@sujato translates the last line of the infamous SN 44.10 as: “It seems that the self that I once had no longer survives.”
The Pāli is:
‘ahuvā me nūna pubbe attā, so etarahi natthī’”ti.
I think that based on the previous lines in the sutta equating ‘natthattā’ with the annihilationists, as well as the contextual use of the word ‘atthi’ elsewhere, understanding the sutta as referring to future non-existence makes sense. However, my question is on this part, which is normally understood as, e.g. “the self that I once had now no longer exists [in the present],” and that Vacchagotta would have felt his own experience of the self or subjective experience did not exist and would have been simply confused (as he already was).
I have seen it said that the adverbs here, ‘pubbe’ and ‘etarahi’, favor that interpretation as opposed to the one by Bhante Sujato. I know some such as @Sunyo have said before that they think this sutta is working with the double meaning of ‘atthi’ and may at times refer to the present rather than future. My question is: is it grammatically sound to translate the last line as referring to the future annihilation of the attā given the adverbs here (etarahi and pubbe)? Is this less intuitive than a present-tense interpretation? It seems that “In the past, I had a self and now I do not” is the more intuitive reading adverbially, but I’m not sure.
I am not well enough versed in Pāli and I know there is a variety of opinion on this matter so I would like to dive a bit more into the reasoning from those qualified.
Disclaimer: I am interested in the linguistic analysis of this sutta, not discussions on the nature of ‘anattā’ beyond the analysis please. Thank you.
Sometimes translation and grammar are two separate issues, with the former being much more difficult than the latter. Yes, grammatically this sentence most likely speaks about the present. But earlier when the Buddha mentions annihilationists surely he must be using atthi to refer to the future. So how as a translator are you going to mesh things together? I do understand why Venerable Sujato translates it this way, and would probably do the same. I think ‘survives’ works quite well.
Because some people have interpreted this text to say the Buddha effectively denied the non-existence of a self. But if you read the Pali, that is not what’s going on. He says he doesn’t answer because he would sound like an annihilationist, and they believed to the self to actually exist but no longer exist (or no longer survives) after death. I think Venerable Sujato’s translations avoid this unwarranted confusion.
I agree with your message, but the reason I ask is because I think that just because something is convenient as a translator/translation doesn’t mean it’s what should be done (I’m not saying you meant this BTW; just generally). If grammatically, the meaning is that this line refers to Vacchagotta thinking his self does not exist in the present (in a confused way), then that is simply the meaning, and trying to make it more consistent is the job of the text’s composer rather than the translator.
I think it’s possible that the first two ‘paragraphs’ cover the future tense meaning (eternalism/annihilationism) and the second two ‘paragraphs’ cover the present tense meaning (self-view / being confused by anattā). One could argue then that the final line should be different (but this may not be the most plausible, just a possibility). The ambiguity with the word (same as we see in MN 90 with devā) and Vacchagotta’s confusion could have led the Buddha to generally remain silent.
“It seems that formerly, the self that I had, it now will no longer exist.” Is this an accurate possible translation? Or would a more accurate gloss be “It seems that the former self that I had will now no longer exist”? These are all using the future reading of ‘atthi’ of course. I think they all make sense based on the Pāli but am not certain.
First, suttacentral gives SA 961 and SA2 195 as parallels to this sutta. As far as I can tell neither of these are parallels at all, perhaps @cdpatton can confirm?
Second, @sujato 's translation of atthattā as “self survives”, while a massive improvement on his earlier “the self exists in an absolute sense”, is still quite clearly taking a strong position in relation to the meaning or intention of the sutta, one that obscures rather than illuminates the ambiguities and potential philosophical controversies that do indeed surround it.
