SuttaCentral

"I might not be, It might not be mine" -> future and/or present?


#1

Hi, everyone,

In a number of suttas, e.g., SN 22.153, the Buddha describes a particular sort of view:

‘no cassaṃ, no ca me siyā, nābhavissa, na me bhavissatī’

Translated by Ven. Sujato as:

‘I might not be, and it might not be mine. I will not be, and it will not be mine’

This view is described by the Buddha as the foremost amongst wrong views, since it can lead to non-returning, though not full awakening. Anyway, my question involves the first part of this view:

I might not be, and it might not be mine.

In English, when you say “might”, it’s ambiguous about whether you are referring to uncertainty about the present or future. For example, suppose you say, “I might be able to go to the theater.” It’s not clear whether you are referring to your ability to go to the theater NOW or some point in the future; additional context is needed.

So my question is this: does this ambiguity over time exist in the Pali? Like, when the Buddha says, “I might not be,” does this mean “I might not be” in the present, or the future, or both?

Thanks!


#2

Indeed!

Siyā is neither the past nor the future tense: it’s the optative!


#3

So does it have the (clumsy) force of ‘I want not to be, and I want it not to be mine’?
The desire for nonexistence is, I believe, a form of wrong view.


#4

It seems to be close to the term seja
in Portuguese or sea in Spanish … In those languages it is a sort of wildcard verb conjugation and is also ambiguous about present or future…


#6

Hi. While not exactly on topic, I recall a sutta that says the above reflection can lead to the dimension of nothingness. Do you (or another member) know which sutta this is? I search for it but I cannot find it. Thank you :slightly_smiling_face:


#7

It’s MN 106, which describes the practice of this reflection as leading to the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. If one delights in and clings to the equanimity of that state (described by both Ānanda and the Buddha as “the best object of clinging”), one does not attain nibbāna. But if one doesn’t delight in and cling to it, consciousness doesn’t become dependent on it, and one attains nibbāna.


#8

That’s likely, as seja in Portuguese is subjunctive mood, and optative mood is quite similar. (See Bhante’s link above), tho my Spanish dict doesn’t give it as a form of ser.


#9

Wow. I hadn’t realized how subtle this view was and how it was related to the conceit “I am”. Thanks for the discussion. I’ve added “might not be mine” to the Voice examples.

;pray:


#10

Yeah, I’m wondering the same myself. It sounds like the optative has an aspirational quality to it.

The Buddha described this view as the “foremost of wrong views” since it can lead to the penultimate stage of awakening, even if it’s not quite right. This is further described in the following suttas:
SN 22.55
AN 10.29
AN 7.55

It’s important to note that the Buddha is talking about “noble disciples” in MN 106. So in fact it’s consistent with the Suttas I mentioned above — that this “annihilationist” view can be a basis for progress, just not full Enlightenment.


#11

Just to clarify, though you probably already know this, in MN 106 and some of the suttas you mentioned (though not AN 10.29), the contemplation is “It might not be, and it might not be mine. It will not be, and it will not be mine”, which is the Buddha’s pragmatic revision of the phrasing. The outsiders’ view is “I might not be, and it might not be mine. I will not be, and it will not be mine”, which would be the annihilationist version.


#12

Yes, thank you for drawing attention to this nuance…I have indeed read about it before on dhammwheel. I’m confused by this argument, however, because in AN 10.29, the wording is “I might not be.” It’s possible there was a transmission error here…or else maybe “It might not be” vs “I will not be” is a distinction w/o a difference.


#13

Choong Mun-keat in the Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism, p. 57, n. 94 suggests the following:

“If I were not, and it was not mine,

I shall not be [and] it will not be mine.”

no c’ assaṃ no ca me siyā

na bhavissāmi na me bhavissati

or the earlier unsanskritised form (n. 94):

no c’assaṃ no ca me siyā

nāhessaṃ na me hessati


#14

Just to clarify, are you wondering about “I” vs. “It” or about “might” vs. “will”?


#15

The former (at least in regards to my response to your comment).


#16

As I understand it, the version with “I” was an already-existing phrase of the annihilationists of the Buddha’s time, who conceived of a self that would be annihilated at some future time (either automatically at death or through certain practices that would lead to annihilation of the self).

