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I was trying to figure out the meaning of Non-self one day and stumbled upon this idea. Please bear with me as this is a bit long...

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There are four great elements which are responsible for all conceivable objects and forms. If we take a human being, we have a body made of the 4 great elements and a consciousness. As we know there is no such thing called a person beyond the grammatical meaning, therefore neither mind or body is a person or a soul or any such thing.

Let's expand this to a universal level, the same way a body host a consciousness, the universe hosts all consciousnesses. So the assumption here is that 4 great elements provide the infrastructure for the birth of a consciousness. if we forget the identities like human,animal,heavenly,etc, what we have is a sea of 4 great elements that facilitate the existence of all so called "beings". this shows an uncanny resemblance to what we call a being.

- Allow me to elaborate -

A body is a housing for a consciousness, the body consist of the 4 elements. The universe is a housing for consciousnesses, the universe consist of the 4 elements.

Take into account that according to the teaching, the consciousness is not a permanent one, it is explained as a static that occurs and ceases with every though,recognition,comparison,etc.

Taken as a static, a consciousness does not even last a second. Bearing this in mind, allow me to end the question.

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If consciousness is a static like phenomenon, and the body taken out of its uniformed identity resembles the universe itself, can one find that the non-self idea within this context?

  • I know that this is very philosophical, but this is how Buddhism's discussions have happened in the canon and the only way to discuss deeper concepts. as i expecct my friends here to be more than signposts that point directions, i have asked this here and i hope the question is not going to be flagged or deleted because of its long and philosophical nature.**
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"Monks, I will teach you the All. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak."

"As you say, lord," the monks responded.

The Blessed One said, "What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. [1] Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range."
- Sabba Sutta

Universe is a concept. What you call universe in reality is just eye & forms, ear & sounds etc. etc.

So the eye & forms are not-self, ear and sounds are not-self... This idea you have been contemplating represents(in reality) just the mind and thoughts which are also not-self.

  • I agree my friend, what i am trying to discuss is not the meaning of the mind or consciousness. what i am asking is the nature of its existence when taken out of the context of a being at a universal level. – Theravada Oct 14 '17 at 9:42
  • Sankha, please tell me your thoughts on the answer given below by the user - beginner – Theravada Oct 14 '17 at 9:48
  • @Theravada Anatta cannot be seen at the conceptual level. You have to observe ultimate reality. In ultimate reality, the universe is what is mentioned above – Sankha Kulathantille Oct 14 '17 at 13:15
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To say that "all consciousness is not permanent" may be going too far.

Quoted below is form "Paradox of becoming" by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, as it read ‘Consciousness without surface, without end, luminous all around is permanent and lie outside the aggregates. .....................................................................

SN 35:23 indicates that the “all” in “all that is sensed, being unrelished, will grow cold right here” denotes the six sense media. The term “Such” refers to the fact that the arahant’s attainment is effortlessly unaffected by the arising or passing away of anything related to the six senses. Because sensory consciousness arises in dependence on the six sense media, this Suchness is unaffected at the arahant’s death, when sensory consciousness totally ends.

However, a third analogy raises the question of whether there is another mode of consciousness unaffected by the arahant’s death. In this analogy, awakened consciousness is depicted not as a seed but as a beam of light, the four nutriments of consciousness are the various places where a beam of light might land, while passion and delight are the means of its landing.

“Where there is no passion for the nutriment of physical food, where there is no delight, no craving, then consciousness does not land there or 118 grow. Where consciousness does not land or grow, name-&-form does not alight. Where name-&-form does not alight, there is no growth of fabrications. Where there is no growth of fabrications, there is no production of renewed becoming in the future. Where there is no production of renewed becoming in the future, there is no future birth, aging, & death. That, I tell you, has no sorrow, affliction, or despair.

[Similarly with the nutriment of contact, intellectual intention, and consciousness.]

“Just as if there were a roofed house or a roofed hall having windows on the north, the south, or the east. When the sun rises, and a ray has entered by way of the window, where does it land?” “On the western wall, lord.” “And if there is no western wall, where does it land?” “On the ground, lord.” “And if there is no ground, where does it land?” “On the water, lord.” “And if there is no water, where does it land?” “It does not land, lord.”

