sassatavāda SN12.17

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sassatavāda SN12.17

Postby fortunate_being » Mon Feb 13, 2012 1:43 pm

I have several questions, and quite probably some inadvertent presumptions. I will endeavour to try and keep them organised.
My first questions are about my understanding (and I am willing and happy to be corrected or advised).

1: Is it correct that: Lord Buddha has no interest in philosophical debate, but far more interest in the exposition of the ti-sikkhā ('three higher trainings') - the fourth noble truth (aka the noble eightfold path).

2: Is it correct that: The adhipaññā-sikkhā (wisdom training) of the ti-sikkhā is to understand and know the tilakkhaṇa (three marks of existence) thereby defeating ignorance, which in turn releases us from Taṇhā and Upādāna (grasping/clinging components of the Twelve Nidānas) that directly bind us to Samsara. That is, we must identify and eliminate the ignorance(s) of: Dukkha, Anicca, Anatta in order to be liberated from Samsara.

Now, if none of this is yet contentious, I wish to move onto the majjhimā paṭipadā - the middle way. Specifically the avoidance of two extremes in terms of understanding paññā (I am aware that 'middle way' is also used in other contexts).

3:Is it correct that: There are two extremes that one must avoid (and I am deliberately going to describe them, rather than depend upon terminology). One extreme is to disbelieve in Karma - to believe that what one does makes no difference. The second extreme is to believe that things/the self in themselves are efficacious - eg. that the self (in my tradition this is extended to all dharmas) is worthy of grasping/clinging.

4:Is it fair to identify the first extreme (a disbelief in karma) as ucchedavāda ?
5:Is it fair to identify the second extreme (a belief in the efficaciousness of self/dharmas as being worthy of grasping/clinging) as sassatavāda?

I will now use the phrase 'notion of efficacious self' to refer to a view that believes that the self/dharmas are worthy of grasping/clinging.

I now bring your attention to two translations of SN12.17
Thanissaro Bhikkhu: "The one who acts is the one who experiences [the result of the act]' amounts to the Eternalist statement"
M. O'Connell Walshe: "He who performs the act also experiences [the result]' [...] this amounts to the Eternalist theory."

My reading of these words (and this may be contentious) is that a view of an efficacious self (he who performs.. experiences) entails (amounts to) sassatavāda. In this sense, I understand that Lord Buddha is stating that the notion of an efficacious self entails a belief in some form of constancy, similar to those people who are known as the eternalists. But I believe that it is a fallacy (of affirming the consequent) to then interpret Lord Buddha as saying one must be an eternalist in order to have a notion of an efficacious self.

Certainly a belief in something's constancy will entail a belief in it's efficacy as an object of grasping - and following my reading of SN12.17 it follows that a notion of an efficacious self entails a belief in some sort of constancy, but I consider that one may still recognise anicca and yet still hold onto the self having some efficacy. In other words, along with dukkha, understanding anicca alone is not enough to free us from Samsara. We must also understand anatta in order to thoroughly free ourselves from any taint. Hence the exposition of three marks of existence rather than two.

Yet, I see many texts and expositions that consider the avoidance of 'eternalism' as being enough to remove one from Samsara. I cannot see how a belief in some sort of persistent or eternal self is required in order to continue to grasp/cling to samsara. For example, I may be fully aware that I am not the same as I was as a child, and that every part of 'me' has changed and changes from moment to moment and yet I may still, for instance, believe that fame or wealth will be worthy and efficacious causes of my happiness - or merely believe that I have some intrinsic quality that is a worthy object of my attention.

Where is the error?
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Re: sassatavāda SN12.17

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Feb 13, 2012 8:02 pm

Hi fortunate_being

We have had quite a lot of discussion on this sutta here:
viewtopic.php?f=25&t=11403

and on the related SN 12.15 here:
viewtopic.php?f=25&t=11269

Are any of those discussions helpful? Would you like us to merge this post with the current 12.17 thread?

