On Thanissaro Bhikkhu's anatta teachings

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Re: On Thanissaro Bhikkhu's anatta teachings

Post by ancientbuddhism » Mon Jan 16, 2012 1:50 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's teachings in relation to nibbana have clearly come under much scrutiny here... I'm interested to know if anyone believes these dubious nibbana teachings in any way impact or compromise his teachings on the subject of anatta?

Metta,
Retro. :)
I think it indicates the agenda behind his interpretation of anattā doctrine in his papers and talks on Not-self Strategy. These may seem to run on different tracks, but an eternalist view of nibbāna does compliment his claim that the Buddha never denied the Upaniṣadic ātman.
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Re: On Thanissaro Bhikkhu's anatta teachings

Post by piotr » Mon Jan 16, 2012 7:17 am

Hi,
ancientbuddhism wrote:ut an eternalist view of nibbāna does compliment his claim that the Buddha never denied the Upaniṣadic ātman.


Quote from “Selves and not-self”:

  • One misinterpretation is that the Buddha’s not-self teaching is aimed specifically at negating the view of self proposed in the Brahmanical Upanishads—that the self is permanent, cosmic, and identical with God—but the Buddha is not negating the fact that we each have an individual self. In other words, he’s saying, Yes, you have an individual self, but, No, you don’t have a cosmic/God self.

    The second misinterpretation is the exact opposite: The Buddha is negating the idea that you have a small, separate self, but he’s affirming the existence of a large, interconnected, cosmic self. In other words, he’s saying, Yes, you do have a connected self, but, No, you don’t have a separate self.

    The third misinterpretation is similar to the first, but it introduces the idea that a self, to be a true self, has to be permanent. According to this interpretation, the Buddha is affirming that the five aggregates are what you are, but these five aggregates don’t really qualify to be called a self because they aren’t permanent. They’re just processes. In other words, No, you don’t have a self, but, Yes, you’re a bunch of processes; the aggregates are what you are.

    (...)

    As for the second misinterpretation, that the Buddha is actually affirming the cosmic or interconnected self, the evidence I’ve already given you shows that that cannot be the case. There is also a passage in the Canon where he says specifically that the idea of a cosmic self is especially foolish [MN 22]. His argument is this: If there is a self, there must be what belongs to a self. If your self is cosmic, then the whole cosmos must belong to you. But does it? No. Does it lie under your control? No. Therefore it doesn’t deserve to be called yours.

    — Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu
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Re: On Thanissaro Bhikkhu's anatta teachings

Post by Nyana » Mon Jan 16, 2012 10:39 am

piotr wrote:
  • One misinterpretation is that the Buddha’s not-self teaching is aimed specifically at negating the view of self proposed in the Brahmanical Upanishads—that the self is permanent, cosmic, and identical with God—but the Buddha is not negating the fact that we each have an individual self. In other words, he’s saying, Yes, you have an individual self, but, No, you don’t have a cosmic/God self.

    The second misinterpretation is the exact opposite: The Buddha is negating the idea that you have a small, separate self, but he’s affirming the existence of a large, interconnected, cosmic self. In other words, he’s saying, Yes, you do have a connected self, but, No, you don’t have a separate self.

    The third misinterpretation is similar to the first, but it introduces the idea that a self, to be a true self, has to be permanent. According to this interpretation, the Buddha is affirming that the five aggregates are what you are, but these five aggregates don’t really qualify to be called a self because they aren’t permanent. They’re just processes. In other words, No, you don’t have a self, but, Yes, you’re a bunch of processes; the aggregates are what you are.
This is just more convoluted double-speak that clarifies nothing. The bottom line is that no matter how hard you search you will never find a singular entity that fulfills the criteria of selfhood.

Ṭhānissaro thinks that because his assertion of an arahant's post-mortem "unadulterated experience" is qualified by being outside of time and space, this should exempt him from adhering to a mistaken view. Well, it doesn't.

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Re: On Thanissaro Bhikkhu's anatta teachings

Post by piotr » Mon Jan 16, 2012 10:47 am

Ñāṇa wrote:This is just more convoluted double-speak that clarifies nothing. The bottom line is that no matter how hard you search you will never find a singular entity that fulfills the criteria of selfhood.

