Author Topic: What is No-Self?  (Read 4213 times)

VinceField

What is No-Self?
« on: June 25, 2014, 01:08:37 AM »
Lately I have been contemplating the Buddhist concept of no-self, as I have had some confusion about certain aspects of the idea. 

On the one hand it is not difficult to understand or even experience the concept that not only one's external environment is not one's self, but also that one's body and the internal activities of the mind are also intrinsically not one's self due to their impermanent nature, although this seems to imply that the nature of the self must be permanent, which I do not believe is inherent in the concept, especially as there are multiple variations of the definition of self (these are described in Buddha's teachings found in the link at the bottom).  However, I have trouble contemplating there being no self at all.

I believe there is a fundamental, core level of consciousness that is the true self, as my experiences in deeper levels of spiritual realities have seemed to reveal.  I believe the true self is the deepest level of pure awareness, pure consciousness, pure experience of beingness, separate from any manifestations or fabrications that result in various illusory experiences of physical and nonphysical realities.  The true self lies beneath the ever-changing experience, it is that source level of consciousness that perceives dukkha, anicca, and anatta, that core essence that is the constant observer.

After doing some research, it would appear that the idea of NO-self is a misinterpretation of the Buddha's teachings, with the more accurate interpretation being NOT-self.  Here are some relevant pieces of information I have come across to clarify this issue and which I believe show that there is no contradiction between my belief in a fundamental self and the Buddhist concept of not-self, aside from the fact that Buddha taught not to have any beliefs regarding the nature of the self, and that it cannot be concluded that there is no fundamental level of consciousness that is the true seat of the self based on the Buddha's original teachings:

"This teaching (of No-Self) 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?"

"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...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."

"The Buddha, in teaching not-self, was not answering the question of whether there is or isn't a self. This question was one he explicitly put aside.... The issue is not, "What is my true self?" but "What kind of perception of self is skillful and when is it skillful, what kind of perception of not-self is skillful and when is it skillful?"

"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?"

"On one interpretation, although Buddhism rejects the notion of a permanent self, it does not reject the notion of an empirical self (albeit consisting of constantly changing physical and mental phenomena) that can be conveniently referred to with words such as "I", "you", "being", "individual", etc.  According to Buddhist teachings, this phenomenon should not, either in whole or in part, be reified, either in affirmation or denial."

"One misinterpretation is that the Buddha's not-self teaching is aimed specifically at negating the view of self proposed in the Brahmanical Upanishads — that the self is permanent, cosmic, and identical with God"

"The second misinterpretation is the exact opposite: The Buddha is negating the idea that you have a small, separate self, but he's affirming the existence of a large, interconnected, cosmic self."

"The third misinterpretation is similar to the first, but it introduces the idea that a self, to be a true self, has to be permanent. According to this interpretation, the Buddha is affirming that the five aggregates are what you are, but these five aggregates don't really qualify to be called a self because they aren't permanent."

"None of these interpretations fit in with the Buddha's actual teachings, or his actual approach to the question of whether there is or is not a self. They misrepresent the Buddha both for formal reasons — the fact that they give an analytical answer to a question the Buddha put aside — and for reasons of content: They don't fit in with what the Buddha actually had to say on the topic of self and not-self."

"Another problem with this misinterpretation is that it opens the Buddha to charges of lying in the many passages where he does refer to the self in a positive way — as when he says that the self is its own mainstay. If there really is no self at all, why does he talk about it as if it exists? To get around this problem, the interpretation introduces the distinction between two levels of truth: conventional and ultimate. Thus, it says, when the Buddha is talking about self, he's doing so only in a conventional way. On the ultimate level, no self exists. The problem with this distinction is that the Buddha himself never uses it — it was introduced into the tradition at a much later date — and if it were so central to understanding his teachings, you'd think that he would have mentioned it. But he didn't."


My understanding is that the Buddha taught that contemplation and conceptualization of the idea of the self leads to suffering, but I don't see how this implies that there is no true self, especially as there are many aspects of the nature of the self and reality which are simply imperceptible to human awareness.

If anyone has a grasp on this concept I would be interested in hearing your opinions!  :)

More can be found here:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/notself2.html
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/selvesnotself.html#talk6
« Last Edit: June 25, 2014, 02:39:26 AM by VinceField »

Dharmic Tui

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #1 on: June 25, 2014, 08:02:48 AM »
That's a big OP covering a lot of ground. I'll paraphrase my perspective.

