Anatta and personal profiles

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Anatta and personal profiles

Postby Bearzors » Sun Apr 07, 2013 1:01 am

So I was thinking: on Facebook and other social media websites, there's usually a profile section where you "tell people about yourself." You list your favorite music, favorite movies; your job and your hobbies; your political philosophy, etc. The idea, I guess, is that those things together are what would answer the question, "Who are you? Tell me about yourself." What would a personal profile on Facebook look like if one really absorbed the idea/belief in anatta? I was just thinking that if you deleted all your "likes" and hobbies and your job, etc. someone would say, "your profile doesn't tell me anything about yourself!" Just an observation. Discuss? Thoughts?
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Re: Anatta and personal profiles

Postby Bearzors » Sun Apr 07, 2013 1:03 am

Oh and I'm sorry if this is the wrong place to post this; I wasn't sure what category it would be.
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Re: Anatta and personal profiles

Postby jeeprs » Sun Apr 07, 2013 1:28 am

you'll get a lot of answers to that kind of question, but mine would be along the lines of equating 'anatta', in this context, with 'selflessness'. So one who really had, shall we say, entered this mode of being, would not be very pre-occupied with 'my interests, my profile' and so on. This doesn't mean they wouldn't have interests or a basis with which to create a profile. But they would be likely to be self-effacing rather than self-assertive.

I know someone who is pretty much an exemplification of selflessness. A large part of her life is devoted to caring for a disabled relative. She is very pious in the old-fashioned Christian sense, although not the least evangelical about it. This person is generally reticient about her personal wants. For instance she won't ask directly if she wants something of you. It will be more like 'you wouldn't be going to the shop anytime?' if something is wanted at the shop. Then you have to say 'why, do you want something?', to which the answer is invariably 'only if you're going'. This actually means 'yes'.

A counter-example. On one of the other forums I used to frequent there was a poster who joined, who would compose extremely complex posts supposedly about philosophy - the subject of the forum - but actually (I thought) highly narcissistic fantasies about the poster's own personality which he/she obviously found fascinating and profound (i.e. 'centre of the Universe'). Hardly anyone would reply to those posts, and those who did were generally toyed with or dimissed.

In any case, 'anatta' is frequently misinterpreted, in my view, to mean something it doesn't. It doesn't mean that 'the self doesn't exist'. It means that everything is an-atta, without self or substance. There is actually a distinction between the assertion that 'everything is without self' and 'there is no self', but it is a very hard distinction to grasp.
Last edited by jeeprs on Sun Apr 07, 2013 1:54 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Anatta and personal profiles

Postby Konchog1 » Sun Apr 07, 2013 1:32 am

But you do exist. Just not in the way that you think.

This is the self that you are refuting, nothing else:
“[Chandrakirti’s] Commentary to the Four Hundred Verses says this about the self:

The thing known as the ‘self’ is an entity whose nature is not to be the outcome of any other functional phenomenon. Selflessness is its non-existence.

Thus the self is supposed to be something distinct in itself, for it is not the outcome of other conditions. It is also said to be a self-contained entity, for it is independent of anything else; it is also not the outcome of anything else.”

-Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand pg. 684


Everything still exists by means of cause and effect and mental labeling:

“When reasoning searches to whether the chariot intrinsically exists, it is not found in any of the seven ways. This is the case in terms of both of the two truths. But when reason fails to find it those seven ways, does this refute the chariot? How could it? Reasoning that analyses whether things intrinsically exist does not establish the assertion of the chariot; rather, leaving reasoned analysis aside, it is established by a mere unimpaired, ordinary, conventional—i.e., worldly—consciousness. Therefore, the way a chariot is posited is that it is established as existing imputedly; it is imputed in dependence upon its parts.”

-Lam Rim Chen Mo eng v03 pg. 283 tib pg. 725


So in summary:

“The earlier citation of Candrakirti’s Commentary on the “Four Hundred Stanzas” continues:

Therefore, since in this Madhyamaka system to be a dependent-arising is to lack autonomy, lacking autonomy is what emptiness means; emptiness does not mean that nothing exists.

Consequently, the view that functioning things do not exist is a mistaken denial of the existence of illusion-like dependent-arisings, both the pure and afflicted; hence, it is not accurate. The view that things intrinsically exist is also inaccurate because such intrinsic nature does not exist in anything. […] Therefore, those who wish to be free from the views of permanence and annihilation should assert both the lack of intrinsic existence and illusion-like dependent-arising of both pure and afflicted phenomena.”

