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If the self doesn’t exist, what am I?

 
jimrich
 
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jimrich
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21 April 2017 01:39
 
jro - 26 March 2016 12:25 PM

I know that the concept of the self has many issues and that Buddhism and modern neurology hold it to be illusory likewise. A central tenet of Buddhism seems to be that the subject-object dualism is a delusion. However, if the self is an illusion, what am I? I understand that there is the homunculus problem, destroying the classic notion of the self, however it definitely feels like something to be me, I definitely feel my nose itching and not someone else’s.  This sense of identity, embodiment may be overcome in some extraordinary situations, but it seems that the experience of being a distinct person, of having an identity, of being someone and not someone else is the prevailing experience most of the time. Does non-self only mean that these phenomena are contingent, they don’t have any lasting substance, without denying that being a person is a real experience?

What adds to the difficulty I continue to have with the concept of anatta or non-self is that it uses purely negative terms. We learn what something is NOT but we don’t learn what it is. Does anyone have any comments?

My experience works like this.  When there is a nose itch, scratching happens - by no one.  I could say that I or an I scratches my nose or I can remove the personal me from the picture and experience = itchy nose, scratching.  In other words, things just happen - nose itches, scratching happens.  I cannot say how or when the no-me feeling or experience happens nor even how to make it happen that way and I usually have the feeling - “my nose itches so I’ll scratch it now”.  The personal feeling/action is most common for me but there are times when the Impersonal feeling/action happens with NO ‘me’ involved. 
So back to “what am I?”  I don’t know!  I seem to be an “intelligent” essence, energy or beingness with no center or size.  I’d call my self “infinite” but I’m more like indescribable or unknowable - a No-thing appearing as this person called Jim.  I just am.  The “what” is sort of like a non-what!  Some teachers say this is a Paradox and that our minds cannot grasp what we are or it is.  I know I am but can only describe the things I own like my body, mind, feelings, concepts, actions, etc.  I’d say I am spirit but that’s another “thing” I own or have.  I’d like to go with the popular concepts of Life, Consciousness, Awareness, Aliveness, Wholeness, Infinite being, both Real and Unreal and on and on but I can only say what I feel or know and not much more.  So far as I currently know, there is no “death” so I’d have to say I am infinite whatever.  The Buddha said it’s empty phenomena.

 
Brian888
 
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Brian888
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21 April 2017 06:47
 

Let me caveat this by admitting that I’m not a Buddhist, but I’ve read pretty extensively on the subject and discussed it with several practicing Buddhists, so I don’t think this is wildly off the mark. 

I’m not sure Buddhism is actually all that interested in defining “what” you are in a philosophical sense.  At its core, the doctrine was developed largely as a means of, for lack of a better word, therapy.  It’s a way of dealing with the inevitable frustration and disappointment that we experience in our day-to-day lives.  This explains why Buddhism is largely not interested in making truth claims about reality in the way that, say, Christianity does.  Buddhism certainly does have its share of mystical cruft (such as the Six Realms), but it’s not really clear that you’re required to actually literally believe any of it.  If worshiping a Tibetan deity helps you along in your practice, then that’s OK.  If it doesn’t, or if you choose to understand that aspect from a metaphorical perspective, then that’s OK too; whatever works.  This is why, in the possibly apocryphal stories about the Buddha, he refuses to get drawn into arguments with Vedic priests about whether there is a soul, or not, or both, or neither.  Buddhism tends to view such questions as unanswerable and, ultimately, pointless.

So I think the question of “what” you really are is a question that Buddhism isn’t interested in answering, likely because there probably is no absolutely true answer.  Instead, what Buddhism is designed to do, and what the realization of “no-self” actually means, is to help you (whatever “you” are) realize that you are not the emotion you are experiencing in the moment. 

This is enormously hard to do.  Our natural inclination (in every language I can think of) is to identify ourselves with our emotions.  “I am angry,” for example, or “I am disappointed that I can’t afford that new car.”  This takes us down the rabbit-hole of dissatisfaction; negative emotions tend to engender more negative emotions.  It’s not a fun way to live. 

