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The Connection Between Atta and Dukkha
Buddhist Analysis of Human Experience and the Ways to Transcend Unsatisfactoriness

Bhikkhuni Dhammanandā
(Ven. Pham. T. Minh Hoa)

Colombo, Sri Lanka 2007

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Chapter VIII. Conclusion

 As we have seen throughout the thesis, Buddhist analysis do not serve the purpose of metaphysical enquiries, but rather for a better understanding of human natures through empirical observations. The analytical and synthetic methods applied in Buddhist path is to help to get beyond ordinary perceptions which only reveal the ‘veiled reality’[1]. These methods help to see the reality (dukkha) and to identify the cause(s) of unsatisfactory experiences (dukkhasamudaya), thereupon to transcend them by practicing the ‘Middle Way’ (magga) which enables us to be at peace (nibbāna or niroddha) with whatever there is (yathābhūtaṃñāṇadassanaṃ). The systematic trainings in Buddhist ways serves only the purpose of crossing over the ocean of samsāra or the predicament of existence by seeing correctly and by discerning the true nature of experiences which will result in a power to remain imperturbable in the midst of changes and uncertainties of life. This purpose is succinctly expressed by the Buddha in a sermon named “The Parable of Water Snake”. In this discourse, the Buddha said “my teaching is comparable to a raft for the purpose of crossing over, not for holding on”[2]. This famous statement proves that Buddhist ways in their pristine forms are free from dogmatism.

I. Suññatā in Daily Living and in Relationships

A Mahāyana commentary on the Heart Sutra writes: In order to become accustomed to viewing persons and phenomena as selflessly, one (should) becomes accustomed to not finding any abiding self by investigating or examinating the minute particles[3] of all internal and external phenomena. As a result, when the mind is concentrated (lit. is placed in meditative equipoise – samāhita), it does not observe or conceive of any thing. When one has developed the technique of cultivating the mind for a prolonged period, one is said to be in a state of meditative equipoise capable of observing the clear and joyous mind[4]. At the time of subsequent attainment, all phenomena are observed to be like illusions, like dreams, likes mirages, like echoes, like the reflection of the moon in water...Hence it is said in the Heart Ṥūtra: “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Emptiness is none other than form; form is none other than emptiness.” The wisdom that enables one to see in this way is termed Vajrapāṇi or a diamond-cutter- wisdom in the text, implying that only this most capable of cutters can cut off the most tenacious tendency of clinging to self-identity in all experience, whether to the internal personal components (pudgala) or to the external objects of experiences (dharmā).[5]

However, in daily living, merely grasping at the empty nature of phenomena does not necessarily prevent one from reacting in an egoistic way. We have seen in Chapter II and III how personality and ego have come about through interaction with one’s environment. If there is really emptiness of an unchanging self in one’s personality, why does one constantly think, feel and act as though one has a self to protect and preserve? Egomaniacs react to the slightest disturbance and are aroused by fear and anger due to the slightest sign of external threatening. They jump up with hope and feel flattered by gain, praise, fame, pleasure, etc., which are different forms of self-enhancement. “Such impulses are instinctual, automatic, pervasive, and powerful. They are completely taken for granted in daily life.”[6] In Chapter IV, we see how Buddhism analyses personal components into different groups and shows that they are constructed and conditioned (saṅkhārā); however, mere intellectual knowledge of this no-self nature of phenomena would not exempt one from irritation or greedily grasping on to one’s very own human experience. Intellectuals have, as we have seen in chapter on “soul theory”, got around the dilemma of an abiding and integral self or soul in changing and conditioning personality by proposing various definitions, but none of these accounts would in any way explain or solve our very basic reactional behaviors and prejudicial tendencies in our daily life. This is observed by a modern meditation master as follows:

Introspection shows us the difficulties in making the self solid and secure. In fact, this is such a burden that we cannot be deeply happy. We can be pleasurably excited but complete happiness is not possible with a view which needs constant reinforcement. We are not satisfied with telling ourselves how wonderful and cleaver we are. We need another person to reinforce and support this view. The bigger our self-image is, the easier it gets knocked down [...] [7]

Some modern psychologists have the idea that Buddhist ways are trying to depersonalize this process. Western psychotherapy, beginning with Freud, analyses personality into three parts: the id (instinctual drives), the ego (I-consciousness) and the super ego (the ideal I). Suffering, according to the Freudian view, is caused by the conflicts between these three. To alter the suffering that is caused by not having coped well with one’s life- circumstances, the western way tries to build up a solid personality, to make a strong ego, fortifying it and making it defendable even to the extent that it becomes aggressive and detestable. The limitations of western psychotherapy lie within the theory which sees that ego is something solid and needs to be strengthened; also in its methods, it looks for alternation between options.

