Today I was browsing through Amazon.com and I was reading reviews for one of Bhikku Bodi's books and I encountered a very harsh review of his book that argued that the traditional view of Anatta is incorrect. I will post the review here and I'd like to know if what this person says is at all reasonable and makes sense.
The position by the author, Bhikkhu B., in said book is one not doctrinally substantiated. The entire premise of this book is that is the "teachings of Gotama Buddha", when in fact it is the view/position of Theravada orthodoxy (i.e. Abhidhamma/Budddhaghosa). Bodhi's book posits the denial of the Atman as the basis "core of Buddhism", when in fact no such doctrinal citation exists.
B. Bodhi also FAILS to mention there are "2 8fold paths" in sutta [Majjhima Nikaya 3.72], as well as the "Superior 10fold path" (arya dasa magga) which contains #9 Sammanana, and #10 Sammavimutta. I wont even go into the fact that the word Samma' does not translate as "right/rightness"; another error in Pali translation Bodhi makes.
The Buddhist term Anatman (Sanskrit), or Anatta (Pali) is an adjective in sutra used to refer to the nature of phenomena as being devoid of the Soul, the ontological and subjective Self (atman) which is the "light (dipam), and only refuge" [DN 2.100]. Of the 662 occurrences of the term Anatta in the Nikayas, its usage is restricted to referring to 22 nouns (forms, feelings, perception, experiences, consciousness, the eye, eye-consciousness, desires, mentation, mental formations, ear, nose, tongue, body, lusts, things unreal, etc.), all phenomenal, as being Selfless (anatta). Contrary to some popular books written outside the scope of Buddhist doctrine, there is no "Doctrine of anatta/anatman" mentioned anywhere in the sutras, rather anatta is used only to refer to impermanent things as other than the Soul, to be anatta.
Specifically in sutra, anatta is used to describe the nature of any and all composite, consubstantial, phenomenal, and temporal things, from the macrocosmic, to microcosmic, be it matter as pertains the physical body or the cosmos at large, including any and all mental machinations which are of the nature of arising and passing. Anatta in sutra is synonymous and interchangeable with the terms dukkha (suffering) and anicca (impermanent), and all three terms are often used in triplet in making a blanket statement as regards any and all phenomena. "All these aggregates are anicca, dukkha, and anatta."
Anatta refers only to the absence of the permanent soul as pertains any one of the psycho-physical (namo-rupa) attributes, or Khandhas (skandhas, aggregates). Anatta/Anatman in the earliest Buddhist texts, the Nikayas, is an adjective, (A is anatta, B is anatta, C is anatta). The commonly held belief to wit that: "Anatta means no-soul, therefore Buddhism taught that there was no soul" is a concept, which cannot be found or doctrinally substantiated by means of the Nikayas, the sutras, of Buddhism.
The Pali term and noun for "no soul" is natthatta (literally "there is not/no[nattha]+atta'[Soul]), not the term anatta, and is mentioned at Samyutta Nikaya 4.400, where when Gotama was asked if there "was no soul (natthatta)", equated this question to be equivalent to Nihilism (ucchedavada). Common throughout Buddhist sutra is the denial of psycho-physical attributes of the mere empirical self to be the Soul, or confused with same. The Buddhist paradigm as regards phenomena is "Na me so atta" (this/these are not my soul), nearly so the most common utterance of Gotama Buddha in the Nikayas, where "na me so atta" = Anatta/Anatman. In sutra, to hold the view that there is "no-Soul" (natthatta) is = to ucchedavada (SN 4.400) [Annihilationism] = natthika (nihilist).
Logically so, according to the philosophical premise of Gotama, the initiate to Buddhism who is to be "shown the way to Immortality (amata)" [MN 2.265, SN 5.9], wherein liberation of the mind (cittavimutta) is effectuated thru the expansion of wisdom and the meditative practices of sati and samadhi, must first be educated away from his former ignorance-based (avijja) materialistic proclivities in that he "saw any of these forms, feelings, or this body, to be my Self, to be that which I am by nature". Teaching the subject of anatta in sutra pertains solely to things phenomenal, which were: "subject to perpetual change; therefore unfit to declare of such things `these are mine, these are what I am, that these are my Soul'" [MN 1.232]
The one scriptural passage where Gotama is asked by a layperson what the meaning of anatta is as follows: [Samyutta Nikaya 3.196] At one time in Savatthi, the venerable Radha seated himself and asked of the Blessed Lord Buddha: "Anatta, anatta I hear said venerable. What pray tell does Anatta mean?" "Just this Radha, form is not the Soul (anatta), sensations are not the Soul (anatta), perceptions are not the Soul (anatta), assemblages are not the Soul (anatta), consciousness is not the Soul (anatta). Seeing thusly, this is the end of birth, the Brahman life has been fulfilled, what must be done has been done."
The anatta taught in the Nikayas has merely relative value; it is not an absolute one. It does not say simply that the Soul (atta, Atman) has no reality at all, but that certain things (5 aggregates), with which the unlearned man identifies himself, are not the Soul (anatta) and that is why one should grow disgusted with them, become detached from them and be liberated. Since this kind of anatta does not negate the Soul as such, but denies Selfhood to those things that constitute the non-self (anatta), showing them thereby to be empty of any ultimate value and to be repudiated, instead of nullifying the Atman (Soul) doctrine, it in fact compliments it.