“In the same way, where there is no passion for the nutriment of physical food … contact … intellectual intention … consciousness, where there is no delight, no craving, then consciousness does not land there or grow. Where consciousness does not land or grow, name-&-form does not alight. Where name-&-form does not alight, there is no growth of fabrications. Where there is no growth of fabrications, there is no production of renewed becoming in the future. Where there is no production of renewed becoming in the future, there is no future birth, aging, & death. That, I tell you, has no sorrow, affliction, or despair.” — SN 12:64

This analogy does not specifically state whether it refers to the arahant before or after death. However, in the context of this analogy, the beam of light depends on the wall, the ground, etc., only for the fact of its appearance and growth within space and time. This suggests that it otherwise would not be affected when the nutriments disappear. Thus the analogy would refer to the arahant both before and after death.

This interpretation is supported by two contexts, one authorial and the other textual. The authorial context is that if the Buddha’s Awakening had revealed that total Unbinding was a state of total unconsciousness, he would never have thought of using this analogy to describe the awakened state.

The textual context is provided by MN 49, which states that—in contrast to the consciousness of an unawakened being, which is known only through its interaction with kamma—the arahant’s knowledge of unconditioned consciousness is totally unmediated.

“‘Having directly known the all [the six sense media and their objects—see SN 35:23] as the all, and having directly known the extent of what has not been experienced through the allness of the all, I wasn’t the all, I wasn’t in the all, I wasn’t coming forth from the all, I wasn’t “The all is mine.” I didn’t affirm the all ….

“‘Consciousness without surface, without end, luminous all around,

has not been experienced through the earthness of earth … the liquidity of liquid … the fieriness of fire … the windiness of wind … the being-ness of beings … the deva-ness of devas … the Pajapati-ness of Pajapati … the brahma-ness of Brahma … the radiant-ness of the radiant (devas) … the beautiful black-ness of the beautiful black (devas) … the sky-fruit-ness of the sky-fruit (devas) … the conqueror-ness of the conqueror … the allness of the all.’” — MN 49

  • Thanks my friend, please tell me your thoughts on the answer given below by the user - beginner – Theravada Oct 14 '17 at 9:48
  • @Theravada... The final conclusion noted by @ beginner " 'not self' = all " is I think a wrong view, because "'not self' = all" truly mean 'no-self' which is the wrong view... If the concluding statement is wrong then the premises must be wrong. – user10552 Oct 14 '17 at 14:47
  • I do not understand "Not self = all" – Theravada Oct 15 '17 at 0:29
  • the finality of his answer is not my finality – Theravada Oct 15 '17 at 0:39
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As you correctly assumed, consciousness is not a separate essence distinct from the four elements. Consciousness emerges based on the form. In other words, consciousness is a property or a dynamic aspect of form+anicca. Consciousness is living, flowing in-form-ation. Not a static piece of information, but non-discrete (analogue?) information that flows as everything in the universe is in motion and interacts.

So consciousness is not something inside human body that starts with birth and ends with death. But we can't say that consciousness permeates the universe and is eternal, that would be a miscategorization. There is nothing like "one" consciousness at the universal level. Consciousness is not continuous, it is emergent, ephemeral.

Information is not separate from its media. Information is media, media is information. Same way, consciousness does not literally exist, just like information, consciousness is implicit in its media - the endless flow of things.

Now, I only used the word "consciousness" because that's what you used, so I wanted it to sound familiar to you. Strictly speaking, we can only talk about consciousness in context of a sentient being. At the level of the universe we could say that consciousness is the hidden spirit or the hidden soul of things, but to use such words would be very confusing. In the universal context I prefer to use a more general word "mind". Mind at large is not self-aware, while consciousness usually develops a notion of self, atta. It's kinda funny to talk about it like this, because consciousness is mind, but we are at the limit of words here.

