"Is there a Self?"

Casual discussion amongst spiritual friends.
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aflatun
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by aflatun » Thu Feb 08, 2018 3:27 pm

Hi Sam, thank you as always for your lucid and engaging post. Sorry for the late reply, and I can't be as thorough as I'd like right now, but more later!
Sam Vara wrote:
Tue Feb 06, 2018 4:05 pm
Your input in this is much appreciated. Your earlier comment has an element which is repeated above: the idea that what is dependent upon something else cannot be self. I think I am arguing for a "middle way" of a definition here, something that is bounded by the Buddha's other utterances, but also by common sense and intelligibility. A self as the personal unity of experience is certainly dependent, in two ways. First, it logically requires those elements of experience, those objects which render it a unitary subject. We could not conceive of subjectivity as being content-free, any more than we can conceive of objects in themselves. Second, there is no reason why this type of "self" should not begin and end with one's biological life, and be a mere epiphenomenon of we-know-not-what. I suspect Bill V. would want to save a little space whereby this unitary nature of experience could form the foundation for an eternal soul, though to his credit he doesn't attempt to argue this. And I can see why Nanavira would want to downplay this and keep well clear of the notion of "self".


I am with you for the most part! I think its true that most of the arguments put forward to remove the subject quite neatly destroy the object as well. Humean style phenomenalists seem quite willing to bear the fall out of being logically consistent here, and that is to their merit. But this all comes back to "what cannot be found in the present moment, does not exist" and reminds me of Bradley's long and compelling tract against solipsism in Appearance and Reality.

but I would ask: can we retain the personal unity of experience-the togetherness, directionality, and for-ness of experience- without rendering it a subject? We might also ask, in the other direction, if we can retain the togetherness, directionality, and what-appears-ness of the experience without rendering it as an object?
Sam Vara wrote:
Tue Feb 06, 2018 4:05 pm
On the other hand, I'm very keen to steer clear of eternalism, especially as it is manifested in "khandas-as-essences", and "everlasting signless consciousness".
Are you saying you see those who would posit khandas-as-essences as succumbing to a form of eternalism? (I think this is true, by the way)
Sam Vara wrote:
Tue Feb 06, 2018 4:05 pm
The Nanavira quote is very interesting. I especially liked this:
Not the least of the dangers of the facile and fallacious notion 'truth in the highest sense' is its power to lull the unreflecting mind into a false sense of security. The unwary thinker comes to believe that he understands what, in fact, he does not understand, and thereby effectively blocks his own progress.
Sam Vara wrote:
Tue Feb 06, 2018 4:05 pm
It couldn't happen around here, could it?! :lol:
Of course not! All you have to do is memorize a few taxonomies, engage in some hostile debates, and you're a stream winner right?

I read BV's paper on the chariot, wonderful stuff. I just wanted to add something, possibly off topic. There is a difference between how the chariot is understood in Theravada vs. Mahayana (Madhyamaka). For the former, the unity is (supposedly) refuted but the parts are "ultimately real." For the latter the unity is refuted but the parts are refuted for the same reason, ad infinitum in both directions, i.e. no ultimate is found, wholes and parts are interdependent and neither can be established: the chariot appears, but cannot be found; its components appear, but cannot be found; their parts appear, but cannot be found...the rabbit hole never ends. Its like happily embracing Bradley's infinite regress without sublating the paradox into an Absolute or reducing it to 'ultimate parts.' (See the second quote in my signature)

For me this is a different animal, and closer to phenomenological dhamma's infinite hierarchies of reflection and awareness, minus the latter's ontological commitments.
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16

Circle5
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Circle5 » Thu Feb 08, 2018 5:52 pm

Saengnapha wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 3:03 am
Taking a position:Wrong View
Not taking a position:Wrong View

No position can be held as all are impermanent and conceptualized. If we don't move past this point, we repeat, repeat, repeat........
Where did you get this idea about such a thing as "right-view" not existing in Buddha teaching ?
He didn't say, "an ethereal atman under the spell of Maya feeds"
He didn't say, "there isn't anyone at all who feeds"
He said, "not a valid question"!
And why did he say not a valid question ? Because there is no-one who feeds.
"Monks, these two slander the Tathagata. Which two? He who explains a discourse whose meaning needs to be inferred as one whose meaning has already been fully drawn out. And he who explains a discourse whose meaning has already been fully drawn out as one whose meaning needs to be inferred. These are two who slander the Tathagata."
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitak ... .than.html

It's also worth noting that if you take a single paragraph of a sutta and try to make a case of "the sutta is not clear enough for an ultra-literalist like me who doesn't not even understand the notion of inference" then you can always read the sutta in the context of 10k pages of nikayas. Then, it is quite hard to miss the idea of annata, since basically wherever you open the page you have a big chance of stumbling upon it.