Third, @Sunyo 's insistence that the annihilationist position was that a real, existent, substantial self or atta was annhiliated, while consistent with Theravada orthodoxy and obviously vitally important to maintaining certain readings of the annata doctrine, is profoundly difficult, at least for me, to see on the basis of the primary canonical description given in the suttas:
One time, sir, I approached Ajita Kesakambala and exchanged greetings with him. Ekamidāhaṁ, bhante, samayaṁ yena ajito kesakambalo tenupasaṅkamiṁ; upasaṅkamitvā ajitena kesakambalena saddhiṁ sammodiṁ. When the greetings and polite conversation were over, I sat down to one side, and asked him the same question. Sammodanīyaṁ kathaṁ sāraṇīyaṁ vītisāretvā ekamantaṁ nisīdiṁ. Ekamantaṁ nisinno kho ahaṁ, bhante, ajitaṁ kesakambalaṁ etadavocaṁ: ‘yathā nu kho imāni, bho ajita, puthusippāyatanāni …pe… sakkā nu kho, bho ajita, evameva diṭṭheva dhamme sandiṭṭhikaṁ sāmaññaphalaṁ paññapetun’ti?
He said: Evaṁ vutte, bhante, ajito kesakambalo maṁ etadavoca:
‘Great king, there is no meaning in giving, sacrifice, or offerings. There’s no fruit or result of good and bad deeds. There’s no afterlife. There’s no such thing as mother and father, or beings that are reborn spontaneously. And there’s no ascetic or brahmin who is well attained and practiced, and who describes the afterlife after realizing it with their own insight. The denial of “mother and father” is usually interpreted as the denial of moral duty towards ones’ parents. However, I think it is a doctrine of conception which denies that a child is produced by the mother and father. Rather, the child is produced by the four elements, with parents as mere instigators and incubators. ‘natthi, mahārāja, dinnaṁ, natthi yiṭṭhaṁ, natthi hutaṁ, natthi sukatadukkaṭānaṁ kammānaṁ phalaṁ vipāko, natthi ayaṁ loko, natthi paro loko, natthi mātā, natthi pitā, natthi sattā opapātikā, natthi loke samaṇabrāhmaṇā sammaggatā sammāpaṭipannā, ye imañca lokaṁ parañca lokaṁ sayaṁ abhiññā sacchikatvā pavedenti.
This person is made up of the four primary elements. When they die, the earth in their body merges and coalesces with the main mass of earth. The water in their body merges and coalesces with the main mass of water. The fire in their body merges and coalesces with the main mass of fire. The air in their body merges and coalesces with the main mass of air. The faculties are transferred to space. This is a materialist analysis of the person. Cātumahābhūtiko ayaṁ puriso, yadā kālaṁ karoti, pathavī pathavikāyaṁ anupeti anupagacchati, āpo āpokāyaṁ anupeti anupagacchati, tejo tejokāyaṁ anupeti anupagacchati, vāyo vāyokāyaṁ anupeti anupagacchati, ākāsaṁ indriyāni saṅkamanti.
Four men with a bier carry away the corpse. Āsandipañcamā purisā mataṁ ādāya gacchanti.
Their footprints show the way to the cemetery. Yāvāḷāhanā padāni paññāyanti.
The bones become bleached. Offerings dedicated to the gods end in ashes. Kāpotakāni aṭṭhīni bhavanti, bhassantā āhutiyo.
Giving is a doctrine of morons. Dattupaññattaṁ yadidaṁ dānaṁ.
When anyone affirms a positive teaching it’s just hollow, false nonsense. Tesaṁ tucchaṁ musā vilāpo ye keci atthikavādaṁ vadanti.
Both the foolish and the astute are annihilated and destroyed when their body breaks up, and don’t exist after death.’ Bāle ca paṇḍite ca kāyassa bhedā ucchijjanti vinassanti, na honti paraṁ maraṇā’ti.
And so, when I asked Ajita Kesakambala about the fruits of the ascetic life apparent in the present life, he answered with the doctrine of annihilationism. Itthaṁ kho me, bhante, ajito kesakambalo sandiṭṭhikaṁ sāmaññaphalaṁ puṭṭho samāno ucchedaṁ byākāsi.
What part of the above is suggestive of, or even compatible with, a philosophy of a real existent atta that is destroyed at death? It seems to me that the only reason for that gloss is that without it we have something that looks almost exactly like anatta, as some Theravadins would posit that doctrine.
Fourth, the context of SN44.10 is the undeclared points, which are absolutely not confined to “atta” questions, and as I have said elsewhere are discussed in much greater detail in other suttas, notably MN72 in ways that make the idea that the undeclared points are really about anatta completely untenable.