A new school having a different approach to that of Freud has emerged within psychoanalytic theory, that of object relations theory. In this theory, for example, Fairbairn goes so far as to re-conceptualize the concept of motivation into object relations terms; for Fairbairn the basic motivating drive of humans is not the pleasure principle but the need to form relationships.[8] However, looking deeply, we can see that the need to form relationships is just an urge within to seek security and happiness through relationships; and the self, in this context, shaped itself while complying with the need for security. Does this method offer one the opportunity to realize that what we normally call “myself” or “me” is just a set of ‘object relations’? It is observed and criticized by some modern psychologists as follows:

Troubled patients who see an object relation therapist learn to explore their minds, behavior, and emotion in terms of object relations – they come to see their reaction in terms of internalized agents. Does this, we wonder, lead them to question their basic sense of self altogether? [...] A succession object relations analysis, like any other analysis, is designed to lead him to question, “Isn’t it odd that I am so zealously pursuing my object relations and my comfort when all I am is a set of object relations schemes? What is going on?” In more general terms, it is apparent that in object relations analysis, like other contemplative traditions, has discovered the contradiction between the lack of a self that analysis discovers and our on going sense of self. It is not, however, apparent that psychoanalysis in the form of object relations theory has faced, or even fully acknowledged, this contradiction. Rather, object relations theory appears to accept the basic motivation (the basic grasping) of the on going sense of self at face value and employs analytic discoveries about the disunity of the self to cater to the demands of the on going sense of self. Because object relations psychoanalysis has not systematically addressed this basic contradiction – the lack of a unitary self in experience versus the on going sense of self-grasping – the open-end quality that is possible in analysis, though present in all psychoanalysis and particular in object relation therapy, is limited.[9]

Thus, psychoanalysis is just a young science attempting to seek a way out of the dilemma of the predicament of existence, though its insight has come very near to the Buddhist analysis. The limitation lies in the very view that a human being is an entity, and therefore, instigates the struggle to demonstrate the existence of that very self which one firmly believes in. For psychoanalysis, the aim is to set up a compromise, stabilization, a status quo, which is acceptable to the ego, and so to return to a so called “normal” state. It is a question of finding a balance between the impulses being played out in the ego and what is socially acceptable.[10] This struggle inevitably brings forth many discomforts and unsatisfactory outcomes as they have been depicted in Chapter III, “On Dukkha” in Buddhist terms.

On the contrary, Buddhist theory postulates that ego is something fabricated or constructed and it does not need to be built up, or to defense for. From a Buddhist perspective, the ego (atta) is a dart or a disease, and craving and clinging to the concept of an abiding ego is the cause of all suffering. From “I” a sense of ‘mine’ and ‘myself’ comes into being; and this self-consciousness gives rise to selfishness. Out of selfishness issue defilements (kilesa) which increase one’s latent tendencies or dispositions (anusaya kilesa). These dispositions ooze out into impure thoughts, speech and actions which are governed by an ego-centric attitude (āsava). Now kilesas are afflictions that are constantly burning and fuming within the person who carries them. Āsavas are kilesa in action: they are oozing out through mental, verbal and physical channels. Anusaya kilesa are germs or seeds that are waiting for a chance to be manifested, to come into being. They are all unnecessary burdens which an ordinary man involuntarily carries on without realizing as much. In short, the five clinging aggregates are the burdens that are the cause of all one’s unsatisfactory experiences. A serious practitioner of Buddhism should be able to perceive the process of identification with experiences due to the clinging tendency that is governed by these unwholesome qualities. On realizing the futile attempt of the ego to solidifying one’s experiences into an identity, one gives it up and thereby, can (at times or finally) be at peace with whatever there is. The text reads:

Bhikkhus, ‘I am’ is a conceiving; ‘I am this’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall not be’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be formless’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be percipient’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be non-percipient’ Is a conceiving... Conceiving is a disease, a tumor, a dart. By overcoming all conceiving, one is called a sage at peace. And the sage at peace is not born, does not die; he is not shaken and does not yearn. For there is nothing present in him by which he might be born. Not being born, how could he be aged? Not aging, how could he die? Not dying, how could he be shaken? Not being shaken, for what should he yearn?[11]

The tendency of conceiving or identifying with one’s experience is a process that inevitably leads to stress. For example in the case of anger, according to the psychologists, anger is often a secondary emotion. Frequently it arises on the back of other emotions such as fear, hurt or grief. When the Buddha admonished someone to give up anger, most of the references are to anger that aroused out of personal pride or attachment to an idea of “myself” as a solid identity. This anger creates a strong resistance to criticism and makes it difficult for the person to change, or to be open to a more positive way of thinking and dealing with others or facing with undesirable events. Anger or resentment is used by the ego to protect its identity. People who are caught up in anger and resentment are described as being unwilling to be corrected. The Vinaya books of the Tipitaka and Dhammapāda commentary give many case studies of this kind of personality. Examples are Ven. Chanda, the former Prince Siddattha’s charioteer, the monk Tissa, the son of the Buddha’s maternal aunt, or the nun Candakāli and the nun Thullananda (Vin.iii). They all built a very strong sense of identity so that whenever something threatened (in their distorted imagination) their identity, it triggered an outburst of anger. The expression of anger is a means to protect one’s self-identity, and it is the self protection against experiencing grief and pain associated with stress that produces by ego-centric attitude. If one lives in a troubled times, one builds one’s identity as a protection against the hurtful feelings that arise from unavoidable events. At the same time, those very uncertainties of life make it inevitable that one’s identity feels threatened and reacts in an angry or defensive way (ayonisomanasikāra).

In the chapter on motivation, we have seen how one generates kamma by one’s reactions to different circumstances. For instance, some times one feels humiliated by certain defects in one’s appearance or one’s character. With an intolerant attitude, one harbors feelings of shame, self-hatred and frustration and thus make one an angry person or someone with low-self-esteemed. Thus one involuntarily adds more negative qualities to oneself (which is merely an assembling of constructed aggregates), and this tendency might also make a hostile, and uneasy impression on others who have deliberately or unintentionally caused one to be conscious of one’s defects. This we have discussed under the theme of ayonisomanasikāra in Chapter VI.

