No-Self vs. Not-Self

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Florian, modified 11 Years ago at 7/7/11 7:13 AM
Created 11 Years ago at 7/7/11 7:13 AM

No-Self vs. Not-Self

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
So what's the difference between no self and not-self?

Experientially?

Theoretically?

In the ancient books? the new ones?

Cheers,
Florian
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Nikolai , modified 11 Years ago at 7/7/11 10:35 AM
Created 11 Years ago at 7/7/11 10:32 AM

RE: No-Self vs. Not-Self

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 1/23/10 Recent Posts
Here is Thanissaro Bikkhu's take on it. I like it. Focus on the cause of suffering and stress and its cessation.

One of the first stumbling blocks that Westerners often encounter when they learn about Buddhism is the teaching on anatta, often translated as no-self. This teaching is a stumbling block for two reasons. First, the idea of there being no self doesn't fit well with other Buddhist teachings, such as the doctrine of kamma and rebirth: If there's no self, what experiences the results of kamma and takes rebirth? Second, it doesn't fit well with our own Judeo-Christian background, which assumes the existence of an eternal soul or self as a basic presupposition: If there's no self, what's the purpose of a spiritual life? Many books try to answer these questions, but if you look at the Pali canon — the earliest extant record of the Buddha's teachings — you won't find them addressed at all. In fact, the one place where the Buddha was asked point-blank whether or not there was a self, he refused to answer. When later asked why, he said that to hold either that there is a self or that there is no self is to fall into extreme forms of wrong view that make the path of Buddhist practice impossible. Thus the question should be put aside. To understand what his silence on this question says about the meaning of anatta, we first have to look at his teachings on how questions should be asked and answered, and how to interpret his answers.

The Buddha divided all questions into four classes: those that deserve a categorical (straight yes or no) answer; those that deserve an analytical answer, defining and qualifying the terms of the question; those that deserve a counter-question, putting the ball back in the questioner's court; and those that deserve to be put aside. The last class of question consists of those that don't lead to the end of suffering and stress. The first duty of a teacher, when asked a question, is to figure out which class the question belongs to, and then to respond in the appropriate way. You don't, for example, say yes or no to a question that should be put aside. If you are the person asking the question and you get an answer, you should then determine how far the answer should be interpreted. The Buddha said that there are two types of people who misrepresent him: those who draw inferences from statements that shouldn't have inferences drawn from them, and those who don't draw inferences from those that should.

These are the basic ground rules for interpreting the Buddha's teachings, but if we look at the way most writers treat the anatta doctrine, we find these ground rules ignored. Some writers try to qualify the no-self interpretation by saying that the Buddha denied the existence of an eternal self or a separate self, but this is to give an analytical answer to a question that the Buddha showed should be put aside. Others try to draw inferences from the few statements in the discourse that seem to imply that there is no self, but it seems safe to assume that if one forces those statements to give an answer to a question that should be put aside, one is drawing inferences where they shouldn't be drawn.

So, instead of answering "no" to the question of whether or not there is a self — interconnected or separate, eternal or not — the Buddha felt that the question was misguided to begin with. Why? No matter how you define the line between "self" and "other," the notion of self involves an element of self-identification and clinging, and thus suffering and stress. This holds as much for an interconnected self, which recognizes no "other," as it does for a separate self. If one identifies with all of nature, one is pained by every felled tree. It also holds for an entirely "other" universe, in which the sense of alienation and futility would become so debilitating as to make the quest for happiness — one's own or that of others — impossible. For these reasons, the Buddha advised paying no attention to such questions as "Do I exist?" or "Don't I exist?" for however you answer them, they lead to suffering and stress.

