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Thread: Buddhadhamma - Self, No-Self and Not-Self

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    Forums Member clw_uk's Avatar
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    Buddhadhamma - Self, No-Self and Not-Self

    I would like to discuss if the Buddha taught if there was "no-self" or taught that we should view dhammas as "not-self"

    Here the Buddha is asked directly is there is a self or no self

    Having taken a seat to one side, Vacchagotta the wanderer said to the Master, 'Now then, Venerable Gotama, is there a self?' When this was said, the Master was silent.

    'Then is there no self?' For a second time the Master was silent.

    Then Vacchagotta the wanderer got up from his seat and left.

    Then, not long after Vacchagotta the wanderer had left, the Venerable Ananda said to the Master, 'Why, sir, did the Master not answer when asked a question asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer?'

    'Ananda, if I, being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self, were to answer that there is a self, that would be conforming with those brahmans & contemplatives who are exponents of eternalism (i.e., the view that there is an eternal soul). And if I... were to answer that there is no self, that would be conforming with those brahmans & contemplatives who are exponents of annihilationism (i.e., that death is the annihilation of experience). If I... were to answer that there is a self, would that be in keeping with the arising of knowledge that all phenomena are not-self?

    'No, Lord.'

    'And if I... were to answer that there is no self, the bewildered Vacchagotta would become even more bewildered: "Does the self which I used to have, now not exist?"'
    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipit....010.than.html

    Here the Buddha argues that to say "there is no self" falls into holding an assimilationist view point, this ties in with this sutta

    There is the case where an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person... does not discern what ideas are fit for attention, or what ideas are unfit for attention. This being so, he does not attend to ideas fit for attention, and attends (instead) to ideas unfit for attention... This is how he attends inappropriately: 'Was I in the past? Was I not in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? Having been what, what was I in the past? Shall I be in the future? Shall I not be in the future? What shall I be in the future? How shall I be in the future? Having been what, what shall I be in the future?' Or else he is inwardly perplexed about the immediate present: 'Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? Where has this being come from? Where is it bound?'

    As he attends inappropriately in this way, one of six kinds of view arises in him: The view I have a self arises in him as true & established,

    or the view I have no self...

    or the view It is precisely because of self that I perceive self...

    or the view It is precisely because of self that I perceive not-self...

    or the view It is precisely because of not-self that I perceive self arises in him as true & established,

    or else he has a view like this: This very self of mine — the knower which is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & bad actions — is the self of mine which is constant, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and will endure as long as eternity.

    This is called a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. Bound by a fetter of views, the un-instructed run-of-the-mill person is not freed from birth, aging & death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief & despair. He is not freed from stress, I say.

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/a...o/notself.html


    So the Buddha seems to have not taught that there is "no self" as this is a metaphysical view point. Instead he taught to view all dhammas as "not self" as this leads to non-clinging and due to compounded phenomena being subject to change and dissolution.

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    Quote Originally Posted by clw_uk View Post
    Here the Buddha is asked directly is there is a self or no self

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipit....010.than.html
    Yes, here Vacchagotta asked (using his own rather than Buddha's ideas): ‘‘kiṃ nu kho, bho gotama, atthattā? Kiṃ pana, bho gotama, natthattā?"

    Vacchagotta did not mention 'anattā'.

    Quote Originally Posted by clw_uk View Post
    or the view "I have no self"...
    the phrase here is 'natthi me attā'


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    Forums Member ancientbuddhism's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by clw_uk
    Here the Buddha is asked directly is there is a self or no self
    The Ānanda Sutta (SN. 44.10) has been the basis for a number of specious claims (Ṭhānissaro, Collins, Harvey et al) that the Tathāgata never denied the ‘Self’ with reference to the ontological claims of Ātman as we find in the Upaniṣads. The Tathāgata’s silence does not represent a position, although the exchange with Ānanda does tell us that his silence was provisional to Vacchagotta’s confusion and misapprehension over a self as understood by eternalist (sassatavādā) or annihilationist doctrines (ucchedavādā) which were in currency. Vacchagotta’s state of mind would also reflect on the ‘improper attention’ (ayoniso manasi karoto) of the untaught commoner (assutavā puthujjano), as mentioned in the Sabbāsava Sutta cited below.

