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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Posted: Wed Apr 10, 2013 12:23 pm
by Lazy_eye
The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.


This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.

It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and unchangeable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.
http://www.asitis.com/2/23.html
Hi,

Reading through this very interesting discussion it occurred to me that confusion may arise because "soul" covers two distinct properties: a) permanence and b) non-materiality.

By permanence, I mean it is some sort of unchangeable essence. By non-materality, I mean that it is somehow separate from the body and material processes; i.e. substance dualism.

Because in the Western world (and, it seems, in Hinduism), these two traits are lumped together when we use the word "soul", there is natural tendency to assume that the Buddha rejected both these characteristics. Based on what I glean from this and other discussions, though, it appears the Buddha actually only rejected the first one -- i.e. the notion of permanence.

For me, the vexing issue still remains: how do we account for kamma-vipaka without introducing some notion of permanence? If the recipient of the "fruit of good and bad actions" is not in some sense the same as the person who acted, then the teaching becomes meaningless. It would be like saying that Jack acted, but Mark received the result.

In the course of one lifetime, the illusion of permanence can be accounted for by memory cells, habitual behavior caused by genetics or environmental conditioning, social/family narrative, etc. We can explain the feeling of continuity without setting up a notion of Self. But since none of these factors persist across lives, what can be said to provide continuity on the longer scale?

Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Posted: Wed Apr 10, 2013 1:23 pm
by kirk5a
Lazy_eye wrote:For me, the vexing issue still remains: how do we account for karma-vipaka without introducing some notion of permanence? If the recipient of the "fruit of good and bad actions" is not in some sense the same as the person who acted, then the teaching becomes meaningless. It would be like saying that Jack acted, but Mark received the result.

In the course of one lifetime, the illusion of permanence can be accounted for by memory cells, habitual behavior caused by genetics or environmental conditioning, social/family narrative, etc. We can explain the feeling of continuity without setting up a notion of Self. But since none of these factors persist across lives, what can be said to provide continuity on the longer scale?
Do we need a notion of permanence to understand how the actions a person did 10 years ago might have results for that person today?
The sum total of the philosophy of change taught in Buddhism is that all component things that have conditioned existence are a process and not a group of abiding entities, but the changes occur in such rapid succession that people regard mind and body as static entities. They do not see their arising and their breaking up (udaya-vaya), but regard them unitarily, see them as a lump or whole (ghana sa~n~naa).

It is very hard, indeed, for people who are accustomed to continually think of their own mind and body and the external word with mental projections as wholes, as inseparable units, to get rid of the false appearance of "wholeness." So long as man fails to see things as processes, as movements, he will never understand the anatta (no-soul) doctrine of the Buddha. That is why people impertinently and impatiently put the question:

"If there is no persisting entity, no unchanging principle, like self or soul what is it that experiences the results of deeds here and hereafter?"

Two different discourses (MN 109; SN 22.82) deal with this burning question. The Buddha was explaining in detail to his disciples the impermanent nature of the five aggregates, how they are devoid of self, and how the latent conceits "I am" and "mine" cease to exist. Then there arose a thought in the mind of a certain monk thus: "Material body is not self, feeling is not self, perception is not self, mental formations are not self, consciousness is not self. Then what self do selfless deeds affect?"

The Buddha, reading the thought of the monk's mind, said, "The question was beside the point" and made the monk understand the impermanent, unsatisfactory, and non-self nature of the aggregates.

"It is wrong to say that the doer of the deed is the same as the one who experiences its results. It is equally wrong to say that the doer of the deed and the one who experiences its results are two different persons,"[4] for the simple reason that what we call life is a flow of psychic and physical processes or energies, arising and ceasing constantly; it is not possible to say that the doer himself experiences results because he is changing now, every moment of his life; but at the same time you must not forget the fact that the continuity of life that is the continuance of experience, the procession of events is not lost; it continues without a gap. The child is not the same as an adolescent, the adolescent is not the same as the adult, they are neither the same nor totally different persons (na ca so na ca a~n~no, — Milinda Pa~nho). There is only a flow of bodily and mental processes.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... el186.html

Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Posted: Wed Apr 10, 2013 1:50 pm
by Lazy_eye
kirk5a wrote: Do we need a notion of permanence to understand how the actions a person did 10 years ago might have results for that person today?
Doesn't the phrase "that person today" imply permanence to some degree? Something must have persisted across the ten years in order for us to say it is still "that person". Say you are Kirk5a today, but three hundred lifetimes later you are Dirk Gently. For karma-vipaka to have any moral weight, Kirk5a and Dirk Gently must in some sense be the same person -- but to say this might imply some underlying essence.

