Fandom

Religion Wiki

Anatta

34,278pages on
this wiki
Add New Page
Talk1 Share

Ad blocker interference detected!


Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.


Part of a series on

Buddhism


Dharma Wheel
Portal of Buddhism
Outline of Buddhism

History of Buddhism

Timeline - Buddhist councils

Major figures

Gautama Buddha
Disciples · Later Buddhists

Dharma or concepts

Four Noble Truths
Noble Eightfold Path
Three marks of existence
Dependent origination
Saṃsāra · Nirvāṇa
Skandha · Cosmology
Karma · Rebirth

Practices and attainment

Buddhahood · Bodhisattva
4 stages of enlightenment
Wisdom · Meditation
Smarana · Precepts · Pāramitās
Three Jewels · Monastics
Laity

Countries and regions

Schools

Theravāda · Mahāyāna
Vajrayāna

Texts

Chinese canon · Pali canon
Tibetan canon

Related topics

Comparative studies
Cultural elements

In Buddhism, anattā (Pāli) or anātman (Sanskrit) refers to the notion of "not-self". One scholar describes it as "meaning non-selfhood, the absence of limiting self-identity in people and things."[1]

Regarding the individual, in the Pali suttas and the related āgamas (referred to collectively below as the nikayas), the agglomeration of constantly changing physical and mental constituents ("skandhas") comprising a human being is thoroughly analyzed and stated not to comprise an eternal, unchanging self (often denoted "Self"). In the Nikayas, the Buddha repeatedly emphasizes not only that the five skandhas of living being are "not-self", but that clinging to them as if they were an immutable self or soul (ātman) gives rise to unhappiness.

The anatta doctrine is not a type of materialism. Buddhism does not necessarily deny the existence of mental phenomena (such as feelings, thoughts, and sensations) that are distinct from material phenomena.[2] Thus, the conventional translation of anatta as "no-soul"[3] can be misleading. If the word "soul" refers to a non-bodily component in a person that can continue in some way after death, then Buddhism does not deny the existence of a soul.[4] In fact, persons (Pāli: puggala; Sanskrit, pudgala) are said to be characterized by an ever-evolving consciousness (Pali: samvattanika)[5], stream of consciousness (Pali: viññana sotam;[6] Sanskrit: vijñana srotām), or mind-continuity (Sanskrit: citta-saṃtāna) which, upon the death or dissolution of the aggregates (skandhas), becomes one of the contributing causes for the arising of a new group of skandhas. However, Buddhism denies the existence of a permanent or static entity that remains constant behind the changing bodily and non-bodily components of a living being. Reportedly, the Buddha reprimanded a disciple who thought of consciousness as a permanent substance within a person.[7] Just as the body changes from moment to moment, so thoughts come and go; and according to the anatta doctrine, there is no permanent conscious substance that experiences these thoughts, as in Cartesianism: rather, conscious thoughts simply arise and perish with no "thinker" behind them.[8]. When the body dies, the incorporeal mental processes continue and are reborn in a new body.[4] Because the mental processes are constantly changing, the new being is neither exactly the same as, nor completely different from, the being that died.[9]

Although Buddhism rejects the notion of a permanent self, it does not reject the notion of an empirical self (composed of constantly changing physical and mental phenomena) that can be conveniently referred to with words such as "I", "you", "being", "individual", etc.[10] Early Buddhist scriptures describe an enlightened individual as someone whose changing, empirical self is highly developed. According to Buddhist teachings, this phenomenon should not, either in whole or in part, be reified, either in affirmation or denial. The Buddha rejected the latter metaphysical assertions as ontological theorizing that binds one to suffering.[11]

Some Mahayana Buddhist sutras and tantras present Buddhist teachings on emptiness using positive language by positing the ultimate reality of the "true self" (atman). In these teachings the word is used to refer to each being's inborn potential to realize Buddhahood through Buddhist practices, and future status as a Buddha.[12] This teaching, which is soteriological rather than theoretical, portrays this potential or aspect as undying.

Anatta, along with dukkha (suffering/unease) and anicca (impermanence), is one of the three dharma seals, which, according to Buddhism, characterise all conditioned phenomena.

Anatta in the Nikayas

The Buddhist term anatta (Pāli) or anātman (Sanskrit) is used in the suttas both as a noun and as a predicative adjective to denote that phenomena are not, or are without, a Self, to describe any and all composite, consubstantial, phenomenal and temporal things, from the macrocosmic to microcosmic, be it matter pertaining to the physical body or the cosmos at large, as well as any and all mental machinations, which are impermanent. Anatta in sutra is often used in conjunction with the terms dukkha (imperfection) and anicca (impermanence), and all three terms are often used in triplet in making a blanket statement as regards any and all compounded phenomena. “All these aggregates are anicca, dukkha and anatta.”

The one scriptural passage where Gautama is asked by a layperson what the meaning of anatta is as follows: [Samyutta Nikaya] 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 self (anatta), sensations are not the self (anatta), perceptions are not the self (anatta), assemblages are not the self (anatta), consciousness is not the self (anatta). Seeing thusly, this is the end of birth, the Brahman life has been fulfilled, what must be done has been done.”[13]

The nikayas state that certain things such as material shape, feeling, perception, habitual tendencies and consciousness (the five aggregates), with which the unlearned man identifies himself, do not constitute his self and that is why one on the path to liberation should grow uninterested in the aggregates, become detached from them and be liberated.

