On not-self, existence, and ontological strategies

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The big difference between the reality of a state etc. and the reality of the self is: Some people (nationalists, patriots) may wake up in the morning with the sense, sentiment, feeling of the nation, building identity, actions, communication etc. around it. What dictionaries say, if it’s constructed or not matters little. It is experienced as a reality.

But all people (except fully liberated ones of course) wake up with the sense of self, even Buddhists who’d like to wish this away by repeating Buddhist not-self formulas.

If we could watch a flow-chart of mental processes and replace words by symbols this would be obvious. Self-conviction is self-referential around main clusters, for example how concerns, thoughts, actions, feelings etc. are centered around the body. When thoughts and feelings come back to the same clusters or complexes there is a self-reality at work.

What is the value for this self-referential processing in saying “oh no, this is just constructed”, or “the Buddha said there is no self”? There is only value if these sentences are embedded in a larger process which eliminates the self-referential reality. In fact, these slogans are completely pointless in themselves. What matters is only if there is a larger process to reduce and eliminate self-referentiality - no matter which slogans or beliefs are attached to this process.

Hence the interpretation of the Buddha as a teacher who doesn’t care about making ontological statements per se. As a liberator he would design statements and actions leading to liberation - he would not be interested in a description of ‘reality’ in and for itself (which ontological statements are).


Good point.


I understood (I still remember the place and the event) the term “I” notion only when I was about 9 years old even though I used to fight with my brother for toys before that. I think (some weird memory)even the sperm cells have the " I" notion.


Perhaps it is worth while to pay attention to DN 6 for further information for this discussion. Is the self and the soul the same for this discussion. In DN6 “Jivam” is translated as soul.
Please pay special attention to the last few paragraph which said:

When a mendicant knows and sees like this, would it be appropriate to say of them:
Yo kho, āvuso, bhikkhu evaṃ jānāti evaṃ passati, kallaṃ nu kho tassetaṃ vacanāya:
“The soul and the body are the same thing” or “The soul and the body are different things”?’
‘taṃ jīvaṃ taṃ sarīran’ti vā ‘aññaṃ jīvaṃ aññaṃ sarīran’ti vāti?
‘It would not, reverend.’
In all other previous cased it said "It would reverend"
Please note in R.Davids translations it seems it was incorrectly translated.


He certainly doesn’t roll out empty philosophy, mind the pun, and frankly his preference was samadhi and living a secluded life and enjoying his enlightenment. He speaks the dhamma in brief and not in reams. Others like Maha Cunda had to expand on his teachings. So why did he speak of ontology of psychology? It’s not for sake of philosophy but it formed a distinct step in his teachings ie of right view.


Is this sense of “me” sakkāyadiṭṭhi, or is it mana? Or both? I have never been clear about this.


Sakkayaditthi is the view or the illusory perception which is understood in Sotapanna stage.
Mana is fully eradicated when attaining Arahanthood. It is not a just understanding but knowing.


Do you mean the difference between an understanding of anatta, and the actual experience of it?


Thanks for your answer Ven. As I understand your answer, a person is selfless, so it seems to me he/she is already an arahant. Moreover, it seems to me that you affirm the view that there is no self. Please point out what I am missing or wrongly grasp. Thanks.


Whether a person is selfless or not doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with as to whether or not they are “awakened” to that truth.


If selfless does not have anything to do with awakening or freedom, then self is not a problem and we do not need to avoid or let go of self or do anything with self. So, what wrong with self?


I’m sorry, I don’t understand your question. What do you meant by “does not have anything to do with awakening of freedom?”

Salutations, C.


Since you said “Whether a person is selfless or not doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with as to whether or not they are “awakened” to that truth”, I understand that selfless does not necessarily help us to reach or awake to the “truth”. Therefore, we do not need to bother with it. Since selfless is useless for the truth or the awakening, then self is not a problem.

If you mean that a person is actually selfless, but he/she does not recognize that he/she is selfless (assume that this is what you mean for reach or awake to the “truth”). Then I will ask why he/she will need to know that?

Sorry, my English is not very good. I may not understand your statement properly.


Yes that is my understanding.


The most basic sense of me is mana. Mana is a kind of disembodied feeling of “I”, in the sense that you do not relate it directly to any of the five khandhas. The classic expression of this is found in the Khemaka Sutta (SN 22.89). This sense of I is always lurking in the background. There is no need to “construct” it.

Sakkāyadiṭṭhi is a bit more philosophical. It is about giving some shape to the primordial sense of I. This is why sakkāyadiṭṭhi is normally related to one or more of the five khandhas. A typical example of this would be waking up one day and “not feeling yourself”. This means that there is a mismatched between what you take yourself to be and how you feel about yourself. In this case you are identifying with a certain perception. You could then elevate this into a philosophical principle that our perceptions are part of what we are, intrinsically. This is a sakkāyadiṭṭhi. Or you might identify as a doer. You feel alive when you are active; you express yourself through your actions. People are often addicted to activity, the actors in their own little plays. This is another example of sakkāyadiṭṭhi, especially when it is made into a theory of what we are.

Because sakkāyadiṭṭhi is more elaborate than mana, it is this delusion you break through first. You see that the five khandhas as empty of a self. This is stream-entry. The habits of the mind, however, are strong, and so you continue to experience a sense of I. If someone were to ask you what this sense is, you would no longer relate it to the khandhas, and yet the feeling is still there. Only through continued practice does this sense eventually disappear altogether; you’re an arahant! Good luck! I hope you get there. :slightly_smiling_face:

No, you’re not an arahant. The purpose of the Buddhist path is not to eliminate a real self, but to correct a delusion. The problem is the sense of self, the experience of a self. But this is the delusion, says the Buddha. Sabbe dhammā anattā, “all things a non-self”.


Please study DN 6 closely.
Read carefully the sixth line from the last it said.
‘It would not, reverend.’
This is the final stage of Arahant.

In all other cases. (all Jhana) it said:
‘It would , reverend.’
Which means they have eleminated the Sakkayadithi but not eradicated Mana. ie: not Arahant.


Thanks, that’s what I was thinking of. I understand the distinction better now.


But reverends, I know and see like this. Nevertheless, I do not say: “The soul and the body are the same thing” or “The soul and the body are different things”. … They enter and remain in the second absorption … third absorption … fourth absorption. When a mendicant knows and sees like this, would it be appropriate to say of them: “The soul and the body are the same thing” or “The soul and the body are different things”?’ ‘It would, reverend.’ ‘But reverends, I know and see like this. Nevertheless, I do not say: “The soul and the body are the same thing” or “The soul and… DN6


What is the basis for this assertion – Thanissaro’s … Jamesian style interpretation?

Are you familiar with V. Thanissaro’s lengthy discussion of William James’ ideas and their place in the cultural history of the psychology and philosophy of religion – a subsection in Chapter Six of “Buddhist Romanticism” (2015) ?

(A couple of versions of that book have been available on-line, differing only in format, i.e. one of them has the Table of Contents at the back end.)


Thanks for the DN6 reference. That’s quite the subtle change in the end of the sutta. With the introduction of cessation the reverends change their reply from “Yes” to “No” when discussing:

there is no return to any state of existence