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I am having trouble with the concept of "unchanging entities which exist on their own".

Attachment to the false view of self means belief in the presence of unchanging entities which exist on their own...
The Miracle of Mindfulness p. 48

Questions:

  1. What are some examples of "false ideas" of "unchanging entities that exist on their own"?

  2. How do they contribute to the false view of self?

Thank you all for your time.

  • I inserted the image manually to provide context for the quote (and because I thought that your quote was short because you couldn't easily copy-and-paste), but it's fine by me if you don't want it in the question. – ChrisW Aug 22 '18 at 18:02
  • @ChrisW, I wasn't aware you could edit someone's post like that. – Stanley Aug 22 '18 at 20:57
  • Editing is mentioned here in the Help -- it's a feature meant to be used for minor edits, which clarify a post without changing its meaning. – ChrisW Aug 22 '18 at 21:06
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The page you quoted from talks about mentions "the assembly of the five aggregates".

It's standard doctrine that there's no such thing as a permanent (not impermanent), independent (not "dependently originated") self: that's the so-called anatta doctrine, see for example What is the precise meaning of anatta?

The "five aggregates" are things like "form" (perhaps "body"), "feeling", "consciousness", etc. -- which, apparently, people mistake to be themselves -- e.g. "I am this body" (or "I have this body"), "I am (or I have) this consciousness", and so on. Buddhism teaches that these things (these aggregates, skandhas) aren't permanent; that taking them to be "self" is a cause of suffering, and not a good theory (or "right view") to hold or attach to.

Given that Thich Nhat Hanh is Vietnamese/Mahayana, and talking on the same page about Bodhisattvas and peace workers, I think that what he's aiming towards is a view of selflessness (i.e. not selfishness) and interdependence (i.e. not independence). I think that's obvious when you turn the page and read "We have to strip away all the barriers" and so on.

I think that both Thich Nhat Hanh, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, write "popular" books intended to benefit a Western audience.

Anyway, to answer your question, I think the only false view of of "an unchanging entity that exists on its own", that he's talking about here, is the "self" (or "a false view of self"). For example this (my invention, this isn't quoting anyone else) might be one of these false views:

I'm me; and I'll remain 'me' until I die. And I remain me regardless of what other people do or even regardless of what I do.

I think that Thich Nhat Hanh's view is that we (people) are highly interdependent; we exist together, we affect each other; everything I have (a name, a body, an education) comes from other people. In practice there's little or no sense in which anyone is independent, and to imagine we are "sealed off like that not only isn't living, it isn't possible".

I suppose an example of how people aren't "independent" comes from this (non-Buddhist) doctrine, which was once semi-famous as a doctrine for Early Childhood Educators:

CHILDREN LEARN WHAT THEY LIVE by Dorothy Law Nolte

If a child lives with criticism,
he learns to condemn.

If a child lives with hostility,
he learns to fight.

[etc.]...

If a child lives with encouragement,
he learns to be confident.

If a child lives with tolerance,
he learns to be patient.

[etc.]...

If you live with serenity,
your child will live with peace of mind.

With what is your child living?

  • Can the 5 aggregates themselves be considered unchanging entities? Or the 4 noble truths? If these ideas were subject to change, then we would not be able to examine the whole body of reality. I know that the quote I posted was specifically referring to the idea of self, but to me the word entity can extend to ideas as well. Thoughts? – Stanley Aug 24 '18 at 16:07
  • I think the aggregates are changing, impermanent, "compound things" -- whereas the 4NT are not "things" but natural "laws" (not impermanent) ... although thoughts about (e.g. perceptions of) those laws are impermanent. For details see this answer, If all things are impermanent, then how can Buddhism make absolute assertions? -- and this topic, Are all of the five aggregates saṅkhāras? Does that make sense? – ChrisW Aug 26 '18 at 13:32
  • Hi @ChrisW, how does one assert that a "law" exists outside the realm of the mind? To examine a "law" is to examine the mind, so it seems to me that all laws would be as impermanent as the minds examining them. Even if 100 separate minds made the same assertions about that "law", this would not guarantee its permanence when re-examined by the same 100 minds at a later point in time. This is where my head starts to explode. lol! What am I missing? – Stanley Aug 27 '18 at 17:03
  • @Stanley I don't know how to answer that succinctly; which law you're talking about; nor whether you want an answer based on doctrine or on personal experience -- you might want to post a new question (as a new question). – ChrisW Aug 27 '18 at 18:08
  • @Stanley I think this comment says that, according to Mahayana at least, the Dhamma is "conditioned". Maybe that's analogous to the Pali suttas describing the Dhamma as a "raft" (i.e. which you shouldn't cling to after you reach the other shore). But the Pali also praises the Dhamma with epiphets like akalika (which means "non time", or "without time" -- usually translated as "eternal" or "timeless" or "instant" or maybe "continuous" ... without interval). – ChrisW Aug 28 '18 at 12:03
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The canonical example is the Soul or atman of persons that is believed by many religious people to be an unchanging entity that exists on its own.