What Buddhism apparently is designed to do is to help you realize that “you” are NOT the emotion you are experiencing in the moment.  At its highest levels, it’s designed to help you reflexively react to anger (for example) not by saying “I’m angry” and spiraling out of control from there, but by simply observing “Wow, there’s anger here.”  That detachment from, and observation of, the emotion of the moment apparently helps rapidly dissipate the emotion.  If I feel anger coming on and I can react not by self-identifying with the anger but rather by simply observing that I am experiencing anger in the exact same way that I might be experiencing heat or cold, then it will pass away and leave me in a state of equanimity.  By all accounts, being able to observe the world from such a state of equanimity is pretty goddamn awesome.

 
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21 April 2017 11:48
 
Brian888 - 21 April 2017 06:47 AM

I’m not sure Buddhism is actually all that interested in defining “what” you are in a philosophical sense.  At its core, the doctrine was developed largely as a means of, for lack of a better word, therapy.

I like that and wish I had encountered Buddhism when I was doing psychotherapy in support groups.  I see “therapy” as a means to repair the ego or damaged self due to a very bad childhood under 2 very emotionally damaged parents - in my case.  I noticed that many traditional religions: ignore, hide, excuse and revere parents as god-like figures who can DO NO WRONG so there is not much chance of honestly examining one’s (rotten) childhood in those religions since such an examination would reveal the inadequacies of these god-like parents.  In my therapy, there was almost no contact with traditional religions but we did accept a “higher power” who some called god.  I called mine the “Big G” or sometimes simply “it”.  Along the way, i did find that some elements of religion, such as Advaita, overlapped my psychological/emotional work and began using it.  I might have incorporated Buddhism if I’d been exposed to what you are saying here about “no-self” - which is at the core of Advaita or nonduality.

Brian888 - 21 April 2017 06:47 AM

It’s a way of dealing with the inevitable frustration and disappointment that we experience in our day-to-day lives.

And yet most religious therapies stop short of examining one’s parents and childhood.  Imagine a little kid saying, “Wow, anger is here!” instead of, “Dammit,  my stupid mom really pisses me off!” or “I just HATE my rotten, drunken dad!”, instead of, “Hating my drunken dad is happening here”.  It might have helped to impersonally say and feel: “Oh anger and hatred is HERE”  but I was already conditioned to take things personally and to express my feelings/thoughts personally with: ‘I’, me, my, mine, and sometimes ‘we’.

Brian888 - 21 April 2017 06:47 AM

So I think the question of “what” you really are is a question that Buddhism isn’t interested in answering, likely because there probably is no absolutely true answer.  Instead, what Buddhism is designed to do, and what the realization of “no-self” actually means, is to help you (whatever “you” are) realize that you are not the emotion you are experiencing in the moment.

At some point in both therapy and Advaita, I came to believe that my basic question was: HOW am I? rather than Who/what am iI?  The “How” being my current state of emotions or feelings or attitude.  We focused on feelings rather than existential matters and I finally came to see both as significant.  It is very difficult for me (the ego) to separate my self from feelings such as anger or fear but wonderful if and when I see/know I am NOT what I feel, think or do.  My earliest experiences with Advaita, before psychotherapy, was about knowing that I am not my body!  That temporarily worked but I could not separate myself from my personality so I gave it all up and went back to just being an egoic person!.

Brian888 - 21 April 2017 06:47 AM

This is enormously hard to do.  Our natural inclination (in every language I can think of) is to identify ourselves with our emotions.  “I am angry,” for example, or “I am disappointed that I can’t afford that new car.”  This takes us down the rabbit-hole of dissatisfaction; negative emotions tend to engender more negative emotions.  It’s not a fun way to live.

Being miserable and hitting bottom many times with anger and booze finally sent me to therapy.  I might have fared better in Buddhism but didn’t know anything about it at that time.  It would have been nearly impossible to just say, “Wow, anger or fear is here!” since it was completely overwhelming due to years and years of repressing and bottling up my feelings which began to EXPLODE at about 48 years old. I was filled with a ocean of repressed rage, sorrow, fear, humiliation, love and weird mixtures of feelings that I could not even describe after learning to label ALL of my feelings.  After a few years of venting and releasing those bottled up feelings, I started using the concepts of Advaita and no-self or No-thing as much as possible.  I might have loved or enjoyed Buddhism but never found it. 

