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Customer Discussions > Buddhism forum

Self, Not-Self, and Reincarnation

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Showing 1-25 of 870 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 28, 2007 10:29:57 AM PST
sbissell3 says:
I am interested in discussing with other non-academic people who are, like me, interested in Buddhism as a form of introspection and as an ethical system. The issues I am most interested in discussing are;

1. The Self. Is there an essence to individuals? For me I hold that the `self' is an illusion and a hindrance to enlightenment. I feel that the illusion of `self' and the clinging to an image of `self' is largely responsible much of the suffering in the world.

2. Not-Self. As I understand this, and this is one area where I need help, the `not-self' is an essential part of each sentient being, but is not what we ordinarily mean by `mind.'
3. Reincarnation. I find this one of the concepts of Buddhism which is most like Religion (as opposed to religion) to me. And as such it is one which I have really stopped trying to understand. I now more or less think of reincarnation as sort of the effects of karma. What you do during your one and only life has consequences after you die.

That's about it; hope to see some discussion and some folks who can help me understand.

With Metta,

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 29, 2007 8:17:41 AM PST
Hi Steven,

Yes, the Self, the I am, the perspective of the first person and its negation is the principal reason why in spite being sort of buddhist meditator for years, from the philosophical point of view I'm not a buddhist. The self, the I am, is in fact from my point of view an entity subject to change and as so to suffering, from the buddhist philosophical point of view; I don't see anything wrong with a self that is an incomplete-evolutionary entity or with suffering, in fact, it is part of life and its challenges.

By the way, I'v been always interested in buddhism as a practice, not precisely as an ethical-philosophical system.

Best regards


In reply to an earlier post on Dec 30, 2007 7:04:26 AM PST
sbissell3 says:

I always say, when asked, that I'm a Buddhist with a small 'b.' I am unconvinced that what I observe would qualify as a 'Religion' or even a 'religion.'

My own view of the `Self,' as opposed to the `self,' is that the moment to moment `self' is how we are able to make sense of what we daily encounter. It is a function of memory and the way the brain works. This becomes, however, an illusion that the `mind' is different from what the brain does and creates an illusion of `Self,' an essential essence that makes you distinct from all other beings past, present, and future. In some religious traditions this has become the eternal `soul' and in some Buddhist traditions it may, or may not, be what is reincarnated. I don't recall ever accepting the existence of this essential `Self.' I have no beliefs in the supernatural at all; what you see is what you get. As you can probably see I do not have much use for the Buddhist conception of reincarnation either. We have one very brief life to get things right. If there is anything that comes afterward it is the consequences of how we live now.

I think the `teaching by negation' is one of the things critics of Buddhism seize on; I had (past tense) a fundamentalist Christian friend who was so upset about my observance of Buddhism that we ended up breaking the friendship. His chief complaint was that Buddhism was nihilistic and had `nothing' to offer. (That is an old Buddhist joke; `I sat down to meditate and nothing happened.') By `something' to offer in Christianity he was talking about a spiritual or afterlife; salvation and such.

With Metta,


In reply to an earlier post on Dec 31, 2007 8:05:21 PM PST
calmly says:
Good questions. I'm not well qualified to answer ... but that doesn't stop me from spouting off! Here's what little I do feel comfortable saying:

1) Buddhism definitely does not teach that there is an essence to individuals. That is one key way in which it differs from earlier Hinduism. It is arguable whether Buddhism even teaches that, except for provisionally speaking, there is anything truly individual, given Buddhism's insights into interdependence. So I would agree with your understanding of the "self". A heavy but helpful book for exploring this is
"The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika"
which contains Jay Garfield's translation and commentary.

2) The Buddhist teaching of anatta (not-self) seems to me to be just what you are getting at when you question whether there is an essential Self, i.e. not-self is the teaching that the self has no inherent existence, that it seems to be in a provisional way not unlike a bunch of wood that we use to place things on seems to be a table. One's self only "exists" in relationship and it is just a convenience to treat it as if it had a separate existence.