“Wherefore, monks, whatever is material shape, past, future or present, internal...thinking of all this material shape as ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self,’ he should see it thus as it really is by means of perfect wisdom. Whatever is feeling...whatever is perception...whatever are the habitual tendencies...whatever is consciousness, past, future or present, internal...thinking of all this consciousness as ‘This is not mine, this am I not, this is not my self,’ he should see it thus as it really is by means of perfect wisdom. Seeing it thus, monks, the instructed disciple of the pure one turns away from material shape, he turns away from feeling, turns away from perception, turns away from the habitual tendencies, turns away from consciousness; turning away he is detached; by his detachment he is freed; in freedom there is the knowledge that he is freed and he comprehends: Destroyed is birth, brought to a close the Brahma-faring, done is what was to be done, there is no more being such or so.” [14]

In Samyutta Nikaya (SN) 4.400, Gautama Buddha was asked if there “was no soul (natthatta)”[15], which it is conventionally considered to be equivalent to Nihilism (ucchedavada). The Buddha himself has said: “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.” [16] The early Suttas see annihilationism, which the Buddha equated with denial of a Self, as tied up with belief in a Self.[17] It is seen as arising due to conceiving a Self in some sort of relationship to the personality-factors. It is thus rooted in the 'I am' attitude; even the attitude 'I do not exist' arises from a preoccupation with 'I'.[18]

Anatta is not meant as a philosophical position. According to Peter Harvey,

One uses 'not-Self', then, as a reason to let go of things, not to 'prove' that there is no Self. There is no need to give some philosophical denial of 'Self'; the idea simply withers away, or evaporates in the light of knowledge, when it is seen that the concept does not apply to anything at all, or, as the Suttas put it, when it is seen that everything is 'empty' of Self. A philosophical denial is just a view, a theory, which may be agreed with or not. It does not get one to actually examine all the things that one really does identify with, consciously or unconsciously, as Self or I.[19]

The Buddha criticized conceiving theories even of a unitary soul or identity immanent in all things as unskillful.[20] In fact, according to the Buddha's statement in Khandha Samyutta 47, all thoughts about self are necessarily, whether the thinker is aware of it or not, thoughts about the five aggregates or one of them.[21]

At the time of the Buddha some philosophers and meditators posited a "root": an abstract principle out of which all things emanated and which was immanent in all things. When asked about this, instead of following this pattern of thinking, the Buddha attacks it at its very root: the notion of a principle in the abstract, superimposed on experience. In contrast, a person in training should look for a different kind of "root" — the root of dukkha experienced in the present. According to one Buddhist scholar, theories of this sort have most often originated among meditators who label a particular meditative experience as the ultimate goal, and identify with it in a subtle way.[22]

While the doctrine of anatta denies the self can be the five aggregates or skandhas since everywhere within them resides impermanence and suffering, this does not mean the Buddha categorically denied the self. He only denied the phenomenality of the self: the self believed to be an aggregate or skandha.[original research?]

Anatta and moral responsibility

While the Buddha attacked the assumptions of existence of an eternal Self, he would refer to the existence of a conventional self-subject to conditional phenomena and responsible, in the causal-moral sense, for karma. Peter Harvey writes that according to the suttas,

It can thus be said that, while an empirical self exists - or rather consists of a changing flow of mental and physical states which neither unchangingly exists nor does not exist - no metaphysical Self can be apprehended.[23]

There are many statements in the suttas to the effect that a person acts, and then reaps the consequences. These statements are made to rebut the various theories circulating among philosophers of the Buddha's time that denied the efficacy of moral action, attributing all change to fate; these were forms of determinism. The Buddha's statements are not metaphysical in nature, and do not imply an unchanging subject of experience. Instead, continuity is maintained not by positing an extraempirical entity such as a Self, but by a theory of causality.[24]

The Buddha criticized two main theories of moral responsibility; the doctrine that posited an unchanging Self as a subject, which came to be known as "atthikavāda", and the doctrine that did not do so, and instead denied moral responsibility, which came to be known as "natthikavāda". He rejected them both on empirical grounds.[25] The following interaction of the Buddha pertains to the latter theory: The Buddha was silent to the questions of the paribbajako (wandering ascetic) Vacchagotta of “Is there a self?” or “Is there not a self?” [SN.5:44,10]. When Ananda later asked about his silence, the Buddha said that to affirm or deny the existence of an eternal self would have sided with sectarian theories and have disturbed Vacchagotta even more. The early Suttas see even Annihilationism, which the Buddha equated with denial of a Self, as tied up with belief in a Self.[17] It is seen as arising due to conceiving a Self in some sort of relationship to the personality-factors. It is thus rooted in the 'I am' attitude; even the attitude 'I do not exist' arises from a preoccupation with 'I'.[26] The Buddha appealed to experience in his refutation of natthikavāda, saying: "To one who sees, with proper understanding, the arising of the things in the world, the belief in nonexistence would not occur."[27]

The Buddha was also careful not to allow an atthikavādin interpretation of his doctrine of causality. In response to the question from a man named Acela Kassapa as to whether or not suffering is self-caused, the Buddha gave a negative reply; "A person acts and the same person experiences [the result] — this, Kassapa, which you emphatically call 'suffering self-wrought', amounts to the eternalist theory." In responding in this way, the Buddha indicated the connection between the problem of personal identity and moral responsibility.[28]

This process-view of a person does not see personality as a chaotic flux, but as a law-governed moving pattern which only changes insofar as supporting conditions change. In spite of the changes taking place in a person, some character-patterns are repeated, even over many lives, before they are worn out or replaced by others in accordance with the law of dependent origination. The complex of conditions arises out of an interaction of those processes internal to a person's own stream of psychological processes, that is, past or present karma, with those from the external world. Some of the external conditions will in turn be influenced or generated by internal processes. Thus the person-process both changes and is changed by its environment.[29]

The principles of causality are key to the Buddha's teachings; they provide a vital perspective on his doctrine as a whole and show how to see it integrated positively in the causal relationships of the mental-physical factors of the experience of life. Causal relationships were detailed in the Buddha’s analysis of dependent origination and idappaccayata (lit. “This is founded on that”).

All processes are impermanent … All processes are afflicted … All phenomena are not ‘Self’; when this is seen with knowledge, one is freed from the illusion of affliction. This is the pathway to purity.

Dhp. 20. 277 – 279

This analysis is applied to knowing the interplay of senses within the mental-physical factors just as they are. It is a careful analysis of these realities in terms of their changefulness, instability or un-satisfactoriness and that these lack inherent personal identification. And this leads to wisdom (prajña, pañña), cessation of craving (nirodha), and to liberation (nirvana) of the will/mind (citta).

