View Full Version : The arising and ceasing of self

01 Aug 10, 10:02

Any thoughts on the arising and ceasing of 'self' - or 'moment to moment rebirth' ?

If this occurs, is it possible to recognise it as it is happening ?


01 Aug 10, 10:15
Greetings Dazzle,

Some words from Ajahn Chah...

The Key To Liberation by Venerable Ajahn Chah

You have already studied and read about this in the books, and what's set out there is correct as far as it goes, but in reality you're not able to keep up with the process as it actually occurs. It's like falling out of a tree: in a flash, you've fallen all the way from the top of the tree and hit the ground, and you have no idea how many branches you passed on the way down. When the mind experiences an arammana [1] (mind-object) and is attracted to it, all of a sudden you find yourself experiencing a good mood without being aware of the causes and conditions which led up to it. Of course, on one level the process happens according to the theory described in the scriptures, but at the same time it goes beyond the limitations of the theory. In reality, there are no signs telling you that now it's avijja, now it's sankhara, then it's viññana, now it's nama-rupa and so on. These scholars who see it like that, don't get the chance to read out the list as the process is taking place. Although the Buddha analysed one moment of consciousness and described all the different component parts, to me it's more like falling out of a tree – everything happens so fast you don't have time to reckon how far you've fallen and where you are at any given moment. What you know is that you've hit the ground with a thud, and it hurts!

What takes place in the mind is similar. Normally, when you experience suffering, all you really see is the end result, that there is suffering, pain, grief and despair present in the mind. You don't really know where it came from – that's not something you can find in the books. There's nowhere in the books where the intricate details of your suffering and it's causes are described. The reality follows along the same course as the theory outlined in the scriptures, but those who simply study the books and never get beyond them, are unable to keep track of these things as they actually happen in reality.

Thus the Buddha taught to abide as 'that which knows' [2] and simply bear witness to that which arises. Once you have trained your awareness to abide as 'that which knows', and have investigated the mind and developed insight into the truth about the mind and mental factors, you'll see the mind as anatta (not-self).

You'll see that ultimately all mental and physical formations are things to be let go of and it'll be clear to you that it's foolish to attach or give undue importance to them.

The Buddha didn't teach us to study the mind and mental factors in order to become attached to them, he taught simply to know them as aniccam, dukkham, anatta. The essence of Buddhist practice then, is to let them go and lay them aside. You must establish and sustain awareness of the mind and mental factors as they arise. In fact, the mind has been brought up and conditioned to turn and spin away from this natural state of awareness, giving rise to sankhara which further concoct and fashion it. It has therefore become accustomed to the experience of constant mental proliferation and of all kinds of conditioning, both wholesome and unwholesome. The Buddha taught us to let go of it all, but before you can begin to let go, you must first study and practise. This is in accordance with nature – the way things are. The mind is just that way, mental factors are just that way – this is just how it is.
Retro. :)

01 Aug 10, 12:48
The talk the above Dharma Web link leads to is cut off after a few paragraphs. I found what appears to be a complete one here (http://www.what-buddha-taught.net/Books2/Ajahn_Chah_The_Key_to_Liberation.htm).

01 Aug 10, 16:52
I think this is what mindfulness meditation is all about. Being aware of the stream, noting that the stream isn't a thing, but a process that can't be frozen in time, held onto and examined. Whatever is going on doesn't fit the conventional definition of a 'self', but it's not nothing, either. The desire to be a conventional self and to continue being a self (particularly after death, but during the life experience, also) are barriers to insight into the way things really are.

Of course, I could be wrong.

01 Aug 10, 17:50
doesn't fit the conventional definition of a 'self', but it's not nothing, either

Would it make sense to call it that which experiences (life)? Or is the question of what it is that experiences life one of the "classical unanswered (unaskable?) questions"?

01 Aug 10, 17:58
Some words from Ajahn Chah..

Thanks Retro ;D

Would it make sense to call it that which experiences (life)? Or is the question of what it is that experiences life one of the "classical unanswered (unaskable?) questions"?

I was thinking more in terms of the impermanence of 'atta'...ego/self and of mental formations, Plogsties.

