Everything Changes / the Buddist notion of Anatta

This came from another thread, but I thought it should be in its own thread.

The purpose of this thread is to discuss the Buddhist teachings of Anatta / no-self. And perhaps other respectful discussion of Buddhism as well.

OK, I see what you are saying, I think.

I agree, every thing changes. We cannot grasp onto any concept, station, role in life, feeling. All of those things slip between our fingers like water. So I like what you are saying here.

I would only say that there is a spaciousness, an openness, an awareness, a “now” we could say - in which all these mutabilities appear and manifest themselves in.

It is not so much that we cannot grasp those things, it is that we all to often try to grasp them and find, as you say, that they slip through our fingers. We are disappointed because what we thought we had grasped has gone.

It is better is we treat things more realistically, realising that everything will eventually slip away. That is not to say that we do not ever grasp at things, but that we should grasp knowingly. We expect change, so we are not surprised when change happens.

I would only say that there is a spaciousness, an openness, an awareness, a “now” we could say - in which all these mutabilities appear and manifest themselves in.

A lot of people think that, but is is a mirage. To me it is a reification of our wished for permanence and non-change. Mahayana Buddhism describes the world as “emptiness”, and it is strongly pointed out that emptiness is itself empty: the emptiness of emptiness:

The emptiness of emptiness is the fact that not even emptiness exists ultimately, that it is also dependent, conventional, nominal, and in the end it is just the everydayness of the everyday. Penetrating to the depths of being, we find ourselves back on the surface of things and so discover that there is nothing, after all, beneath those deceptive surfaces. Moreover, what is deceptive about them is simply the fact that we assume ontological depth lurking just beneath.

– Jay Garfield, “Empty words, Buddhist philosophy and cross-cultural interpretation.” OUP 2002.

Your “spaciousness …” is just that assumption of ontological depth. We like to think that it is there, but it isn’t; we just think it it.

As stars, a fault of vision, as a lamp,
A mock show, dew drops, or a bubble,
A dream, a lightning flash, or a cloud,
So should one view what is conditioned.

– Diamond sutra 32

rossum

Do you accept the validity of the Tathagatagarbha Sutra?

I am Madhyamika, not Yogacara; I prefer the Prajnaparamita sutras. From the Madhyamika perspective, the Tathagatagarbha is merely a useful means, an upaya, which can help some people, but is not to be seized on or grasped.

The parable of the raft applies:

[The Buddha said:] "Suppose, monks, there is a man journeying on a road and he sees a vast expanse of water of which this shore is perilous and fearful, while the other shore is safe and free from danger. But there is no boat for crossing nor is there a bridge for going over from this side to the other. So the man thinks: ‘… Suppose I gather reeds, sticks, branches and foliage, and bind them into a raft.’ Now that man collects reeds, sticks, branches and foliage, and binds them into a raft. Carried by that raft, laboring with hands and feet, he safely crosses over to the other shore. Having crossed and arrived at the other shore, he thinks: ‘This raft, indeed, has been very helpful to me. … Should I not lift this raft on my head or put it on my shoulders, and go where I like?’

“What do you think about it, O monks? Will this man by acting thus, do what should be done with a raft?”

“No, Lord”

"How then, monks, would he be doing what ought to be done with a raft? Here, monks, having got across and arrived at the other shore, the man thinks: ‘This raft, indeed, has been very helpful to me. Carried by it, and laboring with hands and feet, I got safely across to the other shore. Should I not pull it up now to the dry land or let it float in the water, and then go as I please?’ By acting thus, monks, would that man do what should be done with a raft.

“In the same way, monks, have I shown to you the Teaching’s similitude to a raft: as having the purpose of crossing over, not the purpose of being clung to.”

– Alagaddupama Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 22.

Like many things, the Tathagatagarbha is for helping some of us to cross over. Once we have crossed we need to leave it behind.

rossum

Rossum:

The ultimate truth is that there is no Ultimate Truth.

Hi.

If there is no truth, then why did you write:

Like many things, the Tathagatagarbha is for helping some of us to cross over. Once we have crossed we need to leave it behind…

If there is no truth, why do you have a different variant of Buddhism than Matthew Light?

In fact, how do you rationally discuss a belief that is anti rational and anti belief?

I am very curious to hear your reply,

God bless you! Annem i

Matthew Light:

 the Buddhist teachings of Anatta / no-self

Hi. An interesting discussion. If you have no being, I am perplexed as to how you can rationally discuss things.

God bless you, Annem

Well, rossum is the one who is defending that belief, so I’ll let him answer. I imagine he has a well-thought-out explanation of some kind.

I’m actually a Baha’i, not a Buddhist (although Baha’is absolutely recognize the validity of Buddhism as well as the validity of Christianity).

Matthew Light

Baha'is absolutely recognize the validity of Buddhism as well as the validity of Christianity).

Reply With Quote

Hi, interesting. So you are therefore arguing that there is no truth, since the atheism/pantheism of Buddhism is “valid” and so is Christianity. Or what exactly do tyou mean by valid?

God bless you, Annem

There are many schools of Buddhism, only some are atheist.