According to Buddhist analysis, taṇhā, craving and upadāna, attachment is the main cause of unhappiness and discontentment in the world. With a deep penetration into the emotion of anger, we can see that anger also arises when one’s greed or craving is not gratified. One feels hurt when the (animate) object of one’s craving does not respond in the way one projected. Or one feels frustrated when one can not get the (inanimate) object of one’s craving. The inability to get what one wants is the cause of most of one’s frustration, fear and grief. Thus, anger is a secondary emotion springing up from taṇhā and upādāna when one’s craving and attachment is obviously rejected. Many ordinary people can see anger as an unwanted feeling that causes stress, but most of them can not see its cause, that is craving. This craving, again, is rooted in the view of personality (sakkāyadiṭṭhi) that has been solidified by identifying with one’s experience.

The self-centered tendency and an ambiguous feeling of an “I” that separates from the rest will still linger until the last stage on the path (Arahanta magga). The conceit implyied in the expression: ahaṃkāra and mamaṃkāra has entirely disappeared in the saint. In other words, in the purely experience of life (suddha dhamma), there is no ‘I-making” (ahaṃkāra), nor is ‘mine-making’ (mamaṃkāra). However, this realization comes about due to systematic training in insight meditation.

A doctor’s prescription is not enough to cure a sick person, and, in just the same way, a purely theoretical approach will not make us better human beings. Any spiritual move we make should have two purposes: to perfect ourselves and to contribute something to others. The modalities of spiritual life vary greatly from one tradition to another, but both of these criteria need to be fulfilled.[12]

The inability to distance oneself as a functioning cognizing faculty from the observable events is a habit energy (saṅkhāra) that has ignorance as its root. This habit energy pushes one into actions and reactions (kamma) that further entangle one in samsaric experience. Seeing that ignorance is the beginning of the whole process (of becoming), the khandha doctrine proposes an analytical method through which one can objectively observe one’s own experience. Contemplation on khandha enables the practitioner to distance himself from the cognitive and emotive process at different stages of the interplay of his own personal components as well as in interaction with people, events and circumstances. To see one’s body in the body merely as a material object, to see feeling in feeling as sensation and emotion only, not ‘I’ or ‘me’, to see perception, dispositions and consciousness as mere facets of one’s mentality is not in any way depersonalization of personality. This is accurately articulated by an American psychologist as follows:

The teaching of non-self does not point the way to the martyrship self-sacrificing position. In the Buddhist paradigm, such behavior builds a negative identity and a negative world view. In this way it is just as much of the product of habit energy and attachment as the path of selfish indulgence. The Buddhist approach is neither to build nor to abase the self. It is to recognize the reality of our existential position in relationship with the world. It recognizes one’s dependency on conditions, and especially upon the physical environment. Who you are depends upon the context in which you live. Humans are dependently originated and conditioned by events and circumstance. With events and circumstance, people change. The teaching of non-self is not a denial of the existence of the person as a complex entity functioning in a complex world. Non-self theory place people in dynamic encounter with one another and with the environment they inhabit.[13]

As we have seen in Chapter IV (Khandha Doctrine), the body component is ‘upadinna –born of kamma’- the result of one’s actions and reactions in the past. The material part of one’s personality is maintained by food called gross nutriment in Buddhist texts. The feeling component is derived from that very sentient body through the contact with the external world via sense-impressions. Although conditioned by the past kamma, however, at the same time feelings might arouse attachment or anger. The perception aggregate which depends on feeling, born of contact, from a process that prepares for reaction (cetanā) or volitional formation (saṅkhārakkhandha). Consciousness, at the core of personality is what makes the body animated and gives rise to a (false) sense of continuance. Solid food, contact, volition and consciousness are four kinds of nutriments sustaining a sense of ego or self.[14] The knowledge of aggregates (khandha) and their originations enable Buddhist practitioners to step aside in order to observe them objectively. This method is termed ‘contemplation on the five aggregates’, forming a part of Dhammānupassanā. Contemplation on the aggregates, according to the Buddhist texts, leads to the destruction of all taints (āsava), and ultimately to liberation from all burdens of life.[15]

The earlier teaching of the Buddha avoids discussing on metaphysical issues concerning human existence, instead, it offers an empirical solution called ‘insight’, an introspective observation that enables the practitioner to realize his or her personality as a constructed and conditioned process and seeks ways to amend, improve and refine it. We have also identified that attachment and clinging to the personal components or aggregates (khandhas) are the causes of suffering. Khandhas are unsatisfactory by themselves in the sense that they are artificially constructed; depending on many factors which in the absolute sense are uncontrollable. They are conditioned phenomena (saṅkhārā dhammā) and thereby have to undergo change which is stressful. Attachment and clinging to what is changeable and unstable intensify that actual unsatisfactoriness caused by change. Through meditation, we can see that most of our sufferings are unnecessarily created by our unwise reactions, for instance, by our will in wanting to change things or people that we do not like, or, on the other hand, by our not wanting to change things or people that we are pleased with. These are all emotional reactions. From these analysis, Buddhist way offers the gradual development, suggests an alternation of the object of attachment, from a gross to a more refined one. The method as it is proposed in the jhāna process is the evolution of consciousness that is described in many suttas such as Poṭṭhapāda sutta (DN).

