3

With reference to this comment:

An intrinsic nature, essence or characteristic that is unique to some phenomena that can be described as that phenomena's self. The self of chair would be that intrinsic nature, essence or unique characteristic or set of characteristics that imbue chairness on a chair. Western philosophers might describe it as a platonic ideal.

In Theravada Buddhism, "sabbe dhamma anatta", means all phenomena is not self. This can also be rephrased as there is no self in all phenomena, with the understanding of "self" as a permanent and eternal core or soul or self at the center of beings and also non-beings. A chair, a tree, a cat, the mind, empty space and Nibbana all do not have a self, according to Theravada. All things except Nibbana, are subject to change, arising and passing - these are known as "sankhara", or conditioned and/or compounded things. The term "dhamma" refers to phenomena, which includes Nibbana and also all sankharas. Basically everything falls under "dhamma". The emptiness of Theravada refers to the notion that all phenomena is empty of a self. "Sabbe dhamma anatta" is accepted by Mahayana Buddhism too.

Meanwhile, in Mahayana Buddhism, specifically in Madhyamaka, all phenomena is empty of intrinsic essence. Emptiness itself is also empty of intrinsic essence - sometimes called the emptiness of emptiness. intrinsic essence is called "svabhava". I can say that in Madhyamaka, there is an equivalent "sabbe dhamma asvabhava" of sorts.

Generally, the difference between the two is understood as "Mahayana says everything is not ultimately real", but on the other hand, "Theravada says everything is not-self, but are real (even if not constant and not permanent)".

The commentator above now introduced a new set of terminology saying that Theravada's self or atta refers to the "self of persons", while the Mahayana svabhava (or intrinsic essence) of a chair is a "self of chairs".

So my questions would be:

  1. Do other Mahayana Buddhists apart from the commentator above, also call the intrinsic essence (svabhava) of a chair, as the "self of chairs"?

  2. If Theravada states "sabbe dhamma anatta" and Mahayana states "sabbe dhamma asvabhava", does it mean that anatta = asvabhava, and therefore, atta (self) = svabhava (intrinsic essence)?

  3. Depending on your view: if the Theravada atta (self) is different from the Mahayana svabhava (intrinsic essence), then what really is the difference? OR if the Theravada atta (self) is same as the Mahayana svabhava (intrinsic essence), then does that make the Mahayana emptiness a redundant concept?

5

1. Do other Mahayana Buddhists apart from the commentator above, also call the intrinsic essence (svabhava) of a chair, as the "self of chairs"?

Yes, this is a common expression in Mahayana texts on the topic.

2. If Theravada states "sabbe dhamma anatta" and Mahayana states "sabbe dhamma asvabhava", does it mean that anatta = asvabhava, and therefore, atta (self) = svabhava (intrinsic essence)?

I think Mahayana states "sabbe dhamma shunyata" - which can be explained as "sabbe dhamma asvabhavata" and "sabbe dhamma pratityasamutpida". From this it also follows that all dharmas are anicca (ephemeral) and dukkha (here, faulty/unreliable).

If we don't nitpick too much about the meaning of the equal sign, I think I can agree with your statements that "anatta = asvabhava" and "atta = svabhava". More on this in a second.

3. Depending on your view: if the Theravada atta (self) is different from the Mahayana svabhava (intrinsic essence), then what really is the difference? OR if the Theravada atta (self) is same as the Mahayana svabhava (intrinsic essence), then does that make the Mahayana emptiness a redundant concept?

I think svabhava is a broader concept than atman (atta). To me, atman is only one case of reification, or one case of attributing svabhava to abstractions and observations.

Therefore, Mahayana's emptiness is not redundant. True -- it is not something entirely new that was absent in Theravada, but in my opinion it gives proper emphasis to something that is kind of implicit and not explained enough in the Pali Canon (even if ever-present "between the lines").

