The Not-Self Strategy

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Jechbi
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Post by Jechbi » Sun Aug 23, 2009 3:45 am

Hi Macavity,

Another thing that's peculiar is that you focus your criticism on your perceptions of Ven. Thanissaro's analytical ability rather than on what he has to say.

What do you think of Jason's comments above? And how about this:
Ven. Thanissaro wrote:... in ultimate terms nothing conclusive can be proved by quoting the texts. Scholars have offered arguments for throwing doubt on almost everything in the Canon — either by offering new translations for crucial terms, or by questioning the authenticity of almost every passage it contains — and so the only true test for any interpretation is to put it into practice and see where it leads in terms of gaining release for the mind.
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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Macavity
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Post by Macavity » Sun Aug 23, 2009 5:01 am

Jechbi wrote:Another thing that's peculiar is that you focus your criticism on your perceptions of Ven. Thanissaro's analytical ability rather than on what he has to say.
Well give me a chance! I've only just read the thread (at your request) and I don't have the time to immediately respond to everything in it. My responses, should I feel like making any further ones, will have to be delivered piecemeal.
What do you think of Jason's comments above?
I don't agree with them. As a non-mystical sort of Buddhist, for me words don't "fail when it comes to the overall meaning of "anatta."
And how about this:
Ven. Thanissaro wrote:... in ultimate terms nothing conclusive can be proved by quoting the texts. Scholars have offered arguments for throwing doubt on almost everything in the Canon — either by offering new translations for crucial terms, or by questioning the authenticity of almost every passage it contains — and so the only true test for any interpretation is to put it into practice and see where it leads in terms of gaining release for the mind.
I don't agree that "putting it into practice" is the only true test for any interpretation. (I suspect Thanissaro has either not thought through the implications of what he is saying here or else he's just expressing himself rather clumsily). I have often met with proposed interpretations of this or that teaching of the Buddha that I could reasonably reject without troubling to put them into practice to see where they take me. And I'm sure that you have too.

Kind regards,
Ciarán

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Jechbi
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Post by Jechbi » Sun Aug 23, 2009 3:23 pm

Macavity wrote:I have often met with proposed interpretations of this or that teaching of the Buddha that I could reasonably reject without troubling to put them into practice to see where they take me. And I'm sure that you have too.

Kind regards,
Ciarán
Yes, that's true. Very good point.

Actually, I'm interested in hearing more criticism of the "not-self strategy" and how it might be just plain wrong. In a different thread, you wrote that Ven. Thanissaro's position is to "dismiss the classical Theravada understanding of anatta as a speculative view." And judging from what I've read elsewhere, I understand that he may in fact depart from commentarial understandings. Yet at the moment I don't have any problem at all reconciling what Ven. Thanissaro wrote in his two essays with my own (limited) understanding at this stage. I'm perfectly open to the possibility of changing my mind about this. I assume there are nuances that I'm not aware of. If you have time to put your criticism here, I feel I would benefit.

I may challenge you about it, and if I do, it is with the intention of better understanding these positions, not to try to prove a point. I sense that you are more familiar with many of these texts than I am. I appreciate your participation here.

Metta
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Post by flyingOx » Sun Aug 23, 2009 8:32 pm

I’m sorry for not debating on Buddhist writings concerning the self, but scientifically speaking, the self is nothing more than a forty hertz frequency evolved from the back propagated cognitive loop-like activities that collects residually remaining energies from the excess that is built up and concurrently flowing into the singular, conscious awareness through sensory phenomena during wakefulness and REM sleep. If Gautama Buddha said anything along those lines, then I would have to say that I whole-heartedly concur. ;)
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Post by clw_uk » Mon Aug 24, 2009 1:58 am

from what i have read and can remember, this is the only sutta that states the view "there is no self" is annihilationism. In all other suttas (from memory) and from a quick glance at the brahmajala sutta, annihlationists always proclaim "I have no self" or "there is a self but it gets destroyed at death"


I think then that perhaps we have a slight corruption of the text on our hands. If i am correct then it should read as
Having taken a seat to one side, Vacchagotta the wanderer said to the Master, 'Now then, Venerable Gotama, is there a self?' When this was said, the Master was silent.

'Then I have no self?' For a second time the Master was silent.

Then Vacchagotta the wanderer got up from his seat and left.

