Author Topic: How does one observe the characteristic of anatta (not-self)?  (Read 2434 times)

Offline retrofuturist

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How does one observe the characteristic of anatta (not-self)?
« on: February 08, 2010, 04:04:47 pm »
Greetings,

How can anatta be the object of insight?

What is the object?

How is it observed?

What is the benefit?

 :dharma:

Metta,
Retro. :)

Offline Monkey Mind

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Re: How does one observe the characteristic of anatta (not-self)?
« Reply #1 on: February 08, 2010, 04:19:18 pm »
Anatta can only be understood within the context of impermanence and dependent origination.

Offline retrofuturist

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Re: How does one observe the characteristic of anatta (not-self)?
« Reply #2 on: February 08, 2010, 04:38:57 pm »
Greetings Monkeymind,

Is that to say that the characteristic of anatta cannot be observed directly, and must be inferred conceptually from a direct observation of impermanence or dependent arising?

Metta,
Retro. :)

Offline Monkey Mind

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Re: How does one observe the characteristic of anatta (not-self)?
« Reply #3 on: February 08, 2010, 05:15:39 pm »
All must be observed simultaneously.

If you cut off my arm, I still say "That is my severed arm." Similarly, there is no division of body that results in an awareness of no-self. Remove my brain? Nope, I go off into my next incarnation, birth, Heaven or Hell wondering why you removed MY brain. (Which is my initial resistance to impermance, by itself, as object to understand anatta. I think I've been on this Earth many times before.)

Similarly, kidnap me, steal all of my precious stuff, and leave me in some random place on Earth. But it's still me, just lost and confused. My "self" persists outside of sociopsychological constructs of "me". There is no division of me that results in less me.

Offline Monkey Mind

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Re: How does one observe the characteristic of anatta (not-self)?
« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2010, 05:21:31 pm »
Reading suttas, I have some intellectual awareness of anatta. I at least understand that insight into no-self is a desirable goal. Only when I sit in meditation (and only when on an intensive retreat), do I start to really conceive of anatta, but I also experience impermanance and dependant origination. They all come together, and it us not an intellectual insight.

Offline retrofuturist

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Re: How does one observe the characteristic of anatta (not-self)?
« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2010, 07:57:36 pm »
Greetings Monkey Mind,

Only when I sit in meditation (and only when on an intensive retreat), do I start to really conceive of anatta, but I also experience impermanance and dependant origination. They all come together, and it us not an intellectual insight.
But what do you "see"?

Do you see "anatta" itself? Do you see "anicca" and therefore know "anatta"? Do you see "dependent arising" and therefore know "anatta"?

I'm not talking about intellectual theorising here, but any cognition has some degree of processing. I'm trying to work out if is the anatta characteristic which is observed is pre- or post- cognitive processing.

Apologies if the question seems obscure.

Metta,
Retro. :)

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: How does one observe the characteristic of anatta (not-self)?
« Reply #6 on: February 08, 2010, 11:05:55 pm »
I use anatta (no self/not self) frequently during focused meditation.  And basically what I do is begin with any given object, it doesn't have to be my mundane self, and break it down into parts until we get to E=MC^2, stopping at each point along the way to see if there is any self to be found, and never finding any.  Asking if this or that part is a self and coming to the conclusion that it is "not self".

Considering the process-self, or the ever aging, ever changing self, ever relocating/moving self is another way of getting to the same place, which is a place empty of any self, no self to be found, and all that is visualized is not self.

It is very very easy (for me) to visualize/conceive of dependent arising/origination, impermanence, and insubstantiality when attempting to observe reality in either the very large: family, community, city, nation, hemisphere, world, star system, galaxial, universe, now omni-verse references of no self/not self, or the very small: molecular, atomic, sub-atomic, quantuum, quarkarian, energetic sub-micro universe of no self/not self.

But, the very best of it all is when I get to the state during meditation that I just don't give a happy sh*t about any of it anymore and just let it all go:  all the concepts, all the visualizations, all the learned words, all the elegant mechanisms, all the transitions, all the equations, all the mass<--> energy equalibriums, .......all of it is let go and there is nothing left but static......incoming cosmic energy left over from the last Big Bang.   :wacky:.....then even this background noise disappears, except for my tinnitus and my breath.

As Buddha said: Thoughts, thinking, contemplating, ruminating, reflection, remembering, perceiving, planning, projecting, calculating, evaluating, visualizing, blah, blah, blah, yatta, yatta, yatta,......will reveal "no self", and what ever is discovered along the way in any direction we travel, all of it is "not self".  Therefore, "Why bother?"  It is by dumping all such notions that we are lead to unbinding and freedom, not the opposite.