Brian888 - 21 April 2017 06:47 AM

What Buddhism apparently is designed to do is to help you realize that “you” are NOT the emotion you are experiencing in the moment.  At its highest levels, it’s designed to help you reflexively react to anger (for example) not by saying “I’m angry” and spiraling out of control from there, but by simply observing “Wow, there’s anger here.”  That detachment from, and observation of, the emotion of the moment apparently helps rapidly dissipate the emotion.  If I feel anger coming on and I can react not by self-identifying with the anger but rather by simply observing that I am experiencing anger in the exact same way that I might be experiencing heat or cold, then it will pass away and leave me in a state of equanimity.  By all accounts, being able to observe the world from such a state of equanimity is pretty goddamn awesome.

I agree that it is “awesome” to finally have the freedom of equanimity and, when my traumatized feelings are seen as not happening TO me or anyone here, FREEDOM is felt and enjoyed.  In my case, the no-me or no-thing state, condition, reality is fleeting as more and more of those bottled up, painful, traumatized feelings emerge but there’s less and less of them as time goes buy so, I have hope of finally becoming No-thing and living in the freedom and peace of equanimity any time now.  I might even get there in this very moment since all there is, is ___________(or Freedom}.  LOL, I love it when the realization that all there is, is just This - just the nameless This or Empty Phenomena as the Buddha said.
Thanks for your comments on Buddhism,
jim

 
NL.
 
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21 April 2017 18:36
 
Brian888 - 21 April 2017 06:47 AM

I’m not sure Buddhism is actually all that interested in defining “what” you are in a philosophical sense.  At its core, the doctrine was developed largely as a means of, for lack of a better word, therapy.  It’s a way of dealing with the inevitable frustration and disappointment that we experience in our day-to-day lives.  This explains why Buddhism is largely not interested in making truth claims about reality in the way that, say, Christianity does.  Buddhism certainly does have its share of mystical cruft (such as the Six Realms), but it’s not really clear that you’re required to actually literally believe any of it.  If worshiping a Tibetan deity helps you along in your practice, then that’s OK.  If it doesn’t, or if you choose to understand that aspect from a metaphorical perspective, then that’s OK too; whatever works.  This is why, in the possibly apocryphal stories about the Buddha, he refuses to get drawn into arguments with Vedic priests about whether there is a soul, or not, or both, or neither.  Buddhism tends to view such questions as unanswerable and, ultimately, pointless.

So I think the question of “what” you really are is a question that Buddhism isn’t interested in answering, likely because there probably is no absolutely true answer.  Instead, what Buddhism is designed to do, and what the realization of “no-self” actually means, is to help you (whatever “you” are) realize that you are not the emotion you are experiencing in the moment.


I think this may be true of “adapted Buddhism” (various bits and pieces and practices pulled into modern secular usages), but is antithetical to the original, religious form of Buddhism. My understanding is that much of their philosophical proofs and reasoning are based on the assumption of reincarnation, and it is from the axiom of reincarnation that they make logical moves and steps to what they believe is the ‘true’ understanding of reality - what they see as the key to cutting through ignorance and attaining enlightenment. Buddhists believe (I recently found out in a book I’m reading) that to deny reincarnation is to make the error of “ucchedavada”, which is an extreme (i.e., not middle path) view that translates to something like materialism or nihilism. So I think in a religious sense, proper understanding of self, and the education and training to ‘realize’ it both intellectually and subjectively, is a primary focus in Buddhism. That said, there are many secularized versions of the practice where specific practices are taken from the larger religious philosophy, and I think it is still true to say that these are “Buddhist”.

 
 
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25 April 2017 08:56
 
NL. - 21 April 2017 06:36 PM
Brian888 - 21 April 2017 06:47 AM

I’m not sure Buddhism is actually all that interested in defining “what” you are in a philosophical sense.  At its core, the doctrine was developed largely as a means of, for lack of a better word, therapy.  It’s a way of dealing with the inevitable frustration and disappointment that we experience in our day-to-day lives.  This explains why Buddhism is largely not interested in making truth claims about reality in the way that, say, Christianity does.  Buddhism certainly does have its share of mystical cruft (such as the Six Realms), but it’s not really clear that you’re required to actually literally believe any of it.  If worshiping a Tibetan deity helps you along in your practice, then that’s OK.  If it doesn’t, or if you choose to understand that aspect from a metaphorical perspective, then that’s OK too; whatever works.  This is why, in the possibly apocryphal stories about the Buddha, he refuses to get drawn into arguments with Vedic priests about whether there is a soul, or not, or both, or neither.  Buddhism tends to view such questions as unanswerable and, ultimately, pointless.

