Talk:Anatta

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Proposed merger[edit]

I propose to merge this page with the page Atman (Buddhism). Though both pages obviously deal with opposites, the information on the two pages is similar, and the quality of the two pages could be improved if they would be integrated. After all, atta and anatta are antonyms and cannot be explained separately.S Khemadhammo (talk) 11:08, 20 August 2016 (UTC)

Opposites or contrasting concepts may be better explained as individual articles, just like Atheism, Theism, God, Satan, Demon, etc. Ms Sarah Welch (talk) 22:57, 1 September 2016 (UTC)
I agree with Ms Sarah Welch. JimRenge (talk) 23:49, 1 September 2016 (UTC)

Questioning validity of assertion[edit]

"The Theravada tradition has long considered the understanding and application of the Anatta doctrine to be something possible for the practicing monk, and not for the lay Buddhists because it is a psychologically difficult doctrine and requires the destruction of "I am" tendencies. "

I know of no canonical evidence to support this statement. Perhaps the author is confusing wrong personality view (sakaya ditthi; the first of the defilements/fetters) with the higher fetter of conceit (mano/mana). The Pāli Nikāyas cite hundreds of lay followers gaining stream entry which is characterised in part with the abandoning of wrong identity/personality view. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 2605:E000:2510:8C00:E8A6:DF48:67E5:9CD5 (talk) 07:12, 25 November 2017 (UTC)

I don't know who wrote it, but it seems to me incorrectly summarized from the source cited. I have rewritten the sentence and tagged the section for possible WP:OR.--Farang Rak Tham (talk) 07:43, 25 November 2017 (UTC)
I see a discussion on page 94 onwards. Perhaps it wasn't worded right, and unclear. We can just quote exact. Ms Sarah Welch (talk) 15:27, 25 November 2017 (UTC)
Note the Sutta Pitaka discussion in Collins, BTW. Gombrich says something similar. On a general note, this section and one that follows on the Thai movement attracts edit warriors in this and other articles. We need to keep an eye, while also trying to better and carefully summarizing the sources. Ms Sarah Welch (talk) 15:57, 25 November 2017 (UTC)
My fault, I overlooked that part on page 94. And yes, not trying to start some edit war here, if it looked that way.--Farang Rak Tham (talk) 17:35, 26 November 2017 (UTC)

Walser edits[edit]

Joseph Walser: I have reverted your edits per WP:COI and out of caution whether the added content is due, WP:Primary and not mainstream yet. Is there a link where you can share a copy of your paper with JJ, me and other editors who watch this article? Or you can wiki-email the link to one of us. We can review it and see what/how best to summarize anything from it in this article. Ms Sarah Welch (talk) 19:20, 18 September 2018 (UTC)

There is no evidence of much impact yet, but this could change. Right now I see two cites on Google Scholar, one of which is Walser's own.--Farang Rak Tham (Talk) 20:34, 18 September 2018 (UTC)
I acknowledge that I went about this the wrong way and have deleted everything. I will email you the article directly. Somebody needs to look at the reference to Nagarjuna. The page says that he asserts that the Buddha taught anatman. The full verse says that the Buddhas point to atman, teach anatman, ahd teach neither atman nor anatman. Nagarjuna appears to have had some affinity withthe Pudgalavadins, so he is hardly one to quote in order to demonstrate that anatman is a signature doctrine of Buddhism. Vasubandhu, yes. Nagarjuna, not really.--Joseph Walser 10:58, 19 September 2018 (UTC)Joseph Walser — Preceding unsigned comment added by Joseph Walser (talkcontribs)
Thank you Joseph. I have contacted you offline and do appreciate your candor as well as assistance in pointing out some of the weaknesses in this article. @Joshua Jonathan: would you check and scrub the Nagarjuna/Vasubandhu-related content, I agree with JW. Ms Sarah Welch (talk) 13:28, 19 September 2018 (UTC)