To avoid the suffering implicit in questions of "self" and "other," he offered an alternative way of dividing up experience: the four Noble Truths of stress, its cause, its cessation, and the path to its cessation. Rather than viewing these truths as pertaining to self or other, he said, one should recognize them simply for what they are, in and of themselves, as they are directly experienced, and then perform the duty appropriate to each. Stress should be comprehended, its cause abandoned, its cessation realized, and the path to its cessation developed. These duties form the context in which the anatta doctrine is best understood. If you develop the path of virtue, concentration, and discernment to a state of calm well-being and use that calm state to look at experience in terms of the Noble Truths, the questions that occur to the mind are not "Is there a self? What is my self?" but rather "Am I suffering stress because I'm holding onto this particular phenomenon? Is it really me, myself, or mine? If it's stressful but not really me or mine, why hold on?" These last questions merit straightforward answers, as they then help you to comprehend stress and to chip away at the attachment and clinging — the residual sense of self-identification — that cause it, until ultimately all traces of self-identification are gone and all that's left is limitless freedom.

In this sense, the anatta teaching is not a doctrine of no-self, but a not-self strategy for shedding suffering by letting go of its cause, leading to the highest, undying happiness. At that point, questions of self, no-self, and not-self fall aside. Once there's the experience of such total freedom, where would there be any concern about what's experiencing it, or whether or not it's a self?


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/notself2.html
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Yadid dee, modified 11 Years ago at 7/7/11 10:36 AM
Created 11 Years ago at 7/7/11 10:36 AM

RE: No-Self vs. Not-Self

Posts: 258 Join Date: 9/11/09 Recent Posts
Nick:

In this sense, the anatta teaching is not a doctrine of no-self, but a not-self strategy for shedding suffering by letting go of its cause, leading to the highest, undying happiness. At that point, questions of self, no-self, and not-self fall aside. Once there's the experience of such total freedom, where would there be any concern about what's experiencing it, or whether or not it's a self?


Thanks for the quote, Nick.

I also find the debate on self/Self/no-self/not-self to be a bit silly, due to the fact it takes the focus away from the kilesas/defilements of mind.

If there is anger / hatred / greed / impatience / whatever in the mind, whether it arises for a self, as not-self, or for no-self, seems to be a way of dodging the real issue.
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Nikolai , modified 11 Years ago at 7/7/11 10:40 AM
Created 11 Years ago at 7/7/11 10:37 AM

RE: No-Self vs. Not-Self

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 1/23/10 Recent Posts
Hey Yadid,

Here is a great article by Thanissaro again on the not-self strategy.

It's long: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/notself.html

:-)


As he attends inappropriately in this way, one of six kinds of view arises in him: The view I have a self arises in him as true & established,

or the view I have no self...

or the view It is precisely because of self that I perceive self...

or the view It is precisely because of self that I perceive not-self...

or the view It is precisely because of not-self that I perceive self arises in him as true & established,

or else he has a view like this: This very self of mine — the knower which is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & bad actions — is the self of mine which is constant, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and will endure as long as eternity.

This is called a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. Bound by a fetter of views, the un-instructed run-of-the-mill person is not freed from birth, aging & death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief & despair. He is not freed from stress, I say.

The well-taught disciple of the noble ones... discerns what ideas are fit for attention, and what ideas are unfit for attention. This being so, he does not attend to ideas unfit for attention, and attends (instead) to ideas fit for attention... He attends appropriately, This is stress... This is the origin of stress... This is the stopping of stress... This is the way leading to the stopping of stress. As he attends appropriately in this way, three fetters are abandoned in him: identity-view, uncertainty and adherence to precepts & practices.
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Florian, modified 11 Years ago at 7/8/11 4:01 AM
Created 11 Years ago at 7/8/11 4:01 AM

RE: No-Self vs. Not-Self

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
So it's, once again, about taking a perfectly good technique ("not-self strategy", or directly pointing at no self), and then making a dogma, a "thicket of views" out of it. (Remember the "(un-)limited emotional range model", and the awful mess it becomes when degraded to dogma, instead of used as a model for practice used to investigate experience?)

Vinay Gupta, on Alan Chapman's blog, makes this point in the following way:

Vinay Gupta:
... here's the problem: when you could see yourself as existing, you existed.

Now you can see yourself as not existing, so you don't exist.

You haven't broken free from the fact that your mind creates your reality. You think you're out of the game, but you're just in denial.

