The experience of "Anatta"

There is I because there is my and for me, and not the other way around:


As my last recent post, these topics have been discussed extensively on the forum and they can be very interesting and informative.

The question about “what knows or is aware” is a speculative question. Anyone is free to pursue this line of inquiry, of course, and there are differing viewpoints regarding this in some Buddhist circles.

My point is not what people should think or believe, but only to offer that the suttas in the Pāli Canon do not teach about an ever-present “permanent” awareness.
And the suttas are as close as we can come to the teachings the Buddha during his life.

Sorry for many times answering only with links, but your image reminded me of something I have made many years back, when I studied a bit Theosophy. It’s quite similar to what you drew:

I do not know if there is someone who can really claim he knows what the Buddha taught, discovered, realised. I feel authority is a real problem. There are so much different opinions.

This is understandable since the four nikayas denigrate the importance of direct knowledge. I am an outlier here. I believe the four were written later by philosophers riffing on earlier material as opposed to earlier writings that appear to have been written by mystics. If you go back to my quote above from Ud 1.10, you will see a description of how direct knowledge is experienced. It also goes by the name neither perception or non-perception. It is also described in Snp 4.11.

Form disappearing, sometimes said to “find no footing”, is actually name-form disappearing. Presumably, the meter of the verse led to truncation. So there is no conceptual aspect or other enhancements due to sanna/perception including, but not limited to processing of visual cues that lead to the placement in three dimensional space. So the visual image is flat/2D. This is “to see things as they really are” or “when in the seen there is only the seen”. Without this, there is no implied perspective so there is no you, the implied point of view of a three dimensional space.

Most here do not believe Ud 1.10 is referring to direct knowledge, but I am not alone. Bhikkhu Analayo defends it here. In any case, this is my take on it for what its worth.

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Exactly. I responded with a similar comment not too long ago in another discussion:

I suspect that the contention raised by the Buddha was more to do about Brahmanism and their questionnable practices, rites and rituals than anything else. Of course, I can’t know that for sure because I wasn’t there. But neither was anyone else pondering over these things today. Sure the EBTs give us some guidelines along with text critical studies. But what, among other examples I could allude to, did the Buddha say that wasn’t recorded? What about many things I can say as an English speaking North American that mean something quite different in Europe or Australia… just because of say, my intention, intonation, body language, etc.? These details cannot be recorded accurately – either through oral transmission or written – to convey what a person originally meant. To compound these many problems, there are so many things that we think we know for sure on Monday…to be contradicted by more or unknown data coming in by Friday. So we are in a constant mode of defining and reconfiguring our so-called knowledge today. Does anyone really consider how complicated this gets when trying to repiece the past?

This is not a criticism of Buddhism per se. It equally applies to any religion, philosophy or perspective that has its origins in the millenia of time. (The same can be said of what Christ originally said and really meant, compared to the thousands of interpretations and their interpreters out there who continue debating the particulars to this very day. Those making present day interpretations weren’t there either).

So to the point of what the Buddha really meant about many things, I’ll pass my turn. In the end, belief seems to be the name of the game. We often have a tendency to think and believe either one way …or another. Some stick to their guns until the day they die. In many cases, these people are later found to have erred, either through miscalculation, misinterpretaion or misinformation. Finally it seems inevitable that, whether right or wrong, our belief in something or someone is what really calls the shots … and far less what our so-called unbiased analysis is really about.

It boils down to a very concrete and time bound problem: reinterpreting the past. Unless one’s teacher lived in recent times and has formally and clearly written down what he meant to convey/teach, interpretation will always be filled with uncertainty. Though I find suttacentral to be about the best online Buddhist forum today, the interminable arguments and incredibly diverse interpretations, perspectives and positions over many topics – sometimes even over what one single word was meant by the Buddha when he (supposedly) said it – is a most evident case in point.

Some scholars, like Salomon Richards, have explained the many problems related to finding the ‘original’ teachings of the Buddha:

Salomon Richard writes in Buddhist Literature of Ancient Gandara: An Introduction with Selected Translations:

From these and other similar discoveries, it has gradually become clear to scholars that the history of Buddhism is far more complex than previously realized. Early scholars of Buddhism in the West, especially in the English-speaking world, had assumed that the Pali canon represented the true original scriptures of Buddhism while other manifestations of Buddhism and versions of Buddhist texts were secondary derivations, elaborations, or corruptions. This view prevailed mainly because the Pali canon of the Theravāda tradition of Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia happened to be the only one that survived complete and intact in an Indian language, and because it came to the attention of Anglophone scholars at a relatively early date as a result of the colonization of Sri Lanka by England. This led to the illusion that the Pali canon was the only true Buddhist canon, and the misconception was reinforced by the self-presentation of the bearers of that tradition, who were the early European scholars’ main points of contact with the Buddhist world.