Ṭhānissaro thinks that because his assertion of an arahant's post-mortem "unadulterated experience" is qualified by being outside of time and space, this should exempt him from adhering to a mistaken view. Well, it doesn't.
Here we go...

Again it's not the point of the quote. Just for clarification: ancientbuddhism said that Ṭhānissaro states that the Buddha never denied the Upaniṣadic self. Here Ṭhānissaro explains why the Buddha criticized their idea.
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Re: On Thanissaro Bhikkhu's anatta teachings

Post by chownah » Mon Jan 16, 2012 12:44 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:
piotr wrote:
  • One misinterpretation is that the Buddha’s not-self teaching is aimed specifically at negating the view of self proposed in the Brahmanical Upanishads—that the self is permanent, cosmic, and identical with God—but the Buddha is not negating the fact that we each have an individual self. In other words, he’s saying, Yes, you have an individual self, but, No, you don’t have a cosmic/God self.

    The second misinterpretation is the exact opposite: The Buddha is negating the idea that you have a small, separate self, but he’s affirming the existence of a large, interconnected, cosmic self. In other words, he’s saying, Yes, you do have a connected self, but, No, you don’t have a separate self.

    The third misinterpretation is similar to the first, but it introduces the idea that a self, to be a true self, has to be permanent. According to this interpretation, the Buddha is affirming that the five aggregates are what you are, but these five aggregates don’t really qualify to be called a self because they aren’t permanent. They’re just processes. In other words, No, you don’t have a self, but, Yes, you’re a bunch of processes; the aggregates are what you are.
This is just more convoluted double-speak that clarifies nothing. The bottom line is that no matter how hard you search you will never find a singular entity that fulfills the criteria of selfhood.

Ṭhānissaro thinks that because his assertion of an arahant's post-mortem "unadulterated experience" is qualified by being outside of time and space, this should exempt him from adhering to a mistaken view. Well, it doesn't.
Nana,
The example of Thanisarro's writing seems to me to be neither convoluted nor double speak. It is clearly just giving three examples of wrong views concerning the self. I don't accept this small portion of his writings to prove much of anything but it seems that you are slipping out of "intellligent discussion" mode and into "fist pounding" mode.....I'm sorry to see that as you have posted some really good stuff before but I really see nothing in this post which is to the point of the discussion.....perhaps you are too emotionally distraught by your views on his "post mortem" teachings to be able to focus on this new topic....I really can not see how your comments apply.....
My view is that to the extent that Thanisaro construes a docrine of self then he is teaching the wrong thing....I see nothing in this excerpt which points to him doing that but perhaps he does that elsewhere.....frankly his "post mortem" comments do sort of point to a doctrince of self in my view but I can forgive him his sillyness in this matter in that I'm relatively sure the if taken to task he would agree that his veiws are based on personal conjecture I think but I'm not sure.....but it sort of surprises me that he wouod make those statements...go figure!!!
chownah

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Re: On Thanissaro Bhikkhu's anatta teachings

Post by Nyana » Mon Jan 16, 2012 1:29 pm

chownah wrote:I don't accept this small portion of his writings to prove much of anything but it seems that you are slipping out of "intellligent discussion" mode and into "fist pounding" mode.
There's no need for "fist pounding." Again, the bottom line is that no matter how hard you search you will never find a singular entity that fulfills the criteria for selfhood.

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Re: On Thanissaro Bhikkhu's anatta teachings

Post by ancientbuddhism » Mon Jan 16, 2012 2:14 pm

piotr wrote: Quote from “Selves and not-self”:
  • One misinterpretation is that the Buddha’s not-self teaching is aimed specifically at negating the view of self proposed in the Brahmanical Upanishads—that the self is permanent, cosmic, and identical with God—but the Buddha is not negating the fact that we each have an individual self. In other words, he’s saying, Yes, you have an individual self, but, No, you don’t have a cosmic/God self.

    The second misinterpretation is the exact opposite: The Buddha is negating the idea that you have a small, separate self, but he’s affirming the existence of a large, interconnected, cosmic self. In other words, he’s saying, Yes, you do have a connected self, but, No, you don’t have a separate self.

