Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
alfaaa
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Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by alfaaa » Mon Sep 14, 2015 3:40 am

Hi folks,

Consider the religions during the Buddha's time - they were all based on the concept of a permanent self. The self is caught in this world, the self needs to liberate itself, so the self practices meditation, etc. etc.

But the Buddha came up with something radical - there is no permanent self. Wouldn't this at one stroke do away with all kinds of practices, meditation, morality, etc.? Yet buddha advocated meditation and other types of effort where the self is involved.

Isn't this a little contradictory? If the whole point is to realize that the self is not some permanent entity, then wouldn't effort itself be a hindrance (since it only perpetuates the concept of a permanent self)?

SarathW
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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by SarathW » Mon Sep 14, 2015 3:49 am

Yes that is why it is important to practice correctly.
Noble eight fold path is consist of right view etc.
It is called right view etc. because there are wrong view etc.
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

pegembara
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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by pegembara » Mon Sep 14, 2015 3:56 am

We work with what we have at the start ie. concepts of self, others, things, soul, aggregates etc. The 4 Noble Truths and 8 Fold Paths are all conceptual. These are all parts of the raft which one uses to cross over but is not to be carried upon reaching the other shore.
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.

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Dan74
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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by Dan74 » Mon Sep 14, 2015 4:26 am

I think in a very simple and practical way, no-self or anatta, is saying that we are not little homunculi inside our skulls which is a very liberating teaching in itself. Then the more we let go of whatever restrictive concept of 'me' and 'mine' we hold on to and meet the reality, open up, immerse, engage, give, the more sense the Buddha's teachings will make.

Is that self-contradictory? I don't think so.

I guess it might appear contradictory because we usually start practicing for ourselves, because we suffer, because we don't understand what the purpose of it all is, etc. But gradually it dawns on us that there is no one really to practice for, but practice is the one thing that truly makes sense, because it brings clarity, compassion and liberation to the the world which is full of confusion, cruelty and grasping. It's like instinctively lending a helping hand - not for advantage, gratitude or recognition. Just because it is the most natural thing to do.

But anatta is a common point of confusion, so rather than build all kinds of concepts around it, I just try to remember to empty out and give myself to whatever situation or responsibility faces me. Sometimes it all just happens naturally, most of the time habits hold sway and I have to cultivate awareness of my habits, mindfulness of my actions and of the Buddha's guidance, letting go of the unwholesome and cultivating the wholesome, especially insight.
_/|\_

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No_Mind
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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by No_Mind » Mon Sep 14, 2015 4:33 am

alfaaa wrote:Hi folks,

Consider the religions during the Buddha's time - they were all based on the concept of a permanent self. The self is caught in this world, the self needs to liberate itself, so the self practices meditation, etc. etc.

But the Buddha came up with something radical - there is no permanent self. Wouldn't this at one stroke do away with all kinds of practices, meditation, morality, etc.? Yet buddha advocated meditation and other types of effort where the self is involved.

Isn't this a little contradictory? If the whole point is to realize that the self is not some permanent entity, then wouldn't effort itself be a hindrance (since it only perpetuates the concept of a permanent self)?
Alfaaa, I have a related question which I never asked (because I might seem stupider than usual) - if there is no self then what is suffering ? If self is an illusion any suffering of that illusion is also an illusion.

Can anyone help,

:anjali:
I know one thing: that I know nothing

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Dan74
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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by Dan74 » Mon Sep 14, 2015 4:41 am

No Mind, the Buddha never denied experience, of which suffering is an example. But experience is compounded - depends on many factors. And so it is with the self. It is not a kind of a black box, an unbreakable soul, but a process, ever changing, dependent on many factors. We manufacture a sense of continuity using memories of sensations, perceptions, etc to string together a sense of self. It's a very complex process. Some talk of mind streams to denote the fact that experiences are distinct in a sense - you don't experience my fingers hitting the keyboard at this moment. But the notions of 'my fingers', 'me, this entity which conceived these thoughts and is typing them out' are artificial, useful for all kinds of practical things, but harmful once investment in these notions goes beyond the practical and we build all kinds of feelings, anxieties and delusions about 'me' and 'mine' and learn to see reality through the prism of these delusions.
_/|\_

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Aloka
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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by Aloka » Mon Sep 14, 2015 5:13 am

This transcript of a talk by Ajahn Sumedho: "Self-View, Personality and Awareness" might be helpful:

http://www.dhammatalks.net/Books9/Ajahn ... nality.htm

Excerpt:

... the Buddha's teaching on anatta, was to point out the reality of non-self in very simple ways. It wasn't a practice where your personality totally disappears for ever, where you no longer have any emotional feelings whatsoever and where you're just a total blank forever. Anatta is a practice for ordinary everyday life in which you notice when personality arises and when it ceases.