Anyway, I know am unlikely to be persuasive to many on here steeped in Theravada tradition, but I think it is a shame that so few people take an interest in the undeclared points outside of the anatta context, as I think it is in fact the gateway to the real penetration of what Buddhism was about for the Buddha and his immediate followers.
At Iti 49 annihilationism is mentioned specifically with the attā. This is not the primary context with the various sramana teachers of course, but it is a rather oft cited and quite relevant one. I agree that this is not always a literal attā theory; the idea is “I’m my body and when I die I’m annihilated” or something else like “the inner thinker” etc. It’s not often a ‘soul’ but a ‘self’ that one is, as opposed to the eternalists who reify the attā into a ‘soul’-like thing or some ontological essence. Anattā covers both.
If the undeclared points are not about anattā, that is further evidence that the future reading of atthi is more appropriate.
Basically I take the first third of DN, read conservatively, and then compatible, non innovative parts of MN, again read conseevatively, stripped of material not found in comparable locations in the Agama parrallels, as representing the earliest strata of philosophical prose we have access to in Buddhism.
I take much of MN, especially where the Agama parallels are in SA, and more or less all of the prose part of SN, to be a somewhat later, drier, amd more scholastic presentation, and one in which some frankly false and incompatible argument has slipped in.
Iti, Ud, Thera, Theri, Dhp, etc I take to be of rapidly diminishing value at least in terms of what was going on at the decisive early moments.
So that would be my first point, all of which is to say i would take Iti 49 with a grain of salt inasmuch as it might bear on what annihilationism is for the Buddhism of DN1 DN2 MN72 MN43 etc (the suttas that guve actual philosophical orientation to early buddhism rather than ossified mnemonic doctrine)
Second, the passage doesnt actually mention annihilationism at all, and theres no reason to thinknits reffering to Ajita Kesakambala’s philosophical position at all.
Third it seems rather to make a simpler more universal point about the psychology of attraction amd repulsion, where some love existance and some hate it.
Fourth, if anything it appears to reinforce a reading of early Buddhism that makes the “persons are fictions and enligtenment is the annihilation of a non existent being” gloss of anatta untenable or at least harder to make out, as psychologically at least that position is in the overeach category (differing only in taking the “atta” that is destroyed to be fictional in the first place)
I would finally just stress again that SN44.10 seems like an extreemly abbreviated retelling of the vastly more in depth and philosophically more sophisticated and interesting MN72, a sutta that provides a non trival explination of vaccha’s “confusion” and a detailed analogy of the philosophical reasons for the silence.
Oh, also I noticed that the parallels are in fact parallels, I had just looked up the wrong ones
SA2 195 is very similar to SN 44.10. There, the question asked in Chinese is “do all beings have/not have self?” The Buddha’s explanation for not answering either proposition is about the same. Then, the sutra continues with a discussion of dependent origination, which is the middle way between the two extremes of substantialism and nihilism, here in the sense of beings having a self or not.
SA 961 is much briefer, and the only question put to the Buddha is “Is there a self.” The Buddha gives very similar explanations as to why he didn’t answer either way (because it falls into eternalism or nihilism). Again, he sums it up with a brief statement of dependent origination, which avoids both extremes.
The narratives in the two parallels are slightly different, and the answers vary in wording and length, but the Buddha’s answers are pretty consistent in meaning.
This is interesting. Just to be clear, by nihilism do you mean annihilationism or something else?
If so, with that and with dependent origination, it sounds like it is confirming that ‘natthattā’ = will not exist (i.e. the self will not exist/survive). The middle between the self continuing or ceasing is dependent origination of course: the aggregates fare on through samsāra until it ceases with the cessation of ignorance. Would the Chinese permit this reading, or no? I assume with tenselessness it would, although it may be much less clear or obvious in comparison to Indic atthi.
Yeah, that was poor word choice. The Chinese uses the terms 常見 (lit. “eternal view” ~ eternalism) and 斷見 (“terminating view” ~ annihilationism).
