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Friday, November 16, 2007

The Buddha teaching of Anatta (noself)

The Buddha teaching of Anatta (noself)

(Reply to 'Buddhism and the self' - CDN of 25.10.07)

Dailynews.lk

The Buddha in His second sermon Anatta Lakhana Sutta delivered to the five ascetics, considered the five aggregates comprising a being and stated thus Translation of the Sutta by Dr. K.N.G. Mendis

Wheel Publication 268


The Buddha preaching, Nagarjunakonda, 3rd or 4th century A.D. Worship of the Buddha, Amaravati, carved out of limestone. Courtesy Frontline

"Form O Monks, is not self, if form were self, then form would not lead to affliction and it should obtain regarding form; May my form be thus, may my form not be thus, and indeed, O Monks, since form is not self, therefore form leads to affliction and it does not obtain regarding form: May my form be thus, may my form not be thus: Similarly the other four aggregates, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness have been analysed and explained.

Further analyzing, the Buddha proceeds thus: "What do you think of this, O monk? Is form permanent or impermanent? "Impermanent, O Lord" - "Now, that which is impermanent, is it unsatisfactory or satisfactory?" - Unsatisfactory, O Lord." Now, that which is impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to regard that as: "This is mine, this I am, this is my self? 'Indeed, not that, O Lord".

Then the Buddha proceeds to the conclusion. "Therefore, surely O monks, whatever form, past, future or present, present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all that form must be regarded with proper wisdom, according to reality, thus, "This is not mine, this I am not this is not myself".

From this Sutta, the characteristic of a self, if there were to be one, according to the Buddha, would have to self-mastery, permanency and of a satisfactory nature, failing which a self cannot be said to exist.

Therefore, since the Buddha expounded the nature of reality, what he could not identity with his supermundane wisdom, he was not prepared to speculate and avert just because such views were prevalent during His time.

The Buddha in His very first sermon declared "To me monks, regarding these previously unheard of things, vision arose, knowledge arose, wisdom arose, understanding arose, light arose".

Translation of Bhikkhu Anandajothi.

Those previously unheard of things mainly refer to dependent arising. (Paticca Samuppada) which gives Buddhism its unique character, as it explains the world sans a self or soul.

Therefore endeavouring to impute a theory of self to the Buddha's teaching, without analysing the very Sutta dealing with the subject is like seeking to stage 'Hamlet' without the Prince of Denmark.

This position has been reiterated in several Suttas e.g.: Rahula Samyutta, Cula Sunnata Sutta, the Dhatuvibhanga Sutta, the Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta, the discourse with Susima in the Nidana Vagga. The Diyatanupassana Sutta, contains this stanza.

"Behold this world with all its godsFancying a self where naught exists.

Entering into name - and form

It builds the conceit: This is the Truth"

Translation of Bhikkhu Nanananda In the Magic of the Mind.

This was the question of Mogaharaja in the Parayana Translation of Ven. Hamallawa Saddhatissa

"What is the best way for a person to regard the world so that the King of Death won't see Him?

The Master replied.

"If you are always aware, Mogharaja, you will look at the world and see its emptiness. If you give up looking at yourself as a soul (As a fixed and special identity), then you will have given yourself a way to go beyond death. Look at the world like this and the king of death will not see you".

This statement proclaims the emptiness of the world (Anatta) and is no proposition that a soul exists in any form.

The silence of the Buddha to Yaccagotta has been explained by the All Enlightened Buddha Himself and what greater wisdom have mere philosophers, theorists, worldlings or even Ariyas to stand in judgement over that? It is only those who have developed serenity and insight that have the capacity to understand the teaching; leaving alone standing in judgment.

If one approaches the Buddha's teaching with a preconceived notion of a self or soul, it could be possible to import the idea of a soul or self into some word, phrase or sentence, though totally alien to Theravada Buddhism, through self delusion.