One more observation that ought to be addressed on this page (I will not edit it myself): this page asserts that the doctrine of anatta is both the central doctrine of Buddhism and that it was formulated to oppose Hindu ideas of atman. This opinion does show up in sources like Harvey and Collins and has achieved a kind of consensus in the literature. But facts matter. There are no suttas in the Pali canon in which the Buddha discusses the doctrine of anatman with a representative of the Brahmanical tradition. The Buddha has a lot of discussions with Brahmins (and uber Brahmins/Mahasalabrahmanas), but anatman is not mentioned in any of those discussions. If anything, it appears that the doctrine of anatman was more for non-Brahmanical communities. Brahmin enthusiasts of Buddhism in the Pali canon usually are taught the dhyanas with no mention of anatman. We can speculate why this is the case, but we can't present the Buddha's teaching here as arguing against the Vedic tradition on this point if there are in fact no suttas that do so. Nor can we present the Vedic tradition as being monolithic on the issue of atman. The Samaveda branches were adamant that the atman was "existence" (sat). But when they did so, they were arguing against the Taittiriyas and the Maitrayaniyas whose upanishads argue that atman/brahman was "non-existence" or "emptiness" respectively. I am not sure exactly what the difference would be between the Buddhist anatman and saying that the atman is non-existence or between Nagarjuna arguing that the atman is emptiness and the Maitrayaniyas saying that the atman/brahman is, well... empty. To pit Buddhism against Hinduism paints with too broad a brush, even for Wikipedia. Finally, I challenge anyone to find a scholar other that Potter who thinks that Mahayana begins at the time of Ashoka or that it ends 100 years before Xuanzang comes to Nalanda in the 7th century. Someone should also add that currently there are more scholars who think it started in Gandhara than who think it started in Andhra Pradesh. The latter is based on very old scholarship. Joseph Walser 13:49, 20 September 2018 (UTC)Joseph Walser

Joseph Walser 13:42, 20 September 2018 (UTC) Joseph Walser — Preceding unsigned comment added by Joseph Walser (talkcontribs)

Joseph Walser: Where does the article state, "it was formulated to oppose Hindu ideas of atman"? The article is stating that atman/anatman doctrine is one of the differences, something you and your Journal of the American Academy of Religion paper acknowledge is the common view. We are not making any statements about "why it was formulated" or "whether it was formulated to oppose Hindu or Jain view", are we? Your comment on Mahayana makes sense, but this article makes no mention of Gandhara or Andhra Pradesh, does it? Ms Sarah Welch (talk) 14:08, 20 September 2018 (UTC)

Looks like someone took out the phrase "The ancient Buddhist texts present an extensive discussion and rejection of the Vedic concept of Attā (soul, self)" which is what I was objecting to. Though you claim that the article is not making any statements concerning why it was formulated, the section on Anatta being the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism, again, is misleading. It states that "Anatta is a central doctrine of Buddhism, and marks one of the major differences between Buddhism and Hinduism." That is a bold statement and should be qualified. It was and is the central doctrine for some Buddhists, but I have run into Buddhists who have never heard of it. There are also Brahmanical texts (as I indicated above) that appear to come very close to Buddhist anatta texts. In other words, anatta is the dividing line between Hinduism and Buddhism for folks like Vasubandhu and Ratnakirti, but not for everybody. This Wikipedia section makes it sound like the categories of "Hinduism" and "Buddhism" stand in opposition like "even numbers" and "odd numbers." Religions don't work that way. Joseph Walser 14:55, 20 September 2018 (UTC)Joseph Walser — Preceding unsigned comment added by Joseph Walser (talkcontribs)

