question regarding not-self of volition and conscious action

On the cultivation of insight/wisdom
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Jaysus
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question regarding not-self of volition and conscious action

Post by Jaysus » Sun Oct 29, 2017 8:47 pm

Hello all,

I've hit a bit of a road block when it comes to the experience of anatta and was hoping someone might be able to point me in the right direction.

During meditation, considering the body, thoughts and other formations it makes sense that they could be considered not self. I have little to say in how the body works, thoughts do seem to come to me and there is a distinct feeling that i did not intend to think most of them, usually their conditions are quite clear depending on what I've just experienced prior to meditation etc..

There seems to be a difference however between the quality of thoughts that arise and thoughts that I very consciously think. I can, for example, perpetually verbalise gibberish in my head to prove to myself i have conscious control over my thoughts and this feels entirely more of a conscious process than thoughts that just pop up during meditation. I would liken this to stimulating muscles and making them move via reflex stimulation over consciously moving said muscles. try moving a finger very slowly, very deliberately, that process of willing a finger to move or willing words into my mind really feels like a type of control which my self exerts. A rather intangible self albeit, like the source of action.

I'm having a hard time discerning the non-self conditions which compose this volition or act of conscious control, unless my actions are determined by conditions outside of my immediate experience, but then how would one meditation on them? Does this make sense to anyone?

In short, how is volition or the present conscious control over body and mind not self in that moment?

Thanks so much for reading!
J

JohnK
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Re: question regarding not-self of volition and conscious action

Post by JohnK » Mon Oct 30, 2017 12:06 am

Nice first post!
It deserves a more complete answer than I will offer here (others more than likely will).
But I can't resist a quick question back for your consideration:
Do "you" control when the volition to "verbalize gibberish in your head" happens?
(Or is it more like the result of a cause?)

And if a volition can be a cause of an action, does that necessarily require the conceptual addition of a "you."
And if some action is "conscious," does that necessarily require the conceptual addition of a "you?"
(If this did not go against the stream, it would not require effort on a path.)
"Why is it, Master Kaccana, that ascetics fight with ascetics?"
"It is, brahmin, because of attachment to views, adherence to views, fixation on views, addiction to views, obsession with views, holding firmly to views that ascetics fight with ascetics" (AN 2: iv, 6, abridged).
Kindly eyes, not verbal daggers.

pegembara
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Re: question regarding not-self of volition and conscious action

Post by pegembara » Mon Oct 30, 2017 3:51 am

Put in another way, you feel that volition/intention/kamma is produced by a self. That self is then subject to the consequences of one's actions.
That is mundane right view.
"And what is right view? Right view, I tell you, is of two sorts: There is right view with effluents [asava], siding with merit, resulting in the acquisitions [of becoming]; and there is noble right view, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.

"And what is the right view that has effluents, sides with merit, & results in acquisitions? 'There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed. There are fruits & results of good & bad actions.

Mahacattarisaka Sutta
A close investigation will reveal that intentions too are not self. They are the result of causes and conditions. Like thoughts, they "appear" to pop out of nowhere.
If he intends to get up from bed, he should note as `intending to get up, intending to get up.' He should then go on to note the changing movements he makes as he arranges his arms and legs. When he raises his head and rises, note as `rising, rising'. When he is seated; note as `sitting, sitting.' If he makes any changing movements as he arranges his arms and legs, all of these movements should also be noted. If there are no such changes, but only a sitting quietly, he should revert to noting the rising and falling movements of the abdomen.

One should also note when one washes one's face and when one takes a bath. As the movements involved in these acts are rather quick, as many of them should be noted as possible. There are then acts of dressing, of tidying up the bed, of opening and closing the door; all these should also be noted as closely as possible.

When the yogi has his meal and looks at the meal-table, he should note as `looking, seeing, looking, seeing.' When he extends his arm towards the food, touches it, collects and arranges it, handles it and brings it to the mouth, bends his head and puts the morsel of food into his mouth, drops his arm and raises his head again, all these movements should be duly noted.

Next, the yogi will become convinced that all these psycho-physical phenomena are occurring of their own accord, following nobody's will and subject to nobody's control. They constitute no individual or ego-entity.

http://www.tathagata.org/DhammaTalks/In ... ction.html
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.

paul
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Re: question regarding not-self of volition and conscious action

Post by paul » Mon Oct 30, 2017 6:01 am

“I've hit a bit of a road block when it comes to the experience of anatta and was hoping someone might be able to point me in the right direction.”