So I think the question of “what” you really are is a question that Buddhism isn’t interested in answering, likely because there probably is no absolutely true answer.  Instead, what Buddhism is designed to do, and what the realization of “no-self” actually means, is to help you (whatever “you” are) realize that you are not the emotion you are experiencing in the moment.


I think this may be true of “adapted Buddhism” (various bits and pieces and practices pulled into modern secular usages), but is antithetical to the original, religious form of Buddhism. My understanding is that much of their philosophical proofs and reasoning are based on the assumption of reincarnation, and it is from the axiom of reincarnation that they make logical moves and steps to what they believe is the ‘true’ understanding of reality - what they see as the key to cutting through ignorance and attaining enlightenment. Buddhists believe (I recently found out in a book I’m reading) that to deny reincarnation is to make the error of “ucchedavada”, which is an extreme (i.e., not middle path) view that translates to something like materialism or nihilism. So I think in a religious sense, proper understanding of self, and the education and training to ‘realize’ it both intellectually and subjectively, is a primary focus in Buddhism. That said, there are many secularized versions of the practice where specific practices are taken from the larger religious philosophy, and I think it is still true to say that these are “Buddhist”.

It’s a good issue to address.  Here’s how an acquaintance of mine on another forum addressed the issue:

Rebirth is one of the most difficult Buddhist concepts for modern Westerners to grasp, I think. I could attack the question from various angles indefinitely and perhaps not get anywhere. But here’s one attempt:

Imagine that you accept the basic Buddhist positions (1) that all phenomena are conditioned by other phenomena and (2) that what we call persons are actually complexes of such conditioned phenomena that we find it conventionally useful to treat as if they were persistently existent individuals. The illusion of persistence has to do with the fact that, even though each moment we’re actually made up of different phenomena that arose conditioned by the phenomena that were present the moment before, there is a regular pattern of causality that causes the vast majority of said phenomena to be meaningfully similar from one moment to the next, and that we have evolved the capacity to recognize such patterns and treat what is ultimately a series of closely related occurrences as if they were a solid thing.

A person, therefore, is a conceptual fiction, albeit a useful one. However, there is no trace of an uncaused, unconditioned, self-existent, essentially real and eternal self amid the phenomena that make up persons. No immortal soul, no thing that was there before you were born and will still be there after you die. On the contrary, birth and death as we conventionally understand them are nothing more than particularly drastic shifts in the makeup of these phenomena, which are in fact occurring all the time. We don’t find it conventionally useful to imagine that we are dying and being reborn every moment, even though that’s actually no less true than the way we usually look at it. Indeed, the label “we” is really only meaningful on the conventional level, since individual personhood is at best a conceptual model our minds choose to impose on the world, not an objective reality. In fact that realization frees us to conceptualize personhood and identiy in a variety of ways that may be starkly different from what people are conventionally accustomed to.

So where does that leave this idea of rebirth? Well, the first thing to understand is that Buddhism grew up in the Shramana movement of mid-1st-millennium BCE India, in which context the transmigration of souls—i.e. the reincarnation of an eternal, essential self—had come to be dominant idea. That’s important because if it weren’t, I doubt Buddhism would have developed its own doctrine of rebirth in response, since it’s not strictly necessary in order to comprehend or practice the Dharma. The interesting thing is that everything I said in the last two paragraphs basically obviates the possibility of selfhood, much less the transmigration thereof. Instead Buddhism co-opts the language of reincarnation that was standard at the time while actually undermining it and turning it into something radically different.

You see, if persons are ultimately conceptual fictions to begin with, then not only can you reduce them to their constituent phenomena and deconstruct the concept in that way, but you can also play with it in the other direction. If a person is just a karmic string of conditioned phenomena, then why stop at the arbitrary boundaries of biological birth and death? Surely those are also conditioned phenomena that condition other phenomena in turn, so in that sense you might consider every prior human life that led to yours as, in a broad sense, being “your” lives too. Similarly, those future persons whose lives will be affected by what you’re doing right now, those can be conceptualized as being “you” as well, in a sense. Maybe you take up the teachings of a great master and begin to evince similar characteristics and abilities—one might say that master’s karma is playing out in your life. Similarly, maybe you do something in this life and your karma ripples outward and manifests in the lives of many people even generations or centuries from now.