    The third misinterpretation is similar to the first, but it introduces the idea that a self, to be a true self, has to be permanent. According to this interpretation, the Buddha is affirming that the five aggregates are what you are, but these five aggregates don’t really qualify to be called a self because they aren’t permanent. They’re just processes. In other words, No, you don’t have a self, but, Yes, you’re a bunch of processes; the aggregates are what you are.

    (...)

    As for the second misinterpretation, that the Buddha is actually affirming the cosmic or interconnected self, the evidence I’ve already given you shows that that cannot be the case. There is also a passage in the Canon where he says specifically that the idea of a cosmic self is especially foolish [MN 22]. His argument is this: If there is a self, there must be what belongs to a self. If your self is cosmic, then the whole cosmos must belong to you. But does it? No. Does it lie under your control? No. Therefore it doesn’t deserve to be called yours.

    — Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu
This is just more of Ṭhanissaro’s eel-wriggling. He proposes that what he considers are the misinterpretations of unnamed others should be looked at in detail, only to contradict himself by making claims that are mutually exclusive in such convoluted contexts that is not worth the time to ferret out.

I cannot imagine that anything Ṭhanissaro would say now is, in the last analysis, different from his NSS essays of ‘93/’96, which claims that the Buddha never denied the ‘Self’ as a ‘metaphysical or ontological position’.
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Re: On Thanissaro Bhikkhu's anatta teachings

Post by chownah » Mon Jan 16, 2012 2:25 pm

Nana,
I agree completely and in fact I go farther and say that you will never find even a group of entities that fulfills the criteria of selfhood......
While I think that nothing within my experience could be a self I am also of the view that I have no way of knowing if there are things outside of my experience that could be a self....it is out of my range and as such any belief I might have in that would be conjecture and speculation and the Buddha has pretty clearly indicated that it is best to not conjecture and speculate on such things in regards to self in his advise to have no doctrine of self whatever.....
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Re: On Thanissaro Bhikkhu's anatta teachings

Post by ancientbuddhism » Mon Jan 16, 2012 2:28 pm

chownah wrote: The example of Thanisarro's writing seems to me to be neither convoluted nor double speak. It is clearly just giving three examples of wrong views concerning the self. I don't accept this small portion of his writings to prove much of anything but it seems that you are slipping out of "intellligent discussion" mode and into "fist pounding" mode.....I'm sorry to see that as you have posted some really good stuff before but I really see nothing in this post which is to the point of the discussion.....perhaps you are too emotionally distraught by your views on his "post mortem" teachings to be able to focus on this new topic....I really can not see how your comments apply.....
My view is that to the extent that Thanisaro construes a docrine of self then he is teaching the wrong thing....I see nothing in this excerpt which points to him doing that but perhaps he does that elsewhere.....frankly his "post mortem" comments do sort of point to a doctrince of self in my view but I can forgive him his sillyness in this matter in that I'm relatively sure the if taken to task he would agree that his veiws are based on personal conjecture I think but I'm not sure.....but it sort of surprises me that he wouod make those statements...go figure!!!
chownah
The excerpt given is taken from a series of talks he gave last year, there is a larger context to be taken into consideration if one cares to wade through all that.

What I consider 'emotionally distraught' are the displays of sycophantic defense of Ṭhanissaro's theories.
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Re: On Thanissaro Bhikkhu's anatta teachings

Post by piotr » Mon Jan 16, 2012 2:44 pm

ancientbuddhism wrote:He proposes that what he considers are the misinterpretations of unnamed others should be looked at in detail, only to contradict himself by making claims that are mutually exclusive in such convoluted contexts that is not worth the time to ferret out.
Sorry, but I can't understand what you're saying.
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Re: On Thanissaro Bhikkhu's anatta teachings

Post by Buckwheat » Mon Jan 16, 2012 4:25 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:Again, the bottom line is that no matter how hard you search you will never find a singular entity that fulfills the criteria for selfhood.
Yes, and Thanissaro would agree. His claim is that the Buddha didn't postulate anatta as a metaphysical claim, but as one of experience. His motive is to illustrate that the Buddha did not make many proclamations regarding metaphysics. Suffering, the five aggregates, sense bases... none of it is metaphysics. Dhamma is a commentary on experience and how to end suffering, so why should anatta be extended to a metaphysical statement?
Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.

