Re: [Pali] Re: Translating anatta
- Thanks very much Piya!
Ven. Thanissaro explains precisely why we should translate anatta as
"not-self" instead of "no self" or "selfless"
The whole point is in his essay!
Thanks very much again,
On Fri, May 21, 2010 at 6:11 AM, Piya Tan <dharmafarer@...> wrote:
> Dear Richard,
> You're right, most scholars today prefer "not-self" as the most useful
> translation of anatta. Ven Thanissaro has written an article on this: see
> his website "Access to Insight."
> With metta,
> On Tue, May 18, 2010 at 7:48 AM, Richard Blumberg <richard@...>
> > I've been following this thread with enormous interest; this is quite a
> > remarkably well-informed and thoughtful group, and I've learned from
> > post. Thank you all. Here are a few observations, which I hope will help
> > keep people thinking skillfully about a most important idea.
> > First, we have been talking much more about 'atta' than about 'anatta'.
> > my rendering of the Anattalakkhana Sutta, (
> > http://dharmastudy.org/suttas-2/anattalakkhana-sutta/), which I use in
> > course I teach at our local university's continuing ed program, I use the
> > term "not-self" to translate 'anatta', and I provide the following note
> > the passage in the sutta in which the Buddha tells the five 'bhikkhus'
> > material form is 'anatta':
> > "The term 'not-self' really has no precise and idiomatic translation in
> > English. It�s not that the Buddha is saying that form is not what we mean
> > when we talk about self, as we might, for example, point to a duck and
> > 'that's not a chicken'. Rather, he�s making a positive statement about
> > form,
> > saying that it falls into the category of those things that are 'anatta'
> > 'not-self'. Defining something as 'not-self' limits the meaning of 'self'
> > in
> > a profound way. I can say that my house is not my self; that�s true from
> > both a Buddhist point of view and a Western point of view. But that�s a
> > trivial truth; no one really would claim otherwise. When I say that
> > form/body is 'not-self', though, I�m making a claim that radically denies
> > what many people believe, either unthinkingly or dogmatically, and I�m
> > radically limiting the possible scope of any practical notion of 'self'."
> > I think that part of the problem in thinking about 'atta' is that the
> > points in two directions, which muddles our dualistically inclined minds.
> > In
> > the one direction, it points toward a technical term in a doctrinal
> > tradition which the Buddha's thinking stood in explicitly radical
> > opposition
> > to. The term 'atman' in the Brahminical teachings referred to a real
> > which is the foundation of our sense of Self and which was eternal and
> > "real" in a way that our transitory bodies were not (in some passages,
> > 'atman' is actually described as a tiny homunculus). In the Upanishadic
> > extension of Brahminism, 'atman' was in fact identical with 'brahman',
> > monadic eternal Truth, and the goal of spiritual practice was to realize
> > (i.e. both to profoundly understand and to reify) that unity and so
> > 'moksha' or "release". In this sense, the term 'atta' is equivalent to
> > theistic idea of "soul", and the Buddha is saying, with relation to that
> > point of view, that nothing has the kind of essential nature attributed
> > soul and that, therefore, there is no soul, or no Self. That's the
> > direction
> > toward which, I think, Nagarjuna was looking when he developed his
> > understanding of emptiness.
> > That first understanding of 'anatta', as Noa Ronkin points out, is based
> > an ontology that's focused on processes rather than on substances and
> > attributes. The Buddha's teaching, it seems to me, is all about
> > -
> > the process of experiencing. I'm not talking subjectivity or idealism
> > it's not like there are objective phenomena that we can only know through
> > subjective experience. Experience is real, and "real world" events - the
> > interactions of the physical 'dhammas'- are among the conditions from
> > experience emerges. It's that understanding of conditioned emergence of
> > experienced phenomena ('paticcasamuppada', frequently translated as
> > "dependent arising") that I think, in some important but non-mystical
> > prefigures the current scientific understanding of "self-organization"
> > ardavarz and others were introducing to the discussion.
> > 'Paticcasamuppada' is also a bridge to the other direction in which
> > points - the sense of an identity that, while it may not be eternal,
> > persists from moment to moment despite impermanent and constantly
> > conditions. Again, 'anatta' in this sense may prefigure modern science:
> > this case, the Uncertainty Principle. The most common statement of the
> > Uncertainty Principle is that we can't know simultaneously know both the
> > location and the velocity of quantum level objects, such as photons. A
> > necessary correlate of that principle is that there's no individual
> > (call it "Jim" or "Agnes") that's recognizably distinct from other
> > i.e. that has self-identity. It may be significant here that in defining
> > the
> > three basic 'dhamma' seals, the Buddha used a different term for the
> > seal than for the first two. It's 'sabbe sankhara dukkha' and 'sabbe
> > sankhara anicca' ("all contingent things are 'dukkha'", "all contingent
> > things are impermanent"), but 'sabbe dhammata anatta' ("all things
> > are not-self"). (I may have the Pali a little bolloxed; I don't have my
> > notes here.) I don't think it's wrong to see quantum objects as 'dhammas'
> > in
> > this sense, but I also don't think that it requires that we conceive the
> > Buddha as a being who "knew" the world in the same way that, say, Stephen
> > Hawking does.
> > So, with the term 'anatta', the Buddha is saying that there is no
> > "Self" (or "soul"), and that it is not possible, from any given
> > or sequence of experiences, to identify a "self" which in any way
> > or owns or is embodied in or owned by that experience or sequence of
> > experiences; another way of saying that is that while the "self" we
> > experience at any moment emerges from precedent conditions, it is not
> > possible, even if it were possible to know all current conditions, to
> > predict what "self" that particular body or cognizing being will
> > next moment. The Buddha, I believe, rejected determinism; that rejection
> > what allows us to behave intentionally, to behave skillfully, to
> > the experience that becomes the next moment, the next day, perhaps the
> > life.
> > This certainly doesn't resolve any question, but it may help us see more
> > clearly why it's good to be done with "I-making, my-making, the conceit
> > self".
> > With regard,
> > Richard
> > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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