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Applying the Characteristic of Anattā in Social/Conventional Contexts

Posted: Tue Feb 05, 2019 1:35 pm
by samseva
Although one should apply the characteristic of anattā to all phenomena (dhamma), and this has highly beneficial results, I am finding that for a small number of contexts, this can cause slight issues. What I'm referring to is how, as individuals of a society, we sometimes have roles with identities attached to those roles. For example, someone might have an important position in a company, and it is expected of him to act in certain ways for things to go well—such as wearing quality clothes, being assertive and so on. If the person were to view himself as a successful businessman, with all the traits associated with that, it would be much easier for him to adopt those behaviours, and therefore function much more effectively in his role. On the other hand, if he were to view himself as a combination of conditions, that ultimately he isn't a businessman and so on, this could make fulfilling his professional duties more difficult, or at the least, much less effective.

I know that, for businessmen or anyone else, there are many benefits from not identifying with your clothes, status or job, however, if you were to view this as being based on a spectrum rather than 'on or off', while the opposite of intense conceit has strong drawbacks, I think that practicing vipassanā in such contexts and to higher degrees can equally cause issues. Though, it isn't that vipassanā is the issue, but rather that the context and timing might not be appropriate (and also, it very well might be possible to apply the characteristic of anattā in all contexts, and that it could simply be that I'm not be doing it in a correct way, or to a degree that is too much).

I'm finding that identifying to my roles, to a certain extent, is having beneficial effects for fulfilling the tasks associated with those roles. At the same time, I also believe it's important to apply the characteristics to all conditions. So, at the moment, I'm trying to reconcile the two. At a number of passages, the Buddha says that one must still accept the conventional aspects of reality, but to what degree and in what way? Could anyone mention some of those passages, or any passage related to this? Also, please share your thoughts on the subject if you feel like doing so.

Re: Applying the Characteristic of Anattā in Social/Conventional Contexts

Posted: Sat Feb 16, 2019 4:50 am
by samseva
While I did find that identifying to a role for certain contexts was of some use, I think it is more out of convenience/ease than it is useful. By thinking of a definite role, such as 'successful businessman', certain characteristics inherently come as a 'package' with that role, and less thinking is needed to adopt those characteristics (less thinking not necessarily being a good thing).

Although it is a bit more work, I think adopting the beneficial traits individually (skipping the unwholesome ones) is of better use.

I've also found some of the passage regarding conventional speech:
DN 9.53 (transl., Maurice Walshe) wrote:53. ‘So too, whenever the gross acquired self is present, we do not speak of the mind-made or formless acquired self; whenever the mind-made acquired self is present, we do not speak of the gross or formless acquired self; whenever the formless acquired self is present, we do not speak of the gross acquired self or the mind-made acquired self, we speak of the formless acquired self. But, Citta, these are merely names, expressions, turns of speech, designations in common use in the world, which the Tathāgata uses without misapprehending them.’
SN 1.25 (transl., Bhikkhu Bodhi) wrote:No knots exist for one with conceit abandoned;
For him all knots of conceit are consumed.
Though the wise one has transcended the conceived,
He still might say, ‘I speak,’
He might say too, ‘They speak to me.’
Skilful, knowing the world’s parlance,
He uses such terms as mere expressions.

Re: Applying the Characteristic of Anattā in Social/Conventional Contexts

Posted: Sat Feb 16, 2019 10:41 pm
by paul
SN 1.25 shows that no conceit remains for the arahant who uses the conventional language "I am" skillfully, he does so with all fetters severed, has isolated conventional reality, and has no fear of his conventional self. Likewise in lay life, conventional actions can be performed if skilful, it is a matter of how much non-attachment the practitioner has developed. Involvement in conventional reality provides the raw material for insight, but there must be a balance between contemplative time of withdrawal, where those actions are processed, and outside involvement, otherwise practice will be overwhelmed and there will be no clarity. Planning for future action should also be done in contemplation time, in the light of dhamma, not as an immediate reaction to outside events as they happen. In this way the dhamma/memory component of mindfulness is strengthened.