The Chinese doesn’t really capture this level of nuance. It could, of course, but the translations don’t communicate it. The questions are simply “Does the self exist?” or “Do sentient beings have a self?” The underlying language is likely the same, but there’s no temporal nuance like that in the translation.
In SA2, there’s an extended discussion, which looks like inserted commentary when I compared it to the other two versions:
“Furthermore, Ananda, if I had said, ‘There is self,’ then he would fall into the eternal view. If I said, ‘There is no self,’ then he would fall into terminating view. The Tathagata teaches a Dharma that abandons these two extremes. They come together into a middle way. Because these things decay, they aren’t eternal. Because they continue, they aren’t terminating. Neither eternal nor terminating, this is a cause, and this is an existent. Because this cause arises, that [existent] is able to arise. If the cause didn’t arise, then that [existent] wouldn’t arise …”
And then the chain of dependent origination follows.
Awesome. Thanks for the info! This seems to me to point exactly to the same interpretation: there is continuity of existence so long as there are the conditions in place, but these are all non-eternal and when their conditions cease they too will come to an end. In other words, temporal continuation of existence is the main factor at play (just as in atthi and natthi). Nonetheless, it makes sense the Chinese questions themselves do not transmit this nuance and it may seem less obvious. I’d suspect that’s why the sutta goes on to give commentary on this fact. Do you feel the same or do you think the question is getting at something else?
*(Context: Having a view of sense of attā is what leads to this anxiety of annihilation; relinquishing all of them leads to non-anxiety)
Note here that the Buddha refers to this belief in ‘me’ being annihilated as “what does not exist.”
I agree with you that saying “Everything’s going to be annihilated, but I don’t believe in any self so it’s not annihilation” is not a valid loophole. But that’s because that’s not how spiritual progress works. It’s not holding a no-self view that protects one from annihilationism, it’s uprooting all views and identification so as to relinquish two forms of craving: craving to exist and craving to stop existence. Both of these are inherently tied to self-view and conceit as the suttas consistently present them. The two views of ‘bhava’ and ‘vibhava’ are related to having a sense of self.
In other words, the problem is not believing in a self or not. It’s in having a sense of self or not which is the root for one to appropriate experience, take it up, cling to it, and suck pleasure or feel pain on account of it. Bhaskar (1972) says Ajita Kesakambali was of the view that ‘the body and the soul (jīva) are one and the same.” Whether or not this is true in the suttas I am not 100% certain, but either way, what is clear is that this ascetic had self-view and had not uprooted all conceit and craving. Therefore his was a view of ‘vibhava.’ Whether or not this is identical to ‘uccheda’ is less relevant: the point is that we can analyze his view and see that wrong view, including identification, underlies it. Talk of ‘bhavaditthi’ and ‘vibhavaditthi’ are much more prevalent in Buddhist specific discourses; what are presented as the views of a particular ascetic or group of them is less relevant to what is universal according to Buddhism: views and craving of/for bhava and vibhava, which are ultimately, irregardless of one’s philosophical ideas about a ‘self,’ underlying all of one’s cognition so long as avijjā is not uprooted permanently.
Sorry not to go into some more detail. I hope that is helpful/contributes to this discussion.
It feels pre-Nagarjunian (Nagarjuna rejected the notion of a cause and kept only conditions). I could read it as observing how things change over time to the point that they can’t be identified as the same thing anymore. (Am I really the same person as I was when I was six years old or thirty?) Or maybe there’s a kind of Plato’s Forms theory that’s being rejected. I’m not quite sure.
It’s the annihilation or terminating side of it that doesn’t quite add up to me. “Things don’t terminate because they continue.” What does that mean if the subject here is the survival of a self after death? It could mean that there’s only a temporary end, which would be the strict understanding of Buddhist rebirth, I think.
So, to give a simple example: Suppose one day I decided I didn’t want to sit in chairs anymore. I like the way Japanese sit on the floor. So, I throw all my chairs out. Does that mean there’ll never be chairs in my house again? No, not really. I might change my mind about sitting on the floor all the time, or the next owner of my place might like chairs. So, chairs can exist again even though they are gone for now.