Different expressions of faith.
Joseph Walser: The relationship between Buddhism and Hinduism is complex indeed. Historically fuzzy. This article, however, must focus on anatta / atta / anatman / atman, rather than the complexities of that relationship. Whether a layperson born in a Buddhist family, or who adopted Buddhism for personal reasons, understands the core doctrines, the historical debates and disagreements between the early Buddhist schools/later traditions, or prefers to practice it in different ways (see image) is not our concern in an encyclopedic article on anatta. Beyond Vasubandhu, Ratnakirti and others, this doctrine is much discussed in the commentaries by other Hindu/Jain scholars such as Adi Shankara. On your suggestion that we qualify 'central doctrine' statement, I will check the sources. Specific suggestions on sources with page numbers to check would be most welcome. Ms Sarah Welch (talk) 16:01, 20 September 2018 (UTC)

In other words, the article should describe an entity called "Buddhism", even if (for the sake of argument) there were no Buddhists who would recognize it. I see that you have added to the number of scholars who claim anatta to be the central doctrine of Buddhism. Fair enough. And there are plenty more such references to be found. It just seems to me that the assertions of all of these scholars are normative instead of prescriptive. It is like saying "Christianity teaches the doctrine of pre-destination" or "divine kenosis." In a certain light, and with certain qualifications this is true. But most folks in church on Sunday won't have the foggiest idea of what you are talking about. Do they, then, not fit into the category or has the category not been nuanced enough to include them? I have to move on, but this is something to think about. Joseph Walser 16:52, 20 September 2018 (UTC)Joseph Walser — Preceding unsigned comment added by Joseph Walser (talkcontribs)

Joseph Walser: A section of Buddhists recognize it, no doubt, else we won't have a zillion publications on it nor all these traditions in Thailand/Japan/etc with their monks and leaders intensely discussing and disagreeing about the self/no-self doctrine. The meta discussion about what all is religion... a social network? a glue of Sunday/annual traditions, rites-of-passage, and festivals? a fog of heritage? all of these and more in prescriptive terms?... is not appropriate for an encyclopedic and reference article on anatta or other concepts/doctrines. We are bound by the wikipedia community-agreed content guidelines for what we can and cannot appropriately include here, as well as how we state it. Once again, if you or anyone suggests specific sources with page numbers to improve this article, that would be most welcome. I urge Joshua Jonathan to take a look at the Mahayana article about your concerns about Gandhara/Andhra etc. Except for one OR/vandalism revert, I have neither edited nor watch that article. Ms Sarah Welch (talk) 17:55, 20 September 2018 (UTC)
Jospeh may have a point here. I've also often wondered about your strong statements on the difference between Buddhism and Hinduism regarding atman/anatman. Shankara may have stated this strongly, and the Buddha may have taught anatman as a central doctrine, but Buddha-nature-like teachings are also central to some of the main strands of Budhist tradition. Maybe those strands were influenced by Vedic-Brahmanical thought, but there are indeed nuances to this Buddhism/anatman - Hinduism/atman distinction. I'll try to take closer looks later; the topic is very interesting, and Joseph's book seems worth to spend soem money to purchase it. Joshua Jonathan -Let's talk! 04:21, 21 September 2018 (UTC)
Interesting article by Joseph: When Did Buddhism Become Anti-Brahmanical? The Case of the Missing Soul. Joshua Jonathan -Let's talk! 05:23, 21 September 2018 (UTC)
JJ: If the RS say "central doctrine" or use such strong language, so should the article. Since you state "often wondered", please reflect that you may have a biased view of Buddhism, maybe because you studied Ramana Maharishi on self/Self before studying Buddhism. Instead of speculating on such biases, it is best to focus on what the various sides of the peer-reviewed scholarship are stating and summarize them per our npov guidelines to the best of our abilities. No websites and random dhamma views posted in blogs/forums, else we end up with Robert Walker-like versions and fringe modernistic revisionism. FWIW, the article already summarizes Tathagata/Buddha-nature. Joseph Walser already sent me another email with thanks note for the change I made today. Ms Sarah Welch (talk) 07:03, 21 September 2018 (UTC)
It has nothing to do with Ramana Maharshi. Joshua Jonathan -Let's talk! 08:14, 21 September 2018 (UTC)