...

Your mind creates your perception of reality. You have changed your mind, therefore you have changed your perception of reality. You have not apparently *discovered* anything beyond this fact, and are therefore Lost In The Sauce as, say, the Discordian Tradition calls it. You're discovering the power of the mind to create, including the illusion of emptiness, and the illusion of not having a self.

If I bang your toe with a hammer, somebody yelps. If you don't exist, can I have your stuff? Because it's not like there's a you to need it, right?

101 level elementary school Hindu tuition. My guru put a gun to my head in a pretty literal "you will actually physically die if you fuck this up" way on several occasions, and I used to give my students (the half a dozen of them that there were) razor sharp fighting knives and an admonition that "it's not magic unless it could get you killed."

As Philip K. Dick says, reality is what continues to exist when you stop believing in it.


So is the difference between "no self" and "not self" just in the more careful phrasing, to avoid the trap of ossifying a perfectly good insight practice (no self) into dogma/view?

Or is there more to it - and if so, is there more to discover? More to integrate/embody? More of something else? What do you think, dear fellow explorers?

Cheers,
Florian

P.S. The Buddha wasn't above using direct pointing to not-self - compare the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta. Those were the first five people he taught, according to tradition.
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Eran G, modified 11 Years ago at 7/8/11 11:38 AM
Created 11 Years ago at 7/8/11 11:38 AM

RE: No-Self vs. Not-Self

Posts: 182 Join Date: 1/5/10 Recent Posts
Florian Weps:

So is the difference between "no self" and "not self" just in the more careful phrasing, to avoid the trap of ossifying a perfectly good insight practice (no self) into dogma/view?

Or is there more to it - and if so, is there more to discover? More to integrate/embody? More of something else? What do you think, dear fellow explorers?


The way I see it right now is there's multiple kinds of belief or maybe multiple ways in which belief works.
1. There's the kind you're not aware of and is shaping your world without you even knowing it.
2. There's the kind you're aware of and you can see it shaping your world so when you pay attention you can see through that (shaping of the world)
3. There's the kind you know is there but have not yet seen how it shapes your world so it's much harder to see through.

Having just 3, it's easier for me to motivate and try to see it apart. Having both 2 and 3 it's harder to motivate because I sometimes fall into the trap that I've seen through all of it (which in itself is a type 1 or if i'm paying attention 3).

I think we create new beliefs in order to start breaking up the old beliefs. For example a not-self strategy to see through the belief in self. For a while this works as more and more is seen as not-self and more and more beliefs are clearly seen through. At some point, though, it's time to see through the new belief that we created and see that it too is just a belief and that it is possible (as you said) to get caught up in that belief as well. I think this is what the parable of the boat is pointing at. I like to think that at this point, once you've seen through both the old and the new beliefs you have the freedom to choose which one to use (if at all) at any given moment, based on the situation. That's what I would call wisdom.
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Florian, modified 11 Years ago at 7/9/11 5:24 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 7/9/11 5:23 PM

RE: No-Self vs. Not-Self

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Eran,

Thanks, good points.

Just for the sake of arguing your point, can you find this pattern in Ven. Thanissaro's reasonable and down-to-earth exposition of the not-self strategy, where everything is fitting together neatly like a solved jigsaw puzzle?

If you were, say, a crazy wisdom teacher training his students by pointing a gun at their head and threatening to pull the trigger if they got it wrong: what fault would you find with that essay?

Just for the fun of it. It can be cool and instructive to consider points of view held by the diversity of not-selfs out there.

Cheers,
Florian
Ceri Storey, modified 11 Years ago at 7/9/11 6:54 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 7/9/11 6:54 PM

RE: No-Self vs. Not-Self

Post: 1 Join Date: 7/9/11 Recent Posts
Personally, I've found the Mahayana and Vajrayana views on this to be quite useful.

Well, you could say that saying that in the case of no-self, there is nothing whatsoever that is the self.This view is also summed up in Nargarjuna's Tetralemma, that is, not being, nor non-being, nor both, nor neither, at least, as far as I understand it.