What I suspect is that “existence” and “non-existence” were taken in these absolute ways that aren’t intuitive to us today. It’s like Buddhists were dealing with Platonic form theories that said that chairs everywhere exist or don’t exist, not just a particular instance of a chair. If chairs exist, then it means they are always and forever, unchanging forms. If they don’t exist, then they are just made up ideas in people’s minds. It might explain why Nagarjuna sounds like a nihilist when we read him today: At the time, temporary or conventional existence mean the thing-in-itself was non-existent.
One way I’d think about this is consciousness. So the idea with rebirth is that consciousness continues. And in fact, it continues infinitely so long as craving is not uprooted. So it sure sounds like consciousness is just ever-present self. But, consciousness is not eternal because it is liable to cease. Of course, Abhidhamma tried to extra-defend this by making consciousness momentary, but then it’s just the stream of consciousness itself which goes on forever and even after death. The solution of course is dependent origination. But I certainly have heard people ask: “If consciousness continues in rebirth and has been here to the point of indiscernability, how is it not the self?”
I want to be careful not to project our modern questions onto these texts though. This was certainly a valid concern (in e.g. MN 38), but as is relevant to this very discussion, the types of questions and speculations people had back then were in a completely separate philosophical context. I think Bausch writes a very beautiful summary of this in the first chapter of her thesis on Kosalan philosophy. Here are some relevant quotes:
Philosophers create concepts in response to problems that necessarily change or for problems are badly understood or formulated. … In addition to making concepts, the philosopher must approach concepts—which have a history (Deleuze), a genealogy (Nietzsche), an archaeology (Foucault), like a palimpsest (Derrida)—with a degree of skepticism, lest the concepts be appropriated uncritically. Deleuze and Guattari assert, “To criticize is only to establish that a concept vanishes when it is thrust into a new milieu, losing some of its components, or acquiring others that transform it.”28 How concepts are understood changes overtime, as does the ability of concepts to maintain a critical edge that functions to prevent the passive appropriation of their signified. Philosophical concepts are constantly reconfigured to keep them vital, for which reason Deleuze and Guattari say, “Concepts are really monsters that are reborn from their fragments.”
Yeah. I think this is certainly true some of the time, and it’s what Nagarjuna was getting at. It is hard to explain exactly what is meant to someone: “So, this thing exists, but I mean that it actually exists behind itself in a real way.” The Greeks spilt a lot of ink on describing similar ideas to this, as did the Mahayanists.
And I agree that could be part of this: the self is manifest, but it doesn’t actually exist. But that’s not what the Buddha wants to say. So he just stays silent with this whole reference of an ‘attā’ and says ‘sabbe dhammā anattā’ and describes conditionality/dependent arising. This gets around the entire issue, and it won’t cause confusion to people like Vacchagotta. Unfortunately, it causes a lot of confusion 2.500 years later
Point being, neither of these—temporal existence and/or absolute ideal existence—are what people in English tend to think of if we say “the self does not exist.” We don’t read that as ‘does not exist [ultimately, in the background, perfectly, eternally].” Nor do we read it as “the self does not exist [after death, in time, once it runs its course].” But these are precisely the two readings being rejected and worked around. It’s as if in the Indic context, to put ‘attā’ in the subject position is to substantialize and reify it in a way that the Buddha simply wanted to avoid at all costs.
EDIT: What you said also reminds me of the Sālistamba Sūtra where it goes on and on about ‘not the same, not different’ etc. I presume that’s also dated pre-Nagarjuna? (Or maybe the chronology is but a guess without much certainty)
I just don’t think this is true @kaccayanagotta , it is my very strong impression that the “tying” to “self-view” is more or less totally absent from DN, rare and garbled in MN, and overwhelming in SN.
So I would not say that this is something “consistent” in the suttas.
This is another example of why anatta, taken as a view that “the self does not exist” is untenable, or at least totally incompatible with the tetralemma, if the body is real and the self is not real then they are different things. however this was a view that the Buddha famously refused to endorse.
So the Buddha hardly ever says 'sabbe dhamma anatta", and the handful of times he does puts the authenticity of the statement into a very questionable status, see here:
secondly MN72 clearly asserts that it is precisely the profundity and depth of conditionality that confuses Vachagotta, and of course in DN15 Buddha scolds Ananda for thinking that DO is easy to understand, asserting rather that it is the profoundest and most difficult of his teachings.
