If we begin with a fucked-up mistaken understanding or definition of a specific term or notion we, more than often, end up in an intellectual cul-de-sac with no exit. We can only turn around and wonder what went wrong. In the worst case, we will try to argue our way out of the cul-de-sac, but to no avail. Buddhists do this in spades when it comes to the notion of self and non-self which is part of the reason why modern Buddhism is not really Buddhism having lost its transcendent message.
A recent example of this I found in the business world. I hope it serves to highlight the problem. In this particular example, the problem is between Apple Inc. and Wall Street analysts over what “innovation” actually means. The latter seem to be fomenting the opinion that Apple Inc. is no longer innovative. But if you look at the differences between the terms "invent" and "innovate" in light of their respective definitions, it becomes apparent that Wall Street analysts are terribly confused.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, invent means,
To find out in the way of original contrivance; to create, produce, or construct by original thought or ingenuity; to devise first, originate (a new method of action, kind of instrument, etc.). The chief current sense.
On the other hand, innovate means,
To bring in or introduce novelties; to make changes in something established; to introduce innovations.
As the reader can see, invention and innovation are two different ideas. If we begin with the invention of the Wright brothers motor powered airplane, it is not quite the same as the long history of aircraft innovation which followed the Wright brothers, that has produced the SR-71 "Blackbird" or the B-2 Spirit (also known as the Stealth Bomber).
Looking at the field of electronics there is a marked difference between invention and innovation when we look at the television, for example. Beginning in 1927 with Philo T. Farnsworth's invention of the Image Dissector camera to the present day High-definition television (HDTV), the chief difference between the two is with innovation. This also applies to Ed Roberts who can be credited with inventing the personal computer. Subsequent to Ed Roberts' Altair 8800 personal computer there has been a lot of innovation in the personal computer which has been compressed into the smartphone.
From this we can say that Apple Inc. does, in fact, do a lot of innovating which should not be confused with inventing. The Wall Street analysts, however, are clearly confused in this matter who mistakenly assume that innovation is invention in the criticism of Apple Inc.
When it comes to Buddhism, the same confusion is present only in different terms. In the case of Buddhism, it is the confusion between attâ/âtman (self) and anattâ/anâtman (non-self or lit. not the self). Buddhist clergy and some scholars, not to mention the average run-of-the-mill Buddhist, appear to believe that anâtman or non-self is some kind of mysterious state of non-being or the same, it is the perfect state of egolessness that the Buddha taught is the ideal state as compared with Hinduism’s âtman. This view is almost laughable. It reflects a profound misreading of the Buddha’s discourses and what he really taught.
In the many discourses of the Buddha what is not the self or anattâ/anâtman is the five khandha/skandha (aggregates) consisting of material shape, feeling, perception, habitual tendencies and consciousness. These five aggregates are not only not the self or anâtman there are also impermanent and suffering. In addition, they belong to the Buddhist devil, Mara! When a modern day Buddhist says the Buddha taught anâtman they are making an untrue assertion. The Buddha only taught that our psychophysical body is not the self or anâtman. The authentic anâtman doctrine teaches that the five khandha/skandha are not the self or anattâ/anâtman. We are to abandon desire for what is anâtman (S. iv. 49)—not for what is the âtman.
Turning to the self or attâ/âtman, it is the first-person that instrinsically transcends the five khandha/skandha. To behold it, which is nirvana, means to have completely abandoned desire for what causes suffering, namely, the aggregates which are anâtman.