-Lam Rim Chen Mo eng v03 pg. 317-318 tib pg. 760
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

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Re: Anatta and personal profiles

Postby Bearzors » Sun Apr 07, 2013 2:06 am

jeeprs wrote:you'll get a lot of answers to that kind of question, but mine would be along the lines of equating 'anatta', in this context, with 'selflessness'. So one who really had, shall we say, entered this mode of being, would not be very pre-occupied with 'my interests, my profile' and so on. This doesn't mean they wouldn't have interests or a basis with which to create a profile. But they would be likely to be self-effacing rather than self-assertive.

I know someone who is pretty much an exemplification of selflessness. A large part of her life is devoted to caring for a disabled relative. She is very pious in the old-fashioned Christian sense, although not the least evangelical about it. This person is generally reticient about her personal wants. For instance she won't ask directly if she wants something of you. It will be more like 'you wouldn't be going to the shop anytime?' if something is wanted at the shop. Then you have to say 'why, do you want something?', to which the answer is invariably 'only if you're going'. This actually means 'yes'.

A counter-example. On one of the other forums I used to frequent there was a poster who joined, who would compose extremely complex posts supposedly about philosophy - the subject of the forum - but actually (I thought) highly narcissistic fantasies about the poster's own personality which he/she obviously found fascinating and profound (i.e. 'centre of the Universe'). Hardly anyone would reply to those posts, and those who did were generally toyed with or dimissed.

In any case, 'anatta' is frequently misinterpreted, in my view, to mean something it doesn't. It doesn't mean that 'the self doesn't exist'. It means that everything is an-atta, without self or substance. There is actually a distinction between the assertion that 'everything is without self' and 'there is no self', but it is a very hard distinction to grasp.



Yes, I am doing a lot of contemplation about this subject at the moment. I'm thinking that the struggle I've been having (and maybe others?) is an artifact of dualistic thinking. By that I mean, my first instinct is to say that "well we reincarnate, right? So what is it that keeps coming back?" But then I realize that that self/spirit/entity is just a lump or knot of aggregates, and once that becomes "untied" (if that makes sense), you become...what? I was thinking something like we become consciousness; we don't wink out of existence but maybe like a drop of water that finally realizes that it's really just part of the ocean and jumps back in...the water drop still "is" but at the same time, it isn't a drop any more, but part of the ocean that always was. Hmm. What do you think?
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Re: Anatta and personal profiles

Postby Bearzors » Sun Apr 07, 2013 2:11 am

Konchog1 wrote:But you do exist. Just not in the way that you think.

This is the self that you are refuting, nothing else:
“[Chandrakirti’s] Commentary to the Four Hundred Verses says this about the self:

The thing known as the ‘self’ is an entity whose nature is not to be the outcome of any other functional phenomenon. Selflessness is its non-existence.

Thus the self is supposed to be something distinct in itself, for it is not the outcome of other conditions. It is also said to be a self-contained entity, for it is independent of anything else; it is also not the outcome of anything else.”

-Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand pg. 684


Everything still exists by means of cause and effect and mental labeling:

“When reasoning searches to whether the chariot intrinsically exists, it is not found in any of the seven ways. This is the case in terms of both of the two truths. But when reason fails to find it those seven ways, does this refute the chariot? How could it? Reasoning that analyses whether things intrinsically exist does not establish the assertion of the chariot; rather, leaving reasoned analysis aside, it is established by a mere unimpaired, ordinary, conventional—i.e., worldly—consciousness. Therefore, the way a chariot is posited is that it is established as existing imputedly; it is imputed in dependence upon its parts.”

-Lam Rim Chen Mo eng v03 pg. 283 tib pg. 725


So in summary:

“The earlier citation of Candrakirti’s Commentary on the “Four Hundred Stanzas” continues:

Therefore, since in this Madhyamaka system to be a dependent-arising is to lack autonomy, lacking autonomy is what emptiness means; emptiness does not mean that nothing exists.

Consequently, the view that functioning things do not exist is a mistaken denial of the existence of illusion-like dependent-arisings, both the pure and afflicted; hence, it is not accurate. The view that things intrinsically exist is also inaccurate because such intrinsic nature does not exist in anything. […] Therefore, those who wish to be free from the views of permanence and annihilation should assert both the lack of intrinsic existence and illusion-like dependent-arising of both pure and afflicted phenomena.”