3) Reincarnation was a Hindu belief. To the extent any Buddhists believe in anything like that, it is referred to as rebirth, to emphasize that there is no permanent self that is continuing on. As to rebirth, I like what one Zen master is reported to have said about rebirth, namely don't ask him, go find a dead Zen master to ask. My own impression is that rebirth is meaningless to wonder about: if one knew somehow (which seems impossible)there were no rebirth would one do something awful just before one died with any certainty it would not lead to some karmic penalty for whatever might be reborn? What you do will have consequences, which may be while you are alive and indirectly after you die but rebirth doesn't seem necessary to understand karma in that way. My impression is that early Buddhists were stuck with reincarnation from the Hindus and settled for rebirth given the different understanding of the self but that "progressive Buddhists" have and do chunk the entire idea of rebirth. Of course, that means calling into question the literalness of some teachings supposedly deriving from the Buddha but questioning authority should be something any Buddhist does. Accepting uncritically teachings that are supernatural, such as rebirth, seems to me not something any Buddhist should feel wise to do, just as accepting the authority of gurus uncritically seems unwise. Unfortunately many forms of Buddhism are as bad as many forms of Christianity and other organized religion in terms of offering authorities and comforts but when those are stripped away when you question them on the basis of vested interests and necessity, a Buddhism without rebirth seems entirely reasonable ... and superior to one that sells rebirth.
One of the problems with rebirth is that it leads into speculations as to how the karma gets passed along from you to some future being, which sometimes has unsupportable speculations about kinds of consciousness. Many of the Tibetan Buddhists seem to go off the deep end IMHO with such speculation or claims or beliefs, unfortunately including the Dalai Lama. Some Chan and Zen teachers seem free of this. Unfortunately, Buddhism, like other organized religions, ends up selling itself to people who want comforts and/or who are gullible and can be manipulated so IMHO you really have be careful with Buddhism, as with any traditional religion, if you want to benefit from any positives it may have rather than just jump into understanding "on your own". Jiddu Krishnamurti's "Freedom from the Known" is a good read on such issues (but you may become dependent on Krishnamurti!). Within Tibetan Buddhism, Dzogchen offers in some ways a cleaner teaching that, at its best, may not seem to depend on accepting rebirth or gurus, but there are Dzogchen teachers who present it in a way that is loaded up so as to drag you into other people's speculations and authoritative pronouncements. When it comes down to it, you may want to just investigate yourself and not get caught up in what Buddhism or any other -ism teaches. If I were a little "stronger" that is what I would do but I opt to try to get what benefit I can from previous teachings while at the same time hope I am sharp enough to spot the nonsense. When it really comes down to it, think about what Buddhism offers: we breath and know that attending to our own breath can quiet us, we look around and know that when we are attentive and free from our thoughts, it helps resolves confusions, we think too much and see it gets us confused, we sit and feel settled ... do you need a Buddhist teacher or teaching to have those benefits? So I think we need to be careful as to just how much benefit all the elaborations of Buddhist teaching, worked out (like Christian teaching and others) over thousand of years really have ... or whether they are carefully worked out to appeal to our weaknesses and win us over to identify with one position or another...being suspicious seems warranted given all the problems human peoples have introduced via religions...but then again religions may teach us about ethics ... yet without Buddhism do you think you would have thought that lying was okay? that stealing was okay? that killing was okay? Do you need precepts for that? What Buddhism may offer is a chance to find others of a like mind and maybe something more respectful of our universe than secular atheism may seem to offer (but that is arguable). Hope some of this is clear, I know it goes way beyond your questions but then again, I don't think it really does

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2008 8:20:11 AM PST
sbissell3 says:
I think that Stephen Batchleor's book, 'Buddhism Without Beliefs' has influenced me as much as anything in this area. I also like the science oriented books of Wes Nesker.

My primary teacher avoids much of the problems of Karma and Reincarnation by saying that they are not really the point anyway. Just getting the 5 Precepts down is hard enough without worrying about the rest.


In reply to an earlier post on Jan 2, 2008 4:39:16 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 2, 2008 4:47:38 PM PST
Wonderlane says:
"Buddhism definitely does not teach that there is an essence to individuals." Yes, it does, but it teaches that essence is the same in all beings. Yet, at the highest level of truth not even the thought of me exists.

The teaching as I understand it is that like churning butter from milk -- there is something there in living beings, which reincarnates, and becomes enlightened - our bodhi-nature. The example is people don't churn water to obtain butter because the essence required to obtain butter is not contained in water; the nature of being is there are no definate differences between beings minds, still there is something there which becomes enlightened, its not all emptiness. The Buddha taught to living beings.

Agreed everything is in relation to everything else regarding "no inherent existence" - seems that is a subtle teaching but thoroughly truth.

Also agree with Steven, getting the precepts is the goal, not getting a great rebirth, and probably for many people wondering who we used to be or who we will be in the future is really besides the point. Faced with death, reminded of death, the goal of practicing, praying, acting with reverance for everyone one meets becomes an instant and immediate goal.

If one is a person who can recall prior births, what good does it do to tell anyone else? For the person who can recall prior births, it is just a fact of life.

For the person who can not recall prior births, such information sounds like an interesting story, but really does them little good to know that others can do that if they have little or no faith in reincarnation in the first place.

The Buddha himself spoke many times about the exertion he made in prior lifetimes, and lovely stories of his prior births come down to our time, as you know, as the Jakata tales. Some of the stories were a bit political, for example, the story of when he was born as a tree spirit and witnessed the dispute of two river otters and a fox who took advantage. In some small ways the Buddha pointed out things which he did not approve of, just by gesturing towards them.

Knowledge of reincarnation is a spur. Result and cause, cause and result, we live the life which is the result of former actions, and those of the people around us. In this fashion we are immediately enlightened all the time, all around us.

Personally I am just relieved to understand that I am a result of my thoughts, because then I can have some hope, if I watch my thoughts, I can mitigate them. This is in part what mantra is about, it is the safeguard of thought.

