Fellow students?

I just wonder if there are any present fellow students of the BP201-course?
If so I would very much like to discuss some of the topics and how you view them.
Best regards in the Dhamma

Hi, Mac! I would be glad to

Hi, Mac!

I would be glad to discuss anything about this course, which is especially close to my interests. In fact I've already thought to post some reflections of mine on this forum, but I still wasn't quite prepared. And so you began first.
I will look forward to future discussions.

With metta,

macdjerf's picture

future discussions.

Hi Ardavarz!

Just found your reply to my question!

I have had some issues preventing me from dealing with my beloved BP201 but very soon I´ll be back again.

The first subject I would like to discuss is the Anatta-doctrine.
What is your understanding of its basic explanation?

With Metta


Hi Mac,

I can't disagree with very much said by Ardavarz, but it's difficult for me to know where he's coming from as I have no background information about him. I suspect he is a bit more Buddhist than I, since I think he mentions a belief in past lives. I'm afraid I'm only part Buddhist... My background is primarily philosophical, and western at that. I will say that I have enormous respect for Buddhist ethics, and were Buddhism limited to ethics, then I would probably be considered to be Buddhist. What gives me pause are some of the elements of Buddhism relating to gods, reincarnation, and such. At some point, some schools of Buddhism go too far for me. The cosmology described in BP319 - Social Philosophy of Buddhism, with the "pure Buddha lands" and such, is just more than I can deal with. On the other hand, I do find a great deal of Buddhist thought intriguing. The "Doctrine of Momentariness," for example (have a look at volume 1 of "Buddhist Logic," by Theodore Stcherbatsky, if you want; a bit dense, but I think quite interesting; "impermanence writ large"). These things as preface, then...

Anatta aside, it seems clear to me that there =is= a self. The word "self" is an indexical... The word picks out something in the world. I can point at "your self," as I perceive it, and at "myself" as well. The self is the one responsible for both making and paying our bills, the thing we're interested in preserving, and so forth.

Buddhism also acknowledges self. The self is that thing Buddhism seeks to improve or perfect. Treatment of "the self" also varies in different schools -- Theravada, Mahayana, et al. Ironically, one way of improving or perfecting the self appears to be to deny its existence, or to attempt to de-emphasize the self.

Peter Harvey has a brief discussion of self that's of potential interest (http://www.wisdom-books.com/FocusDetail.asp?FocusRef=21). I'll quote one paragraph here:

"The not-Self teaching is not in itself a denial of the existence of a permanent Self; it is primarily a practical teaching aimed at the overcoming of attachment by letting go of anything that is not-Self. In this, the concept is simply utilized for a spiritual end without being affirmed. The not-Self teaching, indeed, can be seen as a brilliant device - a skillful means - which uses a deep-seated human aspiration, ultimately illusory, to overcome the negative products of such an illusion. Identification, whether conscious or unconscious, with something as 'what I truly and permanently am' is a source of attachment, and such attachment leads to frustration and a sense of loss when what one identifies with changes and becomes other than one desires. The deep-rooted idea of 'Self', though, is not to be attacked, but used as a measuring-rod against which all phenomena should be compared: so as to see them as falling short of the perfections implied in the idea of Self - permanence, stability, happiness, autonomy. This is to be done through a rigorous experiential examination: as each possible candidate is examined, but is seen to be not-Self, falling short of the ideal, the intended result is that one should let go of any attachment for such a thing. The aim of seeing things as not-Self, then, is to make one see that this, this, this... everything one grasps at, due to identifying it as 'Self' or 'I', is not Self, such that one should let go of it. Contemplation of phenomena as impermanent, dukkha and not-Self is a way of undermining craving for and clinging to such phenomena. By seeing things 'as they really are', as constantly changing conditioned processes, attachment and its attendant suffering will be undermined."

A final comment: the title of the essay on this web page is "Self-Development and Self-Transcendence in Theravada Buddhist Thought and Practice." I could be wrong, but IBC appears to be largely Mahayana. So there could be room for modest disagreement between IBC study materials and what's said by Harvey.

Hope this helps.


PS: A bit disturbed to see this comment placed =before= the one by Ardavarz, and renumbered to be comment #3, with his moving to be #4. This strikes me as a bug in the software being used by IBC.

