The Elephant's Footprint: Visual Representation of how it all fits: Feedback Welcomed

so I had another thought for another graphic and I wanted to submit it for feedback to our discourse community. The idea was to have a quick visual representation as to how all the major teachings of the Buddha fit within the 4NT(ala the Elephants Footprint) and how they all connect.

Here is the picture :

This is a very rough and quick first draft I threw together off the top of my head, so far I think it all fits together correctly(including the cross connections), one obvious major part of the teachings I haven’t found an easy place for yet are the Three Characteristics of Existence".

So any corrections , additions, and general feedback is welcomed and appreciated.

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I’m working on something similar over here:

I have the 3 signs/characteristics relating to the 3 kinds of suffering (can’t quite remember where I heard that, so not sure if there’s any solid justification).

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Dear Ven Jayasara

I think trying to see how the Buddha’s teachings all connect is a very good and important venture.

The last nearly 20 years I’ve been working on connecting the teachings of the Buddha, based on early work of Dr Rod Bucknell, which I see is the practice of comparing phrases and meanings of his teaching. I believe the Buddha said that is part of the way to ensure his teaching lasts a long time for the benefit of the many, in his instruction to the monks to hold Sangha Councils. I find most of his more down to earth teachings are about the 4th noble truth. So I focus on the path. (Much of my work is on Academia.edu.) The smaller elephant’s footprint discourse would seem to be about the path.

More directly towards your graphic:

These days I make a clear distinction between dukkha: the Five Clinging Aggregates and the Five Aggregates vis sn22.48. Your map seems to identify the Five Aggregates as suffering, which I consider to be a common misrepresentation of the Buddha’s teaching and possibly the basis for the Three Characteristics.

Secondarily and probably more contentious: I take anattā to mean ‘not-soul’ or ‘non-soul’ rather than ‘not-self’ for various reasons, e.g.:

  • attā is the Pali equivalent of ātman and ‘soul’ in English would seem to best represent a non-changing personal essence, atheists and agnostics would believe in a self, but probably not a soul
  • non-self is a teaching found in the world based on deep calm meditative practices, seemingly without the help of the Buddha, e.g. pre Buddha Indic texts and Taoism
  • the Pali translation was not an-ahaṃ, which it could easily have been
  • I recall reading in the suttas the Buddha saying something like: ‘if one doubts one’s existence, there is no possibility of the practice of the path’, sorry I can’t supply the reference.

best wishes

I perfectly agree with this. There are suttas explaining what “clinging aggregates” means. They are called like that because they can be clung to. The aggregates are not the fetter themselves, the delight and lust for them is the fetter there. And suffering comes to be because of the impermanence characteristic of these aggregates and because of clinging to impermanent things.

Secondarily and probably more contentious: I take anattā to mean ‘not-soul’ or ‘non-soul’ rather than ‘not-self’ for various reasons, e.g.:

I have to disagree with that. How would that fit in with the innumerable passages about seen things as no-self ? For example seen consciousness as no-soul or seen the body as no-soul would not make any sense.

attā is the Pali equivalent of ātman and ‘soul’ in English would seem to best represent a non-changing personal essence, atheists and agnostics would believe in a self, but probably not a soul

And that is why Buddha rejected anihilationism. Because they do believe in a self that gets destroyed. While in Buddha teachings, there was never any self to begin with. This is strongly contradicting the no-soul idea by itself.

  • I recall reading in the suttas the Buddha saying something like: ‘if one doubts one’s existence, there is no possibility of the practice of the path’, sorry I can’t supply the reference.

It is a logical mistake to assume the aggregates do not exist because they are no-self. I believe you’re no-soul idea is an overreaction to the solipsist ideas of Nanananda, Nanavira etc. that have become popular today. For a proper refutal of existentialist/postmodernist/solipsist buddhism I suggest to do it using these suttas, not by changing the meaning of no-self:

  • SN 22.94 - explaining things do exist and that any “wise man in the world” agrees on that.
  • SN 14.7 - explaining the diversity of perceptions depends on the diversity of elements. In Triple N’s view only diversity of perceptions exist and the diversity of elements is just an illusion created through the internal process of assumption
  • SN 24.1 - calls solipsism a wrong view. Solipsism is listed as the first wrong view and the sutta is repeated 4 times throughout the “wrong view” section.
  • AN 6.41 - Explains how there is a wood-pile and how one can attend to different proprieties of this wood pile (such as the eath property, water property etc)
  • DN 5 - Explains what external material form is
  • MN 28 - Explains what external elements are

For more refutations of solipsism there is this topic: Ven. Ñāṇananda, Nibbana and Phenomenological Existentialism

It seems that we agree that there are numerous passages about seeing things (the five aggregates) as anattaa. We just disagree on the translation.

Where you see many passages about seeing things as no-self, I see them as about seeing things as not-soul.

When people seek eternal life (of the body), then they would be clinging to the body as soul, or the essential part of themselves.

When people cling to consciousness as the essential truth of the universe, such as happens in experiencing the formless states with Wrong View, then they would be clinging to it as soul.

But for example anihilationist do not believe in a soul. They believe in a self, but not in a soul. They believe in a self that disappears at death. Yet, Buddha refuted them because in his teachings, there was never any self to begin with.

As for taking the body as a soul, I don’t think there is any Christian out there taking the body as a soul, to say nothing about other people. Soul refers to an imortal essence apart from the 5 aggregates existing. At least that is what it means in english language and we are speaking here about pali-to-english translations.

You keep making this claim as a majority of Buddhists do, but to me it is based on no clear evidence, but only inference. For example, the Buddha never stated that he taught “n’atthi aham” nor “n’atthi attaa”.

Forget about everything that Buddha had taught. Let me ask you something based on logic and prove my point through logic:

What is it that you believe to be self ? Is it consciousness or is it the being as a whole ? Witch one of these 2 do you believe to be self ?