    Bhikkhu Bodhi’s footnote to the Ānanda Sutta states this nicely:

    384 "Probably this means that Vacchagotta would have interpreted the Buddha’s denial as a rejection of his empirical personality, which (on account of his inclination towards views of self) he would have been identifying as a self. We should carefully heed the two reasons the Buddha does not declare, “There is no self”: not because he recognizes a transcendent self of some kind (as some interpreters allege), or because he is concerned only with delineating “a strategy of perception” devoid of ontological implications (as others hold), but (i) because such a mode of expression was used by the annihilationists, and the Buddha wanted to avoid aligning his teaching with theirs; and (ii) because he wished to avoid causing confusion in those already attached to the idea of self. The Buddha declares that “all phenomena are nonself” (sabbe dhammā anattā), which means that if one seeks a self anywhere one will not find one. Since “all phenomena” includes both the conditioned and the unconditioned, this precludes an utterly transcendent, ineffable self." (B. Bodhi p. 1457)

    Quote Originally Posted by clw_uk
    Here the Buddha argues that to say "there is no self" falls into holding an assimilationist view point, this ties in with this sutta …
    The section on ‘thicket of views’ in the Sabbāsava Sutta is with reference to those views on self of the puthujjana, who wrongly considers a personal existence ‘for me’ – ‘Was I in the past? Was I not in the past? (ahosiṃ nu kho ahaṃ atītamaddhānaṃ, na nu kho ahosiṃ atītamaddhānaṃ) … ‘I have a self’ … I do not have a self’ (atthi me attā’ti … natthi me attā’ti).

    However, the noble disciple is not on the same footing.

    When the Buddha did give instruction on views of self as held by the world, it was to a suitable audience informed with a contemplative understanding of dependent origination and of the habits of volitional processes which cause false reification of sentient experience. In other words, they, the noble disciples, understood what props-up the illusion of substantiality. Thus they appreciated entirely the falsity of an enduring attā, both in contexts of doctrinal claim and contemplative knowledge. Otherwise there would be no utility in simply denying the ‘Self’ to someone who is ignorant of causal processes, devoid of contemplative understanding, and who’s awareness is only informed with either a dogma of self or at least an infatuation with sentient experience born of this ignorance – as this would only lead to vexation.

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    Forums Member ancientbuddhism's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by clw_uk
    So the Buddha seems to have not taught that there is "no self" as this is a metaphysical view point. Instead he taught to view all dhammas as "not self" as this leads to non-clinging and due to compounded phenomena being subject to change and dissolution.
    In the Nikāyas the Tathāgata’s discussion of anattā has two contexts: contemplative knowledge and doctrinal polemic.

    The three characteristics (tilakkhaṇa) is with reference to contemplative realisation of the nature of sentient causal processes. Otherwise, the Tathāgata’s polemic to a ‘metaphysical viewpoint’ of attā as an ontological dynamic was necessary, when delivered to a suitable audience, to assist the overall discussion of anattā. He would often explain anattā doctrine in the fashion of ‘this is what some Brahmans and ascetics teach on attā… this is why it is wrong, and this is how to examine it for yourelves.’

    In Suttanta, the most direct and uncompromising refutation of self given by the Tathāgata, is the section on ‘six positions on views’ in MN. 22.

    In the Alagaddūpama Sutta, the Buddha framed a discussion with bhikkhus on a set of ‘six positions on views’ (chayimāni diṭṭhiṭṭhānāni) that were held by the untaught commoner (assutavā puthujjano), and through this discussion leveled a sweeping refutation of the Upaniṣadic theory of Ātman. This section of MN.22 did so by specifically punning on Yājńavalkya’s view as we find in Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad, IV, 5.6., and on other epithets we find for Ātman in Upaniṣadic texts.

    In this section of MN. 22 the six ‘positions on views’ (diṭṭhiṭṭhānāni) held by the untaught commoner (assutavā puthujjano) are: “He regards material form thus: ‘this is mine, this I am, this is my self’” (rūpaṃ ‘etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā'ti samanupassati), and the same for ‘feeling, perception, and formations’ (vedanaṃ … sańńaṃ … saṅkhāre …). Where we would expect to find vińńāṇa we read instead “He regards what is seen, heard, sensed, cognized ( …diṭṭhaṃ sutaṃ mutaṃ vińńātaṃ…), encountered, sought, mentally pondered thus: ‘this is mine, this I am, this is my self’”. This phrase makes a punning reflection of Yājńavalkya’s view in Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, IV, 5.6. which posits “It is not out of endearment for the husband that the husband is dear, but of the endearment of the self that the husband is dear.” and the same for wife, sons, cattle and other things and stations one would identify with in life, viewed that “When the self is seen, heard, thought and cognized, then all this is known.” (ātmani khalv are dṛṣṭe, śrute, mate, vijńāte, idaṃ sarvaṃ viditaṃ); that is, the Self is the basis of cognition.

