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The thorny issue of anatta

anatta
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#146

When one takes a close look at the First Noble Truth, one can see that it leaves out some possibilities which are obviously pleasant and bring happiness: youth, health, life, association with the liked, separation from the disliked, getting what you wish for.

I guess that the idea is that common people are blinded by these allures and can’t see the drawbacks of existence (even though they might be obvious) - therefore they lack overall picture and look only at one side of the coin.

In case of the aggregates the allure of them is that they can bring pleasure. The drawback is that they are unstable and liable to unintended change therefore they can bring suffering.

If one wishes to escape the drawbacks one has to let go the allure aswell - so, let’s toss a coin away :wink:


#147

That’s obviously correct. But when it comes to ebt studies I’d like to clearly distinguish what the texts say and what we think they mean. To present our interpretation as the true meaning of the texts is epistemologically very problematic, both for our ability to read, and for others who might be influenced by us.

Unfortunately it became normal for teachers and lay Buddhists to ‘mansplain’ Buddhism. As if saying for example regarding anatta “Sure, the suttas don’t consistently say ‘there is no atta’, but you must forgive the Buddha, sometimes he had an overly complicated way of expressing himself. Let me break it down for you - because I can describe it a little bit better than the Buddha: ‘There is indeed no atta’.”

That the suttas don’t satisfyingly explain everything doesn’t mean that we have to jump in to save the day, blur the difficulties and mend the cracks with our simple minds. I at least find it more beneficial to differentiate between what the texts say on the one hand, and the sense I make of it on the other.

I know this will not change people’s mind, but at least it explains my annoying insistence on details.


#148

:heart: :man_cartwheeling: :man_cartwheeling: :man_cartwheeling: :tada:


#149

Hello @thomaslaw,

First, I must address your last point

Reminders to follow right speech are always appropriate. However the people addressed, if they were not aware of speaking wrongly, will wonder whether they accidentally caused offence. Please know that I had no intention to offend you or anyone here.

Thank you so much for the reference to Choong’s book,

On page 56, the conclusion, " Hence, impermanence is suffering", does not follow from the argument, which only shows that impermanence under some circumstances leads to suffering. Therefore, “impermanence is suffering” is not taken literally. Instead, it is shorthand for something different.

Best wishes,
David.


#150

Yes, for clearer expression, it should be: “anicca is dukkha in the one who holds the self-view of craving” (i.e. self-attachment to “anicca” phenomena, such as the five aggregates/sense spheres).

So, “anicca is dukkha” does not literally mean “anicca itself is dukkha”; it means the origin of dukkha lies in craving, in self-view, in self-attachment to anicca phenomena/body-mind.

In this connection, one may consider that dukkha is in fact not real. That is, dukkha, being not real, arises; having arisen it ceases completely. It is a result of previous action, but there is no doer (anatta). Dukkha is anatta.


#151

I’m not sure. The suttas just say that whatever is anicca is dukkha, there is no qualification like “but only when craving is present”, or whatever.
The other possibility is that dukkha here means “unsatisfactory”, rather than “suffering”. In other words, suffering arises when you don’t clearly see the unsatisfactoriness of impermanent phenomena. When you do clearly see that unsatisfactoriness, then craving and clinging to phenomena will naturally cease.
In other words, dukkha has different meaning in different contexts. Here in the context of the 3 marks it means “inherently unsatisfactory”, while in the context of the First Noble Truth it means “personal suffering due to craving”.


#152

While we’re discussing anatta, I still don’t get how anatta is compatible with rebirth when there is no atta/soul to be reborn. Rebirth seems to imply the re-appearance of something in a different form, but what IS that something in the EBT where all is anicca and anatta?
Are there any suttas which directly address this question?


#153

Yes, the aggregates are inherently unstable, and therefore unsatisfactory. So it’s unwise to attach to them as “me” and “mine”, that leads to personal suffering.
This seems to be more about self-view, and less about ontology.


#154

There’s a sutta which says what is reborn is five aggregates. What’s here now is anicca and dukkha upadana-khandas. They give rise to more clinging-aggregates of the same kind.


#155

Here is a sutta that distinguishes impermanence from impermanence with suffering:

AN6.142:1.3: Aniccasaññā, anicce dukkhasaññā, dukkhe anattasaññā, pahānasaññā, virāgasaññā, nirodhasaññā.
AN6.142:1.3: The perception of impermanence, the perception of suffering in impermanence, the perception of not-self in suffering, the perception of giving up, the perception of fading away, and the perception of cessation.

From Voice results for impermanence suffering


#156

AN 142:1.3 looks like a progression? Do you know what the perception of not-self in suffering means?
I’ve always found the 3 marks formula incongruous. The 3 marks of what, exactly?
It seems that 2 marks “remain” for the Arahant (anicca and anatta), while dukkha ceases.


