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On understanding the "self" in Buddhism

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On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Robert McLune 10/10/12 8:17 PM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism (D Z) Dhru Val 10/10/12 9:31 PM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Robert McLune 10/10/12 11:20 PM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Robert McLune 10/11/12 12:30 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Nikolai . 10/11/12 12:44 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Shashank Dixit 10/11/12 1:51 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism End in Sight 10/11/12 7:43 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Robert McLune 10/12/12 9:42 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism End in Sight 10/13/12 9:22 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Robert McLune 10/14/12 9:30 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Robert McLune 10/14/12 9:34 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism End in Sight 10/20/12 8:13 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Robert McLune 10/20/12 10:05 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism End in Sight 10/20/12 12:38 PM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Shashank Dixit 10/11/12 12:21 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Nikolai . 10/11/12 12:22 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism An Eternal Now 10/11/12 5:44 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Robert McLune 10/12/12 1:30 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism mico mico 10/12/12 3:06 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Robert McLune 10/12/12 3:51 PM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism An Eternal Now 10/12/12 6:07 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Robert McLune 10/12/12 9:32 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Shashank Dixit 10/12/12 8:28 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Robert McLune 10/12/12 9:50 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Shashank Dixit 10/12/12 10:48 AM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Robert McLune 10/12/12 3:32 PM
RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism Shashank Dixit 10/12/12 8:45 PM
On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/10/12 8:17 PM
The Buddhist idea I have most difficulty understanding is the notion of ignorance when it comes to the self. Just as an example, Wikipedia quotes Ringu Tulku saying:

"In the Buddhist sense, ignorance is equivalent to the identification of a self as being separate from everything else. It consists of the belief that there is an "I" that is not part of anything else."[1]
And so my understanding is that a key part of what Buddhism is all about is resolving that ignorance -- in other words, coming to see reality as it truly is, including what the "self" is (or isn't).

Now "self" is not the only Buddhist concept that can pose problems for the unwary westerner. Reincarnation and karma are another two. But for me, those are quite simple. Whether I believe in them, I get the concepts (I think). But the "self" thing befuddles me. It's not that I don't agree with it. I just don't understand it in the first place.

So my question is, is there any point trying to understand this in the way I'd try to understand some other difficult topic -- like quantum entanglement, or why so many of my pairs of socks have one sock missing? Or is it something one can only really grok through enough effective meditation practice?

thx.

[1] I'm sure there's infinite scope for people to argue over whether that is the correct definition of ignorance, but from my utter newbie stance let's assume it's fine. Put it this way, I haven't seen *any* description of the "self" thing that I can get my head around.

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/10/12 9:31 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
So my question is, is there any point trying to understand this in the way I'd try to understand some other difficult topic -- like quantum entanglement, or why so many of my pairs of socks have one sock missing? Or is it something one can only really grok through enough effective meditation practice?


To grok it requires direct experience leading to a shift in understanding.

Meditation is not strictly speaking necessary.

However the direct experience leading to an understanding is needed. And further, the direct experience of the 'self' is about paying attention to an aspect of your subjective experience (bare sensory inputs that make up the self) that is normally ignored. Meditation is useful because it can help you train the mind to preceive in unusual ways.

Intellectual understanding is useful

Intellectual abstraction, is useful in so far as it provides you with pointers on what to look out for. There are people who 'get it', at least in part, by mere intellectual pointing out exercises without meditation. (eg this website liberation unleashed).

Why an intellectual understanding is inadequate

You can't fully understand it the way you understand quantum mechanics (i.e. it cannot be understood by intellectual abstraction).

If you think of your brain as a neural network that is connected in layers of increasing abstraction. Quantum theory is an abstract concept that is built upon more abstract concepts like an understanding of expected behavior of waves and particles, which in turn are built upon even more abstract concepts.