In no way do I understand how this all got started, but I have a feeling that I know where it is going. I live in heaven which is Seattle; how much more lucky could I ever be? Writing this post I am reminded that I can write, which means many things - I am human, I have ease, I have an education, and so forth and so on. If I can continue to gaze deeply into my own mind, and into the practices and continue to read and reflect, I could do this for a very long time, many lifetimes, and hope that I will mature. Once I mature, it would only make sense to teach.

Isn't that the flavor of the entire path?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 5:04:08 AM PST
Wonderlane says:
7. The Goddess
Thereupon, Manjusri, the crown prince, addressed the Licchavi Vimalakirti: "Good sir, how should a bodhisattva regard all living beings?"
Vimalakirti replied, "Manjusri, a bodhisattva should regard all livings beings as a wise man regards the reflection of the moon in water or as magicians regard men created by magic.

He should regard them as being like a face in a mirror;
like the water of a mirage;
like the sound of an echo;
like a mass of clouds in the sky;
like the previous moment of a ball of foam;
like the appearance and disappearance of a bubble of water;
like the core of a plantain tree;
like a flash of lightning;
like the fifth great element;
like the seventh sense-medium;
like the appearance of matter in an immaterial realm;
like a sprout from a rotten seed;
like a tortoise-hair coat;
like the fun of games for one who wishes to die;
like the egoistic views of a stream-winner;
like a third rebirth of a once-returner;
like the descent of a nonreturner into a womb;
like the existence of desire, hatred, and folly in a saint;
like thoughts of avarice, immorality, wickedness, and hostility in a bodhisattva who has attained tolerance;
like the instincts of passions in a Tathagata;
like the perception of color in one blind from birth;
like the inhalation and exhalation of an ascetic absorbed in the meditation of cessation;
like the track of a bird in the sky;
like the erection of a eunuch;
like the pregnancy of a barren woman;
like the unproduced passions of an emanated incarnation of the Tathagata;
like dream-visions seen after waking;
like the passions of one who is free of conceptualizations;
like fire burning without fuel;
like the reincarnation of one who has attained ultimate liberation.
"Precisely thus, Manjusri, does a bodhisattva who realizes the ultimate selflessness consider all beings."
Manjusri then asked further, "Noble sir, if a bodhisattva considers all living beings in such a way, how does he generate the great love toward them?"
Vimalakirti replied, "Manjusri, when a bodhisattva considers all living beings in this way, he thinks: 'Just as I have realized the Dharma, so should I teach it to living beings.' Thereby, he generates the love that is truly a refuge for all living beings;
the love that is peaceful because free of grasping;
the love that is not feverish, because free of passions;
the love that accords with reality because it is equanimous in all three times;
the love that is without conflict because free of the violence of the passions;
the love that is nondual because it is involved neither with the external nor with the internal;
the love that is imperturbable because totally ultimate.

"Thereby he generates the love that is firm, its high resolve unbreakable, like a diamond;
the love that is pure, purified in its intrinsic nature;
the love that is even, its aspirations being equal;
the saint's love that has eliminated its enemy;
the bodhisattva's love that continuously develops living beings;
The Tathagata's love that understands reality;
the Buddha's love that causes living beings to awaken from their sleep;
the love that is spontaneous because it is fully enlightened spontaneously;
the love that is enlightenment because it is unity of experience;
the love that has no presumption because it has eliminated attachment and aversion;
the love that is great compassion because it infuses the Mahayana with radiance;
the love that is never exhausted because it acknowledges voidness and selflessness;
the love that is giving because it bestows the gift of Dharma free of the tight fist of a bad teacher;
the love that is morality because it improves immoral living beings;
the love that is tolerance because it protects both self and others;
the love that is effort because it takes responsibility for all living beings;
the love that is contemplation because it refrains from indulgence in tastes;
the love that is wisdom because it causes attainment at the proper time;
the love that is liberative technique because it shows the way everywhere;
the love that is without formality because it is pure in motivation;
the love that is without deviation because it acts from decisive motivation;
the love that is high resolve because it is without passions;
the love that is without deceit because it is not artificial;
the love that is happiness because it introduces living beings to the happiness of the Buddha.
Such, Manjusri, is the great love of a bodhisattva."
Manjusri: What is the great compassion of a bodhisattva?
Vimalakirti: It is the giving of all accumulated roots of virtue to all living beings.
Manjusri: What is the great joy of the bodhisattva?
Vimalakirti: It is to be joyful and without regret in giving.
Manjusri: What is the equanimity of the bodhisattva?
Vimalakirti: It is what benefits both self and others.
Manjusri: To what should one resort when terrified by fear of life?
Vimalakirti: Manjusri, a bodhisattva who is terrified by fear of life should resort to the magnanimity of the Buddha.
Manjusri: Where should he who wishes to resort to the magnanimity of the Buddha take his stand?
Vimalakirti: He should stand in equanimity toward all living beings.
Manjusri: Where should he who wishes to stand in equanimity toward all living beings take his stand?
Vimalakirti: He should live for the liberation of all living beings.
Manjusri: What should he who wishes to liberate all living beings do?
Vimalakirti: He should liberate them from their passions.
Manjusri: How should he who wishes to eliminate passions apply himself?
Vimalakirti: He should apply himself appropriately.
Manjusri: How should he apply himself, to "apply himself appropriately"?
Vimalakirti: He should apply himself to productionlessness and to destructionlessness.
Manjusri: What is not produced? And what is not destroyed?
Vimalakirti: Evil is not produced and good is not destroyed.
Manjusri: What is the root of good and evil?
Vimalakirti: Materiality is the root of good and evil.
Manjusri: What is the root of materiality?
Vimalakirti: Desire is the root of materiality.
Manjusri: What is the root of desire and attachment?
Vimalakirti: Unreal construction is the root of desire.
Manjusri: What is the root of unreal construction?
Vimalakirti: The false concept is its root.
Manjusri: What is the root of the false concept?
Vimalakirti: Baselessness.
Manjusri: What it the root of baselessness?
Vimalakirti: Manjusri, when something is baseless, how can it have any root? Therefore, all things stand on the root which is baseless.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 5:04:30 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2008 5:09:22 AM PST
Wonderlane says:
Thereupon, a certain goddess who lived in that house, having heard this teaching of the Dharma of the great heroic bodhisattvas, and being delighted, pleased, and overjoyed, manifested herself in a material body and showered the great spiritual heroes, the bodhisattvas, and the great disciples with heavenly flowers. When the flowers fell on the bodies of the bodhisattvas, they fell off on the floor, but when they fell on the bodies of the great disciples, they stuck to them and did not fall. The great disciples shook the flowers and even tried to use their magical powers, but still the flowers would not shake off. Then, the goddess said to the venerable Sariputra, "Reverend Sariputra, why do you shake these flowers?"
Sariputra replied, "Goddess, these flowers are not proper for religious persons and so we are trying to shake them off."

