Astus wrote: It is indeed mistaken to think that someone perishes because there is no permanent self inside or outside the skandhas
But there is, as you acknowledge, 'a mindstream' which functions as a quasi-self (or, more likely, a rhetorical device necessitated by a dogmatic intepretation of 'anatta'.)
So when it is said that 'the Tathagata is deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the sea' is this a reference to mere absence of lack of substance?
You propose that the experience of seeing is suffering, that being aware of something is suffering, that being able to speak and hear is suffering; therefore a Buddha must be without all of this, incapable of any perception and comprehension. Even if there were something else beyond the skandhas, it would be without all forms of perception and understanding, it would be completely insentient and dead.
Not so. There is a state beyond ordinary sensory perception, but it cannot be discovered by 'the self'.
The Blessed One said, "What is the All? Simply the eye and forms, ear and sounds, nose and aromas, tongue and flavors, body and tactile sensations, intellect and ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." (Sabba Sutta SN 35.23 trs Thanissaro, Access to Insight.)
This can be read as a direct repudiation of anyone who claims to speak of something ‘beyond the sense-gates’ as being ‘beyond range’. It might be tempting to say that this represents a kind of proto-naturalism, or even positivism - a repudiation of anything beyond empirical observation. However, that would be mistaken, for the Buddha, having established the identity of ‘the All’, then advises the monks to abandon it:
"The intellect is to be abandoned. Ideas are to be abandoned. Consciousness at the intellect is to be abandoned. Contact at the intellect is to be abandoned. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the intellect — experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain — that too is to be abandoned. (Pahanaya Sutta, SN 35.24, trs Thanissaro, Access to Insight).
Does this say, then, that beyond the ‘six sense gates’ and the activities of thought-formations and discriminative consciousness, there is nothing, the absence of any kind of life, mind, or intelligence?
Then Ven. Maha Kotthita went to Ven. Sariputta and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to Ven. Sariputta, "With the remainderless stopping & fading of the six contact-media [vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, & intellection] is it the case that there is anything else?"
[Sariputta:] "Don't say that, my friend."
[Maha Kotthita:] "With the remainderless stopping & fading of the six contact-media, is it the case that there is not anything else?"
[Sariputta:] "Don't say that, my friend."
[Sariputta:] "The statement, 'With the remainderless stopping & fading of the six contact-media [vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, & intellection] is it the case that there is anything else?' objectifies non-objectification.The statement, '... is it the case that there is not anything else ... is it the case that there both is & is not anything else ... is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else?' objectifies non-objectification. However far the six contact-media go, that is how far objectification goes. However far objectification goes, that is how far the six contact media go. With the remainderless fading & stopping of the six contact-media, there comes to be the stopping, the allaying of objectification. (Kotthita Sutta, AN 4.174, trs Thanissaro, Access to Insight; .)
The phrase ‘objectifies non-objectification’ (vadaṃ appapañcaṃ papañceti) is key here. As Thanissaro Bikkhu notes in his commentary, ‘the root of the classifications and perceptions of objectification is the thought, "I am the thinker." This thought forms the motivation for the questions that Ven. Maha Kotthita is presenting here.’ The very action of thinking ‘creates the thinker’, rather than vice versa. In effect, the questioner is asking, ‘is this something I can experience?’ And to do so, tends towards eternalism
. To speculate about what lies ‘out of range’, as the Buddha has declared it - to name it, or speculate about it, all amount to ‘objectifying non-objectification’. This is the very kind of activity that leads to papañca (the endless proliferation of ideas), and thereby disputes, debates, vexations, and the ‘writhings, thickets, and tangles of views’ criticized in various dialogs (e.g. MN 72). Whatever the experience is of what is ‘beyond the sense gates’ - or even if it is ‘an experience!’ - it is something one has to discover for oneself. When it is made, this discovery is also co-incident with the complete end of the sense of ‘I and mine’. It is in this that the real meaning of anattā is revealed, as it requires, and amounts to, a completely different mode of understanding of the nature of experience - one which is no longer oriented around a sense of separate selfhood, but is, as we noted at the start, ‘gone to the unconditioned’.
He that knows it, knows it not.