In response to different human dispositions, the Buddhist texts offer different methods, each suitable for a particular tendency. A text in Aṅguttara Nikāya reads as follows:

There is a development of concentration that leads to a pleasant dwelling here and now; there is a development of concentration that leads to obtaining knowledge and vision; there is a development of concentration that leads to mindfulness and clear comprehension; and there is a development of concentration that leads to the destruction of the taints.[16]

The first device refers to jhāna attainments on the path of the gradual refinement of consciousness. The “pleasant dwelling here and now” corresponds to the four stages of jhānic absorption. This achievement is not a uniquely Buddhist technique but rather applicable as a tool to refine the mind from the gross occupations or disturbances known as the hindrances (nīvaraṇa) on the spiritual path. The second device, which in Pāli is termed ñāṇadassana, according to the commentary on the text (AA), is the divine eye which through meditating on light perception (aloka saññā) becomes a miracle thereby enabling one to see those objects normally invisible to the physical eyes. The third device is the contemplation on feelings, perceptions and thoughts as they arise, persist and fade away. The fourth method is the contemplation on the five clinging aggregates, a way of stepping aside to see the rise and fall of each phenomenon in an unemotional and non-reactive way. It is noteworthy to restate that only this last method leads to liberation from all suffering, whereas the three preceding methods offered as different means, and they might lead to some special attainment(s) but not to final liberation (nibbāna).

At the intellectual level, as we have discussed in the saññākkhandha section and partly in the Chapter on Motivation, it is perception (saññā) which leads to view and the observer to be likely to get caught up in one or another dimension of his or her cognitive process. The more subjective evaluation, the narrower the view is. Holding fast to one’s view, thinking that what one perceives is the only thing and anything else is false (idaṃ saccaṃ aññaṃ moghaṃ) is the ground for futile arguments. Different views also lead to conflicts, disputes and wars. On one occasion, the Buddha said that if sensual pleasure is the cause of conflict among householders, it is their particular view that causes conflict among the recluses (samaṇā) and priests (brahmaṇā). Householders are more inclined to sensations and emotions associated with feelings, however, the spiritual seekers, philosophers and intellectuals are more inclined to holding on to a certain view, either derived from metaphysical speculation or empirical observation. In order to counteract with the influence of a view, a right attitude (sammādiṭṭhi) and right intention (sammā saṅkappa) are offered in the Buddhist way to deliverance. In the last stage of the path, it is right knowledge (sammāñāṇa) and right liberation (sammā vimutti) which can facilitate the transcending of all false emotional as well as intellectual inclinations.

II. The Role of Samatha and Vipassanā in Buddhist Methods of the Mind’s Training

As we have seen in many classic discourses of the Buddha on meditation, Vipassanā is often prescribed after one has already achieved a certain degree of the stability of the mind through other techniques to obtain concentration. A Kammaṭṭhāṇa is a subject of meditation employing to attain calm and tranquility of the mind. Kammaṭṭhāṇa is literally translated as ‘the ground for working’ or ‘the place to work’. The Visuddhimagga accounts as many of them as 40 kammaṭṭhāṇa traditionally used in Buddhist contemplative circles. In Chapter VII, we have mentioned a few of them such as Mindfulness of Breathing, the Four Sublime States, and contemplation on the repulsive aspects of the body, etc. Each kammaṭṭhāna serves a certain purpose, and as a tool to achieve inner calm, each leading to a certain level of meditative experiences. In relation to the different methods stated in the above quoted text (AN), the Calm-meditation or samatha method is termed “happy abiding here and now” (diṭṭhadhammasukhavihāra). There is, however, some controversy around the question whether or not Vipassanā or Insight meditation can be practiced without Samatha? This question has, indirectly addressed in the second part of this thesis, “The Buddhist Way to Transcend Unsatisfactoriness”, herein, some further documents will presented to address the subject throughout.

In Sallekkha sutta (M.8), it is stated that the practice of calm abiding (jhānas or samatha) alone is not sufficient for getting beyond the predicament of existence[17]. The practice recommended in this discourse is the discernment of kusalākusala kammā, skillful and unskillful actions manifested in thought, speech and bodily actions, then, make a determination not to follow the unskillful course of living. This, certainly, is done with the assistance of insight knowledge, since meditative attainments alone might give way to unskillful karma such as conceit, arrogant and vanity. The text reads:

[...]He identifies with the different levels in jhāna up to nevasaññā-na saññā, and on account of these Dhamma he praise himself and disapproving others. He is called asappurisa or unwise person. The Blessed One has said we should not cling to even the sphere of space.Whatever we imagine it turns to be otherwise.[18]

In another discourse of the Majjhima Nikāya, Upakkilesa Sutta (M.138), the Buddha warned venerable Anuruddha and his Dhamma Brothers not to attach to certain imperfect insight such as aura (obhāsa) and vision (dassana) of various shapes and form that they perceived in the course of their meditation. Visuddhimagga mention ten kinds of upakkilesa or subtle defilements that arise in the process of insight meditation such as seeing light, feeling un-weighted as if floating, etc. They are all considered as the obstacles on the right path. However, without acquiring a certain degree of concentration, insight knowledge is impossible, for an un-concentrated or a distracted mind is an unsuitable tool to examine itself. In general practice, Vipassanā is recommended after one has become acquaintance with other forms of meditation such as Buddhanussati, recollection of the excellent qualities of the Buddha, Metta bhāvanā, the cultivation of unbounded love for all beings, Asubha bhāvanā, the contemplation on the repulsive aspects of human body, and lastly, but not least important, a kammaṭṭhāna that give meditative experience(s), often the mindfulness of breathing. The first three themes of practice are called “protective meditation” hence it prepares the meditator’s mind to feel security and hence, more confidence in practice. The latter is for the purpose of establishing the mind in a more stable, concentrative state, making it more powerful tool for discernment. Thus Vipassanā practice needs a lot of requirement and assistance from other methods to make it more successful and effective.[19] In practice, these two methods should go hand in hand in order to achieve a desirable result.