-Lam Rim Chen Mo eng v03 pg. 317-318 tib pg. 760


This was very informative, thank you. I've spoken with a friend of mine who is not Buddhist, and who has a degree in philosophy, about anatta. She had the impression that it was nihilistic and I knew that it isn't...but, I couldn't get a good enough hold on the "feel" of anatta, much less the language to make it clear. I at least managed to explain how it isn't really nihilistic, but something else. I'll share this with her.
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Re: Anatta and personal profiles

Postby Konchog1 » Sun Apr 07, 2013 2:40 am

My understanding is that to understand Emptiness, 1. we gather enough merit and purify enough obscurations. 2. clearly identify the object of refutation though personal experience. Then 3. Meditate on logical reasonings.
“If you do not allow the object of refutation to present itself to you of its own accord and instead merely reactivate the thought of ‘I’ for your fresh object of refutation to be used in analysis, you will arrive only at some theoretical form of the view.”

-Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand pg. 688
It may be rather difficult for your friend to gain a full understanding that leads to insight.

Sources: Not for Happiness by Dzongkar Rinpoche, Emptiness by Tashi Tsering, and Clarifying the Natural State by Tashi Namgyal
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

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Re: Anatta and personal profiles

Postby jeeprs » Sun Apr 07, 2013 2:42 am

But then I realize that that self/spirit/entity is just a lump or knot of aggregates, and once that becomes "untied" (if that makes sense), you become...what?


Your friend is quite right to suspect that many Buddhists tend towards nihilism, because it is a pitfall.

I think that a lot of people just settle for 'there is no self' in quite a dogmatic way that actually can easily can tip over into nihilism or relativism - there are no ultimate truths, everything is a matter of perspective, or, alternatively, we're all one, all paths are equal, and so on. Whereas what the no-self teaching really requires is insight into the inter-relationship of beings - what Thich Naht Hanh calls 'inter-being'. If everything is empty of own-being, then 'to be, is to be related'. But that requires a different kind of mind to the normal mind, which simply assumes the reality of one's self first and foremost.

Hope that is helpful. This is a difficult topic and cause for many long debates on this forum. This is only one poster's interpretation of it.
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Re: Anatta and personal profiles

Postby jeeprs » Sun Apr 07, 2013 2:51 am

I would also be very cautious with that expression: 'self/spirit/entity'. (OK, I'm a tech writer by trade, so I do notice such things.) Those three terms all mean very different things. One could write a lengthy piece just on that alone, but I will make a few points: there is no word in the Buddhist lexicon that directly maps against either 'soul' or 'spirit'. Both of those terms, which you encounter in Western theology and philosophy, have long and varied histories in their own right. Now a lot of people will say that the Buddhist 'anatta' means 'no soul'. I, for one, emphatically reject that idea. 'No soul' means, to me, atheist materialism which denies any higher truths or ethical laws. The expression 'no soul' I equate with behaviourist psychologists, like Watson and Skinner, or materialists like Daniel Dennett. So whatever 'anatta' means, it doesn't mean the same as that.

As for 'spirit', I think that is a very beautiful word, and idea, and I would never deny it. As I said, I don't think that there is a term in the Buddhist lexicon which really directly equates to that idea, but for that very reason, it is not something I think Buddhism denies. It just doesn't talk in those terms - it starts from a different frame of reference.
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Re: Anatta and personal profiles

Postby Konchog1 » Sun Apr 07, 2013 4:36 am

The cleverest Buddhist refutation, imo, of Nihilism is Gampopa's simple statement that for an object to be non-existent, the object is required to have existed at some point in the past. However, objects have always lacked inherent existence. Therefore, no object can be non-existent.
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

-Ra Lotsawa, All-pervading Melodious Drumbeats
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Re: Anatta and personal profiles

Postby Sherab Dorje » Sun Apr 07, 2013 9:37 am

If you want to understand anatta, then you have to understand dependent origination. Otherwise, yes, it can easily slide into a nihilistic outlook. Anatta describes the self as dependently arisen, not as non-existent.

Try this book: "Causality and Emptiness - The Wisdom of Nagarjuna". Or you can track down "The Harmony of Emptiness and Dependent Arising" by Tsong Khapa with a commentary by Ven Lobsang Gyatso. It gives a simple, clear explanation (albeit heavy on the Mahayana triumphalism).
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Anatta and personal profiles

Postby Matt J » Sun Apr 07, 2013 4:28 pm

I think some people often assume that emptiness or no-self means nothing. However, that is not my experience. When you bark your shin on a table, that is definitely something.

