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Seeking practical approach to anattā

FluxFlux New
edited December 2018 in Philosophy

Hello. I'd like support forming an understanding of the skandhas and replacing my basic, intellectual understanding of anattā with practical, experiential exploration. I'd be grateful for any shared knowledge or resources about where to start. Thanks.

Shoshin

Comments

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    So what you mean is, you've got the theory - but how to actually incorporate it into practice, yes...?

  • @federica said:
    So what you mean is, you've got the theory - but how to actually incorporate it into practice, yes...?

    Correct. As well as a bit more depth to my understanding.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Anatta - the doctrine that there is in humans no permanent, underlying substance that can be called the soul.

    Have you also given consideration to Dependent Origination?

  • @federica said:

    Anatta - the doctrine that there is in humans no permanent, underlying substance that can be called the soul.

    Have you also given consideration to Dependent Origination?

    Thank you. I'm quite familiar with these topics but, again, more in theory and currently unsure how to approach them beyond that.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    What do you mean by 'approach'...?

    There is an approach that requires understanding and acceptance. Then, you are simply Mindful of it.
    It's that simple.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    You might be interested in some of the earlier discussions that have been on the forum on not-self, I was just reading this thread and although it’s more a beginners level there are some interesting links.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    In terms of practical exploration of anatta, that is quite a task because you’re trying to prove a negative, that there is no such thing as a soul within a human being. A first approach might be to start with meditation, and to try and do a survey of your mental and energetic landscape, like a body scan, and to see what you find.

    I’ve done meditations of that kind for some years, and I must admit, despite some interesting finds and visions, a soul or even the seat of the emotions continues to elude me. I’m currently of the opinion that the Buddha had it right when he said that man was just a composite of many different parts.

    The closest I can see to a soul that we might have is the Watcher, that part of us that is always observing. But then even that sometimes shuts down, as in unconsciousness. You could argue part of you is still ‘aware’ when you sleep, because you can be awoken by sounds or other sensations.

    Certainly on a physical level, I don’t think there is much doubt that a soul doesn’t manifest. There was the famous experiment by a Christian scientist who said he could detect a change of 4 grams difference in a body’s weight when a person died, perhaps you can find more recent and in depth equivalents on the Internet.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the void Veteran

    I believe the book Emptiness by Guy Armstrong offers a more practical meditative approach to the topic. I haven't read it myself but it was the source for teachings for several months and a practical approach was the bulk of the presentation.

    https://www.wisdompubs.org/book/emptiness-0

    Buddhalotus
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    You might be interested in some of the earlier discussions that have been on the forum on not-self, I was just reading this thread and although it’s more a beginners level there are some interesting links.

    I am finding this in particular very interesting reading...

    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/selvesnotself.html

    Buddhalotus
  • BuddhalotusBuddhalotus Here and now Explorer
    edited December 2018

    @Flux said:
    Hello. I'd like support forming an understanding of the skandhas and replacing my basic, intellectual understanding of anattā with practical, experiential exploration. I'd be grateful for any shared knowledge or resources about where to start. Thanks.

    I have been pondering on the skandhas, anatta and dependent origination too after re-reading the Heart Sutta a couple of days ago.

    I always try to mix Theravada bibliography with Mahayana, because where the former gives me an intellectual understanding of the Dhamma, the latter helps me "see" with a more all-encompassing, even pragmatic, eye.
    Abhidhamma gets to the nitty-gritty of the cogs in the machinery, while Mahayana helps me see in terms of process, and flow of karma.

    I intellectually understand the skandhas as the parts that make up a conventional "me" that makes it easier for me to interact in a physical reality.
    We have much to discover yet about the workings of our subconscious mind, our brain, the process of perception, and the way we relate to other people like "me."
    There are too many questions and no substantial or satisfactory answers.
    So I find that getting too embroiled in intellectual ponderings of this sort does not get me too far down the cessation of dukkha path.
    While intellectually satisfactory, it keeps me gazing my own navel, engaged in a self-absorbed monologue.
    And we all know that Buddhism is not just an intellectual embellishment, but a path of practice.

    Anatta has also been explained in terms of interconnection and interbeing.
    I find this teaching easier to apply in the plane of experience and less intellectual, more practical.
    If I am able to understand that I am part of a whole, interconnected with the surrounding reality, the sentient beings around me, the universe, it is easier for me to make skillful decisions for the benefit of the whole, to upgrade from the monologue to a dialogue with the whole.

    Do we have a soul?
    Does Anatta imply we vanish into thin air?
    Is there a continuation?
    We don't quite know.

    But we are interconnected.
    How can we be of better service to the whole?
    How can we help each other better?
    At least for me, viewing Anatta in terms of interconnection triggers more possibilities of experiential Buddhist practice.

    Zazen1personFlux
  • paulysopaulyso usa Veteran

    how to be ok in flux with the actions all around us?our practice is to find the sweet spot--middle way--of rest inaction. so we carry on.buddha called that nibbana--tharavada.nirvana --in mahayana--with you.

