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satisfactoriness

Anatta

[uhn-uht-tah]

In Buddhist philosophy, anatta (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. In the Nikayas it is not meant as a metaphysical assertion, but as an approach for gaining release from suffering. In fact, the Buddha rejected both of the metaphysical assertions "there is a self" and "there is not a self" as ontological views that bind one to suffering. An agglomeration of constantly changing physical and mental constituents ("skandhas") is thoroughly analyzed and stated not to comprise a self.

In the Pali suttas and the related āgamas (referred to collectively below as 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.

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. 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, the soul, 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.”

Anatta refers to the absence of a permanent soul pertaining to any one of the psycho-physical (namo-rupa) attributes, or Khandhas (skandhas, aggregates). In Samyutta Nikaya (SN) 4.400, Gautama Buddha was asked if there “was no soul (natthatta)”, 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”

Common throughout Buddhist sutra is the denial of psycho-physical attributes of the mere empirical self to be the soul, or confused with same. The Buddhist paradigm as regards phenomena is “Na me so atta” (this/these are not my soul), nearly the most common utterance of Gautama Buddha in the Nikayas.

Logically so, according to the philosophical premise of the Buddha, the initiate to Buddhism who is to be “shown the way to Immortality (amata)” , wherein liberation of the mind (cittavimutta) is effectuated through the expansion of wisdom and the meditative practices of sati and samadhi, must first be educated away from his former ignorance-based (avijja) materialistic or eternalistic proclivities in that he “saw any of these forms, feelings, or this body, to be my self, to be that which I am by nature”.

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 soul (anatta), sensations are not the soul (anatta), perceptions are not the soul (anatta), assemblages are not the soul (anatta), consciousness is not the soul (anatta). Seeing thusly, this is the end of birth, the Brahman life has been fulfilled, what must be done has been done.”

The nikayas state that certain things (5 aggregates), with which the unlearned man identifies himself, do not constitute a personal essence and that is why one should grow disgusted with them, become detached from them and be liberated.

“Whatever form, feelings, perceptions, experiences, or consciousness there is (the five aggregates), these he sees to be without permanence, as suffering, as ill, as a plague, a boil, a sting, a pain, an affliction, as foreign, as otherness, as empty (suññato), as Selfless (anattato). So he turns his mind away from these and gathers his mind/will within the realm of Immortality (amataya dhatuya). This is tranquility; this is that which is most excellent!”

The Buddha criticized conceiving theories even of a unitary soul or identity immanent in all things as unskillful. 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.

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.

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. 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-self; his interpretation also hinges on interpreting the word "sankhara" in the widest sense. However, Thanissaro Bhikkhu and others find that the word "dhamma" is used here only to refer to objects of mental consciousness or mental analysis. 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. In fact, 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. "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 the assertion that every act of conceiving of a self is a mistake. He said that to hold the view "I have no self" is also incorrect.

This analysis shows that the Buddha did not make the metaphysical assertion that nibbana is not self, but not that he held the metaphysical view that it is self. 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 both statements regarding nibbana from the perspective of the arahant are inconsistent with statements he did make. 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). 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.
Perceptions of self or not-self, which would count as differentiation, would not apply beyond the "All. 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.

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.'

Dependent Origination

Buddhism teaches that all empirical life is impermanent and in a constant state of flux, and that any entity that exists does so only in dependence on the conditions of its arising, which are non-eternal. Therefore, any Self-concept (attanuditthi) sense one might have of an abiding Self or a soul is regarded as a misapprehension; since the conceptualization of the Self or soul is just that, and not an ontological apprehension of same.

Much of modern Buddhism holds that the notion of an abiding self is one of the main causes of human conflict, and that by realizing the nonexistence of our perceived self, 'we' may go beyond 'our' mundane desires. (Reference to 'oneself' or 'I' or 'me' for Buddhists is used merely conventionally.)

That the denial of the empirical person or self (This person so-and-so, Bob, Sue, etc.) in Buddhism is not in question; that self "goes to the grave

Rather than directing his listeners to discover Atman (as did the writers of the Upanishads), the Buddha taught that all clinging to concepts and ideas of a self are faulty and based on ignorance. The five aggregates of form, feelings, perceptions, mental fabrications and consciousness were described as especially misleading, since they form the basis for an individual's clinging or aversion. He taught that once a monk renounces his clinging for all the five aggregates, through meditative insight, he realizes the bliss of non-clinging, and abides in wisdom. The Buddha clearly stated that all five aggregates are impermanent, just as the burning flame is inconstant in one sense, and that knowledge or wisdom is all that remains, just as the only thing constant about a flame is its fuel, or purpose.

Buddhism and the Self of the Upanishads

The pre-Buddhist Upanishads link the Self to the feeling "I am. 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.'

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.
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 ego-sense is the very thing which keeps a person in the round of uncontrollable rebirth, preventing him or her from attaining nibbana. 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?

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.'

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 transcendence of the belief in the separate existence of the 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. 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.

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.

Theravada Buddhism and anatta

According to Theravada the Buddha attacked the assumptions of existence or non-existence of an eternal self (atman), although, as found in sources, from the Pali Canon he would refer to the existence of a conventional self-subject to conditional phenomena and responsible, in the causal-moral sense, for karma.

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] because both positions did not have ultimate validity and were unskillful metaphysical assertions. 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 Buddha's teachings were directed to the principles of causality; not in a negative, nihilistic way of non-reality, but rather by showing why it is and 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”). 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).

This empirical (namo-rupic) person is actually nothing more than an evolution of natural elements and latent tendencies of consciousness, held together by a thread of memory running through an ever-changing experience of reality.

Therefore 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 ones given abilities at work in an ever changing evolution of experience. “The mind (citta) is cleansed of the five skandhas (pañcakkhandha)” [Nettippakarana 44]

Anatta in the Tathagatagarbha Sutras

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

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.

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". 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.

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.

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, which was itself 'reformed Brahmanism' .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 Buddhist view, as is Derek Parfit's reductionist account. Parfit devotes a small appendix in his book Reasons and Persons to showing that "Buddha would have agreed" with his account.

See also

Notes

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: (accessed: Sunday March 25 2007)

External links

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