  • OK. So, you're saying that "anatta ⊂asvabhava" and "atta ⊂svabhava", where the symbol ⊂ in set theory means, "A⊂B, A is a subset of B, but A is not equal to B." – ruben2020 Aug 15 '18 at 17:25
  • That is correct. – Andrei Volkov Aug 15 '18 at 18:03
1

Here is some more support for the terminology of the "two selves" in Madhyamaka philosophy via Treasury of Precious Qualities:

We can see this in the example of the rope and the snake. When a distinction is made between persons and phenomena, a person is the subjective individual, such as "Devadatta," imputed upon his own collection of aggregates, which are the basis of such a labeling. By contrast, phenomena are Devadatta's aggregates, his eyes, for example, which act as the ground on which the person "Devadatta" is imputed. The term "phenomena" refers to all other things, in addition to the personal aggregates.

...

The "personal no-self" is the absence of inherent existence in the person. The "phenomenal no-self" is the absence of inherent existence in phenomena. This is understood by the "wisdom of realizing no-self." Persons and phenomena are, of course, said to exist on the conventional level.

This terminology is very common in Mahayana Madhyamaka literature and might have started with Chandrakirti which defines the terms in his Commentary on the "Four Hundred Stanzas":

“Self” is an essence of things that does not depend on others; it is an intrinsic nature. The nonexistence of that is selflessness. Be- cause of the division into objects and persons, it is understood as twofold: a “selflessness of objects” and a “selflessness of persons.”

You can also find these two selves referred to as the self of pugdala (pali: puggala) and the self of dharmas (pali: dhammas):

Accordingly, upon finding no given thing of the two selves (pugdala and dharma), the nongiven thing of the refuted (two selves) is something rightly produced.

-2

An intrinsic nature, essence or characteristic that is unique to some phenomena that can be described as that phenomena's self.

I said this in one of my answers but was scored down by the same Mahayana who believe in these ideas.

An intrinsic nature, essence or characteristic that is unique to some phenomena CANNOT be described as that phenomena's self.

That a rock is 'hard' by nature is not its "self". That Nibbana is "peaceful" is not its "self". Such ideas are crazy. "Self" is "ego" & "possessiveness" ("I-making" & "mine-making").

“Rāhula, the interior earth element is said to be anything hard, solid, and organic that’s internal, pertaining to an individual. This includes head hair, body hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, undigested food, feces, or anything else hard, solid, and organic that’s internal, pertaining to an individual. This is called the interior earth element. The interior earth element and the exterior earth element are just the earth element. This should be truly seen with proper understanding like this: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’ When you really see with proper understanding, you reject the earth element, detaching the mind from the earth element.

MN 62

  • An intrinsic nature, essence or characteristic that is unique to some phenomena CANNOT be described as that phenomena's self But apparently it (the word "self") IS used that way. The Pali word is sabhāva which starts with sa- defined as "own" -- Wikipedia's sabhāva says, literally means "own-being" or "own-becoming". It is the intrinsic nature, essential nature or essence of living beings: which, Andrei says, people translate as a something's "self" or "true self". – ChrisW Aug 17 '18 at 2:21
  • If one removes Self grasping from earth as described in MN, and then "reject the earth element, detaching the mind from the earth element" that is earth devoid of Self grasping context and that is what is meant by Selfless of phenomenon. Dr. Alexander Berzin on Self-essence of phenomena "Just because nothing exists in impossible ways does not mean that nothing exists. Voidness refutes merely impossible ways of existing, such as self-established inherent existence. It does not refute the existence of things as “this” or “that” in accordance with the conventions of words and concepts." – user13383 Aug 17 '18 at 8:54
  • Spare us Chris. Thanks. As though Wikipedia understands dhamma. As though Buddhism teaches about a True Self. – Dhammadhatu Aug 17 '18 at 9:36
  • No Bodhihammer. MN 62 merely states to not regard the earth element as "mine". Why don't you read the sutta, which states: "earth property are simply earth property". – Dhammadhatu Aug 17 '18 at 9:40
  • No one claims otherwise, removing "mine" is ending Self grasping in regard to earth element (both interior and exterior). In Mahayana terms it makes one not perceive it as an intrinsic in essence. – user13383 Aug 17 '18 at 10:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.