The goal of the Buddhist contemplative is to develop freedom of the will/mind (citta) from entanglement with things as they seem; through the delusions of desire and consequential self-identity with events, resultant fear, aversion and projected hopes—to awaken to things as they are; coming home to a natural understanding of reality with one's given abilities at work in an ever changing evolution of experience. “The mind (citta) is cleansed of the five skandhas (pañcakkhandha)” [Nettippakarana 44]

Developing the self

While the suttas criticize notions of an eternal, unchanging Self, they see an enlightened being as one whose changing, empirical self is highly developed.[30] One with great self has a mind which is not at the mercy of outside stimuli or its own moods, but is imbued with self-control, and self-contained.[31] The mind of such a one is without boundaries, not limited by attachment or I-identification.[32] One can transform one's self from an "insignificant self" into a "great self" through practices such as loving-kindness and mindfulness.[33] The suttas portray one disciple who has developed his mind through loving-kindness saying: "Formerly this mind of mine was limited, but now my mind is immeasurable."[34]

At the culmination of the path is the Arahant, described as "one of developed self" (bhāvit-atto), who has carried the process of personal development and self-reliance to its perfection.[32] Such a person has developed all the good aspects of their personality.[35] An arahant is described as "one with a mind like a diamond", it can "cut" anything and is itself uncuttable; nothing can affect it.[36] The suttas portray "one of developed self" in the following ways:

  • Virtue, wisdom, and the meditative and other spiritual faculties are well-developed;
  • Body is "developed" and "steadfast";
  • Mind is "developed", "steadfast", "well-released" and without ill-will;
  • When confronted with objects of the six senses, he or she has equanimity and is not confused, seeing only what is seen, and hearing only what is heard, not mental projections and elaborations such as attachment, desire, and aversion;
  • The six senses are "controlled" and "guarded";
  • He or she is "self-controlled" (atta-danto) and "with a well-controlled self" (attanā sudantena); and is
  • "Unlimited, great, deep, immeasurable, hard to fathom, with much treasure, arisen (like the) ocean."[37]

Buddhism and the Self of the Upanishads

The pre-Buddhist Upanishads link the Self to the feeling "I am."[38] The Chandogya Upanishad for example does, and it sees Self as underlying the whole world, being "below," "above," and in the four directions. In contrast, the Buddhist Arahant says: "Above, below, everywhere set free, not considering 'this I am.'"[38]

While the pre-Buddhist Upanishads link the Self to the attitude "I am," others like the post-Buddhist Maitri Upanishad hold that only the defiled individual self, rather than the universal self, thinks "this is I" or "this is mine". According to Peter Harvey,

This is very reminiscent of Buddhism, and may well have been influenced by it to divorce the universal Self from such egocentric associations.[38]
The Upanishadic "Self" shares certain characteristics with nibbana; both are permanent, beyond suffering, and unconditioned. However, the Buddha shunned any attempt to see the spiritual goal in terms of "Self" because in his framework, the craving for a permanent self is the very thing which keeps a person in the round of uncontrollable rebirth, preventing him or her from attaining nibbana.[38] Harvey continues:
Both in the Upanishads and in common usage, self/Self is linked to the sense of "I am" ... If the later Upanishads came to see ultimate reality as beyond the sense of "I am", Buddhism would then say: why call it 'Self', then?[38]

Buddhist mysticism is also of a different sort from that found in systems revolving around the concept of a "God" or "Self":

If one would characterize the forms of mysticism found in the Pali discourses, it is none of the nature-, God-, or soul-mysticism of F.C. Happold. Though nearest to the latter, it goes beyond any ideas of 'soul' in the sense of immortal 'self' and is better styled 'consciousness-mysticism.'[39]

Possibly the main philosophical difference between Hinduism and Buddhism is that the concept of atman was rejected by the Buddha. Terms like anatman (not-self) and shunyata (voidness) are at the core of all Buddhist traditions. The permanent cessation of the reification of the perceived self is integral to the enlightenment of an Arhat.

The Buddha criticized conceiving theories even of a unitary soul or identity immanent in all things as unskillful.[40] In fact, according to the Buddha's statement in Khandha Samyutta 47, all thoughts about self are necessarily, whether the thinker is aware of it or not, thoughts about the five aggregates or one of them.[41] One of the Buddha's uses of his five-fold classification of human experience was to refute the conception of a Self held by Upanishadic thinkers.[42]

At the time of the Buddha some philosophers and meditators posited a "root": an abstract principle out of which all things emanated and which was immanent in all things. When asked about this, instead of following this pattern of thinking, the Buddha attacks it at its very root: the notion of a principle in the abstract, superimposed on experience. In contrast, a person in training should look for a different kind of "root" — the root of dukkha experienced in the present. According to one Buddhist scholar, theories of this sort have most often originated among meditators who label a particular meditative experience as the ultimate goal, and identify with it in a subtle way.[43]

Nibbana and anatta

Two characteristics of nibbana are permanence and an absence of suffering. The relationship between nibbana and the anatta is a different matter. Walpola Rahula shows that the early attempts of Western scholars to find the atman doctrine in the Pali canon are a result of mistranslations of the original Pali.[44] Rahula further says, though, that in declaring "all dhammas are anatta," the Buddha included even nirvana in his blanket statement that all things are not one's self; this standard Theravada interpretation also hinges on interpreting the word "sankhara" in the widest sense.[45] Peter Harvey agrees with this interpretation; see below.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu and Nanavira Thera disagree, finding that the word "dhamma" is used here only to refer to objects of mental consciousness or mental analysis. They instead assert that the self/not-self analysis does not extend to nibbana at all. While there are passages that describe nibbana as an object of consciousness (such as AN 9.36), this applies only up to the level of non-returning. For the arahant, however, it is directly known without mediation of the mental consciousness factor in dependent co-arising, and is the transcending of all dhammas. In SN V.6, for one example, the Buddha calls the attainment of the goal the transcending of all dhammas; thus nibbana cannot always be included in the scope of the word "dhamma."[46][47] In fact, according to Thanissaro Bhikkhu, the teaching "all dhammas are not-self" applies directly to those who experience nibbana without finality; its use in verses 277-279 of the Dhammapada make clear that the statement is directed at the path, not the goal. The statement reminds the meditator that he or she should not regard the deathless with any form of self-identification, and thus clinging, at all.[48]