For example, this from the Udana:

“There is, O monks, an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed.”

That sure sounds like God to me.

The fact that the Buddha emphasized different teachings than Moses (he came about 1000 years later, to an completely different part of the world, with a completely different society, and at a different stage of development) but still emphasized moral behavior (right action), moral thinking (right thought), spiritual vision (right view) - all things emphasized by the Jewish religious tradition and later by Jesus.

You might find this paper about the different understandings of ultimate reality (God) and how the various religious traditions approach these different understandings. For example, mystical Christianity (as practiced by people like Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen and Saint John of the Cross) bears a great resemblance to the practices of Buddhism.

Link:

preview.bahai.org/documents/essays/momen-dr-moojan/god-bahaullah

Matthew Light:

There is, O monks, an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed."

That sure sounds like God to me.

h

Thanks for your reply.

However, your quote could certainly describe pantheism, which actually rejects the one, true God.

The fact that the Buddha emphasized different teachings than Moses (he came about 1000 years later, to an completely different part of the world, with a completely different society, and at a different stage of development) but still emphasized moral behavior (right action), moral thinking (right thought), spiritual vision (right view) - all things emphasized by the Jewish religious tradition and later by Jesus.

it is kind and ecumenical of you to try and find similarities. Nevertheless, Buddhism and Christianity are utterly different, much more dissimilar than they are alike. The difference would be based on their belief in, or lack of belief in, the one true God.

For example, mystical Christianity (as practiced by people like Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen and Saint John of the Cross) bears a great resemblance to the practices of Buddhism.

Sorry, the resemblance that they bear is only on the surface. Buddhism mediation is the very opposite of Christian meditation. Buddhism seeks to extinguish thought and to dwell on the mutability and nothingness of existence. Compare that the Catholic meditation, which seeks to achieve union and love with an actual and eternal being, Our Father, God.

God bless you, Annem

Correction. The Buddha has never taught or acknowledged the existence of a Creator God. Below is the whole passage of the verse which the link extracted from the Udana sutra:

**‘Monks, there is an unborn, a not-become, a not-made, a not-compounded. Monks, if that unborn, not-become, not-made, not-compounded were not, there would be apparent no escape from this that here is born, become, made, compounded. But, monks, since there is an unborn, not-become, not-made, not-compounded, therefore the escape from this that here is born, become, made and compounded is apparent.’ **

The non-born, a non-produced, non-created and a non-formed which the Buddha taught in this passage of the Udana is the Nirvana, the highest state attainable. The Buddha did not teach of a Creator God or a First Cause here or anywhere in his teachings.

Buddhism does not place reliance for salvation on some external power, such as a god or even a Buddha, but places the responsibility for life’s frustrations squarely on the individual. Here’s what the Buddha taught:

By oneself, indeed, is evil done; By oneself is one defiled.
By oneself is evil left undone; By oneself indeed is one purified.
Purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one purifies another.

The Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Paths after having found the cause of suffering and taught people how to eradicate suffering so mankind does not need to go through the cycles of rebirth endlessly.

God is not what Buddhism is about, the eradication of suffering is.

The non-born, a non-produced, non-created and a non-formed which the Buddha taught in this passage of the Udana is the Nirvana, the highest state attainable. The Buddha did not teach of a Creator God or a First Cause here or anywhere in his teachings.

God is the only non-born, non-produced, non-created, non-formed Reality.

It does not matter what name you call that Reality.

As you say, there is no other God but God. Only One God, not multiple Gods.

The different understandings we have of God reflect our human limitations.

That perspective can only come from people who believe in a Creator God and trying to interpret what the Buddha taught by connecting the dots between both contrasting religions. But that definitely is not the standpoint of the Buddha himself.

This is what the Buddha himself taught:

**If the creator of the world entire
They call God, of every being be the Lord
Why does he order such misfortune
And not create concord?

If the creator of the world entire
They call God, of every being be the Lord
Why prevail deceit, lies and ignorance
And he such inequity and injustice create?

If the creator of the world entire
They call God, of every being be the Lord
Then an evil master is he, (O Aritta)
Knowing what’s right did let wrong prevail!

Bhûridatta Jataka**

Here’s another:

**“The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God.”

Majjhima Nikaya II 68. **

And another:

**“Bhikkhus [monks, the Buddha said, holding a fleck of cow dung in his hand], if even if that much of permanent, everlasting, eternal individual selfhood/metaphysical being (attabhava), not inseparable from the idea of change, could be found, then this living the holy life could not be taught by me.”

Samyutta Nikaya III 144**

Hope they are of help to you.

Read my sig carefully. I do not deny truth; I deny ultimate truth, and of course, that statement is not ultimate truth but merely non-ultimate truth.

If you want an ultimate truth, then you need an ultimately true source for that truth. You cannot get ultimate truth from a non-ultimate source. Human language is not ultimate; it changes, it is a construct and it cannot be understood without a context. No ultimate truth can be expressed in any human language.

If there is no truth, why do you have a different variant of Buddhism than Matthew Light?