As I said earlier, we can account for the sense of continuity in the present life by referring to memory cells in the brain, habits of thought and behavior, social interactions that tell us who "we" are, etc. But an issue arises when we start talking about rebirth cycles, because it is no longer clear where the continuity lies.

We can say there is a chain of cittas. But why does citta Y, five hundred years away, "remember" what occurred with citta X, so that the fruit of a good or bad action can be received? We can perhaps say the entire chain of cittas was somehow colored or permeated by the karmic act. But then we are still saying there is something persistent about this "coloring", i.e. it was not characterized by anicca.
"It is wrong to say that the doer of the deed is the same as the one who experiences its results. It is equally wrong to say that the doer of the deed and the one who experiences its results are two different persons,"[4] for the simple reason that what we call life is a flow of psychic and physical processes or energies, arising and ceasing constantly; it is not possible to say that the doer himself experiences results because he is changing now, every moment of his life; but at the same time you must not forget the fact that the continuity of life that is the continuance of experience, the procession of events is not lost; it continues without a gap. The child is not the same as an adolescent, the adolescent is not the same as the adult, they are neither the same nor totally different persons (na ca so na ca a~n~no, — Milinda Pa~nho). There is only a flow of bodily and mental processes.
What I gather is that the Buddha sometimes leaned close to eternalism when he wished to stress the moral impact of choices, and that he sometimes leaned more towards annihilationism when he wanted to stress the impermanence of phenomena. But in neither case was he attempting to set up a metaphysical "view".

Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Posted: Wed Apr 10, 2013 2:19 pm
by kirk5a
Lazy_eye wrote: Doesn't the phrase "that person today" imply permanence to some degree? Something must have persisted across the ten years in order for us to say it is still "that person".
It doesn't imply permanence any more than the acorn which eventually becomes an oak tree implies permanence. Neverthless, the continuity is traceable from the acorn to the oak tree. That particular oak tree, not the other one over there.
Say you are Kirk5a today, but three hundred lifetimes later you are Dirk Gently.
Oh my. :lol:
For karma-vipaka to have any moral weight, Kirk5a and Dirk Gently must in some sense be the same person -- but to say this might imply some underlying essence.
No, they don't have to be "the same person." There just has to be a traceable continuity.
As I said earlier, we can account for the sense of continuity in the present life by referring to memory cells in the brain, habits of thought and behavior, social interactions that tell us who "we" are, etc. But an issue arises when we start talking about rebirth cycles, because it is no longer clear where the continuity lies.
The continuity across lifetimes is mental, not physical.
We can say there is a chain of cittas. But why does citta Y, five hundred years away, "remember" what occurred with citta X, so that the fruit of a good or bad action can be received? We can perhaps say the entire chain of cittas was somehow colored or permeated by the karmic act. But then we are still saying there is something persistent about this "coloring", i.e. it was not characterized by anicca.
No, we aren't saying there is something permanent. Time is not an obstacle to causality. To use the "chain of cittas" imagery, an alteration in an earlier state of mind can emerge as an effect in a later one. If I should think thoughts of ill-will, then I might become irritable. Going into work, being irritable, I might be short tempered with my co-workers. Being short tempered, my boss gets fed up with my attitude. I get fired. Same principle. Just extrapolate it over a longer time frame.
What I gather is that the Buddha sometimes leaned close to eternalism when he wished to stress the moral impact of choices, and that he sometimes leaned more towards annihilationism when he wanted to stress the impermanence of phenomena. But in neither case was he attempting to set up a metaphysical "view".
Well then, what was he attempting? :smile:

Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Posted: Wed Apr 10, 2013 2:23 pm
by reflection
The river Ganges has been called the river Ganges for a long time, and it will still be called that long after we die. Still, the water of the Ganges is never the same water. The path of the river is also changing all the time. Still we call it Ganges always, while in essence it is nothing. Nobody can point to the real 'self' of the Ganges.

Likewise, a person existed for a long time. But his actions are always different, influencing the path (s)he takes. Does there have to be a core to this? No, if you look closely at nature you see that everything is just processes without core. Clouds, trees, even the sun will one day cease to exist.

Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Posted: Wed Apr 10, 2013 2:39 pm
by Lazy_eye
kirk5a wrote:No, they don't have to be "the same person." There just has to be a traceable continuity.
Hmm, not sure about that. There is a 'traceable continuity" between my great-grandfather and myself -- but in Buddhist terms, we cannot say I am experiencing vipaka produced by his kamma. For kamma-vipaka to have moral force, the giver and recipient must be in some sense the same individual.
"That particular oak tree, not the other one over there."
Right, this is the "continuum of consciousness" argument -- that there is some individuated continuum which exists in distinction to all the other continua.