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Re: On Thanissaro Bhikkhu's anatta teachings

Post by ancientbuddhism » Mon Jan 16, 2012 5:08 pm

Buckwheat wrote: His claim is that the Buddha didn't postulate anatta as a metaphysical claim, but as one of experience.
"For him, the doctrine of not-self is a technique or strategy for liberation, and not a metaphysical or ontological position." (NSS)

This claim is simply not true, as the Buddha did deny the ontological position of the Upaniṣads.
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Re: On Thanissaro Bhikkhu's anatta teachings

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Jan 16, 2012 10:00 pm

Greetings ancientbuddhism,
ancientbuddhism wrote:This claim is simply not true, as the Buddha did deny the ontological position of the Upaniṣads.
I don't think he did. However, he did deny the efficacy of such views...
Brahmajala Sutta wrote:This, bhikkhus, the Tathāgata understands. And he understands: 'These standpoints, thus assumed and thus misappre­hended, lead to such a future destination, to such a state in the world beyond.' He understands as well what transcends this, yet even that understanding he does not misapprehend. And because he is free from misapprehension, he has realized within himself the state of perfect peace. Having understood as they really are the origin and the passing away of feelings, their satisfaction, their unsatisfactoriness, and the escape from them, the Tathāgata, bhikkhus, is emancipated through non-clinging.
It's a fine distinction between "wrong view" and "factually false", but I think it's an important one in this regard, since it's that distinction which differentiates dukkha/nirodha from fact/fiction - the first directly connected to liberation, the second not so important.

For example, take the proposition that "A spider has ten legs". Factually false, not wrong view. Someone labouring under this false ontological belief about our arachnoid friends is not going to find it prohibitive in terms of liberation. The reason soul-beliefs are "standpoints, thus assumed and thus misappre­hended, lead[ing] to such a future destination" irrespective of their ontological truth or falsity, is because they are the basis for twenty forms of self-identification that give rise to contact, and the dependent origination nidanas (incl. dukkha) which follow.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: On Thanissaro Bhikkhu's anatta teachings

Post by ancientbuddhism » Tue Jan 17, 2012 1:14 am

retrofuturist wrote:
ancientbuddhism wrote:This claim is simply not true, as the Buddha did deny the ontological position of the Upaniṣads.
I don't think he did. However, he did deny the efficacy of such views...

The reason soul-beliefs are "standpoints, thus assumed and thus misappre­hended, lead[ing] to such a future destination" irrespective of their ontological truth or falsity, is because they are the basis for twenty forms of self-identification that give rise to contact, and the dependent origination nidanas (incl. dukkha) which follow.
Yes, these are misapprehended by the puthujjana. The noble disciple is not on the same footing.

When the Buddha did give instruction on views of self as held by the world, it was to a suitable audience informed with a contemplative understanding of dependent origination and of the habits of volitional processes which cause false reification of sentient experience. In other words, they understood what props-up the illusion of substantiality. Otherwise, just as you say, there would be no utility in simply denying the ‘Self’ to someone who is ignorant of causal processes and is only informed with the dogma of self, as this would only lead to vexation.
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Re: On Thanissaro Bhikkhu's anatta teachings

Post by robertk » Tue Jan 17, 2012 2:24 am

This is an old post from ven. Dhammanando that i liked
http://www.lioncity.net/buddhism/index. ... 3364&st=60" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Citing the relevant suttas is unlikely to be persuasive to those who have fallen for Thanissaro's mystical drivel, for Thanissaro would simply interpret them differently or else would translate them differently so as to make them support his view. A good example of this is the following passage from the Alagaddūpamasutta, which is one of the starkest and most uncompromising assertions of the non-existence of self.... until Thanissaro gets his hands on it:

attani ca attaniye ca saccato thetato anupalabbhamāne
(MN. 22; also cited in the Kathāvatthu's debate on the puggalavāda, Kvu. 68)

And here are some extracts from an old article of mine discussing this phrase...

