On not-self, existence, and ontological strategies

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I don’t want to spend a lot of time debating this if you know what I mean. If you think it’s going to help I suggest starting a new thread.


It’s OK. There is no need for that.


Just to be clear, the second wrong view is annihilation, not “absolute non-existence”. The view of annihilation might be perhaps be called “temporary absolute existence”. :slightly_smiling_face:


I didn’t mean that middle implies “A and not-A” and I also did not mean “neither A nor not-A”. Both those are also extremes that in some suttas are mentioned explicitly and dismissed. For example, MN 72, when our good friend Vacchagotta asks about the the Tathagatha after death:

V: “Then does Master Gotama hold the view: ‘After death a Tathagata both exists & does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless’?”
B: “…no…”
V: “Then does Master Gotama hold the view: ‘After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless’?”
B: “…no…”

V: “Does Master Gotama have any position at all?”
B: ““A ‘position,’ Vaccha, is something that a Tathagata has done away with. What a Tathagata sees is this: ‘Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origination… [etc]”

Vacchagotta is still confused so the Buddha uses the simile of a fire being extinguished and the pattern repeats although, in this second case, Vacchagotta finally gets it, which is probably a relief for every one concerned :slight_smile:

The Buddha often says something like this [SN12]:

Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma by the middle: ‘With birth as condition, aging-and-death. [i.e. dependent origination]’”

It is in that sense that I mean “the middle way”. In retrospect I was mistaken to say “the middle way between extremes A and the extreme of not-A”. I should have checked the suttas first where I would have noticed that the Buddha simply says “the Dhamma by the middle” and not “the Dhamma by the middle between A and not-A”.

Thanks for the feedback :pray:. It really helps me to focus on important missed details such as this. I am beginning to understand how difficult it is to truly understand the Dhamma let alone translate it correctly, which only increases my appreciation of Sutta Central.


Thank you Ajahn @brahmali for the clarification :pray:. It’s important to be precise when talking about this material. It’s so easy to fall into nonsense, such as “absolute non-existence”, otherwise.


Very interesting discussion: I’m thinking about this particular subject from quite a few new angles because of it. Thank you. But, I find it funny that no one in this discussion has brought up the Buddha’s unanswered questions: I think they’re probably relevant here.

Also, I’m probably a little late with this, and perhaps many people here already know this, but, for what it’s worth, in the Agamas, there’s 無我 and 非我: pretty much spot-on “no self” and “not self,” respectively. So, it seems “no self vs. not self” puzzled them, too. But, in the end, 無我 won out for popularity, hands down. Also, though self is probably most often rendered 我 (“I”), 真我 (“true I”), 神 (“g/God”), and 神我 (“g/God-I”) also appear. Maybe the latter three reflect their attempts at accentuating the “absolute” aspect of the self the Buddha was refuting.



Sorry to ask this question late.
What is the definition of the self for this discussion?


It’s not about mistakes. It’s about suffering. Are you saying that the suttas are not helping your suffering? That is actually quite interesting because they work for many many of us. MN1 in particular helped me immensely with my struggle with identity view. It wasn’t an intellectual thing. It was much deeper as Ven. Brahmali explained. My struggle was with fear even though I did have the knowledge that that fear was a delusion. The clinging to a self runs very very deep.

How are the suttas not working for you?


I never say the suttas are not working for me. That statement is simply saying that I see criticism as a wonderful tool for me to see my hidden mistakes that I may overlook them. Many times, we think that we understood and got the “truth”, but we actually messed up. It is good to see those mistakes and correct them before it is too late. However, this does not mean that any criticism is correct (even in this case, it is also good for me to see how well I can control myself and how much conceit I may have.)

As I see, your struggle with fear is because you attached yourself with that feeling. That feeling has become you. It has become “my feeling” or “I fear”. That feeling itself is simply a feeling, it does not need you in it. It comes and goes by its condition. When the condition is removed, it will go away by itself. Therefore, you may want to keep reminding yourself that “this fear is not mine, it is not myself, it is not worth to continue with it”. The more you can detach from it, the less you fear. However, this requires a lot of practice.

You fear because you created a self (of you) in that feeling. If you remove that self from that feeling, then you are free from that fear.

However, I know that my view is not going along with the main stream or famous teachers. It’s up to you if you want to believe what I say.


Ah. OK. I think I understand what you are saying about fear. I literally could not remove myself from that fear in the moment of fearing. It was crushing. This was the horrible surprise. It was also surprising because I had not created myself in that fear. I had created myself in a delight that I feared losing. This is a little different, perhaps, than what you have said?

I did eventually address the fear by relinquishing the delight that I feared losing. That release took a very long time. Years and years. This is what MN1 refers to. The fear was a symptom of the delight.


When you delight, you become that delight. You created the self (of you) in that delight. You love it and you are afraid of losing it. You want to keep it for yourself as long as you could (even forever).

However, because of the impermanent nature of all things, that delight must end soon or later, and the opposite must come. Therefore, delight is the root of suffering.

Seeing this, we do not want to cling to any delight, since it must lead to dukkha.


Even here we have to be wary of Mara.
Because I too believed what you had written.

But I got fancy and clever.
Being fancy and clever, I had this thought:
“What if I let go of the current delight and simply pass freely on to the next?”
And this fancy and clever thought did indeed work as my monkey swung from branch to branch.

But one day, on a cliff looking down.
Looking down I saw no branches.
The monkey screamed in fear.

This is why Bhante Sujato translates MN1 as:

relishing is the root of suffering –MN1

My monkey was attached to relishing successive delights.

But I still didn’t understand until I read Ven. Bodhi’s translation:

delight is the root of suffering –MN1

That closed the loophole I thought I had found.


My autobiographical thoughts


If delight will always lead to delight, then it is permanently delight because it will never go away from delight. However, because it is impermanent, it must lead to the opposite (See in term of yin/yang, day/night, breath in and breath out).

That’s what I see, you do not need to believe it. It is good to see that you take me as Mara :sunglasses:


:rofl: I do not see you as Mara.
Yes. Delight ends in suffering. Always.


Yes, but if you do not attach or create yourself in that then you will see just delight comes and goes, suffering comes and goes. They are what they are, you have nothing to do with them. However, this requires a lot of practice! The less you have them, the less you will need to deal with them.




If suffering comes and goes it hasn’t been understood, it’s causes haven’t been removed and it’s cessation hasn’t been experienced!


Yes. Freedom and I are currently just using a lot of sandpaper.