Nanavira Thera holds that "all dhammas are not-self" can be read as "all objects of mental analysis are not-self." Since "self" arises in the first place merely as a delusive figment of the mind, and is then attributed by the mind to "the five aggregates of clinging or one of them," a statement that mental analysis finds no "self" in any of its objects is, given the fact that the mind is the only means there is of investigating anything at all, equivalent to a complete denial of the "self" concept.[49]

According to this analysis, the Buddha did not make the metaphysical assertion that nibbana is not self, but neither did he hold the metaphysical view that it is self.[50] In fact, a statement by the Buddha that nibbana is atta or that it is anatta is nowhere to be found it the Canon, and according to Nanavira Thera, both statements regarding nibbana from the perspective of the arahant are inconsistent with statements he did make.[51] In this analysis, the self/not-self dichotomy simply is not applicable there. As AN 4.174 states, to even ask if there is anything remaining or not remaining (or both, or neither) after the complete realization of unconditioned consciousness is to differentiate what is by nature undifferentiated (or to complicate the uncomplicated).[52] The range of differentiation goes only as far as the "All:"

The Blessed One said, 'What is the All? Simply the eye and forms, ear and sounds, nose and aromas, tongue and flavors, body and tactile sensations, intellect and ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, "Repudiating this All, I will describe another," if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range."[53]
Perceptions of self or not-self, which would count as differentiation, would not apply beyond the "All."[54] Thus someone who is not liberated should not cling to any object of the six sense spheres, including nirvana if it has been tasted but not fully realized, as a permanent self, and for a liberated individual who has gone beyond experiencing nirvana as an object, ideas of self and non-self do not apply.[55]

Peter Harvey agrees with the Theravada view that "all dhammas are not-Self" includes nibbana in its scope. He states, "where Self and nibbana differ is with respect to the very aspect of Self-hood, I-ness." He continues, "Nibbana itself is not-Self as it is the stopping of the breeding-ground for the 'I am' attitude, beyond all possibility of I-ness. Thus, where there was formerly impermanence and a supposed 'I', there is now permanence and no grounds at all for 'I'. All the personality-factors are dropped because they fall short of the Self-ideal ... [Nibbana] is that which is 'not dependent on another' attained by not depending on anything as 'Self. It is the 'ultimate empty thing' [this is a reference to the Patisambhidamagga], which is true permanence and happiness."[56]

As one scholar has written,

If one would characterize the forms of mysticism found in the Pali discourses, it is none of the nature-, God-, or soul-mysticism of F.C. Happold. Though nearest to the latter, it goes beyond any ideas of 'soul' in the sense of immortal 'self' and is better styled 'consciousness-mysticism.'[39]

Anatta in the Tathagatagarbha Sutras

Some Mahayana scriptures declare the existence of "atman," which in these scriptures is equated with buddha-nature.

Tathagatagarbha genre as orthodox

According to some scholars, the "tathagatagarbha"/Buddha nature discussed in some Mahayana sutras does not represent a substantial self (atman); rather, it is a positive language and expression of sunyata (emptiness) and represents the potentiality to realize Buddhahood through Buddhist practices.[12] It may be based on the phenomenon known as luminous mind in the Pali canon, discussed in places such as the following in the Anguttara Nikaya:

Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements. Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is freed from incoming defilements.[12][57]

Prior to the period of these scriptures, Mahayana metaphysics had been dominated by teachings on emptiness in the form of Madhyamaka philosophy. The language used by this approach is primarily negative, and the Tathagatagarbha genre of sutras can be seen as an attempt to state orthodox Buddhist teachings of dependent origination using positive language instead, to prevent people from being turned away from Buddhism by a false impression of nihilism. In these sutras the perfection of the wisdom of not-self is stated to be the true self; the ultimate goal of the path is then characterized using a range of positive language that had been used in Indian philosophy previously by essentialist philosophers, but which was now transmuted into a new Buddhist vocabulary to describe a being who has successfully completed the Buddhist path.[58]

In the Tathagatagarbha Sutra, the Buddha is potrayed telling of how, with his buddha-eye, he can actually see this hidden "jewel" within each and every being: "hidden within the kleśas [mental contaminants] of greed, desire, anger, and stupidity, there is seated augustly and unmovingly the Tathagata's [Buddha's] wisdom, the Tathagata's vision, and the Tathagata's body [...] all beings, though they find themselves with all sorts of kleśas, have a tathagatagarbha that is eternally unsullied, and replete with virtues no different from my own".[59] This represents a being's potential to become a Buddha; it is the "true self" in the sense of being the ideal personality, not a metaphysical essence. As the Buddha is portrayed as proclaiming in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra;

Good son, there are three ways of having: first, to have in the future, Secondly, to have at present, and thirdly, to have in the past. All sentient beings will have in future ages the most perfect enlightenment, i.e., the Buddha nature. All sentient beings have at present bonds of defilements, and do not now possess the thirty-two marks and eighty noble characteristics of the Buddha. All sentient beings had in past ages deeds leading to the elimination of defilements and so can now perceive the Buddha nature as their future goal. For such reasons, I always proclaim that all sentient beings have the Buddha nature.[12]

The Mahaparinirvana Sutra, a long and highly composite Mahayana scripture,[60] refers to the Buddha using the term "Self" in order to win over non-Buddhist ascetics.[61] From this, it continues: "The Buddha-nature is in fact not the self. For the sake of [guiding] sentient beings, I describe it as the self."[62]