The goddess said, "Do not say that, reverend Sariputra. Why? These flowers are proper indeed! Why? Such flowers have neither constructual thought nor discrimination. But the elder Sariputra has both constructual thought and discrimination.

"Reverend Sariputra, impropriety for one who has renounced the world for the discipline of the rightly taught Dharma consists of constructual thought and discrimination, yet the elders are full of such thoughts. One who is without such thoughts is always proper.

"Reverend Sariputra, see how these flowers do not stick to the bodies of these great spiritual heroes, the bodhisattvas! This is because they have eliminated constructual thoughts and discriminations.

"For example, evil spirits have power over fearful men but cannot disturb the fearless. Likewise, those intimidated by fear of the world are in the power of forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, which do not disturb those who are free from fear of the passions inherent in the constructive world. Thus, these flowers stick to the bodies of those who have not eliminated their instincts for the passions and do not stick to the bodies of those who have eliminated their instincts. Therefore, the flowers do not stick to the bodies of these bodhisattvas, who have abandoned all instincts."

Then the venerable Sariputra said to the goddess, "Goddess, how long have you been in this house?"

The goddess replied, "I have been here as long as the elder has been in liberation."

Sariputra said, "Then, have you been in this house for quite some time?"

The goddess said, "Has the elder been in liberation for quite some time?"

At that, the elder Sariputra fell silent.

The goddess continued, "Elder, you are 'foremost of the wise!' Why do you not speak? Now, when it is your turn, you do not answer the question."

Sariputra: Since liberation is inexpressible, goddess, I do not know what to say.

Goddess: All the syllables pronounced by the elder have the nature of liberation. Why? Liberation is neither internal nor external, nor can it be apprehended apart from them. Likewise, syllables are neither internal nor external, nor can they be apprehended anywhere else. Therefore, reverend Sariputra, do not point to liberation by abandoning speech! Why? The holy liberation is the equality of all things!

Sariputra: Goddess, is not liberation the freedom from desire, hatred, and folly?

Goddess: "Liberation is freedom from desire, hatred, and folly" that is the teaching of the excessively proud. But those free of pride are taught that the very nature of desire, hatred, and folly is itself liberation.

Sariputra: Excellent! Excellent, goddess! Pray, what have you attained, what have you realized, that you have such eloquence?

Goddess: I have attained nothing, reverend Sariputra. I have no realization. Therefore I have such eloquence. Whoever thinks, "I have attained! I have realized!" is overly proud in the discipline of the well-taught Dharma.

Sariputra: Goddess, do you belong to the disciple-vehicle, to the solitary-vehicle, or to the great vehicle?

Goddess: I belong to the disciple-vehicle when I teach it to those who need it. I belong to the solitary-vehicle when I teach the twelve links of dependent origination to those who need them. And, since I never abandon the great compassion, I belong to the great vehicle, as all need that teaching to attain ultimate liberation.