Some texts[20] mention that there may be attainment of liberation purely through seeing correctly (sukkha-vipassakā), and the method leads to this state is termed Vipassanā-yānika or the Arahanhood through insight meditation. The other alternative method is termed Samatha-yānika or the technique that applies tranquility meditation as the basis for insight knowledge into reality of existence. This method enables the practitioner to attain different levels of jhāna (jhāna-lābhi) which allow him or her to master physic powers.

When the Buddha was asked to give a shortest instruction for practice culminating in enlightenment here and now, he answered:

Herein you should practice: When you see something, there is only seen (diṭṭha diṭṭhamatta); when you hear, there is only heard (sute sutamatta) when you sense (smell, taste, and touch), there is only sensed (mute mutamatta); when you know, there is only known (viññāti viññātamutta).[21]

This instruction is considered an accomplished vipassanā practice in which each experience is lived up and made it ends there. It enables the meditator not to be caught up in or affected by what is being experienced. This is a way out of self-entangled, structured (nippapañca) experience in the salāyatana model of human experience.

III. The Integration of Wisdom and Compassion in Buddhist Practice

There is currently a debate surrounding the idea that one must be ‘somebody’ before one can be ‘nobody’[22]. This reminds of a Dhamma discussion in ITBMU, Yangon, Myanmar, when we posed a question on the Anatta doctrine, Ven. Dr Revata Dhamma answered: “Before you know what is anatta, you must know what is atta first!” The topic of “being somebody” we have discussed in the chapter ‘on Dukkha’, and “what is the Self?” in the chapter on ‘Soul Theories’. The question posed here concerns whether “there is a true compassion without breaking through the self-boundaries?” Actually, this question have partially and indirectly been answered in the chapter ‘on Motivation’, so now we will continue dwelling on the topic from a different perspective.

Wisdom is defined in the early Buddhist commentary works, is the analytical knowledge to discern the momentary of experience[23], and thereby, the wise are disillusioned with the belief in a permanent and unchanging self or soul presiding over one’s experiences of life. More than 2500 years ago, in the Brahmajalasutta (DN, 1), the Buddha had stated that theories, like self or selves, are constructions based on one’s personal experience but misconstrued as universal principles. Due to the subjective contents of these kinds of constructions, they are useful in some contexts, but might prove harmful in another and therefore, whether there is self or not-self is a matter to be personally experienced wisely for oneself (paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhi). The analytical knowledge of discernment on the nature of dependent arising is experienced by a practitioner as follows:

This Wheel of Becoming consists in the occurrence of formation, etc., with ignorance, etc., as the respective reasons. Therefore it is devoid of a maker supplementary to that, such as a Brahmā conjectured thus, ‘Brahmā the great, the highest, the Creator’ (D.I, 18), to perform the function of maker of the round of rebirths; and it is devoid of any self as an experiencer of pleasure and pain conceived thus, ‘this self of mine is that speaks and feels’ (cf.M.I,3). This is how it should be understood to be without any maker or experiencer.[24]

In Chapter IV, we have dealt with the topics concerning human experiences in terms of khandhas and how the identification with these impersonal processes as “myself”, a permanent soul or an unchanging personality or the ego-consciousness, only resulted in unsatisfactory experiences. In other words, these stress, pain, and suffering ranging from personal conflicts to interpersonal conflicts are all due to attachment and clinging to a fabricated self that is conceived of in terms of the five aggregates (pañcupādānakkhandha- dukkhā). In other passages, this fabricated self is also named sakkāyadiṭṭhi or the self-view.[25] Chapter V, the Anatta doctrine offers an intellectual approach on the main topic of doctrinal controversies. In Chapter VI we have also discussed of the self-motive and the process of becoming in relation to the Law of Dependent Arising (paṭiccasamuppāda). Sakkāya diṭṭhi- the belief in a permanent and unchanging self that abides in or presides over the five aggregates is eliminated at the first stage of sainthood (sotapannamagga) together with all the impulses that prompt one to commit gross offences that result in the rebirth in the lower worlds.

A self-imposed boundary prevents us from acting promptly or in a spontaneous way when it comes to deal with others and even with ourselves in relationships. This state of rigidity due to a self-centered attitude and an egomaniacal habitual tendency is neatly described by a Buddhist practitioner, Mathew Ricard, in his recent article thus: “We get wrapped up in the game of attraction and repulsion, from which arise desire, anger, pride, jealousy, and lack of discernment. These detrimental states of mind destroy our serenity and prevent us from opening ourselves to others, enclosing us in a prison of self-centeredness.” [Buddhism & Science, p. 265]. The notion of a permanent and unchanging self presiding over the five aggregates or the ego-consciousness desperately inserting its controlling power into all activities is the result of an erroneous view that rooted in ignorance. Realizing this fundamental ignorance simultaneously breaks through the self-imposed boundaries, and the person is said to be liberated from ignorance, one of the three doors to enter Nibbāna via the wisdom of discernment (paññāvimutti).