01 Aug 10, 18:37
Would it make sense to call it that which experiences (life)? Or is the question of what it is that experiences life one of the "classical unanswered (unaskable?) questions"?

When we look for "that which experiences", do we ever find anything apart from the consciousness that arises from sense contacts? We sense something (a visible object, a sound, an odour, a taste, a touch, a mental object) and awareness associated with that sense contact arises, but that which senses (i.e., experiences) is never found. I think this is why we can say that the consciousness (the experiencing) is bound up with each sense contact and not separate from it. This is also, I think, why we can say that the "self" arises with each of these sense contacts and dies when the sense contact ceases. What other self do we find? The idea that there is a single "self" that experiences all of our sense contacts seems to be in error, because we never find that self.

That is the current state of my thinking, which still needs development in this area.

02 Aug 10, 11:16
More from the talk mentioned by Retro...and worth noting that when Ajahn Chah talks here about birth and death, he's talking about movements of mind:

The Buddha thus taught us to look carefully at the mind. In the beginning what was there? There was really nothing there. The process of birth and becoming and these movements of mind weren't born with it and they don't die with it.

When the Buddha's mind encountered pleasant mind-objects, it didn't become delighted with them. Contacting disagreeable mind-objects, he didn't become averse to them - because he had clear knowledge and insight into the nature of the mind. There was the penetrating knowledge that all such phenomena have no real substance or essence to them. He saw them as aniccam, dukkham, anatta and maintained this deep and profound insight throughout his practice.

It is the knowing which discerns the truth of the way things are. The knowing doesn't become delighted or sad with things. The condition of being delighted is 'birth' and the condition of being distressed is 'death'. If there is death there must be birth, if there is birth there must be death. This process of birth and death is vatta - the cycle of birth and death which continues on endlessly.

As long as the mind of the practitioner gets conditioned and moved around like this, there need be no doubt as to whether the causes for becoming and rebirth still remain; there is no need to ask anyone. The Buddha thoroughly contemplated the characteristics of sankharas and as a result could let go of sankharas and each of the five khandhas.

He became an independent observer, simply acknowledging their existence and nothing more. If he experienced pleasant mind-objects, he didn't become infatuated with them, but simply watched and remained aware of them. If he experienced unpleasant mind-objects, he didn't become averse towards them.

Why was that? Because he had discerned the truth and so the causes and conditions for further birth had been cut off. The conditions supporting birth no longer existed. His mind had progressed in the practice to the point where it gained its own confidence and certainty in its understanding. It was a mind, which was truly peaceful - free from birth, aging, sickness and death.

It was that which was neither cause nor effect; it was independent of the process of causal conditioning. There were no causes remaining, they were exhausted. His mind had transcended birth and death, happiness and suffering, good and evil. It was beyond the limitations of words and concepts. There were no longer any conditions, which would give rise to attachment in his mind. Anything to do with attachment to birth and death and the process of causal conditioning, would be a matter of the mind and mental factors.


02 Aug 10, 12:48
Would it make sense to call it that which experiences (life)? Or is the question of what it is that experiences life one of the "classical unanswered (unaskable?) questions"?

That sort of definition doesn't really indicate anything specific, does it? It's just proposing a definition with the assumption of an unobserved object.

The thing about the khandas is that experience is a symphony, not a solo act. There's not a single observer in there anywhere; it's a system of feedback mechanisms inter-regulating each other.

Of course, I could be wrong.

04 Aug 10, 05:05
Yes and I think the symphony is not confined under the one roof we call me but plays together with other symphonies with karmic connections. The question arises "is there ever a break between one or more of the sense organs and the consciousness or life-stream?" Is not the subject and the object of our khandas ultimatley one and the same? No-self = Emptiness.

04 Aug 10, 13:33
Is not the subject and the object of our khandas ultimatley one and the same?
I am currently about two thirds of the way through Sue Hamilton's book "Early Buddhism: A New Approach" with subtitle "The I of the Beholder". Your equating of the subject and object as the same is precisely her thesis. She also seems to equate "self" with the khandas and their interactions, although I'm less sure that this interpretation fits.

As an aside, the book is densely written for a neophyte like myself but it is an enjoyable read. I'm new enough to Buddhism that many of the concepts take time to percolate and "sink in".