Another example from many modern scientists are the sub-atomic particles (such as quarks or electrons) that appear to be unchanging entities that exist on their own.

Another example I heard on this site is the number 2. Someone was arguing that the number 2 is an unchanging entity that exists on its own. For that matter, I think they were saying the same of all numbers or at least the positive integers.

Actually, this is the default - if subconscious - belief of nearly everyone for just about everything. Things appear to us as solid and real and existing independently where in fact in reality they are not solid or real nor do they exist independently. My favorite non-Buddhist example of this is the Ship of Theseus. Everything that exists does so in the same way as Theseus' ship without the slightest bit of an unchanging essence behind it. And yet, by default we think that existing things do exist via self-sustaining essences. This is our ignorance.

If you really think about it, we exist just like Theseus' ship. When we are born we are given a name which generally sticks with us all the way through childhood and adulthood and until we die. Over the coarse of our lives every single atom in our bodies is replaced many, many, many times over. Our bodies change until they are almost unrecognizable. Our minds change and our attitudes and beliefs change. There is nothing about us that isn't constantly in a state of flux throughout our lives. Yet, we hold onto this view that we are the same person as we were when we were just a baby. That there is some fundamental aspect about ourselves that is unchanging and exists on its own. Often times when nostalgia hits us we have this naive wish thinking, "If only I could go back and do this or do that again" when the "I" that is now is totally different than the "I" that was then. Still, we think this "I" hasn't changed and so when this "I" occurs to us it gives this definite sense that it is unchanging and permanent and exists separately from all the contingent factors that it utterly depends upon.

This is not the case. This is the false view of the self that we misconceive due to our ignorance.

  • I'm not sure that this answer will help to explain a Boddhisattva's insight. – ChrisW Aug 22 '18 at 16:09
  • @ChrisW How is the question about a Bodhisattva's insight? Rather, the question was looking for examples of what was described in the book. Right? Maybe I misunderstood the question... can you point out how so I can improve it? – Yeshe Tenley Aug 22 '18 at 16:13
  • The answer isn't wrong, I'm not sure it's practical though. What might make the answer relevant to an atheist (for whom "soul" is meaningless)? Or to "a peace worker in Vietnam"? You don't have to change your answer; maybe I expanded on the (previously narrow) question after you answered it (i.e. I included the slightly larger context around the OP's quote). – ChrisW Aug 22 '18 at 16:32
  • I don't think the examples you gave are especially right, either, but the question was asking for examples of false views and so I shouldn't complain about the examples on that score (i.e. about their being false examples because they too lack inherent existence). But, I think that the only examples that matter (i.e. that are relevant) are related to the false views of "self" -- and I think that's the subject/emphasis of the larger quote -- admittedly though maybe you think that false views of other things is important (i.e. relevant) too. – ChrisW Aug 22 '18 at 16:38
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    In order to really grok what is wrong about self that makes it false you really have to grok that falseness. The particular ways in which it is false. That falseness is the object of negation. And I maintain you can't really grok what is false about self if you continue to maintain that it is possible that things other than self are not false in the same way that self is. In fact, that very act of maintaining this is indicative that one has not really grokked what is false about the self. – Yeshe Tenley Aug 22 '18 at 16:51

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