Let's keep away from ad hominum arguments, they tend to be irrelevant. Joshua may have studied with Bozo the clown, but this would have no bearing on whether or not his assertion is true about Buddhism or not. It either is or is not, regardless of whom he studied with (and I happen to think that he is on to something here). Let's stay focused. Peer reviewed scholarship has come down on both sides of whether anatta is the central doctrine of Buddhism. For those who argue that the suttas do not deny a self, we find C. A. F. Rhys Davids 1941, 656–57; Frauwallner 1953, I. 224ff; Schmithausen 1969, 160 (citing Frauwallner); Pérez Remón 1980; Oetke 1988, 153; and more recently Bronkhorst 2009, 21ff., and a nuanced argument in Wynne 2011. On the opposite end of the debate we find Collins 1982, 250–71; Gombrich 1988, 21 and 63; and Harvey 1995. Most of these sources are cited in Bronkhorst 2009, 23, notes 42–43. Pretty much every scholar acknowledges at some point that the Buddha never says (in the early canon) that there is no soul/self. Some Buddhist philosophers, centuries later, are adamant that the soul does not exist and Naiyayika and Vedantin philosophers are responding to them. If WE assert that the soul's nonexistence is the central tenet of the Buddha, we are putting words in his mouth. We can report what the Buddha said. We can report what Buddhist scholars or pre-modern Buddhist philosophers said. But we run into trouble if we say that "this is what the Buddha would have said if only he were as smart as we are." Better to accurately ascribe who holds these doctrines and move on. If we continue with the assertion that anatta is a central tenet "of Buddhism" or even "of the Buddha" and then go on to acknowledge that the doctrine is hardly central for many Buddhists, then we are picking up where Henry Steel Olcott left off and we might as well go on a tour of Buddhist countries in order to deliver this new "Buddhist Catechism" to the Buddhists ignorant of the "central doctrine". Might I suggest that this would be as presumptuous today as it was in 1881. Moving on. There are a few references to scholars who depict the Maitri Upanisad as "Post-Buddhist." This is weird. I think they must mean "Post-Buddha" since Buddhism is not dead yet. In any case, there are also scholars who assign an early date to the Maitri. Max Mueller was one (Deussen was arguing against him when he called it post-Buddhist). Hopkins notes that it is quoted in a reasonably early part of the Mahabharata and Filliozat notes what appears to be a reference to it in the works of Hyppolytus (2nd century). By all accounts it is a composite text. Some sections of it do appear to be quite late, but not all of them. I think that Signe Cohen (Early Upanisads) does a nice job summarizing the issues concerning the dating of this text (as she does with all the Upanishads) and adding her own linguistic dating of it. Apparently disturbed by the reference to Brahman as niratman and shunyam, the scholars who argue for its posteriority to "Buddhism" want to explain these anomalies as a kind of Buddhist influence. I don't buy it, but that argument is out there. Joseph Walser 17:18, 21 September 2018 (UTC)Joseph Walser — Preceding unsigned comment added by Joseph Walser (talkcontribs)

