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Thread: Pali suttas: Established misconceptions in Pali Buddhism

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    Pali suttas: Established misconceptions in Pali Buddhism

    Dear forum

    This thread is about established misconceptions or misinterpretations of terms & subjects in the Pali suttas that have now become the official doctrine of Theravada Buddhism, even though these misconceptions are errors.


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    Nihilism or Annihilationism

    Today, most Buddhists & Buddhist scholars regard 'nihilism' to refer to a wrong view that there is 'no life after death' or 'no consciousness takes rebirth after death'. For example, in his translation of SN 44.10, Bhikkhu Thanissaro states:

    annihilationism [the view that death is the annihilation of consciousness]

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipit....010.than.html
    However, in the actual Pali suttas, the term 'nihilism' refers to the view that a 'self' ('atta') or 'a being' ('satta') ends at 'death' ('marana'), as follows:

    How, bhikkhus, do some overreach? Now some are troubled, ashamed, and disgusted by this very same being and they rejoice in (the idea of) non-being, asserting: ‘In as much as this self, good sirs, when the body perishes at death, is annihilated and destroyed and does not exist after death—this is peaceful, this is excellent, this is reality!’ Thus, bhikkhus, do some overreach.

    Iti 49
    84. "There are, bhikkhus, some recluses and brahmins who are annihilationists and who on seven grounds proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being. And owing to what, with reference to what, do these honorable recluses and brahmins proclaim their views?

    85. "Herein, bhikkhus, a certain recluse or a brahmin asserts the following doctrine and view: 'The self, good sir, has material form; it is composed of the four primary elements and originates from father and mother. Since this self, good sir, is annihilated and destroyed with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death, at this point the self is completely annihilated.' In this way some proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being.

    DN 1
    In summary, 'annihilationism' is a wrong view because it is a 'self-view'. 'Annihilationism' is not a wrong view due its view of impermanence.


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    So could the Buddha have said, "There is neither a self nor not a self"?

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    Quote Originally Posted by philg View Post
    So could the Buddha have said, "There is neither a self nor not a self"?
    In the sutta linked in the previous post, according to the translation, the wanderer Vacchagotta asked the Buddha:

    Is there is a self (atthattāti)? Is there no self (natthattāti)?
    However, based on the explanation the Buddha gave to Ananda (after the wanderer Vacchagotta departed), it is possibly the wanderer Vacchagotta asked the Buddha:

    Does my self exist (atthattāti)? Does my self not exist (natthattāti)?
    In conclusion, the important fact about this sutta is it is not about 'not-self' (anatta) because Vacchagotta does not ask about 'not-self' (anatta).

    This sutta is actually another common misconception in Pali Buddhism, where people use this sutta to assert the Buddha taught neither self or not-self (which is not the case).

    Regards

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    Forums Member justusryans's Avatar
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    Now it makes more sense to me. I have struggled to understand the Buddha teaching on this matter. I am glad to find it was a wrong interpretation on my part. Baby steps!

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    Often, the translators do not help us. Often, we must examine the Pali to see exactly what words have been used. We do not need to learn Pali extensively for this but just know same basic words & know what to search for.

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    Hi Element. I'm a bit confused about the terms atthattāti and natthattāti. Can you tell me which particular dictionary they are in please? I like to look at as many different translations of Pali terms as possible, to get a spread of translations to ponder on.

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    Vissudhi Magga on Egolessness

    Greetings, philg , et al: Buddha wrote in response to your question:

    "Egolessness (Anattaa)

    by Nyanatiloka Mahathera
    More and more the noble teaching of the Buddha seems to be on the way to conquer the world. More than ever before, the Buddhists are working for its propagation in nearly all the countries of the earth. Especially in India, the birth place of Buddhism, whence it disappeared for nearly a thousand years, Buddhism has again made its entrance and gained a firm footing, and with rapid strides it is ever gaining more and more ground. One therefore should rather think it a good omen that India, having regained its independence, has adopted as its emblem the Buddhist Four-Lion symbol of Emperor Asoka, and that, at the proclamation of the Indian Republic, behind the presidential throne, crowned with this Buddhist emblem, there appeared the Buddha's statue.