Then, not long after Vacchagotta the wanderer had left, the Venerable Ananda said to the Master, 'Why, sir, did the Master not answer when asked a question asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer?'

'Ananda, if I, being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self, were to answer that there is a self, that would be conforming with those priests & contemplatives who are exponents of eternalism (i.e., the view that there is an eternal soul). And if I... were to answer that he has no self, that would be conforming with those priests & contemplatives who are exponents of annihilationism [craig- the taking of the view "I have no self"] (i.e., that death is the annihilation of experience). If I... were to answer that there is a self, would that be in keeping with the arising of knowledge that all phenomena are not-self?

'No, Lord.'

'And if I... were to answer that there is no self, the bewildered Vacchagotta would become even more bewildered: "Does the self which I used to have, now not exist?"'
So my take is he was asking

Do i have a self
silence
Do i have no self
silence

reason - Said yes to self this would be ignorant understanding, said that he had no self it would be the same since the question was framed in the sense of "I have no self" and was coming from an "I"

Then the Buddha states "all dhammas are not self" and then if he were to give the answer (in line with supermundane understanding) "there is no self" this would have confused Vacchagotta into thinking "Does the self which I used to have, now not exist?" because he was approaching the Buddha and framing his whole questions in terms of "I"

Its kinda the same tact the Buddha took with "cosmos is eternal or not eternal?. He remainded silent here since they were questions that were coming from the preconceived notion of "I"



It seems to me that if a person says "no self" is annihilationism then this is wrong understanding on the persons part since for something to be annihilated it must be seen to exist in the first place

So if you say no self is annihilationism that means you think there is a self now since something can only be annihilated if its seen to exist


So i cant see how "no self" is annihilationism unless you already think there is a self


Whereas "I have a self" or "there is self" is obviously ignorance and "I have no self" or "there is self but it gets annihilated" is the same


For one who understands Dhamma "no self" cant be annilation view since they understand that "self" only arises in the first place because of clinging and not as a set existing entity


metta
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Post by Jechbi » Mon Aug 24, 2009 4:49 am

That's why I think it's true that the Buddha also taught a strategy of not dwelling on the "self existence" notion, not obsessing over whether there is in reality a self or not. That question strikes me as a huge distraction, perhaps of philosophical interest but of no real relevance to actual hands-on practice, and far the realization of the truth of anatta. As Ven. Thanissaro wrote:
Ven. Thanissaro (emphasis added) wrote:[The Buddha] offered an alternative way of dividing up experience: the four Noble Truths of stress, its cause, its cessation, and the path to its cessation. Rather than viewing these truths as pertaining to self or other, he said, one should recognize them simply for what they are, in and of themselves, as they are directly experienced, and then perform the duty appropriate to each. Stress should be comprehended, its cause abandoned, its cessation realized, and the path to its cessation developed. These duties form the context in which the anatta doctrine is best understood. If you develop the path of virtue, concentration, and discernment to a state of calm well-being and use that calm state to look at experience in terms of the Noble Truths, the questions that occur to the mind are not "Is there a self? What is my self?" but rather "Am I suffering stress because I'm holding onto this particular phenomenon? Is it really me, myself, or mine? If it's stressful but not really me or mine, why hold on?" These last questions merit straightforward answers, as they then help you to comprehend stress and to chip away at the attachment and clinging — the residual sense of self-identification — that cause it, until ultimately all traces of self-identification are gone and all that's left is limitless freedom.
So I'm curious to know why this so-called "not-self strategy" is controversial.
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Post by kc2dpt » Thu Aug 27, 2009 4:14 am

Ngawang Drolma wrote:Why was Lord Buddha willing to discuss not-self so clearly, but he didn't offer a reply when he was asked if there was no-self?
He explained why.
To Ananda.
In SN 44.10.
Because it only would have confused Vacchagotta further.

In general, though, I have learned whenever the Buddha doesn't answer something it is because it is not connected with the goal.
- Peter

Be heedful and you will accomplish your goal.

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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Post by kc2dpt » Thu Aug 27, 2009 4:15 am

Jechbi wrote:So I'm curious to know why this so-called "not-self strategy" is controversial.
Because some use it as a way to assert there is a self after all.
- Peter

Be heedful and you will accomplish your goal.