Nevertheless, reverend Sariputra, just as one cannot smell the castor plant in a magnolia wood, but only the magnolia flowers, so, reverend Sariputra, living in this house, which is redolent with the perfume of the virtues of the Buddha-qualities, one does not smell the perfume of the disciples and the solitary sages. Reverend Sariputra, the Sakras, the Brahmas, the Lokapalas, the devas, nagas, yaksas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, and mahoragas who live in this house hear the Dharma from the mouth of this holy man and, enticed by the perfume of the virtues of the Buddha-qualities, proceed to conceive the spirit of enlightenment.

Reverend Sariputra, I have been in this house for twelve years, and I have heard no discourses concerning the disciples and solitary sages but have heard only those concerning the great love, the great compassion, and the inconceivable qualities of the Buddha.

Reverend Sariputra, eight strange and wonderful things manifest themselves constantly in this house. What are these eight?

A light of golden hue shines here constantly, so bright that it is hard to distinguish day and night; and neither the moon nor the sun shines here distinctly. That is the first wonder of this house.
Furthermore, reverend Sariputra, whoever enters this house is no longer troubled by his passions from the moment he is within. That is the second strange and wonderful thing.

Furthermore, reverend Sariputra, this house is never forsaken by Sakra, Brahma, the Lokapalas, and the bodhisattvas from all the other buddha-fields. That is the third strange and wonderful thing.

Furthermore, reverend Sariputra, this house is never empty of the sounds of the Dharma, the discourse on the six transcendences, and the discourses of the irreversible wheel of the Dharma. That is the fourth strange and wonderful thing.

Furthermore, reverend Sariputra, in this house one always hears the rhythms, songs, and music of gods and men, and from this music constantly resounds the sound of the infinite Dharma of the Buddha. That is the fifth strange and wonderful thing.

Furthermore, reverend Sariputra, in this house there are always four inexhaustible treasures, replete with all kinds of jewels, which never decrease, although all the poor and wretched may partake to their satisfaction. That is the sixth strange and wonderful thing.

Furthermore, reverend Sariputra, at the wish of this good man, to this house come the innumerable Tathagatas of the ten directions, such as the Tathagatas Sakyamuni, Amitabha, Aksobhya, Ratnasri, Ratnarcis, Ratnacandra, Ratnavyuha, Dusprasaha, Sarvarthasiddha, Ratnabahula, Simhakirti, Simhasvara, and so forth; and when they come they teach the door of Dharma called the "Secrets of the Tathagatas" and then depart. That is the seventh strange and wonderful thing.

Furthermore, reverend Sariputra, all the splendors of the abodes of the gods and all the splendors of the fields of the Buddhas shine forth in this house. That is the eighth strange and wonderful thing.

Reverend Sariputra, these eight strange and wonderful things are seen in this house. Who then, seeing such inconceivable things, would believe the teaching of the disciples?

Sariputra: Goddess, what prevents you from transforming yourself out of your female state?

Goddess: Although I have sought my "female state" for these twelve years, I have not yet found it.

Reverend Sariputra, if a magician were to incarnate a woman by magic, would you ask her, "What prevents you from transforming yourself out of your female state?"

Sariputra: No! Such a woman would not really exist, so what would there be to transform?

Goddess: Just so, reverend Sariputra, all things do not really exist. Now, would you think, "What prevents one whose nature is that of a magical incarnation from transforming herself out of her female state?"

Thereupon, the goddess employed her magical power to cause the elder Sariputra to appear in her form and to cause herself to appear in his form. Then the goddess, transformed into Sariputra, said to Sariputra, transformed into a goddess, "Reverend Sariputra, what prevents you from transforming yourself out of your female state?"

And Sariputra, transformed into the goddess, replied, "I no longer appear in the form of a male! My body has changed into the body of a woman! I do not know what to transform!"

The goddess continued, "If the elder could again change out of the female state, then all women could also change out of their female states. All women appear in the form of women in just the same way
as the elder appears in the form of a woman. While they are not women in reality, they appear in the form of women. With this in mind, the Buddha said, 'In all things, there is neither male nor female.'"

Then, the goddess released her magical power and each returned to his ordinary form. She then said to him, "Reverend Sariputra, what have you done with your female form?"

Sariputra: I neither made it nor did I change it.

Goddess: Just so, all things are neither made nor changed, and that they are not made and not changed, that is the teaching of the Buddha.

Sariputra: Goddess, where will you be born when you transmigrate after death?

Goddess: I will be born where all the magical incarnations of the Tathagata are born.

Sariputra: But the emanated incarnations of the Tathagata do not transmigrate nor are they born.

Goddess: All things and living beings are just the same; they do not transmigrate nor are they born!

Sariputra: Goddess, how soon will you attain the perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood?

Goddess: At such time as you, elder, become endowed once more with the qualities of an ordinary individual, then will I attain the perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood.

Sariputra: Goddess, it is impossible that I should become endowed once more with the qualities of an ordinary individual.