But it is now clear that the seeming primacy and authority of the Pali Tipitaka is only an accident of history. The discovery of abundant remnants of a previously unknown Sanskrit canon in Central Asia enabled scholars to realize that there had once existed other, perhaps many other, canons in various local languages both within Buddhist India and beyond it, in regions to which Buddhism had spread but where it had died out in antiquity. The more recent discovery of Buddhist texts in Gandhari emphatically confirms the view that there once existed many Buddhisms, each with its own distinctive literature and canon. Moreover, detailed studies of the Sanskrit and Gandhari manuscripts, particularly with a view to comparing them with their parallels in Pali, Chinese, and other languages, has further undermined the myth of Pali primacy. Comparisons of several versions of a given sutra in the various languages concerned – for example, the Pali, Sanskrit, and Gandhari texts of the Rhinoceros sutra – typically show complex relationships in which no one version can be identified as the sole source or archetype for the others.

For this reason, most if not all Buddhist textual scholars nowadays consider each version of a given text, and by extension each body of Buddhist literature, to have a priori an equal claim to accuracy and originality. This result may seem disappointing and frustrating to those who wish to discover the true and original “words of the Buddha,” be they historically oriented scholars or practicing Buddhists. But in light of recent trends in textual scholarship, reinforced by the discovery of the Buddhist literature of Gandhara, most scholars have abandoned the quest for a single “original” version of the canon as a wild-goose chase.

For even if there ever were, in theory, a single original form of the canon, or at least of a group of individual texts as the Buddha himself uttered them two and a half millennia ago, there is no hope of finding it intact. By the time the texts were set down in writing, apparently in the first century BCE, Buddhism had already spread far and wide around India and adjoining countries, as a result of which slightly, and sometimes not so slightly, different versions had already arisen and diverged in complex and tangled ways that make it impossible to reconstruct a single original archetype.

Moreover, it is doubtful whether, even in the time of the Buddha himself, the texts existed in a single uniform shape. For example, the Buddha may have preached some sūtras several or many times in his travels and probably varied them slightly each time, for example shortening or lengthening his exposition according to the situation or the disposition of his audience. Thus different disciples could have heard, memorized, and transmitted different versions of a given sūtra, so that the textual diversity that has set in by the time of the earliest surviving written texts may have existed from the very earliest days of Buddhism. Therefore any search for the true, original words of the Buddha is doubly a quest for a will-o’-the-wisp.

For modern scholars, then, the focus has gradually shifted from a fruitless search for a single true original Buddhism to a broader understanding of the nature and interrelationships of the many Buddhisms that developed over the centuries and millennia. But where does this leave Buddhist practitioners who want to be sure that they are studying and following the true Dharma, just as the Buddha taught it? This is, of course, a matter of personal inclination and belief, but the multiple versions of texts and canons do not have to be considered a problem. In most cases, the differences between a given sūtra in, for example, Pali, Sanskrit, Gāndhārī, and Chinese are more a matter of phrasing and arrangement than of substance. If such texts are read for the spirit rather than for the letter — an attitude that is explicitly encouraged in certain sūtras — the inconsistency need not be a problem for Buddhists, just as it has ceased to be a problem for most scholars.

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I am convinced that the Buddha has seen that anusaya dictate how we know or understand what we experience.

For example, when pain arises, the dosa-anusaya almost immediately gets triggered, the mana anusaya and the avijja anusaya and as a consequence there is the experience of not wanting to feel that pain, pushing away. There is a sense of ownership of pain. There is mental proliferation, all kinds of conceivings.

Because of this strong forces it is almost impossibe to not know this pain as my pain or have a kind of understanding that there is no owner of the pain or not push pain away, etc. This is because pain triggers all kinds of anusaya.

I feel the teaching say that this way of experiencing things is not as it is, but as it becomes for us due to the influence of triggered anusaya. They colour the way we experience ourselves and phenomena.

I feel, direct knowledge refers to the situation when this does not happen anymore. When, for example, pain is not felt as my pain nor a sense of ownership arises regarding pain nor is there a tendency to push away the pain.

I believe Ud1.10 refers to this.

You know for yourself rather than through tradition or logic

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AFAIK no modern monks or scholars believe the suttas convey the words of the Buddha exactly as he said them.

At the same time, there is broad agreement that the teachings were accurately remembered and conveyed via oral transmission until they were written down, and that they have preserved the core teachings of the Buddha, (see the works of Bhikkhu Anālayo, Bukkhu Sujato, Ajahn Brahmali, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Mark Allon, Professor Gombrich and many others).
They’re not just guessing or offering subjective opinions.

You may be interested in reading “The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts” by Venerables Brahmali and Sujato.

I mean, we have to start somewhere. And the suttas of the Pāli Canon (and Āgamas) are as close as we’ll come to the words of the Buddha. We’re so fortunate!

It’s our choice whether to engage the Teachings or not, but overthinking this issue won’t get us very far.

Direct knowledge would be the knowledge you gain that cannot be refuted by any future experience.

Like the fact that the area of the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides in a rught triangle.

Once I “directly know” this truth, no future experience of any (or even all if i am an immortal soul) can ever refute my certainty.

I think that this is something that is really poorly understood by many religious buddhists. I keep planning a lemgthy post about it but the moving parts and different domains of discourse make it difficult.

But X cant be a “state” as a “state” would be a conditioned phenomena.

X is not a state
Not a “non state”
Not both
Not niether

Because the awakened understand the limits of thought and language.

