There are suttas which tell us not to regard the aggregates as self, which seems like a view.
But there are other suttas which tell us not to have a view about self at all.
Can anyone explain this contradiction?
There are suttas which tell us not to regard the aggregates as self, which seems like a view.
I have no views about what a Hippogriff is. But I know what it is not - for example, I do not regard this as a Hippogriff. Is that a view?
Views about a self, refer, i belief, to a positive identification. You regard something as ‘this i am’.
That can be a formation, sankhata, arsing and ceasing or asankahata. For example; one might not identify with arising formations but still develop the view ; ‘this inner stilness, this emptiness that does not arise and cease, that i am’.
EBT says that whereever such a identification takes place, there is no end of suffering.
My understanding is that there is a gradual development between the preliminary practice of seeing the aggregates as not-self and the abandonment of all self views.
Practising seeing the aggregates as not-self gives the mind the opportunity to detach from our attachment to whatever we take to be our self and therefore gain the necessary space to understand how our sense of identity simply arises in dependence on perception and grasping that perception. We construct our identity based on what we perceive, and then we grasp it as an ontological absolute:
“Upādāya asmīti hoti, no anupādāya.”
“The notion “I am” occurs because of grasping, not by not grasping.” (SN 22.83)
If you are a human, you perceive the 4 elements and construct your sense of identity based on the 4 elements, if you are a Brahma, you do the same based on what Brahmas perceive with their sense-bases, due to grasping, etc… (see MN 1).
When you truly see this in your experience you understand that any view of a self is a fallacious misconception, you understand the Kaccānagotta Sutta, you abandon identity view (sakkāya-diṭṭhi) and you become a stream-enterer.
But the suttas say that all forms of self-view are inappropriate, presumably including the view of not-self. Do you see the contradiction here?
The realization of not-self is not merely a view (diṭṭhi), it’s “knowledge and vision in correspondence with reality” (yathābhūtañānadassana).
The difference is that mere views arise on the basis of the 5 epistemic grounds of:
- oral tradition
- reasoned contemplation
- intuitive acceptance of a view
These are just pointers to the truth but do not suffice to arrive at a realization of the truth (MN 95).
Any philosophy, science, religion, system of thought etc. that relies on these cannot go beyond mere views.
If there is improper attention (ayonisomanasikara) while employing any of these 5 epistemic grounds there is the emergence of wrong views (micchadiṭṭhi), views that are not conducive to liberation, and in regards to the self they take one of the following 6 forms as “misconceptions”:
- ‘My self exists in an absolute sense.’
- ‘My self does not exist in an absolute sense.’
- ‘I perceive the self with the self.’
- ‘I perceive what is not-self with the self.’
- 'I perceive the self with what is not-self.’
- ‘This self of mine is he who speaks and feels and experiences the results of good and bad deeds in all the different realms. This self is permanent, everlasting, eternal, and imperishable, and will last forever and ever.’
If, instead, proper attention (yonisomanasikara) is employed, this gives rise to right view (sammādiṭṭhi), i.e. the aggregates are not-self, which, even though it is still only a view, it is conducive to liberation.
The only method that then goes beyond mere views is the pratice of satipaṭṭhāna in the context of the Noble Eightfold Path, whereby you “understand things by seeing them with wisdom” (paññāya disvā veditabbā) (SN 35.153).
(see “Exclusive reliance on reasoning as ‘mere belief’” by Bhikkhunī Dhammadinnā)
So, as MN 95 referenced above points out, you start out by placing faith in the Buddha. He tells you to see the aggregates as not-self. You follow his instructions through “reasoned contemplation” of his teachings or “intuitive acceptance of a view” (i.e. it makes sense that things that are impermanent are not-self etc…). Then you start practising this, and as your practice deepens there comes a time when you don’t need to “force” yourself to see things as not-self:
But there comes a time when that mind is stilled internally; it settles, unifies, and becomes immersed in samādhi.
That immersion is peaceful and sublime and tranquil and unified, not held in place by forceful suppression.
They become capable of realizing anything that can be realized by insight to which they extend the mind, in each and every case (AN 3.101).
Grasping is reduced, the awakening factors are active and if you extend the mind towards understanding the construction of the sense of self you clearly see that it is dependently originated.
Seeing this in correspondence with reality (yathābhūtaṃ) you grow disillusioned with any kind of “I-making” and “my-making” because you see its dependently arisen nature, no absolute ontological status.