I'm currently reading Keith Dowman's translation of a Dzogchen text, Longchenpa's Radical Dzogchen, and it pretty much opens with stating that the nature of everything is this fundamental absence of anything whatsoever. However, the text also covers themes of Openness, Spontaneity and Unity, so it's clear that all of this nothing seems to get up to a whole lot.

Conversely in the case of not-self, no-thing that you experience defines a self that is inherently existent from it's own side (to quote a friend of mine), that is, it doesn't define an entity that is ultimately a separate sentient (or otherwise) being (this includes any phenomena that you might take to be "your-self", that is, thought, or "this body", emotion, &c. However, you could say that because all phenomena arise out of primordial awareness, that they are not separate from, but not identical to, this primoridiality, and so that everything is a function of Mind, and hence not the "True Self".

More practically and less mind-frying-ly, when I hit 4th path, I was pretty much left up a creek without a paddle--that I'd discovered that there was a quite profound sense of absence wherever I could look for it it, and that even looking for a self resulted in finding nothing whatsoever. However, I personally had something an aversion to this (being as I hadn't really eliminated much craving /aversion), and so it took a while before I could relax into this sense of spacious absence, and discover that in the absence that there was a great fullness to be found, even though there was no-thing there to define it as anything whatsoever.

Finally, if that sounds like nonsense, I do apologise, but it's the most sensical way of describing non-sensory non-phenomena that I could, erm, steal.
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Eran G, modified 11 Years ago at 7/9/11 7:05 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 7/9/11 7:05 PM

RE: No-Self vs. Not-Self

Posts: 182 Join Date: 1/5/10 Recent Posts
Sure, I'll play!

Florian Weps:
Just for the sake of arguing your point, can you find this pattern in Ven. Thanissaro's reasonable and down-to-earth exposition of the not-self strategy, where everything is fitting together neatly like a solved jigsaw puzzle?


That should be relatively easy, since it's mostly that article that has informed my thinking on this emoticon

Most of the quotes in parts 1 and 2 of Thanissaro's "The Not-self Strategy" point to seeing not-self as skillful means towards liberation. Ex.


Mogharaja:
In what way does one view the world
so that the King of Death does not see one?

The Buddha:
Having removed any view
in terms of self,
always mindful, Mogharaja,
view the world as void.
This way one is above & beyond death.
This is the way one views the world
so that the King of Death does not see one.


Seeing the world with no reference to a self is the way to go beyond death.

Thanissaro's points 3 and 4 basically point to the other half of what I said, namely, not-self is also a view (point 3) and a person who attained complete liberation is free from all views including those of self vs. not-self.


Whatever is seen or heard or sensed
and fastened onto as true by others,
One who is Such — among those who are self-bound —
would not further assume to be true or even false.
Having seen well in advance that arrow
where generations are fastened & hung
— 'I know, I see, that's just how it is!' —
There is nothing of the Tathagata fastened.


One is free to see the suchness of everything without views, without true or false, just as it is.

Florian Weps:
If you were, say, a crazy wisdom teacher training his students by pointing a gun at their head and threatening to pull the trigger if they got it wrong: what fault would you find with that essay?


Second part is more difficult. I don't normally follow 'Crazy Wisdom' teachers, although I did notice Vinay Gupta (I think) mention that bit with the gun recently on twitter, gave me a chuckle, I wouldn't last long with that kinda teacher...

From a crazy wisdom perspective (talking to someone with no realization), I guess the whole piece is too wishy washy. There are too many exits, too many ways for the student to escape realization. The only thing that matters right now is whatever misconceptions have you, the student, in bondage and those must be broken. Right now you see a self and so the teacher must get you to see nothing but no-self. Admitting that something is just a strategy or a tool gives you a way out. The only way out is liberation (or a bullet...).

Although, I have to say, in my mind I'm seeing the teacher doing this while knowing he's playing a trick on the student. So for the teacher, this really is the same as Thanissaro's description, although not so for the student.

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