Maybe the “state” isn’t the right word to use. It might be just called “whatever X”.

Regarding “direct knowledge” as something similar to the example of a triangle you have provided. Again, the idea of a “triangle” in itself is axiomatic and abstract, and therefore can be easily formulated in language; it simply cannot be refuted through any known means. It has clear and direct correspondence.

In case of Buddhism, there is still a discrepancy between “that X”, which is perfectly known in case of awakening and the way we try to express it in language. And therefore, non-awakened mind cannot truly grasp conceptually what “that X” is about.

No - i dont think thats right.

Nibanna is just like the triangle, once you undertand the argument you see that no phenomena or experience could alter your knowlege.

Its slightly different in that you are, as you say, “knowing something” about something which cannot be “identified” or “entitled” by language, but I don’t think that makes a substantive difference in the epistemology, theres plenty of “extra-linguistic” facts about triangles too!

However I think your also right in the sense that a person might have only “shallow” understanding of triangles, or the unconditioned, and of course theres a big difference between a high school student and a Fields medallist.

Like i guess what i mean is that i dont think im enlightened, but i do think i understand the basic argument, and i can see how it applies to every aspect of my experience, but clearly I have a lot to let go of before I could concieve of fully “experiencing” the totality of that “direct knowledge”

Direct knowledge is the opposite of intellectual knowledge. For example, by reading one get some conceptual understanding of what Nibbana means, but one will not directly know it untill this is really realised.

Likewise, we can read about all this jhana’s but untill we really abide in jhana we have no direct knowledge of them. It is very important, i feel, to agree with this. It is a huge conceit when one thinks conceptual knowledge is direct knowledge of something.

Many texts make this clear, for example MN26:

“I (Buddha) soon quickly entered upon and abided in that Dhamma (the jhana of his teachers, Green) by realising for myself with direct knowledge…”

This refers to…At first Buddha had no direct knowledge of the jhana of nothingness and no perception nor not perception but he got it very quickly by really entering these jhana’s. One has a direct taste of them. This is direct knowledge.

Direct knowledge is the goal.

For example, there is a huge difference between the conceptual understanding that the one who sees, knows, senses, experiences cannot be an unchanging mental entity, an I or Ego, and direct knowledge of this.

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What is anatta, what is direct experience of anatta and how to get to that experience:

You said you’re planning a lengthy post about the topic we are discussing. I’m very intrigued to read that :slightly_smiling_face:

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-“And what are the things to be realized by direct knowledge? True knowledge and liberation. These are called the things to be realized by direct knowledge”. (AN4.253)

Direct knowledge is not perse some universal or absolute truth it just refers to a direct knowledge of something, for example, how it is to abide in 4th jhana, having a direct taste of it, or, having realised the end of kilesa and therefor directly know what this means.

It is very different from conceptual, intellectual knowledge and the kind of understanding one can get by logic and reasoning, evaluating, putting all things together, investigating, contemplating, reading, conceiving, figuring things out, imaginating.

I completely disagree with this.

It is dangerous irrationalism.

There is nothing irrational about it, for me.

If you have never tasted a strawberry, someone might explain in words that it is ‘sweet’. Then you have a certain intellectual understanding of its taste. But you still do not really know how it tastes. Untill you eat a strawberry. Then you have direct knowledge of its taste.

The same with jhana, with stream entrance, with vimutti etc.

Maybe using the word ‘the opposite’ was alarming to you. But i believe it is not that bad.
Very often we have only an intellectual understanding of this and that in Dhamma. That means that we have a lack of direct knowledge of it. In this sense intellectual understanding is often the opposite of direct knowledge.

If this is not understood i feel that is concerning, alarming. Because then understanding Dhamma is confused with having great scriptural knowledge and having intellectually figured out everything and being able to talk about everything in a consistent way. For me, that is not a proof or sign one understand Dhamma.

I also, somehow intuitively, imagined Nibbana being something of that kind. But, @josephzizys states that, if i’m not mistaken, Nibbana is not a state as such - non empirical.
This reminds me of Kant’s division to apriori and aposteriori knowledge. He gives a mathematical example for apriori synthetic knowledge, which is able to expand known and not simply analyze things by division. The problem with something empirical (experiential) is that it should be interpreted (almost always inadequately) through language. But if to suppose that Nibbana is some sort of direct knowledge (in apriori sense, like mathematics) and then, surely, it cannot be called state or experience.

Hi Farid,

For me, AN3.55, AN9.47, Dhp114,MN98, some sutta’s in Sutta Nipata say that Nibbana can be seen directly.

There are also texts like this (MN11); 17. “Bhikkhus, when ignorance is abandoned and true knowledge
has arisen in a bhikkhu, then with the fading away of ignorance and the arising of true knowledge he no longer clings to sensual pleasures, no longer clings to views, no longer clings to rules and observances, no longer clings to a doctrine of self. When he does not cling, he is not agitated. When he is not agitated, he personally attains Nibbana. He understands: ‘Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being.’”

He personally attains Nibbana…if this is not empirical how would one know for oneself that birth is ended or that finally is done what had to be done etc?