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First I realize that the general discussion for this is probably not the best place but since it involves both Buddhist and Hindu as well as theist and atheist views that it didn't belong well in either sub-forum category exclusively. So I opted for the "neutral" ground of the general discussion.

 

So now on to the topic. The Hindus (and most other theistic religions in general which is to say most other religions) say that there is a "soul" or a self and by extension an ultimate self which is usually called God.

 

The Buddha said that there is no permanent, unchanging, essential self or soul and rejected the notion that we come from any sort of ultimate or greater self commonly known as God. He went on to say that the feeling that we have of having a "self" is an illusion from the function of various processes working together.

 

So without getting too nuanced I would like to hear various thoughts on this topic and reasons for thinking them. Do we have a real self? Or do we just think we do?

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Is to say that there is no such thing as an unchanging essential soul the same as saying there is no such thing as a soul. Many things that I have read imply that they are. Strange how some skirt this issue? Is unchanging an essential feature of a soul?

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9 minutes ago, rocala said:

Is to say that there is no such thing as an unchanging essential soul the same as saying there is no such thing as a soul. Many things that I have read imply that they are. Strange how some skirt this issue? Is unchanging an essential feature of a soul?

 

Yes I suppose that is a good point, defining what "soul" means. Though I think in the context of the time and place of the Buddha it was seen as the unchanging inner essence, and the Buddha rejected this notion.

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1 minute ago, dmattwads said:

unchanging inner essence,

I see your point but if unchanging is part of the soul why is that particular component emphasized? It does seem to imply that there is an alternative.

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Just now, rocala said:

I see your point but if unchanging is part of the soul why is that particular component emphasized? It does seem to imply that there is an alternative.

 

The reason it's emphasized is during the time of the Buddha in India one of the common teachings was that there was a soul and that it was defined as being permanent and unchanging. The Buddha on the other hand said this was not the case. This is why there is the focus on it being unchanging or changing in this context. This would be one definition of a soul. There is nothing to say that there couldn't be a soul that evolves and changes.

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1 minute ago, dmattwads said:

There is nothing to say that there couldn't be a soul that evolves and changes.

Yes but did Buddha speak of it? I have never found a reference to this. I find that a little odd.

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5 minutes ago, rocala said:

Yes but did Buddha speak of it? I have never found a reference to this. I find that a little odd.

 

The Buddha spoke of impermanence often which was his premise for no-soul, or at least of of his premises.

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This is exactly what I was referring to. You have mentioned  no-soul in the same context as unchanging soul, but does this mean he recognized other versions.

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The Buddha's teaching on anattā, or not-self, is often mystifying to many Westerners. When we hear the term "not-self" we think that the Buddha was answering a question with a long history in our culture — of whether there is or isn't a self or a soul — and that his answer is perverse or confusing. Sometimes it seems to be No, but the Buddha doesn't follow through with the implications of a real No — if there's no self, how can there be rebirth? Sometimes his answer seems to be No with a hidden Yes, but you wonder why the Yes is so hard to pin down. If you remember only one thing from these talks, remember this: that the Buddha, in teaching not-self, was not answering the question of whether there is or isn't a self. This question was one he explicitly put aside. 

 

The path to true happiness begins with right view, the understanding that helps clear up the mind's bewilderment. Right view is not just a matter of having correct opinions about why there's suffering and what can be done about it. Right view also means knowing how you gain right opinions by asking the right questions, learning which questions help put an end to suffering, which questions get in the way, and how to use this knowledge skillfully on the path to true happiness. This means that right view is strategic. In fact, all of the Buddha's teachings are strategic. They are not simply to be discussed; they are to be put to use and mastered as skills so as to arrive at their intended aim.

 

The Buddha understood that the issues of our life are defined by our questions. A question gives a context to the knowledge contained in its answer — a sense of where that knowledge fits and what it's good for. Some questions are skillful in that they provide a useful context for putting an end to suffering, whereas others are not. Once, one of the Buddha's monks came to see him and asked him a list of ten questions, the major philosophical questions of his time. Some of the questions concerned the nature of the world, whether it was eternal or not, finite or not; others concerned the nature and existence of the self. The Buddha refused to answer any of them, and he explained the reason for his refusal. {He offered the analogy of being shot by a poisoned arrow as explanation}. 

 

Usually when we hear the teaching on not-self, we think that it's an answer to questions like these: "Do I have a self? What am I? Do I exist? Do I not exist?" However, the Buddha listed all of these as unskillful questions. Once, when he was asked point-blank, "Is there a self? Is there no self?" he refused to answer. He said that these questions would get in the way of finding true happiness. So obviously the teaching on not-self was not meant to answer these questions. To understand it, we have to find out which questions it was meant to answer.