But isn't this just "atman" by another name? These two sentences have identical logical form:

"An atman persists across time"
"A continuum of consciousness persists across time"

We have just replaced one term ("atman") with another ("continuum of consciousness").
No, we aren't saying there is something permanent. Time is not an obstacle to causality. To use the "chain of cittas" imagery, an alteration in an earlier state of mind can emerge as an effect in a later one. If I should think thoughts of ill-will, then I might become irritable. Going into work, being irritable, I might be short tempered with my co-workers. Being short tempered, my boss gets fed up with my attitude. I get fired. Same principle. Just extrapolate it over a longer time frame.
That makes sense, yes. Good explanation.
Well then, what was he attempting? :smile:
My overall sense is that he was primarily concerned with what is conducive to the holy life, to the path of liberation. If we look at his critiques of various other religious/philosophical belief systems, we find that he rejects them not so much because he is interested in settling a philosophical question, but because he does not consider the belief system to be an aid to the holy life. Eternalism and annihilationism each present different sets of problems. At the earlier stages of the path, annihilationism is more of a problem because it doesn't provide a framework for moral behavior. But at later stages, eternalism becomes more of a problem because it blocks the insights needed for liberation.

Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Posted: Wed Apr 10, 2013 4:11 pm
by Alex123
reflection wrote:The river Ganges has been called the river Ganges for a long time, and it will still be called that long after we die. Still, the water of the Ganges is never the same water. The path of the river is also changing all the time. Still we call it Ganges always, while in essence it is nothing. Nobody can point to the real 'self' of the Ganges.
Ganges has a certain geographical location and certain features. A thing can be the same from one point of view and different from the others.

Change, btw, implies identity. One cannot be without the other.

Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Posted: Wed Apr 10, 2013 5:12 pm
by pegembara
As I said earlier, we can account for the sense of continuity in the present life by referring to memory cells in the brain, habits of thought and behavior, social interactions that tell us who "we" are, etc. But an issue arises when we start talking about rebirth cycles, because it is no longer clear where the continuity lies.

We can say there is a chain of cittas. But why does citta Y, five hundred years away, "remember" what occurred with citta X, so that the fruit of a good or bad action can be received? We can perhaps say the entire chain of cittas was somehow colored or permeated by the karmic act. But then we are still saying there is something persistent about this "coloring", i.e. it was not characterized by anicca.
Hypothetical scenario.

Tom is a highly intelligent and cunning man who has hurt many people. He the suffers from amnesia after an accident and assumes a new identity as Jack. He retains his intelligence and cunning traits. He continues to associate with the same type of people he was familiar with before (as Tom) and comes across someone who actually knew him as Tom. This person holds a grudge against "Jack/Tom" and tries to harm him. Jack has no idea why this person would want to hurt him. As far as he is concerned this stranger has an intense hatred for him for no apparent reason. Another person was kind to him because Jack as Tom was a good friend and this person was just returning the favor. To Jack there are people who he gets on well and others not so for no clearcut reason.

In other words, "Jack" is still subjected to the consequences of "his" actions as "Tom" even though he has never been Tom as far as he is concerned. There is a thread linking Jack to Tom but that which carries on is not a thing. Character traits, intelligence, thoughts, memories is not a person/self/soul. Yet actions have consequences.

Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Posted: Wed Apr 10, 2013 5:43 pm
by Lazy_eye
I see a problem with this, though, which can be illustrated by comparing your scenario with a slightly different one.

Tom is a highly intelligent and cunning man who has hurt many people. He flies off to a foreign country and is never seen again. Another man, named Jack, happens to bear a close physical resemblance to Tom. He moves into the neighborhood where he encounters one of Tom's victims – who mistakes him for Tom and proceeds to attack him with a hammer.

Jack, dying from a lethal wound to the skull, has no idea why this person would want to hurt him. As far as he is concerned this stranger has an intense hatred for him for no apparent reason.

In both your scenario and mine, actions produce consequences. But only yours is "kamma-vipaka" according to Buddhism. Why? Because there is the assumption of an identity (self?) that links your (amnesiac) Tom and Jack.

If we remove this notion of identity, then consequences affecting a total amnesiac are no different from consequences affecting an entirely separate individual.

Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Posted: Wed Apr 10, 2013 7:52 pm
by Polar Bear
Lazy_eye wrote:
Tom is a highly intelligent and cunning man who has hurt many people. He flies off to a foreign country and is never seen again. Another man, named Jack, happens to bear a close physical resemblance to Tom. He moves into the neighborhood where he encounters one of Tom's victims – who mistakes him for Tom and proceeds to attack him with a hammer.

Jack, dying from a lethal wound to the skull, has no idea why this person would want to hurt him. As far as he is concerned this stranger has an intense hatred for him for no apparent reason.
Jack must've done some bad kamma in a past life :tongue:

It's important to note that all analogies break down at some point.