But yet, the annata teachings will always be hard to accept by people, especially without listening to the discourses about it in full, not just partially with a honest desire to understand them. There will always be attempts to introduce a self or at least a subtle self into Buddha teachings. The idea o annata is unique to Buddhism. Even atheist believe there is a self, but that self gets destroyed at death. No-one else except the Buddha has such a doctrine.

Circle5
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Circle5 » Thu Feb 08, 2018 6:02 pm

Saengnapha wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 3:03 am
Taking a position:Wrong View
Not taking a position:Wrong View

No position can be held as all are impermanent and conceptualized. If we don't move past this point, we repeat, repeat, repeat........
Also, check nr 14:

14. The one who evades all questions thinking that answering them would be “attachment” to something.

https://dhammawiki.com/index.php?title= ... wrong_view

Circle5
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Circle5 » Thu Feb 08, 2018 6:18 pm

aflatun wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 3:27 pm
Sam Vara wrote:
Tue Feb 06, 2018 4:05 pm
It couldn't happen around here, could it?! :lol:
Of course not! All you have to do is memorize a few taxonomies, engage in some hostile debates, and you're a stream winner right?
Wrong. What you need to do to be a stream enterer is to publicly claim that you're one and, much more importantly, to refer to those who do not share your views with the word "wordling" about 5 times per paragraph along your whole book. If you're not using the world "wordling" in almost every phrase that is written by your pen, people that are a little slow might not catch the idea that you're a stream enterer and they are not.

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aflatun
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by aflatun » Thu Feb 08, 2018 6:24 pm

Circle5 wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 6:02 pm
Saengnapha wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 3:03 am
Taking a position:Wrong View
Not taking a position:Wrong View

No position can be held as all are impermanent and conceptualized. If we don't move past this point, we repeat, repeat, repeat........
Also, check nr 14:

14. The one who evades all questions thinking that answering them would be “attachment” to something.

https://dhammawiki.com/index.php?title= ... wrong_view
I'm not a moderator, but I'd love it if the both of you kept your evangelizing out of this thread. This thread is about a Neo Kantian critique of Humean "no self" and as we've discussed scriptural authority is out of bounds here.
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16

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Sam Vara
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Sam Vara » Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:25 pm

aflatun wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 3:27 pm

I am with you for the most part! I think its true that most of the arguments put forward to remove the subject quite neatly destroy the object as well. Humean style phenomenalists seem quite willing to bear the fall out of being logically consistent here, and that is to their merit. But this all comes back to "what cannot be found in the present moment, does not exist" and reminds me of Bradley's long and compelling tract against solipsism in Appearance and Reality.
Ah, Bradley! You'll have to forgive me, as I haven't read a word of him, other than Nanavira's ironic juxtapositioning of his account of The Absolute with the Buddha's statements about nibbana. It looks very daunting. I remember David Reynolds (Pannobhasa) blogging that he was finding A&R very heavy going while living in a cave in Burma, and it might have led to his current disquietude! :shock:
but I would ask: can we retain the personal unity of experience-the togetherness, directionality, and for-ness of experience- without rendering it a subject? We might also ask, in the other direction, if we can retain the togetherness, directionality, and what-appears-ness of the experience without rendering it as an object?
I actually think that I'm OK with subjects ( :jawdrop: - stand by to repel boarders!) providing they are merely that personal unity by which we are identified, and nothing more. You are partly responsible for this, as you sent me the Sue Hamilton articles which augmented the Gombrich I had been reading! Whereas RG focuses on the necessity of an enduring something by means of which the Buddha's ethical theory can be made to stand up, SH goes one further and talks about the nonsense involved in an entity realising that it doesn't actually exist, and has never done so. I believe she talks about lunatic asylums at one point... As for objects as well as subjects, SH sidesteps the whole issue by referring to the Buddha's (humanistic) focus upon experience rather than ontology, and thus his refusal to answer certain questions - and the "middle way" - is simply a misunderstood tactic to stop amateur philosophers being waylaid. This then makes anatta nothing more than a reiteration of the fact that the self, and every aspect of it, is dependently originated. I would rather have this as a problem than the reverse: which is that it would certainly be impossible for any being to know that things were dependently originated if there was not an enduring thing (and it doesn't have to be a substance!) as the precondition for understanding causality and dependency. As such, the subject (as unity of experience) can never be an object, except through being conceptualised. What we talk about is as objective as trees and emotions, and subject to the same exigencies. We just have to be careful (as per MN 1) not to talk as if the objects were "coming out of" the subject, etc.
Are you saying you see those who would posit khandas-as-essences as succumbing to a form of eternalism? (I think this is true, by the way)