"Self" is the ego. We tend to view it as fixed, here is Dave the bank robber, Doug the romantic, Nigel the thinker, etc, but it is not. It is merely an algorithm reacting to our environment. So "no self" is casting aside the visage of a fixed ego or persona, dropping that reactive algorithm and just being with things as they happen. Pride is cast aside. Quite a challenge at the best of times, and even harder in a highly individualised, "it's all about me" western society. We like to think here is me, special and unique, and outside of that is everyone and everything else.

A concept of a "true self" is possibly at odds with "no self" as on the surface (although my ears are open to this concept) it's a fixed position. It's why I struggle a bit with some concepts of Nibbana, some people view it as a permanent attainment but I think the reality is a little less romantic.

VinceField

Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2014, 06:07:25 PM »
What I mean by "true self" is the pure awareness underneath and independent of the illusions and concepts of fabricated reality.  You say "'Self' is the ego,"  but I say "False or Illusory Self" is the ego.  True Self is the core foundational level of who we really are, a level of pure awareness, and this is a level that transcends all illusions and concepts, it transcends dukkha, anicca, and anatta, and although it requires concept for us to comprehend it, I believe its reality can be experienced without the need for conceptualization.   

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #3 on: June 25, 2014, 06:45:04 PM »
I think a notion of true or false selves is problematic. It's idealising and paradoxical.

VinceField

Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #4 on: June 25, 2014, 07:27:34 PM »
I don't see a paradox in the idea that we are pure awareness (True Self) engaged in experiences in which we mistakenly believe we are the illusions that comprise the activities of our internal and external projected realities (False Self), this false sense of self arising due to a perceived disconnect from our true essential nature due to total immersion in illusory reality. 

Matthew

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2014, 07:35:49 PM »
Quote
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.

From: "No-self or Not-self?", by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 24 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/notself2.html

In short clinging to view is a problem. Clinging to the view of a self does not help on the path. Clinging to view of no-self is no more help. Moving beyond "views" to true knowledge is the path.
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Dharmic Tui

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2014, 08:10:12 PM »
I don't see a paradox in the idea that we are pure awareness (True Self) engaged in experiences in which we mistakenly believe we are the illusions that comprise the activities of our internal and external projected realities (False Self), this false sense of self arising due to a perceived disconnect from our true essential nature due to total immersion in illusory reality.
I don't know man, for me, I struggle with fixed positions like "true essential nature" and concepts of "illusory" and actual reality. It all just seems so prone to ego bias.

VinceField

Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #7 on: June 25, 2014, 08:13:29 PM »
Matthew

What you have said is correct, although already addressed in my initial post.  My goal was to illuminate the idea that the belief that there is NO self is an erroneous distortion of the Buddha's teachings.  Actually, I believe it was your statement in my previous thread about experiencing God in which you said that my experience of a fundamental level of self contradicted the Buddhist idea of non-self that prompted me to look more deeply into this concept, so I thank you for indirectly furthering my insight into the issue.  :)

Dharmic Tui

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #8 on: June 25, 2014, 10:01:30 PM »
Do you give any weight to what Matthew actually said? I.e. Thinking in terms of self, no self, true self, etc are a hindrance? Or do you cherry pick what you need?

Matthew

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #9 on: June 25, 2014, 10:09:38 PM »
Matthew

What you have said is correct, although already addressed in my initial post.  My goal was to illuminate the idea that the belief that there is NO self is an erroneous distortion of the Buddha's teachings.

Not exactly. The Buddha refused to answer - in essence clinging to view of no-self is a form of clinging to self, as with all views.

The Buddha also taught quite specifically that self is not identical to the cosmos - your definition (view you cling to) of "God", in a nutshell, as you posted in your other thread.

Do you give any weight to what Matthew actually said? I.e. Thinking in terms of self, no self, true self, etc are a hindrance? Or do you cherry pick what you need?

Cherry pick .. it's an ego thing.

We'll all get over it one day :D
« Last Edit: June 25, 2014, 10:13:39 PM by Matthew »
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VinceField

Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2014, 12:08:13 AM »
Quote
The Buddha also taught quite specifically that self is not identical to the cosmos - your definition (view you cling to) of "God", in a nutshell, as you posted in your other thread.

