Author Topic: Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic  (Read 2529 times)

JMatlack

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I am reading in this Sutta about Buddhas Beliefs of not-self. While reading a third time I have come to the conclusion that a definition of what the self is ( to the Buddha) is necessary for understanding this sutta fully.  Can anyone help me understand. It seems that the self must be a thing that is absent misery and suffering. Does anyone know historically what they used to believe the self to be in his day?

"THE ALL (god) is MIND; the universe is mental" written in The Kybalion

Matthew

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Hi JM,

I think you may be taking a perspective on this that is fundamentally mistaken. In the Anatta-lakhanna Sutta the Buddha is simply going through the five Skandhas (aggregates) in turn, and explaining that none of them are unchangeable, that they are all impermanent, and none can therefore be the basis of an ever-unchanging "self" or "soul". This never changing "self" or "soul" was the predominating belief of the pre-Hindu Brahmanism that Buddhism was, in many ways, opposed to philosophically, practically and doctrinally. In that doctrine the self was destined to be reincarnated innumerable times to live the same life over.

This text by Thanissaro might help you get the context more clearly:

Quote
"If Buddhism denies a permanent self, how does it perceive identity?... What we conventionally call a 'person' can be understood in terms of five aggregates, the sum of which must not be taken for a permanent entity, since beings are nothing but an amalgam of ever-changing phenomena... [W]ithout a thorough understanding of the five aggregates, we cannot grasp the liberation process at work within the individual, who is, after all, simply an amalgam of the five aggregates."

Also the Khandha Sutta: Aggregates may be of help. The basic understanding is that we cling to these five aggregates (piles or heaps) of phenomena of body/form, feeling, perception, mental fabrications (thoughts, beliefs etc), and consciousness and it is this aggregated clinging that delivers to us a false sense of a permanent self: simply through identification with the aggregates based on clinging.

It is not therefore an understanding of what the self meant to the Buddha you need in order to comprehend this Sutta, it is merely an explanation that none of these things can be the basis of the eternal self prevalent in other teachings of the period: for all these constituents are themselves ever changing.

We create a false sense of self through identification/clinging to the constituents, however, in reality it is as ephemeral and impermanent as each of the Skandhas themselves. Understanding the basis of this false self is the reference point you seek to comprehend the teaching.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

JMatlack

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Thank you Mathew. That was very helpful.  Could you also describe how consciousness is an aggregate in terms that are easier to understand than in sutta? I have trouble with this because for the longest time I was considering consciousness to be the higher self -- the permanent bliss behind all things. Perhaps my definition ( comes from yoga) of consciousness is misplaced as well. 
"THE ALL (god) is MIND; the universe is mental" written in The Kybalion

Nicky

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Quote from: J
Could you also describe how consciousness is an aggregate in terms that are easier to understand than in sutta? I have trouble with this because for the longest time I was considering consciousness to be the higher self -- the permanent bliss behind all things. Perhaps my definition ( comes from yoga) of consciousness is misplaced as well.

Consciousness is merely cognition or awareness via the senses. Some scriptures are below:

Quote
And what is consciousness? These six are classes of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, intellect-consciousness. This is called consciousness.

Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta

Quote
'Consciousness, consciousness': Thus is it said. To what extent, friend, is it said to be 'consciousness'?"

'It cognizes, it cognizes': Thus, friend, it is said to be 'consciousness.' And what does it cognize? It cognizes 'pleasant.' It cognizes 'painful.' It cognizes 'neither painful nor pleasant.' 'It cognizes, it cognizes': Thus it is said to be 'consciousness.'

Mahavedalla Sutta

Quote
And why do you call it 'consciousness'? Because it cognizes, thus it is called consciousness. What does it cognize? It cognizes what is sour, bitter, pungent, sweet, alkaline, non-alkaline, salty, & unsalty. Because it cognizes, it is called consciousness.

Khajjaniya Sutta

Quote
Dependent on eye & forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as a requisite condition, there is feeling. What one feels, one perceives (labels in the mind). What one perceives, one thinks about.

Dependent on ear & sounds, ear-consciousness arises...

Dependent on nose & aromas, nose-consciousness arises...

Dependent on tongue & flavors, tongue-consciousness arises...

Dependent on body & tactile sensations, body-consciousness arises...

Dependent on mind & mind-objects, mind-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact.

Madhupindika Sutta


Quote
Feeling, perception & consciousness are conjoined, friend, not disjoined. It is not possible, having separated them one from another, to delineate the difference among them. For what one feels, that one perceives. What one perceives, that one cognizes.

Mahavedalla Sutta

Quote
Apart from a requisite condition, there is no coming-into-play of consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the eye & forms is classified simply as eye-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the ear & sounds is classified simply as ear-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the nose & aromas is classified simply as nose-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the tongue & flavors is classified simply as tongue-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the body & tactile sensations is classified simply as body-consciousness. Consciousness that arises in dependence on the intellect & mind-objects is classified simply as intellect-consciousness.

Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta

Quote
Were someone to say, 'I will describe a coming, a going, a passing away, an arising, a growth, an increase, or a proliferation of consciousness apart from form, from feeling, from perception, from fabrications,' that would be impossible.

Upaya Sutta


JMatlack

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Nicky,

Thank you for your post. I particularly like the last quote.

This has given me a strong pont of reference for Buddhist studies. I now know a few suttas to read. There are so many! Its hard to know where to start.

Thank you again,

Jmatlack
"THE ALL (god) is MIND; the universe is mental" written in The Kybalion

stillpointdancer

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Yes, the Heart Sutra says it well too, where it says that not even consciouness itself is where it is to be found. You need to let go of everything, even thinking.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

 

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