Yes. Essences are eternal. Five big indestructible objects rolling on through time, and happening to produce by their own efforts (one of which is sankhara/intention, of course) a person like me. It might be the case, but the Buddha's pronouncements seem more geared towards us seeing them as personal processes. This is what Hamilton goes on about in most of her articles: when everything else in the teachings is "how", it's difficult to see them as being a "what". And although there are probably hundreds of boiler-plate accounts of what the khandas are, they are invariably about differentiating them one from another, rather than pointing to them or defining them sui generis. Whether it is easier to see them as continuing and constituent parts of experience, or as conditions which give rise to our experience, is currently above my pay grade.
I just wanted to add something, possibly off topic. There is a difference between how the chariot is understood in Theravada vs. Mahayana (Madhyamaka). For the former, the unity is (supposedly) refuted but the parts are "ultimately real." For the latter the unity is refuted but the parts are refuted for the same reason, ad infinitum in both directions, i.e. no ultimate is found, wholes and parts are interdependent and neither can be established: the chariot appears, but cannot be found; its components appear, but cannot be found; their parts appear, but cannot be found...the rabbit hole never ends
That's very interesting. I prefer the latter, if only for the points on dependent origination mentioned above. So you send me stuff about transcendental unities which is heretical here, for some reason they make me a moderator, and only then do you finish me off with a conversion to Mahayana! Get thee behind me, Mara... :jumping:

As ever, many thanks for your posts. Keep 'em coming. My sanity might depend on it...

Circle5
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Circle5 » Thu Feb 08, 2018 10:26 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:25 pm
SH goes one further and talks about the nonsense involved in an entity realising that it doesn't actually exist, and has never done so.
The Buddhist idea is not that there is a self that realizes it doesn't exist, and that itself never existed.

The idea is that there never was a self to begin with. It was just an organism, a conglomeration of aggregates, similar to a computer. There is a specific information existing at one point in a computer, and through the use of the ability to process of the computer, it will arise at a conclusion based on it. For example a computer without an anti-virus will arive at the conclusion that there is no virus in it, one with an antivirus, thanks to the extra information present in it, will arise at a different conclusion.

Similarly, the human organism might have information in it that makes him arive at he conclusion that there is a self, and it will make him interpret things in a specific way. When an additional information is inserted into it (the dhamma), after being processed by it, a different conclusion will arise, the conclusion that there is no self. Also, many more things regarding this organism and how this organism operates will change fundamentally, making it destined for a certain direction. Based on the algorithms present in this organism, based on the information that is now insterted, it will work in a different way and be directed towards another goal, be directed in another direction. Due to the way it is built and the new information present in it, it will operate differently than before and understand many other things differently.

This is much different than a self existing, and that self finding out that it doesn't exist anymore or that it never existed. That would of course be something of imense stupidity and non-sense. But that is just a misunderstanding of the dhamma, a gross one. It shows the western philosopher in question has not bothered to investigate the dhamma or to think too much about it on the coach. Probably he has read half a wikipedia article and gave it 15 minutes of thinking.

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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Sam Vara » Thu Feb 08, 2018 11:27 pm

Circle5 wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 10:26 pm

The Buddhist idea is not that there is a self that realizes it doesn't exist, and that itself never existed.
Maybe so, but a little more care on your part would have shown you that this is not what anyone was saying. Can you see the difference between a "self" (in your quote) and an "entity" (in my quote)?
It shows the western philosopher in question has not bothered to investigate the dhamma or to think too much about it on the coach. Probably he has read half a wikipedia article and gave it 15 minutes of thinking.
You are talking about Dr. Susan Hamilton, a reader in Indian Religions at King's College, London. It says that in the text that you read, doesn't it! She (not a he!) is not any kind of "western philosopher". She has published books and many scholarly articles about Indian Religions and early Indian philosophy, specialising in early Buddhism. She is a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, and was Honorary Secretary of the Pali Text Society. It's amazing how far one can get with half a wikipedia article and 15 minutes of thinking, but I'm glad to see that someone as wise as you has put him...sorry, I mean her, in her place by means of superior learning.

As ever, thanks for your contribution, Circle5. You've no idea how much I appreciate it!