It is many levels removed from your basic sensory inputs. Even the concept of 'my misplaced socks' is quite abstract compared to just the basic sights, sounds, and tactile sensations of every moment. This type of thinking cannot produce insight into the 'self' that people are talking about here, because the self is sort of an underlying assumption when your brain is thinking.

To get this stuff you need to be able to shift your attention to the sensory inputs directly, without abstraction. If you can do this you will grok it.

This is hard to do because the mind is normally quite busy running through abstract intellectual scenarios. This is where meditation is useful.

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/10/12 11:20 PM as a reply to (D Z) Dhru Val.
Thanks. The LU stuff looks intriguing, but I think even if I study it further, it'll be as an adjunct to meditation.

I think I have two core problem in getting to grips, intellectually, with the idea of there not being a self, or at least a separate self.

One is that all the descriptions of it use words that, according to the use *I* make of them, refer to a self. For example, the word "illusion". By "illusion" I mean precisely a thing experienced by "self". In other words, if self is illusory so is the notion of illusory -- but that doesn't really help because "illusory"'s very meaning -- which is the *point* of words -- is breaking down. None of that says anything about the Buddhist notion of self, but it does say something about our ability *to* say something about the Buddhist notion of self. It's very Wittgenstein-like in the sense of "whereof one cannot speak, thereon one must remain silent".

The other problem is too involved to describe here. I may try later.

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/11/12 12:21 AM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:

So my question is, is there any point trying to understand this in the way I'd try to understand some other difficult topic -- like quantum entanglement, or why so many of my pairs of socks have one sock missing? Or is it something one can only really grok through enough effective meditation practice?


The real gem and the correct way to understand Buddhism is to understand anatta (not-self) in the 5 aggregates that constitute one's existence and it has to be understood/experienced precisely in light of Pratītyasamutpāda (Dependant Origination). Once you understand this experientially via practise, you will begin to see what the Buddha saw and what he meant.

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/11/12 12:22 AM as a reply to Shashank Dixit.
I like what thanissaro has to say about it. It gels with current experience and understanding.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/notself.html

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/11/12 12:30 AM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Here's my second problem with getting to grips with the illusion of a separate self:

How can one be sure one is subject to that particular illusion?

By way of analogy, consider the movie The Matrix. The basic story is that everyone "lives" in a computer simulation and are under the illusion that it's "real". it is the job of Morpheus and crew to shatter that illusion.

But consider an alternative story in which Neo never actually suffered from the illusion. Suppose he already knew about the simulation, and the machines, and about the "real" world. In fact, it may never even have occurred to him that anyone actually suffered from the illusion. He may not even be aware of it as a concept. And let's assume further that Morpheus didn't know that Neo was free from the illusion.

So what would happen when Morpheus tried to explain to Neo that nothing was as it seems. Morpheus thought he was telling Neo about the basic illusion of the Matrix, but that's not what Neo got from the conversation. Since Neo trusts Morpheus, when he hears "nothing is as it seems" he (Neo) thinks to himself[1]:

"Hmm. Nothing is as it seems? Well, it 'seems' there's a real world, and bad machines, and some people, and the machines hook up the people into a computer where they experience the simulated world of the Matrix. So since it's *not* what it seems[2], then what the hell *is* it?"
The problem is, Morpheus and Neo are at crossed purposes. Morpheus is trying to correct an error that Neo isn't actually suffering from. But Neo doesn't realize that, so he *invents* an error in order to try to make sense of Morpheus offering a correction. If Morpheus understood this he could then say, "Ah right. You already got it. In that case, fine, we're good, no further discussion needed."

So, back to the illusion of the separate self. My view of the self and of reality is not conventional, so it strikes me as possible that I already "get it". I (and others -- I'm not claiming to be that special) may be like Neo who already knows about the Matrix. If that's the case then I should stop struggling with trying to understand this thing. I *already* understand it. And the reason it seems difficult is because I'm trying to untangle a non-existent problem.

