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August 18, 2015


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Rahula is referring to "eternalism," the belief that “the ātman and the world are eternal (sassato attā ca loko ca). The Buddha rejected eternalism and the view that there is no ātman which is annihilationism.

We are to understand that the eternalist takes some particular aggregate among the Five Aggregates (skandhas, khandha), for example, form, to be the ātman and the world. This he believes to be “eternal, permanent.”

In a nutshell, the eternalist firmly believes the conditioned, temporal Five Aggregates, in some way, are eternal and permanent—the ātman for him equals the aggregates.

The source I am using for this is from Peter Masefield’s translation of The Udana Commentary starting on page 882:

“They declare material form to be the self and the world, stating such to be not only the self and the world but also eternal; they declare sensation ... perception ... the formations ... consciousness to be the self and the world, stating such to be not only the self and the world but also eternal.

This is not a rejection of ātman/self, not in the context of how we are rightly to regard our self and the Five Aggregates. Above all, the Buddha doesn’t want us to hold the view that our ātman is an aggregate. He teaches that all the Five Aggregates are, in fact, not the ātman/self or in Pali, anattā.

Monks, form is not the self (an-attā). What is not the self should be see as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self (ātman/attā).’
Feeling is not the self... Perception is not the self...Habitual tendencies are not the self...Consciousness is not the self. What is not the self should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self’” (S. iii. 22-23).

Buddhism is very simple: We are not the conditioned but rather we are unconditioned. But when we attach and cling to the conditioned (the Five Aggregates/the world) we become assimilated into the conditioned thus entering into samsara from which escape is difficult. The trick is to realize the unconditioned, i.e., nirvana (we attain nirvana in the very ātman/praty-ātman).

Dear Zennist,
have you read Dr Walpola Rahula's book "What the Buddha Taught"? If not, here is a link to pdf version: http://www.dhammaweb.net/books/Dr_Walpola_Rahula_What_the_Buddha_Taught.pdf
In the chapter 6 author gives rebuttal to those who claim that Buddha was supporting (or not denying) existence of the soul.

One of the many examples he gives:
"Continuing the discourse the Buddha said in the same sutta : 'O bhikkhus, when neither self nor anything pertaining to self can truly and really be found, this speculative view : "The universe is that Atman (Soul) ; I shall be that after death, permanent, abiding, everlasting, unchanging, and I shall exist as such for eternity" - is it not wholly and completely foolish?' Here the Buddha explicitly states that an Atman, or Soul, or Self, is nowhere to be found in reality, and it is foolish to believe that there is such a thing."

Many more examples and citations there.

My question is not whether Buddha was right or wrong about this, but rather whether there is a ground for claiming he was not rejecting Atman?

Thanks a lot for your blog, I find it to be very inspiring!

Well, don't you think the main difficulty is the way we identify with our thoughts, memories, opinions, and beliefs? We scratch our head and think "Well, duh. If I don't have those, what's left of me??" And what you're saying is atman is left. But we don't know what that is!

That's the basic problem of Buddhism...It's easier to focus on "changing ourselves" or reaching out to some god or 12-step program. Changing ourselves makes us even more egotistical, and reaching out makes us even more helpless. Get what I'm saying?

You get to the point where everything you do leads to Maya. Is the solution sitting still in a dark room for hours on end? Quitting ALL activities? Fasting? All these things will eventually produce "transcendence" or "religious experiences" or madness...none of which is non-regressing truth realization (enlightenment).

Talking about drivers and cars is just getting back into dualism--everyone has done that since the 17th century! So that's the natural way I think of myself: the brain is the CPU and the body is the car the brain drives around. I just want to add this: I've had my consciousness shut off--they can do that during surgical operations. Trust me...there wasn't anything there. They just clipped me out of time and then started me up like a watch an hour later. Everybody else was there. I wasn't. The operation took place in a wrinkle in time, the two surfaces of time coming together for me in less than a perceived second: Gone/awake. As fast as that. Where was I during that operation?

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