 

As the Buddha said, he taught two categorical teachings: two teachings that were true across the board and without exceptions. These two teachings form the framework for everything else he taught. One was the difference between skillful and unskillful action: actions that lead to long-term happiness, and those that lead to long-term suffering. The other was the list of the four noble truths: the truth of suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path to the end of suffering.

 

If you want to put an end to suffering and stress, these two categorical teachings carry duties or imperatives. In terms of the first teaching, you want to avoid unskillful action and give rise to skillful action. In terms of the second, the four truths are categories for framing your experience, with each category carrying a specific duty you have to master as a skill. You need to know which of the truths you're encountering so that you can deal with that truth in the right way. Suffering must be comprehended, the cause of suffering must be abandoned, the end of suffering must be realized, and the path to the end of suffering must be developed as a skill. These are the ultimate skillful actions, which means that the mastery of the path is where the two sets of categorical teachings come together.

 

The path begins with discernment — the factors of right view and right resolve — and discernment begins with this basic question about which actions are really skillful: "What, when I do it, will lead to long-term welfare and happiness?". The Buddha's teaching on not-self — and his teaching on self — are, in part, answers to this question. To fit into this question, perceptions of self and perceptions of not-self are best viewed as kamma or actions: actions of identification and dis-identification. In the terms of the texts, the perception of self is called an action of "I-making" and "my-making (ahaṅkāra mamaṅkāra)." The perception of not-self is part of an activity called the "not-self contemplation (anattānupassanā)." Thus the question becomes: When is the perception of self a skillful action that leads to long-term welfare and happiness, when is the perception of not-self a skillful action that leads to long-term welfare and happiness?

 

This is the reverse of the way that the relationship between questions of kamma and not-self are usually understood. If you've ever taken an introductory course on Buddhism, you've probably heard this question: "If there is no self, who does the kamma, who receives the results of kamma?" This understanding turns the teaching on not-self into a teaching on no self, and then takes no self as the framework and the teaching on kamma as something that doesn't fit in the framework. But in the way the Buddha taught these topics, the teaching on kamma is the framework and the teaching of not-self fits into that framework as a type of action. In other words, assuming that there really are skillful and unskillful actions, what kind of action is the perception of self? What kind of action is the perception of not-self?

 

So, to repeat, the issue is not, "What is my true self?" but "What kind of perception of self is skillful and when is it skillful, what kind of perception of not-self is skillful and when is it skillful?"

 

We already engage in these perceptions all of the time and have been doing so ever since we were children. We have many different perceptions of self. Each sense of self is strategic, a means to an end. Each comes with a boundary, inside of which is "self" and outside of which is "not-self." And so our sense of what's self and what's not-self keeps changing all of the time depending on our desires and what we see will lead to true happiness.

 

Take an example from your childhood. Suppose you have a younger sister, and someone down the street is threatening her. You want to protect her. At that moment she is very much your sister. She belongs to you, so you will do whatever you can to protect her. Then suppose that, when you've brought her home safely, she begins to play with your toy car and won't give it back to you. Now she's no longer your sister. She's the Other. Your sense of your self, and of what is yours and not yours, has shifted. The boundary line between self and not-self has changed.

 

You've been doing this sort of thing — changing the boundaries of what's self and not-self — all of the time. Think back on your life — or even for just a day — to see the many times your sense of self has changed from one role to another.

 

Normally we create a sense of self as a strategy for gaining happiness. We look for what abilities we have in order to gain a happiness we want. Those abilities are then ours. The hand we can use to reach for the object we want is our hand; the loud voice we can use to scare off the bullies threatening our sister is our voice. This is why the element of control is so essential to our sense of self: We assume that the things we can control are us or ours. Then we also try to think about which part of ourselves will live to enjoy the happiness we're trying to gain. These things will change depending on the desire.

 

Unfortunately, our desires tend to be confused and incoherent. We're also unskillful in our understanding of what happiness is. Thus we often end up with an inconsistent and misinformed collection of selves. You can see this clearly as you meditate: You find that the mind contains many different inner voices expressing many conflicting opinions as to what you should and shouldn't be doing to be happy.

 

 

 

~ Courtesy of Thanissaro Bhikkhu, excerpted from one of his talks called *Strategies of Self & Not-self* 

(sorry for the long copy & pasting, but this topic needs proper Buddhist perspective, and I find this excerpt to be relevant enough to do just that.... adding perspective, nothing more.)

 

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10 minutes ago, rocala said:

This is exactly what I was referring to. You have mentioned  no-soul in the same context as unchanging soul, but does this mean he recognized other versions.

 

It would seem CT's post answered the Buddha's take on that question pretty well.

