Buddhism teaching

Buddhism: teaching the doctrine on Anatta ‘Non-self’

Eastern and Western philosophers have struggled with self-concept for many centuries. What is the self? The Buddha taught a doctrine called anatta, which is often defined as “no-self”, or the teaching that the feeling of being a permanent, self-contained self is an illusion. This does not correspond to our ordinary experience. Am I not me? If not, who is reading this article right now? To add to the confusion, the Buddha discouraged his followers from speculating on the self. For example, in the Sabbasava Sutta (Pali Sutta-pitaka, Majjhima Nikaya 2), he advised us not to think about certain questions, such as “Am I? Am I not? because this would lead to six types of erroneous views:

I have a me.

I have no me.

By means of a self, I perceive the self.

By means of an ego, I perceive the non-ego.

By means of non-self, I perceive the self.

The knowing self is eternal and will remain as it is forever.

If you are now completely confused — here the Buddha is not explaining whether you “have” a “me” or not; he says that such intellectual speculation is not the way to gain understanding. And notice that when we say “I have no self”, the sentence assumes a self that has no self. So the nature of no-self is not something that can be grasped intellectually or explained in words. However, without some appreciation of anatta, you will misunderstand everything else in Buddhism. Yes, it is so important. So let’s take a closer look at non-self.

Anatta or Anatman

Very fundamentally, anatta (or anatman in Sanskrit) is the teaching that there is no permanent, eternal, unchanging, or self-contained “me” inhabiting “our” body or living “our” life. Anatman is in contrast to the Vedic teachings of the Buddha’s day, which taught that there is within each of us an atman, or an unchanging and eternal soul or identity.

Anatta or anatman is one of the three marks of existence. The other two are dukkha (nearly unsatisfactory) and anicca (impermanent). In this context, anatta is often translated as “egoless”. Crucially important is the teaching of the Second Noble Truth, which tells us that because we believe we are a permanent and unchanging self, we fall into attachment and greed, jealousy and hatred, and all other poisons that cause unhappiness.

Theravada Buddhism

In his book What the Buddha Taught, Theravadin scholar Walpola Rahula said: “According to the Buddha’s teaching, the idea of ​​a self is an imaginary and false belief that has no corresponding reality, and it produces harmful thoughts of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, selfish desire, envy, attachment, hatred, ill will, vanity, pride, selfishness and other defilements, impurities and problems.” Other Theravadin teachers, like Thanissaro Bhikkhu, prefer to say that the question of a self is unanswered. He said,

“In fact, the only place where the Buddha was asked whether or not there was a self, he refused to answer, is to fall into extreme forms of misvision which make the path of Buddhist practice impossible. .” From this perspective, even thinking about whether or not one has a self leads to identifying with a self, or perhaps identifying with nihilism. It is better to leave the question aside and concentrate on other teachings, in particular, the Four Noble Truths. The bhikkhu continued,

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“In this sense, the anatta teaching is not a no-self doctrine, but a no-self strategy for getting rid of suffering by abandoning its cause, leading to the highest and eternal happiness. At this point , the questions of self, not-self and not-self collapse.”

Mahayana Buddhism

Mahayana Buddhism teaches a variation of anatta called sunyata, or emptiness. All beings and phenomena are empty of self-essence. This doctrine is associated with a 2nd century philosophy called Madhyamika, “School of the Middle Way”, founded by the sage Nagarjuna. Because nothing has existence by itself, phenomena only come into existence insofar as they relate to other phenomena. For this reason, according to Madhyamika, it is incorrect to say that phenomena exist or do not exist. The “middle way” is the way between affirmation and negation.

Mahayana Buddhism is also associated with the Buddha-nature doctrine. According to this doctrine, Buddha Nature is the basic nature of all beings. Is Buddha Nature a self? Theravadins sometimes accuse Mahayana Buddhists of using Buddha-nature as a means of bringing man, a soul, or self back into Buddhism. And sometimes they score a point. It is common to conceive of Buddha Nature as a kind of great soul that everyone shares. To add to the confusion, Buddha Nature is sometimes called the “original self” or the “true self”. I’ve heard Buddha Nature explained as a “big me” and our individual characters as a “little me”, but I’ve come to think that’s a very pointless way to understand it. Mahayana teachers say (for the most part) that it is incorrect to regard Buddha Nature as something we possess. Zen master Eihei Dogen (1200-1253) made a point of saying that Buddha Nature is what we are, not something we have.

In a famous dialogue, a monk asked the Chan master Chao-chou Ts’ung-shen (778-897) if a dog had the nature of Buddha. Chao-chou’s response — Mu! (no, or didn’t) has been considered a koan by generations of Zen students. Very broadly, the koan works to crush the concept of Buddha Nature as a kind of self that we carry with us.

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