Friday, January 6, 2012

There is NO "self" (sutra)

Wisdom Quarterly based on the Maurice O'Connell Walshe translation (

"Ways of Regarding" or "Assumptions About Self"
Samanupassanaa Sutta (SN 22.47)
"Monastics, those recluses and brahmins who regard the self in various ways do so in terms of the Five Groups [Aggregates] of Clinging, or some of them. What are the five?

"Here [in this Teaching], monastics, the uninstructed worldling... regards body as the self, the self as having body, body as being in the self, or the self as being in the body.

  • [The same is said of the remaining groups of clinging: "feelings," "perceptions," "mental formations" (such as volitions and 49 others), "consciousness."]

"So this way of regarding arises: it occurs to one to think 'I am.'[1]

"Now when it has occurred to someone to think 'I am,' the five (sense-) faculties[2] come into play[3] -- the faculties of eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body.

"Monastics, there is mind,[4] there are mind-objects,[5] there is the element of ignorance.[6] The uninstructed worldling, touched by the feeling[7] born of contact with ignorance, thinks 'I am,' 'I am this,' 'things will be,' 'things will not be,'[8] 'things will be embodied,'[9] 'things will be disembodied,' 'things will be conscious,' 'things will be unconscious,' 'things will be neither conscious-nor-unconscious.'[10]

"It is just in this way, monastics, that the five (sense-) faculties persist. But here, for the well instructed noble disciple, ignorance is abandoned and knowledge arises.[11] With the waning of ignorance and the arising of knowledge [liberating wisdom], one does not come to think 'I am,' 'I am this,' 'things will be,' 'things will not be,' 'things will be embodied,' 'things will be disembodied,' 'things will be conscious,' 'things will be unconscious,' 'things will be neither conscious-nor-unconscious.'"


1. The famous "discovery" of Descartes (Cogito, ergo sum or "I think, therefore I am"), comes precisely under this heading. Descartes identified himself with, in Buddhist terms, vicaara "discursive thought," which belongs to the "mental formations" group (sankhara-khandha). When Goethe (whom many would consider a greater thinker than Descartes) said Gefühl ist alles ("Feeling is everything"), it might be thought that (at that moment) he was identifying himself with the "feeling" group (vedana-khandha). But these are sensations, physical and mental, and what Goethe meant corresponds more probably to rapture (piti) (SN 12.23, n. 4), which also belongs to the mental formations.
2. Indriya. The standard translation for this word is "faculty" which, though rather vague, is convenient. For the full list of the 22 Indriyas, see BD [Buddhist Dictionary (2nd ed.), by Ven. Nyanatiloka, Ven. Nyanaponika (ed.), Colombo 1972]. These first five are associated with the five (bodily) senses also recognized in the West, to which Buddhism adds mind as the sixth sense. See also n. 3.
3. Avakkanti hoti literally "there is a descent" (into the womb): they are "born." The meaning is that they exert their influence. The word indriya comes from ind[r]a "lord" (cf. the deva ruler Indra) and implies "control": hence they are sometimes referred to as the "controlling faculties."
4. Atthi bhikkhave mano. Woodward mistranslates this as "Mind is the result," which would render hoti "comes to be," not atthi "is, exists." To say that mind is the "result" of bodily factors is certainly not the Buddhist view but instead corresponds more to modern materialistic theories. Mind, even ignorant mind, is not derived from matter. Cf. Dhp 1-2: Manopubbanagoma dhamma "Mind precedes all states."
5. Phenomena or dhamma (plural). This is one of the regular meanings of this multivalent word.
6. Avijja-dhatu, an unusual combination. Probably in the sense of the (ignorant) mano-dhatu "mind-element," which "performs the function of advertence (avajjana) towards the object of inception of a process of sensuous consciousness" (BD, s. v. dhatu). The reading vijja-dhatu "element of knowledge" in Feer's text must, as Woodward recognizes, be wrong here.
7. Vedayitena "by what is felt." A variant reading is cetasikena "by the mental factor." In the Abhidhamma ["Higher Teachings"] the cetasikas are the (conventionally 50) "mental formations" comprising the sankhara-khandha plus the khandhas of feeling (vedana) and perception (sañña), thus making a total of 52. See BD.
8. According to SA [Samyutta Nikaya commentary], these are the Eternalist and Annihilationist views (SN 12.15, nn. 58, 59) respectively: i.e., he believes that he will, or will not, survive after death as a continuing entity.
9. Rupi: literally, "having a body." This and the next term refer to the lower and higher jhanas (meditative "absorptions") associated respectively with the "world of form" (or "fine-material world": BD) (rupa-loka) and the "formless world" (or "immaterial world": BD) (arupa-loka), and to the types of rebirth dependent on the attainment of these absorptions. See SN 40.9, n. 1.
10. Nevasaññinasaññi, associated with the state of "neither-perception-nor-non-perception," the very subtle state of the [eighth absorption, which is the] fourth "formless" (or "immaterial") jhana. This can still be attained by a "worldling" [an unenlightened meditator], as was done by Siddhattha Gotama's second teacher, Uddaka Ramaputta, before the Bodhisatta [Siddhattha, the Buddha-to-be] (SN 12.10, n. 3) decided to "go it alone." Uddaka had thus progressed as far as it is possible to go without "breaking through" to the path of enlightenment.
11. "Of the Arahant's path" (SA).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What does the unfinished circle picture represent and what is it called?