#157

Yes. I first noticed these progressions in DN33, which provides a progression of progressions from 5, 6 and 7. :open_mouth:

DN33:2.1.140: the perception of impermanence, the perception of suffering in impermanence, the perception of not-self in suffering, the perception of giving up, and the perception of fading away.
DN33:2.2.128: the perception of impermanence, the perception of suffering in impermanence, the perception of not-self in suffering, the perception of giving up, the perception of fading away, and the perception of cessation.
DN33:2.3.25: the perception of impermanence, the perception of not-self, the perception of ugliness, the perception of drawbacks, the perception of giving up, the perception of fading away, and the perception of cessation.

“Marks of existence” is shorthand for “marks of continued existence” where “continued existence” is used in the dependent origination sense. They are essentially Mara’s trade-marks. Perceiving impermanence leads us on a chase for permanence. Perceiving suffering leads us on a chase to non-suffering. Perceiving non-self leads us on a chase to self. Mara’s business is booming.

Looking at the progression of seven, in the middle we see “perception of drawbacks” which is the pivot point in our spiritual search. After that, we see three more perceptions ending in cessation.


#158

I don’t think this aspect is too mysterious. As we discussed there are the ‘philosophical’ suttas that state that e.g. the khandhas are 1. anicca 2.what is anicca must be dukkha 3.what is dukkha must be anatta.

The ‘perception suttas’ transfer the above 3-step-logic into a meditation practice: 1.the perception of anicca 2.the perception of dukkha in what is anicca 3.the perception of anatta in what is dukkha.

It just follows the same exact logic and puts it into the practice of perception-meditations, no?


#159

According to the major part of SN/SA, the Buddha never teaches the idea of “inherently unsatisfactory”.

Dukkha presented in the major part of SN/SA is closely linked to the self-view of craving/attachment. The teachings of anicca, dukkha, anatta in the major part of SN/SA centre mainly on practice and experience for overcoming dukkha in daily life (cf. Mun-keat Choong, Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism, pp. 53, 55 ff.).


#160

The standard formula in the suttas goes as follows, in reference to the aggregates: “What is impermanent is unsatisfactory, and what is unsatisfactory is not fit to be regarded as self”.
This appears to be a straightforward description, not subject to qualification.

Not seeing this, one does regard the aggregates as self, viewing them as me and mine - which then leads to clinging and personal suffering.
Seeing the unsatisfactoriness of the aggregates, one does not cling to them and regard them as self, leading to the cessation of personal suffering.

To me this a logical analysis, supported by the EBT. It does rely on dukkha having different meanings in different contexts (inherently unsatisfactory v. personal suffering), but it is the case that other terms vary in meaning, “sankharas” for example.


#161

I think the quotation you mentioned here does not clearly imply the idea: “inherently unsatisfactory”.

This is because the teaching, what is dukkha is anatta “not-self” (“is not fit to be regarded as self”), is clearly linked to the self-view of craving/attachment.

It means the origin of dukkha lies in craving, in self-view, in self-attachment to impermanent aggregates. The explanation of dukkha follows closely the first noble truth of suffering (SN 56.11 = SA 379) (cf. MK Choong, Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism, p. 236).

What is dukkha is anatta does not imply the idea: “inherently unsatisfactory”.

If one is rid of craving, then there is no dukkha. Hence, anicca is dukkha in the one who holds the self-view of craving.


#162

Sure, the origin of personal suffering lies in craving and clinging, which results from regarding the aggregates as me and mine (self-view). That’s the Second Noble Truth.

What I don’t understand is how you have gone from “what is unsatisfactory is not fit to be regarded as self” to “what is dukkha is anatta”.
Could you show your working on this?


#163

This is well within Buddhist logic, but then the formula
anicca - dukkha --> anatta
is not really hitting the point.

it should be
clinging - samsara - dukkha --> dispassion

Something like “Whatever you cling to, you will be reborn accordingly. But any rebirth is suffering. Therefore eradicate clinging. And here is the path to the eradication of clinging”.


#164

I’m still not seeing the logical basis of “what is dukkha is anatta”, given that dukkha results from the assumption of atta, ie self-view.
I’m still not seeing how “what is dukkha is anatta” derives logically from “what is unsatisfactory is not fit to be regarded as self”.
Also “what is dukkha is anatta” implies that what isn’t dukkha isn’t anatta, and that doesn’t sound right.


#165

No, that’s fallacious reasoning. If what is dukkha is anatta, then the proper contrapositive is that what is not anatta is not dukkha.

What you are saying would be like saying: Rain is wet, therefore what is not rain is not wet. This is silly though, because while it’s true that rain is wet, plenty of other things are also, such as showers, lemonade, soda, milk, the ocean etc.