Joseph Walser: JJ and my discussions have a long history, I admire him, and we work collaboratively and constructively in many articles. I presume you are referring to "post-Buddhist" in some scholarly publications since this article or this talk page doesn't use that phrase, does it? Given the context, it must mean "post-Buddha", yes. Now, where do we go from here, given our WP:FORUM and WP:TALK guidelines. How do we improve this article specifically? I will go through these sources again. It will help if you would identify any sources with page numbers, such as those you mention above, which state "anatta is not a central doctrine of Buddhism"? If you do so, I will support adding something to that effect as well for NPOV. On your point about "self" and "no-self" in the suttas, the article already states all three views for NPOV: Buddha remained "silent when asked whether there is a 'self' or not"; later influential Buddhist scholars who stated "Buddha taught the doctrine of no-self" (Buddhism, of course, is more than just its early texts); and third, "these [early] texts do not admit the premise 'Self does not exist' either". If there is something more we should add, please suggest with sources. You mention Bronkhorst. In The Two Traditions, Bronkhorst states in the main text, "A firm tradition maintained that the Buddha did not want to talk about the soul, or even denied its existence." Bronkhorst clarifies this further by adding a note, "it is possible that original Buddhism did not deny the existence of the soul". On rest... neither you nor I nor anyone can claim to be the spokesperson of few hundred million Buddhists, or "many of them", so we must set aside claims such as "acknowledge that the doctrine is hardly central for many Buddhists"! That may be better suited for a blog, because I have yet to see peer-reviewed sources making such a sweeping statement. The chronology of early Upanishads remains contested, and while my sentiments are closer to yours on it and the Buddhism-Hinduism relationship, in wikipedia articles we remain bound by the community agreed content guidelines. Ms Sarah Welch (talk) 18:25, 21 September 2018 (UTC)
(ps)JW: if you end your comment with four "~", like ~~~~, wiki code will convert it into your sign and date it. Helps the talk page watchers. Thanks, Ms Sarah Welch (talk) 18:28, 21 September 2018 (UTC)

Thanks. Obviously, given my self-cite gaffe, I am new to this. As for the Maitri chronology, I mention Mueller, Hopkins and Filliozat just to add the the bibliography on the date of the upanisad. I will give full sources and page numbers (they are all in the article, whose reference I deleted from the main page) when I get a few moments to my self (probably next week). Ok, now let me try it... Joseph Walser 18:50, 21 September 2018 (UTC) — Preceding unsigned comment added by Joseph Walser (talkcontribs)

I checked Wynne (2011) that JW mentions above. Wynne writes (pp. 103-104):

The denial that a human being possesses a “self” or “soul” is probably the most famous Buddhist teaching. It is certainly its most distinct, as has been pointed out by G. P. Malalasekera: “In its denial of any real permanent Soul or Self, Buddhism stands alone.” A similar modern Sinhalese perspective has been expressed by Walpola Rahula: “Buddhism stands unique in the history of human thought in denying the existence of such a Soul, Self or Ātman.” The “No Self” or “no soul” doctrine (Sanskrit: anātman; Pāli: anattan) is particularly notable for its widespread acceptance and historical endurance. It was a standard belief of virtually all the ancient schools of Indian Buddhism (the notable exception being the Pudgalavādins), and has persisted without change into the modern era. [...] both views are mirrored by the modern Theravādin perspective of Mahasi Sayadaw that “there is no person or soul” and the modern Mahāyāna view of the fourteenth Dalai Lama that “[t]he Buddha taught that … our belief in an independent self is the root cause of all suffering".
– Alexander Wynne (2011), The atman and its negation, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies.
(bold emphasis is mine, see discussion above - MSW)

Wynne then goes on to state that except for Vajira Sutta or perhaps a few more discourses which explicitly state this idea, this is hardly attested in early Buddhist literature. OK, agreed and fine enough. Then Wynne discusses the Upanishads, followed by Collins point (p. 110) that we must not only look for explicit statements but "very high proportion of the discussions of not-self" in various versions found in other suttas. In his sections 3 and 4, Wynne discusses self-consciousness and dependent origination in early Buddhism (JJ, you may want to review it since you have working on the related wiki articles). There is much more in Wynne's paper, of course, including the closing conclusions such as Buddha rejected "that he is a nihilist (venayika)". What is of significance in Wynne is the background review and in that light, this article does a decent job in reflecting the background and the various sides as required by wiki community agreed content guidelines. Ms Sarah Welch (talk) 03:28, 22 September 2018 (UTC)

Alexander Wynne[edit]

[Per diff:] The Alexander Wynne is taken out of context. He quotes Gethin as saying

[T]he five khandhas, as treated in the Nikāyas and early abhidhamma, do not exactly take on the character of a formal theory of the nature of man. The concern is not so much the presentation of an analysis of man as object, but rather the understanding of the nature of conditioned existence from the point of view of the experiencing subject. Thus at the most general level rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṃkhārā and viññāṇa are presented as five aspects of an individual being’s experience of the world...

