Sylvester wrote:Thank you for this. If there was no one neat Creation myth, perhaps you could furnish at least one common thread underlying the entire multi-coloured fabric of the pre-Buddhist millieu?
I'm not sure that I believe there is such a thing in the vast sprawl that is Vedism. Do you?
I do know from your essay in the OCBS Journal that you may equate this to the "sense of self", but it is not immediately apparent to me what that "sense of self" was, given the diversity of theories presented in the Upanisads.
Well, maybe the common thread then is "what is the order of the universe and how can understanding its order best serve our desire for a happy future?" Seen that way the Buddha is then -- on the broadest level -- responding to the assumption that there is a knowable order and then pointing out that the things we do because we think we know what that order is and what to do about it actually lead us into trouble. This is why he occasionally teaches that what the order actually turns out to be is less important that doing what's right here-and-now. He proposes that if we act in moral ways, we certainly have the best opportunity for a good outcome in this life, and if the universe has an order that supports morality then we win again. Whereas if we behave in amoral ways, if there is a moral order we'll be in trouble after death, and if there is no Cosmic Law then we'll experience dukkha as a result of our behavior in this life anyway. (All the arguments that get made about how, if we believe there is no rebirth, then we can just run off and be immoral and live a life of luxury on our ill-gotten-gains fall apart when we recognize that what dukkha is talking about isn't suffering due to poverty instead of wealth, etc. but all the frustrations of loving people who don't love you back, losing those you love to illness and death, issues with our own aging etc. Those don't change for the immoral unenlightened no matter how wealthy they get.)
Certainly, I would not discount the utility of DA in accounting for some "sense of self", since grasping/clinging forms an important component of the 1st Noble Truth, while DA is identified with the 2nd. I take MN 44 as furnishing an alternative characterisation of the grasping in the concept of sakkāya
, so perhaps this is one expression of a "sense of self".
But that being said, despite the summary equation (saṅkhitta
) of the pañcupādānakkhandhā
, we cannot discount the other appositional statements in SN 56. 11-
jātipi dukkhā jarāpi dukkhā vyādhipi dukkho maraṇampi dukkhaṃ appiyehi sampayogo dukkho piyehi vippayogo dukkho yampicchaṃ na labhati tampi dukkhaṃ
Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; association with the loathed is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering.
If you look at the recent conversation I have been having with Spiny, you'll find that he keeps understanding me as saying that what's being "born" is "the view" rather than "what is generated by the view". In a sense, this is what the Buddha is doing with the portion up to "death is suffering". It is an equivalency of sorts, in which the component parts that go into making something, are named as the thing they result in, and sometimes even perceived as being the same thing, as I believe Spiny has been doing -- and in a sense that is perfectly correct: the view and what it generates are inseparable in a way. This is especially true in the case of components that are critical to the thing, without which the thing would not have what we think of as its innate character. So, for example, we never indicate our car by its upholstery, but we often call it "our wheels". This is what I find the Buddha doing right up to that maranampi dukkham, and here maybe grammar helps to indicate this, because there is no "hoti" in there -- no "is" -- which is (granted) a common construction all throughout the Pali, and is read as having the "to be" verb "understood", making for an equivalency, but it seems to me a softer sort of equivalency than one with the hoti in there. Its a metonym. I expect that this "birth is suffering, aging is suffering, death is suffering" was a pop-phrase, and the Buddha is using it in his customary "Just so -- you are exactly right" opening that is generally followed by "but let's refine that a bit" which pulls the listener in the direction of what he wants them to actually understand.
Is an account of DA that attempts to address the source/origin of this sense of self alone
what is presented in the suttas? I think this is papering over other very important aspects of DA that attempt to explain phenomenon beyond the clinging to identity. Such an account fails to acknowledge that DA as presented in the suttas function to explain feelings as well. Take for example the internal evidence in SN 12.25, where SN 56.11's piyehi vippayoga
(seperation from the loved) fits in with SN 12.25's exposition on the source of feeling -
Friend Sāriputta, some ascetics and brahmins, proponents of kamma, maintain that pleasure and pain are created by oneself; some ascetics and brahmins, proponents of kamma, maintain that pleasure and pain are created by another; some ascetics and brahmins, proponents of kamma, maintain that pleasure and pain are created both by oneself and by another; some ascetics and brahmins, proponents of kamma, maintain that pleasure and pain have arisen fortuitously, being created neither by oneself nor by another.76 Now, friend Sāriputta, what does the Blessed One say about this? What does he teach? How should we answer if we are to state what has been said by the Blessed One and not misrepresent him with what is contrary to fact? And how should we explain in accordance with the Dhamma so that no reasonable consequence of our assertion would give ground for criticism?”
“Friend, the Blessed One has said that pleasure and pain are dependently arisen. Dependent on what? Dependent on contact. If one were to speak thus one would be stating what has been said by the Blessed One and would not misrepresent him with what is contrary to fact; one would explain in accordance with the Dhamma, and no reasonable consequence of one’s assertion would give ground for criticism.
“Therein, friend, in the case of those ascetics and brahmins, proponents of kamma, who maintain that pleasure and pain are created by oneself, and those who maintain that pleasure and pain are created by another, and those who maintain that pleasure and pain are created both by oneself and by another, and those who maintain that pleasure and pain have arisen fortuitously, being created neither by oneself nor by another—in each case that is conditioned by contact.
“Therein, friends, in the case of those ascetics and brahmins, proponents of kamma, who maintain that pleasure and pain are created by oneself, and those who maintain that pleasure and pain are created by another, and those who maintain that pleasure and pain are created both by oneself and by another, and those  who maintain that pleasure and pain have arisen fortuitously, being created neither by oneself nor by another—in each case it is impossible that they will experience [anything] without contact.”