Anyone who has done any amount of research into the nature of reality will tell you, there is just too much to keep track of out there, in here, over, above, forward, and back, up there, and down there anyway.  As Shroedinger found out, even when you calculate where just one freekin' electron is, or derive its angular momentum, the ungrateful little sucker won't even stand still so you can admire it for a few pico-seconds!  It just keeps on moving, spinning, orbiting, and making quantum jumps.  

"So, what the h*ll is the point?"

Greetings Monkey Mind,

Only when I sit in meditation (and only when on an intensive retreat), do I start to really conceive of anatta, but I also experience impermanance and dependant origination. They all come together, and it us not an intellectual insight.
But what do you "see"?

Do you see "anatta" itself? Do you see "anicca" and therefore know "anatta"? Do you see "dependent arising" and therefore know "anatta"?

I'm not talking about intellectual theorising here, but any cognition has some degree of processing. I'm trying to work out if is the anatta characteristic which is observed is pre- or post- cognitive processing.

Apologies if the question seems obscure.

Metta,
Retro. :)
« Last Edit: February 09, 2010, 07:26:55 am by Ron-the-Elder »
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline Optimus Prime

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Re: How does one observe the characteristic of anatta (not-self)?
« Reply #7 on: February 09, 2010, 04:36:36 am »
Retro,

What the Buddha was pointing to was how we actually identify with changing conditions as being me, mine or part of me - we tend to think and automatically assume that these things are ourselves or part of ourselves.  But if we actually start reflecting, we can see that these changing conditions that we tend to identify with are not self.

You can actually observe this directly in various ways, both simple ways and through complex analysis as well.

Approach 1

Take for example how we think we are our bodies.  We tend to think this is my body or this is me.

But if we drink water, at what point does it become "me"?  At the point it goes into the mouth? - but at this point the water is still "outside" the body because it still hasn't been absorbed by the body, even though, technically, inside the mouth is inside the body.  So, is it at the point when it enters your organs?  But then you could say it's still not you because the water is in the extracellular fluid - it's not in your cells yet - so it's not you still.  Is it at the point when it passes the gap junctions and membranes in the cells then?  If it's just at the point when it passes the cell membranes, then what is it the makes the water become part of you when it passes through that tiny gate in the cell membrane?  The answer is - nothing.  The inherent nature of water (the molecule H2O) doesn't change one bit when it passes through any gate.  Water is just water that enters the body and exits the body - it's not really ours and will follow its own course.

Also what point does the water become "not me"?  At the point we urinate?  Was the water really a real part of you in the first place?

We can apply the same sort of analysis to ingesting food and with breathing in air.

So using this sort of analysis and applying it to the breath - at what point does the air become part of me?  At what point does it become "not me"?  When we breathe out and our air is breathed in by others, does what was formerly yours (because it was in your lungs) become part of "them" now?  You'll find that air is just air that enters and exits the body - it's not really ours - it's just part of our natural environment that enters and exits the body.

Approach 2
Also the breathing of the body itself, we think that "I am" breathing or "my" breath.  But if we observe the breathing, then you'll notice that the body breathes by itself and doesn't need us to control it.  Now if we can't really control the breathing, then is it really ours in the first place - does the breathing really belong to us?  We'll see that the body belongs to nature, doesn't it - and is not really ours because the body breathes by itself.  It's formed because various conditions came together and will die of itself when the conditions supporting a functional body cease to be - the body will follow its own course - it belongs to nature - it doesn't really belong to us even though it may seem like it on the surface of things.

Approach 3
Furthermore, take feelings as another example.  When we are angry for example, we tend to say, "I am" angry, i.e., identify the feeling of anger as being yours.  So here, we're interpreting anger from the self view.  But if we say, "There is" anger, then it takes us out of the self view in the position of the Buddha knowing the Dharma - we're not interpreting it from a personal perspective anymore but from the perspective of that which knows - the awareness - knowing a feeling that comes and goes.

And because we can actually sit back and observe the anger, the anger is not you, is it?  It's something separate from you because you're observing it.  So you realize - anger is just anger and not self.  It's just a feeling that arises and ceases.  It comes with its own energy but when that energy is used up, the anger will disappear.  So, we can reflect, "Feeling are just feelings - an emotion that arises and ceases - and they are not self".

The same can be applied to thoughts.  We can deliberately think a thought, but because you can stand back observe that very thought, therefore, you are not your thoughts are you?  Thoughts are things that just arise and cease in your mind and are not really you.  So here too, we can reflect, "Thoughts are just thoughts - things that come and go in the mind - they are not self either".