  • paulysopaulyso usa Veteran

    i dont know the level of practice you have,but everyday is an expire-ence.so we buddhist try to observe our fluxuation aggregate component that has so much sequence of change and recombinate. not self abiding.it's the buddha's minutcha,detailed observation,within him.

    hope that help,fellow student.

    FluxBuddhalotus
  • OP, Stephen Batchelor gives a very simple and practical explanation of it. He says it's really not about anything mysterious or complex. It's simply about the fact, that as human beings, we're always growing and changing, so there's no point in identifying with any certain quality. No pint in getting ego-involved in a self-image, IOW. No point in allowing pride to become attached to qualities that may be ephemeral, in the long view. That's what it boils down to, is non-attachment to "self", or to one's view of oneself.

    Flux
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran
    edited December 2018

    @Flux said:

    @federica said:
    So what you mean is, you've got the theory - but how to actually incorporate it into practice, yes...?

    Correct. As well as a bit more depth to my understanding.

    Meditation on "Anatta"

    Fluxseeker242
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    It’s interesting that the Buddha himself refused to answer questions as to whether there was a self, or whether there was not one.

    "Then Vacchagotta the wanderer went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings and courtesies, he sat down to one side. As he was sitting there he asked the Blessed One, 'Now then, master Gotama, is there a self?' When this was said, the Blessed One was silent. 'Then is there no self?' The second time the Blessed One was silent. Then Vacchagotta the wanderer got up from his seat and left.
    "Then not long after Vacchagotta the wanderer had left, Venerable Ānanda said to the Blessed One, 'Why, Lord, did the Blessed One not answer when asked a question by Vacchagotta the wanderer?'"
    And here's the Buddha's response: "Ānanda, if I, being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self were to answer that there is a self, that would be conforming with those brahmans and contemplatives who are exponents of eternalism [the view that there is an eternal, unchanging soul]. If I, being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self were to answer that there is no self, that would be conforming with those brahmans and contemplatives who are exponents of annihilationism [the view that death is the annihilation of the self]. If I, being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self were to answer that there is a self, would that be in keeping with the arising of knowledge that all phenomena are not-self?"
    And Venerable Ānanda said, "No, Lord."
    Then the Buddha said, "And if I, being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self, were to answer that there is no self, the bewildered Vacchagotta would become even more bewildered: 'Does the self that I used to have now not exist?'"

    — SN 44.10

    Dakini
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    @Flux said:
    Hello. I'd like support forming an understanding of the skandhas and replacing my basic, intellectual understanding of anattā with practical, experiential exploration. I'd be grateful for any shared knowledge or resources about where to start. Thanks.

    What is seen through the eyes positioned in this head
    yet another strange phenomenon or so I have read

    The sense of smell is another wonder, with fragrances galore
    the nose does not chose what to smell or what to ignore

    Sense of taste is also interesting, bitter, savory, or sweet
    some tastes are unpleasant, whilst others are a treat

    And then there's what is heard, vibrations picked up from the air
    some are pleasant some displeasing, but who is there to care

    When I touch, I feel sensation through the softness of my skin
    a feeling so unreal.... and to explain ... where do I begin

    I know the feelings won't last... but I often think they will
    It is an interesting phenomenon when it comes to what and how I feel

    Perhaps it's just awareness observing this fluctuating state
    observing these five aggregates and their potential to create

    I'm aware that "I am" not permanent....but I often 'think' I am
    Especially when I'm happy, but then this too is just a scam

    This also goes for when I am sad, feelings come and then they go
    There's something I can't quite put my finger on, that always seems to know

    Flux
  • FluxFlux New
    edited December 2018

    Thank you for your valuable responses and resources which I'm starting to explore in detail. What I've taken away so far is to be wary about clinging to any particular view, to investigate impermanence as a whole and to frame anattā more skillfully in terms of interconnection.

    Buddhalotus
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    It would seem that to have experiential understand of the self or non self....is to make sense out of non sense ...Which will confuse the intellect no end.... I guess it's part of the intellect's job description ...to investigate...the Whos Whats Whens Wheres Hows & Whys...looking for answers to satisfy it's comfort zone of logic... However, after many attempts at trying to make sense of nonsense (Anatta) the intellect gives up the ghost and when this happens, all seems to fall into or out of (depending on how one looks at it) place..... for a while....but the moment the intellect starts up again seeking logical answers to an experience beyond words, so does doubt & confusion...and more questions... ( Hmm I guess carefully chosen sentences and words could describe Anatta, but couldn't provide experiential understanding.... only patience, and cushion time or something similar can do this)

    Well this is how "I" see things...But "I" have been known to be wrong....on more than one occasion...

    Awareness is fundamentally non-conceptual until thinking splits experience into subject and object...It is empty and so can contain everything, including thought...It is boundless..And amazingly...it is intrinsically knowing...(if you know what " I" mean ;) )

    Buddhalotus
  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited December 2018

    @Flux said:
    Thank you for your valuable responses and resources which I'm starting to explore in detail. What I've taken away so far is to be wary about clinging to any particular view, to investigate impermanence as a whole and to frame anattā more skillfully in terms of interconnection.