When you're really observing it, you'll notice that personality is a very changeable thing. Are you the same person all the time? You might assume that you are. But in observing the actual nature of personality, you'll notice that it changes according to who you're with, the health of the body, and the state of mind. When you're at home with your parents, when you're in a Sangha meeting, when you're chairman of a committee, when you're just a junior member of the Sangha, when you're the chores officer or the work officer or the guest officer, what happens? Personality of course adapts itself to those roles, those situations and those conditions.

So then, what is awareness of personality? I ask, because my personality can't know my personality. There's no way this person can know.... I cannot as a person know my own personality. To know the personality, I have to abide in awareness, in a state of openness and reflectiveness. There's discernment operating. It is not a blank kind of vacuous zombie-like mental state. It's an openness, intelligent and alive, with recognition, discernment and attention in the present.

:anjali:
Last edited by Aloka on Mon Sep 14, 2015 5:21 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Bhikkhu Pesala
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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala » Mon Sep 14, 2015 5:17 am

Self is an illusion, a misunderstanding and wrong perception of reality. There are only mental and physical phenomena, so there is striving but no one who strives. There is walking, but no one who walks, thinking, but no one who thinks, etc. like a wave that moves across the surface of the ocean, the wave moves great distances, but the water does not, it just circulates up and down as the wave passes.

Mental and physical phenomena arise and pass away, creating the appearance of a person, a self, me or you, but nothing lasts for more than an instant — not even for a micro second or a nano second.

The Buddha taught us to train the mind to see things as they really are, not just as they seem to be. To look beneath the surface appearance, and to gain insight into the nature of the illusion of self. If we understand the magician's trick, then we know that it's not really magic, just a trick that he plays on our mind.
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No_Mind
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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by No_Mind » Mon Sep 14, 2015 6:43 am

Thank you Bhante, Dan and Aloka,

This is very intriguing and complex and will probably take me many years of practice to realize fully.

But at least let me see if I understand it theoretically - the five aggregates taken together produce an illusion of self .. that is why I cry out in pain when I stub my toe (the pain is real because the five aggregates taken together are real) but when we die the aggregates fall apart and there is no self.

The work of a Buddhist is to get to that point where the self dissolves (or rather the self view dissolves) while one is still living .. to inhabit the five aggregates that make up the "me" but to realize that there is no "me" .. it is a jigsaw fitted together for my lifetime to look, feel, experience the "me"

:anjali:
I know one thing: that I know nothing

alfaaa
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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by alfaaa » Mon Sep 14, 2015 6:47 am

No_Mind wrote:
alfaaa wrote:Hi folks,

Consider the religions during the Buddha's time - they were all based on the concept of a permanent self. The self is caught in this world, the self needs to liberate itself, so the self practices meditation, etc. etc.

But the Buddha came up with something radical - there is no permanent self. Wouldn't this at one stroke do away with all kinds of practices, meditation, morality, etc.? Yet buddha advocated meditation and other types of effort where the self is involved.

Isn't this a little contradictory? If the whole point is to realize that the self is not some permanent entity, then wouldn't effort itself be a hindrance (since it only perpetuates the concept of a permanent self)?
Alfaaa, I have a related question which I never asked (because I might seem stupider than usual) - if there is no self then what is suffering ? If self is an illusion any suffering of that illusion is also an illusion.

Can anyone help,

:anjali:
In the buddha's time, the word 'self'or átman' was used to denote a permanent entity. So when he said 'no self' he could have meant no permanent entity like atman etc. That's my speculation for the day. :bow:

Vredstein
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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by Vredstein » Mon Sep 14, 2015 7:10 am

No_Mind wrote:Thank you Bhante, Dan and Aloka,
The work of a Buddhist is to get to that point where the self dissolves (or rather the self view dissolves) while one is still living .. to inhabit the five aggregates that make up the "me" but to realize that there is no "me" .. it is a jigsaw fitted together for my lifetime to look, feel, experience the "me"

:anjali:
I have no answer, but if allowed, I'd like to piggyback on your question with one of my own.
Once you realize the view of self consists of just that, a view and nothing more, does the view of self automatically dissolve?

SarathW
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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by SarathW » Mon Sep 14, 2015 7:16 am

People use to think that the world is flat.
It is a wrong view.
Now people think the world is round.
Assuming it is correct and many people now believe in it.
So old wrong view is not dissolved but it was replaced with a new view.
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Dan74
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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by Dan74 » Mon Sep 14, 2015 7:37 am

Vredstein wrote:
No_Mind wrote:Thank you Bhante, Dan and Aloka,
The work of a Buddhist is to get to that point where the self dissolves (or rather the self view dissolves) while one is still living .. to inhabit the five aggregates that make up the "me" but to realize that there is no "me" .. it is a jigsaw fitted together for my lifetime to look, feel, experience the "me"

:anjali:
I have no answer, but if allowed, I'd like to piggyback on your question with one of my own.
Once you realize the view of self consists of just that, a view and nothing more, does the view of self automatically dissolve?
I guess there is realisation and there is realisation. Intellectually convincing oneself that anatta makes sense is good but not going to change much probably. The important thing, IMO, is to realise how the self-view informs every aspect of our lives, all our patterns of thought, emotion, volition, etc. This is where the work goes.