Anyway, what should be clear is that consciousness is not atta, mind is not atta - atta is a concept that emerges as consciousness in its representational or modeling activity comes up with an object to stand for the subject of interactions and the enjoyer of future results. This is what's described in the Twelve Nidanas, the process by which the notion of self develops through a series of implications or inferences.

Implication is a process by which something is created as a side-product of declaring something else. When we say "this is up" - we're creating "down" implicitly:

When the world sees beauty,
Then ugly exists.
When sees good,
Then bad exists.

Therefore: What is and what is not create each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Tall and short shape each other.
High and low rest on each other.

This is called "this-that conditionality", in Pali Idappaccayatā

This-that conditionality is the mechanism behind Twelve Nidanas, behind the Second and Third Noble Truths, behind Four Immeasurable Abodes, behind First Jhana.

When we create one side, we create the other. When we hate for one side, we crave for the other. When we praise one side, we blame the other. So, when we learn to release one side, we learn to release the other.

"Self" and "world" mutually co-create each other. If we let go of world, we let go of self. If we let go of self, we let go of world. To let go of world is to stop hating the world, or craving for the world, or have any attitude or preference towards the world. To let go of self is the same. That is the end of asava, the preferential attitude, the end of the basis for craving, therefore the end of dukkha.

  • Andrei, first of all thanks for your resourceful answer like always. might i extend the discussion? I do not propose a universal collective or a single universal consciousness, forgive me for the bad choice of words, so allow me to correct myself, What i propose for the discussion is more like lightning. Lightning is born out of the cloud, what we call individual thoughts are essentially resembled by individual minds at a universal scale..... – Theravada Oct 14 '17 at 9:36
  • .....At a larger scale, the mechanics are essentially the same. a thought occurs the same way a mind is born in the first time in a being. What i am attempting to do is trying to comprehend the mechanics of karma at a basic level.... – Theravada Oct 14 '17 at 9:39
  • what i am trying to discuss is not the meaning of the mind or consciousness. what i am asking is the nature of its existence when taken out of the context of a being at a universal level. – Theravada Oct 14 '17 at 9:42
  • Andrei, please tell me your thoughts on the answer given below by the user - beginner – Theravada Oct 14 '17 at 9:47
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From my point of view, you are stating the following: the human body, made of four elements and consciousness, resembles the universe which is also four elements and consciousness. Beyond this formal comparison, I believe you meant to say consciousness is dynamic, given you say the teaching states it is not permanent. It is indeed composed of discrete moments of cognition, according to the Abhidhamma. With these two aspects, you wonder whether the anatman concept can be found therein.

I believe you are alluding to two different things, both of which partially cover the meaning of no-self. The first is the similarity of forms, and therefore the meaninglessness of their distinction. The second is the dissection of the self into parts.

In the first case, one might argue that given the body and the universe share the four elements and consciousness, they are similar, which is what you have done. One might add that these characteristics do not define the body or the universe. This type of reasoning, whereby the identity of a given object is sought, but invalidated because of other objects with similar characteristics (e.g. a table has legs, but so does a chair), can lead to a certain understanding. This understanding is of the self being dissolved by lack of identity, by being indistinct from otherness. The self simply doesn't exist intrinsically, but exists, to refer to Nagarjuna, as dependently originated. That is to say it exists in interconnection with other phenomena.

The second point you put forward is the non-entity status of consciousness, its existence as fragmentary parts. Indeed, a Tibetan master once exposed to my group, at a temple, that emptiness was about division into parts. Because everything can be separated, again and again, in different ways, the self doesn't subsist as a complete and solid entity. Since consciousness occurs through connections always different -- i.e. a moment of consciousness depends of its proximate and subsequent equivalents -- then the self is never the same. As a river flows with continuously different water, but stays the same river, the self appears whole and static but is made up of parts.

While these two answers show certain aspects of reality, a mere conceptual understanding is obviously not sufficient. Such paradigms need to be considered thoroughly through meditation, and in different ways. Vipassana in itself sees reality without the need of a theoretical overarching structure. This shows familiarization through contemplation, and not just literal learning, provides benefits; even this shows such notions don't exist in themselves, in the mind, but require different angles of approach to fully generate insight.