Goddess: Just so, reverend Sariputra, it is impossible that I should attain the perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood! Why? Because perfect enlightenment stands upon the impossible. Because it is impossible, no one attains the perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood.

Sariputra: But the Tathagata has declared: "The Tathagatas, who are as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, have attained perfect Buddhahood, are attaining perfect Buddhahood, and will go on attaining perfect Buddhahood."

Goddess: Reverend Sariputra, the expression, "the Buddhas of the past, present and future," is a conventional expression made up of a certain number of syllables. The Buddhas are neither past, nor present, nor future. Their enlightenment transcends the three times! But tell me, elder, have you attained sainthood?

Sariputra: It is attained, because there is no attainment.

Goddess: Just so, there is perfect enlightenment because there is no attainment of perfect enlightenment.

Then the Licchavi Vimalakirti said to the venerable elder Sariputra, "Reverend Sariputra, this goddess has already served ninety-two million billion Buddhas. She plays with the superknowledges. She has truly succeeded in all her vows. She has gained the tolerance of the birthlessness of things. She has actually attained irreversibility. She can live wherever she wishes on the strength of her vow to develop living beings."

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 6:48:19 AM PST
sbissell3 says:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I'm afraid that my training, and inclination, as a scientist influences me more than my study of Buddhism on this issue. I doubt if I will ever accept the idea of a 'supernatural' Self or eternal essence.

However I agree with you that the effort to acheive enlightenment implies teaching. I think you have to be careful, and mindful of 'right speech', to avoid trying to teach someone when they are not receptive. I find the missionianic zeal of some Christians one of the hardest things for me not get angry about (fear and anger remain my biggest problems in my practise). I grew up in a Christian religious tradition what almost required missionary work and it always bothered me.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 11:10:44 AM PST
Hi Steven and Everyone reading along,

It's quite interesting to note that even though as engineer, I was formed in the most strict scientific discipline, when I found quantum mechanics and the fact that you cannot "see" the electron because of the uncertainty principle, I realized that "seeing" is not enough for coping reality. But I come too, from a christian tradition specially in the line of Teilhard de Chardin, that later on took me to a new cosmic perspective that finnally gave me many answers to my scientific mind, I mean when I found the Urantia Book, which offered to my personal life new meanings regardind the big three: science, philosophy and spirituality.

As I told you before, I'm a buddhist practitioner since a long time ago, but I could never assimilate its philosophical framework, as I think, like you have suggested, Buddhism is not a religion, but a philosophy with valid practical applications in what they called the sixth sense or the sphere of mind.

Best regard


In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 11:46:54 AM PST
gate', gate', paragate', parasamgate' bodhi svaha

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 1:42:13 PM PST
sbissell3 says:

Thanks for the post. I had never heard of the The Urantia Book before so I spent a little time on-line reading about it. Frankly I'm confused here. The Urantia Book seems, to me, to be somewhat like Scientology, except that it explicitly says there is a supreme being of some sort. I fail to see how that can be reconciled with Buddhism, but if you have found what you need here spiritually, good for you.

Thanks for the reference.


In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 1:55:31 PM PST

Just let me quote what UB says about Buddhism, please:

"The great strength of Buddhism is that its adherents are free to choose truth from all religions; such freedom of choice has seldom characterized a Urantian faith. In this respect the Shin sect of Japan has become one of the most progressive religious groups in the world; it has revived the ancient missionary spirit of Gautama's followers and has begun to send teachers to other peoples. This willingness to appropriate truth from any and all sources is indeed a commendable tendency to appear among religious believers during the first half of the twentieth century after Christ."

My best regards


In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 2:06:36 PM PST
sbissell3 says:

Thank you. As I said, my knowledge of the Urantia Book is almost nil. Very interesting but probably not for me. I have no issues with any particular Religion; it is just that a very early age I came to realize that belief in the supernatural in any form was not for me.

BTW, I also know nothing about Shin Buddhism but in another context I have made the casual observation that Buddhist missionary work must be done carefully within context of 'Right Speech.' My main teacher emphasizes that 'right speech' needs to be 'timely.' No matter how sincere you are in speaking what you consider to be the Truth, if it is spoken at the wrong time or in the wrong context, more harm than good might come from it.


In reply to an earlier post on Jan 4, 2008 5:07:18 AM PST
Yes, Steven, it is quite interesting to note how in the west we now have something equivalent to the "Right Speech", I mean, a philosophical framework or a paradigm per Thomas S. Kuhn in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which the philosophical context or philosophical stance or "beliefs" are so important that they can make incompatible any discussion between two people to the point that they will feel themselves in different worlds, a reason why it's so important to differentiate the philosophical context of each one but by putting oneself in a higher context, I think, it is possible not to fall in a fanatic position which is the one that really makes impossible the continuation of any discussion, but it has been with science where we have learned how to do it, hasn't it ?

