Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

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Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby mal4mac » Mon Aug 05, 2013 11:17 am

I’m exploring Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translations on Access to Insight, and I thought I should check out what others think of his approach to Buddhism, philosophy, and life in general.

Tom Pepper suggests that Thanissaro Bhikkhu believes in that “big Buddhist no-no”, a soul:

http://speculativenonbuddhism.com/2013/ ... o-bhikkhu/

“In his essay “No-self or Not-self?” he makes it clear that his understanding of the teaching of anatta is that there is, in fact, an eternal soul, but that nothing that is part of our time-space continuum is part of that soul, and so we must learn not to be attached to anything in this samsaric world. In his recent digital book With Each and Every Breath, he is explicit about his understanding that there is a core “mind” that is separate from the thoughts and mental formations of our conventional selves:”

Is this a reasonable summary of Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s views? If so, I find it a telling criticism.

I quite like Pepper’s take on the self:

“For those of us who do not accept the dualistic belief in an eternal soul, this type of Buddhism is of little interest. If we understand the “self” to be produced by the social formation and the biological body, instead of to be influenced by or trapped in them, the translation of dukkha as stress makes little sense. The “self” is not “stressed” by the world, but produced as an ignorant, avaricious, belligerent entity by those social formations.”

I don’t like Pepper’s take on Buddhist detachment, but I’ll leave that for another thread.
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby Anagarika » Mon Aug 05, 2013 11:51 am

Peppers: Others have complained that Thanissaro does not teach that the mind is eternal, but that consciousness is outside of all time, or that he does not teach that there a soul or an atman, but that there is an unchanging pure consciousness. This is just pointless quibbling over terms, and I’m not interested in it. The Advaita Vedanta definition of atman is that it is a consciousness that transcends time and space, and is unchanging and uncreated. Thanissaro Bhikkhu very clearly, and very often, explains that this is what he believes to exist.


The "pointless quibbling over terms" is precisely where Peppers' problems lies. I'm not well read on this issue of Ajahn Thanissaro's writings, but I've never taken what he means to suggest a "soul," the way the west has defined it. To call what AT calls an "essence" or "mind" (which would seem necessary for the rebirth teachings) a soul, to me, is calling a cat a dog.

The entire area that Thanissaro explores is complex, and the metaphysics difficult to understand. Pepper's simplified criticism suggests that he is attacking AT with a very simplistic, incorrect, and provocative concept that does not parallel what Thanissaro teaches. Not self strategy does not suggest annihilation. This essence that is "mind" or this essence that survives human death is not what the west has come to call a soul ("my soul is soiled, your soul will burn in hell, in my heart and soul, soul food :) ".
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby kirk5a » Mon Aug 05, 2013 2:27 pm

Can Tom Pepper explain this?
"Just as if there were a roofed house or a roofed hall having windows on the north, the south, or the east. When the sun rises, and a ray has entered by way of the window, where does it land?"

"On the western wall, lord."

"And if there is no western wall, where does it land?"

"On the ground, lord."

"And if there is no ground, where does it land?"

"On the water, lord."

"And if there is no water, where does it land?"

"It does not land, lord."

"In the same way, where there is no passion for the nutriment of physical food... contact... intellectual intention... consciousness, where there is no delight, no craving, then consciousness does not land there or increase. Where consciousness does not land or increase, there is no alighting of name-&-form. Where there is no alighting of name-&-form, there is no growth of fabrications. Where there is no growth of fabrications, there is no production of renewed becoming in the future. Where there is no production of renewed becoming in the future, there is no future birth, aging, & death. That, I tell you, has no sorrow, affliction, or despair."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Or this?
"If a monk abandons passion for the property of consciousness, then owing to the abandonment of passion, the support is cut off, and there is no base for consciousness. Consciousness, thus unestablished, not proliferating, not performing any function, is released. Owing to its release, it is steady. Owing to its steadiness, it is contented. Owing to its contentment, it is not agitated. Not agitated, he (the monk) is totally unbound right within. He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'"

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby chownah » Mon Aug 05, 2013 2:33 pm

I have never gotten the impression that AT believed in a soul....could you reproduce an excerpt of his work which suggests this?
Sounds like Pepper has formulated a doctrine of self....isn't this a big Buddhist no-no?
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby mal4mac » Mon Aug 05, 2013 2:58 pm

OK, I'll read the man himself, the essay Pepper mentions, is short:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... self2.html

He says:

"... the one place where the Buddha was asked point-blank whether or not there was a self, he refused to answer."