Matthew is Baha’i, not Buddhist.

In fact, how do you rationally discuss a belief that is anti rational and anti belief?

My sig is not my own, it is a quote. The original source is Mark Siderits, “Thinking on Empty: Madhyamika Anti-Realism and Canons of Rationality” in S Biderman and B.A. Schaufstein, eds, Rationality In Question (1989). Dordrecht: Brill.

I have not read Siderits but saw the quote in a piece on Nagarjuna. The “Madhyamika” in Siderits’ title refers to the religious and philosophical school of Buddhism that Nagarjuna founded. I have seen the same quote again in other places in reference to the Madhyamika and Nagarjuna - it seems quite popular. The quote is intentionally paradoxical; paradox is necessary to remind us that words are insufficient when trying to describe the fundamental nature of reality.

For a philosophical discussion of Nagarjuna and reality see the web article Nagarjuna and the Limits of Thought. The Siderits quote is at the end of section four of the article:

There is, then, no escape. Nagarjuna’s view is contradictory. The contradiction is, clearly a paradox of expressibility. Nagarjuna succeeds in saying the unsayable, just as much as the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus. We can think (and characterize) reality only subject to language, which is conventional, so the ontology of that reality is all conventional. It follows that the conventional objects of reality do not ultimately (non-conventionally) exist. It also follows that nothing we say of them is ultimately true. That is, all things are empty of ultimate existence; and this is their ultimate nature, and is an ultimate truth about them. They hence cannot be thought to have that nature; nor can we say that they do. But we have just done so. As Mark Siderits (1989) has put it, “the ultimate truth is that there is no ultimate truth.”

What do you mean by “being” in this context? Does this “being” change? If it does not change, then salvation/enlightenment is not possible, because salvation/enlightenment requires change from unsaved/unenlightened to saved/enlightened.

If this being changes, then it is not one being, but many beings, each different – change requires difference – linked in a chain of conditioned causation. Buddhism drops the concept entirely at the philosophical level. Conventionally, of course different people exist, but we need to beware of mistaking their conventional existence for something more than it is. A philosophical being/soul is as substantial as the water in a mirage. It appears to be there, but really it is not. Conventional people do change, and the change is all there is. There is no Thomist-style Substance behind them. Each is a chain of different causally related conventional beings. The Buddhist acceptance of the universality of change leads to a very different approach to things.

People like to grasp onto something solid and unchanging. When they, inevitably, discover that what they have grasped is not solid, they are disappointed.

rossum

People like to grasp onto something solid and unchanging. When they, inevitably, discover that what they have grasped is not solid, they are disappointed.

Agreed.

Anything that can be “grasped” will change, for sure.

We don’t know exactly what the Buddha said. We don’t even know what people alive today said, unless we have a recording. Much less, 2500 years ago.

But assuming that everything you quoted is correct and translated to mean exactly what we mean today with those words (which is quite doubtful), it seems to me that the Buddha was attempting to take people’s mind and focus away from idolatry of a particular concept of God and allow them to experience the reality of God / Nirvana.

Looking back at that culture and time, the ideas of God tended to be very concrete and limited. Perhaps they needed to understand God in a more universal context, more experientially and less conceptually.

We have to understand that the word “God” - is not God! Nor are our thoughts and concepts of God actually. Words can be a prison for understanding.

That which is non-born, non-produced, non-created, non-formed is a synonym for God, and perhaps a more useful framework for the people in that culture at that time. Perhaps a more useful framework for many people today as well.

see: via negativa for more along this line:

encyclopedia.com/doc/1O101-Vianegativa.html

And you might find reading more about Thomas Merton interesting:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Merton

“Be still, and know that I am God” - Psalms 46:10

I don’t agree with that! Buddhist meditation seeks to understand the relationship between our experiences, reactions and consequent suffering, Dependent origination, as described by the Buddha, shows that the chain of events leading to suffering can be broken. However, to do this , we must practice Vipassana , insight meditation, to see the cause of suffering.

It is a common misconception that the aim of Buddhist meditation is to suppress thoughts.

(For the record, I have practiced Theravadan Buddhism for many years and have been on many meditation retreats. I am no expert but I have a good understanding of these things (just so you know :slight_smile: ).

rossum:

Read my sig carefully. I do not deny truth; I deny ultimate truth, and of course, that statement is not ultimate truth but merely non-ultimate truth.

If you want an ultimate truth, then you need an ultimately true source for that truth. You cannot get ultimate truth from a non-ultimate source. Human language is not ultimate; it changes, it is a construct and it cannot be understood without a context. No ultimate truth can be expressed in any human language.

Hi, and thanks for responding.

From your statement I can only conclude that you are a pantheist, is this correct? Or are you a Buddhist atheist? Or perhaps (I have read many books by Buddhists) do you simply say that both atheism and pantheism are constructs, are notions, and therefore cannot pin down what Buddhists believe, which is, in essence, only in death - the impermanence of all?

Essentially, at any rate, you deny Jesus Christ. A Catholic would argue that Jesus/God is the ultimate reality and truth.
God bless you, Annem

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