Dear Ken, It is really a bit

Dear Ken,

It is really a bit difficult to grasp the notion of anatta and not only for a westerner. As you pointed there is a word for "self". That is the problem - most of the words/concepts in the language are pure simulacra - they have no referent but it seems like they have. The "world" is a conceptual construct conditioned by our cultural background and inherited linguistic patterns. That's why there is a talk about conventional (sammuti) and ultimate (paramattha) truths. So don't worry about various cosmological and mythological ideas - every culture has his own picture of "reality", but this is not essential for the Buddhist philosophy which is concerned with the pure experience ("what really exists") here and now, before and beyond the language. On a conventional level we can talk about "other lives" but in ultimate sense there isn't even this "life", not only because there is no permanent principle (atta, soul) which continues through time, but there isn't actually past and future save as perspectives of experience in the consciousness of the present moment. (This is something like the infinite series of reflections of an object between two parallel mirrors). But since "consciousness arises depending on conditions", it is always a consciousness of something "past" and so it has no beginning in time.

I'm sorry that I can't elaborate this subject in detail right now - unfortunately I am rather busy lately (well, that's the way our "self" shackles us in the "world"!), but I hope I'll have the chance to do it yet. I only would like to point that the term "ethics" in my opinion is not quite relevant in the context of Buddhism but could be used as a sort of metaphor. What we have here is rather a psycho-dynamics (my term) dealing with objective laws which rule over mental phenomena, not the arbitrary judgements about human behavior which are dependent on cultural and other prejudices. An ethics always has an metaphysical background, but Buddhist approach is based on a rather different attitude - not-substantial and therefore not-ontological. All the ethics is based on the fundamental discrepancy between "what is" and "what should be". This very contradiction conditions desire to become (or bhavataņhā - one of the three forms of craving) which brings forth suffering. Buddhism is concerned with elimination of suffering, not the improvement or perfecting of some conditional existence. To say it figuratively - the "self" is our cell in the prison ("world", society) and there isn't much sense in decorating a place of confinement. Or otherwise - it is not an issue of replacement of an software with better one, but a total de-programming of mind. Well, this is also an extensive topic to discuss.

As I said, the notion of "not-self" could be hard to understand at first. The language of the suttas is a bit technical and it comes from a different culture and age. This may confuse the modern researcher. So, let me cite an explanation of a contemporary thinker - Jiddu Krishnamurti from his "Commentaries on Living" (ch. 29 & 22) - which seems to me more simple even if it isn't a Buddhist one:

"The accumulations, the stored-up memories are the "me; the "me" is not an entity apart from the accumulations. The "me" separates itself from its characteristics as the observer, the watcher, the controller, in order to safe-guard itself, to give itself continuity amidst impermanency."

And also:

"In one way or another, subtly or grossly, the self is nourished and sustained. Apart from its antisocial and harmful activities, why has the self to maintain itself? Though we are in turmoil and sorrow, with passing pleasures, why does the self cling to outer and inner gratifications, to pursuits that inevitably bring pain and misery? The thirst for positive activity as opposed to negation makes us strive to be; our striving makes us feel that we are alive, that there is a purpose to our life, that we shall progressively throw off the causes of conflict and sorrow. We feel that if our activity stopped, we would be nothing, we would be lost, life would have no meaning at all; so we keep going in conflict, in confusion, in antagonism. But we are also aware that there is something more, that there is an otherness which is above and beyond all this misery. Thus we are in constant battle within ourselves. The greater the outward show, the greater the inward poverty; but freedom from this poverty is not the loincloth. The cause of this inward emptiness is the desire to become; and, do what you will, this emptiness can never be filled. You may escape from it in a crude way, or with refinement; but it is as near to you as your shadow. You may not want to look into this emptiness, but nevertheless it is there. The adornments and the renunciations that the self assumes can never cover this inward poverty. By its activities, inner and outer, the self tries to find enrichment, calling it experience or giving it a different name according to its convenience and gratification. The self can never be anonymous; it may take on a new robe, assume a different name, but identity is its very substance. This identifying process prevents the awareness of its own nature. The cumulative process of identification builds up the self, positively or negatively; and its activity is always self-enclosing, however wide the enclosure. Every effort of the self to be or not to be is a movement away from what it is. Apart from its name, attributes, idiosyncrasies, possessions, what is the self? Is there the "I," the self, when its qualities are taken away? It is this fear of being nothing that drives the self into activity; but it is nothing, it is an emptiness.
If we are able to face that emptiness, to be with that aching loneliness, then fear altogether disappears and a fundamental transformation takes place. For this to happen, there must be the experiencing of that nothingness - which is prevented if there is an experiencer. If there is a desire for the experiencing of that emptiness in order to overcome it, to go above and beyond it, then there is no experiencing; for the self, as an identity, continues. If the experiencer has an experience, there is no longer the state of experiencing. It is the experiencing of what is without naming it that brings about freedom from what is."

I hope this is more comprehensible.