So Pepper, looks to me, to be clearly in the wrong, either he's just plain wrong, or his reference is wrong! Anyway, I'll be reading more Geoff than Tom from now on :smile:
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby mal4mac » Mon Aug 05, 2013 3:10 pm

chownah wrote:Sounds like Pepper has formulated a doctrine of self....isn't this a big Buddhist no-no?


I think it's a doctrine on the *eternal* self that's a big no-no.

Pepper doesn't accept the dualistic belief in an eternal self.

His “self” that is "produced by the social formation and the biological body" is not an eternal self, just the everyday self that we encounter in common-sense experience (I think!).
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby socratessmith » Mon Aug 05, 2013 3:24 pm

I’d like to encourage all of you Dharma Wheelers to become better readers. Your comments here show a poor understanding of what Tom Pepper is up to in that essay. They also reveal your collective poor grasp of what Geoff holds to be true. Please learn to distinguish between rhetorical presentation and hidden content. For instance, Geoff may not explicitly say “soul,” but he does says, dozens if not hundreds of times, things like “One of those dimensions [of mind] is totally unconditioned. In other words, it’s not dependent on conditions at all.” Could belief in a soul or something similar be any more baldfaced than that?

In short, your comments show you to be under the influence of affective and cognitive decision. Many additional consequences and symptoms, which I would predict your life represents instances of, flow from such decision.

Contemporary American Buddhist discourse does not demand much from you intellectually. Still, I hope you will find a way to hone your thinking abilities and free yourself from the robe-wearing Bhikkhus of Oz such as Geoffrey DeGraff. http://speculativenonbuddhism.com/2011/05/19/buddhists-of-oz/

Good luck on your path.
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby reflection » Mon Aug 05, 2013 4:03 pm

Terms, it's just terms.

A conscious parinibbana: "featureless consciousness" that would remain when the five aggregates are gone - would you call that a soul? I would, but venerable Thanissaro probably wouldn't.


Then again, calling an essay "The Case of Thanissaro Bhikkhu", including picture.. well.. I don't think is necessary.
Last edited by reflection on Mon Aug 05, 2013 4:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby chownah » Mon Aug 05, 2013 4:03 pm

mal4mac wrote:
chownah wrote:Sounds like Pepper has formulated a doctrine of self....isn't this a big Buddhist no-no?


I think it's a doctrine on the *eternal* self that's a big no-no.

Pepper doesn't accept the dualistic belief in an eternal self.

His “self” that is "produced by the social formation and the biological body" is not an eternal self, just the everyday self that we encounter in common-sense experience (I think!).

I guess that there are various views held on this matter but I think that the Buddha advised to have no doctrine of self whatever. Can you show,where the Buddha differentiated between an eternal self and a common every day self? It seems like often people draw conclusions of their own on this matter and go beyond what the Buddha said.....but I'm willing to take a look at whatever you can come up with and see if I've missed something and made my own conclusions beyond what the Buddha said.
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby Sam Vara » Mon Aug 05, 2013 5:05 pm

I wonder if anyone could help me here? I checked out the article, and Tom Pepper says:
I want to briefly illustrate, for those who will no doubt object, that Thanissaro Bhikkhu does, in fact, explicitly believe in the eternal, dualist, atta or atman. Unlike so many other Buddhist teachers, who deny such belief but then assume the existence of a subtle atman, he is clear on this point. In his essay “No-self or Not-self?” he makes it clear that his understanding of the teaching of anatta is that there is, in fact, an eternal soul, but that nothing that is part of our time-space continuum is part of that soul, and so we must learn not to be attached to anything in this samsaric world.


I (re-)read Ajahn Thanissaro's little essay "No-self or Not-self", http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/notself2.html but can't find anything that would support the view that Thanissaro believes in an eternal soul. Could someone please point me to any phrases in it that Tom Pepper might be alluding to? I appreciate that this would be your interpretation of TP's interpretation, etc, but I am genuinely perplexed. I might add that I am not asking this in a spirit of sarcastic challenge. I'm trying to understand this point.
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby gavesako » Mon Aug 05, 2013 5:31 pm

Some Western interpreters can spend years trying to prove and define what "Nibbana" could or might or might not be, using the tools of academic philosophy and expecting the Buddha's formulations to fall within those parameters. Here is something from a contemporary Thai teacher whose formulations were also taken to imply a belief in an "eternal soul":