Thank you too and my best regards


In reply to an earlier post on Jan 5, 2008 8:44:51 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 5, 2008 9:10:48 AM PST
Hi Steven,

I've been practicing -- for lack of a catch-all term -- Zen Buddhism, but with an emphasis on its Taoist influences. I've been greatly influenced by the work of Stephen Batchelor and Alan Watts.

The notion of Self is something with which I'm still grappling. If there is no "I", then who is it that is practicing? I think in Buddhism, "Self" is more the notion of an enduring "I" that is separate from everything, so in that respect, I don't believe "I" exist. I've always enjoyed Alan Watts likening the individual to a flame; it exists in the world, it looks like a singular entity, but in reality is an illumination of the gasses passing through it. So, too, are we illuminations of a process. And as such, we are quite impermanent.

To me Not-Self means, paradoxically, what "I" am once I realize that I am not this body, these perceptions, or even these thoughts. It seems to be that bit of self-awareness that knows it's part of everything else. It's what is watching my thoughts during meditation.

Reincarnation is the tough one. On the surface, it seems little more than another carrot-and-stick scheme for virtuous behavior, not unlike the idea of heaven and hell. It also seems a simplistic attempt to explain why "bad" things happen to people. I tend to separate it from karma, which I truly believe operates in the world, but only within our lifetimes, not over several lifetimes.

Now, I'm no physicist, but the only idea that might help me get a handle on the possiblity of reincarnation and karma-across-lifetimes is viewing it from a sub-atomic level. What we are cannot be physically destroyed, only reappropriated as matter or energy (the whole cycle-of-life thing). So all sentient beings today are composed, at the smallest possible level, of the parts of past sentient beings. And all those particles have inherent vibrations and other characteristics. If karma somehow influences those characteristics at that level, then perhaps our actions do have repercussions for us over lifetimes.

Of course, I've got no way of knowing this. It's just a thought.



In reply to an earlier post on Jan 5, 2008 9:38:17 AM PST
sbissell3 says:

Isn't that a Zen Koan?

Q. If there is no 'self,' who is sitting?

A. No one.

I use to have a cartoon which showed two Zen Monks sitting on the floor. The younger one was looking at the older one with a question on his face. The older one is saying, "What do you mean 'What's next?' That's it!"

I have two things which I think about. One is that the 'self' I was 20 years ago (or even an hour ago) and the 'self' right now are not the same. Both were just what the brain does to make sense of the passing of time. The other thing is that since I have been seriously practising my dreams have become 'lucid' as the current jargon goes. I know that the Buddhist interpretation of dreams is that they are just the dust-bin for the days activities, but my point is that I know recognize false memories and attachments and other 'tricks' of my mind.

Sometimes the 'mind' is called a Drunken Monkey in Vipassana meditation. My main teacher says that sometimes the Monkey is on Mescaline and has gotten his mitts on the remote control. ;-) Sometimes on an especially calm sit I can see the 'self' changing from moment to moment. I think that is one of the lessons of particle physics; you can never 'nail down' reality, there is always uncertainty.


In reply to an earlier post on Jan 13, 2008 7:35:03 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 13, 2008 9:06:26 PM PST
A customer says:

Thanks for starting this thread. Your questions are at the core of Buddhism and, I think, a crucial question for modern philosophy and psychology.

Is there a self? Master Gotama was asked this question by the wanderer Vacchagotta, who features in a number of suttas in the Pali Canon that establish Gotama's non-metaphysical pedigree. When asked this question, "the Blessed One was silent." When asked if there was no self, "A second time the Blessed One was silent." Vacchagotta went away, presumably scratching his head, and Ananda, Gotama's faithful aide during the last twenty years of his life, asked him why he didn't answer. Gotama tells Ananda that he would not want to side with, on the one hand, the eternalists, nor on the other, the annihilationists. He goes on to say that if he had answered, "There is a self" this would have been inconsistent with his previous statements that "all phenomena are non-self." And if he had answered "There is no self," Vacchagotta, already confused, would have gone away thinking, "It seems that the self I formerly had does not exist now." This comes from Article 10 in Sutta 44 from the Samyutta Nikaya (SN, 44:10). Bhikkhu Bodhi, who translated this text from the Pali Canon, says in a note to this last statement that this proves that since Gotama actually declares "all phenomena are non-self" that this was what he believed. Gotama says elsewhere (Samyutta Nikaya, Sutta 22, article 59(7) "Therefore bhikkhus, any kind of form whatsoever, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, ll form should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: `This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.'

There has been mention of Stephen Batchelor in this thread. I have had the privilege of accompanying Stephen on pilgrimage in India. I was initially somewhat puzzled, when in his talk under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya; he maintained that the root of Gotama's enlightenment was recognition of dependent origination. Not the Four Noble Truths, but dependent origination. Gotama says (SN, 12:65(5)) `I have discovered this path to enlightenment, that is, with the cessation of name-and form comes cessation of consciousness; with the cessation of consciousness comes cessation of name-and-form; with the cessation of the six sense basis . . . Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering." But that puzzlement led to the recognition that the recognition of the dependence of self on a chain of causation is the start of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

Many have agreed with Gotama over the years. Sextus Empricus shares his anti-metaphysical attitude. Nagarjuna says "Something that is not dependently arisen, such a thing does not exist. Therefore a nonempty thing does not exist." David Hume saw that the self was an illusion ('tis evident these ideas of self and person are never very fix'd nor determinate. 'Tis absurd, therefore, to imagine the senses can ever distinguish betwixt ourselves and external objects.) I think the quantum mechanical notion of entanglement has a lot in common with dependent origination.