The challenge is, how do I know which it is? Is the illusion hard to grok because it's hard to grok, or because I already grok it and I'm trying to grok something even harder?

One more thing though. In my modified Matrix story I said that Neo already knew about the Matrix and the real world. But that still allows for the fact that he is unable to *get to* the real world. That is, he may still be unable to awaken without the help of Morpheus and the red pill. So even if I do "understand" the true nature of reality, I'm pretty sure I can't *see* or *perceive* or *experience* that true nature. Yet.

I'm hoping that's where the meditation comes in :-)

[1] Careful not to take the analogy too far. In some commentaries on the Matrix it is pointed out that in fact maybe what Neo and Morpheus consider to be the real world *is* still an illusion. But that's beyond the point I'm trying to make here with my analogy.
[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PnD1MQujkw

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/11/12 12:44 AM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:
H

I'm hoping that's where the meditation comes in :-)



That is where discernment comes in. Meditation can aid in setting up a mental state/s conducive for that discernment. And if you still are asking well how would I know if I was discerning and not still immersed in an illusion of discernment?, Well if the discerning leads to the reduction and ultimately to the end of mental stress, that question wont matter, as it is the reduction and/or end of all mental stress which matters. I use that to know whether discernment is on the right track. Though if this is not one's ultimate objective, then perhaps one will never really be 'satisfied' if illusion has been seen through.

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/11/12 1:51 AM as a reply to Nikolai ..
Well if the discerning leads to the reduction and ultimately to the end of mental stress, that question wont matter, as it is the reduction and/or end of all mental stress which matters. I use that to know whether discernment is on the right track.


Totally agreed and loosely speaking, this is actually the essence of 4 Noble Truths. All theory is pretty much useless if does not lead to ending of stress.

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/11/12 5:44 AM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Check out http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.ca/2009/03/conceptions-of-self-in-western-and.html

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/11/12 7:43 AM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:
So what would happen when Morpheus tried to explain to Neo that nothing was as it seems. Morpheus thought he was telling Neo about the basic illusion of the Matrix, but that's not what Neo got from the conversation. Since Neo trusts Morpheus, when he hears "nothing is as it seems" he (Neo) thinks to himself[1]: (...)


Keeping it practical...

For what it's worth, I thought similar things at certain times in the past. Then I got MCTB 1st path and realized that I didn't "really" understand this issue prior, or rather, I didn't understand it fully, or in the right way that would shift my everyday experience in a profound way. There are different levels of understanding. (This is basically DZ's point.)

I do think it's a fair assumption that, no matter how you think about "self" / "not-self", you can refine your understanding and improve your life via meditating, because the way meditation changes your experience is fairly unique and not likely to be stumbled upon spontaneously outside of spiritual practice.

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/12/12 1:30 AM as a reply to An Eternal Now.
An Eternal Now:

From early in that article:

The psychology of Buddhism, on the other hand, rejects the notion of an inner self and proposes a radically different view, where thoughts exist without a thinker, deeds without a doer, and feelings without a feeler.
This exposes my problem. Suppose I were to define two words:

"unihorn" = "the long pointed horny protrusion on the forehead of a unicorn"
and
"horn" = "the long pointed horny protrusion on the forehead of any creature other than a unicorn"
There would then be no more point in talking of a "unicornless unihorn" than there would to talk of "wibbledy wibbledy wibble". The first phrase *appears* to well formed but that's a mirage. It's nonsense. But it is nonsense not for ontological reasons. It's nonsense not because there unicorns don't exist, or because of something to do with horny protrusions. It's nonsense because it breaks the rules of the words we're using. It's simply a problem of how we humans make marks on paper (or in pixels) to communicate with each other.

