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Re: [Pali] Re: Translating anatta

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  • Gabriel Jaeger
    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
    Message 1 of 28 , May 21, 2010
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      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,
      tenphel

      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,
      >
      > Piya
      >
      > On Tue, May 18, 2010 at 7:48 AM, Richard Blumberg <richard@...>
      > wrote:
      >
      > > I've been following this thread with enormous interest; this is quite a
      > > remarkably well-informed and thoughtful group, and I've learned from
      > every
      > > 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'.
      > In
      > > my rendering of the Anattalakkhana Sutta, (
      > > http://dharmastudy.org/suttas-2/anattalakkhana-sutta/), which I use in
      > the
      > > 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
      > to
      > > the passage in the sutta in which the Buddha tells the five 'bhikkhus'
      > that
      > > 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
      > say
      > > '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
      > term
      > > 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
      > entity
      > > 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,
      > the
      > > 'atman' is actually described as a tiny homunculus). In the Upanishadic
      > > extension of Brahminism, 'atman' was in fact identical with 'brahman',
      > the
      > > 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
      > attain
      > > 'moksha' or "release". In this sense, the term 'atta' is equivalent to
      > the
      > > 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
      > to
      > > 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
      > on
      > > an ontology that's focused on processes rather than on substances and
      > their
      > > attributes. The Buddha's teaching, it seems to me, is all about
      > experience
      > > -
      > > the process of experiencing. I'm not talking subjectivity or idealism
      > here;
      > > 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
      > which
      > > 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
      > way,
      > > prefigures the current scientific understanding of "self-organization"
      > that
      > > ardavarz and others were introducing to the discussion.
      > >
      > > 'Paticcasamuppada' is also a bridge to the other direction in which
      > 'atta'
      > > points - the sense of an identity that, while it may not be eternal,
      > > persists from moment to moment despite impermanent and constantly
      > changing
      > > conditions. Again, 'anatta' in this sense may prefigure modern science:
      > in
      > > 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
      > photon
      > > (call it "Jim" or "Agnes") that's recognizably distinct from other
      > photons,
      > > 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
      > third
      > > 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
      > whatever
      > > 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
      > essential
      > > "Self" (or "soul"), and that it is not possible, from any given
      > experience
      > > or sequence of experiences, to identify a "self" which in any way
      > embodies
      > > 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
      > experience
      > > next moment. The Buddha, I believe, rejected determinism; that rejection
      > is
      > > what allows us to behave intentionally, to behave skillfully, to
      > influence
      > > the experience that becomes the next moment, the next day, perhaps the
      > next
      > > 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
      > of
      > > self".
      > >
      > > With regard,
      > >
      > > Richard
      > >
      > >
      > > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > > ------------------------------------
      > >
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      > > Paa.li-Parisaa - The Pali Collective
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      > Paa.li-Parisaa - The Pali Collective
      > [Homepage] http://www.tipitaka.net
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