That’s how to know and see so that the mind is rid of ego, possessiveness, and conceit for this conscious body and all external stimuli; and going beyond discrimination, it’s peaceful and well freed (SN 22.72)
I like another approach Martin. That works with me, appeals to me, resonates within me. I find all these ideas about self and not-self are quit philosophical and that does not work well for me.
But i immediately understand or can connect to the Dhamma that is about becoming more and more oneself. Just wholeheartedly, undivided, and boundless present in the world. Empty, with a mind that has taken nothing in possession. No ideas, views, no conceit, no ideas about self or not self, no ideas about attainments, peace, wisdom, love, whatever. Because all that is only conceited mind. Only being lost in conceivings. I do not doubt a moment about this. It is all unreal. All what one imagines to be or imagines to possess, be it wisdom, be it love, be it compassion, it is all just fake news. Because those are only qualities of a mind who does not possess anything and is empty.
The distinction between a view and a realisation is an interesting one. So “the aggregates are not-self” starts as a view, and becomes a realisation?
I didn’t really understand your Hippograph thing. Do you mean that it’s not possible to have a view about a self if we don’t know what a self is?
As far as I understand, yes.
As a direct answer to your question above, the view of not-self is not inappropriate, it is right view as it is in line with the Four Noble Truths (grasping any of the five aggregates leads to suffering).
Through the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path, this right view (sammādiṭṭhi) ripens in right knowledge (sammāñāṇa) that allows one to let go of all grasping, including grasping at views (diṭṭhupadānā).
This is how I see it…
A Self is as imaginary a thing as a Hippogriff. It is not Real. But that doesn’t stop us from creating it in our own minds. We can develop various views (DN1) about what it should or should not be, what properties it should have etc. Our individual attachments to our particular views of what the Self is leads us into contentions and disagreements with each other, ruminations and discontent. We search fruitlessly for what can never be found… because it is not Real in the first place! Consequently, we Suffer (MN102).
The Suffering that occurs because of our views of Self is Real.
But what is the escape?
What we need to do is to give up our views. We need to realize that no Self exists in the first place, we create it for ourselves because of not properly understanding the process of Consciousness.
The fetter of ‘I am’ is the very final fetter to break. The fetter of ‘Identity view’ is however the very first fetter which must be broken.
The method taught by the Buddha is to properly scrutinize each aspect of our experience, realizing it for what it actually is.
When we properly attend to Rupa and understand it fully, we know Rupa for what it actually is…just Rupa, and we know it is not a Self. Whatever a Self might be.
Just as if we were to attend properly to a Chicken, we would know it to be in fact a Chicken, not a Hippogriff. Once we know that, we certainly do not regard it as a Hippogriff. Whatever a Hippograff might be. We don’t need to know that at all. We just need to know what a Chicken is. Having any sort of preconceived view about a Hippogriff (such as might happen because of having seen the film previously) will actually hinder our ability to know the chicken for what it is… we would be caught up in doubt.
So the view ‘This is not - Self’ is not a view about Self. It is complete knowledge and understanding about ‘This’ ie. Each of the 5 aggregates, which taken together form the totality of Experience.
Having pre existing views about Self only hinders our investigation and final understanding of the aggregates. Thus it is better to start with not having (or at least not holding on to) views about Self.
Having gone through and understood every aspect of Experience when we find no trace of Self, we will know for sure it doesn’t exist (DN9).
Just as having examined all the animals in the farmyard, I know them for what they actually are - Horse, Chicken, Duck… and if someone comes along and asks about a Hippogriff, I can very honestly answer that there is certainly no Hippogriff to be found!
If you ask me “self” is the same as what we call “ego”. An erroneous conception of a “self” that we believe to exist as some independent entity. In reality it is just a mental construct that allows us to navigate a body in a world interlocked by time and space.
If we want to explain a sentient being’s person/personality we could identify with one of the aggregates : “I am” a body, “I am” feelings, “I am” perceptions, “I am” thoughts, “I am” consciousness. When we identify with or cling to one of these aggregates, suffering arises.
The moment we realize there is no permanent “self” and everything is in a constant state of flux, everything is awareness experiencing manifestations of the mind, the self construct is not needed anymore.