This could appear to be a contradiction, although I wouldn't say that the self is the cosmos, but rather the underlying force of the universe, similar to the distinction many people make that the self is not the body, but the consciousness that animates the body- the cosmos being the physical manifestation of that underlying force.

"'Monks, where a self or what belongs to self are not pinned down as a truth or reality, then the view-position —This cosmos is the self. After death this I will be constant, permanent, eternal, not subject to change. I will stay just like that for an eternity' — Isn't it utterly & completely a fool's teaching?"

I agree with the Buddha, as we are never constant or permanent.  The definition of the self as the Cosmos that Buddha speaks of here is not the one I speak of.

Question:  Are all beliefs, views, and definitions "clinging?"  Or does clinging necessitate attachment?  Can one have an idea about the nature of something without clinging to it?  I ask because I don't believe I am not particularly attached to my view.  I understand that it may not be accurate, or a misinterpretation of my experience.  I also understand that it is not particularly important in terms of spiritual growth.  If I had an experience tonight that revealed that I was wrong I would gladly accept it and move on.

Quote
Do you give any weight to what Matthew actually said? I.e. Thinking in terms of self, no self, true self, etc are a hindrance? Or do you cherry pick what you need?

Perhaps Matthew was erroneously answering for me, but yes, I understand that clinging to these views is a hinderance.  I wouldn't say I necessarily "cling" to my current view of the self.  I understand that there are different opinions of the self in various philosophies and religions, the one I currently entertain is simply what I have experienced.  I leave this wide open to change when I experience otherwise.  I also leave open the possibility that I could be wrong so that I don't unintentionally shut out any experiences that contradict this view.  Of course, I believe that everyone cherry picks what they need, or what resonates with them.  Blind acceptance of anything is foolish, especially when it contradicts one's experience, knowledge, or wisdom.  But I believe it is important to remain open-minded to the fact that one may be wrong.   
« Last Edit: June 26, 2014, 12:35:58 AM by VinceField »

Dharmic Tui

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #11 on: June 26, 2014, 01:05:16 AM »
It's not clinging to the view that might be problematic, it's the clinging to needing to form or hold a view at all.

Similar things occur for people of an organised religion who leave their faith. If not for the deity or meaning of their faith, they believe there has to be an alternative to fill that void, when perhaps that is a fruitless endeavour they're ingrained to cling to.

I think that concept might be the actual message of no self. Something to think about anyway.

Middleway

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #12 on: June 26, 2014, 01:06:37 AM »
I know I exist... but not sure who I am.

When I contemplate about no-self, I compare myself to a candle. The candle stick is my body and flame is my consciousness. We need to keep on adding fuel to keep the flame going. I need to eat to keep my consciousness going. My consciousness is put out if I am hit by a bus. So will the flame of a candle. The flame of the candle is dying and being reborn from moment to moment. Every moment it is a new flame. So is my consciousness. It arises as thoughts, feelings etc and passes away. My consciousness is discrete moment to moment and yet is in a continuous state of flux and flickers like a candle in the wind subjected to external stimuli. This is my ego and I suffer. I am not my body, I am not my experiences, I am not my feelings, and I am not my consciousness. Clearly, there is no self in any of these processes. These processes are impermanent. Anything I see, feel, or experience cannot be me.

Then, the million dollar question is "who am I"?

My consciousness arose when physical matter of my body organized itself in a certain way. Billions of cells in my body and trilliions of neurons in my brain started firing in a certain pattern to give rise to my consciousness. When this pattern is violently disturbed when I am hit by a bus, the consciousness is put out just like a flame.

The physical matter is the universe also organized in a certain way giving rise to universal consciousness. 500 billions galaxies and trillions of stars started firing in a certain way to give rise to this universal consciousness. My body is part of this physical matter of the universe. Just as my consciousness pervades my entire body, the universal consciousness pervades the entire cosmos. This universal consciousness is within my body and all other animals as well. Its nature is that it loves to "be". It loves to preserve itself. This is the force behind the lowly worm contracting when we touch it and tries to get away and into the soil. This is the force behind animals protecting their off-spring. This universal consciousness is what Moses discovered, Prophet Mohammed discovered and so did thousands of Hindus, Sufis, Christians etc.  This is what causes the natural selection and evolution in life forms (self preservation). This is what the atheists call the "blind watchmaker".