Similarly, for me the word "thoughts" is *defined* in terms of the word "thinker":

"thoughts" = "what a thinker does"
So a phrase like "thoughts exist without a thinker" is like "unicornless unihorn" or, indeed, "wibbledy wibbledy wibble". The first of those *appears* to be well formed but that's a mirage. It's nonsense. Again, the problem isn't ontological. There may be some valid and profound things to say about what we are, and what we're not, or even -- although it's hard to "say" this -- *whether* we are. Regardless -- the string of characters "thoughts exist without a thinker" doesn't say it. It doesn't say anything. It's just a string of meaningless characters. It may carry some poetic value, but it does no more than that.

Of course all of that is according to *my* definition of the word "thoughts". (And if sufficiently well constructed, definitions can't be "wrong".)

The question then is, if the author of the above wasn't simply talking nonsense how did he/she define "thoughts". What is a thought?

More generally then, everything we hear and see, touch and taste, smell and otherwise sense *are defined* (by me) in terms of "self". That's not to say that a "self" exists, but if someone wants to communicate with me they're going to have to do one of two things:

a. Tell me what they mean by the four-lettered symbol: self
OR
b. Tell me what they mean by symbols such as: red, pain, star, electron, cheesecake

Until those things take place, all we have are crossed purposes and arguments over what it is that certain squiggly lines denote. Or, getting back to my original point, I'm assuming that a key message of Buddhism is that all of the above is fruitless. The thing trying to be stated and understood with words *cannot* be so stated and understood. It simply has to be experienced.

In that sense it's somewhat (but not really) like pain (or pleasure). To a person who had never experienced pain, it really is impossible to describe it. You can describe what causes pain, and you can describe pain's neural correlates. But you can't describe *it*, because in not being a phenomenon of the intellect, it is not describe-able. It is a phenomenon of experience and so is only experience-able.

I guess?

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/12/12 3:06 AM as a reply to Robert McLune.
The psychology of Buddhism, on the other hand, rejects the notion of an inner self and proposes a radically different view, where thoughts exist without a thinker, deeds without a doer, and feelings without a feeler.

It seems a lot of western commentary on what Buddhism claims is specified always in contrast to this Cartesian framework, but without any awareness that it is only around 300 years old, and so such commentary cannot be entirely instructive as to what Buddhism actually has to say. Unless you just like talking about unicorns. (Such is our indoctrination that the only alternative to Materialism, or its brother in arms, Idealism, is the position enforced by Descartes in his attempt to unleash the 'Scientific' world view into 'Gods creation', one which Science and the western neo-buddhists have been trying to free themselves from ever since.)

It pays to keep things in historical context, and I am reminded of this lovely story by Graeber:

This particular maze of mirrors is so complex and dazzling that
it’s extraordinarily difficult to discern the starting point—that is,
what, precisely, is being reflected back and forth. Here
anthropology can be helpful, as anthropologists have the unique
advantage of being able to observe how human beings who have
not previously been part of these conversations react when Frst
exposed to Axial Age concepts. Every now and then too, we are
presented with moments of exceptional clarity: ones that reveal the
essence of our own thought to be almost exactly the opposite of
what we thought it to be.

Maurice Leenhardt, a Catholic missionary who had spent many
long years teaching the Gospel in New Caledonia, experienced such
a moment in the 1920s, when he asked one of his students, an aged
sculptor named Boesoou, how he felt about having been introduced
to spiritual ideas:

Once, waiting to assess the mental progress of the Canaques I
had taught for many years, I risked the following suggestion:
“In short, we introduced the notion of the spirit to your way of
thinking?”
He objected, “Spirit? Bah! You didn’t bring us the spirit. We
already knew the spirit existed. We have always acted in
accord with the spirit. What you’ve brought us is the body.”

The notion that humans had souls appeared to Boesoou to be
self-evident. The notion that there was such a thing as the body,
apart from the soul, a mere material collection of nerves and tissues
let alone that the body is the prison of the soul; that the
mortification of the body could be a means to the glorification or
liberation of the soul—all this, it turns out, struck him as utterly
new and exotic.

