Who is the bearer of the burden?

In SN22.22 the person is the bearer of the burden, ie the aggregates. But how does this fit in with the teachings on anatta, which seem to say there is no “owner” of the aggregates?


I think the term ‘person’ (puggala) is to be understood in a conventional rather than absolute sense.

Granted, the distinction between conventional (vohāra) and absolute (paramattha) is one that is explicit only in the later exegetical tradition, but in the suttas the Buddha implies such a division. Cf. DN 9:

These are the world’s usages, terms, expressions, and descriptions, which the Realized One uses without misapprehending them.”
(Imā kho, citta, lokasamaññā lokaniruttiyo lokavohārā lokapaññattiyo, yāhi tathāgato voharatiaparāmasan”ti)

In other words, the Buddha used pronouns like ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘she’ etc but understood these to be merely worldly or conventional designations.

What do you think?


Yes, talking about the person (puggala) could be a convention, though I thought that was usually applied to satta, a being.
Is there a difference between satta and puggala, or are they equivalent?

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That’s a good question, but I’m afraid I don’t know the answer offhand. One would have to compare the usages (which I’m sure has been done). If I come across something relevant I’ll post a link.

It seems there was an early Theravada school based on the OP sutta passage.

Satta and puggala are synonyms.

For those on the path of insight, contemplation of the division between conventional and ultimate reality is a necessary exercise, as it enables the practitioner, having taken a stance, to operate in CR without being overwhelmed.

This statement by sister Vajira does not imply that the conventional view is wrong, only that it has a much lesser authority than the ultimate. In Sri Lanka there are huge stone statues of the Buddha, and that is to remind people that although it seems the opposite, dhamma is the ultimate reality contrasted with what they see in the street.

“Just as, with an assemblage of parts,
The word ‘chariot’ is used,
So, when the aggregates are present,
There’s the convention ‘a being.’”—SN 5.10

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I wondered whether satta and puggala are the same or different, but do you know of any sutta references which clarify this?
As far as I can tell puggala means “person”, which the Pudgalavadans at least believed to be “real” in some sense.
As far as I can tell satta can mean either a living creature (eg SN12.2), or the convention “a being” (eg SN5.10).

In terms of ultimate reality, only the khandas are experienced. Everything else which is a ‘compound’ term, denoting or suggesting a Self, is conventional.

Khandas are experiences that arise in causal sequence.
‘Beings’ either exist or don’t exist.

This is stated in the SN12.15 kaccayanagotta sutta.

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So do living creatures “exist”? Humans, cats, dogs, etc. Biological organisms that are born, age and die.

They both exist and don’t exist, depending on conventional or ultimate reality perspective.

With these kinds of things, I believe that deep contemplation of the issues yourself might yield better results > insight into the issues. Otherwise it is just an intellectual ‘answer’. :slight_smile:

No, they both exist concurrently. Samsara and nibbana both exist concurrently.

“This simile, sisters, I have given to convey a message. The message is this: The substance of the inner flesh stands for the six internal media; the substance of the outer hide, for the six external media. The skin muscles, connective tissues, & attachments in between stand for passion & delight. And the sharp knife stands for noble discernment — the noble discernment that cuts, severs, & detaches the defilements, fetters, & bonds in between.”—MN 146

What this means is that an arahant still sees conventional reality, but they aren’t attached to it. That’s why everyday experiences, taken in limited amount, are the raw material to be worked on towards non-attachment.

It’s something I’ve been contemplating for a while, and I spend quite a lot of time observing stuff out in the natural world.
It seems to me that humans, cats and dogs do exist as biological organisms, as living creatures. IMO the problem is not that they exist, but that we get attached to them - and the biggest attachment is to ourselves.

I was reflecting on the passage from SN5.10, which compares the aggregates to the parts of a chariot. I don’t think it’s saying that the parts don’t exist, rather it’s challenging the notion of an independent entity called “being” or “chariot”.

Does a person on a TV screen exist.

At what level are pixelated images a better description?

I don’t think an image of a person is a valid example, since you cannot touch their physical body.

Touch sensations. Image is no different to touch!

So are you saying that humans, cats and dogs don’t exist?

Well we think in terms of a duality of either existing, and if not, not existing.

Kaccāna, this world mostly relies on the dual notions of existence and non-existence. SuttaCentral

Here existence is only phenomena. Avijja is not located in a physical space, and there’s no person doing it.

Avoiding these two extremes, the Realized One teaches by the middle way:
‘Ignorance is a condition for choices.

The DO is offering a different mode of existing, to existing and not existing.

To give the cart metaphor a modern twist, suppose the cart was motorized and had a CPU and software, maybe even a camera and other sensors. Suppose the software was programmed to regard the physical parts as possessions that it needed to maintain and protect. Etc.

There is the illusion of possession and even of agency that becomes a burden.