Therefore one has to approach the teaching with an absolutely open mind, free of any pre-conceived notions, derived from or expounded in any other doctrine, philosophy or the like, and explore the nature of the five aggregates of existence in the light of the four noble truths.

If not one will get bogged down in the quagmire of mere views and philosophies and end up at square one or lost in the thicket of views, far removed from reality.

On the question who experiences, the answer would depend on the position whether the Arhant is living or has attained Parinibbana. i.e. Sopadisesa or Anupadisesa. The Sopadisesa who is going through His final journey will experience the bliss of Nibbana resulting from the extinction of the fires of lust, hatred and delusion and will attain cessation.

On Parinibbana and would thereafter not arise in any sphere or would not go through any experience thereafter.


Meditation on voidness (sunnata)

When we have a general look at the sky we wrongly presume that the entire cosmos is filled with varieties of celestial objects like sun, moon, planets, nebula, milky ways and finally galaxies. But actually if we can remove the light rays and waves this cosmos is a vacuum. Even inside of an atom, you may observe more space than substances.

If we analogically take the nucleus of an atom to the size of "foot-ball", the first orbit, which according to atomic formula possessing two electrons will be at 20km away from the nucleus.

Likewise the other orbits of an atom also maintain certain distance between the other orbits. Whether it is nucleus or electrons or any other sub-atomic particles like our solar system, they hover in the space and making an illusory precinct.

Buddhist scholars from the time immemorial held their explanation related to atom. Prof. Y. Karunadasa in his famous work "Buddhist Analysis of Matter" has clearly explained that there is a space between two atoms.

He further scientifically proves that if there is no gap between two atoms, the process of slicing or breaking or sawing the metal bars would not be possible. Like this all the objects irrespective of their size maintain certain gap of intervening space.

The Buddha in his various discourses discusses this "voidness" elaborately and exhorts his disciples to ponder over the voidness for deep concentration.

The Buddha says "Ananda so now too I often abide in voidness". If one focuses the mind upon voidness the door to further jhanic experiences opens.

The terms immeasurable nothingness, voidness, and singleness, signless these are nothing but physical derivation of concept of "Nibbana". The Buddha advises Ven. Anand."

Therefore, you should train thus: "we will enter upon and abide in pure, supreme, unsurpassed voidness". (MAJ:121-13). The Buddha continues. (MAJ: 122-7), "Therefore Ananda if a bhikkhu should steady his mind internally quiet it, bring it to singleness and concentrate it". Once the Buddha asked Ven. Sariputta "Sariputta your faculties are clear.

The colour of skin is pure and bright. What abiding you often in now, Sariputta? Ven. Sariputta answered thus "Now Venerable Sir, I often abide in voidness".

Bhikkhuni Dhammadinna said to Visakha "Lady when a Bhikkhu is emerging from the attainment of the cessation of perception and feeling how many contact touch him? Dhammadinna continues "Friend Visakha when a bhikkhu has emerged from the attainment of the cessation of perception and feeling three kinds of contact touch him: namely contact of voidness, signless contact and finally desirless contact.

The readers have to be aware of the meaning singleness and signlessness. The later has no any sign that means voidness is a mental state not a physical quality.

That is why the Buddha taught his disciples to contemplate on voidness, because voidness is a non-qualifying entity and at the same time it has the characteristic of "singleness" and "signlessness".

The Buddha says (MAJ 43-30) "Friend, the immeasurable deliverance of mind, the deliverance of mind through nothingness, the deliverance of the mind through voidness" The Buddha further explains that (MAJ 43-33) "And what, friend is the deliverance of mind, through voidness? "Here a bhikkhu .....reflects thus: "This void of self or of mind through voidness".

The Buddha further explains the results of such practices.(MAJ 43-35) "Now that unshakable deliverance of mind is void of lust, void of hate and void of delusion.

This is called in Pali "Sunnata cetovimutti" with insight into the voidness of selfhood in persons and in the things". Void cannot be made with sophisticated scientific instruments as long as light rays are prevailing in the cosmos.