David Graeber - Debt, The First 5000 Years

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/12/12 6:07 AM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Thought: a mental image, word, concept, etc. Pretty self-evident. Pondering what the article means are thoughts. Remembering what happened this morning as a vivid mental image is also a thought. Most of all a thought is a self-luminous phenomena. It is self-cognizant.

The self that is rejected here is a truly existing, independent, seperate agent behind thought. There isn't such a self. In thinking there is just a thought, an image, a phenomena, with no one behind watching or controlling them. It may seem that there is someone behind it like puppet and a puppetmaster behind controlling it, to the unexamined mind. But that is not true, that is a mental hallucination of what never was.

As someone said, "The word ‘I’ in the sentence “I am happy” has exactly the same force as the word ‘It’ in the sentence “It is raining.”

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/12/12 8:28 AM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Is there a pot or only the mud that makes that pot ?
Is there a car or only the engine , wheels , chasis etc ?
In the ultimate reality, there is no such thing as a pot because there is only mud.
In the ultimate reality there is no such thing as a car because there are only
the engine , the wheels , the chasis.

Same is the case with the human organism..there is only the eyes , the ears ,
the nose , the blood , the veins but no person..this is
the fundamental ignorance , but to see this one has to practise.

It is not a question of a self or not self but *the way* that self is ignorantly read by the
brain. At stream-entry this view is broken forever but still the feeling of a self and thus ignorance
continues to arise and that is why there are 3 more paths to cover to reach arahantship
(which culminates with the ending of this fundamental ignorance completely)

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/12/12 9:32 AM as a reply to An Eternal Now.
An Eternal Now:
Thought: a mental image, word, concept, etc. Pretty self-evident.

But there's no deeper explanation there, only synonyms. "thought" "mental image" "word" "concept" -- as I use those terms they're all different forms of "things a thinker experiences". They're still defined in terms of "thinker".

And based on conversations with many others, and general reading, that is *far* from self evident. The most common view today of "thinker" -- or more generally "self" -- is that of scientific realism which offers what I consider to be utterly non-explanatory ramblings like "emergent property of the brain" or "supervenient phenomenon" or even "illusory; the self Just Is the brain." Those things are so circular as to be useless. They just don't say *anything*.

Most of all a thought is a self-luminous phenomena. It is self-cognizant.

Well that at least seems a bit different. But I don't know what it means.

The self that is rejected here is a truly existing, independent, seperate agent behind thought. There isn't such a self. In thinking there is just a thought, an image, a phenomena, with no one behind watching or controlling them.

But remember, the way I'm using the words *defines* a separate agent behind thought. That Just Is what "thought" *means*. To me.

The idea of a self that is not a separate agent behind thought is like a unihorn without a unicorn, or a 10-sided polygon without 10 sides. The problem has nothing to do with the existence or otherwise of thoughts/selves, unihorns/unicorns, or sides/polygons. It has everything to do with the fact that if someone says "askdjhaskdja eiewoghjgs ksdhksjfkh" to me I don't know what they mean, and in fact they may not actually mean anything.

It may seem that there is someone behind it like puppet and a puppetmaster behind controlling it, to the unexamined mind. But that is not true, that is a mental hallucination of what never was.

You're right that it does seem that way. But because it seems that way, I have a word for that puppetmaster -- illusory or no. That word is "self". The problem is, if "self" has a problem, so does "hallucination". That may be all very well and true, but it poses a deep problem for anyone trying to use language to get this non-self point across. They cannot refute the concept of "self" using concepts derived from "self" -- such as "hallucination" -- *in* the refutation.

As someone said, "The word ‘I’ in the sentence “I am happy” has exactly the same force as the word ‘It’ in the sentence “It is raining.”

From my point of view, based on the meaning of the various words, that may be true, or *utterly* wrong :-)

If what the someone said means that the "I" in:

"I am experiencing the phenomenon typically referred to as 'It is raining'"
has the same force as the word "I" in:

"I am happy"
then I agree. But if they really meant that "I" is equivalent to the "It" in the original, then that misunderstands the nature of reality. And even I can see that, with almost no meditative experience worth discussing.