The Ratnagotravibhaga, a related text, points out that the teaching of the tathagatagarbha is intended to win sentient beings over to abandoning "affection for one's self" - one of the five defects caused by non-Buddhist teaching. Youru Wang notes similar language in the Lankavatara Sutra, then writes: "Noticing this context is important. It will help us to avoid jumping to the conclusion that tathagatagarbha thought is simply another case of metaphysical imagination."[62]

Tathagatagarbha genre as monist

Not all scholars subscribe to the interpretation that the tathagatagarbha or 'Self' is not indicative of a monistic Absolute within the being. Some scholars do in fact detect leanings towards monism in these tathagatagarbha references. Writing on the diverse understandings of tathagatagarbha doctrine, Dr. Jamie Hubbard comments on how some scholars see a tendency towards monism in the tathagatagarbha texts [a tendency which Japanese scholar Matsumoto, however, castigates as un-Buddhist]. Dr. Hubbard comments:

'Matsumoto [calls] attention to the similarity between the extremely positive language and causal structure of enlightenment found in the tathagatagarbha literature and that of the substantial monism found in the atman/Brahman tradition. Matsumoto, of course, is not the only one to have noted this resemblance. Takasaki Jikido, for example, the preeminent scholar of the tathagatagarbha tradition, sees monism in the doctrine of the tathagatagarbha and the Mahayana in general … Obermiller wedded this notion of a monistic Absolute to the tathagatagarbha literature in his translation and comments to the Ratnagotra, which he aptly subtitled “A Manual of Buddhist Monism” … Lamotte and Frauwallner have seen the tathagatagarbha doctrine as diametrically opposed to the Madhyamika and representing something akin to the monism of the atman/Brahman strain ... Yet another camp, represented by Yamaguchi Susumu and his student Ogawa Ichijo, is able to understand tathagatagarbha thought without recourse to Vedic notions by putting it squarely within the Buddhist tradition of conditioned causality and emptiness, which, of course, explicitly rejects monism of any sort. Obviously, the question of the monist or absolutist nature of the tathagatagarbha and Buddha-nature traditions is complex.’[63]

Professor Michael Zimmermann, a specialist on the Tathagatagarbha Sutra[64], sees the notion of an unperishing and eternal self in that early buddha-nature scripture and insists that the compilers of the Tathagatagarbha Sutra 'do not hesitate to attribute an obviously substantialist notion to the buddha-nature of living beings'.[65]. Professor Zimmermann also avers that 'the existence of an eternal, imperishable self, that is, buddhahood, is definitely the basic point of the Tathagatagarbha Sutra'.[66]. He further indicates that there is no evident interest found in this sutra in the idea of Emptiness (sunyata), saying: 'Throughout the whole Tathagatagarbha Sutra the term sunyata does not even appear once, nor does the general drift of the TGS somehow imply the notion of sunyata as its hidden foundation. On the contrary, the sutra uses very positive and substantialist terms to describe the nature of living beings.'[67].

The problem of evil

With this monistic interpretation arises the problem of evil akin to the theistic problem of evil.[68] The Ratnagotra-vibhaga sees the tathagatagarbha as the basis for all mental activity, including "unsystematic attention", which is in turn the basis for moral and spiritual defilements. The Lankavatara Sutra specifically says that the tathagatagarbha "holds within it the cause for both good and evil." Tathagatagarbha thought, seeking to avoid the conclusion that genuine evil can arise from the pure tathagatagarbha, portrays mental defilements as insubstantial illusions produced by delusion.[68] It portrays mental defilements as unreal, and nirvana not as the actual extinction of anything, but as being already existent in a concealed state. Why the illusory mental defilements should be imagined by the deluded mind is stated to be a mystery that only a Buddha can understand.[69] The absolutist language of tathagatagarbha thought thus tends to introduce a gulf of non-relation between the realms of enlightenment and deluded existence. This dualism brings with it the conundrum of relating enlightened and unenlightened existence.[70]

Opposed to early Buddhism and Yogācāra

In early Buddhism, in contrast, nibbāna, which is Pāli for "blowing out", is the extinguishing of the three fires of greed, hatred, and delusion.[71] Furthermore, it is not the recognition of a pre-existing or eternal perfection, but is the attainment of something that is hitherto unattained.[72] This is also the orthodox Yogācāra position.[73] The early scriptures also reject monism (ekatta) and pluralism (nānatta) as speculative views.[74] See middle way.

Modern Thai movements

The Thai Dhammakaya Movement’s Teachings on Non-Self

Over the past several decades (dating back to at least 1939), a controversial movement of monks and meditation masters, later called the Dhammakaya Movement, has developed in Thailand. The Dhammakaya Movement teaches that it is incorrect to label Nirvana as anatta (non-Self); instead, Nirvana is claimed to be the ‘True Self’. This teaching is strikingly similar to that of the tathagatagarbha sutras. Professor Paul Williams explains the views of this movement:

‘[Dhammakaya] meditations involve the realization, when the mind reaches its purest state, of an unconditioned “Dhamma Body” (dhammakaya) in the form of a luminous, radiant and clear Buddha figure free of all defilements and situated within the body of the meditator. Nirvana is the true Self, and this is also the dhammakaya.’[75]

The bulk of Thai Theravada Buddhism rejects this teaching and insists upon non-Self as a universal fact. As against this, the Thai Buddhist monk, Phra Rajyanvisith, of the Dhammakaya Movement (which does not see itself as Mahayanist but as modern Theravadin) argues that it tends to be scholars who hold the view of absolute non-Self, rather than Buddhist meditators. Also, according to him, only the compounded and conditioned is non-Self, not Nirvana. Professor Williams summarises Phra Rajyanvisith’s views, and adds his own comment at the end:

‘[Scholars] incline towards a not-Self perspective. But only scholars hold that view. By way of contrast, Phra Rajyanvisith mentions in particular the realizations of several distinguished forest hermit monks. Moreover, he argues, impermanence, suffering and not-Self go together. Anything which is not-Self is also impermanent and suffering. But, it is argued, nirvana is not suffering, nor is it impermanent. It is not possible to have something which is permanent, not suffering (i.e. is happiness) and yet for it still to be not-Self. Hence it is not not-Self either. It is thus (true, or transcendental) Self … These ways of reading Buddhism in terms of a true Self certainly seem to have been congenial in the East Asian environment, and hence flourished in that context where for complex reasons Mahayana too found a ready home.’[76]

In view of the affirmative teachings on a real Self in both the Dhammakaya Movement and in the tathagatagarbha sutras, Professor Williams inclines to the view that '...we should abandon any simplistic identification of Buddhism with a straightforward not-Self definition ...'[77]

The Dhammakaya Movement, however, remains controversial within and beyond Thailand.