First I cite seven translations of it:


Dhammanando:
"...since in truth and reality there obtains neither self nor what belongs to self..."

Ñāṇamoli/Bodhi:
"...since a self and what belongs to a self are not apprehended as true and established..."

Thanissaro:
"...where a self or what belongs to self are not pinned down as a truth or reality..."

B.C. Law:
"...But both soul and that which belongs to soul being in truth, and forever, impossible to be known..."

I.B. Horner:
"But if Self and what belongs to Self, although actually existing are incomprehensible..."

Mahāmakut Tipiṭaka:
"...meua attā lae borikhān neuang duai attā bukkhon theu ao mai dai, doey khwām pen khong jing, doey khwām pen khong thae..."

Mahāchulalongkorn Tipiṭaka:
"...meua thang ton lae khong thii neuang kap ton ja yang hen mai dai, doey khwām pen khong jing, doey khwām pen khong thae..."


Then my comments:

Of the seven renderings above, those of Horner and Law are completely off the map, while the remaining five are more or less defensible so far as purely philological considerations go.

There are two key terms in the passage that give rise to disagreement: firstly, the participle "anupalabbhamāne"; secondly, the phrase "saccato thetato". How one conceives the meaning of these will determine how one interprets the passage; and how one interprets the passage will determine how one goes about translating it. The problem, of course, is that every translator's interpretation of the above phrases will be determined - or at least influenced - by his prior assumptions about the Buddha's teaching.

Let's start with anupalabbhamāne. This is the present participle of the passive form of the verb upalabhati, inflected in the locative case. In front of it is placed the negative particle na ('not'), which changes to an- in accordance with the rules of euphonic junction.

Upalabhati means to obtain, get or find. So in the passive voice it would mean to be obtained, gotten or found. With the addition of the negative particle 'na' the meaning would be "not to be found."

Here's one familiar example of the verb, to be found in every Indian logic textbook:

vañjhāya putto na upalabbhati.
"A son of a barren woman is not to be found."

(Or as western philosophers would phrase it, " 'Son of a barren woman' does not obtain."). Elsewhere the same will be predicated of "horns of a hare", "flowers in the sky", etc.

And here arises the first point of controversy among translators and interpreters of this sutta: does the phrase "not to be obtained" mean the same as "not exist"? Ñāṇamoli, Bodhi and myself would answer yes. A mystically-inclined monk like Thanissaro would answer no. Unsurprisingly Thanissaro has chosen a rendering ("not pinned down") that stresses the epistemic or cognitive, and would tend to imply that a self does (or at least might) exist, but one that is too inscrutable to say anything about.

To continue, when the verb na upalabbhati is made into a present participle, the meaning would be "non-obtaining" (or more precisely, a "not-being-obtained-ness"). When this present participle is inflected in the locative case, then various meanings are possible, and here arises the second point of controversy. What function does the locative have in this context? There are three possibilities:

Spatial or situational stipulative: "Where there is a non-obtaining of self..."
Temporal stipulative: "When there is a non-obtaining of self...."
Causative: "Because there is a non-obtaining of self..."

Ñāṇamoli, Bodhi and I of course favour the causative, for the other two would leave a loophole that there might be some time or place where self does obtain. Thanissaro of course favours a reading that will leave his mysticism intact. So here too it's a case of our prior assumptions determining how we translate.

Now for "saccato thetato". Sacca means true or a truth; theta means sure, firm, or reliable, or something that has these features. Adding the suffix -to turns these words into adverbs. Here I'm not really sure about the relative merits of the above translations, or even if there is a difference between "X does not obtain as a truth" or "X does not in truth obtain." Not that this matters greatly; the crux of the matter is obviously the word anupalabbhamāne. The difference between my old rendering and the Ñāṇamoli/Bodhi one is that I had taken saccato thetato to be an adverbial qualification of anupalabbhamāne, whereas Ñāṇamoli and Bodhi make it more like an adjectival qualification of "self and what belongs to self." I now think that their rendering is more likely to be correct. At least it seems to accord better with the Ṭīkā to this sutta.

Best wishes,
Dhammanando Bhikkhu

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