For me, I think of a wave in the ocean or a cloud. What is the shape of a wave? A wave has no set shape. It is changing constantly. One could say that a wave is shapeless. But that is not to say there is no wave. It can still knock you off your feet.
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Re: Anatta and personal profiles

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sun Apr 07, 2013 4:55 pm

Lankavatara Sutra says something like "reality is a concatenation, and nothing but a concatenation.

So seeing Anatta/Sunyata as some sort of really existing negation is incorrect.. one simple example (I think from the Pali Canon but don't know TBH) is of the body, when we refer to our body we call it our body meaning, it is something we seem to own rather than something we are..but then we seek for the "owner" of the body and we can't find him either, and so on, with whatever we look for in terms of a self. You can the same with objects etc. that you perceive as "outside"..cup, table, whatever..no such thing, only a concatenation of things to be labeled.

That said, we live in the dualistic world, there is nothing wrong with acknowledging the conventional self if it's understood to be just that, and purposely trying to "do anatta:" with a facebook page is as much grasping at an identity as anything else is.

I am no expert of course, but if my experience is any indication it's usually newer Buddhists, or those who think that learning the philosophy is somehow "unnecessary" that most commonly mistake Anatta for some Nihilistic view. Especially if you just read some Pali stuff a few times, coming at it from a modern, rationalistic point of view it's easy to mistake what's there for Nihilism of a kind I think...so you either need actual teachers, commentaries, or just alot of repeated pondering to not reach those conclusions. Stuff like pondering the elements of the body and saying "this is not my self" sound fairly nihilistic if one doesn't get the overall context I think.


I read recently a Tibetan saying is "when born as a Donkey one should enjoy eating grass"..it applies here I think.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Anatta and personal profiles

Postby Bearzors » Sun Apr 07, 2013 5:43 pm

jeeprs wrote:I would also be very cautious with that expression: 'self/spirit/entity'. (OK, I'm a tech writer by trade, so I do notice such things.) Those three terms all mean very different things. One could write a lengthy piece just on that alone, but I will make a few points: there is no word in the Buddhist lexicon that directly maps against either 'soul' or 'spirit'. Both of those terms, which you encounter in Western theology and philosophy, have long and varied histories in their own right. Now a lot of people will say that the Buddhist 'anatta' means 'no soul'. I, for one, emphatically reject that idea. 'No soul' means, to me, atheist materialism which denies any higher truths or ethical laws. The expression 'no soul' I equate with behaviourist psychologists, like Watson and Skinner, or materialists like Daniel Dennett. So whatever 'anatta' means, it doesn't mean the same as that.

As for 'spirit', I think that is a very beautiful word, and idea, and I would never deny it. As I said, I don't think that there is a term in the Buddhist lexicon which really directly equates to that idea, but for that very reason, it is not something I think Buddhism denies. It just doesn't talk in those terms - it starts from a different frame of reference.


I found that distinction you made between self/spirit/entity very interesting. I think you are all helping me get a much better feel for what anatta is about in terms of being able to sort of describe it...which I know is not the point...but it's more like when I talk to others, I need the "language" to explain it in a less clumsy way. I feel like the idea of merging into something larger, all-pervasive, super-conscious and non-local (a drop falling into the ocean) is the best way for me to "think" of it for now. Analogies work best for me, personally. :)
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Re: Anatta and personal profiles

Postby Bearzors » Sun Apr 07, 2013 5:43 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:If you want to understand anatta, then you have to understand dependent origination. Otherwise, yes, it can easily slide into a nihilistic outlook. Anatta describes the self as dependently arisen, not as non-existent.

Try this book: "Causality and Emptiness - The Wisdom of Nagarjuna". Or you can track down "The Harmony of Emptiness and Dependent Arising" by Tsong Khapa with a commentary by Ven Lobsang Gyatso. It gives a simple, clear explanation (albeit heavy on the Mahayana triumphalism).


Thank you for the reading suggestions!
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Re: Anatta and personal profiles

Postby Bearzors » Sun Apr 07, 2013 5:49 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:purposely trying to "do anatta:" with a facebook page is as much grasping at an identity as anything else is.


The facebook page thing was tongue-in-cheek; I wasn't being literal; rather, I was trying to share the thoughts that arose while I was looking at my FB profile...I was thinking, these "likes" and hobbies, etc. are the layers which we identify with that we must peel away to see that ultimately none of those things are what make you, you.
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