Thai Forest Tradition

In contrast to the Dhammakaya movement, prominent exponents of the Thai Forest Tradition state that Nibbana is not self. Ajahn Chah states:

You must empty your minds of opinions, then you will see. Our practice goes beyond cleverness and beyond stupidity. If you think;"I am clever, I am wealthy, I am important, I understand all about Buddhism."; You cover up the truth of anatta or no-self. All you will see is self, I, mine. But Buddhism is letting go of self. Voidness, Emptiness, Nibbana.[78]

However both he and Ajahn Maha Boowa state that for an enlightened being, there is neither self nor not-self. Ajahn Chah states: "Really, in the end there is neither atta nor anatta."[79]

Ajahn Maha Boowa makes a similar point. He states:

Atta and anatta are dhammas that are paired off together until the ultimate limit of the mundane relative world (samutti) - until the citta is free from the kilesas and has become a special citta. Atta and anatta then disappear of themselves and there is no need to drive either of them out, for there is just the entirely pure citta, which is eka-citta, eka-dhamma - no further duality with anything.

The word anatta is a factor of the Ti-lakkhana [the Three marks of existence]. Those who aim for purity, freedom and Nibbana should contemplate anicca, dukkha, and anatta until they see and understand all three Ti-lakkhana clearly. Then it may be said that the citta has "gone well free". Nibbana, however, is not anatta. How can you force it to be anatta, which is one of the Ti-lakkhana, and therefore part of the path for getting to Nibbana?"[80]

Thanissaro Bhikkhu, a scholar-monk trained in the Thai Forest Tradition, clarifies that in the early texts, the anatta teaching is a teaching device to assist the practitioner in reaching the final goal, which lies altogether outside the realm of "self" or "not-self".[81]

Maha Boowa relates that the core of an individual's being and Nibbana are quite distinct in a dhamma talk with a disciple of his, Mae Chee Kaew:

When you investigate mental phenomena until you go beyond them completely, the remaining defiling elements of consciousness will be drawn into a radiant nucleus of awareness, which merges with the mind’s naturally radiant essence. This radiance is so majestic and mesmerizing that even transcendent faculties like spontaneous mindfulness and intuitive wisdom invariably fall under its spell. The mind’s brightness and clarity appear to be so extraordinary and awe-inspiring, that nothing can possibly compare. The luminous essence is the epitome of perfect goodness and virtue, the ultimate in spiritual happiness. It is your true, original self — the core of your being. But this true self is also the fundamental source of all attachment to being and becoming. Ultimately it is attachment to the allure of this primordial radiance of mind that causes living beings to wander indefinitely through the world of becoming and ceasing, constantly grasping at birth and enduring death.

The fundamental cause of that attachment is the very delusion about your true self. Delusion is responsible for all the defiling elements of consciousness, and its avenue of escape is the ongoing momentum of conscious activity. In this sphere, delusion reigns supreme. But once mindfulness and wisdom are skilled enough to eliminate conscious activity and therefore close this outlet, delusions created by the flow of mental phenomena cease. Severing all of its external outflows leaves delusion no room to maneuver inside the mind, forcing it to gather into the radiant nucleus from which all knowing emanates. That center of knowing appears as a luminous emptiness that truly overwhelms and amazes.

But that radiant emptiness should not be mistaken for the pure emptiness of Nibbana. The two are as different as night and day. The radiant mind is the original mind of the cycle of constant becoming; but it is not the essence of mind which is fully pure and free from birth and death. Radiance is a very subtle, natural condition whose uniform brightness and clarity make it appear empty. This is your original nature beyond name and form. But it is not yet Nibbana. It is the very substance of mind that has been well-cleansed to the point where a mesmerizing and majestic quality of knowing is its outstanding feature. When the mind finally relinquishes all attachment to forms and concepts, the knowing essence assumes exceedingly refined qualities. It has let go of everything — except itself. It remains permeated by a fundamental delusion about its own true nature. Because of that, the radiant essence has turned into a subtle form of self without you realizing it. You end up believing that the subtle feelings of happiness and the shining radiance are the unconditioned essence of mind. Oblivious to your delusion, you accept this majestic mind as the finished product. You believe it to be Nibbana, the transcendent emptiness of pure mind.

But emptiness, radiance, clarity and happiness are all subtle conditions of a mind still bound by delusion. When you observe the emptiness carefully, with sustained attention, you will observe that it is not really uniform, not really constant. The emptiness produced by primal delusion is the result of subtle conditions. Sometimes it changes a little — just a little — but enough for you to know that it’s transient. Subtle variations can be detected, because all conditioned phenomena — no matter how refined, bright and majestic they seem — invariably manifest some irregular symptoms.

If it is truly Nibbāna, why does this refined state of the mind display a variety of subtle conditions? It is not constant and true. Focus on that luminous center to see clearly that its radiance has the same characteristics — of being transient, imperfect and unessential — as all the other phenomena that you have already transcended. The only difference is that the radiance is far more subtle and refined.

