Problems with no-self

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
Dinsdale
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Re: Problems with no-self

Post by Dinsdale » Fri May 10, 2013 8:49 am

Alex123 wrote:Wow. :shock: I can't believe it. I used to believe in no-self, but suddenly arguments for it lost their convincing power. :cry:
For example:
I've always struggled with anatta experientially, my strategy is to focus instead on anicca, which seems more accessible.
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tiltbillings
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Re: Problems with no-self

Post by tiltbillings » Fri May 10, 2013 8:54 am

porpoise wrote:
Alex123 wrote:Wow. :shock: I can't believe it. I used to believe in no-self, but suddenly arguments for it lost their convincing power. :cry:
For example:
I've always struggled with anatta experientially, my strategy is to focus instead on anicca, which seems more accessible.
  • "A bhikkhu, Meghiya, who is established in these five things should also cultivate four additional things: foulness should be cultivated for overcoming lust; loving-kindness should be cultivated for overcoming malevolence; respiration-mindfulness should be cultivated for cutting off (discursive) thinking; the perception of impermanence should be cultivated for the removal of the conceit 'I am.' For when one perceives impermanence, Meghiya, the perception of not-self is established. When one perceives not-self one reaches the removal of the conceit 'I am,' which is called Nibbana here and now." Ud 4.1 PTS: Ud 34 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .irel.html
>> 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.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

binocular
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Re: Problems with no-self

Post by binocular » Fri May 10, 2013 3:48 pm

Dan74 wrote:Some things are relatively more stable than others. My chair persists longer in a very similar form that the water flowing down the drain, hence the chair is considered an object that the water flowing down the drain, not. The real aspect is the fact that the assembly of molecules held together by various forces, supported by the floor, that is my chair, degrades and decomposes relatively slowly and is able to support me as a chair for some time to come.

The self is similar. Held together by memories including the memory of the experiencer present in ever event, it is ever-changing but there is a relative stability and a continuity that is temporary and not fixed, but not just imagined.

If the sense of the experiencer is relinquished, what is the self then? There is still a continuity of experience, a stream distinct to another, but it is no more that a bunch of conditions that tie these experiences to a particular mind/brain, itself constantly changing. Just like a chair, but even more changeable.
"Self," "selfhood," "nature," true nature" or "essence" mean, simply as concepts, something unchangeable, permanent. And with terms like that, one either knows what they refer to, or one doesn't, there is no middle way. One either has the conviction "I know who I am" or one doesn't. It's in the nature of the concept of "self" that if someone else comes along and tells one "You are so and so, you are such and such", one can have no meaningful attitude toward such a claim, unless one already holds it as true, and so the claimer hasn't claimed anything that would be new to oneself.
This is why speculations about the self are useless: one either already is sure about who one is; or one isn't. If one already is sure, speculation does not apply - for one is already sure. But if one isn't sure, it's simply in the nature of the concept of "self" that no amount of philosophical or empirical investigation can convince one one way or another - such attempts are like placing one mirror in front of another, so that they mirror eachother into infinity.

However, something else are things we consider to be the self, but do so inconsistently - which reveals that those things are not our true self. Sometimes we stub our toe and say "I am hurt," other times, we stub our toe and say "I stubbed my toe."
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

Bakmoon
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Re: Problems with no-self

Post by Bakmoon » Tue May 14, 2013 3:33 am

Alex123 wrote:Wow. :shock: I can't believe it. I used to believe in no-self, but suddenly arguments for it lost their convincing power. :cry:
For example:

Why can't someone postulate:
1) Self that is impermanent (born 1950, died at 2030 for example)?
2) Self that is not a certain momentary dhamma, but possesses dhammas?
3) Self that is subject to external conditions?

Wow. How much my beliefs change...
I think the best way to understand this point is by understanding how the perception of self ties in with the Buddha's teaching on Mañana (Conceiving). It is discussed in the Mulapariyaya Sutta:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
MN1 wrote: The Blessed One said: "There is the case, monks, where an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma — perceives earth as earth. Perceiving earth as earth, he conceives [things] about earth, he conceives [things] in earth, he conceives [things] coming out of earth, he conceives earth as 'mine,' he delights in earth. Why is that? Because he has not comprehended it, I tell you.
The Pali word translated as 'Conceives' is the word Mañati, which is the verb form of Mañana. From our direct experience of reality, the mind extrapolates and creates concepts on the basis of this direct experience and there is an identification between this concept and the experience of it. This mental tendency is called Mañana, and it is the psychological basis for the idea of self. From the experiences of the physical body, and the experience of the various mental phenomena, the mind extrapolates the concept of self, and identifies it with the experiences it is based on. This concept is not part of experience, and so it is not part of ultimate reality. It is a mind made concept, and nothing more.