Again, in all this fencing (which, don't get me wrong, is fun and useful :-) ), I'm not arguing that the notion of non-self is invalid. I'm actually willing to take on faith that it *is* valid, at least for a while. All I'm doing is trying to fill out my growing suspicion that to grok anatta, the best I can hope for from intellectual investigation is only a partial "solution". I would love if someone came up with an intellectual position that moved me forward[1], but the more I discuss it with people and such a position doesn't reveal itself, the more I feel that the zafu is my friend.

Robert

[1] Because while I am untrained in meditation, I *am* trained in thought. It is my comfort zone, so naturally I have a tendency to look there first. If you knew me you'd realize that my even contemplating another route to "truth" is a huge step forward for me. It's akin to Richard Dawkins saying, "OK fine, I'm not saying there's definitely no god. I'm just saying I don't think we can say for sure that she has a beard." :-)

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/12/12 9:42 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:

Keeping it practical...

Just a comment on that. I know that for some people, this kind of discussion can seem like a distraction and perhaps that it even poses a danger of keeping Buddhist practice a purely intellectual exercise. That's fine, people are different. But for me, this is part and parcel of the whole thing and is *extremely* practical. This stuff is ultimately what got me on the cushion in the first place and is, for now, a part of what keeps me there.

For what it's worth, I thought similar things at certain times in the past. Then I got MCTB 1st path and realized that I didn't "really" understand this issue prior, or rather, I didn't understand it fully, or in the right way that would shift my everyday experience in a profound way. There are different levels of understanding. (This is basically DZ's point.)

I totally buy that, although my pre-discussing-this-kind-of-thing self (hah!) would have labeled you as a fuzzy-thinking nut! *Now*, however, my reaction is to think, "Well I'd better get to work to get 1st path then, hadn't I!"

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/12/12 9:50 AM as a reply to Shashank Dixit.
Shashank Dixit:
Is there a pot or only the mud that makes that pot ?

There "is" neither.

Is there a car or only the engine , wheels , chasis etc ?

None of those things "exist" in any kind of conventional sense of that word.

Same is the case with the human organism..there is only the eyes , the ears , ...

I no more believe in the "reality" of the eyes or ears than that of the organism. They're all -- in my usage of the words -- names for things the "self" experiences. Without "self" I can't use my versions of the words "eyes", "ears", "pot", "mud", etc. If you have different versions of those words, I'll need to understand them first before (if even then) I understand what you're saying.

It is not a question of a self or not self but *the way* that self is ignorantly read by the
brain.

Or "brain". That's yet another word for another thing the "self" experiences. Or "read". That's a word for the self's act of experiencing. (As always, according to the way I happen to use these words.)

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/12/12 10:48 AM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:
Shashank Dixit:
Is there a pot or only the mud that makes that pot ?

There "is" neither.

Is there a car or only the engine , wheels , chasis etc ?

None of those things "exist" in any kind of conventional sense of that word.

Same is the case with the human organism..there is only the eyes , the ears , ...

I no more believe in the "reality" of the eyes or ears than that of the organism. They're all -- in my usage of the words -- names for things the "self" experiences. Without "self" I can't use my versions of the words "eyes", "ears", "pot", "mud", etc. If you have different versions of those words, I'll need to understand them first before (if even then) I understand what you're saying.

It is not a question of a self or not self but *the way* that self is ignorantly read by the
brain.

Or "brain". That's yet another word for another thing the "self" experiences. Or "read". That's a word for the self's act of experiencing. (As always, according to the way I happen to use these words.)


ok , I can now see where you are coming from.
I agree that there is not even "mud" and "wheels" etc because we can go on dividing
something further and further.
I just used it to explain an idea - the idea that "nobody" exists inside.
In the end it is just the raw sense datum that the mind is labelling.
Can you feel somebody sitting inside and looking out ? This "me" ?
If not , what do you feel ?
We just need to end that "somebody" , that "me" whether you think it exists or not
and all suffering ends and this is enough.
This is what Buddhism is about in the end - end the feeling of
self or "me" arising and suffering ends.
One dip in the deathless consciousness is enough. You can know the taste of the mango
when you bite it.