Try imagining yourself standing in an empty room. You look around and see only empty space — everywhere. Absolutely nothing occupies that space — except you, standing in the middle of the room. Admiring its emptiness, you forget about yourself. You forget that you occupy a central position in that space. How then can the room be empty? As long as someone remains in the room, it is not truly empty. When you finally realize that the room can never be truly empty until you depart, that is the moment when that fundamental delusion about your true self disintegrates, and the pure, delusion-free mind arises.

Once the mind has let go of phenomena of every sort, the mind appears supremely empty; but the one who admires the emptiness, who is awestruck by the emptiness, that one still survives. The self as reference point which is the essence of all false knowing, remains integrated into the mind’s knowing essence. This self-perspective is the primary delusion. Its presence represents the difference between the subtle emptiness of the radiant mind and the transcendent emptiness of the pure mind, free of all forms of delusion. Self is the real impediment. As soon as it disintegrates and disappears, no more impediments remain. Transcendent emptiness appears. As in the case of a person in an empty room, we can say that the mind is truly empty only when the self leaves for good. This transcendent emptiness is a total and permanent disengagement that requires no further effort to maintain.

Delusion is an intrinsically blind awareness, masquerading as radiance, clarity and happiness. As such, it is the self’s ultimate safe haven. But those treasured qualities are all products of subtle causes and conditions. True emptiness occurs only when every single trace of one’s conditioned reality disappears.

As soon as you turn around and know it for what it is, that false awareness simply disintegrates. Clouding your vision with its splendor, that luminous deception has all along been concealing the mind’s true, natural wonder.[82]

Teaching of Self in the 'Chanting the Names of Mañjusri'

The Buddhist tantric scripture entitled Chanting the Names of Mañjusri (Mañjuśrī-nāma-saṅgīti), as quoted by the great Tibetan Buddhist master, Dolpopa, repeatedly exalts not the non-Self but the Self.[83]

Thus, the "non-Self" doctrine is presented in the Mañjuśrī-nāma-saṅgīti (and in certain tantric texts) as a merely partial, incomplete truth rather than as an absolute verity. Dolpopa's ideas were quite controversial in Tibet and were vociferously attacked by Tsongkhapa.

Anātman in other Indian traditions

The term anatman is found not only in Buddhist sutras, but also in the writings of Shankara, the founder of Advaita Vedanta. Advaita Vedanta was strongly influenced by Buddhism[84], which was itself 'reformed Brahmanism'[85][dubious ] .In Advaita Vedanta, anatman is a common via negativa (neti neti, not this, not that) teaching method, 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. In this thinking, the Subjective ontological Self-Nature (svabhava) can never be known objectively, but only through “the denial of all things which it (the Soul) is not.”

Relationship to secular philosophy

David Hume's "bundle theory of the self" is in some ways similar to the Buddha's skandha analysis, though Hume's denial of causation led him opposite conclusions in other areas.

Derek Parfit's reductionist account is also reminiscent of Buddhism. Parfit devotes a small appendix in his book Reasons and Persons to showing that "Buddha would have agreed" with his account.[86]