Because of old views (memory) the mind may however reconsider a “me” to be existent (we can still consider each other to be separate entities, with different bodies, separate feelings etc.), but we shouldn’t, ultimately that’s a wrong view and creates all kinds of suffering. Instead meditate and just be awareness beyond concepts.
All is seeing colors, hearing sounds, smelling odors, tasting flavors, touching tangible objects, thinking thoughts, there is no “self”.
The Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter IV: Perfect knowledge or Knowledge of Reality helped me a lot:
The five Dharmas are: appearance, name,
discrimination, right-knowledge, and Reality. By appearance is meant that
which reveals itself to the senses and to the discriminating-mind and is perceived
as form, sound, odor, taste, and touch. Out of these appearances ideas are
formed, such as clay, water, jar, etc., by which one says: this is such and such a
thing and no other, this is name. When appearances are contrasted and names
compared, as when we say: this is an elephant, this is horse, a cart, a pedestrian,
a man, a woman, or, this is mind and what belongs to it, the things thus named
are said to be discriminated. As these discriminations come to be seen as
mutually conditioning, as empty of self-substance, as un-born, and thus come to
be seen as they truly are, that is, as manifestations of the mind itself, this is
right-knowledge. By it the wise cease to regard appearances and names as
When appearances and names are put away and all discrimination ceases, that
which remains is the true and essential nature of things and, as nothing can be
predicated as to the nature of essence, it is called the “Suchness” of Reality. This
universal, undifferentiated, inscrutable, “Suchness” is the only Reality, but it is
variously characterized as Truth, Mind-essence, Transcendental Intelligence,
Noble Wisdom, etc. This Dharma of the imageless-ness of the Essence-nature of
Ultimate Reality is the Dharma, which has been proclaimed by all the Buddhas,
and when all things are understood in full agreement with it, one is in possession
of Perfect Knowledge, and is on his way to the attainment of the Transcendental
Intelligence of the Tathágatas.
Sure, I understand the arguments for not-self, my question was why all views on this question are discouraged in the EBT.
The answer seems to be that all views are a distraction to investigation and insight. Perhaps it’s analogous to trying to design a scientific experiment with strong preconceptions about the outcome. People finding what they expect to find?
I think the view of self is discouraged because the moment we believe in an illusory self, the mind will create all kinds of desires for this illusory “self”. It’s a form of deceit, a defilement of the mind that opens a way to more impurity. Chasing desires for oneself indeed distracts us from gaining insight in what’s real.
I get that, but some suttas discourage all views about self, including not-self.
When we are born, we don’t know about the concept of “self”. When you don’t know self, how do you know about a not-self? Self is just a concept made up by the mind, not-self can only exist when you have a notion about self.
Can I ask where your understanding of this comes from?
Perhaps in MN2: SuttaCentral
Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation:
“When he attends unwisely in this way, one of six views arises in him. The view ‘self exists for me’ arises in him as true and established; or the view ‘no self exists for me’ arises in him as true and established; or the view ‘I perceive self with self’ arises in him as true and established; or the view ‘I perceive not-self with self’ arises in him as true and established; or the view ‘I perceive self with not-self’ arises in him as true and established;
Bhikkhu Sujato’s translation:
When they attend improperly in this way, one of the following six views arises in them and is taken as a genuine fact. The view: ‘My self exists in an absolute sense.’ The view: ‘My self does not exist in an absolute sense.’ The view: ‘I perceive the self with the self.’ The view: ‘I perceive what is not-self with the self.’ The view: ‘I perceive the self with what is not-self.’
I see, but none of these imply that the idea of not-self is to be rejected.
I believe there are lengthy discussions about this subtle point around and there’s no need to start another here.
In brief, all these views still revolve around the idea of a self in some way, and especially they are prone to misunderstanding by people who don’t think in terms of dependent origination (see SN 44.10).
The idea of anattā is not that “Your self does not exist”, it’s that “All aspects of existence are not a self”.
It’s a subtle point but there’s a huge difference between the two. The idea is to stop thinking in terms of either affirming or negating the ontological status of things and instead simply seeing them for what they are (i.e. dependently arisen processes) which constitutes right view (again Kaccānagotta Sutta).
I don’t see a practical difference between “Everything we experience is not self” ( ie, sabbe dhamma anatta) and the statement “There is no self”.
You could make the technical argument that there might be a self we can never find, similar to the argument that theists sometimes use: “Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence”. But to me this seems more like a theoretical distinction than a practical one.