Who/what is the subject?

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Who/what is the subject?

Postby rachmiel » Tue Jul 23, 2013 4:29 am

When mind objects arise -- thoughts, sensory perceptions, feelings, etc. -- who or what is the subject to whom they arise? In other words, who/what feels, thinks, etc.?

The simplest answer is: Well *I* do of course! But I is merely the five skandhas. It is not a concrete entity that can experience feeling, thinking, etc.

If there is ultimately no subject, just arisings ... how can these be experienced? Experiencing requires an experience and an experiencer, right?
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby rachmiel » Tue Jul 23, 2013 4:40 am

I'm exploring how far the rabbit hole goes.

It's easy to see one's stories (beliefs, concepts, internal scripts) aren't ultimately real.

It's quite easy to go a step further and see that the storyteller is not ultimately real.

But it's quite a leap to entertain the notion that the entity that "knows" the above two things is just as not ultimately real.

What's left after all the ultimately un-reals fall away?
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby Odsal » Tue Jul 23, 2013 6:25 am

rachmiel wrote:When mind objects arise -- thoughts, sensory perceptions, feelings, etc. -- who or what is the subject to whom they arise? In other words, who/what feels, thinks, etc.?

The simplest answer is: Well *I* do of course! But I is merely the five skandhas. It is not a concrete entity that can experience feeling, thinking, etc.

If there is ultimately no subject, just arisings ... how can these be experienced? Experiencing requires an experience and an experiencer, right?


Well if you look at the qualities of the experiencer you see it is made up of the experience itself. Like while eating food. You taste it, smell the aroma, feel the texture etc. That IS the whole experience. To say that experience is one thing and the experiencer is another thing is to suggest that they exist independently in there own right, that there is a separation or gulf between the two. If that were the truth then how would the experiencer ever have an experience or the experience be experienced if the two were disconnected? The proof that the two are not disconnected is experience itself. That is what I think.
The question "who or what is the subject to whom they(sensory perceptions) arise?" I don't think an answer would work because the question itself arises out of the view that the subject ultimately exists by its own power, separately from the universe that exists out there. As if there really is an experiencer that we could indentify by its own unique characteristics. The question requires an answer, but all anyone could say would just be concepts based out of dualistic perception. I could say the subject is "you" or "me", or "billybob", or even "Buddha Nature", but that doesn't answer anything at all.
It would be like if for some reason a person didn't know that their shadow was cast from their body blocking the sunlight and developed the idea that the shadow was a real being and then went on to try to find out who it was, asking people "whos is this dark figure who fallows me everywhere I go?" How could anyone give an answer? "Oh that is just Billybob". lol
You would have to explain to the person the how shadows arise in order to dispel there mistaken view.
So the only answer I can think of is to gain insight. In order to get insight you have to practice. Practice letting go of views. So when all the ultimately un-reals such as: Self, other, you, me, subject, object, billybob, etc. fall away, what is left is liberation. That is what I think.
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby dimeo » Tue Jul 23, 2013 2:03 pm

Great topic! I've had difficulty adjusting my brain to this as well.

Buddha's heart sutra teaches that emptiness is the nature of all things:
"form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness;"


At times the mind seems to be unable comprehend or accept this because it seems to be false, illogical or 'unscientific. How can we learn to recognize the emptiness of phenomenon and that appearances are illusory? How to we accept teachings about the inherent non-existence of self? The wisdom that realizes the nature of phenomena is already present within us, but sometimes we have not yet realized things as they are.

Seems like nonsense? Maybe that's part of the teaching, like a nonsense zen koan designed to help one let go of clinging with the mind. Sometimes through the experience of being silly we can find a way to 'let go', laugh, and just accept things as they are. We need to start living through direct perception on a more intuitive level?

An example often taught, it's like the experience of an elephant in a dream. While the experience of the dream seemed very real, it's not actually there in reality. The non-existence of the dream elephant and the experience of an elephant seem to be contradictory but they occur together. So the object is inherently empty of existence... and all appearances are just mind. However the explanation often leaves me still thinking.... no it's not a just a dream, it's real!