See also

Notes

  1. Rawson (1991: p.11)
  2. Sources of Indian Tradition, vol. 1, ed. Theodore de Bary (NY: Columbia UP, 1958), p. 93-94
  3. for example, in Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught (NY: Grove, 1962), p. 51-66
  4. 4.0 4.1 Sources of Indian Tradition, vol. 1, ed. Theodore de Bary (NY: Columbia UP, 1958), p. 94
  5. "Post-Classical Developments in the Concepts of Karma and Rebirth in Theravada Buddhism." by Bruce Matthews. in Karma and Rebirth: Post-Classical Developments State Univ of New York Press: 1986 ISBN 0873959906 pg 125
  6. ""Post-Classical Developments in the Concepts of Karma and Rebirth in Theravada Buddhism." by Bruce Matthews. in Karma and Rebirth: Post-Classical Developments State Univ of New York Press: 1986 ISBN 0873959906 pg 125
  7. Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught (NY: Grove, 1962), p. 24
  8. Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught (NY: Grove, 1962), p. 26
  9. Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught (NY: Grove, 1962), p. 33
  10. Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught (NY: Grove, 1962), p. 55
  11. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, The Not-Self Strategy. See Point 3, [1]. The Canon quote Thanissaro Bhikkhu draws attention to is the Sabbasava Sutta, [2].
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Heng-Ching Shih, "The Significance Of 'Tathagatagarbha' -- A Positive Expression Of 'Sunyata.'" http://zencomp.com/greatwisdom/ebud/ebdha191.htm.
  13. MN 3.196 (PTS)
  14. MN 3.20 (PTS)
  15. SN 4.400 (PTS)
  16. MN 1.140 (PTS)
  17. 17.0 17.1 Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind. Curzon Press 1995, page 39.
  18. Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind. Curzon Press 1995, pages 39,40.
  19. Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind. Curzon Press, 1995, page 45.[3]
  20. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, The Not-Self Strategy. [4]. For the sutta see [5].
  21. Nanavira Thera, Nibbana and Anatta. [6]. Early Writings -> Nibbana and Anatta -> Nibbana, Atta, and Anatta.
  22. Thanissaro Bhikkhu's commentary to the Mula Pariyaya Sutta, [7].
  23. Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind. Curzon Press 1995, page 33.
  24. David Kalupahana, Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. The University Press of Hawaii, 1975, page 44.
  25. David Kalupahana, Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. The University Press of Hawaii, 1975, page 44.
  26. Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind. Curzon Press 1995, pages 39,40.
  27. David Kalupahana, Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. The University Press of Hawaii, 1975, page 44.
  28. David Kalupahana, Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. The University Press of Hawaii, 1975, page 13.
  29. Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind. Curzon Press 1995, page 247.
  30. Peter Harvey, "The Selfless Mind." Curzon Press, 1995, page 54.
  31. Peter Harvey, "The Selfless Mind." Curzon Press, 1995, page 55.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Peter Harvey, "The Selfless Mind." Curzon Press, 1995, page 63.
  33. Peter Harvey, "The Selfless Mind." Curzon Press, 1995, page 57.
  34. Peter Harvey, "The Selfless Mind." Curzon Press, 1995, page 57.
  35. Peter Harvey, "The Selfless Mind." Curzon Press, 1995, page 58.
  36. Peter Harvey, "The Selfless Mind." Curzon Press, 1995, pages 58.
  37. Peter Harvey, "The Selfless Mind." Curzon Press, 1995, pages 57-58.
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 38.4 Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind. Curzon Press, 1995, page 34.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press 1989, page 100.
  40. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, The Not-Self Strategy. [8]. For the sutta see [9].
  41. Nanavira Thera, Nibbana and Anatta. [10]. Early Writings -> Nibbana and Anatta -> Nibbana, Atta, and Anatta.
  42. David Kalupahana, Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. The University Press of Hawaii, 1975, page 116.
  43. Thanissaro Bhikkhu's commentary to the Mula Pariyaya Sutta, [11].
  44. Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha taught. Grove Press, 1974, pages 59-64.
  45. Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha taught. Grove Press, 1974, page 57. He indicated this about the sankhara translation himself.
  46. Thanissaro Bhikkhu's commentary to the Brahma-nimantantika Sutta, [12].
  47. Nanavira Thera, Nibbana and Anatta. [13]. Early Writings -> Nibbana and Anatta -> Sankhara and Dhamma.
  48. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, The Not-Self Strategy. See note 2, [14].
  49. Nanavira Thera, Nibbana and Anatta. [15]. Early Writings -> Nibbana and Anatta -> Sankhara and Dhamma.
  50. Thanissaro Bhikkhu's commentary to the Sabba Sutta, [16].
  51. Nanavira Thera, Nibbana and Anatta. [17]. Early Writings -> Nibbana and Anatta -> Sankhara and Dhamma.
  52. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, [18].
  53. Sabba Sutta, see also Kotthita Sutta: [19].
  54. Thanissaro Bhikkhu's commentary to the Sabba Sutta.
  55. Thanissaro Bhikkhu. [20], [21].
  56. Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind. Curzon Press, 1995, page 53.
  57. See [22].
  58. Sallie B. King, The Doctrine of Buddha-Nature is impeccably Buddhist. [23], pages 1-6.
  59. Lopez, 1995, p.96
  60. Paul Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations.Taylor & Francis, 1989, page 98, see also page 99.
  61. Paul Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations.Taylor & Francis, 1989, page 100. "... it refers to the Buddha using the term "Self" in order to win over non-Buddhist ascetics."
  62. 62.0 62.1 Youru Wang, Linguistic Strategies in Daoist Zhuangzi and Chan Buddhism: The Other Way of Speaking. Routledge, 2003, page 58.
  63. Dr. Jamie Hubbard, Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood, University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, 2001, pp. 99-100
  64. ^ http://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg.de/Michael-Zimmermann.23.0.html?&L=1
  65. Professor Michael Zimmermann, A Buddha Within: The Tathāgatagarbhasūtra, Biblotheca Philologica et Philosophica Buddhica VI, The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University (2002) p. 64
  66. Professor Michael Zimmermann, A Buddha Within, p. 64
  67. Prof. Zimmermann, A Buddha Within, p. 81
  68. 68.0 68.1 Peter Harvey, Buddhism. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001, page 86.
  69. Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History, and Practices. Cambridge University Press, 1990 page 116.
  70. Jamie Hubbard, Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood: The Rise and Fall of a Chinese Heresy. University of Hawaii Press, 2001, page 101.
  71. Richard Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988, page 63: "Nibbana means 'blowing out.' What must be blown out is the triple fire of greed, hatred, and delusion."
  72. Kashi Nath Upadhyaya, Early Buddhism and the Bhagavadgita. Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1998, page 352.
  73. Dan Lusthaus, Buddhist Phenomenology. Routledge, 2002, note 7 on page 154.
  74. David Kalupahana, Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. The University Press of Hawaii, 1975, page 88. The passage is SN 2.77.
  75. Professor Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, Routledge, London, 2nd Edition, 2009, p. 126
  76. Professor Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism, Routledge, London, 2nd Edition, 2009, pp. 127-128.
  77. Professor Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism, Routledge, London, 2nd Edition, 2009, p. 128
  78. "Questions and Answers with Ajahn Chah." Originally printed at Wat Pah Pong, Ubon Rajathana Province, N.E. Thailand COPYRIGHT 1982 by The Sangha, Bung Wai Forest Monastery, available online at [24].
  79. "Questions and Answers with Ajahn Chah." Originally printed at Wat Pah Pong, Ubon Rajathana Province, N.E. Thailand COPYRIGHT 1982 by The Sangha, Bung Wai Forest Monastery, available online at [25].
  80. Maha Boowa, Maha Boowa in London Translated by Ajahn Pannavaddho. Forest Dhamma Books, page 46. Available online from [26].
  81. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, No-self or Not-self?" [27].
  82. Bhikkhu Silaratano, Mae Chee Kaew. Forest Dhamma Books, 2009, pages 194-198. Licensed for free distribution. Available online from [28].
  83. cf. Mountain Doctrine: Tibet's Fundamental Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha-Matrix, Snow Lion, NY, 2006, tr. by Jeffrey Hopkins, pp.279-294
  84. Christian Lindtner, Master of Wisdom. Dharma Publishing, 1997, page 343.
  85. LINDTNER, CHRISTIAN (1999) From Brahmanism to Buddhism, Asian Philosophy, 9(1), pp. 5–37.
  86. Derek Parfit: Reasons and Persons, Appendix J, also see chapter 12 (section 92).

Bibliography

  • Doctrine of the Buddha, George Grimm
  • Self and Non-Self in Early Buddhism, Perez-Remon, Mouton, 1980
  • Lama, Dalai (1997). Healing Anger: The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective. Translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa. Snow Lion Publications. Source: [29] (accessed: Sunday March 25, 2007)

External links

Also on Fandom

Random Wiki