This is a letter I wrote to someone (SW) years ago:
I quoted the Preface to the Book of elements Pali text society
"Because the functions of the elements give rise to the concepts of continuity, collection and form, the ideas arise:
1. the initial effort that has to be exerted when a deed is about to be performed, and
2. the care that has to be taken while the deed is being performed to its completion and this leads to the subsequent ideas
3. "I can perform" and 4) "I can feel"
Thus these four imaginary characteristic functions of being have bought about a deep-rooted belief in their existence
SW: I do not understand how "conceit" and "personality belief" can be called ideas. I know that "conceit" is a cetasika and not an idea. I know that "personality belief" is a cetasika and not an idea. How are "effort" and "care" imaginary characteristics? I don't think my effort and care to write you this letter is an imaginery characteristic. It is as real as the khandas as it can be. I don't think the effort and care expended by the Buddha to teach his Disciples is an imaginary characteristic.
When studying the Dhamma a prime requisite is to understand the difference between concept and reality (paramattha dhamma). In the case you mention above "I don't think my effort and care to write you this letter is an imaginary characteristic" you are talking about a long chain of events, moments. The story writing a letter is a concept. Even in one second so many dhammas have arisen and passed away. When we talk about long periods like writing a letter it is countless. During the writing effort arose and fell away and each moment was different from the other - but because each moment also is one of the conditions (among many ) for the next this is not fully realised. There may have been some moments with kusala effort, some without, some with weak concentration (right or wrong) some with stronger. Moments of energy, moments of slightly less energy: and all usually taken as 'my' energy. Even when we talk about one brief moment this is a very complex thing with many different conditions needed.
Without hearing the dhamma we imagine "we" are controlling everything, not understanding the intricate conditions that make up each moment. Take the act of seeing while you were writing the letter. So many different moments of seeing and each moment conditioned
Firstly the eye element is a condition in six ways namely, dissociation, prenascence, presence, non-disapearance, support, and faculty for the eye-consciouness (cakkhu vi~n~nana) element. The visible object is a condition in four ways, namely, prenascent, presence, non-disappearance, and object for the eye- consciousness element"
Visuddhimagga XV 40
Then following that flash of seeing there are many mental processes similarly conditioned
by several factors, none of which are in the control of anyone. And these conditioning
factors are all likewise conditioned
by many conditions. Because of ignorance of this the illusion of beings and self, like actors in an endless play, continues.
We can understand conceptually how this is by looking at bodily functions - say the way the body heals cuts - very complex, and if even one condition is not present then infection can arise and so other complex conditions are needed to heal. However, Nama (mentality) is more subtle than rupa and more complex:
"It would be better for the unlearned worldling to regard this body, built up of the four elements, as his self, rather than the mind. For it is evident that this body may last for a year, for two years, for three years, four, five, or ten years, or even a hundred years and more; but that which is called thought, or mind, or consciousness, is continuously, during day and night, arising as one thing, and passing away as another thing."
S. XII. 62
Robert: Because of continuity there is a belief, a vipallasa, perversion of perception, that believes there is somewhere, somehow a controller of the whole complex.
----------------------------------SW: I do not understand how this continuity can result in "personality belief". It it because of this continuity that magga and then phala arises. It is because of this continuity that the Noble Eightfold Path can be perfected. If it is because of this continuity that there arises "personality belief", then there can be no escape from samsara. The Buddha could not rightly proclaim his Lion's Roar.
When continuity is disrupted by discerning rise and fall, the characteristic of impermanence becomes apparent in its true nature."
(Visuddhimagga XXI 4)
Of course continuity is only one aspect of why it is hard to discern the tilakkhana.
What is the actual root cause of "personality belief
This is like asking what is the root cause of ignorance. No beginning is discerned to the paticasamuppada, the wheel of dependent origination) but personality belief is uprooted gradually by seeing the actual characteristics of the different dhammas:
When the resolution of the compact is effected by resolution into elements (dhatus), the characteristic of not-self become apparent in its true nature."
(Visuddhimagga XX 15)
This 'being' is simply a puppet with manifold parts - all coming together in different combinations - lasting for an instant and then falling away again.
Because the conditions that make up each moment are often similar "we" look and feel somewhat the same from moment to moment and this is one aspect of how continuity deludes.
"Therefore, just as a marionette is void, soulless and without curisosity, and while it works and stands merely through the combination of strings and wood yet it seems as if it had curiosity and interestedness, so too this materiality (rupa)-mentality (nama) is void, soulless and without curiosity, and while it walks and stands merely through the combination of the two together, yet it seems as if it had curiosity and interestedness."
Visuddhimagga XVIII 31
The conditions that make up what we think of as a human being are of course more complex than a marionette, and hence more difficult to fathom. The first steps, of this very long untanglement, are about identifying, with right wisdom, the various characteristics of the different phenomena that comprise this 'being' this manisfestion of paticcasamuppada.
Usually we think "I'm interested or bored or excited or calm, or sad or happy or wise or confused or making effort or being negligent. But there are only different elements performing different functions - and they have no agenda:
The uninterestedness becomes evident to him though seeing rise and fall according to condition owing to his discovery of the inability of states to have mastery exercised over them. Then he more thoroughly abandons the self view."
Visuddhimagga XX 102
"The characteristic of not-self becomes evident to him through seeing rise according to conditions owing to his discovery that states have no curiosity and have their existence depending upon conditions"
"All the formed bases(eye base, ear base, tongue base etc) should be regarded as having no provenance and no destination. On the contrary, before their rise they had no individual essence and after their fall their individual essences are completely dissolved. And they occur without mastery being exercisable over them since they exist in dependence on conditions and in between the past and the future."