With metta,

Regarding anattavāda

Dear Mac,

I tried to express some thoughts I've had for some time past. I'm afraid that all this is a little scattered and range over a variety of subjects which could be discussed separately, but I hadn't much time and just sketched it out more or less coherently as I could. (I must admit that I am rather lazy as for as writing down my own thoughts is concerned). I also didn't know whether I should start a new topic, so for the present I posted it here. Besides, I am not sure whether the Pāli words will look correctly and what font to use, so I have tried to write them with Times New Roman.
I hope this would be good enough for a start.

With metta,

Regarding anattavāda:

I understand this teaching more or less in terms of "non-substantionality" or "non-self" of the experience. Due to linguistic patterns and socio-cultural baggage we are biased to interpret our experience in terms of "things" or "reality" ("reality" is the Latin word "realitas" from "res" - "thing" i.e. "thingness"). Humans more or less regard the "world" as a sum of "things" - a bigger thing is composed of lesser things and so on. This is, I suppose, mostly because the language is composed of substantives ("words for things"). The qualities are thought to be properties of "things" or substances in the same way as the adjectives are applied to the nouns. And also the basic syntactic pattern "subject-verb-object" suggests that there always is a doer where is a doing - just like a sentence demands that there must be subject of the verb (or at least such is the situation in the nominative languages). In this respect, I think, the illustration with the rain and "raining" used by the Buddha is very significant.

Now, the term "anatta" indicates that there is no substance beyond the experienced qualities and no doer beyond the doing, and also there is no subject experiencing the experience (sorry for this clumsy tautology), but only a stream of fleeting phenomena, inter-dependent and mutually conditioned (kammassa kārako natthi, vipākassa ca vedako - “there is not a doer of doing and that who feels the fruition”; suddhadhammā pavattanti hetusambhārapaccayā ti - "pure phenomena are set in motion, conditioned by accumulation of root-causes").

There is processes, not "things", so the word "actuality" ("actualitas" from Latin "act" - "doing, action") would be more fitting than "reality" if we are referring to that what is "as it is" (yathābhūtaŋ).

Psychologically the sense of "self" is created from observing the others and accumulating memories (biography data etc.) - it is a social construct. Just like I can't see my face or my eyes (except in a mirror-image or a photograph which is not the same object, but only a representation believed to be mine), but I believe that I have ones because I see that others have, in the process of communication and socialization I have created this notion and sense of "myself" which then I impose on every experience (It's interesting that in Slavonic languages the word for "person" is derived from the same root as "face"). That's why, I think, in order to dispel the wrong view of personality (sakkāya) it is needed a kind of de-socialization and reclusion (pavivittassāyaŋ dhammo, nāyaŋ dhammo sańghanikāramassa - "this doctrine is for the secluded, this doctrine is not for the one who loves society").

Maybe my approach is rather linguistic but this is a peculiar inclination of my manner of thinking. I think that the most of our perceptual habits are conditioned by linguistic patterns we have inherited from our socio-cultural environment (as the Sapir-Whorf's hypothesis suggests) and also from kammic formations (sańkhārā) coming from former existences (as Buddhism teaches). These tendencies are very obsessive and almost insurmountable because they are subtle and usually escape our awareness. They not only create our "reality" but also mislead us when we interpret other cultures.

It's interesting how modern science has reached recently some very significant results which promise to overturn the prevailing concepts about the nature - I mean especially the theory of self-organization in studying the complex systems' behaviour (in particular the theories of Gregory Bateson and Ilya Prigogine) - which are in my opinion rather akin with the Buddhist worldview. So it is said that in self-organization inside a system complexity increases and order arises spontaneously – without guiding or commanding from outside in a cybernetic manner. There is no managing center (“ego”) which governs the process. (Likewise in “Anatta-lakkhaņa Sutta” the Buddha illustrates the principle of anatta showing that the five khandhas are not manageable and therefore they are not-self). But the linguistic pattern of the “subject-object” syntax still make us to seek active and passive agent in the operation. Gregory Bateson considers the intelligence as immanent in nature - not an operating entity in the brain, but a process arising in the interaction between the organism and its environment (some similar ideas could be found in the constructivist epistemology). This reminds me how the psycho-somatic process in a life-continuum is conditioned by the law of kamma in a impersonal and complex way which also could be regarded as self-organization. But even if there exist applicable mathematical and other models in the new science, it seems that at present still lacks an adequate language for describing these new discoveries. I think that the Buddhist philosophy could provide the conceptual framework (like for instance anattavāda and the teaching of Dependent Co-Arising) and the philosophical tools for proper interpretation of the new scientific paradigm thus linking the ancient and modern ideas to give us a more deep insight into the nature of our experience.