So instead of having a doctrine of reincarnation that reinforces a concept of essential selfhood—i.e. that there’s something objectively and indelibly “you” that will never pass away, no matter what happens—Buddhist thought actually does the opposite and invites people to stop thinking in narrow terms of self and instead regard identity as a flexible concept. It also suggests that what you do matters because the ones who suffer the consequences are ultimately no less “you” than you are. “You-ness” is, after all, a conceptual fiction, so you can skip right past the question of who is and is not “you” and get right to the question of whether you’re making the world a better or a worse place for those who live in it, both now and in the future.

In one of the earliest apologetic dialogs, the monk Nagasena invites the Greek King Menander to imagine that one oil lamp is used to light another. Is the second flame the same as the first, or is it different? The answer is that it is both and neither. The identity of the flame is a conceptual fiction in any case. All that can be said is that the second flame bears a karmic (i.e. causal) relationship to the first. If you want to go even deeper, you might point out that even a single flame isn’t an individual thing: it’s a constantly occurring chemical reaction that only appears to be a single thing because of the way our minds recognize and process patterns. In fact the flame’s relationship to itself from one moment to another isn’t much different from its relationship to another flame that was ignited from it.

Well, that’s a start, anyway. “Rebirth” in a purely soteriological context takes on additional angles that I’ll have to address at another time.

 
NL.
 
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25 April 2017 11:26
 

Thanks Brian. The long and short of it, I think, is that you are going to get a different answer if you ask a “traditional” Buddhist from mostly Asian countries (including revered teachers, such as the Dalai Lama,) and a more secular, philosophical style Buddhist, who are mostly Western, I think, but possibly present in Zen and some other traditions.


My general understanding of the idea of reincarnation is that yeah, the self is an illusion, but so long as you continue to believe in the illusion, it is in fact a reincarnating illusion, it doesn’t end at death. To me it’s no less weird, in our societal framework, to say “The illusion of you reincarnates” vs. “YOU reincarnate”. I mean Buddhism does talk about the fact that what reincarnates is not concrete and immortal, but I think we are pretty adapted to this idea from daily life anyways - obviously the “I” that I am now is not the same “I” that I was 5, 10, 20 years ago or even 5 minutes ago in some senses of the word. Physically and mentally, the idea that we are a changing, dynamic process is pretty intuitive, I think. So to me moving off of an ‘immortal soul’ on to a ‘changing process’ the way that traditional Buddhism does doesn’t change a whole lot in that equation.

 
 
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25 April 2017 12:32
 
NL. - 25 April 2017 11:26 AM

Thanks Brian. The long and short of it, I think, is that you are going to get a different answer if you ask a “traditional” Buddhist from mostly Asian countries (including revered teachers, such as the Dalai Lama,) and a more secular, philosophical style Buddhist, who are mostly Western, I think, but possibly present in Zen and some other traditions.


My general understanding of the idea of reincarnation is that yeah, the self is an illusion, but so long as you continue to believe in the illusion, it is in fact a reincarnating illusion, it doesn’t end at death. To me it’s no less weird, in our societal framework, to say “The illusion of you reincarnates” vs. “YOU reincarnate”. I mean Buddhism does talk about the fact that what reincarnates is not concrete and immortal, but I think we are pretty adapted to this idea from daily life anyways - obviously the “I” that I am now is not the same “I” that I was 5, 10, 20 years ago or even 5 minutes ago in some senses of the word. Physically and mentally, the idea that we are a changing, dynamic process is pretty intuitive, I think. So to me moving off of an ‘immortal soul’ on to a ‘changing process’ the way that traditional Buddhism does doesn’t change a whole lot in that equation.

Yeah, it’s thorny.  It’s not even really clear to me what the Dalai Lama (for example) really thinks about reincarnation.  After all, he’s recently said that this may be “his” last incarnation (given the current state of affairs between the Dalai Lama and China).

 
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25 April 2017 13:56
 
Brian888 - 25 April 2017 12:32 PM

Yeah, it’s thorny.  It’s not even really clear to me what the Dalai Lama (for example) really thinks about reincarnation.  After all, he’s recently said that this may be “his” last incarnation (given the current state of affairs between the Dalai Lama and China).