The Buddha, as he so often did, borrowed this well-known phrasing but changed the first-person “I” to the third-person “It”, cleverly stripping away the notion of a self from the phrase and bringing it more in line with the teaching on anattā. It must have been pretty effective, as it’s described as leading a practitioner right up to the verge of awakening (see AN 7.55).

You might find this note by Bhikkhu Bodhi interesting (from SN 22.55, note 75 (pp. 1060-63)):

The formula for resolution recommended by the Buddha occurs in the suttas in two versions, one used by the annihilationists, the other the Buddha’s adaptation of this; as the two versions differ only with respect to two verb forms, they are sometimes confounded in the various recensions…

The annihilationist version— explicitly identified as ucchedadiṭṭhi at 22:81 and classed among wrong views at 22:152 and 24:4—reads: no c’ assaṃ no ca me siyā, na bhavissāmi na me bhavissatti. At AN V 63,28-64,2, the Buddha describes this creed as the highest of outside speculative views (etadaggaṃ bāhirakānaṃ diṭṭhigatānaṃ), the reason being that one who accepts such a view will not be attracted to existence nor averse to the cessation of existence. It is problematic how the optative clause in the annihilationist version should be interpreted; perhaps it can be read as an assertion that personal existence, along with its experienced world, is utterly fortuitous (“I might not have been and it might not have been mine”). The clause in the future tense clearly asserts that personal existence and its world will terminate at death.

The Buddha transformed this formula into a theme for contemplation consonant with his own teaching by replacing the first person verbs with their third person counterparts: No c’ assa no ca me siyā, na bhavissati na me bhavissati. The change of person shifts the stress from the view of self implicit in the annihilationist version (“I will be annihilated”) to an impersonal perspective that harmonizes with the anatta doctrine. In the present sutta, resolving (adhimuccamāno) on the formula is said to culminate in the destruction of the five lower fetters, that is, in the stage of nonreturning (anāgāmitā). Elsewhere the formula includes a rider, yad atthi yaṃ bhūtaṃ taṃ pajahāmi, “what exists, what has come to be, that I am abandoning.” Contemplation of this is said to lead to equanimity. At MN II 264,29-265,20, practice guided by the full formula, with the rider, culminates in rebirth in the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (if the meditator clings to the equanimity) or in Nibbāna (if there is no clinging to the equanimity). At AN IV 70-74, resolution guided by the formula, again with the rider, leads to one of the five levels of nonreturning or to arahantship. At Ud 78,2-3 the shorter formula is applied to mindfulness of the body; one who dwells thus gradually crosses attachment, i.e., wins arahantship.

It may be significant that in the Nikāyas the precise meaning of the formula is never explicated, which suggests it may have functioned as an open-ended guide to reflection to be filled in by the meditator through personal intuition. As to the actual word meaning, the commentaries take the opening particle c’ to represent ce, “if”, glossed sace by Spk and yadi by Spk-pṭ. On this basis they interpret each part of the formula as a conditional. Spk explains the formula in the present sutta on the basis of the questionable reading c’ assaṃ, though its second alternative conforms to the superior reading c’ assa. I translate here from Spk very literally, rendering the lemma in the way favoured by the explanation: “If I were not, it would not be for me: If I were not (sace ahaṃ na bhaveyyaṃ), neither would there by my belongings (mama parikkhāro). Or else: If in my past there had not been kammic formation (kammābhi-saṅkhāro), now there would not be for me these five aggregates. I will not be, (and) it will not be for me: I will now so strive that there will not be any kammic formation of mine producing the aggregates in the future; when that is absent, there will be for me no future rebirth.”

I part with the commentaries on the meaning of c’, which I take to represent ca; the syntax of the phrase as a whole clearly requires this. The Skt parallels actually contain ca (e.g., at Uv 15:4, parallel to Ud 78). If we accept this reading, then (in the present sutta) the first “it” can be taken to refer to the personal five aggregates, the second to the world apprehended through the aggregates. For the worldling this dyad is misconstrued as the duality of self and world; for the noble disciple it is simply the duality of internal and external phenomena. On this basis I would interpret the formula thus: “The five aggregates can be terminated, and the world presented by them can be terminated. I will so strive that the five aggregates will be terminated, (and) so that the world presented by them will be terminated.” Alternatively, the first “it” might be taken to refer to craving, and the second to the five aggregates arisen through craving. In the additional rider, “what exists, what has come to be” denotes the presently existent set of five aggregates, which are being abandoned through the abandonment of the cause for their continued re-manifestation, namely, craving or desire-and-lust.

