Thursday, February 6, 2014

507: The doctrine of the non-Self

Once the Buddha asked someone the following questions: “What do you think, monks, is material form permanent or impermanent?” – “Impermanent, venerable sir.” 

– “Is what is impermanent suffering or happiness?” – “Suffering, venerable sir.” –Is what is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change, fit to be regarded as: “this is mine, this I am, this is my self?” – “No, venerable sir”. The same reasoning is applied to the other aggregates.

To remind you, the five aggregates were:

1. “Form" or "matter" ,  the physical world.  the material body and the physical sense organs.

2.  “Sensation" or "feeling"  sensing an object[g] as either pleasant or unpleasant or neutral.

3.  “Perception", " registers whether an object is recognized or not (for instance, the sound of a bell or the shape of a tree).

4.  “Mental formations",  all types of mental habits, thoughts, ideas, opinions, prejudices, compulsions, and decisions triggered by an object.

 5. “Consciousness"  

And here we have one of the fundamental ideas of Buddhism: the doctrine of the Non-Self. The assumption underlying the Buddha’s arguments is 

that something might be considered a self only if it were permanent, not leading to suffering, not dependently arisen, and subject to one’s own will. 

Since none of the five aggregates fulfill any of these conditions, it is wrong to see them as belonging to us or as our self.

As Buddha argues: “If anyone says: ‘the visual organ is self,’ that is unacceptable. The rising and falling of the visual organ are fully known. 

Since the rising and falling of the visual organ are fully known, it would follow that: ‘my self arises and falls.’ Therefore, it is unacceptable to say: ‘the visual organ is self.’

Here we face a complex philosophical problem: when we refer to ourselves, who or what IS this Self? We certainly have the feeling that our Self is something permanent. Every day of our life we say: yes, yes this is still the same old ME.

But according to Buddha this “same old me” can not be derived from the impermanent information as produced by our sensory organs or consciousness.

You might discard the problem as super abstract philosophical hair splitting, but it is not. You and I definitely believe that there exists a permanent self.

Especially in ethical matters we do so. We even have special expressions for it. For instance in a situation where you did something immoral. Just think of war criminals.

Your excuse for your action sometimes is: “I wasn’t myself then”, “I was beside myself with anger”, “I didn’t recognize myself anymore….”, “I am another person now….”

So, philosophizing about this mysterious Self of us and thence about moral responsibility and true wellbeing is quite understandable from Buddha’s perspective.

The matter has also a long tradition in Western Philosophy. We call it the problem of Personal Identity.

For Buddha there is the problem of the self. This word is sometimes used to mean the whole series of a person’s inner mental states and sometimes, more restrictedly, the spiritual substance to which the philosopher says they belong.

As you see, to answer the question what this mysterious Self in us is and to understand how the Buddha answers this question, is not that simple at all, especially when you think of reincarnation, for instance 
It certainly needs another lecture.

Thank you ^_^

Main Sources:
MacMillan The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1995
Philosophy of the BuddhaChristopher W. Gowans (2003)
 Buddhist Ethics, Damien Keown (2005) 
From Africa to Zen, R.C. Solomon & K.M. Higgins
Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Robert E. Buswell, Jr., ed. (2004)