Our internal perception of a subject occurs inside us as much as the thing is outside us. It's part of the same reality. Like waves of an ocean, it's silly to try to separate one wave from the other wave as though they are a single 'entity'. But people typically think like this all the time!

By habit we typically believe things exist external to ourselves. We tend to treat appearances as external to us, and think "I" am looking at "it" as though they are separate entities and as though the object is a real thing. For example when looking at a landscape we tend to think that the mind is looking out towards the mountain we see in the distance. It seems to exist outside ourselves.

So it's uncomfortable at first to accept this idea that the 'appearance of things' is an aspect of being conscious and part of the perceptive fabric of the mind itself. The phenomenon of appearance occurs within the mind.

On a biological level, we know that the light reflected from the mountain enters the space of the eye and an image is projected on the retina where it is converted into neurological signals by the rods and cones where the signal is transmitted into the brain along the optic nerve. The experience of perception and seeing the mountain occurs on a biological level. The 'mountain' experience occurs within the head and brain, and occurs there much like a dream does.

Typically one might think that the image in their head is is the mountain itself. Then later they talk like their memories of the mountain is the mountain itself! But all this is not occurring externally to the mind.
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby rachmiel » Tue Jul 23, 2013 4:21 pm

dimeo wrote:The phenomenon of appearance occurs within the mind.

Let's assume this is true: All phenomena/experience is mind-made.

To whom or what does mind belong? The mind-body writing this ... is there anyone or anything "at the helm?" Is there an owner, an overseer? If so, who or what? If not, what enables the complex act of writing thoughts to occur? And how can electrochemical impulses in a lump of flesh (brain) give rise to subtle complex experience of mental states?
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby dimeo » Tue Jul 23, 2013 7:23 pm

To whom or what does mind belong? The mind-body writing this ... is there anyone or anything "at the helm?" Is there an owner, an overseer? If so, who or what? If not, what enables the complex act of writing thoughts to occur? And how can electrochemical impulses in a lump of flesh (brain) give rise to subtle complex experience of mental states?


Wonderful questions! I ask many similar questions and learn as I go. So I'll attempt to summarize some teachings from Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche (Essentials of Mahamudra) which you may enjoy.

He says a good way to begin understanding the emptiness of phenomena is with an analytic approach. With practice we develop awareness that the "self" is an illusion. "Self" a convenient term to describe the five aggregates. The five aggregates (body,feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness) together make an individual, yet are each empty of intrinsic existence. When we realize this we transcend suffering.

In Tibetan traditions like Mahamudra or Dzogchen, a goal of practice is "leaping over" so as to be able to completely release all doubts and hesitation so we can settle decisively on what mind is. We do this to abandon delusion at the root. When beginning the practice, we need definite knowledge of the mind's nature and for this reason meditating on the mind, cut through it's confusion and gain direct experience of it's true nature.

We listen to the teachings and instructions many times. We practise meditation (shamata and vipashyana) to gain real experience of emptiness. Instead of looking at external things to try to discover whether or not they exist, we look directly at the mind and mediate on it's true nature. Rather than taking a conceptual approach, we take direct perception as the path to wisdom. When we understand the the lack of inherent existence of our mind, then we can more easily understand the lack of inherent existence of external phenomena. With practice we come to understand that the object and the mind which looks at the object are the same thing. This is a path to abandoning dualistic concepts (self/other).

We can meditate looking out or looking in for the mind. We look directly and 'nakedly' rather than reasoned investigation and self talk. If mind exists, we ought to be able to find it and say what it is. What shape is it? What color is it? Where does it dwell? When we look for the personal self, the "I" or "me", we don't find anything and discover the non-existence of the self. We do not find it anywhere.

What do we think that mind is when we talk about it? It sees, hears, knows and remembers. The mind knows but the knower is not found. This non-finding of the mind is referred to as being empty of inherent existence. When the teachings refer to this 'emptiness' of the mind, it is not blank nothingness or voidness.