This concept is useful, and in terms of conventional reality, it is a coherent one, but it is still arbitrary. You ask:
Why can't someone postulate:
1) Self that is impermanent (born 1950, died at 2030 for example)?
2) Self that is not a certain momentary dhamma, but possesses dhammas?
3) Self that is subject to external conditions?
And I would say that you can postulate all those things. However, you could also postulate the self in numerous other equally coherent ways. You could say that the body and the mind together make the self, and that would work. You could say that only the mind is self, and the body is just a container, and that would also work. You could even say the body is self and that the mind is just a byproduct. All of these are equally valid interpretations of experience.

The answer to the riddle comes when you see that all three of these positions are examples of Mañana; all are examples of the mind making conceptual extrapolations from reality, and that these extrapolations are arbitrary, and at the level of ultimate reality on which these extrapolations are made, there is no self. Self is just a concept.
The non-doing of any evil,
The performance of what's skillful,
The cleansing of one's own mind:
This is the Buddhas' teaching.

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kirk5a
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Re: Problems with no-self

Post by kirk5a » Tue May 14, 2013 3:20 pm

Bakmoon wrote:
Alex123 wrote:Wow. :shock: I can't believe it. I used to believe in no-self, but suddenly arguments for it lost their convincing power. :cry:
For example:

Why can't someone postulate:
1) Self that is impermanent (born 1950, died at 2030 for example)?
2) Self that is not a certain momentary dhamma, but possesses dhammas?
3) Self that is subject to external conditions?

Wow. How much my beliefs change...
I think the best way to understand this point is by understanding how the perception of self ties in with the Buddha's teaching on Mañana (Conceiving). It is discussed in the Mulapariyaya Sutta:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
MN1 wrote: The Blessed One said: "There is the case, monks, where an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma — perceives earth as earth. Perceiving earth as earth, he conceives [things] about earth, he conceives [things] in earth, he conceives [things] coming out of earth, he conceives earth as 'mine,' he delights in earth. Why is that? Because he has not comprehended it, I tell you.
The Pali word translated as 'Conceives' is the word Mañati, which is the verb form of Mañana. From our direct experience of reality, the mind extrapolates and creates concepts on the basis of this direct experience and there is an identification between this concept and the experience of it. This mental tendency is called Mañana, and it is the psychological basis for the idea of self. From the experiences of the physical body, and the experience of the various mental phenomena, the mind extrapolates the concept of self, and identifies it with the experiences it is based on. This concept is not part of experience, and so it is not part of ultimate reality. It is a mind made concept, and nothing more.

This concept is useful, and in terms of conventional reality, it is a coherent one, but it is still arbitrary. You ask:
Why can't someone postulate:
1) Self that is impermanent (born 1950, died at 2030 for example)?
2) Self that is not a certain momentary dhamma, but possesses dhammas?
3) Self that is subject to external conditions?
And I would say that you can postulate all those things. However, you could also postulate the self in numerous other equally coherent ways. You could say that the body and the mind together make the self, and that would work. You could say that only the mind is self, and the body is just a container, and that would also work. You could even say the body is self and that the mind is just a byproduct. All of these are equally valid interpretations of experience.

The answer to the riddle comes when you see that all three of these positions are examples of Mañana; all are examples of the mind making conceptual extrapolations from reality, and that these extrapolations are arbitrary, and at the level of ultimate reality on which these extrapolations are made, there is no self. Self is just a concept.
"there is no self" is also mere conceiving.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230

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reflection
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Re: Problems with no-self

Post by reflection » Thu May 16, 2013 3:13 am

Alex, you've now seen that one can argue a self and one can argue no self. And the arguments may seem convincing either way. But some doubt remains. That doubt will remain until one steps beyond arguing and instead experiences things directly. That is not by a thought, argument or idea, but by looking deeply inside ourselves. Then you don't need arguments anymore.

If for the time you have issues with the idea of no-self that's because you see it at the level of intellect. I don't think it's really a problem as long as you can put aside the intellectual understanding when you meditate.

binocular
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Re: Problems with no-self

Post by binocular » Thu May 16, 2013 6:50 am

reflection wrote:Alex, you've now seen that one can argue a self and one can argue no self. And the arguments may seem convincing either way. But some doubt remains. That doubt will remain until one steps beyond arguing and instead experiences things directly. That is not by a thought, argument or idea, but by looking deeply inside ourselves. Then you don't need arguments anymore.
If for the time you have issues with the idea of no-self that's because you see it at the level of intellect. I don't think it's really a problem as long as you can put aside the intellectual understanding when you meditate.
The problem is that what you're suggesting is circular / self-referential. Ie. if one learns to see things a certain way, one will see them that way, which will seem like one is "seeing things as they really are." And any path of practice, whether Buddhist, or scientific, or Hindu or whichever, is like that - even though they typically suggest that they can overcome this problem of circularity / self-referentiality.

What you're suggesting requires absolute faith that the process usually taught as "Buddhist" is true and leads to the proposed results.

IOW, all this seems to be more of a meta-practical, meta-religious problem.