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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Post by Jechbi » Thu Aug 27, 2009 6:54 am

Peter wrote:Because some use it as a way to assert there is a self after all.
Well then it seems as though that assertion would be controversial, not the "not-self strategy" itself.
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Post by retrofuturist » Fri Aug 28, 2009 6:14 am

Greetings Jechbi,

Yes, that's what I was thinking.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Post by PeterB » Sat Aug 29, 2009 4:45 pm

Peter wrote:
Jechbi wrote:So I'm curious to know why this so-called "not-self strategy" is controversial.
Because some use it as a way to assert there is a self after all.
There is at least one well known writer and teacher of things Buddhist ( his identity is not the point, the point is to illustrate Peter's point ) whose teachings on anatta and dependent origination are widely seen as being variants on atta teachings in actuality.

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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Post by Jechbi » Sat Aug 29, 2009 5:16 pm

PeterB wrote:There is at least one well known writer and teacher of things Buddhist ( his identity is not the point, the point is to illustrate Peter's point ) whose teachings on anatta and dependent origination are widely seen as being variants on atta teachings in actuality.
How does your comment relate to the topic of this thread? What point of Peter's are you trying to underscore?
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Post by tiltbillings » Sat Aug 29, 2009 6:38 pm

PeterB wrote:
Peter wrote:
Jechbi wrote:So I'm curious to know why this so-called "not-self strategy" is controversial.
Because some use it as a way to assert there is a self after all.
There is at least one well known writer and teacher of things Buddhist ( his identity is not the point, the point is to illustrate Peter's point ) whose teachings on anatta and dependent origination are widely seen as being variants on atta teachings in actuality.
I would like to know who that is.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Post by PeterB » Sat Aug 29, 2009 7:25 pm

I am not being coy when I say that my post was a lapse in judgment and I prefer it to be deleted, or at least ignored.

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Re: The Not-Self Strategy

Post by wtp » Sat Oct 03, 2009 9:03 pm

Ngawang Drolma wrote:Hi friends :)

I just found this commentary from Thanissaro Bhikkhu on Not-Self that I've pasted below. Two things came to mind. Why was Lord Buddha willing to discuss not-self so clearly, but he didn't offer a reply when he was asked if there was no-self?
Great topic. I haven't discussed this for years, but would like to make the following point:

It seems to me that an important starting point in any discussion on anatta, is what did the Buddha take atta to mean? If all dhammas are anatta, what is atta? From what I can see atta (and hence anatta) means at least 3 things in the suttas:

1. a personal reflexive pronoun - "myself". Usual usage in the Dhammapada
2. personality or personhood, what makes us have a sense of idenity and ownership - "ego". Ususal usage when the Buddha is expounding doctrine to his followers
3. a soul that survives death and ultimately unites with Brahma/God in some sort of permanent mystical union - this is the way the contemporary Brahmins would have usually thought of atta

These definitions overlap somewhat and can lead to confusion if the wrong concept is applied in the a particular context. Of course the english word "self" is similarly multifaceted and can equally be used for all these concepts.

A good example is the famous Ananda sutta where the Buddha refuses to answer Vacchagotta about whether or not there is an "atta"

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

When Ananda asks the Buddha why he didn't reply he gives a double response. Firstly he says that to say there is an atta would be to side with the eternalists and to say there was no atta would be to side with the anhilationists. Secondly he says that to declare there is an atta would be to contradict the fact that all dhammas are not atta; but to declare there was no atta would simply bewilder Vacchagotta.

Why would the Buddha give a double answer to Ananda? It is more than a little confusing on initial reading.

However it makes sense if for the first part atta is used to mean "soul" and for the second part "ego". "Soul" is the likely meaning Vacchagotta, a non-Buddhist, would have meant. He was asking the Buddha does a soul exist and persist after death. Clearly the answer is there is no soul or unchanging essence that persists after death, however neither is death the end.

For the second part of the answer it makes sense if atta is used in the sense of "ego" or "independent identity". The Buddha says that in this sense he could not say atta exists because, to be blunt, it doesn't; on the otherhand to tell this to Vacchagotta would just bewilder him because Vacchagota was not at a stage where he could conceive that he does not have an independent identity.

So I think the Buddha in this sutta is fairly clear, there is no atta either as a "soul" or as an "ego". Vacchagota was simply not at a stage where the Buddha could explain this to him.

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