:anjali:
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Re: sassatavāda SN12.17

Postby fortunate_being » Tue Feb 14, 2012 8:40 am

:buddha1: That is a kind thought, Mike - though I am not sure if the entire post is relevant to the discussion of SN17, especially anything which betrays a lack of insight regarding the Theravada! However, if you feel that my questions would be better answered on the SN17 post, then by all means (though I would prefer not to be cross posted, as a single discussion would be enough!). I just hope to be accepted as a warm-hearted 'cousin' to Theravada, and, if my writing were to appear offensive in any means at all, to be forgiven, as offence is not intended.

Metta, FB
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Re: sassatavāda SN12.17

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Feb 16, 2012 7:59 pm

No problem. I'll post a link on the other discussion so people can find your comment here.

:anjali:
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Re: sassatavāda SN12.17

Postby fortunate_being » Tue Feb 21, 2012 9:32 pm

Still no response. Am I being impatient? Have I not asked clearly? :? My interest is legitimate! Metta, FB.
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Re: sassatavāda SN12.17

Postby vinasp » Wed Feb 22, 2012 3:12 am

Hi fortunate_being,

Everything that you have said seems correct to me, I cannot see any errors.

But you say:

"Yet, I see many texts and expositions that consider the avoidance of 'eternalism' as being enough to remove one from Samsara."

Perhaps those "expositions" are simply wrong. Could you explain further?

Also, could you explain your understanding of what anicca means?

Regards, Vincent.
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Re: sassatavāda SN12.17

Postby fortunate_being » Wed Feb 22, 2012 4:53 pm

The number of expositions that state this appear to be numberless. For instance, http://www.buddhanet.net/funbud12.htm "Now in the context of dependent origination, the Middle Way has another meaning which is related to the earlier meaning but deeper. In this context the Middle Way means avoiding the extremes of eternalism and nihilism... "

I can find many other examples from texts and sites alike. I am at work right now, so will explain my meaning of anicca later. Metta, FB.
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Re: sassatavāda SN12.17

Postby fortunate_being » Thu Feb 23, 2012 10:17 am

Hi Vincent,
Thank-you so very much for your response.

vinasp wrote:Everything that you have said seems correct to me, I cannot see any errors.

What a wonderful relief!

vinasp wrote:
fortunate_being wrote:"Yet, I see many texts and expositions that consider the avoidance of 'eternalism' as being enough to remove one from Samsara."
Perhaps those "expositions" are simply wrong. Could you explain further?

Just to be clear here - I am not saying that avoidance of 'eternalism' alone is what is stated - there is also the paired avoidance of 'nihilism', but I have less of an issue with the 'nihilism' issue.

There really are many texts that appear to conflate 'eternalism' with the extreme of the conviction in a self's efficacy as an object of grasping. Maybe I am missing something still. Here is a tiny sample.

  • http://www.buddhanet.net/funbud12.htm : "..avoid the extreme of eternalism.."
    Though (in fairness) this article then qualifies 'eternalism' in a reasonably meaningful way, it still says 'avoid the extreme of eternalism' which implies the aforementioned fallacy of affirming the consequent.
  • Peter Harvey. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices (2007) CUP. ISBN 0-521-31333-3.
    "The understanding that sees a 'person' as subsisting in the causal connectedness of dependent arising is often presented in Buddhist thought as 'the middle' (madhyama/majjhima) between the views of 'eternalism' (śaśvata-/sassata-vāda) and 'annihilationism' (uccheda-vāda)". (p58)
  • Bhikkhu Bodhi, (ed., trans.) (2005). "In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pāli Canon." Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-491-1, p315.
    "It is a 'teaching by the middle' because it transcends two extreme views that polarise philosophical reflection on the human condition. One extreme, the metaphysical thesis of eternalism (sassatavāda), asserts that the core of human identity is an indestructible and eternal self" (p315)

My reading of this last text identifies sassatavāda in a manner which I reject. As stated in my original post, I believe that Lord Buddha is telling us to avoid something far more subtle, and directly related to paticcasamuppāda - the conviction in a self's efficacy as an object of grasping - a conviction which binds us to samsara and is therefore available and present in all beings that are subject to misery.

vinasp wrote:Also, could you explain your understanding of what anicca means?