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/12/12 3:32 PM as a reply to Shashank Dixit.
Shashank Dixit:

Can you feel somebody sitting inside and looking out ? This "me" ?

Yes, I can. And my understanding is that *that* -- the feeling of there being a me -- is precisely the problem at hand.

We just need to end that "somebody" , that "me" whether you think it exists or not
and all suffering ends and this is enough.
This is what Buddhism is about in the end - end the feeling of
self or "me" arising and suffering ends.

Indeed. The essential point of my rambling is merely to express the growing feeling that the ending of that "somebody" is something I'm beginning to conclude cannot be achieved merely by thinking about it, or certainly not by thinking about it in the way one would think about, for example, Quantum Mechanics.

That's really quite profound from my point of view.

Actually, I can't emphasize that enough. Since my twenties, when I discarded most of my Christian faith-based beliefs, the Buddhist concept of anatta is probably the only notion of which I have almost no grasp, but at the same time for the attainment of which I am willing to make changes in my life (e.g. develop a meditation practice, and get involved in groups like DhO).

In fact, to borrow from precisely that discarded Christian background, it's a bit like Mark 9:24, "I believe. Help my disbelief".

One dip in the deathless consciousness is enough. You can know the taste of the mango
when you bite it.

I hope so. I look forward to it. (Although, I'd prefer it was a cheesecake, but whatever emoticon )

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/12/12 3:51 PM as a reply to mico mico.
mico mico:

It seems a lot of western commentary on what Buddhism claims is specified always in contrast to this Cartesian framework, but without any awareness that it is only around 300 years old, and so such commentary cannot be entirely instructive as to what Buddhism actually has to say.

That's a very good point.

(Such is our indoctrination that the only alternative to Materialism, or its brother in arms, Idealism, is the position enforced by Descartes in his attempt to unleash the 'Scientific' world view into 'Gods creation', one which Science and the western neo-buddhists have been trying to free themselves from ever since.)

True, and I think most modern westerners, especially the scientifically trained, *especially* the bio guys, would tend to the first of the three. But would you agree there are pluralist alternatives to Materialism/Idealism, other than Cartesian dualism? My current preference is for the following three-component system:
  1. I -- the experiencer of experiences -- exist
  2. Something else -- the generator of experiences -- exists
  3. Others -- more or less like me -- exist
Then everything else -- mud, pots, electrons, etc -- are names for interactions between 2 and 3 on the one hand, and 1. That seems to model quite well all my experiences so far. But I will of course revisit that statement from time to time to the extent that my meditation practice allows me to experience ... well, whatever it is that meditation allows one to experience.

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/12/12 8:45 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
haha I can assure you it comes with a lot of goodies but there surely are rough patches too , but that
happens with every surgery..the difference here being the surgery of the monkey mind :-P

Anatta is indeed bewildering..it almost appears like a chimera in the beginning and I used to think its beyond
my grasp in this lifetime and then I realized that these monks are happy and they have no college degrees
and what not , so indeed, as you say its not about intellectualizing..it is an experiential one. In the end
I just decided to practise and see if it holds and surprisingly , it is not as hard to see/grasp as I thought
earlier.

Good luck with your practise !

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/13/12 9:22 AM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:
End in Sight:

Keeping it practical...

Just a comment on that. I know that for some people, this kind of discussion can seem like a distraction and perhaps that it even poses a danger of keeping Buddhist practice a purely intellectual exercise. That's fine, people are different. But for me, this is part and parcel of the whole thing and is *extremely* practical. This stuff is ultimately what got me on the cushion in the first place and is, for now, a part of what keeps me there.