I have had and seen many psychic/medium type of encounters with the “departed” or dis-incarnates and find them to be both real and very much alive as the persons they were in this physical plane but without a form or “body” in the afterlife plane.  I am trying to speak of my experience with the best words I have for now. 
My bother in law, mother and late psychic/medium wife continue to have the same personality but are much happier and wiser over in the spiritual plane.  I do not know if they have plans for reincarnating or not - I certainly would not come back here again!.  I don’t communicate with them on a regular, daily basis and just allow them to come here whenever they wish, usually in my dreams. 
The problem of talking about their “reality” is that I cannot prove it is real so I am left with just letting this reality be what it is.  I see that there are at least two distinct worlds or planes - the physical one I live in and the spiritual or non-physical one my late wife and several others that I personally know live in.  Many books have been written about this by Mediums so this is a well covered subject even if not accepted by the general public.  I know several folks who have the same post death relationships with their spouses and relatives so it’s not as weird or uncommon as many skeptical or frightened folks want to believe - it just can’t be proved as far as I know. 
So, If the Dali Lama wants to stay over there and not come back here, it makes sense to me, for now.  I also subscribe to the teachings in Advaita about = one essence, one life, oneness, unity, no-self, all, wholeness, the Absolute, etc. so I have no way to explain these apparently two worlds or lives other than to say it’s all an appearance for, by and of the Absolute or Empty Phenomena as the Buddha apparently said.  I’m OK with my late wife appearing to me as a separate, lovable and recognized “person” even if there is only one Self or Being here.  I never see/experience her as an illusion or a ghost and she does not appear to me as an illusion or mystical essence.  She is always her self but a much happier and wiser self than she was able to be in this limited and painful plane. She does not come here “Hollywood style” as a cloud, light, image, apparition, etc.but more like a mental impression or invisible essence (which won’t work in a movie!).  It’s very difficult to talk about since most of this happens in a mental/emotional/telepathic or intuitive way, even with Mediums.  Someone said it’s like a mind to mind communication or connection.  “Mind meld” was one term.  I could say that I “hear” Irene but it’s not like hearing sounds or noise.  I can also “feel” her but not the way I feel an object or sensation like hot/cold air.  Many Psychics understand this stuff but don’t go around talking about it since there is so much fear of it and them in the world!  Those on the “other side” just laugh about it!

 
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25 April 2017 14:53
 
NL. - 25 April 2017 11:26 AM

Thanks Brian. The long and short of it, I think, is that you are going to get a different answer if you ask a “traditional” Buddhist from mostly Asian countries (including revered teachers, such as the Dalai Lama,) and a more secular, philosophical style Buddhist, who are mostly Western, I think, but possibly present in Zen and some other traditions.

Going back to this response, the only cautionary note I think I’d raise is to be careful not to assume that Western Buddhists have a lock on the rational, philosophical, non-woo understanding of Buddhism.  For example, as previously discussed above, there’s a current in Western Buddhist thought that views the Six Realms not as metaphysical alternate dimensions that you reincarnate into after you die, but as states of mind in this world.  This in turn flows from the larger idea that Nirvana is not separate from Samsara (i.e., the state of being that Buddhists refer to as Nirvana exists here and now, in the real world).  However, Buddhists from the Yogacara school in India had worked all this out as early as the 4th century AD.

 
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25 April 2017 16:44
 
Brian888 - 25 April 2017 02:53 PM
NL. - 25 April 2017 11:26 AM

Thanks Brian. The long and short of it, I think, is that you are going to get a different answer if you ask a “traditional” Buddhist from mostly Asian countries (including revered teachers, such as the Dalai Lama,) and a more secular, philosophical style Buddhist, who are mostly Western, I think, but possibly present in Zen and some other traditions.

Going back to this response, the only cautionary note I think I’d raise is to be careful not to assume that Western Buddhists have a lock on the rational, philosophical, non-woo understanding of Buddhism.  For example, as previously discussed above, there’s a current in Western Buddhist thought that views the Six Realms not as metaphysical alternate dimensions that you reincarnate into after you die, but as states of mind in this world.  This in turn flows from the larger idea that Nirvana is not separate from Samsara (i.e., the state of being that Buddhists refer to as Nirvana exists here and now, in the real world).  However, Buddhists from the Yogacara school in India had worked all this out as early as the 4th century AD.