In short, I think you are on to something! If this has an air of paradox, well maybe it just IS paradoxical. There is a brilliant Australian logcian named Graham Priest who has argued for over 20 years that contradictions are characteristic of certain contexts at the limit of thought, that contradictions can be real. He calls the typical case an "inclosure schema." This is a pattern characterized by 1) existence, 2) transendence, and 3) closure. There exists a class of beings known as humans (existence.) There is no self; only a stream of present perceptions (transcendence.) But who is the one who is expressing it (closure?)

With metta.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 14, 2008 7:22:54 AM PST
sbissell3 says:

Thank you for such a thoughtful and informed post.

My interest in 'self' and such has led me to try and learn the Standard Model of Particle Physics and how it relates to Cosmology. This is largely an issue of how to incorporate gravity into the Standard Model. I am a scientist, but lack the math skills necessary to understand the details of the various theories, but there are some issues which relate to the idea of 'self' and dependent origination.

Strangely the various theories all imply that there is a `quanta' of both time and space; that time has exists in discrete units of, as I recall, about 10 to the minus 33rd of a second and that space exists in discrete units of about 10 to the minus 53rd of a centimeter. If you divide either of these, the two halves are greater than the original whole. You'll have to take it on my word that this is the interpretation, but there actually seems to be empirical evidence of at least the quanta of time.

What this means is that the Universe is actually `this' Universe. We live in an observable Universe which arose `out of nothing,' which is a false vacuum, but was tunneled from another Universe. It seems at first to contradict dependent origination, but at the basis confirms it.

My understanding of the basic Buddhist teachings implies that infinite in terms of our perception, but finite in terms of objective reality. I might be wrong on that as it is a sticky point for me.

Anyway, thanks and BTW would you mind emailing me off-discussion so that I can ask some questions about your pilgrimage to India? I think I'm going on the same one; `The Path of the Buddha' next year. I understand Stephen Batchelor is writing an article for Trycycle on it, but I have some other questions.

With much Metta,

Your reply to sbissell3's post:
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In reply to an earlier post on Feb 12, 2008 2:25:24 AM PST
F. Fei says:
Hi W.H.Merklee, to understand Non-Duality and No-Self in Buddhism, you cannot separate Self from thoughts, from body, from these perceptions. That precisely is 'duality'.

There is no Self at all, there is no Observer, there is no Eternal Witness.

What is Buddha Nature? True self is in fact 'awareness' as everything... clarity-appearances-emptiness inseparable -- the transient thoughts, perceptions, and body, and also the the bird chirping, the words appearing on the screen. There is no "watcher" watching the thoughts, or hearing the birds, you are the chirping, you are the thoughts, you are the text appearing on the screen. Observer is the observed.

Often when someone has certain transcendental experience of pure luminosity, he mistakens it as an eternal background reality... he had a glimpse of pure awareness, but without the insight into no-self and emptiness the experience will be distorted and misunderstood.

These links may help explain what I am talking about on the different levels of realisation:

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 14, 2008 7:35:55 AM PST
In honor of Valentines Day: If "I" am an illusion, then who was it that bought my wife a Valentine's Day card last night and kissed her this morning before "I" left for work?

If "I" am an illusion - is my wife one of these illusions, too? Is our love itself an illusion?

No long complicated answers, please. These are short, simple questions.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 14, 2008 8:02:15 AM PST
sbissell3 says:
You are confusing the issues. Obviously the physical 'you' and the physical 'my wife' (isn't that a trifle possessive?) are real, not illusions. What is an illusion is the idea of an intrinsic 'Self.' Is the 'you' that went to elementary school the same 'you' that got married and bought a valentine? Will that be the say 'you' in five, ten years? Will that be the 'you' that eventually dies?

As to 'love' being an illusion, I'm not a good one to ask. I've given up on that, I just find an angry woman about every five years and buy her a house.

With Metta,


In reply to an earlier post on Feb 14, 2008 8:17:21 AM PST
It sounds to me like you are confusing "intrinsic self" with "fixed self". Everything changes - but things that change do not, thereby, cease to exist.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 14, 2008 8:28:28 AM PST
sbissell3 says:
Maybe if you tell me whether or not you believe that you have an intrinsic 'Self' in terms of a soul or atman, or an essential existence other than your physical 'self' it would help me understand what you are coming from. I did not imply nor mean a 'fixed' self.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 14, 2008 8:43:34 AM PST
You go first. What is this thing that you call a "Self" that does not exist?
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