As in MN22 and MN2, both ideas above only lead to suffering.
Or, perhaps … those weights are how karma operates, since those weights not only affect but are themselves affected by intentional action.
“Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, and intellect.
Those weights are mighty important for survival! So very important that I highly suspect that Evolution has found a way to transfer them from one dying organism to another. Which would be easily achievable if all those sentient Neural Nets were networked in a ‘supra Neural Net’ … which would explain past life memories, psychic powers … and how the perception of an impermanent, changing Self can develop
I prefer to think rather than having a “meta” neural net with no discernible “hardware” to support it, our collective karmic ledgers may be encoded in the universe itself, but this is just pure speculation.
There is a theory that the current state of the universe is enough to retrace everything that has happened in the past, like tracing our steps from our current position. Presumably, if this is true, the Buddha would be able to recollect past lives without necessarily having access to previous consciousness or memories in his mind.
But this is all just speculation, of course, and irrelevant to progress on the path. I think the Buddha was wise not to “over-explain” how the universe works.
In the suttas the khandhas (aggregates) are the “components” that comprise all aspects of conditional human experience. Form, perceptions, feelings, volition/intentions, and consciousness encapsulate and comprise our lives. Nothing “outside” them in any of our experiences, so to speak.
Same for the senses.
Here are some sutta references. Also, you can use the search function for many entries regarding the khandhas.
IMO, what one needs to realize that the sense of ‘Self’ or ‘Me’ is an emergent result of a process of I- making and Mine - making, based on the underlying tendency to postulate an observer of any particular aspect of Experience whether internal or external (SN22.91).
This sense of ‘Self’ can be compared to a rainbow. It would be foolish to categorically deny the existence of a rainbow. Even saying that a rainbow is not real may not be easily acceptable to many (“What do you mean? I can see it right here! ” ). However, the truth is that rainbows come about because of certain underlying conditions… when those underlying conditions cease, the rainbow disappears (MN72). The ‘Self’, just like a rainbow is not Really Real. Its an emergent phenomenon based on the functioning of an impersonal system of aggregates - in many ways like Siri!
The most difficult to let go of aggregates are the mental ones, especially Intentional Action and Consciousness. This is because it is difficult to imagine that these can be without an ‘Agent’. The ancients developed an entire system (Abhidhamma) to explain how ‘Mind’ works dependent on ‘cetasikas’. In much the same way, modern researchers talk about ‘Neural Nets’ and ‘weights’. None of these are permanent. None of these is one’s ‘Self’.
It is possible that viewing the ever changing Mindstream of past moments of Conscious Experience, one might think that this impermanent, changing process is somehow eternal/ constant (“Change is the only constant?!”). That too is not the case. Craving is the seamstress that stiches these moments together - when that is let go of, all that’s left is Now - Timeless, Deathless, the Supreme Sanctuary - Nibbana.
Can I humbly suggest you may wish to read the link I posted about Stephen Wolfram’s explanation of how neural nets work, and exactly what role is played by the weights. It is quite different from the Abhidhamma consciousness process consisting of mind moments with cittas and associated cetasikas. Although the Abhidhamma also comes to the conclusion that effectively “consciousness” is an artefact of how the mind works and is not permanent, it literally disappears upon death. So there is nothing that “carries it forward” into the next life, just the karmic resultants linking the dying mind moment to the rebirth mind moment.
This makes complete sense, since we may not be reborn as a human being, but could be a completely different form of existence with no senses etc.