    These people have 'volunteer guides' to help the investigation
    http://www.liberationunleashed.com

    You can not think yourself out of the mind matrix, like Neo you have to see it for yourself. Are you prepared to meditate and confront your mind? If not you can start to slow the chatter ...

    Dependent origination is easily experienced when meditating or developing right concentration. Perhaps you want to be a Zenith?
    https://www.treeleaf.org

    You may end up lady gaga ...
    https://cundi.weebly.com/meditation.html

    Learn to meditate

  • Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness is practical in that it gives the necessary framework but gives practical meditations and suggestions. I'm still working on it myself but what I have said is my impression. It is written by Khenpo Tsultrim Gymamptso Rinpoche who even is in nifty wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khenpo_Tsultrim_Gyamtso_Rinpoche

  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran

    "To understand not-self, you have to meditate. If you only intellectualize, your head will explode. Once you understand not-self in your heart, the burden of life will be lifted." ~Ajahn Chah

    Intellectual understanding can only go so far. More thinking about it can only go so far. More reading about it can only go so far. To really understand it requires intuitive wisdom! Really understanding it, is itself, wisdom!

    So what you are really asking is how to gain wisdom!

    Dhammapada 282. Wisdom springs from meditation; without meditation wisdom wanes. Having known these two paths of progress and decline, let a man so conduct himself that his wisdom may increase.

    The Buddha realized Anatta by sitting under a tree. "Experiential exploration" is a silent and direct first hand observation of all that arises and passes away. Typically this is done by "sitting under a tree", just like the Buddha himself did. The more one does that, the more one realizes that there is nothing substantial behind any of those arisings. If there was, they would not just disappear so quickly and easily! The more one does that, the more one realizes that "I, me mine" is just another one of those arisings with nothing substantial behind it.

    The Buddhist path is said to be "Threefold Training". Sila, Samadhi and Prajna. The Samadhi part is where you find the Prajna. Prajna is the true liberator. And the Samadhi part is, practically speaking, sitting under a tree!

    lobster
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited December 2018

    Indeed...
    It has been pointed out many times (both here and elsewhere) that fully understanding and accepting the theory, reading books, noting references, swotting up on Suttas is actually of little intrinsic value if everything learnt is not put into practice.

    "Talking the Talk" is one thing. Walking the Walk, and implementing all the Buddha taught, is quite another.

    By all means, read the menu, but nobody can claim to be a world-class Gourmet, if they've never even tried the entree, let alone eaten the different courses...
    Sometimes, the best thing is to put the book down, and sit.

    Zazen1lobster
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    I am finding this in particular very interesting reading...

    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/selvesnotself.html

    It is in fact the set of lectures given by Thannisaro Bhikkhu on anatta during a meditation retreat, so it has some good practical pointers in it. I was reading this section of the fourth lecture, on skilful self view:

    In particular, however, the Buddha's instructions here teach the most skillful sense of self to help you on the path: a self that's always willing to learn. If your sense of pride or self-worth is built on the idea that you're already good, you'll have trouble learning, and trouble admitting mistakes. But if your pride or self-worth is built on the idea that you're always willing to learn, then it opens many possibilities for developing more skill. It's the best kind of pride there is, the most useful basis for skillful I-making and my-making.

    It’s good stuff, on how we often extend the self, how to develop a skilful idea of your own self, and to the deeper teaching of anatta beyond.

    BuddhalotusFluxlobster
  • This has addressed my request. Thank you all.

    ShoshinDakini
  • herbieherbie Explorer

    @Flux said:
    Hello. I'd like support forming an understanding of the skandhas and replacing my basic, intellectual understanding of anattā with practical, experiential exploration. I'd be grateful for any shared knowledge or resources about where to start. Thanks.

    Hello Flux

    The skandhas are the sphere of experience and anattā can have different meanings in different traditions since these have arisen in religious surroundings and struggled to establish themselves as more or less different from the pre-existing religions.

    In India where buddhism arose initially there had been religions that are nowadays subsumed under 'hinduism' and there's been the belief in an eternal self ('soul'). Besides that postulated 'eternal self' there is also the conventional self being expressed as 'I', 'my', 'mine' and 'myself'.

    Therefore several possibilities of understanding anattā can be found in buddhism:
    1. negation of 'eternal self' ('soul') but affirmation of conventional self
    2. negation of both, 'eternal self' ('soul') and conventional self
    3. negation of conventional self but affirmation of 'eternal self' ('soul')

    Option 3 may actually be understood as a hinduist view, especially prominent in Advaita vedanta and thus is generally not labelled as 'buddhist'. Nevertheless there are budhists who - more or less secretly - harbor such a view due to the fact that the Buddha hasn't very explicitly expressed the view of anattā.

    Why do I tell all this? I tell this because from my perspective it is thus: one's view conditions one's path (practices and conduct) and one's path conditions the result or the fruit and because I am understanding your intended 'practical, experiential exploration' as referring to the path.

    Therefore I think one should first decide what view of anattā makes sense for oneself considering one's intended result and one's own authentic individual experience and needs and based on this decision - which may also be preliminary - one should choose the appropriate path or methods of 'practical, experiential exploration'.

    Shoshin
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