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From the sutta below, why would form (and the other aggregates) not lead to affliction, if it were self?

Why would it be the case that form (and the other aggregates) could be compelled to change according to will, if it were to be self?  

“Mendicants, form is not-self.
“Rūpaṁ, bhikkhave, anattā.

For if form were self, it wouldn’t lead to affliction. And you could compel form:
Rūpañca hidaṁ, bhikkhave, attā abhavissa, nayidaṁ rūpaṁ ābādhāya saṁvatteyya, labbhetha ca rūpe:

‘May my form be like this! May it not be like that!’
‘evaṁ me rūpaṁ hotu, evaṁ me rūpaṁ mā ahosī’ti.

But because form is not-self, it leads to affliction. And you can’t compel form:
Yasmā ca kho, bhikkhave, rūpaṁ anattā, tasmā rūpaṁ ābādhāya saṁvattati, na ca labbhati rūpe:

‘May my form be like this! May it not be like that!’
‘evaṁ me rūpaṁ hotu, evaṁ me rūpaṁ mā ahosī’ti.

Feeling is not-self …

Perception is not-self …

Choices are not-self …

Consciousness is not-self. For if consciousness were self, it wouldn’t lead to affliction. And you could compel consciousness: ‘May my consciousness be like this! May it not be like that!’ But because consciousness is not-self, it leads to affliction. And you can’t compel consciousness: ‘May my consciousness be like this! May it not be like that!’
Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta (SN 22.59)

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4 Answers 4

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Look at it in below order.

1) Level 1 (form)

Self: here self mean, you.

You can control you, like if you want to raise your hands, you can do it. It means if something is you, you can control it.( only an example for explaining, body, hand is not self).

So if form(physical body) is you, you should be able to control it. Stop pain, stop ageing, stop illness and control as you see fit.

But you can not do that. That means it's not you. Even though people / you see it as.

Form is also not static ; it's dynamic. Means form/physical body is made by Rupakalapa. Which get born/popup , stay, die/destroy at high speed and they repeat this cycle all the time. We only perceive them as static because of this high speed and slow perception rate.

So how come someone say this collection of disappearing and popping up objects me. It's an illusion.

2) Level 2 (feeling)

Feeling is not-self …

So are feelings is you? No. If feelings are you you should be able to control you/your feelings and make yourself happy for all eternity. That is not possible. That means feelings are not you.

3) Level 3 (perception)

Perception is not-self …

Some may say/imagine perception as self/me/you. Is that true? No. Perception is just an illusion created by 5 senses and conciseness. It's what oneself sense of what around self.

4) Level 4 (choice)

Choices are not-self …

Some may say/imagine choice as self/me/you. As one's choice make himself/ define oneself. Is that true? No. Choices are just a illusion of fake free will, which is determined by precent perceptions (just an illusion created by 5 senses and conciseness.) and past perceptions (Karma and memories). So choices are not actually the self.

5) Level 5 (consciousness)

Someone hearing above statements may think, ok; then Consciousness is the self.

Is it true? No.

If consciousness is self, one could control the behaviour of conciseness and stop, start, change,concentrate, and feel itself as happy and be happy all the time. Which is not possible. So conciseness is not self.

And also, conciseness is not static. It's dynamic and get born, live, and die; and with every thought this cycle repeats.(at very high speed).

So, when someone go through above levels they understand that there's no actual self. It's an illusion created by combination of form(body), perception(senses), choice(free will), conciseness(mind).

So, this is the basic of Buddhism ; that removing self leads to Nirvana. That's because without self, greed, craving (Thanha) cannot exist. Because there's no self to greed for.

Thanks 🙏. ☸️.

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My understanding is that formal logic is based on definitions or Axioms.

  1. All Athenians are liars
  2. Mike is an Athenian
  3. Therefore Mike is a liar

Whether the axioms are wisely-chosen is a different topic.

IMO this sutta has the format of a proof-by-contradiction:

  1. The self does not lead to affliction
  2. Form leads to affliction
  3. Therefore form is not self

So the question is, "Why take The self does not lead to affliction as an axiom?"

  • I guess it may be based on some universal assumption, e.g. if everyone believes, "I would not lead to affliction".
  • Or perhaps it's based on some (unknown to me) contemporary definition, or understanding of the term, or topic of debate

The statement might work "by observation" instead of "by logical inference", perhaps if you don't ask "why?" -- for example:

  • We observe that form leads to affliction and is not controllable (self-controlled)
  • Therefore don't view it as if it were self (e.g. dear, worth clinging to, etc.)

The episode reminds me slightly of the story of King Canute: "if you were all-powerful then the tide would obey you, but etc.".

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  • The second form still uses inference, and answers why -- it includes the word "therefore" in the second phrase, and it makes a generalization-from-observations in the first phrase -- but the inference there is less overt, and doesn't have the classic form of formal logic i.e. syllogism.
    – ChrisW
    Mar 24 at 9:14
  • The second form also depends on hidden -- unstated or common-sense -- assumptions, e.g. "don't cling to afflictive things".
    – ChrisW
    Mar 24 at 9:47
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Self is the sense of "I am". SN 22.59 defines self as: "This is mine, I am this, this is my self". These assumptions of self imply a permanence or definitiveness.

Since anything subject to "ābādha" (sickness, disease; "affliction" is a poor translation) displays impermanence, what is impermanent cannot be an "I am" or a "mine" because what is temporary cannot be a "mine" or "I am this".

For example, if i say "I am blonde & beautiful", how can this be true if later the body becomes bald-headed & wrinkly?

Therefore, it is not possible to compel the aggregates to be like this & that because impermanence governs the aggregates because the aggregates display "ābādha" (sickness, disease, affliction).

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You say if it were self. If body were self then what would happen? If body were self then I would hold on to it because my body does not go against me. I want to stand and my body stands. But the Truth is , you would want to stand up but you won’t be able to. You would want to sit , you won’t be able to sit. You would want to lie in the bed , but you won’t be able to. You would want to eat but you would not be able to. You would want to walk but you will not be able to. You would catch diseases like coronavirus ,dengue, malaria , cancer , rabies , plague , cholera , DNA diseases etc… your body is subject to unwanted situations. Therefore because unwanted things happen to body the body can not be called self. Unless you give up calling body as Self there is no end to suffering. Body does unwanted things , body goes through unwanted circumstances. That which forces you go through unwanted situation, can be called me , mine or myself ? No.

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