I don't know how to solve it directly. But for me, investigating concepts of religiousness, religious choice, religious epistemology etc. has helped to alleviate the felt urgency of the issue.
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

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reflection
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Re: Problems with no-self

Post by reflection » Thu May 16, 2013 12:45 pm

That interpretation again comes from argumentation. If one looks deeply inside oneself without bias one can see what is there and what is not there. Then there can only be one way things are, not multiple truths. To be without bias is not holding to views, not holding to the intellect. That way it's not circular because you take your own experience as a guide, not what anybody else says, or even what your intellect says. Exactly as the Buddha recommended.

Well, I admit that's the ideal case and I don't think many people see no-self fully. Otherwise there wouldn't be so much different opinions on core teachings of the dhamma. But it's not like you see no-self 100% or you don't see it at all. You can build it up, slowly beginning to understand it by looking deeper instead of using argumentation. That way it will not be based on a religious aspect. To see it partly is already very useful and brings forth some trust that the Buddha may have been right. Ones ideas won't go from one side to the other anymore.
Last edited by reflection on Thu May 16, 2013 4:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.

binocular
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Re: Problems with no-self

Post by binocular » Thu May 16, 2013 3:13 pm

I don't think you understand what I'm saying. And it would take several paragraphs to explain, and I don't feel like it right now. It's like a non-Christian trying to explain to a Christian why "Just place your faith in Jesus" is useless advice ...
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

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reflection
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Re: Problems with no-self

Post by reflection » Thu May 16, 2013 4:01 pm

Don't bother. I get what you were saying, I just don't think it's true.

I do hope Alex sees my point.

chownah
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Re: Problems with no-self

Post by chownah » Thu May 16, 2013 4:04 pm

binocular wrote:I don't think you understand what I'm saying. And it would take several paragraphs to explain, and I don't feel like it right now. It's like a non-Christian trying to explain to a Christian why "Just place your faith in Jesus" is useless advice ...
Seems to me that reflection understands what you are saying. Don't put your faith in anything. Go by what you experience directly. A good place to start is to try to understand the difference between thinking that there is or isn't a self and thinking that the best thing is to have no doctrine of self. Thinking that there is or isn't a self usually leads into a thicket of views just like the "circularity" you mention above. The no doctrine idea implies that you can still function even if the idea of self is not part of your coping skills.....and one need not experience the full blown absence of this doctrine to understand where it leads....I think this is part of what reflection is saying.
chownah

binocular
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Re: Problems with no-self

Post by binocular » Thu May 16, 2013 4:30 pm

chownah wrote:Seems to me that reflection understands what you are saying.
I don't think so.

Don't put your faith in anything.
Not possible. We always put our faith in something (at least ordinary people always put their faith into something).

Go by what you experience directly.
Not possible.
There is always interpretation of experience, this is how we get to consider it experience in the first place (again, talking about ordinary people).

Maybe at some very advanced level, direct experience makes sense. But for me, it's useless: it's just feelings in the body, with no evaluations to them.

A good place to start is to try to understand the difference between thinking that there is or isn't a self and thinking that the best thing is to have no doctrine of self.
I think I understand this part very well.
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

chownah
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Re: Problems with no-self

Post by chownah » Fri May 17, 2013 2:40 pm

Binocular,
The things you say are not possible are routinely done by many people every day....maybe you are interpreting them in a very narrow way and so they seem impossible. I suggest you open your mind just a bit wider and try interpreting these things in a broader way and try to find some sort of truth in them.....but only if you want to......I don't want you to think that I want you to do something contrary to your nature.
chownah

binocular
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Re: Problems with no-self

Post by binocular » Fri May 17, 2013 3:13 pm

chownah wrote:The things you say are not possible are routinely done by many people every day....maybe you are interpreting them in a very narrow way and so they seem impossible. I suggest you open your mind just a bit wider and try interpreting these things in a broader way and try to find some sort of truth in them.....but only if you want to......I don't want you to think that I want you to do something contrary to your nature.
Your and reflection's suggestions work for someone who has already converted. Not for someone who is outside.
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

chownah
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Re: Problems with no-self

Post by chownah » Fri May 17, 2013 4:15 pm

binocular wrote:
chownah wrote:The things you say are not possible are routinely done by many people every day....maybe you are interpreting them in a very narrow way and so they seem impossible. I suggest you open your mind just a bit wider and try interpreting these things in a broader way and try to find some sort of truth in them.....but only if you want to......I don't want you to think that I want you to do something contrary to your nature.
Your and reflection's suggestions work for someone who has already converted. Not for someone who is outside.
There is no inside or outside.....what works works....but you have to put in some effort to find out what worksif you want to benefit from what works. Like they say at AA "it works if you work it". ......I haven't seen much from you in the way of trying to figure out what to do.....seems like mostly you put your effort into making excuses so that nothing need be investigated. But maybe I just don't understand your motivation for posting here. Is there anything that anyone has posted that has stimulated you to go out and learn or try something? If not then oh well, maybe Buddhism is just not for you.
chownah

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