Approach 4

Back to reflection on the body.  We have nails on our bodies.  When these nails are still intact, we may call them "my" nails.  But when you cut the nails, has a part of you been cut off too?  Now you may say that "Oh, nails are dead - they're not alive".  

Approach 5
So here's an example regarding living cells.  Thousands and thousands of cells die each day - yet when they die and get shed from our bodies, how come part of us doesn't die with those cells?  Thousands of new cells are born each day - how come our sense of self doesn't get born anew with each new cell?  Biology textbooks tell us that we get an entirely new body every 7 years or so - so what permanent, unchanging self can be found in the body if the entire body is replaced with entirely new molecules every 7 years?  So even though our bodies change daily, hourly and even with each passing second - new cells are born and die, born and die - these are all just changing conditions and are not self.

Approach 6
We think we're our bodies but our body isn't the same even from second to second.  When we're a kid, we have a small body, firm muscles, tight skin.  When we're old, the body is not the same at all - old, wrinkled.  If the body is nowhere near the same as when we're a kid, how can you call the changing condition of the body to be a self?

So these are just brief examples of how reflection on anatta can be approached in different ways.  The point being is to see how we tend to attach to and identify with all these different changing conditions and think that they're our "self", think they're "me", "my", "mine", "part of me" - but they're actually not.  They're not the only ways you can use anatta to reflect but they are a starting point for reflection.

Having done all the above reflections though on the conventional level, we still need to recognize that we relate to other people through our selves and it won't do any good to just go around proclaiming "There's no self" because the Buddha said so and then doing whatever you want thinking there's no consequences.  So we can't really go around proclaiming "There's no self" to everyone and then thinking that's an excuse to go kill someone because there's no self!  Nor is anatta an excuse to go steal, lie or commit sexual misconduct just because you think there's no self.  Because even if you think there's no self and you go kill, steal, lie or commit sexual misconduct - these things can still hurt people immensely.

What's the benefit of reflecting on not-self?  It helps us to let go of the things that we are holding on to, e.g., if we're holding on to our anger, interpreting it from a point of view of my anger, or my anger is a problem - I've got to get rid of it - we'd be thinking that there's a problem with us fundamentally (as we'd assumed that the anger was fundamentally a part  of us).  But if we reflect that anger is just anger - it's a feeling that comes and goes after its own energy is used up, then the anger itself becomes easier to manage.
« Last Edit: February 09, 2010, 06:05:55 am by Optimus Prime »

Offline Monkey Mind

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Re: How does one observe the characteristic of anatta (not-self)?
« Reply #8 on: February 09, 2010, 07:17:52 am »
[I knew this conversation would rapidly exceed my limited ability to explain. I also knew there are only a handful who visit this section currently, so I thought I'd try my luck/skill.]
In the Suttas, repeatedly someone hears Lord Buddha speak, and either decides to study Dhamma or reaches enlightenment. The fallacy in logic for us, as modern day consumers of ancient teachings: we assume these are isolated events, that the single teaching provided the protagonist with amazing insights. We don't know how many other teachings the protagonist was witness to, and we don't know what else occurred in addition to the oral teaching. My teacher has suggested that the Sangha spent a lot of time in meditation, so the protagonist would be mentally prepared to receive an impactful teaching, and many of these protagonists had received a progressively accumulative number of teachings prior to the teaching noted in the suttas.

Optimus provides some great examples of contemplation of the boundaries between self and other. I read them and have an intellectual idea about anatta. But it is still "I, me, mine" and "he, him, his." Because I also have some familiarity with teachings of impermanence and dependent origination (and 4 Noble Truths, law of cause and effect, the components of consciousness, etc.), I can start to observe how these phenomenon/ concepts are all interrelated. But during meditation, in a place where I don't have words, and I am not sure if this is cognitive or before-cognition, I can start to experience how these factors are all interrelated. It is in that meditative knowing that insight into anatta occurs.

Greetings Monkey Mind,

Only when I sit in meditation (and only when on an intensive retreat), do I start to really conceive of anatta, but I also experience impermanance and dependant origination. They all come together, and it us not an intellectual insight.
But what do you "see"?

Do you see "anatta" itself? Do you see "anicca" and therefore know "anatta"? Do you see "dependent arising" and therefore know "anatta"?

I'm not talking about intellectual theorising here, but any cognition has some degree of processing. I'm trying to work out if is the anatta characteristic which is observed is pre- or post- cognitive processing.