Returning to my earlier statement “The main reason for this work is to present a proposal for a new approach to Buddhist studies inhering in the examination of doctrinal points from the psychological approach, while putting texts in their contexts to avoid dogmatism; the present work is also an attempt to bridge the gap between purely theoretical approach and actual practice.”, so far, my work has been providing as much as possible the textual evidences and analyses on these texts to certify my claim on the original contribution to the field. This is rather a very hard-taking work for these ideas are not in any way a new interpretation of early Buddhism. For example, the concept of Anatta and Sunyāta (on Anatta, Chapter V) should be understood in the connection with the doctrine of Dependent Origination (Paṭiccasamuppāda). From these considerations, it compels me to incline on the practical approach, even at the risk of having some personal assertions in an academic work. And to avoid repeated other’s works on the same subjects, my approach is distinctively psychological one (e.g., p. 76, 80-2, 112-4, 132, etc).

As we have seen in the introduction chapter, page 22, the complaints of two prominent writers, one as an authoritative meditation master and another, a well known scholar of Buddhism that the gap between the intellectual approach to Buddha’s teaching and its ineffectiveness to reduce the suffering in one’s daily life. Throughout this thesis, my concerns are this practical observation: how to make many invaluable ideas of the Buddha relevance to our daily life. Chapter IV, Khandha Doctrine, and Chapter VI, on Motivation are such attempts to analyze the doctrinal terms to see their relevancies on the framework of human mind and body. Another breakthrough is in Chapter VII, Buddhist Ways to Transcend Unsatisfactoriness and many points in the conclusion chapter have dealt with this matter in Buddhist circles.

To answer the question ‘What is self or soul (atta) and why we need to know it?’, in the second chapter, the ‘Soul’ Theories, has shown the futile attempts of many thinkers in their speculations on the nature of a permanent ‘self’ or soul that presiding and will its power over human experiences (p.35). The diversity and even conflicting descriptions on the ontological validity of such a soul or ‘self’ reflects the mere speculative and subjective nature of these theories. Beside, none of these theories offers an effective way to deal with the problem of saṃsāra and the subject of dual notion in human experiences remains unsolved. This paves the way for the Buddha to articulate the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths in which human experiences are described in term of unsatisfactory facts while avoiding risking any speculation on a permanent self or soul. Two sections on the ethical value and the social application of the Anatta doctrine in chapter five also make a contribution to this search of practical approach in Buddhist studies.

The third chapter, on dukkha, is to examine what the Buddha, as presented in the Pāli Nikāyas, actually means about suffering. Dukkhā are closely link with the notion of a permanent self (atta) or the struggle to create and maintain an identity amidst the changing world. Through examining the concept of dukkha and its possible causes, we come to see that unsatisfactory experiences are due to a willful blindness that resists changes to protect one’s misapprehended identity (p. 79-80). Herein we also realize that the Buddha did not make a theory of suffering as an inhering nature of existence and avoiding talking on the unnecessary ‘original sin’ or the ultimate cause of one’s existence, but to reveal the nature of conditioned experiences as unsatisfactory (p. 71). My interesting finding in this topic is some oldest tests testifying the birth of a personality (attabhava) is within a thought of identification with conditioned experiences as “I” or “mine” (p. 65-6, 90). This explains why the Buddha explained human experiences in terms of five aggregates of clinging (pacuppādānakkhandha) as the fact of unsatisfactoriness (sankhittena pañcuppādānakkhandha’pi dukkha). This finding proves the correct Buddhist meditation practice, especially the Satipaṭṭhāna method we have seen in Chapter VII, p. 248, 251-4, and in the last chapter, p. 280-2, 285, 291.

Chapter VII presents the traditional and formal approach termed the Noble Eightfold Path which falls into a systematic scheme named Tisso-sikkhā- The Higher Training in morality, concentration, and wisdom. This chapter also focuses on the Vipassanā technique- a unique approach termed paññāvimutti in Buddhism. The Buddha had, in many contexts, stated that the path of cultivation for a healthy personality to attain enlightenment is a gradual path. Although these are cases of sudden realization recorded in Buddhist literatures[26], however, the practitioners must continue on their way, carrying on the spirit of awakening until achieving final realization. According to the Theravāda tradition, the initial awakening only frees one from three kinds of fetters, i.e., the belief in individuality or sakkāyadiṭṭhi in Pāli, doubt (vicikiccha) as regards to the path or the method leading to enlightenment, and the blind faith in dogmatic observances (sīla-bbata-parāmāsa). It is especially significant that this kind of awakening ideally has the effect of terminating the individual’s tenacious tendency towards of egomania which drives men to act in the most unskillful ways and still blindly belief that it’s alright for him/her to pursue his/her goal(s) even at the expense of others. When this unskillful tendency is finally eradicated, the partly enlightened ones (sekkhā or in this case, a Sotāpanna, the Stream-enterer) are not subject to the compulsive behaviors that incite a person to commit offences which lead to their downfall or to rebirth in a lower world or in subhuman states. To break through the Sakkāyadiṭṭhi or the personality-belief is to be disillusioned with what is normally belief in as ‘me’ or ‘myself’, a continuous and separate entity that accounts for all one’s experiences in life. This realization makes it possible to see that consciousness as well as other personal components are not a separate entities endowed with their own existence, which may correspond to a supervising “ego” or a “soul”, or a “person”. This discovery has a profound impact on one’s perception of the world; it turns one’s out-look to a different direction and enables one to experience in a new dimension. This phenomenon is expressed as “change of lineage – gotrabhū in Pāli literatures. The person no longer possesses an ordinary mind as s/he has entered into the lineage of the noble persons (ariya puggala).

