The last section of Chapter III is about doctrines of self
as sustenance for becoming; this section is roughly twice as long as any of the previous sections in the chapter.
Doctrines of the self form the fourth mode of clinging/sustenance. The Canon reports a wide variety of such doctrines current in the Buddha’s time, only to reject them out-of-hand for two major reasons. The first is that even the least articulated sense of self or self-identification inevitably leads to stress & suffering...The second reason for rejecting doctrines of the self is that, whatever form they take, they all contain inherent inconsistencies.
‘If anyone were to say with regard to a monk whose mind is thus released
that “The Tathagata exists after death,” is his view, that would be
mistaken; that “The Tathagata does not exist after death”...that “The
Tath›gata both exists & does not exist after death”...that “The Tath›gata
neither exists nor does not exist after death” is his view, that would be
mistaken. Why? Having directly known the extent of designation and the
extent of the objects of designation, the extent of expression and the
extent of the objects of expression, the extent of description and the extent
of the objects of description, the extent of discernment and the
extent of the objects of discernment, the extent to which the cycle revolves: Having
directly known that, the monk is released. [To say that,] “The monk
released, having directly known that, does not see, does not know is his
opinion,” that would be mistaken.’ [This last sentence means that the
monk released is not an agnostic concerning what lies beyond the extent
of designation, and so forth. He does know & see what lies beyond, even
though—as Ven. Sariputta said to Ven. MahaKotthita—he cannot express it,
inasmuch as it lies beyond objectification.
See the discussion of SN 35:23, AN 4:173, & SN 35:117 in Chapter One.]
Form, monks, is not-self. If form were the self, this form would not lend itself to dis-ease...
...And is it right to assume with regard to whatever is inconstant, stressful, subject to change,
that “This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am”?’ -- No, lord.’ SN 22:59
This formulation is interesting from the modern psychological notion of self or self-concept or self-identity.
What the modern notion refers to is certainly inconstant, stressful, and subject to dis-ease;
So the "modern answer" would be "Yes, doctor."
It seems that the modern notion of self would fit the category of fabrication -- both the concept and the mental phenomenon being labelled such.
The "self" of the Canon is presumably referring to a fabrication of the time that is different from the modern one.
On the surface, doctrines about the self would appear simply to be another variety of speculative view. They deserve separate treatment, though, because they all come down to a deeply rooted sense of ‘I am’— a conceit coloring all perception at the m fundamental level...
...The sense of ‘I am’ can prevent a person from reaching the goal, even when he feels that he has abandoned attachment to sensuality, speculative views, & the experience of jhana.
Whereas the contemplative or brahman under discussion in this passage reads an ‘I’ into what he is experiencing, the Buddha simply observes that ‘There is this....’ This unadorned observation—which simply sees what is present in an experience as present, and what is absent as absent...
...He discerns that “This mode of perception is
empty of the effluent of sensuality... the effluent of becoming... the
effluent of ignorance. And there is just this non-emptiness: that connected
with the six sensory spheres, dependent on this very body with life as its
condition.” Thus he regards it as empty of whatever is not there.
Whatever remains, he discerns as present: “There is this.” And so this, his
entry into emptiness, accords with actuality, is undistorted in meaning, pure
— superior & unsurpassed.
After presenting the famous dialog with Vacchagotta on self, he says:
This dialogue is one of the most controversial in the Canon...If someone else more spiritually mature than Vacchagotta had asked the question, they say, the Buddha would have revealed his true position. This interpretation, though, ignores the fact that of the Buddha’s four express
reasons for not answering the question, only the last is specific to Vacchagotta. The first two hold true no matter who is asking the question: To say that there is or is not a self would be to fall into one of two philosophical positions that the Buddha frequently attacked as incompatible with his teaching. As for his third reason, the Buddha wanted to be consistent with ‘the arising of knowledge that all phenomena are not-self,’ not because he felt that this knowledge was worth holding onto in & of itself..., but because he saw that the arising of such knowledge could, through causing the mind to let go of all forms of clinging/sustenance, lead to liberation.
...View the world, Mogharaja, as empty — always mindful, to have removed any view about self.
This way one is above & beyond death...Sn 5:15
The fundamental difference between this dialogue & the preceding one lies in
the questions asked: In the first, Vacchagotta asks the Buddha to take a position
on the metaphysical question of whether or not there is a self, and the Buddha remains silent. In the second, Mogharaja asks for a way to view the world so that one can go beyond death, and the Buddha speaks, teaching him to view the world without reference to the notion of self.
This suggests that, instead of being a metaphysical assertion that there is no self, the teaching on not-self is more a strategy, a technique of perception aimed at leading beyond death to Unbinding...
...‘By & large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by [takes as its object] a polarity, that of existence & non-existence. But when one sees the origination of the world as it has come to be with right discernment, “non-existence” with reference to the world doesn’t occur to one. When
one sees the stopping of the world as it has come to be with right discernment, “existence” with reference to the world doesn’t occur to one... SN12:15
Thus for the person who aims at Unbinding, the Buddha recommends a technique of perception that regards things simply in terms of the four truths concerning stress, with no self-identification, no sense that ‘I am’, no attachment to ‘I’ or ‘mine’ involved. Although...there may be a temporary, functional identity to one’s range of perception, this ‘identity’ goes no further than that. One recognizes it for what it is: inconstant & conditioned, and thus not worthy of being taken as a self—for in transcending attachment to it, there is the realization of deathlessness.
For a person who has attained the goal, experience occurs with no ‘subject’ or ‘object’ superimposed on it, no construing of experience or thing experienced. There is simply the experience in & of itself.
...monks, the Tathagata, when seeing what is to be seen, doesn’t construe [an object as] seen, doesn’t construe an unseen, doesn’t construe
[an object] to-be-seen, doesn’t construe a seer... AN4:24
A view is true or false only when one is judging how accurately it refers to something else. If one is regarding it simply as an event in & of itself, true & false no longer apply. Thus for the Tathagata — who no longer needs to impose notions of subject or object on experience, and can regard sights, sounds, feelings, & thoughts purely in & of themselves — views are not necessarily true or false, but can simply serve as phenomena to be experienced. With no notion of subject, there is no grounds for ‘I know, I see;’ with no notion of object, no grounds for ‘That’s just how it is.’ So —although a Tathagata may continue using ‘true’ & ‘false’ in the course of teaching others, and may continue reflecting on right view as a means of abiding mindfully & comfortably in the present — notions of true, false, self, & not self have lost all their holding power over the
mind. As a result, the mind can see conditioned events in their suchness—‘such are the aggregates, such their origin, such their disappearance’— and is left free to its own Suchness: unrestrained, uninfluenced by anything of any sort.
This concludes our survey of the four modes ofclinging/sustenance—passion & delight for sensuality, for views, for habits & practices, and for doctrines of the self—and should be enough to give a sense of what is loosed in the Unbinding of the mind. All that remains now is the question of how.
There is just one more chapter.