My understanding of anicca is weak and, for the most part, intellectual but as I see it, it refers to the inconstancy of the world and all that is in it: subject to change; continually changing; destined to dissipate, change, and vanish – like cloud animals or the fleeting figures that can be seen in incense smoke. By the time we are aware of something, it has already past - we are continually engaged with the shadows of things and yet cling onto them and grasp at them as if they were reliable, stable, sensible objects of our attachment and aversion. Cessations, being permanent absences, are not subject to anicca. Those Nobles who have achieved a cessation of suffering by eliminating it's cause (and are therefore no longer subject to suffering) are worthy objects of refuge.

But, as mentioned before, Lord Buddha made it clear that understanding anicca alone is not enough - there are three marks of existence - we must also understand the inefficacy of the self by it's own nature: Not only is it not constant, but it has no 'centre' or independent nature at all. Clearly we must also avoid the other extreme of disbelieving in karma (and by consequence in the paticcasamuppāda itself).

Metta, FB.
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Re: sassatavāda SN12.17

Postby vinasp » Fri Feb 24, 2012 7:11 pm

Hi fortunate_being,

You say:

"Just to be clear here - I am not saying that avoidance of 'eternalism' alone is what is stated - there is also the paired avoidance of 'nihilism', but I have less of an issue with the 'nihilism' issue."

Thank you, I understand now. I thought you might be speaking of the teachings
of another school.

My understanding of the Theravada teaching, on this point, is as follows:

Both the Eternalist view and the Annihilationist view are views about the
future state of a presently existing self. The view of a presently existing
self is called sakkaya-ditthi or "identity-view". So the Eternalist view
and the Annihilationist view both depend on identity-view, and cease when
identity view ceases.

The connection with Dependent Origination is that DO explains how views
arise and cease. It is my opinion that the link "bhava" is the clinging
involved in identity-view. All wrong views involve clinging.

What I have said here may need much more explanation. But if you could
respond to this it would be good. Let us leave anicca until later.

Regards, Vincent.
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Re: sassatavāda SN12.17

Postby fortunate_being » Mon Mar 05, 2012 10:52 am

I have been carefully considering these posts over the last week - please do not take my quietitude as a mark of weariness, disinterest, or pride. :)

I think that I need a bit of help with the translation of the phrase that lies at the heart of my queries:

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:The one who acts is the one who experiences [the result of the act]' amounts to the Eternalist statement

M. O'Connell Walshe wrote:He who performs the act also experiences [the result]' [...] this amounts to the Eternalist theory.


I request clarity on what is actually being said by 'amounts to' in this context. In English, there are two meanings -
    • be the equivalent of
    • develop into; become.
My assumption has been that in this context the most appropriate reading is the latter one- maybe the equivalent word(s) in Pali are similar to English, in that there are two meanings, but maybe not.

Metta, FB.
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Re: sassatavāda SN12.17

Postby vinasp » Wed Mar 07, 2012 10:11 am

Hi fortunate_being,

The interpretation of SN 12.17 is difficult, and the meaning may have
been disputed between various schools. I cannot read Pali, and I am not
an expert in these matters, but:

So karoti so patisamvedayati'ti kho, Kassapa, adito sato sayamkatam

dukkhan'ti iti vadam sassatam etam pareti.

The word translated as "amounts to" is pareti.

It means: to set out for, go on to, come to.

sassatam means eternal, etam means this, and vadam means speak.

So, "...to say this goes in the direction of eternalism."

Apologies for the absence of diacritic marks, this computer does not yet
have Pali language support installed.

There is a Pali language sub-section of this Forum, where you could
post a question, and someone who knows more than I do, might respond.

Regards, Vincent.
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