We need to become accustomed and familiar with the mind's way of being and recognize the mind as it is.
Meditating on the mind is meditating on our real condition of existence (dharmata). We learn to observe the "suchness" of the nature of things, phenomena, appearances and reality itself. We look at the phenomena of appearances and how various things appear to the sense consciousness (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body) and know that these phenomena do not intrinsically exist.
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby Wayfarer » Wed Jul 24, 2013 2:30 am

My view - question cannot be answered, which is what makes it such a vital question.

Any object of thought is by definition not the subject. Thought itself generally operates in the relationship of subject and object. When thought tries to examine its own nature, it must fail, because it cannot really objectify it or stand apart from it. Of course it is possible to engage in all kinds of conjecture about it, or to entertain speculative theories, some of which gain currency and persist for a long while. It is also possible to objectify many of the attributes and characteristics of particular kinds of thoughts and feelings. But what the subject is, is a different category of question.

I have decided that really don't accept the interpretation of 'anatta' that very many Buddhists seem to believe in - that there is simply 'no self'. I think that too easily morphs into a kind of nihilistic dogmatism. We're responsible agents, that is how karma works. There is a way of transcending or rising above that, but it is not by simply denying that its existence. So it is better to admit that we really don't know and haven't got to the bottom of the question, rather than to engage in theories about it.

That is a properly sceptical approach, in my view. I think the true nature of the subject (and the object, for that matter) is a great unknown, and realizing it is unknown is the best approach. This has precedents in Buddhist and other schools of philosophy - see Jay Garfield's Sunyata and Epoche.
Learn to do good, refrain from evil, purify the mind ~ this is the teaching of the Buddhas
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby oushi » Wed Jul 24, 2013 12:53 pm

rachmiel wrote:When mind objects arise -- thoughts, sensory perceptions, feelings, etc. -- who or what is the subject to whom they arise? In other words, who/what feels, thinks, etc.?

Awareness.
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby justsit » Wed Jul 24, 2013 1:43 pm

You may find this helpful:

From the Aspiration Prayer for Mahamudra, the Definitive Meaning
by Karmapa Rangjung Dorje


The base of purification is mind itself, the union of clarity and emptiness —
May the great purifying vajra-yoga of Mahamudra
Clear away what is to be purified, the fleeting stains of confusion,
And may we manifest the result of this purification, stainless Dharmakaya. (7)

Eliminating superimpositions about the ground is confident view,
Guarding non-distraction from that is meditation's essential point,
Becoming expert in all types of meditation is conduct supreme —
May we gain such confident view, meditation, and conduct. (8)

All phenomena are mind's magical play
As for mind, there is no mind! Mind is empty of essence.
Empty and unimpeded, it can appear as absolutely anything —
Analyzing excellently, may we cut through all superimpositions
about the ground. (9)

Our own projections, never existent, we mistake to be objects,
Out of ignorance we mistake self-awareness to be self,
Clinging to this duality makes us wander in the vastness
of existence —
May we cut through ignorance and confusion at their root. (10)

This prayer elucidates the complete path. Read the rest here.
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby xabir » Wed Jul 24, 2013 3:11 pm

rachmiel wrote:
dimeo wrote:The phenomenon of appearance occurs within the mind.

Let's assume this is true: All phenomena/experience is mind-made.

To whom or what does mind belong? The mind-body writing this ... is there anyone or anything "at the helm?" Is there an owner, an overseer? If so, who or what? If not, what enables the complex act of writing thoughts to occur? And how can electrochemical impulses in a lump of flesh (brain) give rise to subtle complex experience of mental states?
Buddha's answer is to reject the question 'Who .... [feels/senses/craves/etc]' because 'who' implies a self, subject or agent that the Buddha has never claimed to have existed.

Next he explains the process dependently originates.

http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.com. ... gguna.html

e.g.

"Who, O Lord, feels?"