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@CT that's actually a really good answer, thank you. If I understand correctly from that post it would seem the question if more of one about perception in regards to self as opposed to a teaching on the essence of a self or no-self?

 

 This raises the question though, what was he teaching in opposition to in India in his day?

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3 minutes ago, dmattwads said:

It sheds a great deal of insight into at least part of it.

Yes I agree. Of course your question was not Buddhism specific, so do any Hindu's or others care to respond?

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3 minutes ago, rocala said:

Yes I agree. Of course your question was not Buddhism specific, so do any Hindu's or others care to respond?

 

Yes I am interested to hear from other perspectives as well.

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11 minutes ago, rocala said:

Yes I agree. Of course your question was not Buddhism specific, so do any Hindu's or others care to respond?

 

Actually for me now the question that the Buddhist side answered makes me want to better understand the Hindu or I guess proto-Hindu point of view that the Buddha was responding against.

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By Master Nan Huai Chin on this question. :) 

 

Referring to Vimalakirti's sutra. 

“On one hand it mentions no self in the body, on the other hand, it mentions teaching sentient beings.”

 

Since Buddhist Dharma is about cultivating until No-self, then if there is really no self left, who is left to teach Dharma? Who will speak sutras? Who will listen to Dharma? Real Buddhist Dharma has already been taught completely when Shakyamuni Buddha was born. When Shakyamuni Buddha was born, he took seven steps, pointed a finger to the sky and another finger to the ground, saying, “In everything from the heavens to the earth, only I am Supreme.” Just like this, the Dharma had already been taught. It is exactly this Supreme I and everyone is this. If you have found it, you have succeeded.

 

Every human being has an original nature and original life. The self in this body is false, so are our speech and thoughts. Every life has a real self and if you have found the “real self”, it is Buddhahood. When Buddha spoke these words, placing his hands in this manner, what is this hand-seal (mudra)? Contemplate this!

 

Buddha Dharma is always talking about No-self. Actually, for us, people who study the Dharma, do not even mention not being able to reach No-self, we cannot even reach No-body. Even if you forget your body, you still have thoughts. The self in people who learn Buddhism is especially strong, with “self” everywhere. “My” understanding, “my” knowledge, “my” body, these are even bigger than normal people. If you see people who work the whole day and go to play at night, and try to ask them where is their “self”, they will feel that you are asking a stupid question. Cultivators who learn the Buddha Dharma, adding to it a bad personality, this “self” becomes disastrous! They start to believe that from the heavens to the earth, this “self” is the most revered and Supreme.

 

Also, I am most afraid of students who are in University Buddhist societies. Students who do other activities are so lively and active, but the Buddhist club students are always with lifeless eyes, with unkempt attire, with tasteless language, and with a repulsive appearance. I hope everyone sees this problem and not make every Buddhist society become like this. When I was young, I was embarrassed by these groups. Of course, this attitude was when I fell into pride, which is also not right.

 

There was a year when there were a few University students who wanted me to deliver a speech to their Buddhist society. Since I could not push away that obligation, I said that I would not talk about Buddhism and made a title called “Between Self and No-self”. There was no recording of the contents of my speech, but what I mainly told them was, if Buddhism talks about No-self, who will be able to do it? However, to be a person and do things you require a self. If you want to write an essay but have no “self”, you cannot write anything. Every essay, art or embroidery all have a “self”. There is a “self” throughout human life – about what clothes are suitable to wear, or what sitting position to be in. A civilization of history cannot be created with “no self”. Buddha told you “From the heavens to the earth, I am Supreme.” However, during cultivation, what is meant by No-self is that there is no “small self”. It is saying not to grasp onto the self of false-appearances, thinking that it is the real self.

 

The cultivation and attainment of Buddha Dharma lies in finding the real self of our life. No self is a Dharma-door method. Cultivating gong-fu (attainment) requires letting go of the mind and body, releasing the thought of “self”, before we will be able to attain the pure self-nature of Nirvana. In other to become a Buddha or Bodhisattva, there must be a “self”. You see, Buddha also has a “self”! Amitabha Buddha’s “self”, is the appearance of the Western Pure-Land (Sukhavati) while the Medicine Buddha’s “self” is a different world. All Buddhas in the ten directions and three worlds have their own Buddha-lands, with their own “selves”. Every Buddha has the same Dao, but their merits are different, their vows are different, and their functions are different. When this self and that self has no boundaries, it returns to a big-self. If you learn Buddhism without being clear on these principles, what self are you saying to be empty? You must properly contemplate between self and no-self.