When I let go off my ego, my consciousness becomes steady and merges with the ocean of universal consciousness beneath me of which I am a temporary wave. The universal consciousness does not have ego and therefore no suffering. When I abide in this state, I wish bhavatu sabba mangalam.

The universe and universal consciousness too are impermanent and have no self. If I am not my consciousness and I am not universal consciousness that is within me, then Who Am I?

I am "That". I can only be described in negative terms. I am not this, I am not that etc. I transcend time and space. I cannot experience "That" because if I do, it cannot be me. No wonder Buddha did not talk about "That". He cannot describe it and so he refused to answer. Hindus called it "Parabrahman", "Paramatman" (not Brahman) etc and tried to describe "That" as eternal being who cannot be described. But how can they know that "That" is eternal? Again Buddha did not want to speculate whether "That" is eternal and besides it is useless piece of information. Instead, he focused on teaching people to letting go of their ego, letting go of that penultimate urge to "be" and achieve that ultimate goal of awakening to "That" which then leads to complete cessation of suffering.

For record, I am not enlightened and I take everything I said above with a grain of salt.

Warm regards,

Middleway


Take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Dharmic Tui

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #13 on: June 26, 2014, 01:15:27 AM »
Interesting words middleway. I try not to dwell on these things too much. I tend to view my "self" as a momentary instance in spacetime, with a whole bunch of other stuff telling me otherwise.

Matthew

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #14 on: June 26, 2014, 05:34:43 AM »
I think you might appreciate this article Vince, an interesting read:

http://www.learning-mind.com/quantum-theory-proves-that-consciousness-moves-to-another-universe-after-death/

The understanding therein is also in accordance with Rune Johansson's explorations into the Buddhist teachings on self and enlightenment in his 1969 book "The Psychology of Nibbana". This is my "go to" read when I consider myself in the realms of speculation or being mistaken (though Johansson wasn't to my knowledge a deep practitioner his study was systematic and authoritative). I'll post some pages up later.
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VinceField

Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #15 on: June 26, 2014, 01:51:47 PM »
Thanks Matthew, very cool stuff.  Very much in sync with my beliefs, although the implications that the multiverse or multiple worlds theory present regarding the nature of the self and the multiple versions of one's self existing in parallel dimensions are a bit difficult to fully wrap my brain around!  I have had some experiences which I could attribute to having multiple versions of my self, although these could also be attributed to reincarnational selves rather than parallel versions of the same personality, so for now the jury stands out on this one.


Dharmic Tui

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #16 on: June 26, 2014, 08:10:56 PM »
I think you might appreciate this article Vince, an interesting read:

http://www.learning-mind.com/quantum-theory-proves-that-consciousness-moves-to-another-universe-after-death/
I wouldn't mind reading Lanza's actual work, that site looks like it takes quite generous liberties interpreting sources.

Middleway

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #17 on: June 27, 2014, 06:05:32 PM »
I think you might appreciate this article Vince, an interesting read:

http://www.learning-mind.com/quantum-theory-proves-that-consciousness-moves-to-another-universe-after-death/
I wouldn't mind reading Lanza's actual work, that site looks like it takes quite generous liberties interpreting sources.

Someone who read it provided a critique. Here it is.

http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/biocentrism/
Take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Dharmic Tui

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #18 on: June 27, 2014, 10:06:57 PM »
Wow. He's done a Ray Kurzweil.

Matthew

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #19 on: June 27, 2014, 10:47:00 PM »
Wow. He's done a Ray Kurzweil.

Except that Kurzweil did a lot of technological innovation prior to the navel-gazing "phase" :D
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Dharmic Tui

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #20 on: June 28, 2014, 03:34:46 AM »
Both of them could be called geniuses, it's just weird how they can go from hard to pseudo science. Makes you wonder whether it's genius or crazy luck behind their earlier success.

Middleway

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #21 on: June 28, 2014, 12:27:02 PM »
I think it is their genius responsible for the success and later their ego that is responsible to make them think they are god.
Take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Dharmic Tui

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Re: What is No-Self?
« Reply #22 on: June 28, 2014, 12:44:47 PM »
Deep theory. Ego corrupts rationality.