I think I can conclude this:
Thing is Ken Wheelers argument is actually logically sound. He is absolutely right. If you bother to take the time to follow his reasoning you will see it is iron clad, but it's useless regarding actual practice towards the goal. I'll lay it down as simply and as short as I can...
Really this is about "The All", the five aggregates. When the Buddha called the five aggregates “The All”, he was not
making a metaphysical point i.e. implying that "these are everything!" They can't be. Where is gravity? Where is electricity? Magnetism? Plasma? Radiation? Dark Matter? And I believe Kens personal favorite - Light? I believe we can all agree that those things hardly count as physical formations of earth, water, fire, and wind, nor are they feelings, thoughts, consciousness, or memories/perceptions.
So when Ken argues Theravadins are wrong when they (or we, I live in a monastery and ordaining as a novice soon) say “The All” encapsulates all phenomena metaphysically speaking, he is right, it doesn't- hence the examples I listed above.
So what did
the Buddha mean by "The All"? As always, with compassionate- nothing held back –forthcoming wisdom, he explains himself: “Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range.” - SN 35.23
In other words it’s not “The All” because it is a sum of all there ‘is’ metaphysically
, but because without we have nothing phenomenologically
. The difference between is where Ken finds room for Atta/Atman/Self/Soul or, as he puts, "pure subject". And he is right there is room there, BUT:
Gravity, light, those other things, and everything in the universe for that matter (including Kens notion
of a 'true self') we know of them through
'The All', we perceive them, feel them, conscious through them via contact with physical sense apparatus of body (made up of earth, wind, fire, and water) and can mentally fabricate about them.
"The All" is 'all' that is relevant to our subjective experience, which is where the work of surmounting dukkha takes place, because it's the only range where it can possibly
take place. It doesn't matter what's outside of The All because in order for it to become relevant to us it has to arise through
'The All', which as we know have the 3 characteristics/qualities, and the most relevant of pertaining to this topic: anatta.
This is where his argument reveals to be irrelevant to practice and unsubstantiated in refuting the method of said practice prescribed to us by The Buddha: because he is delineating an idea of 'self', that although he did logically find room for, that is still ultimately a perception and sankhara (a view, a very impressive and refined one, but a merely view, part of the net we need to avoid being caught in).
Our job as practitioners is not to delineate self (as either existent, non-existent, both, or neither) but delineate the khandas till we recognize them as not-self. But remember they are all that can be said phenomenologically, so what's left? It doesn't apply because all means of ascertaining have been put to rest, made like a stump.
So carry out that practice till the notion of 'self' starts to become utterly meaningless to you outside of convention, because in the true nature of things it really doesn't
mean anything, then you are close to breaking the 1st fetter, which is destruction of self-view - not realization of no-self. It is important to remember that the Buddha was silent when asked point blank whether self is or is not.
The pinnacle of what I'm trying to put forth here is that anatta is not just a quality of the khandas, but an instruction
to follow from The Buddha pertaining to our view
(ditthi). And I strongly recommend heeding that instruction.
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambuddhasa