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Anatta: The Heart of Buddhism

Even those meditators who simply cannot accept the Buddhist concept and assertion of anatta (no self/not self) will probably find much common ground in this talk by the Venerable Buddhadasa.  The talk I listened to was given in Thai language to a group of foreigners and translated into English as he spoke.  Then I found this shorter edited version which  features just the translator:

 

 

 

  • Its interesting how they use the alternate western concept of ego so easily.

    Definitely much common ground and so telling it is that Buddhism really is 'form' of yoga, yet how much it changed with the insertion of essential atheism. 

    Also, its an interesting perspective. The idea that meditators who are aware of the spiritual self are viewed as not being able to 'accept' no self.

    I think its quite difficult to accept someone else's experience as one's own - when that is not the reality of what's happening in one's own personal experience.  For one who knows oneself as the spiritual self would have to imagine, or pretend, to experience a no self situation. 

    Like a person who's never seen the ocean and then they do. 

    Once they see it they know its there and cannot dismiss it any longer as hearsay that it exists. But sure, one could close their eyes and imagine the world without the ocean, even though its still there. 

    Juxtaposed to this I will contradict myself by thinking that on the other hand, a person with no feeling of the self (no experience of the ocean) should benefit from imagining it. It's just an opinion. But I don't hold the opinion that a person who knows the self should imagine its non existence. I don't think that's the direction toward enlightenment. Again, my opinion. 

     

    • What is the proof from the Pali canon texts that anatta means that of all things  none of them is self?

      This sounds like he takes information from the neti neti philosophers in India and mixes it in with Buddhism to defend Buddhism when it is hard pressed and cannot prove conclusively that there is no self, anatta.

      Neti neti is a yogic practice which means na iti, na iti, or this is not it, that is not it, where someone looks for something and finds many objects which are not what he is looking for.

      Note as well that anatta is from the original Sanskrit which is anatma, where the prefix an means not. Atma is self. But self has varying meanings in Sanskrit with its ultimate meaning being self as qualified as brahman, which is the ultimate reality or energy.

      Brahman is from the Vedas, particularly the philosophical part which is termed collectively as the Upanishads. Brahman means the ultimate reality but it is not specifically defined. It is vague and is left open as the ultimate reality. It is as if the philosopher who researched it did not come to a precise definition because it meant ultimate which is beyond sensual grasp.

      Back to what I really want to inquire about, which is the first sentence, rewritten here:

      What is the proof from the Pali canon texts that anatta means that of all things that none of them is self?

      ~~~~~~~

      This is an indirect way of saying that the self cannot be objectified or targeted or contrasted. But this is exactly what brahman is according to the Upanishad and the Brahma Sutras.

      This makes a good paradox but it does not explain how anyone is singled out with suffering? And why anyone wants to be liberated. It is the very issue of being objectified that motivates anyone to become a Buddhist in the first. Hence to deny that makes the Buddhist path seem escapist.

      It is reduced to this:

      When I was a self, I suffered. Therefore I became a Buddhist to no longer be a self, to no longer be targeted by nature or by personal agency for suffering. I will meditate myself out of existence, out of objectivity. That will solve the issue of being a target for trauma.

      • I see there is a limitation on number of characters so I will post a series of replies.

        Thank you Erinn Earth and Michael Beloved for listening to the talk and for your comments! 

        Although I am not an aspiring Pali Canon scholar, and pretty much focus on meditation techniques and information from meditating monk who are versed in the Canon, I will try to respond to this:

        What is the proof from the Pali canon texts that anatta means that of all things that none of them is self?

        I will refer you to the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic:

        • Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic:

           

          Thus I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Benares, in the Deer Park at Isipatana (the Resort of Seers). There he addressed the bhikkhus of the group of five: "Bhikkhus." — "Venerable sir," they replied. The Blessed One said this.

          "Bhikkhus, form is not-self. Were form self, then this form would not lead to affliction, and one could have it of form: 'Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.' And since form is not-self, so it leads to affliction, and none can have it of form: 'Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.'

          "Bhikkhus, feeling is not-self...

          "Bhikkhus, perception is not-self...

          "Bhikkhus, determinations are not-self...

          "Bhikkhus, consciousness is not self. Were consciousness self, then this consciousness would not lead to affliction, and one could have it of consciousness: 'Let my consciousness be thus, let my consciousness be not thus.' And since consciousness is not-self, so it leads to affliction, and none can have it of consciousness: 'Let my consciousness be thus, let my consciousness be not thus.'

          "Bhikkhus, how do you conceive it: is form permanent or impermanent?" — "Impermanent, venerable Sir." — "Now is what is impermanent painful or pleasant?" — "Painful, venerable Sir." — "Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this is I, this is my self'"? — "No, venerable sir."

          "Is feeling permanent or impermanent?...

          "Is perception permanent or impermanent?...

          "Are determinations permanent or impermanent?...

          "Is consciousness permanent or impermanent?" — "Impermanent, venerable sir." — "Now is what is impermanent pleasant or painful?" — "Painful, venerable sir." — "Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this is I, this is my self'"? — "No, venerable sir."

          "So, bhikkhus any kind of form whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near, must with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: 'This is not mine, this is not I, this is not myself.'

          "Any kind of feeling whatever...

          "Any kind of perception whatever...

          "Any kind of determination whatever...

          "Any kind of consciousness whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near must, with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: 'This is not mine, this is not I, this is not my self.'

          "Bhikkhus, when a noble follower who has heard (the truth) sees thus, he finds estrangement in form, he finds estrangement in feeling, he finds estrangement in perception, he finds estrangement in determinations, he finds estrangement in consciousness.

          "When he finds estrangement, passion fades out. With the fading of passion, he is liberated. When liberated, there is knowledge that he is liberated. He understands: 'Birth is exhausted, the holy life has been lived out, what can be done is done, of this there is no more beyond.'"

          That is what the Blessed One said. The bhikkhus were glad, and they approved his words.

          Now during this utterance, the hearts of the bhikkhus of the group of five were liberated from taints through clinging no more.

          • This Sutta, however, does not completely address your challenge. 

            What is also taught in Buddhism is that the four great elements of earth, water, fire and air are real, but they are material and therefore any form/body/divine being which is comprised of these, does not last and therefore is "not self".  One experiences this in meditation, and I have to a degree experienced it.  As I introspect deeply there is a falling away of form (body), feelings (emotions), perceptions (viewpoints), mental formations (thoughts/ memories/ imaginations) and consciousness fades too because the sensual  mechanisms become defunct.  I have reached a state of knowing and emptiness.  I do not find a person, a spiritual self or form there, at least not anything with gender, limbs, senses, such as heavenly forms.  Maybe I will some day, but just as Erinn Earth is not inclined to imagine a state of not self, so holds the reverse, whereby I have no inclination to imagine a spiritual divine self.  

            Regarding this:

            When I was a self, I suffered. Therefore I became a Buddhist to no longer be a self, to no longer be targeted by nature or by personal agency for suffering. I will meditate myself out of existence, out of objectivity. That will solve the issue of being a target for trauma.

            I don't feel that this is unique to Buddhist seekers.  I believe there is a statement in the Anu Gita saying that one who reaches liberation comes to an ultimate conclusion that all in the material universe is trauma.  Lord Krishna also stated that different types people seek him out, including those who are distressed.  One's original motive in seeking out a spiritual path surely can and should change as one becomes purified and  reduces ignorance.  I don't think it  has much  to do with becoming un-objective or out of existence because my direct experiences in meditation actually yield more objectivity and clarity within emptiness.

             

            May we all break out of the cycle of birth and death!

            • Erinn Earth commented:

               For one who knows oneself as the spiritual self would have to imagine, or pretend, to experience a no self situation.

              Juxtaposed to this I will contradict myself by thinking that on the other hand, a person with no feeling of the self (no experience of the ocean) should benefit from imagining it. 

               When I reach emptiness and knowing, there really is no option to imagine a self or try to feel out a self.  It would be a pretense for me as well.  Perhaps one's sense of identity, however it evolved, determines which spiritual path one will follow with confidence, resolve and success. Good luck!

               

              • This from the 

                Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic

                is a declaration by an authority to some persons who accepted his words at face value. It is not hard evidence with proofs. In the Vedic setting however, at the time of Buddha it was the convention to accept an authority at his word so that whatever he said was taken at face value.

                It begins with declaring that

                form is not-self

                but there is no proof

                Hence that means that we have to accept that person's word as proof even though we have not experienced the proof.

                It is an exercise in confidence, more or less. At the end of the day, we are still looking to experience the proof.

                Suppose for argument sake, I declare that 

                form is self

                and a group of Michael Beloved fanatics accept that, then what?

                • Rather than the evolution of the sense of identity that determines that path I think its the core self, the atma, that makes this determination. Im not sure what the point of the sense of identity would be in being the ultimate master of one's destiny.  But its all a moot point if one believes in no-self.

                  • Thank you for your comments.

                    Michael Beloved, the proof of any teaching must be directly experienced and realized.  If you want to declare that form is self ,  your followers may believe it or not, pursue it or not, experience it or not.   The proof will be had in the experience or lack of.  Buddhist monks and lay people over the centuries have experienced the insights of impermanence, suffering (stressfulness) and not self (insubstantiality) in such a way that the teachings and lineages lasting long.  That speaks for itself.  It could not be so if students were not directly experiencing the teachings.

                    Erinn Earth, if material nature is indeed the actor, which the Bhagavad Gita asserts as well, then the sense of identity is likely the last adjunct to fall away as liberation or enlightenment is attained.  One will know for sure at that point what liberation, spiritual destiny or enlightenment is.   

                    All of the varying views on self are worthless if they do not lead to direct experience either way.  I have had enough experiences in meditation that tally with the Buddhist teachings such as given in Buddhadasa's talk that my confidence is solid and the practice develops with a natural momentum. 

                     Who is to say that students of various spiritual paths are not having different mystic experiences.  Who is declaring which is the most high?  Please post on the realization of the spiritual core self!  I am eager to hear of it!  I cannot report much myself, because in the experience of energetic emptiness, I have very little to express, as materiality is fading and I have not yet come to experience a  core form within it.

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