Sometimes one can have a realisation of anatta when all these habits are dormant. This is a little taste of liberation that in Zen is called kensho. Typically in kensho, the habits are not eradicated, but perhaps subdued by self-discipline or some limited insight. The taste of liberation can be a great encouragement to proceed, it can give a real sense that the habits are conditioned, compounded and without any real substance. But the hard work of attending to them as they arise, seeing deeply into them and letting go, rather than getting caught up, still needs to be done. Some of these habits run very deep and have a hold over us stronger than we had realised. Other habits fall by the wayside with practice without us even noticing.

So I think an important part of practice is to get to know our minds. Cultivate a clear awareness which gives rise to insight. Broaden this clear awareness till it includes every aspect of our lives. Then the stranglehold of habits is broken.

It is hard (if not impossible) to do if we are beholden to a view of 'me' and 'mine', that's why we also cultivate faith and belief in kamma and rebirth. Otherwise IMO we can't help but be too invested in this life and what it has to offer me. A glimpse like the one I described above can help too, but it can also help develop a subtle "spiritual" self. A teacher, or a elder Dhamma brother (sister), is really important to help us over this (and many other) hurdles, IME.
_/|\_

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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by SarathW » Mon Sep 14, 2015 8:02 am

It is easier to understand Anatta if we can understand the BIG Atta.
- My family Atta - in this level people disassociate individuality and think like a family.
- My race Atta - in this level people as a group think I am English, Tamil , Chinese etc.
- My Country Atta - in this level people in a country think as a one unit
- So you can keep on increase up to Nither perception nor non-perception level.
- Only at the cessation of perception and feeling you completely eliminate the idea of Atta. (then you realise Anatta)
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by kirk5a » Tue Sep 15, 2015 6:17 am

Although the Buddha taught that there is no permanent, eternal, immutable, independently-existing core “self” (attā), he also taught that there is “action” or “doing”, and that it is therefore meaningful to speak of one who intends, initiates, sustains and completes actions and deeds, and who is therefore an ethically responsible and culpable being.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .html#fn-1
"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

alfaaa
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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by alfaaa » Tue Sep 15, 2015 7:03 am

The ending of the self is liberation, according to Buddhism. But wouldn't meditation, for example, strengthen the self rather than end it?

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Bhikkhu Pesala
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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala » Tue Sep 15, 2015 8:16 am

alfaaa wrote:The ending of the self is liberation, according to Buddhism. But wouldn't meditation, for example, strengthen the self rather than end it?
There is no self to bring to an end, nor one to strengthen. Right understanding of the way things truly are eradicates the illusion of self.

Meditation, if wrongly practised, might lead to stronger clinging to self, e.g. “I am an expert meditator, not like other Buddhists who only offer alms and perform rites and rituals, while understanding nothing.”

If correctly practised, the meditator will certainly become more humble and open-minded, less judgemental and intolerant. Studying the Buddhist texts, and questioning learning teachers can go some way towards gaining mundane right view regarding not-self and the right view regarding ownership of one's own actions, but only contemplating dependent origination regarding the mental and physical phenomena within one's own psyche can give rise to true insight into the three characteristics.

There are many stages on the Path, which are documented in the Progress of Insight and the Visuddhimagga (on which the former is based). Even at the early stage of Purification of View, the truth of not-self is realised to some extent, though that is still very far from the realisation of the Path of Stream-winning where self-view is finally eradicated.
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notmenot
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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by notmenot » Sat Mar 05, 2016 2:33 pm

I have a related question which I never asked (because I might seem stupider than usual) - if there is no self then what is suffering ? If self is an illusion any suffering of that illusion is also an illusion.
It seems to me that you asked the right questions and provided the right answer. Suffering is an illusion of the self. Once you realize that there is no self, then there suffering naturally disappears. As you said, if there is no self, there is no suffering.

However, for most people there is a very strong perception of self, and very strong perception of suffering. Just an anecdotal evidence, it was said when Buddha delivered his teaching of no-self the monks present were immediately enlightened.

No self = No suffering.

:candle:

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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by dhammacoustic » Sat Mar 05, 2016 4:28 pm

No, the Tathagāta didn't contradict himself.

His refutation of ātman (soul) I believe was due to Vedic animal sacrifices, and/or the caste system. He was an anarchist of his time.