 

Vimalakirti here revealed some news by saying this. Without this body, without a “self”, who is here to speak Dharma? Shakyamuni Buddha now really has “no self”, he has returned to that “Big self”. We cannot see him, and he has no way to speak Dharma, therefore we have to rely on his disciples to proclaim Dharma. Therefore we need a flesh-body to be here in order to teach sentient beings. This is the Middle Path, you need to be absolutely clear.

 

This body is empty. We often use Bai Juyi’s words: “Dao is satiation and starvation, warm and cold.” That is no-self.

 

“This body’s length of life is emptiness.”

 

Whether this body lives a hundred or two hundred years, eventually it must go. However, this is leaning towards the Hinayana’s perspective. When the bodies of people who have attained the Dao die, where do they go? Nirvana is extinguishment, however does he never come back? No such thing, Shakyamuni Buddha and all Buddhas are beings that return, otherwise how can you call it Great Compassion and Mercy? Therefore, Mahayana Bodhisattvas do not say that there is eventual extinguishment, they do not say there is no return.

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1 hour ago, dmattwads said:

 

Yes I am interested to hear from other perspectives as well.

 

To do so study the main Upanishads...

 

btw there are many Buddhists and some scriptures that beat around the bush of there being a Self,  AKA "true nature", etc..  And lets not forget:

 

"There is an unborn, unoriginated, unproduced, unformed.

Were there not this unborn, unoriginated, unproduced, unformed,

there would be no escape from the world of the born, originated, produced, formed.

Since there is an unborn, unoriginated, unproduced, unformed,

therefore is there an escape from the born, originated, produced, formed"

 

which I'd say the meaning of can't really be remembered by thought, thus only pointed at.  (the same being for Brahman)

Edited by old3bob
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this might help explain what Hindus really consider “Self” aka “Atman” —
 

https://www.medhajournal.com/most-people-misunderstand-what-atman-means/

 

This might help with the comparison of the two views 

 

https://www.medhajournal.com/consciousness-according-to-zen-buddhism-and-how-it-relates-to-advaita-vedanta/

Edited by dwai
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5 hours ago, dmattwads said:

 

Actually for me now the question that the Buddhist side answered makes me want to better understand the Hindu or I guess proto-Hindu point of view that the Buddha was responding against.

The Buddhist understanding of the Hindu perspective is often constructed using straws :) 

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2 hours ago, dwai said:

The Buddhist understanding of the Hindu perspective is often constructed using straws :) 

 

I think I began to wonder if I was not thinking this way when I posted this question.

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15 hours ago, dmattwads said:

 

I think I began to wonder if I was not thinking this way when I posted this question.

 

there are several major variations of the "Hindu perspective" per the major and many sub-branch's of Hinduism.  Thus there are some major differences on certain  teachings or  matters among the schools of Hinduism, even or especially along the lines of Brahman and soul, which in looking at generally one would think that there would be universal agreement. (although the teachings do speak of universal respect for other schools, schools which may draw upon many of the same major texts  yet still come up with different interpretations)

Edited by old3bob
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@dmattwads I forgot to mention yesterday that I once posted a similar question in the Buddhist section. There are some interesting posts on it which you might find useful.

 

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I think, for discussions sake, we should define "self".  As we are human beings, we have certain qualities that we cannot avoid, like eating, defecating, sleeping, speaking, thinking, building, love-making, etc...  All of these things are what we do.  When we do them we develop affinity and pattern, and in that there is self.  We are the collection of our experiences, and though we no longer do certain things from our childhood, they still make up who we became today.  Once a thief, always a thief?  Can we shake our past deeds and desires?  I think that is the aim of Buddhism in the no-self context, but, what is left?  We still do the aforementioned things because we need them to survive and they are part of our lives.  

 

What else is self?  Opinion.  How you feel and think about things, that is self.  Should we have no opinion to avoid self?  Is this required?  What about the fundamental parts of reality and being among social beings?  Can this be avoided?  How do you strip yourself of opinion?  Is no-self even possible?

 

So in the end, the self is 

 

1. Opinion

2. Past deeds, future desires

 

You can never escape the self.

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@dwai Excellent links in your post.

 

"It seems the Buddha always refused to answer the question “Is there a True Self”. However, on his dying day, he seemed to have put to rest the discussion. Here’s a quote from an article written by Dr. Subhash Kak that discusses this very topic. To quote the relevant section here —

“The Self (ātman) is reality (tattva), the Self is permanent (nitya), the Self is virtue (guṇa), the Self is eternal (śāśvatā), the Self is stable (dhruva), and the Self is auspiciousness (śiva).”

https://www.medhajournal.com/consciousness-according-to-zen-buddhism-and-how-it-relates-to-advaita-vedanta/

I have come across this before and have seen it cause furious debates. Fascinating stuff.

Edited by rocala
Forgot link
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