Maybe I should have said "actionable"?

I do understand that this kind of discussion is practical for certain people at the beginning of their practice.

For what it's worth, I thought similar things at certain times in the past. Then I got MCTB 1st path and realized that I didn't "really" understand this issue prior, or rather, I didn't understand it fully, or in the right way that would shift my everyday experience in a profound way. There are different levels of understanding. (This is basically DZ's point.)

I totally buy that, although my pre-discussing-this-kind-of-thing self (hah!) would have labeled you as a fuzzy-thinking nut!


Well, maybe this line of inquiry will suit your personality and background. (However, if you've committed to practicing meditation already, you should avoid going down this path of discussion, and sit some more instead. Really.)

Similarly, for me the word "thoughts" is *defined* in terms of the word "thinker":

"thoughts" = "what a thinker does" (...)

Of course all of that is according to *my* definition of the word "thoughts". (And if sufficiently well constructed, definitions can't be "wrong".)


"Thought" is a word in a natural language that you probably learned as a young child, before you learned the method of defining things in this way. What would you say the relationship between the cognitive significance of the word "thought" and the definition you offered is, in brief?

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/14/12 9:30 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:

if you've committed to practicing meditation already, you should avoid going down this path of discussion, and sit some more instead. Really.)

I think if I were to do that it would diminish, or even end, what sitting practice I do have. For now anyway.

The simple fact is that precisely because this Buddhist stuff is so tricky -- the illusory aspect of self and so on -- there is a degree of a particular kind of "faith" required to getting started. And people who are used to discursive thinking can sometimes be short on that. Fortunately it appears that the discursive thinker can "bootstrap" into practice by using that very discursive thinking.

Without that bootstrap I personally have no way of distinguishing between Buddhism, Christianity, or Pastafarianism. And while it may be true for the more experienced meditator to comment "less discussion, more sitting", that truth can't be *seen as* true by a beginner like me.

It's an epistemological issue, not an ontological one. To paraphrase Tom Cruise's character in "A Few Good Men":

"It's not what is true that matters, but what *I* can *reasonably believe* is true"
I have no problem believing -- assuming this whole shebang *is* true -- that one can eventually progress without so much analysis. Indeed, by many accounts one will progress faster without it. But I'm not there yet. (Or rather, I don't believe I'm there yet. emoticon )

Remember, at least I'm here. I may be asking, but I'm also practicing. There are many many like me who cannot get past the challenge that they perceive Buddhism presenting and so never even engage, never develop a practice, and never attain or move towards anything like liberation. In some ways it is a tragedy of species-level proportions.

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/14/12 9:34 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
Robert McLune:
Similarly, for me the word "thoughts" is *defined* in terms of the word "thinker":

"thoughts" = "what a thinker does" (...)


"Thought" is a word in a natural language that you probably learned as a young child, before you learned the method of defining things in this way. What would you say the relationship between the cognitive significance of the word "thought" and the definition you offered is, in brief?

What do you mean by the "cognitive significance" of a word? (Im not trying to be obtuse, I'm just not sure what you're asking.)

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/20/12 8:13 AM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert, I'll try to PM you about this soon.

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/20/12 10:05 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
Robert, I'll try to PM you about this soon.

Any particular reason you want to shift this off the forum? I don't mind PMs, but in general I personally get benefit from lots of people's views. This is the squinterweb after all emoticon

RE: On understanding the "self" in Buddhism
Answer
10/20/12 12:38 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:
End in Sight:
Robert, I'll try to PM you about this soon.

Any particular reason you want to shift this off the forum? I don't mind PMs, but in general I personally get benefit from lots of people's views. This is the squinterweb after all emoticon


I think this subject (of talking about this Buddhist stuff with a person whose intellect is well-trained but who has limited meditation experience, and whose intellect is worried about various things relating to meditation) will benefit from a kind of back-and-forth which can't be achieved on a forum, but could be achieved via chat, etc.