These are merely some aspects of anatman. Many others exist.

Hopefully, this answers some questions.

Eggman.

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MN 38 & SN 22.53 say consciousness is dependently originated dependent on sense organs & the other four aggregates. Therefore, it appears the suttas say there is no consciousness independent of the four elements.

Good, bhikkhus. It is good that you understand the Dhamma taught by me thus. For in many ways I have stated consciousness to be dependently arisen, since without a condition there is no origination of consciousness. Bhikkhus, consciousness is reckoned by the particular condition dependent upon which it arises. When consciousness arises dependent on the eye and forms, it is reckoned as eye-consciousness; when consciousness arises dependent on the ear and sounds, it is reckoned as ear-consciousness; when consciousness arises dependent on the nose and odours, it is reckoned as nose-consciousness; when consciousness arises dependent on the tongue and flavours, it is reckoned as tongue-consciousness; when consciousness arises dependent on the body and tangibles, it is reckoned as body-consciousness; when consciousness arises dependent on the mind and mind-objects, it is reckoned as mind-consciousness. MN 38


Were someone to say, 'I will describe a coming, a going, a passing away, an arising, a growth, an increase, or a proliferation of consciousness apart from form, from feeling, from perception, from fabrications,' that would be impossible. SN 22.53

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Lanka Oct 12 '17 at 12:23
  • thanks you, please tell me your thoughts on the answer given below by the user - beginner – Theravada Oct 14 '17 at 9:49
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I think I got what you're saying. Correct me if I'm wrong ...


You're observing:

  1. Universe houses consciousnesses that arise and cease (because of beings being born and dying)

  2. Mind houses consciousnesses that arise and cease (because, according to the teachings, mind contains consciousnesses that arise and cease with every though, recognition, comparison)

Your conclusion out of these observations:

  1. Universe and mind (look like they) are the same thing.

You're observing:

  1. Universe is made of the 4 great elements

  2. Body is made of the 4 great elements

Your conclusion out of these observations:

  1. Universe and body (look like they) are the same thing.

Your final conclusion out of all these observations:

  1. Since it's obvious the universe is not self, and since universe and mind and body are the same thing, it follows that body and mind are not self, just like the universe is not self.

A = 'not self'. If A = B = C, it follows 'not self' = B = C.

Or ...

Universe = 'not self'. If universe = mind = body, it follows 'not self' = mind = body.

Or ...

'not self' = universe = mind = body

Or ...

'not self' = all


This is all very good.

Your concept has driven you to the truth.

Now you need to experience it yourself.

Why not just close your eyes and perceive.

Whatever you perceive, that which you perceive is not you. Why it's not you? Because it's perceived! If it can be perceived, it CANNOT BE you.

Then why not just open your eyes and perceive.

Whatever you perceive, that which you perceive is not you. Why it's not you? Because it's perceived! If it can be perceived, it CANNOT BE you.

This experience is worth more than all the concepts put together.

Once you experience it ... once you know with experience what is not self ... you'll be ready to investigate not self and experience how from not self comes 'becoming'. Once you experience it ... once you know with experience how and why there is becoming ... Nirvana will follow.

  • well observed my friend, so do you suppose this chain of logic that you have perfectly captured the same way i did is true? – Theravada Oct 14 '17 at 9:46
  • You think the answer is "yes", but that is wrong answer. Your answer really is "I don't know" or "I'm not sure". If you don't know or you're not sure, why don't you verify it yourself and come to a conclusion based on your own observation? Your logic is showing you something. Find out if it's true or not. Meditate and see. Don't loose this opportunity. – beginner Oct 14 '17 at 13:20
  • by the way, i don't believe Not self = universe – Theravada Oct 15 '17 at 0:39
  • Do you believe self = universe? What do you believe? – beginner Oct 17 '17 at 22:43
  • No, i do not associate the identification called "Me" to anything. as i said, this is an attempt to associate Non-self to the body and the universe. – Theravada Oct 19 '17 at 13:33

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