Saturday, May 4, 2019

In search of "self"

Ven. Nanamoli, Three Cardinal Sutras; Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
Who am I? Who have I been? Will I be again? Who will I be? These are foolish questions that lead to no profit. What is suffering, its origin, its cessation, the path to its cessation? These are wise questions that lead to enlightenment here and now, in this very life (WQ).
The Heart Sutra tells us that the ultimate truth is that there is NO self. What there is are Five Aggregates clung to as self. They are form, feeling, perception, formations, and consciousness. And they are EMPTY -- that is, devoid of self.

Warm for my form? This is "my" body.
FORM: The Pali word rupa means "form, what appears, appearance" [physical body]. It is the first of the Five Aggregates that make up SELF, who we are.

Form is defined in terms of the Four Great Elements, namely earth (the quality of hardness), water (cohesion), fire (temperature), and air (distension and motion), along with the negative aspect of space (what does not appear).

From these are derived the secondary phenomena such as persons, features, shapes, and so on. They are regarded as "secondary" because form can appear without any of them but they cannot appear without form.

Form is also defined as "that which is being worn away" (ruppati), thus underlining its general characteristics of impermanence and instability.
Vipassana leads to liberating insight.
NOT-SELF: Together with the Four Noble Truths, the ultimate truth of the impersonal nature of all phenomena is taught only by buddhas. Not-self (anatta) is shown as a general characteristic of all phenomena without exception.

The characteristic of impermanence does not become apparent because, when rise and fall are not given attention, impermanence is concealed by continuity.

The characteristic of disappointment/pain does not become apparent because, when continuous oppression is not given attention, it is concealed by the postures (changing from one posture to another, waking and sleeping, to become comfortable).

The characteristic of not-self does not become apparent because, when resolution into the various elements (that compose all that is) is not given attention, it is concealed by compactness [not seeing that things, in fact, are compounds of various constituents rather than compact entities].
The Path of Purification, Visuddhimagga, Ch. XXI

Self-identification [identifying various constituents -- such as form, feeling, perception, formations, and consciousness -- as a "self"] and hunger for permanence and bliss form the principal manifestations of craving, guided by wrong view -- wrong because it is not in line with the ultimate truth of things.

When confronted with the contradictions and impossibility of self-identification with any of the Five Aggregates of Clinging's objects, craving seeks to satisfy this need by imagining a soul (or self that is individual or universal).

But since no such self or soul, however conceived, can escape falling within the Five Aggregates of Clinging's objects, this solution is always doomed to failure.

Similarly any attempt to identify self with nirvana must always fail for the same reason. Nirvana conceived as identical (with self) or (self), as apart from it (emanence), or inside of it (immanence), or nirvana conceived as "mine" is misconceived (MN 1).

This does not prevent a fully Enlightened One from using conventional speech that is current in the world in order to communicate. But a buddha does so without becoming confused or misapprehending it it, as is shown in the Dhammapada:
Self is savior of self; what other savior could there be?
For only with (one-) self well tamed one finds
the savior, hard to find. Only by self is evil done,
self born and given being by self, oppressing one who
knowledge lacks as grinding diamond does the stone.
Dhammapada Verses 160-1

Similarly with the expression "in oneself" (ajjhattam) in the Second Discourse (Anattalakkhana Sutra), this is simply a convenient convention for the focus of the individual viewpoint, not to be misapprehended.

A meditator heard the Buddha saying, as in the Second Discourse here, that the Five Aggregates are "not mine" and he wondered; "So it seems form is not-self; feeling, perception, mental formations (determinations), and consciousness are not-self. What self, then, will the action (karma) done by the not-self affect?"
  • [In other words, "If only the not-self does the karma, what 'self' is going to experience the results of that karma?"]
That meditator was severely rebuked by the Buddha for forgetting the conditioned [dependently originated] nature of all arisen things (MN 109).

"It is impossible that anyone with right view should see any idea as self" (MN 115). And "Whatever philosophers and divinities see 'self' in its various forms, they see only the Five Aggregates or one or other of them" (SN 22.47).
FEELING: (vedana) this is always confined strictly to the affective feelings of (bodily or mental) pleasure and pain with the normally ignored neutral feeling of "neither-pain-nor pleasure." These can be subdivided in various ways.
PERCEPTION: (sañña) simply means recognition.
"Mind" is in the heart more than the brain.
MENTAL FORMATIONS: (sankhara) a great many different translations of this term are current, the next best of which is certainly "determinations." The Pali word sankhara literally means "a construction."

It is derived from the prefix sam (con) plus the verb karoti (to do, to make). It can be compared to the Latin conficere from con (plus) and facere (to do), which gives us the French confection (a construction).

The Sanskrit samkassa means ritual acts with the purpose of bringing about a good rebirth. As used in Pali by the Buddha it covers any aspects having to do with action, willing, making, planning, using, choice, and so on (anything teleological).

And contact (phassa) is often placed at the head of lists defining it. Otherwise defined as bodily, verbal, and mental action (karma).
CONSCIOUSNESS: (viññana) is here the bare "being conscious" left for consideration when the other four aggregates have been dealt with.

It is only describable in individual plurality in terms of the other four aggregates clung to as self, as fire is individualized only by the fuel it burns (see MN 38 and 109).

Otherwise it is to be regarded as an infinitude (MN 111) dependent upon the contemplation of it as such.

It is only impermanent, disappointing, and impersonal because however it arises, it can only do so in dependence on the other aggregates, that is, on conditions that are themselves impermanent, disappointing, and not-self.

It never arises unless accompanied by co-nascent perception and feeling. It has six "doors" (see under Eye and Mind) for cognizing its objective fields, but no more.
ESTRANGEMENT: the Pali noun nibbida and its verb nibbindati are made up of the prefix nir in its negative sense of "out," and the root vid (to find, to feel, to know intimately).

Nibbada is thus a finding out. What is thus found out is the intimate hidden contradictoriness in any kind of self-identification based in any way on these things (and there is no way of determining self-identification apart from them — see under NOT-SELF).

Elsewhere the Buddha says: Whatever there is here of [these Five Aggregates]
  1. form
  2. feeling
  3. perception
  4. formations, or
  5. consciousness
such ideas one sees as impermanent, one sees them as disappointing (subject to pain, unable to fulfill), as a sickness, as a tumor, as a barb, as a calamity, as an affliction, as alienating, as disintegrating, as void, as not-self.

One averts one's heart from these aggregates (groups, heaps). And for the most peaceful, the supreme goal, one turns one's heart to the deathless element (nirvana), that is to say, the stilling of all formations, the relinquishment of all substance, the exhaustion of craving, the fading of passion, cessation, extinction.
— MN 64
The "stuff" of life can also be seen this way. Normally the discovery of a contradiction is for the unliberated mind a disagreeable one. Several courses are then open. It can refuse to face it, pretending to itself to the point of full persuasion and belief that no contradiction is there.

Or one side of the contradiction may be unilaterally affirmed and the other repressed and forgotten.

Or a temporary compromise may be found (all such expedients being haunted by insecurity).

Or else the contradiction may be faced in its truth and made the basis for a movement towards liberation.

So too, on finding estrangement thus, two main courses are open -- either the search, leaving "craving for self-identification" intact, can be continued for sops to allay the symptoms of the sickness.

Or else a movement can be started in the direction of a cure for the underlying sickness of craving and liberation from the everlasting hunt for painkillers, whether for oneself or others.

In this sense alone, "Self protection is the protection of others, and protection of others is self-protection" (Satipatthana Samyutta). More

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