The DW thread echoes my distinct impression, namely that something very specific is rejected with anatta, not all kinds of doctrines.
I definitely think that the Buddha formulated the anatta doctrine to contrast specific atta doctrines/views. But I don’t think we can infer that the Buddha would not have also rejected any atta-view that didn’t exist in his place and time. At best it is an open question but I would tend towards the idea that the Buddha would have rejected any new atta-view as well as the ones he was already familiar with. In particular I’m thinking of the suttas regarding the five aggregates where it is said that one should not regard there to be a self within the aggregates, a self as the aggregates, a self that possesses the aggregates, nor a self that contains the aggregates .
See SN 22.47 for example.
SN 22.86 and the sutta just before it also make it logically impossible for a Tathagata, someone who has achieved liberation, to even technically exist. The only way for these two suttas to not be a condemnation of buddhism is to understand them as proposing a no-self view rather than a not-self view. So I’d take these suttas as a condemnation of all kinds of atta-doctrines.
In the sutta I’m still no further than SC 23. Up until now there are two serious limitations to the anatta-doctrine of MN 22:
- What is spoken of is an atta that is possessed. To reject something that can be possessed is not difficult. But I don’t see why all theories of the soul / essence necessarily assume that. As I tried to point out in ‘my’ atta-theory it is easy to advocate that ‘me’ as talking-walking-experiencing entity is false, whereas the essence of that is an unchanging formless featureless quality that is somehow falsely identifying itself with the experienced mind/body-mind-ego. And then, with ignorance removed that essence would be bare and purified. Nothing is the possessor here, nor is anything possessed. Thus the argument of the sutta so far (and possibly of the whole sutta) doesn’t apply. If this sutta represents all of the refutations of atta in all suttas the buddhist anatta would be much more limited than assumed. But this necessarily remains a theory.
I would suggest that any thought or realization one could have such as the thought, “my essence is an unchanging formless featureless quality” is not the formless featureless quality itself. I don’t see how it would be possible for thoughts, perceptions, instances of knowing, to have an effect on an unchanging formless featureless quality.
But more to your point, I think possessor/possession here would refer to the association between the talking-walking-experiencing entity and the essence/self. If there were no association between the two then there could also be no false assumption. So the self possesses the aggregates (walking-talking entity) in the sense that it is associated with them in some way. Also, it seems that insofar as one does anything at all to realize the nature of oneself as some unchanging essence one is trying to possess that self by means of some mode of the aggregates consisting in some specific instance of knowing. Anyone who is trying to realize their unchanging essence is in some sense trying to possess it/become it by means of the changing sorts of things that are perceptions, thoughts, knowings. So I think MN 22 may be touching on a point about the futility of wanting to be a self or of having a view that you are a self. Nothing would make a difference to the matter if there is an unchanging essence, otherwise the essence is not unchanging.
- My second objection to the sutta is the somewhat unimaginative dogma that"there are no attavādas (atman-doctrines) that don’t give rise to dukkha". That is simply not correct. I don’t see any dukkha in ‘my’ atta-view (which I just created hypothetically, based on a real atta-view in the Upanisads). Of course somebody can say: “Surely you create misery for yourself with that view” But then I’d like to see a sound dukkha-logic, not just “The Buddha didn’t say it, so it must be false”
While we can imagine that it might be the case that there is a self-view that doesn’t give rise to sorrow, we can also imagine that it might the case that all atta-views do give rise to sorrow, albeit perhaps we would have to imagine that is because atta-views happen to result in rebirth (which is sorrowful) which would not be the logical kind of argument you are looking for. But the early texts themselves suggest that not everything can be realized through mere reasoning. This particular argument suffers from the fault that it would require all the disciples in MN 22 to have supernormal knowledge of the causes of rebirth which seems far-fetched. So presumably it appeared to them that atta-views inevitably lead to sorrow for some other reason. Or maybe they just assumed that atta-views lead to rebirth and the sutta is just about a bunch of monks going through the motions of reciting buddhist dogma.
Anyway, I appreciate your posts and these are just some rough counterarguments that if successful would perhaps help us hone in more on the heart of the matter. I’ll have to think about this some more though.