This analysis is echoed in AN 3.61 - http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
. Both SN 12.25 and AN 3.61 certainly fit in with your description that it addresses a prevailing belief(s), but both suttas do not stop to say that one's sense of self originates from that belief. Both suttas explicitly deny the validity of the beliefs, and then go on to present the Buddha's teaching on the source of feelings.
I would also note that AN 3.61 goes beyond the exposition on the origin of feelings. The alighting of the embryo (gabbhassāvakkanti
) is mentioned. What's striking here is that clinging to the 6 dhātū
is the paccaya
for the alighting of the embryo. This turns the table on the discussion, insofar as the Buddha has gone beyond applying DA as just being an account of pañcupādānakkhandhā
, but has actually applied DA as pointing to pañcupādānakkhandhā
(or the underlying upādāna
/clinging) as the condition for the alighting of the embryo. I therefore find it hard to believe that the Buddha actually used DA as a mere pedagogical tool to explain the Brahmin's "sense of self", not when AN 3.61 points clearly to DA being an explanation for how clinging leads to rebirth.
I'm having a hard time finding which angle to approach all the above from, because so many pieces fit into it but I'll try starting from the point that while what the Buddha is talking about in dependent arising is how we create a false sense that we have a lasting self, and how that and its impermanence and the impermanence of everything we make part of that self is what leads to dukkha, that doesn't preclude there being a larger context for what he's saying, or that the larger context doesn't matter. So, for example, causation is a larger context -- he didn't invent it (it's being talked about in Vedic works long before his time) but he focused on it in a different way. It's often thought that when he says "when this is, that is" he is talking about Cosmic Order but I don't think that's what he's actually paying attention to -- that it is the cosmic order is relevant because it is the way things work and we all know it, but that's not the lesson he's teaching: he's teaching its relevance to DA. Causation is true on a cosmic scale, but he's not discussing cosmology; he's talking about how causation applies in this situation we're focused on. "When this is, that is" is his short-hand for what is going on in DA, it's a clever little reminder of the essence, and (I believe) should not be mistaken for his answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything.
In the suttas you cite on feelings, he and his disciples are talking about what other people believe about feelings. The proposition seems to be that all feelings are created by something outside our immediate control (either our past behavior/as a result of kamma, or by the Gods, or that it's just random. The Buddha refutes this: what we feel (*whatever* we feel) comes about through causes and conditions. I think any of us here can see that this is true. It's true on a scale like "when this is, that is" at a cosmic level. But that does not mean that when he talks about feelings in DA he is talking about every feeling. The feelings he is discussing in DA are a severely limited set of all feelings, limited by the causal chain that has come before (because that's what causal chains do, they narrow the set at each step). It is *only* feelings that meet all the conditions that came before -- that are driven by ignorance, sankhara, consciousness, and name-and-form, and sought after by senses that are driven by those.
That he is discussing the fact that all feelings come from causes -- not from kamma, from Gods, or from randomness -- wouldn't mean that in DA he is talking about *all feelings*.
Which answers your first question in this set: "Is an account of DA that attempts to address the source/origin of this sense of self alone what is presented in the suttas?"
I am reading the "alone" in that sentence as applying to "what is presented in the suttas" rather than to "an account of DA" so I interpret your question as: is a sense of self all that the Buddha is talking about in the suttas?
No, because -- at the very least* -- he talks to people about more than just what he teaches. They propose ideas that fall outside of what he teaches. In these suttas, he drags them towards his actual teaching by using the "what everybody knows" structure of DA to describe how feelings are dependent on causes like having consciousness appear at conception (not addressing where it came from, right? he is being generic), having name-and-form, using the senses, making contact with the world -- voila! feeling comes from all that. This is also obviously true. He doesn't really need to be explaining anatta here -- he is just showing that feelings arise from causes that we can see. If they're interested, they can come learn more.
The other aspect of this is that in the mid-section of DA, when he "does the detail", he isn't talking about "what everybody believes" as he does in the first and last section. The *names* of the steps reflect "what everybody does" in terms of rituals, but his explanation of what those rituals are actually contains the meat of the lesson (and is another way the Upanisadic student would know he's not actually teaching rebirth in DA). He's not doing quite the same thing in that middle section -- not in the same way anyway. "What everybody knows", that he's actually denying, is only in the titles of the steps: he is being very explicit in his descriptions of what they mean. If you pay attention to those rituals which he is saying are what we are actually doing that is important, you'll see for yourself everything that matters, and the knowledge we gain from the experience that is vedana is the true knowledge we need, not what's in the Vedas that detail that other set of rituals.
As for separation from the loved, what is the basis of the kind of love that causes dukkha? This gets into the whole issue of whether the Buddha is counseling being so equanimous that one ceases to love at all, or whether he is suggesting that there is something like a healthy sort of love, and then there is unhealthy love. This, for me, relates to whether he is talking about the extinguishing of all feeling in order to end dukkha, or a subset. For me, it is clear that when he talks about the pain of separation from the loved, even that is on two levels. There is the "what everyone knows" inevitable truth that -- no matter what -- if you love someone, when you lose them it will hurt. This is a truth on a cosmic scale as far as I'm concerned -- it's inherent in the definition of love, for me. But there is the hurt one should always feel, and face, and live through, not try to avoid, the hurt that ultimately heals and makes us better at living our lives in a state of impermanence (knowing we can survive it) afterward. And then there is the dukkha-level of hurt that comes from having put an unhealthy investment in self into the way we loved someone, so that when we lose them we run from the pain, or blame ourselves, or blame others, or do other crazy things as a result.
* depending on how you look at it, he might be seen to be talking about other things as well, like our impact on each other, and social pressures, but these things also tend to tie back to sense-of-self.