    Also all over Europe and America a mighty Buddhist wave is set in motion, which no longer can be kept back and suppressed and which, sooner or later, will flood the world with its beneficial influence. The world is no longer satisfied with dogmas based on blind belief. Everywhere in the world there is found today a striving for freedom and independence, externally and internally; and ever more the thinking man feels that the destinies of beings are not dependent on the omnipotence and infinite goodness of an imaginary creator, but that they rest entirely on the beings themselves. It is in Buddhism that one may find the true answers to many of the problems that are troubling men, and which they wish to get solved. Everybody knows that Buddhism is not a revealed religion and not based on blind belief, but that it is a doctrine to be realized by man's own understanding, a doctrine that makes man free and independent in his thinking, and assures him of happiness and peace.

    But of one thing I wish to warn all those who are working for the propagation of Buddhism, namely: not to allow themselves to be influenced or carried away by seemingly identical theosophical, Christian, or what is still worse, materialistic teachings. For all these are, in essence and substance, very often diametrically opposed to the Buddha's doctrines and prevent a real understanding and realization of the profound law discovered and proclaimed by the Buddha.

    The most crucial point for most men seems to be the Buddha's fundamental teaching of phenomenality, egolessness and impersonality of existence, in Pali anattaa. It is the middle way between two extremes, namely on the one hand the spiritualistic belief in an eternal ego-entity, or soul, outlasting death; on the other hand the materialistic belief in a temporary ego-entity becoming annihilated at death.

    Therefore it is said: There are three teachers in the world. The first teacher teaches the existence of an eternal ego-entity outlasting death: that is the Eternalist, as for example the Christian. The second teacher teaches a temporary ego-entity which becomes annihilated at death: that is the annihilationist, or materialist. The third teacher teaches neither an eternal, nor a temporary ego-entity: this is the Buddha. The Buddha teaches that, what we call ego, self, soul, personality etc., are merely conventional terms not referring to any real independent entity. And he teaches that there is only to be found this psychophysical process of existence changing from moment to moment. Without understanding the egolessness of existence, it is not possible to gain a real understanding of the Buddha-word; and it is not possible without it to realize that goal of emancipation and deliverance of mind proclaimed by the Buddha. This doctrine of egolessness of existence forms the essence of the Buddha's doctrine of emancipation. Thus with this doctrine of egolessness, or anattaa, stands or falls the entire Buddhist structure. Indeed, for anyone who wishes to engage in the study of the Buddhist scriptures, the best thing would be, from the very start, to get himself acquainted with the two methods, in which the Buddha taught the Dhamma to the world. The first method is the teaching in conventional language; the second method is the teaching in philosophically correct language. The first one relates to conventional truth, the second, to truth in the ultimate sense.

    Thus, whenever the Buddha uses such terms as I, person, living being, etc., this is to be understood as conventional speech, hence not correct in the highest sense. It is just as speaking of the rising and setting of the sun, though we know thoroughly well that this does not correspond to reality. Thus the Buddha teaches that, in the ultimate sense, amongst all these psychophysical phenomena of existence there cannot be found any eternal or even temporary ego-entity, and hence that all existence of whatever kind is something impersonal, or anattaa.

    In this connection I would like to emphasize the fact that this fundamental doctrine of egolessness and emptiness is not, as some misinformed Western Buddhists assert, only taught in the southern school of Buddhism, but that even in the so-called the Mahayana schools it forms a most essential part. Without this teaching of anattaa, or egolessness, there is no Buddhism; and without having realized the truth of egolessness no real progress is possible on the path to deliverance.