Contemplation of the fact of impermanence is the basis for understanding non-self:
"Bhikkhus, how do you conceive it: is form permanent or impermanent?" — "Impermanent, venerable Sir." — "Now is what is impermanent painful or pleasant?" — "Painful, venerable Sir." — "Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this is I, this is my self'"? — "No, venerable sir.”—-Anatta-lakkhana sutta, The Discourse on the Non-self Characteristic, SN 22:59.

DooDoot
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Re: question regarding not-self of volition and conscious action

Post by DooDoot » Mon Oct 30, 2017 11:13 am

Jaysus wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 8:47 pm
I'm having a hard time discerning the non-self conditions which compose this volition or act of conscious control, unless my actions are determined by conditions outside of my immediate experience, but then how would one meditation on them?
The above is probably the most difficult to discern because, unlike physicality, feelings, perception, defilements (moods & urges) and sense consciousness, it is volitional thought that basically creates the idea or thought of 'self' and once that self-thought is predominate in the mind it is difficult to discern not-self. I think it requires a very developed 'purity empty samadhi' to discern an 'alien' or 'not-self' nature of volitional thought. This is probably why 'volitional thought' is not found as a meditation object in the 1st three tetrads of Satipatthana. The mind generally needs to be very pure & lucid, which is probably why the path has the 4th jhana as the optimum basis to discern the not-self of the self-becoming of dependent origination.

The fact that many meditators get stuck in attachment to states of 'non-thought' (which has given rise to many different 'Buddhist' schools, particularly in Mahayana) shows how difficult it is to clearly discern the not-self nature of volitional thought. Thus many Buddhists believe non-thinking &/or nothingness is emptiness &/or Nirvana.

For example, based in the common experiences of meditators, sometimes, informally, two types of 'emptiness' are referred to, namely, 'samadhi emptiness' & 'vipassana emptiness'. 'Samadhi emptiness' (which is 'wrong emptiness') refers to the temporary absence of self-thinking where as 'vipassana emptiness' refers to when all thought is seen as 'alien' or 'not-self'. This informal distinction, again, shows the difficulty in having a true realisation of 'not-self' & 'emptiness' in respect to volitional thought.
Having known the origination of feelings,
how perception arises,
and where it disappears;
having known volitional activities
as alien, as unsatisfactory and not as self,
truly that bhikkhu who sees rightly,
peaceful, delights in the peaceful state.

https://suttacentral.net/en/an4.16
Suppose, bhikkhus, that a man needing heartwood, seeking heartwood, wandering in search of heartwood, would take a sharp axe and enter a forest. There he would see the trunk of a large plantain tree, straight, fresh, without a fruit-bud core. He would cut it down at the root, cut off the crown, and unroll the coil. As he unrolls the coil, he would not find even softwood, let alone heartwood. A man with good sight would inspect it, ponder it, and carefully investigate it, and it would appear to him to be void, hollow, insubstantial. For what substance could there be in the trunk of a plantain tree? So too, bhikkhus, whatever kind of volitional formations there are, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near: a bhikkhu inspects them, ponders them, and carefully investigates them. As he investigates them, they appear to him to be void, hollow, insubstantial. For what substance could there be in volitional formations?

https://suttacentral.net/en/sn22.95

JohnK
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Re: question regarding not-self of volition and conscious action

Post by JohnK » Mon Oct 30, 2017 1:52 pm

I just wanted to quickly add that "the conceit, I am" is one of the last fetters destroyed.
So it seems that sensing "I am" need not stand in the way of significant progress on the path.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu says:
"As long as you feel a need for happiness, there is going to have to be a sense of self that can produce this and will consume it. When you have a happiness that doesn't require any of that, then you can let it all go." [from Thai Forest Masters, 9/19/2015, pt.2, approx 43:00]
Source: http://www.audiodharma.org/series/16/talk/5996/


He says that we can create more and more skillful senses of self as we progress on the path; we begin to see when a particular sense of self is causing more stress/suffering than progress and let that one go. I don't want to over-simplify or misrepresent his teachings so refer you to his book Selves and Not-Self.
https://www.dhammatalks.org/ebook_index ... vesnotself
"Why is it, Master Kaccana, that ascetics fight with ascetics?"
"It is, brahmin, because of attachment to views, adherence to views, fixation on views, addiction to views, obsession with views, holding firmly to views that ascetics fight with ascetics" (AN 2: iv, 6, abridged).
Kindly eyes, not verbal daggers.

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LG2V
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Re: question regarding not-self of volition and conscious action

Post by LG2V » Mon Oct 30, 2017 4:01 pm

I was just thinking about this last night.