A Sotāpanna (the Stream-enterer), or Sakadāgāmi (‘Once Returner), or a Anāgāmi (the non-returner), or an Arahant,[27] or even a Pacceka Buddha, or a Sammāsam Buddha is, by contrast, considered ‘somebody’, the Prajñā paramitā literatures agued! For this reason, they stated, except the ‘all-round-Enlightened One’ (Sammā sambuddha), all the former are, too a certain extent, still acting out of selfishness. This criticism is not necessary a logical conclusion. How can one acts in a selfish way when one has realized that there is not, in any way, a persisting “I” or “me” to be served first? True compassion comes from the knowledge that the self or selves are relational experiences. This knowledge dispels the delusion of a separate self that struggles to prove its existence in a changing world. Another way to arouse compassion is to view the common characteristics of life, or of self-experience. Like oneself, every living being is fear of death, fear of pain and punishment, and therefore, one should not inflict these fears on others. Like oneself, everybody wishes to live a comfortable life, having happiness and security, and therefore, one should not injure or snatch away these desirable things from others. In the second kind of arousing compassion, it is not necessary that the person has done away with self-delusion, but only that selfish delusion has been transcended.

It is only the wisdom of seeing that there is no permanent self or soul in oneself as well as in others that will permit a true compassion. A beautiful early discourse in the Majjhima Nikāya, the Cūlagosinga Sutta depicts a simple but lofty ideal of the life of the noble persons. We have also discussed the moral criteria from an enlightened point of view in Chapter Five; this moral standard calls for the selfless service for all living beings without any discrimination. The Mahāyana philosophy renders this selfless service part of the Bodhisattva ideal in which the attitude of the practitioner becomes very important. For instance, in order to transform the emotion of disappointment or aversion, the practitioner reasons: “Where could I ever find enough leather to cover the whole earth? But my leather sandal is enough to cover it wherever I go.”[28] As elucidated by the Prajñāparamitā literatures, the practitioner should let go of all (wrong) notions of “I” and “you”, “me”, and “the other”, “being”, and “not being”. Only when all of these (wrong) notions are transcended, is one said to be in the Buddha’s realm, wherein, all the dualistic notions have vanished.

 The End.


 Selected Bibliography

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[1] The expression is borrowed from a French physicist Bernard d’Espagnat, Veiled Reality, Addison- Wesley, 1995.

[2] M 22. P.188:Kullūpamaṃ vo bhikkhave dhammaṃ desessāmi nittharaṇatthāya, no gahaṇatthāya...Evameva kho bkikkhave kullūpamo mayā dhammo desito nittharaṇatthāya, no gahaṇatthāya. Kullūpamaṃ vo bhikkhave dhammaṃ desitaṃ ājānantehi dhammāpi vo pahātabbā, pageva adhamma [Chaṭṭhasangiti Tipitaka edition. Penang 2000]; The same expression is found in the Diamond Sūtra, a famous Mahāyana text.

[3] It is interesting to note a similar expression of E. Schrodinger, Science and Humanism (Cambridge University Press 1951), p. 47: “It is better not to view a particle as a permanent entity, but rather as an instantaneous event. Some times these events link together to create the illusion of permanent entity.” Is this an influence of Buddhist philosophy of sanṅkhārā dhammā, viparināma dhamma and vayadhamma?

[4] This description is very similar to the account on meditative attainment narrated in Dhātuvibhanga Sutta (M.140); the passage we have quoted in the section on viññāna or consciousness, Chapter V.

[5] The Heart Sūtra explained...P.67-8; Taiso Vol. 94, p 5219.

[6] The Embodied Mind cognitive science and human experience by Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thomson and Eleanor Rosch 1991 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, p. 62

[7] Ayya Khema, Within our own heart; PTS 2006, p. 74

[8] Greenburg and Mitchel, Object relations in Psychoanalysis theory; Thompson, Rosch and Varela 1991, pp. 108

[9] Thompson, Rosch and Varela 1991: The Embodied Mind..., p. 109-110

[10] Ref. Matthieu Ricard & Trinh Xuan Thuan, The Quantum and the Lotus , p.249 (Randam houses, New York) 2001.

[11] M. 140: 31: asmīti bhikkhu maññitametaṃ. Ayamahamasmīti. Maññitametaṃ. Bhavissanti maññitametaṃ. Na bhavissanti maññitametaṃ. Rūpī bhavissanti maññitametaṃ. Arūpī bhavissanti maññitametaṃ. Saññī bhavissanti maññitametaṃ. Asaññī bhavissanti maññitametaṃ. Nevasaññīnāsaññī bhavissanti maññitametaṃ. Maññitaṃ bhikkhu rogo, maññitaṃ gaṇḍo, maññitaṃ sallaṃ. Sabbamaññitānaṃ tveva bhikkhu, samatikkamā muni santoti vuccati. Muni kho pana bhikkhu, santo na jāyati na jīyati na mīyati na kuppati na vihesati. Tampissa bhikkhu natthi. Yena jāyetha, ajāyamāno kiṃ jīyissati, ajīyamāno kiṃ mīyissati, amīyamāno kiṃ kuppissati. Akuppamāno kissa vihessati.

[12] Mathew Ricard, On the Relevance of a Contemplative Science, Buddhism and Science; p. 278.