Yeah, I guess it’s about as clear as if you asked a Christian what “heaven” is. I think I tread more carefully on this topic though as it’s not a religion or even culture I was raised with, so there’s a simultaneous sense of 1. Not knowing what a “true” Buddhist is 2. Knowing I’m not one and it’s possibly offensive to that group, wherever they are, to present my Westernized musings as representing their culture. I am a little on guard when I hear people talk about how Buddhism doesn’t “really” say this or that, because the truth is I don’t know - for all I know it may be quite insulting to some Buddhists to say we’ve figured out what their religion “really” says, perhaps that is news to them and they totally disagree. So I always try to be careful to describe myself as a sorta Buddhist or someone who practices specific meditation techniques, although I’m sure I slip and say I’m talking about “Buddhism” at times.

 
 
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12 July 2017 14:03
 

You are a temporarily persistent process involved with many other processes in assisting to take advantage of energy gradients while the universe slowly cools to zero.  For example, you are an auxiliary process involved in the production of carbon dioxide for trees.

 
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12 July 2017 14:15
 
....... - 25 April 2017 04:44 PM

Yeah, I guess it’s about as clear as if you asked a Christian what “heaven” is. I think I tread more carefully on this topic though as it’s not a religion or even culture I was raised with, so there’s a simultaneous sense of 1. Not knowing what a “true” Buddhist is 2. Knowing I’m not one and it’s possibly offensive to that group, wherever they are, to present my Westernized musings as representing their culture. I am a little on guard when I hear people talk about how Buddhism doesn’t “really” say this or that, because the truth is I don’t know - for all I know it may be quite insulting to some Buddhists to say we’ve figured out what their religion “really” says, perhaps that is news to them and they totally disagree. So I always try to be careful to describe myself as a sorta Buddhist or someone who practices specific meditation techniques, although I’m sure I slip and say I’m talking about “Buddhism” at times.

[Aside ... sorry for the interruption.]
This is you, isn’t it NL?  Is there a reason that your name/initials are gone and now it’s just .....?  (Did I miss something?)

 
 
burt
 
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burt
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12 July 2017 15:50
 

To quote from a very funny book: Lamb: The Gospel of Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal (by Christopher Moore), a statement by Biff after he and the young
Jesus have been spending time in a Buddhist monastery: “It’s tough to be in the moment if you’re a Jew. Without the past, where’s the guilt? And without the future,
where’s the dread? And without the guilt and the dread, who am I?”

 
MrLovingKindness
 
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MrLovingKindness
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14 August 2017 10:23
 
jro - 26 March 2016 12:25 PM

I know that the concept of the self has many issues and that Buddhism and modern neurology hold it to be illusory likewise. A central tenet of Buddhism seems to be that the subject-object dualism is a delusion. However, if the self is an illusion, what am I? I understand that there is the homunculus problem, destroying the classic notion of the self, however it definitely feels like something to be me, I definitely feel my nose itching and not someone else’s.  This sense of identity, embodiment may be overcome in some extraordinary situations, but it seems that the experience of being a distinct person, of having an identity, of being someone and not someone else is the prevailing experience most of the time. Does non-self only mean that these phenomena are contingent, they don’t have any lasting substance, without denying that being a person is a real experience?

What adds to the difficulty I continue to have with the concept of anatta or non-self is that it uses purely negative terms. We learn what something is NOT but we don’t learn what it is. Does anyone have any comments?

The simple answer is that there is no I.

More specifically, the thing that experiences, the thing you are calling an I, is exactly the same as all the other I’s. The seeming differences are not in the I’s that are looking, but in what are being observed. So the I that notices your itchy nose is exactly the same as the I that notices the writing of this response. It is impersonal, mechanical, arising from the physical laws of reality, and is exactly the same for all consciousness (human or otherwise).

All of the I’s are exactly the same, therefore impersonal, therefore not really I’s, because implicit to the sense of I is that it’s a unique I, a personal I. Anything that is observed is also not I, therefore there is no I, no self, anatta.

 

 
Ground
 
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Ground
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14 August 2017 14:54
 
jro - 26 March 2016 12:25 PM

IHowever, if the self is an illusion, what am I?

A coordinate. x- axis is time, y-axis is space or vv. you are a coordinate, not more and not less.

 
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