    The Buddha is, in every respect, a teacher at the golden mean, ethically as well as philosophically. From the ethical standpoint, for example, the Buddha rejects two extremes: the way of sensual pleasures and the way of self-torture. From the philosophical standpoint he rejects eternity, as well as temporariness of an ego entity. Just so he rejects belief in an absolute identity and an absolute otherness of the various stages of the process of existence. He rejects the determinism, as well as the belief in chance. He rejects the belief in absolute existence and absolute non-existence; likewise in freedom of will, as well as in unfreedom of will.

    All these things will become clear to one who understands the egolessness and conditioned nature of all phenomena of existence. On the understanding of these two truths depends the understanding of the entire doctrine of the Buddha. Hence the understanding and final penetration of the egolessness and conditionedness of all phenomena of existence are the necessary foundation to the realization of the noble eightfold path leading to deliverance from all vanity and misery, namely: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right bodily action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration of mind. Only this golden middle path, based on these two kinds of right understanding, namely of "egolessness and conditionedness," can alleviate and destroy these vain illusions of "self" and craving, which are the root-causes of all war and bloodshed in the world. But without these two kinds of understanding there is no realization of the holy and peaceful goal pointed out by the Buddha. There are however, to be found various would-be Buddhists in the West who are attached to an imaginary Great Self, and who uphold that the Buddha did in no way reject the view of an "eternal Atman," or soul, behind and independent of the phenomena of existence, and who believe that the Mahayana texts teach such a doctrine. Such assertions, however, do not in the least prove correct, for neither do the Pali texts, nor the early Mahayana texts proclaim an eternal self. Any reader, who is unbiased in mind and free from prejudices, can never from a study of the Buddhist scriptures come to the conclusion that the Buddha ever taught any such ego-entity within or outside the corporeal, mental and spiritual phenomena of existence. Nowhere in the world can there be found such an entity, as was clearly pointed out by the Buddha.

    Regarding the questions whether the Holy One will continue after death, or not continue etc., the Buddha says that all such questions are wrongly put. And why? Because what is called the "Holy One" is here only a conventional term and refers to no real entity while in reality there is only to be found a process of corporeal, mental, and spiritual phenomena. In another text, therefore the Buddhist asks a monk, whether he considered corporeality as the Holy One, or the feelings, or the perceptions, or the mental formations, or consciousness. Or whether he believed the Holy One to exist within these five groups of phenomena or outside thereof. Or whether all these phenomena heaped together were the Holy One. And denying all these questions, the Buddha further said that, even during lifetime, the Holy One could not be discovered in reality, and that therefore it would be wrong to ask whether the Holy One will continue or not continue after death, etc. Thus, no entities are existing in the world, but only ever-changing processes. The Buddha further says: Only because man does not understand corporeality, feeling and the other mental and spiritual phenomena being impermanent, unsatisfactory and impersonal (aniccaa, dukkha, and anattaa), and does not understand their conditioned origin, their extinction, and the path leading to their extinction, therefore he will think that the Holy One does continue, or does not continue after death etc. This, therefore, is the reason why the Buddha did not answer such questions.

    According to Buddhism, the whole of existence is comprised in the five groups of phenomena mentioned above, or still more briefly expressed in the three groups: corporeality, consciousness, and the mental factors. And within these three groups are comprised the only and ultimate things given, though also these again are mere fleeting and evanescent phenomena, flashing up for a moment, in order to disappear immediately thereafter forever. Thus whenever in the Buddhist scriptures mention is made of I, self, living being, etc., even of the Buddha, these expressions accordingly are used merely as conventional terms, without referring to any real entities. Therefore the Buddha has said: "It is impossible, it cannot be that a man with real understanding should ever consider anything as a real entity."

    He who does not understand the egolessness of existence, and who still attached to ego-illusion, such a one cannot comprehend and understand the four Noble Truths of the Buddha in the true light.