[13] Caroline Brazier 2003: Buddhism on the Couch, from analysis to awakening using Buddhist psychology; Ulyses Press. P.138

[14] M. 38: 15: Bhikkhus, there are four kinds of nutriment for the maintenance of being that already have come to be and for the support of those about to come. What four? They are: physical food as nutriment, gross or subtle; contact as the second; mental volition as the third; and consciousness as the fourth. Craving is their source, their origin; they are born and product from craving which originated in feelings that based on contact...

[15] A. IV. 41: Fourfold developments of concentration.

[16] A.IV. 41: Catasso imaṃ, bhikkhave, samādhibhāvanā. Katamā catasso? Atthi, bhikkhave, samādhibhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā diṭṭhadhammasukhavihārāya saṃvattati; atthi, bhikkhave, samādhibhāvanā bhāvitā bahulikatā ñāṇadassanappaṭilābhāya saṃvattati; atthi, bhikkhave, samā

dhibhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā satisampajaññāya saṃvattati; atthi, bhikkhave, samādhibhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā āsavānaṃ khayāya saṃvattati.

[17] M. I, Salekkhā Sutta (M.8.82): Na kho panete Cunda ariyassa vinaye sallakhā vuccanti, santā ete vihārā ariyassa vinaye vuccanti.

[18] M. III, 162 (Sappurisa sutta No 113): nevasaññānāsaññāyatanaṃ upasampajja viharati. So iti pañisancikkhati: 'ahaṃ khomhi nevasaññānāsaññāyatanasamāpattiyā lābhã, ime panaññe bhikkhu nevasaññānāsaññāyatanasamāpattiyā na lābhino'ti. So tāya nevasaññānāsaññāyatanasamāpattiyā attānukkamseti, paraṃ vambheti. Ayampi bhikkhave, asappurisadhammo. Sappuriso ca kho bhikkhave, iti pañisancikkhati: 'nevasaññānāsaññāyatanasamāpattiyāpi kho atammayatā vuttā bhagavatā. Yena yena hi maññanti, tato taü hoti aññathā'ti.

[19] M. I, (Mahāgosinga sutta) PTS p.217: Idh’āvuso Sariputta, bhikkhu paṭisallānārāmo hoti, paṭisallāmarato ajjhattaṃ cetosamathamanuyuttho anirākatajjhāno vipassanāya sammāgato.

[20] S.II, 12:70:10, Susima-Paribbajaka-Sutta.

[21] The Udāna, Bāhiya-sutta, Khuddaka Nikāya III, 1:10.

[22] See Jack Engler: Being Somebody and Being Nobody: A Reexamination of the Understanding of Self in Psychoanalysis and Buddhism; Buddhism and Psychoanalysis, p 35-100.

[23] Commentary on the Discourse on the Mindfulness of Breathing states as follows: Consciousness with in-breath as object is one consciousness, with out-breath as object is another; consciousness with the sign (a light produced by that contemplation) is a third. For one who has not these three states, the meditation subject reaches neither full absorption nor access. [See Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli, Mindfulness of Breathing, BPS 6th Edition, p 34; also at Paṭisambhidā Magga, I, 170; also see 16 kinds of knowledge in the VisuddhiMagga XVII- XXII by the great commentator, Ven. Buddhaghosa].

[24] The Path of Purification, BPS 2000; p. 595-6.

[25] M 44: “How does the self view arise? Here, friend, Visākha, the not learned ordinary man who has not seen the noble ones and Great Beings, not skillful in their Teaching and not trained in their Teaching, considers matter in self, or a material self, or in self matter, or in matter self. Considers feelings in self, or a feeling self, or in self feelings, or in feelings self. Considers perceptions in self, or a perceiving self, or in self perceptions, or in perceptions self. Considers determinations in self, or a determining self, or in self determinations, or in determinations self. Considers consciousness in self, or a conscious self, or in self consciousness, or in consciousness self. Friend, Visākha, thus arises the self view (sakkāyadiṭṭhi).

[26] Such as to ascetic Bāhiya (Udana, 1:10 ,KN) , and Pukkusāti (M.140); there are many instances of sudden enlightenment recorded in Zen or Thien (Ch’an) tradition such as the sixth Patriarch Hue Nang , etc, .Nevertheless Bāhiya and Pukkasāti had practiced meditation for years, and had been able to attain Jhāna at very high level before they met the Buddha who instructed them to break through the boundaries of meditative attainments, then directed their knowledge and vision to the on-going reality of life, thereupon being enlightened. In the case of Hue Nang and other Zen practitioners, they have to continue their practice in the spirit of awakening for many years, to make their realization and practice more maturity before they started to teach or instruct others.

[27] People are classified as above according to the degree of their enlightenment. The first kind of noble persons (sotāpanna) have broken through three fetters (sakkāyadiṭṭhi, vicikiccha, and Sīlabbatapamārāsa); the second kind of noble persons (sakadāgāmi) have the same kinds of fetters eradicated, in addition, they have weakened greed and anger; the third kind of persons (anagāmi) have eradicated the five lower fetters; and the Arahants have done away with all the fetters [M. I, 249; Vism. 2. 270: Ten Saṃyojanā are: kāmarāga- sensuous greed, Paṭigha- aversion, Mana- conceit, Sakkayadiṭṭhi –personality view, Vicikicchā- doubt, Sīlabbataparāmāsa- clinging to rites and rituals, Bhavarāga- greed for a refined existence, Issā- envy, Macchariya –selfishness, and Avijj- ignorance].

[28] Shantideva, The Way of the bodhisattva (Boston: Shambhala, 1996), chapter IV, verse 13.


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