There are situations in which one's volitions can't successfully control one's movements, or direct one's thinking in the desired way. For example:

1.) Your leg could have fallen asleep, and you could find yourself struggling to move it around. It could be broken, paralyzed, etc.
2.) You could have just woken up or have something in your eye, and your desire to use your eyes can't overcome physical defects.
3.) One could desire to fly, punch through walls, or be invisible, but to no avail.
4.) You could find yourself disliking someone who you desire to get along with, such as a family member, acquaintance, or friend.
5.) You could consciously will yourself to experience a certain state (Jhana, Enlightenment, etc) during meditation, and find yourself not quite attaining that desired state immediately after.
6.) You could be drunk, sleepy, etc., and be unable to coherently form your best thoughts, despite your desire to.
7.) You could make a mistake while speaking. This happens too when you mentally speak to yourself.


Volitions are, to an extent, uncontrollable. They also lack the ability to control certain things. There's definitely a causal relationship between volitions and other mental/physical processes, but I think that it's just a natural, impersonal relation, similar to scientific forces.
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Jaysus
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Re: question regarding not-self of volition and conscious action

Post by Jaysus » Mon Oct 30, 2017 4:13 pm

Thank you for the replies so far!

It is definitely a tricky one, the process of initiating action (with one's limbs) is one of those things that I seem unable to describe without assuming someone else shares the same experience and referencing that. Much like being unable to describe a colour, one can only assume others see the same colour and referencing a common experience. Being unable to put my finger on and properly define the nature of the experience (of volitional action) in that way makes it difficult to state self or not-self one way or the other. It feels deliberate, spontaneous and its conditions are hard to perceive when absorbed in deliberate action.
JohnK wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 12:06 am
Nice first post!
It deserves a more complete answer than I will offer here (others more than likely will).
But I can't resist a quick question back for your consideration:
Do "you" control when the volition to "verbalize gibberish in your head" happens?
(Or is it more like the result of a cause?)

And if a volition can be a cause of an action, does that necessarily require the conceptual addition of a "you."
And if some action is "conscious," does that necessarily require the conceptual addition of a "you?"
(If this did not go against the stream, it would not require effort on a path.)
Thanks for the welcome JohnK! And that is a good question. If there is the experience of control, does that necessitate a self which controls? Verbalizing and acting is definitely the result of a cause as you say no doubt about that. But up until that moment it feels like I can go either way. I for the most part don't actually doubt that everything is indeed anatta. This however is the most fundamental yet elusive feeling of selfhood which I can't reason away.

@Pegembara: thank you for that link!
paul wrote:
Mon Oct 30, 2017 6:01 am
“I've hit a bit of a road block when it comes to the experience of anatta and was hoping someone might be able to point me in the right direction.”

Contemplation of the fact of impermanence is the basis for understanding non-self:
"Bhikkhus, how do you conceive it: is form permanent or impermanent?" — "Impermanent, venerable Sir." — "Now is what is impermanent painful or pleasant?" — "Painful, venerable Sir." — "Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this is I, this is my self'"? — "No, venerable sir.”—-Anatta-lakkhana sutta, The Discourse on the Non-self Characteristic, SN 22:59.
This was helpful too Paul, as intentions are indeed impermanent no matter how immediate the feeling of self appears to be, it stands to reason the self (or appearance thereof) is composed at that moment and then disappears. It doesn't completely demystify the feeling of volition when it does come about but provides a nice piece of leverage.

@DooDoot: Thanks for the quotations regarding volition there. I must admit I'm not as well versed as I probably should be in regards to sutras but its good to see there is some mention specifically of volition. I will be sure to start reading up on it. I will continue to meditate as usual, maybe something will eventually break loose. non-self of volition seems counterintuitive at the moment but not entirely impossible.

@JohnK: Awesome, thanks for more reading!

@ LG2V: Thanks for the reply! Some interesting points I'm going to have to think about and get back to you (currently at work).
Last edited by Jaysus on Mon Oct 30, 2017 5:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

JohnK
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Re: question regarding not-self of volition and conscious action

Post by JohnK » Mon Oct 30, 2017 4:42 pm

Without having to read right away the whole book I linked to, here is a taste: Thanissaro Bhikkhu speaking on the subject.
https://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/y20 ... Selves.mp3
"Why is it, Master Kaccana, that ascetics fight with ascetics?"
"It is, brahmin, because of attachment to views, adherence to views, fixation on views, addiction to views, obsession with views, holding firmly to views that ascetics fight with ascetics" (AN 2: iv, 6, abridged).
Kindly eyes, not verbal daggers.

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