"The question is not correct," said the Exalted One. "I do not say that 'he feels.' Had I said so, then the question 'Who feels?' would be appropriate. But since I did not speak thus, the correct way to ask the question will be 'What is the condition of feeling?' And to that the correct reply is: 'sense-impression is the condition of feeling; and feeling is the condition of craving.'"
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Wed Jul 24, 2013 3:52 pm

rachmiel wrote:When mind objects arise


I think if you go deeply into what you mean by "arise" the answer will become very clear.
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby Astus » Wed Jul 24, 2013 4:01 pm

Nagarjuna, MMK ch. 9:

Some say that whatever is involved in seeing, hearing etc. and feeling etc. exists prior to them.
If [that] thing is not evident, how can there be seeing etc? Therefore, the presence [of that] thing [must] exist before them.
What configures/makes known that thing which is present before seeing and hearing etc. and feeling etc.?
...
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

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True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby dude » Wed Jul 24, 2013 6:49 pm

oushi wrote:
rachmiel wrote:When mind objects arise -- thoughts, sensory perceptions, feelings, etc. -- who or what is the subject to whom they arise? In other words, who/what feels, thinks, etc.?

Awareness.


That's the best answer so far.
The Buddha said that he did not assume that there was a phenomenon to perceive, nor that there was an entity to perceive it. He simply observed the perception.
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby rachmiel » Thu Jul 25, 2013 3:10 pm

dimeo wrote:With practice we come to understand that the object and the mind which looks at the object are the same thing.

This is helpful, thanks. It's essentially what Krishnamurti meant by: the observer = the observed. Or, in my internal lingo: It's / all / just ... stuff (happening). And mind is just as much *stuff* as anything else. But it's VERY difficult to remember this, to truly feel it when the brain neurochemistry starts acting up.
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby rachmiel » Thu Jul 25, 2013 3:21 pm

Odsal wrote:Well if you look at the qualities of the experiencer you see it is made up of the experience itself.

By definition, anything that an experiencer experiences is (part of) that experience. You smell freshly baked bread and go into a two-minute "bread my mother baked" reverie. Everything that arises in mind during those two minutes -- everything, including all "tangents": a twinge of pain in your neck, an internal voice reminding you that alas you are on a low-carb diet, etc. -- is, by definition, part of the experience of smelling the bread. But ... when the experience has faded out (after two minutes), the experiencer still remains. In other words, the experiencer persists beyond any single experience. Right?
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby rachmiel » Thu Jul 25, 2013 3:38 pm

jeeprs wrote:My view - question cannot be answered, which is what makes it such a vital question.

Any object of thought is by definition not the subject. Thought itself generally operates in the relationship of subject and object. When thought tries to examine its own nature, it must fail, because it cannot really objectify it or stand apart from it. Of course it is possible to engage in all kinds of conjecture about it, or to entertain speculative theories, some of which gain currency and persist for a long while. It is also possible to objectify many of the attributes and characteristics of particular kinds of thoughts and feelings. But what the subject is, is a different category of question.

I have decided that really don't accept the interpretation of 'anatta' that very many Buddhists seem to believe in - that there is simply 'no self'. I think that too easily morphs into a kind of nihilistic dogmatism. We're responsible agents, that is how karma works. There is a way of transcending or rising above that, but it is not by simply denying that its existence. So it is better to admit that we really don't know and haven't got to the bottom of the question, rather than to engage in theories about it.

That is a properly sceptical approach, in my view. I think the true nature of the subject (and the object, for that matter) is a great unknown, and realizing it is unknown is the best approach. This has precedents in Buddhist and other schools of philosophy - see Jay Garfield's Sunyata and Epoche.

Judging from our signatures I think we see things quite similarly:

He that knows it, knows it not.
No one really knows anything. (I think.)

I'm with you on the unknown, the mystery. When it comes to The Big Questions, The UnAnswerables ... I think wonder is the appropriate response. That's one of the main things that draws me to Buddhist philosophy; unless I've misunderstood it (a definite possibility), it seems to leave the unanswerables unanswered.
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby rachmiel » Thu Jul 25, 2013 3:40 pm

oushi wrote:
rachmiel wrote:When mind objects arise -- thoughts, sensory perceptions, feelings, etc. -- who or what is the subject to whom they arise? In other words, who/what feels, thinks, etc.?