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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Circle5 » Fri Feb 09, 2018 12:09 am

Sam Vara wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 11:27 pm
Circle5 wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 10:26 pm

The Buddhist idea is not that there is a self that realizes it doesn't exist, and that itself never existed.
Maybe so, but a little more care on your part would have shown you that this is not what anyone was saying. Can you see the difference between a "self" (in your quote) and an "entity" (in my quote)?
If she did not mean entity in the sense of a self (which she probably did), but just in the sense of a conglomeration of aggregates, same as a chariot or an airplane, then that's equally stupid, and shows an equally incredible lack of understanding of buddhism. When in the world have you ever seen the idea of the aggregates not existing, the organism, the being made out of 5 aggregates not existing ? :jawdrop:

It is hard to tell which one of these 2 ideas shows a bigger lack of understanding of buddhism.
She is a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, and was Honorary Secretary of the Pali Text Society. It's amazing how far one can get with half a wikipedia article and 15 minutes of thinking,
Probably got there on diversity quota. Actions speak louder than titles. When you express ideas like:

- "there is a self that exists, and this existing self finds out that it doesn't exist and that it never existed" or
- "there is a selfless being made out of 5 aggregates, similar to a chariot or an airplane, than finds out that this conglomeration of aggregates never existed"

And you claim these are buddhist ideas found in EBTs, tell me what can one conclude of her ?

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Sam Vara
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Sam Vara » Fri Feb 09, 2018 12:17 am

Circle5 wrote:
Fri Feb 09, 2018 12:09 am
...
As ever, your comments are treasured, Circle5.

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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Circle5 » Fri Feb 09, 2018 12:25 am

Sam Vara wrote:
Fri Feb 09, 2018 12:17 am
Circle5 wrote:
Fri Feb 09, 2018 12:09 am
...
As ever, your comments are treasured, Circle5.
And your post, as evasive as ever. And of course respecting the TOSS about playing the man not the ball.

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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Sam Vara » Fri Feb 09, 2018 12:31 am

Circle5 wrote:
Fri Feb 09, 2018 12:25 am

And your post, as evasive as ever. And of course respecting the TOSS about playing the man not the ball.
I readily admit that some of my posts may evade your understanding. But I can't be held entirely responsible for that.

Who has played the man? I've referred to your comments, and your contribution, not to you.

Circle5
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Circle5 » Fri Feb 09, 2018 1:10 am

Sam Vara wrote:
Fri Feb 09, 2018 12:31 am
Circle5 wrote:
Fri Feb 09, 2018 12:25 am

And your post, as evasive as ever. And of course respecting the TOSS about playing the man not the ball.
I readily admit that some of my posts may evade your understanding. But I can't be held entirely responsible for that.

Who has played the man? I've referred to your comments, and your contribution, not to you.
Try to play the ideas discussed next time. Labeling them as wrong, making comments about the post and avoiding to address them is playing the man, not the ball. And, as you said it yourself, these ideas are not exactly mainstream buddhism, they're more like the 0.01%:
So you send me stuff about transcendental unities which is heretical here, for some reason they make me a moderator, and only then do you finish me off with a conversion to Mahayana! Get thee behind me, Mara... :jumping:
This may be NananandaWheel, but still many people here are normal buddhist from other groups. You should not be surprised when finding people contradicting your ideas sometimes. You should not feel like there is something super strange going on when that happens, and be quick to consider people not agreeing with your ideas as having a problem with you or something, then try making fun of them and answer in tendentious ways. This is called projecting. If you see a person discussing an idea, then consider discussing the idea too, rather than answering in tendentious way, feeling like all he really wanted to do is to personally attack you or something. Remember these ideas expressed are anything but popular within the buddhist world, as you yourself said. It's only normal to have people on this forum not agree with them.

Saengnapha
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by Saengnapha » Fri Feb 09, 2018 2:00 am

aflatun wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 6:24 pm
Circle5 wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 6:02 pm
Saengnapha wrote:
Thu Feb 08, 2018 3:03 am
Taking a position:Wrong View
Not taking a position:Wrong View

No position can be held as all are impermanent and conceptualized. If we don't move past this point, we repeat, repeat, repeat........
Also, check nr 14:

14. The one who evades all questions thinking that answering them would be “attachment” to something.

https://dhammawiki.com/index.php?title= ... wrong_view
I'm not a moderator, but I'd love it if the both of you kept your evangelizing out of this thread. This thread is about a Neo Kantian critique of Humean "no self" and as we've discussed scriptural authority is out of bounds here.
Sorry.

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aflatun
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Re: "Is there a Self?"

Post by aflatun » Fri Feb 09, 2018 2:54 am

Saengnapha wrote:
Fri Feb 09, 2018 2:00 am
Sorry.
Thank you, its much appreciated, and I mean that.
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16

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