The Buddha's teaching is rather easy to understand; there is no self within the khandhas, ie; the khandhas are not me/myself. It is the primordial avijjā that causes the unspeakable/unnamable/indefinable to suffer from craving, clinging (to what is dynamic), generation, birth, and death.

I heard thus. At one time the Blessed One was staying in the Anāthapiṇḍika monastery in Jeta's grove in Sāvatthi. Then venerable Rādha approached the Blessed One, paid homage, and sat on a side. Sitting, he said to the Blessed One: “Venerable sir, it is said; 'lacks self', 'lacks self'; what is it that lacks self?”

“Just this, Rādha; materiality lacks self, feelings lack self, perceptions... volitional formations... consciousness... lacks self.

Rādha, the instrucred noble disciple, realizing this, turns from materiality; turns from feelings; from perceptions; volitional formations; consciousness. As he turns, he looses interest, losing interest, he is released. Released, he knows; 'I am released, birth is destroyed, the Brahman life has been lived to the end, it is done, there is no more of this (states_of_existence).”

─ SN 23.17

So, the khandhas are not self, and the rest is intellectual junk. What really matters is the form of the practice given to us by the Buddha.

:anjali:
Last edited by dhammacoustic on Sat Mar 05, 2016 4:45 pm, edited 4 times in total.
Uppādā vā tathagātanaṃ anuppādā vā tathagātanaṃ, ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatā dhammaniyāmatā idappaccayatā. Taṃ tathagāto abhisam­buj­jhati abhisameti. Abhisam­bujjhitvā abhisametvā ācikkhati deseti paññāpeti paṭṭhapeti vivarati vibhajati uttānīkaroti. ‘Passathā’ti cāha; ‘avijjāpaccayā, bhikkhave, saṅkhārā’. Iti kho, bhikkhave, yā tatra tathatā avitathatā anaññathatā idappaccayatā-ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, paṭiccasamup­pādo.
:heart: namō tassa bhagavatō, arahatō, sammā sambuddhassā

dhammarelax
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Re: Did the Buddha contradict himself?

Post by dhammarelax » Sat Mar 05, 2016 4:34 pm

alfaaa wrote:Hi folks,

Consider the religions during the Buddha's time - they were all based on the concept of a permanent self. The self is caught in this world, the self needs to liberate itself, so the self practices meditation, etc. etc.

But the Buddha came up with something radical - there is no permanent self. Wouldn't this at one stroke do away with all kinds of practices, meditation, morality, etc.? Yet buddha advocated meditation and other types of effort where the self is involved.

Isn't this a little contradictory? If the whole point is to realize that the self is not some permanent entity, then wouldn't effort itself be a hindrance (since it only perpetuates the concept of a permanent self)?
As fas as I know the Buddha never taught that there is no permanent self, he taught that certain things are not permanent hence it would not be logically acceptable to consider them self since you can see them arise and fall, moreover he explicitly warns in MN 2:

“When he attends unwisely in this way, one of six views arises in him. The view ‘self exists for me’ arises in him as true and established; or the view ‘no self exists for me’ arises in him as true and established; "

This is a subtle point but deserves some attention since it can lead to a wrong view, although he also warns in the same Sutta : "‘It is this self of mine that speaks and feels and experiences here and there the result of good and bad actions; but this self of mine is permanent, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and it will endure as long as eternity.’" note he is declaring this as wrong view but he is not affirming that the opposite is right view.

Both this extremes should be avoided, because they lead to questions like the one you raised, the opposite is also possible, if there is a natural essential original bright mind that is defiled by the hindrances then it would seem correct that all we need is to let go of the things that defile it so it can shine with its natural light, well the Buddha did not teach that either. He taught that things arise and fall depending on conditions and that the arising of them can be prevented using the four noble truths.

Note that even the beginning of understanding the essential Dhamma needs an effort and I would even say a certain intellectual level , it is not intuitively grasped by the untrained remember the Buddha hesitate to teach in the beginning and needed an extra push to do it because he thought that the Dhamma is difficult to grasp, God is love, all you need is love, etc etc etc, are slogans that are easier to understand than the Dhamma.

Also the Buddha does not teach that "the whole point is to realize that the self is not some permanent entity" the whole point is to gain awakening and this is a gradual path that involves developing a few factors like:

Mindfullness, Persistence, Joy, Equanimity, Tranquility, Concentration and Investigation of qualities.

Even to clearly intellectually understand this 7 is not that easy, after this you need to put it in practice which is not that easy either so there is good reason why we are wondering in the sea of suffering for all eternity: is not that easy to get away.

smile all the time
dhammarelax
Even if the flesh & blood in my body dry up, leaving just the skin, tendons, & bones, I will use all my human firmness, human persistence and human striving. There will be no relaxing my persistence until I am the first of my generation to attain full awakening in this lifetime. ed. AN 2.5

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