What has Buddhism to say of the Self? "That's not my Self" (na me so atta); this, and the term "non Self-ishness" (anatta) predicated of the world and all "things" (sabbe dhamma anatta; Identical with the Brahmanical "of those who are mortal, there is no Self/Soul", (anatma hi martyah, [SB., II. 2. 2. 3]). [KN J-1441] "The Soul is the refuge that I have gone unto". For anatta is not said of the Self/Soul but what it is not. There is never a `doctrine of no-Soul', but a doctrine of what the Soul is not (form is anatta, feelings are anatta, etc.).
It is of course true that the Buddha denied the existence of the mere empirical "self" in the very meaning of "my-self" (this person so-and-so, namo-rupa, an-atta), one might say in accordance with the command `denegat seipsum, [Mark VII.34]; but this is not what modern writers mean to say, or are understood by their readers to say; what they mean to say is that the Buddha denied the immortal(amata), the unborn (ajata) and Supreme-Self (mahatta') of the Upanishads. And that is palpably false, for he frequently speaks of this Self, or Spirit (mahapurisha), and nowhere more clearly than in the too often repeated formula 'na me so atta', "This/these are not my Soul" (na me so atta'= anatta/anatman), excluding body (rupa) and the components of empirical consciousness (vinnana/ nama), a statement to which the words of Sankhara are peculiarly apposite, "Whenever we deny something unreal, is it in reference to something real"[Br. Sutra III.2.22]. It was not for the Buddha but for the nihilist (natthika)to deny the Soul.
Outside of going into the doctrines of later schisms of Buddhism, Sarvastivada, Theravada, Vajrayana, Madhyamika, and lastly Zen, the oldest existing texts (Nikayas) of Buddhism which predate all these later schools of Buddhism, anatta is never used pejoratively in any sense in the Nikayas by Gotama the Buddha, who himself has said: [MN 1.140] "Both formerly and now, I've never been a nihilist (vinayika), never been one who teaches the annihilation of a being, rather taught only the source of suffering, and its ending" Further investigation into Negative theology is the source which should be referenced in further understanding the methodology which the term anatta illuminates.
Due to secular propagation, a general acceptance of the concept of "A Doctrine of Anatta" exists as status quo, however there exists no substantiation in sutra for Buddhism's denial of soul, or in using the term anatta in anything but a positive sense in denying Self-Nature, the Soul, to any one of a conglomeration of corporeal and empirical phenomena which were by their very transitory nature, "impermanent (anicca), suffering (dukkha), and Selfless (anatta)". The only noun in sutra which is referred to as "permanent (nicca)" is the Soul, such as Samyutta Nikaya 1.169.
In fact the phrase "Doctrine of anatta", or "Anatmavada" is a concept utterly foreign to Buddhist Sutra, existing in only non-doctrinal Theravada and Madhyamika commentaries. As the saying goes, a "lie repeated often enough over time becomes the truth". Those interested parties to Buddhism incapable of pouring through endless piles of Buddhist doctrine have defacto accepted the notion of a "Doctrine of
anatta" as key to Buddhism itself, when in fact there exists not one citation of this concept in either the Digha, Majjhima, Samyutta, Anguttara, or Khuddaka Nikayas. Unless evoking a fallacy, we must stick
strictly to sutra as reference, wherein the usage of anatta never falls outside of the parameter of merely denying Self or Soul to the profane and transitory phenomena of temporal and samsaric life which is "subject to arising and passing", and which is most certain not (AN) our Soul (ATTA). Certainly the most simple philosophical logic would lead anyone to conclude that no part of this frail body is "my Self, is That which I am", is "not my Soul", of which Gotama the Buddha was wholeheartedly in agreement that no part of it was the Soul, i.e. was in fact anatta.
The perfect contextual usage of anatta is: "Whatever form, feelings, perceptions, experiences, or consciousness there is (the five aggregates), these he sees to be without permanence, as suffering, as ill, as a plague, a boil, a sting, a pain, an affliction, as foreign, as otherness, as empty (suññato), as Selfless (anattato). So he turns his mind away from these and gathers his mind/will within the realm of Immortality (amataya dhatuya). This is tranquility; this is that which is most excellent!" [MN 1.436]
The term anatman is found not only in Buddhist sutras, but also in the Upanishads and lavishly so in the writings of Samkara, the founder of Advaita Vedanta. Anatman is a common via negativa (neti neti, not this, not that) teaching method common to Vedanta, Neoplatonism, early Christian mystics, and others, wherein nothing affirmative can be said of what is "beyond speculation, beyond words, and concepts" thereby eliminating all positive characteristics that might be thought to apply to the Soul, or be attributed to it; to wit that the Subjective ontological Self-Nature (svabhava) can never be known objectively, but only thru "the denial of all things which it (the Soul) is not"- Meister Eckhart. This doctrine is also called by the Greeks Apophasis.
So, there it is. What do you all think?