(Edit: And Tom's got something coming to him either now or later)

Also, just because experience continues post-mortem according to the doctrine of rebirth it doesn't mean that anything in that experience is permanent, nothing is, all experiences will arise and pass away, they will change, hence they are unsatisfactory and not-self. If all experiences are impermanent, subject to change, dukkha, and not-self then the fact that experience continues doesn't change the fact that experience in general is not-self because there is nothing within it that is stable. And if all experience were to end there would be no thought or assumption "I am." There is no rational notion of an experiencer apart from experience.

Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Posted: Wed Apr 10, 2013 9:34 pm
by Alex123
pegembara wrote:Hypothetical scenario.

Tom is a highly intelligent and cunning man who has hurt many people. He the suffers from amnesia after an accident and assumes a new identity as Jack. He retains his intelligence and cunning traits. He continues to associate with the same type of people he was familiar with before (as Tom) and comes across someone who actually knew him as Tom...
The difference is that we can trace the physical development of Tom from childhood, to adult hood, to his amnesia, and to his elderly years with amnesia.
We roughly know the mechanism by which amnesia and other processes that occur due to brain damage.

The problem with rebirth is that we cannot trace anything from dead person to a newborn child.

Moreover, a newborn child doesn't seem to be an adult who has forgot his past knowledge. It is not the case of amnesia or an adult person in a new body. It is a new body that functions like a new body.

Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Posted: Thu Apr 11, 2013 3:34 am
by pegembara
Alex123 wrote:
pegembara wrote:Hypothetical scenario.

Tom is a highly intelligent and cunning man who has hurt many people. He the suffers from amnesia after an accident and assumes a new identity as Jack. He retains his intelligence and cunning traits. He continues to associate with the same type of people he was familiar with before (as Tom) and comes across someone who actually knew him as Tom...
The difference is that we can trace the physical development of Tom from childhood, to adult hood, to his amnesia, and to his elderly years with amnesia.
We roughly know the mechanism by which amnesia and other processes that occur due to brain damage.

The problem with rebirth is that we cannot trace anything from dead person to a newborn child.

Moreover, a newborn child doesn't seem to be an adult who has forgot his past knowledge. It is not the case of amnesia or an adult person in a new body. It is a new body that functions like a new body.
What ties this moment to the past are memories. Memories are unreliable but without them it is as though nothing ever happened. But those who can "remember" their past lives can link them.
Surely we are not our memories yet entire identities can be build up on the basis of unreliable/false memories.

Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Posted: Thu Apr 11, 2013 11:58 am
by Alex123
pegembara wrote:What ties this moment to the past are memories. Memories are unreliable but without them it is as though nothing ever happened. But those who can "remember" their past lives can link them.Surely we are not our memories yet entire identities can be build up on the basis of unreliable/false memories.

If memories are stored in the brain, as research seems to suggest, and brain disintegrates after death, then how can one remember past lives?

Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Posted: Thu Apr 11, 2013 12:11 pm
by Lazy_eye
Alex123 wrote:
pegembara wrote:What ties this moment to the past are memories. Memories are unreliable but without them it is as though nothing ever happened. But those who can "remember" their past lives can link them.Surely we are not our memories yet entire identities can be build up on the basis of unreliable/false memories.

If memories are stored in the brain, as research seems to suggest, and brain disintegrates after death, then how can one remember past lives?
Wondering about this too. How is the phenomenon of memory accounted for in dhamma, generally speaking? How does the chain of cittas (each dying away when the next begins) produce this experience called "memory"? Did the commentators explain a mechanism by which this happens?

Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Posted: Thu Apr 11, 2013 12:31 pm
by kirk5a
The bhavanga-sota.
Ven. Nyanatiloka Mahathera wrote: This law of rebirth can be made comprehensible only by the subconscious life-stream (in Pali, bhavanga-sota), which is mentioned in the Abhidhamma Pitaka and further explained in the commentaries, especially the Visuddhimagga. The fundamental import of bhavanga-sota, or the subconscious life-stream, as a working hypothesis for the explanation of the various Buddhist doctrines, such as rebirth, kamma, remembrance of former births, etc., has up to now not yet sufficiently been recognized, or understood, by Western scholars. The term bhavanga-sota, is identical with what the modern psychologists, such as Jung, etc., call the soul, or the unconscious, thereby not meaning, of course, the eternal soul-entity of Christian teaching but an ever-changing subconscious process. This subconscious life-stream is the necessary condition of all life. In it, all impressions and experiences are stored up, or better said, appear as a multiple process of past images, or memory pictures, which however, as such, are hidden to full consciousness, but which, especially in dreams, cross the threshold of consciousness and make themselves fully conscious.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... el394.html