    The sixth position on views is “‘That which is the self is the world; after death I shall be permanent, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change; I shall endure as long as eternity’ – this too he regards thus: ‘This is mine, This I am, this is my self.’ (B. Bodhi p. 229) (yampidaṃ diṭṭhiṭṭhānaṃ 'so loko so attā, so pecca bhavissāmi: nicco dhuvo sassato avipariṇāmadhammo, sassatisamaṃ tatheva ṭhassāmī'ti tampi 'etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā'ti samanupassati.). Which also makes punning reflection on the Upaniṣadic epithets of Ātman as the universal-self or ‘self and the world’ as the underlying support of all, such as “Whoever has found and awakened to the self that has entered into this perilous inaccessible place (the body), he is the maker of the universe, for he is the maker of all. His is the world; indeed he is the world itself.” (Radhakrishnan) (yasyānuvittaḥ pratibuddha ātmāsmin saṃdehye gahane praviṣṭaḥ | sa viśvakṛt sa hi sarvasya kartā tasya lokaḥ sa u loka eva (Bṛh U. 4,4.13). We also find in this passage epithetic equivalents for Ātman as: nityo (Kāṭha U. II. 2.13), dhruvam( Bṛh.U. 4,4.20), śāśvata (Kāṭha U. II. 2.12 ) etc. All of which would have been current knowledge at the time this discourse was spoken. After demonstrating that the well-taught noble disciple regards these views as “This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.”, the Tathāgata flat out denies the self by stating “…since a self and what belongs to a self are not apprehended as true and established, then this standpoint for views, namely, ‘That which is the self is the world; after death I shall be permanent, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change; I shall endure as long as eternity’ – would it not be an utterly and completely foolish teaching?” (B. Bodhi p. 232).

    With reference to this case example and others, K.R. Norman and R.F. Gombrich have soundly argued that the Buddha and his followers were well aware of the brāhmaṇa culture of the time, and that the attā he was refuting as nonexistent (asat) is the dogma of Ātman just as we find in the Upaniṣads.

    See:

    A Note on Attā in the Alagaddūpama Sutta, K.R. Norman

    A Philological approach to Buddhism, K.R. Norman

    Recovering the Buddha’s Message, R.F. Gombrich
    Last edited by ancientbuddhism; 25 Jul 13 at 21:53.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AncientBuddhism View Post
    When the Buddha did give instruction on views of self as held by the world, it was to a suitable audience informed with a contemplative understanding of dependent origination and of the habits of volitional processes which cause false reification of sentient experience.
    About the term 'volitional processes', it is not apparent in the Pali of dependent origination, since the 'sankhara' there is in & out breathing (kaya sankhara), applied & sustained thought (vaci sankhara) and perception & feeling (citta sankhara). When the leader of 'self-reification' is ignorance (avicca), I think the term 'volition' is poor, ambiguous & unnecessary in the context. When the Buddha explained in countless sutta how the uninstructed regards or perceives the five aggregates as 'self', he did not refer to the matter of 'volition'.

    Apart from that, quite an informative post.

  6. #6
    Forums Member clw_uk's Avatar
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    On reflection I agree with the above posts

    However I think its important to use anatta as a way of observation, to observe dhammas to see if they are permanent, dukkka free and self ... or not, instead of taking hold of the view "there is no self" and holding onto it, instead of using it as a raft

    Thats my two cents anyway
    Last edited by clw_uk; 29 Jul 13 at 21:40.

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    Hi all -

    The smart and right question concerning self/not-self was asked by Raadha in SN 22.71 :
    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/a...tml#passage-41
    "How should one know, how should one see so that, in regard to this body with consciousness and in regard to all external signs, I-making, mine-making, and
    the underlying tendency to conceit no longer occur within?"

    The Buddha gave the smart and right answer :

    " Any kind of form whatsoever, Raadha, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near -one sees all form as it really is with correct wisdom thus: 'This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.' " (And so for any kind of feeling, perception, volitional formations or consciousness.)
    "When one knows and sees thus, Raadha, then in regard to this body with consciousness and in regard to all external signs, I-making, mine-making, and the underlying tendency to conceit no longer occur within."

    And Raadha later became one of the arahants.

  8. #8
    Hi Craig,

    I find these verses in Ud 2.1 very appealing:



    Blissful is detachment for one who is content,
    For one who has learned Dhamma and who sees;

    Blissful is non-affliction in the world,
    Restraint towards living creatures;

    Blissful is passionlessness in the world,
    The overcoming of sensual desires;

    But the abolition of the conceit "I am" —
    That is truly the supreme bliss.


    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipit...2.01.irel.html


  9. #9
    I went to a talk given by Ajahn Amaro at Amaravati Monastery yesterday, called "To be or not to be....and beyond that question" He started off by quoting Shakespeare and then went on to refer to a few suttas during the course of the talk.

    I'll post a link to the audio when it goes up on the website.


    EDIT

    This is a link to the talk I mentioned, its dated August 6th 2013. It's under the question & answer session with the same title.

    http://www.amaravati.org/teachings/a...mpilation/2083


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    Quote Originally Posted by Anattaman View Post
    Thus knowing, thus seeing, in this consciousness-endowed body [kaya: collection of aggregates] and externally among all outer objects there is no I-ness, no mine-ness, no underlying tendency to conceit...
    This is particularly a very good quote because it also includes an emphasis on seeing anatta in external sense objects.

    However, an important perception, often overlooked, is in seeing the five aggregates as 'not-self', seeing the five aggregates as 'the five aggregates' also occurs.

    When seeing not-self externally, the five aggregates externally should also be seen or superimposed.

    Regards

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