My understanding of this passage has been largely influenced by discussions with VĀT and Bhikkhu Ñāṇatusita. I am also indebted to Peter Skilling for information on the Skt and Tibetan versions of the formula.


#17

You may also find the MĀ parallel to MN 106 (MĀ 75) interesting. Here’s the relevant part, translated by Ven. Anālayo (bold added by me):

At that time the venerable Ānanda was holding a fan and fanning the Buddha. Then the venerable Ānanda held his hands together [in homage] towards the Buddha and said: “Blessed One, suppose a monk practises like this: ‘There is no I, nor anything belonging to me, I will not be, what belongs to me will not be. What has earlier [come to] exist, will be extinguished’, and he attains equanimity [by practicing like this]. Blessed One, a monk who practises like this, will he completely attain final Nirvāṇa?”


#18

I was just re-reading MN 106, and one thing I find interesting is that the conviction ‘I don’t belong to anyone anywhere! And nothing belongs to me anywhere!’ leads to the sphere of infinite nothingness.

Getting to the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception involves, ‘It might not be, and it might not be mine. It will not be, and it will not be mine. I am giving up what exists, what has come to be.’

I guess there is a subtle difference between the two views: The former involves denying an existent being at all, the while the latter involves acknowledging existence but letting it be destroyed.

Yes, that is interesting. “What has earlier [come to] exist, will be extinguished” sounds like the destruction of an existent being. It’s curious that the Buddha presents this view as more refined (as in, it leads to a higher rebirth) than outright nihilism (that is, “I don’t belong to anything, nothing belongs to me”).

I just discovered this Ven. Analyo article, where he translates " no c’ assa􏰁, no ca me siyā, na bhavissāmi, na me bhavissati" to be “may I not be, may it not be for me, I shall not be and it will not be for me.” “May” sounds more unambiguously aspirational than “might.” I’m curious how Ven. @sujato feels about this translation choice.

Ven. Analayo argues (based on DN 1) that many teachers at the time aspired for non-existence via meditation on the formless abodes. For them, annihilation isn’t something that inevitably befalls everyone at death, but only people who have sufficiently practiced:

Since the experience of these immaterial spheres requires a considerable amount of meditative proficiency and practice, an annihilationist view related to the attainment or experience of these states could not reasonably assume that all beings are destined to such annihilation. That is, from the perspective of the upholders of such a view, annihilation would probably not have been considered as the inevitable fate of all beings, but rather as a goal to be attained through an appropriate form of conduct and meditation practice.
/
The idea behind such an aspiration for annihilation could be a merger with a form of ultimate reality, held to be equivalent to boundless space, or to boundless consciousness, or to no- thingness, or to neither-perception-nor-non-perception. Attain- ing such a merger at the death of the body, any self-hood would be successfully annihilated.


#19

It seems to me that these contemplations work directly on the three obsessions that underlie conceiving: craving, conceit, and views.

Craving is countered by “I don’t belong to anyone anywhere, and nothing belongs to me anywhere” (“This is not mine”);

Conceit is countered by “It might not be…it will not be. What exists…that I am abandoning” (“this I am not”);

And views are countered by “This is void of a self or of what belongs to a self”, found also in the MN 106 section on nothingness (“this is not my self”).

As I see it, the latter doesn’t necessarily acknowledge existence that is then destroyed, but it acknowledges the illusion of existence, due to clinging (bhāva, dependent on upādāna). Then, “I am giving up what exists, what has come to be” refers to relinquishing the upādāna necessary for bhāva to arise. As in MN 1 and MN 18.

Yes, that’s exactly what I had in mind when referring to:


#20

Interesting ideas. I guess I would argue that “I don’t belong to anyone anywhere, and nothing belongs to me anywhere” is still a form of craving, just a craving for non-existence; it helps ending craving for existence, in other words.

Good point….I like your interpretation. It explains why such a person (in the Agama wording) could think “There is no I” and “I will not be” at the same time.

Yup, it reminds me of certain beliefs in Abrahamic mystical traditions, e.g.,fana in Sufism.


#21

Indeed, “may” expresses more of an attitude about it, whereas “might” is more neutral; the Pali can have either sense. I think this saying is something of a riddle, presented almost like a proto-koan. I think “might” captures this a little better.