"All of the techniques and strategies taught by the Buddha in the area
of meditation are means for developing the heart so that it will be
suited to transcending the realm of conventional reality and reaching
outer space: nibbana.
What is it like, the outer space of the Dhamma? They no longer doubt
...about whether the outer space of the world exists or not. The things
that lie within conventional reality are known to exist. Outer space
beyond our atmosphere is another level of conventional reality. Outer
space: What is it like? Does it exist? How does our world in the
atmosphere differ from the things outside the world of our atmosphere
called outer space? Both of these levels exist.
The mind that lies in the realm of conventional reality (sammuti) — surrounded
and controlled — is like the various objects in the world trapped by the
pull of gravity at all times. The mind is trapped by the pull of
defilement in just the same way. It can't escape, which is why it must
develop its strength to escape from the world of this gravitational
pull. ... The outer space of the mind released from all forms of gravitational
pull, i.e., conventional reality: What is it like? Even though we've
never known it before, when we come to know it, we won't have any
doubts. This is what we referred to at the beginning when we talked about the
outer space of the world and the outer space of the mind. The outer
space of the mind — the mind of nibbana — is like that. Just
where is it annihilated? Who experiences the outer space of the mind? If
it were annihilation, who could experience it? As for where it will
or won't be reborn, we already know that there's no way for it to be
reborn. We know this clearly. We've removed every defilement or
conventional reality that would lead to rebirth."

-- Ajaan Maha Boowa Nyanasampanno

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... html#space


Whatever problems arise, they arise right
here. “Is death followed by rebirth? By annihi-
lation? Is there a next world? Does hell exist?
Does heaven? Does evil exist? Does merit?” Ev-
erywhere I go, there’s the same question: “Do
heaven and hell exist?” I never feel like answer-
ing. I don’t see any reason to answer it, because
that which is burdened with heaven and hell
is the heart, which everyone already has. So
why waste time answering? After all, I’m not a
record-keeper for heaven and hell! Living
beings are reborn in various realms of existence through the power
of the good and bad kamma within the heart. The heart
itself is what’s reborn into those realms. If we don’t solve the
problem right in the heart, we’ll never be able to escape the bonfires
of suffering and anxiety.

-- Luangta Maha Boowa, "Samana"


And this is a good article as well:

Nirvana is a Verb, Not a Place

https://mettarefuge.wordpress.com/2010/ ... t-a-place/
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

ajahnchah.org - Teachings of Ajahn Chah in many languages
Dhammatube - Videos on Buddhist practice
Ancient Buddhist Texts - Translations and history of Pali texts
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby daverupa » Mon Aug 05, 2013 6:08 pm

Sam Vara wrote:I (re-)read Ajahn Thanissaro's little essay... but can't find anything that would support the view that Thanissaro believes in an eternal soul.


That might be due to not having Pepper's ax to grind, but I can only surmise.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby Sam Vara » Mon Aug 05, 2013 6:20 pm

daverupa wrote:
Sam Vara wrote:I (re-)read Ajahn Thanissaro's little essay... but can't find anything that would support the view that Thanissaro believes in an eternal soul.


That might be due to not having Pepper's ax to grind, but I can only surmise.


Thanks Dave, I was wondering whether I had somehow mis-read the article in a naive way. I have seen a long thread here where people debate the attribution of this view to Ajahn Thanissaro, and I don't have any opinion on it. I was surprised however to see Pepper being so categorical in his accusation on the basis of this very short essay.
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby daverupa » Mon Aug 05, 2013 6:33 pm

Sam Vara wrote:I was surprised however to see Pepper being so categorical in his accusation on the basis of this very short essay.


I think that essay was a placeholder citation, and not in and of itself the piece being written against. A symbolic adversary for the author, in other words, despite being called on by name.

I've read some of the related blog, and I'm lucky enough to have read most of the references which are used there; I think the writing is mostly following itself, and not the contours of the ideas it would comment on.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby socratessmith » Mon Aug 05, 2013 8:23 pm

In literally hundreds of places in his writings, Geoff alludes to a soul-like entity. Just Google "Thanissaro Bhikkhu unconditioned mind," for instance, and you get things like:

"Once the mind can detach itself from the pleasure & equanimity offered by jhāna, it can be inclined toward that which transcends jhāna — the unconditioned quality of deathlessness."