The Discussion

[13:18] Zanicia: wow
[13:18] Zanicia: Thank you
[13:19] herman Bergson: Feel free to take the floor...
[13:19] Zanicia: puts her hand up...........
[13:19] herman Bergson smiles
[13:19] herman Bergson: Go ahead ZANICAI
[13:20] Zanicia: I think you CANNOT separate the consciousness on moral ground
[13:20] herman Bergson: What do you mean?
[13:20] Zanicia: it is still who we are....or rather, how we evolve
[13:21] herman Bergson: The idea of the Self refers to us as being the same person through time
[13:22] herman Bergson: I I the same person as when I was ten years of age...I said this is ME indeed
[13:22] Zanicia: surely the consciousness is ENTIRELY who we evolve to be as 'self'?
[13:22] Zanicia: both are permanent because they are one and the same
[13:22] herman Bergson: But this consciousness is, like Buddha also suggested not is in constant change
[13:23] oola Neruda: like a river...
[13:23] herman Bergson: so what is the unchanging part of consciousness?
[13:23] oola Neruda: it is ... and it is not... the same
[13:23] herman Bergson: Yes oola
[13:24] oola Neruda: but we still recognize it and it's features/characteristics
[13:24] herman Bergson: The more you think about it, the more fascinating this becomes
[13:24] Zanicia: Beg to disagree with Buddha on this...the me is also in constant change as we grow
[13:24] oola Neruda: and ... what time scale is supposed to predominate...
[13:24] oola Neruda: and why
[13:25] oola Neruda: predominate
[13:25] herman Bergson: Indeed ZANICIA....I guess you might follow David Hume's interpretation then :-)
[13:25] herman Bergson: We'll get to that later
[13:26] herman Bergson: But fascinating is that the Buddha discovered that there seems to be no permanent something that you can call Self
[13:27] herman Bergson: and believe me...this philosophical problem still exists
[13:27] oola Neruda: permanent in what way... we watch the river pass us...but it still requires a bridge and banks...
[13:27] herman Bergson: Yet our whole legal system is based on the idea that a person is the same person through time
[13:27] herman Bergson: Well oola...
[13:28] herman Bergson: one approach was that all sensory experiences were part of a permanent spiritual substance...
[13:28] herman Bergson: Maybe the soul
[13:28] herman Bergson: or a dualism like Descartes believed
[13:29] Zanicia: dualism suggests separation again
[13:29] oola Neruda: can you explain what you mean by dualism
[13:29] herman Bergson: yes ZANICIA
[13:30] Zanicia: as in ...running alongside each other
[13:30] herman Bergson: if you take the Cartesian answer, oola, then it means that we are two substances....
[13:30] Zanicia: not part of the whole
[13:30] herman Bergson: a material one....our body and an immaterial one ..our mind
[13:31] herman Bergson: and if you take the idea of reincarnation....
[13:31] Zanicia: I will leave it, personally
[13:31] herman Bergson: or in christianity the idea of resurrection from death.....
[13:32] herman Bergson: such ideas lead to serious questions about WHAT is reincarnation or will resurrect
[13:32] herman Bergson: will it be ME, myself?
[13:32] herman Bergson: But if I am in another body?
[13:33] herman Bergson: and what body....of a boy of 10 or of an old man?
[13:33] Zanicia: anybody else throw in any other thoughts?
[13:34] herman Bergson: You can hear all brains work now ZANICIA :-)
[13:34] .: Beertje :.: i think you don't remember this body when you are in incarnation
[13:34] Zanicia: who says? lol
[13:35] herman Bergson: That already is a fact indeed, Beertje...Nobody ever remembered to be a reincarnation, I think
[13:35] .: Beertje :.: do you remember your first body?
[13:35] herman Bergson: and then time.....
[13:36] herman Bergson: do you reincarnate immediately after you died....or years later?
[13:36] .: Beertje :.: time doesn't's always 'now' can't be yesterday or tomorrow
[13:36] herman Bergson: and WHAT reincarnates?
[13:36] Zanicia: hahahaha
[13:37] .: Beertje :.: what is funny?
[13:37] Zanicia: "what"!!!!
[13:37] herman Bergson smiles
[13:37] .: Beertje :.: ??
[13:37] herman Bergson: indeed ZANICIA ....and it really  puzzles me
[13:37] oola Neruda: it seems as though the mind was implicated in reincarnation... or the soul.... although one might believe it is the atoms turning to dust and returning as a plant or something...
[13:38] herman Bergson: But that last part of your statement poses a problem oola...
[13:38] CONNIE EichelCONNIE Eichel vanishes... "bye all, kisses :)"
[13:38] herman Bergson: if it are atoms....where is the mind
[13:38] Zanicia: Bye Connie
[13:39] herman Bergson: or is the mind not part of reincarnation?
[13:39] Zanicia: That was Buddha's point....the material V the consciousness
[13:39] Zanicia: ....if you think of them as separate
[13:40] herman Bergson: lecture has to reveal what the Buddha meant by this non-self and yet the fact of reincarnation
[13:40] oola Neruda: is the mind really anything but chemistry?
[13:40] oola Neruda: synapses... transient
[13:40] Zanicia: wow..good point!
[13:40] herman Bergson: We have no answer to that question oola
[13:41] herman Bergson: What we know is that the mind emerges FROM this chemistry of the brain
[13:41] herman Bergson: Let me give you the metaphor John Searle used to explain the mind
[13:42] herman Bergson: It may even apply to the concept of Self
[13:42] herman Bergson: Water in a glas is fluid....
[13:42] herman Bergson: but when you analyze the content of the glass you'll find atoms or molecules....
[13:43] herman Bergson: but you never can pick out a molecule of which you can say...look this is fluid
[13:43] herman Bergson: in other words...
[13:44] herman Bergson: fluidity only can exist when H2O molecules are in a specific condition
[13:44] herman Bergson: same like the chemistry of the brain....
[13:44] herman Bergson: only under specific circumstances a Mind emerges
[13:45] herman Bergson: and that is what the Buddha saw too
[13:45] herman Bergson: But to get back to the mind...
[13:45] Zanicia: That explains most of the residents in my local town!
[13:45] herman Bergson: we have no idea what it is....just that it is
[13:46] herman Bergson: What do you mean by that ZANCIA?
[13:46] Zanicia: so we need specific circumstances, hmm? lol
[13:48] herman Bergson: specific conditions...:-)
[13:48] herman Bergson: So maybe when it freezes there are no residents in your local town ZANICIA ^_^
[13:49] Zanicia: I meant...with some people there is clearly a lack of those specific conditions ever having emerged
[13:49] herman Bergson: lecture we'll see how this problem is handled in Buddhism...
[13:49] herman Bergson grins
[13:49] herman Bergson: Yes..things like that happen ZANICIA
[13:50] herman Bergson: May I thank you all again for your participation :-)
[13:50] herman Bergson: Next Thursday I'll be here my Self with the next lecture
[13:50] herman Bergson: Class dismissed :-))
[13:51] Zanicia: Thank you Herman, good lecture
[13:52] herman Bergson: thank you
[13:52] .: Beertje :.: thank you Herman
[13:52] .: Beertje :.: we have a lot to think about again
[13:53] .: Beertje :.: have a goodnight and till thursday
[13:53] herman Bergson: Bye Beertje :-)
[13:53] Zanicia: Bye
[13:54] Zanicia: Good night Herman, xtc and Oola
[13:54] oola Neruda: good night, Zanicia
[13:54] oola Neruda: smiles

[13:55] herman Bergson: Bye ZANICIA:-)

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