Awareness.

That's the Advaitan answer. Awareness as Consciousness as Self as Brahman.

This resonates with me, sometimes strongly. But I don't feel I *know* it to be true or false.
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby Odsal » Thu Jul 25, 2013 5:10 pm

rachmiel wrote:
Odsal wrote:Well if you look at the qualities of the experiencer you see it is made up of the experience itself.

By definition, anything that an experiencer experiences is (part of) that experience. You smell freshly baked bread and go into a two-minute "bread my mother baked" reverie. Everything that arises in mind during those two minutes -- everything, including all "tangents": a twinge of pain in your neck, an internal voice reminding you that alas you are on a low-carb diet, etc. -- is, by definition, part of the experience of smelling the bread. But ... when the experience has faded out (after two minutes), the experiencer still remains. In other words, the experiencer persists beyond any single experience. Right?


Well, No, I don't think. Because if there was an experiencer outside of the flow of experience he would be able to be identified by his unique qualities. But, that is not the case. I cannot see my "self" or your "self" and tell you about it. Because if I were to describe my "self" or your "self" I would only be describing the qualities of sense impressions and not any entity such as an experiencer or awareness or whatever. In other words I would be describing the quality of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, thinking. Whatever way we wish to define reality, be it in terms of experiencer and experienced, self and other, inside my mind and outside my mind or whatever, it is always merely a description of seeing, hearing, tasting etc.. If you describe yourself you are describing sense impressions. If you describe the universe you are describing the same sense impressions.
There is the flow of experience without any division between observer and observed. This is true because it is not possible for any phenomena to inherently exist as a thing in its own right. Every last constituent of a sentient being is formed out of the very elements that form the entire cosmos. We are not something else. The cosmos are not something else. Our perception is composed of and filled with the entirety of the cosmos. That is why seeing is filled with the vision of the cosmos; the stars, the sky, the sun and the moon. That is why I experience the elements of the cosmos; earth, fire, water, wind and space because that is what "I" am, not this abstract entity that is located behind my eyes, inside my head or brain or wherever we may conceive. Inquiries and theories into who or what the experiencer is, arise out of the ignorance which divides experience into a self and other. It is exactly like the saying of the person who mistakes a rope for a snake and experiences fear. Inquiring into the nature and existence of an experiencer is inquiring about the nature and existence of something that doesn't actually exist.
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby oushi » Thu Jul 25, 2013 6:48 pm

rachmiel wrote:
oushi wrote:
rachmiel wrote:When mind objects arise -- thoughts, sensory perceptions, feelings, etc. -- who or what is the subject to whom they arise? In other words, who/what feels, thinks, etc.?

Awareness.

That's the Advaitan answer. Awareness as Consciousness as Self as Brahman.

Mysterious awareness that cannot be pinned down. If you say it is self, where is it when you "forgot yourself"? When it is Brahman where is Brahman when you drink tea? Those are just labels that come and go... in what?
But I don't feel I *know* it to be true or false.

And what is false awareness? :D
It cannot be false. So, why not stay with it? Ah... No need to, because it doesn't leave you.
When you find it, just look how many different things arise in it.
You do not have awareness, awareness has you, because your sense of self arises from awareness and in it.
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Re: Who/what is the subject?

Postby LastLegend » Fri Jul 26, 2013 12:21 am

jeeprs wrote:I have decided that really don't accept the interpretation of 'anatta' that very many Buddhists seem to believe in - that there is simply 'no self'. I think that too easily morphs into a kind of nihilistic dogmatism. We're responsible agents, that is how karma works. There is a way of transcending or rising above that, but it is not by simply denying that its existence. So it is better to admit that we really don't know and haven't got to the bottom of the question, rather than to engage in theories about it.


I think, that which is self or mind is nowhere to be found. Yet, it is present. But how do we describe it?

If a self exists, then it must be a responsible agent. If it does not exist, then there is no responsible agent.
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