Apologies if the question seems obscure.

Metta,
Retro. :)

Offline Rayfield

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Re: How does one observe the characteristic of anatta (not-self)?
« Reply #9 on: February 09, 2010, 07:47:36 am »
Great post, Optimus. Much thought will be arising. Somewhere.  :eek:

Offline retrofuturist

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Re: How does one observe the characteristic of anatta (not-self)?
« Reply #10 on: February 09, 2010, 02:59:59 pm »
Greetings Optimus,

Thanks for your detailed post.

It seems that each of your examples is a form of "yoniso manasikara" (wise reflection) rather than a direct head-on observation of the anatta characteristic... which is fine of course... in fact, I'm not entirely convinced that anatta can be directly observed without the application of some additional logic.

I've posed this question at a couple of other forums too, if you're interested to see what others have said in relation to this question (from either a Zen or Theravada focus)

@ Zen Forum International - http://www.zenforuminternational.org/viewtopic.php?f=56&t=4204
@ Dhamma Wheel (Theravada) - http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=3529

Metta,
Retro. :)

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Re: How does one observe the characteristic of anatta (not-self)?
« Reply #11 on: February 13, 2010, 01:04:30 pm »
It seems that each of your examples is a form of "yoniso manasikara" (wise reflection) rather than a direct head-on observation of the anatta characteristic... which is fine of course... in fact, I'm not entirely convinced that anatta can be directly observed without the application of some additional logic.

It seems to me that most teachers of Vipassana direct their students to experiencing either anicca or dukkha for this very reason.  Direct knowledge of either will bring insight into the others.  After all, once we have direct knowledge of anicca, it's not possible to believe in a permanent self.

Offline Optimus Prime

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Re: How does one observe the characteristic of anatta (not-self)?
« Reply #12 on: February 13, 2010, 02:30:53 pm »
It seems that each of your examples is a form of "yoniso manasikara" (wise reflection) rather than a direct head-on observation of the anatta characteristic... which is fine of course... in fact, I'm not entirely convinced that anatta can be directly observed without the application of some additional logic.

When observing something with mindfulness, mindfulness is always combined with wisdom because wisdom pervades the whole path.  Hence why, when mindfulness/sati is talked about, it's usually in the form of either:
1.  Sati-panna (mindfulness-wisdom) and
2.  Sati-sampajanna (mindfulness-clear comprehension).

So when we are using mindfulness, right there is wisdom and clear comprehension with it too.  Even in Chan investigation, it's done not entirely without thought.  Further, the first factor of the eightfold path is right view - seeing things from the right perspective - this right view then goes on to pervade right mindfulness.  So whenever we're using right mindfulness, we find that it has already been inherently imbued with right view.

Kids start to develop a sense of self as they grow, such that this sense of self is already assumed without question in everything that they do when adulthood is reached.  For example, if we experience a bit of pain we automatically assume that "I am" in pain or that it's "my" pain.  But observing with anatta, you just see that the body is undergoing pain.  And pain is just pain - a feeling that arises and ceases and this feeling is not really yours - it comes and goes by itself according to what's happening with the body.

In other words, if we observe feelings directly, a feeling is just a sensation that arises and ceases.  The only self there is, is the self that we've already automatically assumed "owns" that feeling - the identification that this feeling is "mine", i.e., the only self there is in that feeling is the self that we've already created in our minds.

To see through these automatic assumptions, wisdom needs to be used - to see through the self view (sakkya-ditthi). You can't really just observe with bare attention without wisdom if sakkya-ditthi is to be seen through.

So wherever right mindfulness is, there's also some intuitive wisdom/intelligence in action, right there with the mindfulness.  However, the key though is the cessation of ignorance whether we arrive at it through yoniso manasikara or through direct observation.  This is because Dependent Origination (and thus the self view) stops with the cessation of ignorance/delusion/confusion.

Offline humanitas

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Re: How does one observe the characteristic of anatta (not-self)?
« Reply #13 on: February 14, 2010, 02:39:20 am »
Quote
This is because Dependent Origination (and thus the self view) stops with the cessation of ignorance/delusion/confusion.

And this is what stops the cycle of samsara, right?
This post was made with 100% recycled karma

Offline Spiny Norman

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Re: How does one observe the characteristic of anatta (not-self)?
« Reply #14 on: February 14, 2010, 08:14:44 am »
Is that to say that the characteristic of anatta cannot be observed directly

I'd say a sense of it can be gained during mindfulness practice, for example mindfulness of mental objects, focussing on the 5 aggregates. 

CP Gumby

 


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