Modern scientific vacuum pump can suck out dust and air but it cannot remove ether and light rays by any means. Hence a clear understanding of voidness itself is a good concentration, eventually leading a practitioner to the higher spiritual experiences.

Ven. Bodhi Dharma of Kanchipura (Vth C.AD) used to meditate a well white washed wall sitting before the wall and just meditating on the "whiteness"of the wall.

He practised this concentration for fifteen years. He founded Zen Buddhism in China. If voidness cannot be conceived for the beginners this practice will help them for conceiving the idea of voidness, which is singleness and signlessness.


Twelve causes of the downfall of Man

On one occasion the blessed one was living near Sarathi at Jetavana at Anathapindika's monastery. When the night was far advance, a certain deity, whose surpassing radiance illuminated the whole of Jetavana, came to the presence of the Blessed One, respectfully saluted him, and stood beside him standing thus he addressed the blessed on in verse.

About the declining man we question thee, Gotama. We have come to ask the blessed one; what is the cause of his downfall?

Easily known is the progressive one, easily known is the declining one. The lover of the Dhamma prospers. The hater of the Dhamma declines.

We understand this as explained (by thee) this is the first cause of downfall. Tell us the second, O Blessed one, what is the cause of downfall?

The vicious are dear to him, he likes not the virtues; he approves the teachings of the ill-natured - This is the cause of his downfall. We understand this as explained by thee. This is the second cause of his downfall.

We understand this as explained by thee. This is the second cause of his downfall, Tell us the third, O, Blessed one, what is the cause of his downfall.

The man who is fond of sleep and company, inactive and lazy, and manifesting anger - This is the cause of his downfall.

We understand this as explained by thee. This is the Third Cause of his downfall. Tell us the fourth, O Blessed one. What is the cause of his downfall?

Whoever being affluent, does not support his matter and father who are old, and past their prime.

This is the cause of his downfall. We understand this as explained by thee; This is the fourth cause of his downfall. Tell us the fifth O, Blessed one. What is the cause of his downfall?

Whoever by falsehood deceives either a Brahmana or a holy man, or any other mendicant - This is the cause of his downfall. We understand this as explained by thee; This is the fifth cause of his downfall. Tell us the sixth O,Blessed one. What is the cause of his downfall?

The person who is possessed of much wealth, who has gold, and who has an abundance of food, but enjoys his delicacies all by himself this is the cause of his downfall.

We understand this as explained by thee O, Blessed one. What is the cause of his downfall. Tell us the seventh.

The man who is addicted to women (given to a life of debauchery is a drunkard, a gambler, and a squanderer of his earnings. This is the cause of his downfall.

We understand this as explained by thee. This is the eighth cause of his downfall. Tell, us the ninth O, Blessed one. What is the cause of his downfall?

Not satisfied with one's own wines, he is seen among the whores and the wives of others. This is the cause of his downfall.

We understand this as explained by thee; This is the ninth cause of his downfall. Tell us the tenth, O,Blessed one, what is the cause of his downfall?

A person past his youth takes as wife, a girl in her teens, and sleeps not being jealous of her. This is the cause of his downfall.

We understand this as explained by thee; This is the tenth cause of his downfall. Tell us the eleventh O,Blessed one. What is the cause of his downfall.

He who places in authority a woman given to drink and squandering, or a man of similar nature. This is the cause of his downfall.

We understand this as explained by thee this is the eleventh cause of his downfall. Tell us the twelfth, O,Blessed one. What is the cause of his downfall?

He who having but little possession but great ambition (greed), is of warrior birth and aspires selfishly to (an unattainable) sovereignty. This is the cause of his downfall.

Fully realizing these (Twelve) causes of downfall in the world, the sage endowed with ariyan insight, shares a realm of security (Nibbana).

Prepared by B.N.B. Pethiyagoda,

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