Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Perspectives On No-Self (Anatta)

From What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula (1978, Gordon Fraser Gallery, Surrey, UK):
As the Buddha told Ratthapala: "The world is in continuous flux and is impermanent."
     One thing disappears, conditioning the appearance of the next in a series of cause and effect. There is no unchanging substance in them. There is nothing behind them that can be called a permanent Self (Atman), individuality, or anything that can in reality be called "I". Every one will agree that neither matter, nor sensation, nor any one of those mental activities, nor consciousness can really be called "I". But when these five physical and mental aggregates which are interdependent are working together in combination as a physio-psychological machine, we get the idea of "I". But this is only a false idea, a mental formation, which is nothing but...the idea of self...
     There is no unmoving mover behind the movement. It is only movement. It is not correct to say that life is moving, but life is movement itself. Life and movement are not two different things. In other words, there is not thinker behind the thoughts. Thought itself is the thinker. If you remove the thought, there is no thinker to be found. Here we cannot fail to notice how this Buddhist view is diametrically opposed to the Cartesian cognito ergo sum: "I think, therefore I am" (p. 26).

According to the Buddha's teaching, it is as wrong to hold the opinion "I have no self" (which is the annihilationist theory) as to hold the opinion "I have self" (which is the eternalist theory), because both are fetters, both arising out of the false idea "I AM". The correct position with regard to the question of Anatta [the doctrine of "No-Self"] is not to take hold of any opinions or views, but to see things objectively as they are without mental projections, to see that what we call "I", or "being", is only a combination of physical and mental aggregates, which are working together interdependently in a flux of momentary change within the law of cause and effect, and that there is nothing permanent, everlasting, or unchanging and eternal in the whole of existence (p. 66).

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