FInally, again, this whole gloss that the Buddha stays silent on these points is that " the self is manifest, but it doesn’t actually exist. But that’s not what the Buddha wants to say" just doesn’t bear scrutiny, in MN72 the “doesn’t exist” option is ruled out as inapplicable just like the others, just like applying cardinality to an extinguished fire rules out north and south as well as east and west, so to does a correct understanding of conditionality rule out selves not existing as well as existing (both, neither).
What I find fascinating is that all of this is stated explicitly in long, detailed suttas, while things like “sabbe dhamma anatta” are confined to criptic, and suspicious suttas that demonstrate thier anxiety about the statement in palpable ways (see Ananda’s reassurance of Channa, the Buddhas confirmation of Assaji’s statment “deep in the woods” etc)
Nevertheless, most people today blithly assert the latter in defense of a postion that seems incompatible with the former, at least in the form many put it.
Basically as a denial of the positive braminical metaphysics of a permanent and happy substrate to existence that is ultimately identical with the innermost individual annatta is fine and unproblematic, although probably, like the atman hegemony itself, a later scholastic development than the earliest buddism. Taken as a positive metaphysical assertion that selves or a self doesn’t exist it is unreconcilable to the undoubtedly early teaching of the undeclared points, and taken in that form as an underwriting of the whole Buddhist project, it breaks the philosophical depth and beauty of DO and renders BUddhism into a very weird kind of nihilism for non exisiting persons who don’t want to non-exist anymore.
I am very much enjoying your presence on the board @kaccayanagotta and I am thinking that I should maybe put together a separate post outlining my broader current picture of early Buddhism so as to solicit your feedback. If I can resist the urge I will therefore stop posting on this thread and work on my own, until then.
(p.s I also think it is very suggestive that the Pali canon has deleted, or the Agama canon has added, "different from self, both, neither, from many of the relevent suttas, for examples see my “wildly popular observation” post. this again suggests to me that anatta as “persons are fictions” is a more or less sectarian position, or at least proto-sectarian, and one that we simply do not find in the earliest formulations of buddhism)
I think you misunderstood my point, because you’ve merely repeated it. “The self does not exist” is not what the Buddha wants to say, and thus he does not say it. This is consistent with the tetralemma in which “X does not exist” is avoided for the unanswerable. The reasoning being that which @cdpatton and I discussed: atthi is a pregnant word. To use it (or it’s opposite, natthi) in regards to some subject is to reify that subject (and this is a consistent theme in the unanswerables).
While I understand where you’re coming from in this evaluation, and I do believe there are certainly many people who present the idea in what are probably wrong ways, I think this is a misevaluation on your part. I may be wrong. But the point is not to deny persons. It simply says there is no unchanging essence within us, we are just a series of conditioned processes and none of these are permanent (nicca) or truly pleasant (sukha), and thus not worth being any kind of “self” or identity (attā). The idea that we do exist as some deeper thing is actually nowhere to be found in experience considering everything is conditional and subject to change. Where exactly this becomes some nihilistic pessimism to you I am not sure. The point is simple: if conditioned processes come to an end, how is that in any way an annihilation of ‘me’? We just identify with these things, due to ignorance. It is not more than that. People take everything personally, as if a chunk of flesh or some intention-driven consciousness were ‘us’.
I think it would be good to write a post on this, yes. I have engaged this topic as well, but my original intent in the post was to avoid this philosophical discussion of anattā. It is a relevant issue nonetheless, and I appreciate people questioning the assumptions made about the texts as well.
I will work up my other post in the coming week, but i would say this:
If i say “unicorns don’t exist” i dont thereby reify unicorns, no one is confused, i simply point out that unicorns dont, in fact, exist. Taken as an assertion that an “essense” or a “substance” (that bears the pehnomenal qualities) doesnt exist, anatta is as I have said, unproblematic.
But this is where the problem comes up, instead of saying “there are conditions and the ceasing of conditions” you say “we are”, and hence fall straight into the fallacy of identification that you seek to psychologically escape from!