    These four truths are:

    the truth of the impermanency, unsatisfactoriness and impersonality of existence;
    the truth that repeated rebirth and misery are rooted in self-illusion and craving for existence;
    the truth that through the extinction of all self-illusion vanity, and craving, deliverance from all rebirth will be attained;
    the truth that the eightfold path, based on right understanding, is the path leading to this goal.
    He who has not penetrated the ego-illusion and is still attached to self-vanity will believe that it is he himself that suffers, will believe that is he himself that performs the good and evil deeds leading to his rebirth, that it is he himself that will enter Nirvana, that is he himself that will bring the eightfold path to perfection.

    Whoso, however, has fully penetrated the egolessness of existence, knows that, in the highest sense, there is no individual that suffers, that commits the kammic deeds, that enters Nirvana, and that brings the Eightfold Path to perfection.

    In the Visuddhi Magga it is therefore said:


    Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found.
    The deeds are, but no doer of the deeds is there,
    Nirvana is, but not the man that enters it.
    The path is, but no traveller on it is seen.


    Therefore, wherever the doctrine of the egolessness of all existence is rejected, there the Buddha's word is rejected. But wherever, through penetration of the egolessness of all existence, the ego-vanity has reached ultimate extinction, there the goal of the Buddha's teaching has been realized, namely: freedom from all vanity of I and Mine, and the highest peace of Nibbaana.

    source: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/a.../wheel202.html
    Last edited by Aloka; 22 May 17 at 06:10. Reason: correcting omission of second quote bracket

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    Quote Originally Posted by philg View Post
    Hi Element. I'm a bit confused about the terms atthattāti and natthattāti. Can you tell me which particular dictionary they are in please? I like to look at as many different translations of Pali terms as possible, to get a spread of translations to ponder on.

    Thanks. Here, I am only guessing because I am not fluent in Pali.

    In SN 12.15, there are the terms 'atthita' & 'natthitā', which are commonly translated as 'existence' & 'non-existence'.

    atthi
    as + a + ti
    to be; to exist.

    atthitā
    feminine
    existence; the fact of being present.

    natthi
    na + atthi
    no; not; not present.

    natthitā
    feminine
    non-existence; absence
    SN 44.10 used the terms 'atthattāti' and 'natthattāti', which seem to be a combination of 'attā' ('self') and the terms in SN 12.15.

    However, 'natthattāti' certainly does not mean 'not-self' ('anatta').

    These terms are not particularly clear. For example, Bhikkhu Sujato, who is fluent in Pali, commented as follows:

    Q: I get the impression 'natthitañca' might be more about the view that things, including a 'self', will 'cease to exist' rather than nothing inherently exists.

    A: It's basically the same thing from the Indic perspective, but yes, it certainly doesn't mean simple non-existence. I will revisit my translation of this passage after my more recent reflections, as in the following posts.

    It is generally understood that in the Indic idiom, words meaning “to be” can slide into a more pregnant philosophical sense, especially with the implication of “eternal, changeless existence”. If something really is, or so it’s felt, it exists in a timeless, essential sense. This is perhaps akin to Plato’s forms. Obviously the Buddha’s philosophy opposed this tendency. Such notions are usually made explicit in the EBTs, so it is not easy to find clear examples of cases where the mere use of the…

    As others have noted, the distinction between “not-self” and “no-self” is not found in Pali. It's a straw man argument, as no knowledgeable translators actually translate anattā as “no self”. It is always used in the sense of “something is not self” and “no self” wouldn’t work. Having said which, Thanissaro's writings on this subject are completely unreliable. When he says: he is simply wrong. This has been pointed out many times, for example by Ven Bodhi in his footnote for this sutta, SN…

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    Moderator Element's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by philg View Post
    ... atthattāti ... natthattāti.
    Also, these words are only found in SN 44.10 (and nowhere else in the suttas). They are words attributed to the wanderer Vacchagotta (rather than to the Buddha). This again supports the conclusion that SN 44.10 is not about 'not-self' ('anatta').


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