"If you assume a conditioned event to be unconditioned, you close the door to the unconditioned."

To put it in a nutshell, as another commentator points out:
Others, including Peter Harvey and Thanissaro Bhikkhu, have also advocated the existence of unconditioned consciousness in nibbana. They identify instances in the Pali Canon in which the Buddha asserts the existence of such consciousness, such as in the following passage from the Brahmanimantanika Sutta:

Consciousness without surface, endless, radiant all around... (MN 49, trans. Thanissaro, 2007)

As argued by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, this consciousness does not refer to the conditioned vinnana khandha, but to unconditioned existence beyond space and time. In this sense, it is eternal, as it is not conditioned by time. This supposes a dualism between conditioned phenomena and this unconditioned consiousness.


There is abundant evidence that Geoff believes in a soul-like entity. The Buddha-figure in the texts did, too. If you don't see that, it's because you don't want to.
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby daverupa » Mon Aug 05, 2013 8:43 pm

socratessmith wrote:There is abundant evidence that Geoff believes in a soul-like entity. The Buddha-figure in the texts did, too. If you don't see that, it's because you don't want to.


False Dilemma fallacy. Please try again.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby Anagarika » Mon Aug 05, 2013 8:47 pm

Socratessmith: Contemporary American Buddhist discourse does not demand much from you intellectually. Still, I hope you will find a way to hone your thinking abilities and free yourself from the robe-wearing Bhikkhus of Oz such as Geoffrey DeGraff.


Quite a nasty personal comment from SocratesSmith. I'm glad there are people like Socrates with such higher levels of intelligence and insight roaming about; the rest of us might just bog down the study of Dhamma with our simplistic views. I will say that I've met Ven. Thanissaro, and I'm fairly sure he does not suffer from lack of intellect. He's also a strict Vinaya monk, which, Socrates, explains the robe and the bald head. Sorry you don't care for the Vinaya, but it's something the Buddha suggested as appropriate for his Bhikkhus. The same comment goes for Tom Pepper, who derides Theravada Bhikkhus for not teaching in chinos and Lacoste golf shirts. Again, it's Vinaya,and I ask that you only contemplate that while pulling through the drivethrough for your 9 pm Taco Bell burrito snack. About that time, Ajahn Geoff will be chanting the Patimokkha on an empty stomach.

I found another of Tom Pepper's articles today where he toots his horn over his days in graduate school, and the revelation that his professors there commented that he had the highest IQ of any of the graduate psychology class, and that he was just too darned brilliant to practice psychology. The comment struck me as peculiar, and having attended grad school myself, I'm unsure how, why or when a Prof might have access to an IQ score, or why it would be mentioned by a Prof....but the bigger point seems to be....why mention something like this at all? Even if this odd story were true, why on earth would one mention it unless one is somehow craving self validation? Insecure much?

Socrates, if you have an axe to grind about Ven. Thanissaro, and you and Tom Peppers feel a need to plant big wet ones on each others' metaphysical a**es, that's your prerogative. The minute you spend a week under Vinaya rules, then you can call Ven. Thanissaro Geoff. Until then, maybe you can be a bit more respectful of the man and his body of work. You don't have to agree with it, but you do need to respect it.

I'll try to make some merit this week for the negative kamma I've earned from the negativity tone of my post. Maybe not Right Speech, but I feel better writing it.
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby socratessmith » Mon Aug 05, 2013 8:54 pm

Like I said, his belief in an unconditioned X--a soul-like entity-is hiding in plain sight. If you don't see it, it's because you refuse to see it. No "false dichotomy fallacy" here, bro, just the all-too-predictable Buddhist obfuscation.

BuddhaSoup: I don't "have an "axe to grind" with Geoff. But I do think it's important to call out intellectual laziness and obfuscation where I see it among Buddhists. I do not respect a person just because some institution has determined him respect worthy. Why do you?

There is no such thing as "negative kamma." You are thinking of the Christian notion of "sin." Have a little more faith in yourself, and less in Buddhism.
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby Anagarika » Mon Aug 05, 2013 9:01 pm

There is no such thing as "negative kamma." You are thinking of the Christian notion of "sin."


...and you can read my mind. An Arahant!

Signing off this topic. 'Nuf said for today.
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Re: Does Thanissaro Bhikkhu believe in a soul?

Postby socratessmith » Mon Aug 05, 2013 9:06 pm

No, BuddhaSoup, I can read your words.
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