“We” are NOT the phenomena we cognize, nor the cognition that depends on the phenomena, no identification of a self is possible in these processess, that is precicelt what the Buddha points out.
That a self cannot be found in phenomena is not the same thing as saying a self does not exist. If it where then there would be no tetralemma, the buddha would simply assert the second view, but they dont.
They then go on to say that predicates like exist and doesnt exist do not apply to persons gone out that way, in the same way that east and west dont apply to a fire gone out.
I have been engaging with this thread on my mobile phone which really limits my ability to draft text, so apologies if i am not managing to be coherent.
Understandable! I am now as well and so apologies for being a bit ‘rushed’ in the formatting and precise wording!
Precisely, because you’d be speaking Modern English to an audience of English speakers post-Enlightenment and with centuries of philosophical and cultural conditioning behind your statement. You wouldn’t be saying “sabbam natthi” in a dialect of Middle Indic in the ~5th century BCE. The assumptions underlying your statement and the problems that it would be interacting with cannot be assumed to be equivalent.
My and Charles point is that it seems in the Indic context, ‘atthi’ often can and does refer not to general existence in the sense of ‘is manifest.’ In fact, we see this often in the suttas stated with a form of ‘paññayati’ — is discerned, etc. In English this may sound obscure, and yet it is a perfectly idiomatic Pali rendering for something conventionally existing in the sense of being manifest and able to be experienced.
To say that something does not ‘atthi’ can imply that that thing does not have some deeper intrinsic existence, somewhat akin to Platonic forms though I am not qualified enough to speak to the authenticity of this comparison if it were to be subjugated to more scrutiny. Nobody is claiming that the whole universe “does not exist” in this conventional sense — it would be utterly illogical. But one can claim that what exists is inherently non-existent in a deeper, more ontological sense is a claim and it was a popular one.
Not only this, but unlike English (as I pointed out in the other comment), ‘natthi’ can have a future tense reading. Beyond the philosophical climate of the time influencing the linguistic trends at play to interact with the relevant concepts, there is the more coarse distinction in tense that is, again, one does not have to contend with as with Pāli when saying “Unicorns don’t exist” in English.
Thus, to say that a thing does not ‘absolutely exist’ is not to say that it is not manifest, i.e. able to be discerned (paññayati). We have to go out of our way to even imply this in English; it is not a primary philosophical condition marked in the psyche of our cultural-linguistic apparatus. It does seem to have been marked in the Middle Indic philosophical psyche though, and thus putting a referent in subject position with this verb was a way to speak of this subject in a deeper ontological sense that would best be avoided were one to be in the position of, say, the Buddha.
And so too did the Buddha say the equivalent of “My back aches,” “I did this,” etc. I was speaking conventionally and imprecisely because I assumed that in a Buddhist context it was understood — especially when the entire conclusion of my post is that ‘we’ are not anything but an ignorant conditioned process of identification with dukkha — that I did not mean this in any reified sense. I understand where the ‘gotcha’ is coming from considering you seem to be weary that this is the true underlying motive of certain people who hold this position (akin to something annihilationist), but to clarify: that is not what I meant. Nor is that statement somehow incorrect: personal pronouns are a designation given to individual subjective experience in order to differentiate between the individual instances of said experience; they do not necessitate any kind of deeper reading than that, including any such reading that would necessitate a self-view or true identification. That is only assumed, as was here (at least for the sake of discussion; not that you assumed this was my intention, of which we cannot be sure).
I’m sure we’ll agree that the problem in Early Buddhism is not the individual or the manifestation of individual subjectivity; it is the ‘self’ in the sense of feeling deep equivalence with the phenomena within experience.
I think you’ll be posting somewhere about this later on and it may be best engaged there. I do feel there has been some miscommunication though that I hope is more clear (even if we are not ultimately in agreement ATM). Communication, especially over the internet and about complex philosophical issues, is quite difficult. Something I’m sure we’re all experiencing lol.I am interesting in hearing your thoughts on how this all relates to the undeclared points/questions! I hope you end up going into more detail in this if/when you do make a separate thread.