I think everyone has no problem in accepting that there is no control over the eye or ear base. But the same applies also to the other elements which are all equally conditioned
- whether they be nama or rupa, and this includes cetana.
They often talk about dhatus (elements) in the suttas. What does it mean - element? There are several definitions including this:
"Element is a term for what is soulesss."
Visuddhimagga XV 22, and
"They are only mere sortings out of suffering because no mastery is exercisable over them."
Visuddhimagga XV 20
There is removal of false view in one who sees thus: "If formations were self it would be right to take them as self; but being not-self they are taken as self. Therefore they are not self in the sense of no power being exercisable over them; they are impermanent in the sense of non-existence after having come to be; they are painful in the sense of oppression by rise and fall"
Visuddhimagga XX 83
Robert: There are only elements arising and ceasing and performing their many different functions which - like a brilliant puppet show - delude one into thinking there is some special element behind it all.
_________SW: Is it the case that the arising and ceasing of the elements performing their different functions the actual root cause of this delusion?
It is not seeing the actual arising and ceasing that allows the delusion to continue.
Robert: He writes that in fact all elements, including cetana disappear so fast:
"The elements...arise and cease within a very short time. In the wink of an eye or a flash of lightning the mental elements arise and cease a trillion times. This is just an estimate. The subcommentary takes an even higher figure....."
________SW: If the elements have not the time or span of duration to carry out the 'ideas' "I can perform" or "I can feel", then I do not see how these 'ideas' can survive in the first place. For without the elements, there cannot be the 'ideas'.
The ideas are the shadows of what is really there. I recently quoted a letter Kom wrote which helps to explain this:
"Before a process can arise, there must be thousands of them, and processes already taken place repeatedly. By this description, we can deduce that, it is not enough for a single rupa (17 moments of cittas) to condition the cittas to start experiencing pannati. It must take thousands of panja-dvara-javana-vithi and mano-dvara-javana vithi, which actually experience paramatha aramana, for the citta to start organizing and arranging the sense objects into a concept. The concepts also change as the mano-dvara-javana vithi, experiencing the concept, repeats. For seeing, in the beginning we may just see an unidentified shape, and then it becomes a familiar shape, and then we may attach a name to the shape. At this point, the process of taking paramatha object all the way to a memorable, identifiable, namable concept is complete: a perfect aramana for upadana to hold on to."
I can write more about this if you wish.
Robert: . In the Atthasalini it notes that the monks who are reciters of the suttanta (the second basket which includes the 5 nikayas) may come to wrong view because in the suttas they often talk about beings and things. In reality there are simply dhammas arising and passing, utterly conditioned
SW: It seems that the Buddha liked to perform linguistic acrobatics...really? Isn't the Buddha speaking in "conventional language" when he said in Samyutta Nikaya XXII.59:
And it is not possible to say with regard to consciousness, 'Let MY consciousness be thus. Let MY consciousness not be thus.'
The Buddha is basically performing linguistic acrobatics all over the Suttas. What gives?
Important to know when conventional speech (vohara vacca) is being used:
As with the assembly of parts the word chariot is countenanced, so, when the aggregates are present, a being is said in common usage."
(Samyutta I, 135)
"These, Citta, are merely names, expressions, turns of speech, designations in common use in the world. And of these a Tathagata makes use indeed, but he does not misapprehend them
The suttas often use such words as MY, and we can too, but we need to know that they are mere concepts.
Such forms as woman or man are local forms of speech. ..In those who have not fully understood what a physical base is there comes to be the misinterpretation "this is really a woman..." But since this is mere concept, which depends on states made to occur in such ans such a wise, one who sees and knows the dependent origination does not interpret it as ultimate meaning."
Note 4, Visuddhimagga VII (Pm)
SW: The five aggregates can never be willed not to dissolute. This is an impossiblity. Yet, to suit your own agenda of "no control", you have perversed the very meaning of this statement.
Robert: The literal translation of the Anatta Lakkhana Sutta is "the characteristic of not-self" and that characteristic is no control.
"The mode of insusceptibility to having power exercised over them is the characteristic of no-self."
SW: Sammohavinodani (whatever that is, I have not come across this funny name) did not say "characteristic of no control". That is your own extrapolation
Yes, I shortened it , I think the meaning remains the same. The Sammohavinodani is the commentary to the second book of the Abhidhamma. Anyway for this letter I use the Visuddhimagga as I know most members have a copy.
SW: The statement "the mode of insusceptibility to having power exercised over them" must be understood in the context of what was said. And what did Sarah say?
"For the fully Englightened One, when teaching the characteristic of no-self, teaches it by means of the impermanent, or by means of suffering, or by means of (both) the impermanent and suffering."
This means that there can be no power that can be exercised over the impermanent and dukkha elements such that they become permanent and non-dukkha. This is an impossibility. In reference to this was this statement uttered. This impossibility manifests the characterisitc of no-self.
The characteristic of anatta is "the insusceptibilty of having power exercised over them" (no control, for short). This is so difficult to see and to help the Buddha teaches it by means of impermanence or by means of suffering. The same dhammas - all elements (except nibbana) have the same Tilakkhana of anicca.m, dukkha.m and anatta (Nibbaana only has the last). So by properly understanding either impermanence or dukkha one also can understand anatta. It is also understood by conditionality. RobertK