And Hamilton saying "not a comprehensive analysis of what a human being is comprised of... rather they are factors of human experience." Neither of these are statements of agreement with Thanissaro that "non-self in the five aggregates does not necessarily mean there is no self." Alexander Wynne's own quote about not-self turning into no-self is based on his own view that the "Vajirā Sutta represents a relatively late stratum in the Pāli Suttapiṭaka." Leaving out that context changes things considerably because that is the foundation of his belief. If he is wrong about the date of the Vajira Sutta then his view collapses. Dharmalion76 (talk) 14:12, 23 August 2019 (UTC)

Hello,
Wynne states "Although this teaching denies the notion of a ‘self’, since the denial is focused on the lack of ‘self’ in the five aggregates, it would not seem to state that a person is without a true identity per se. This is because the list of five aggregates is not an analysis of what a human being is made of." Before going on to quote Gethin and Hamilton.
The statement that was deleted seems like a pretty accurate summary of of these scholars views to me. You can go on to argue that these don't match Thanissaro's view precisely or something like that, but even then I see no reason to just delete these scholars viewpoints entirely. A scholar quoting another scholar is an acceptable source so long as they are attributed correctly. And in fact thier viewpoints are required since WP:NPOV requires all significant minority viewpoints be presented fairly. Given the entire page presents a notion of no self and this one section presents the minority but still significant viewpoint of non-self, I think it's pretty due to include them. Unless you think these scholars aren't reliable or something. Also, I think your statement on Wynne is flipped. Reading the conclusion on page 77 he seems to be arguing that the Vajira Sutta is a late addition because of the early interpretation of not self, rather than the other way around. Wikiman5676 (talk) 16:46, 23 August 2019 (UTC)
Wynne interprets the teaching as 'not-self' and quotes Gethin and Hamilton as saying that the Buddha wasn't making ontological statements of fact but those Gethin and Hamilton quotes don't explicitly agree with Wynne's interpretation that it leaves open the door for a 'self'. I think the scholars are absolutely reliable but I feel that Wynne wasn't being fair about the context. That section of Gethin's article is prefaced with "To explain the khandhas as the Buddhist analysis of man, as has been the tendency of contemporary scholars, may not be incorrect as far as it goes, yet it is to fix upon one facet of the treatment of the khandhas at the expense of others." In this context Gethin wasn't even discussing anatta. In Gethin's Foundations of Buddhism he has a whole chapter entitled "No Self Personal Continuity and Dependent Arising" so to say that Gethin agrees that there is no teaching of 'no-self' doesn't appear to be supported by his actual writings. Dharmalion76 (talk) 20:00, 23 August 2019 (UTC)
Okay, that is a fair point. I will look into those scholars direct works first. Although I do believe that part on Wynne and the Vajira Sutta doesnt make sense, since his conclusion is actually the other way around. Wikiman5676 (talk) 03:53, 24 August 2019 (UTC)
@Wikiman5676:I am looking into some other references and Richard Gombrich's What The Buddha Thought might be a source which agrees with Thanissaro to some degree.

There is what we may think of as a Buddhist answer to the triad 'being, consciousness, bliss'. It is the triad referred to as 'the three hallmarks' (P: ti-lakkhana) , that is, the hallmarks of phenomenal existence. These are impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, absence of self. The order betrays the Upanisadic reasoning. Things are impermanent, i.e., ever-changing, and by that token they are not satisfactory, and by that token they cannot be the atman.

The third hallmark is very often mistranslated (sometimes by me too, in the past) as 'not having a self or essence'. That is indeed how later Buddhists came to interpret it, but that was not its original meaning - in fact, it is doubly misleading. Both Pali grammar and a comparison with the Vedanta show that the word means "is not atman" rather than "does not have atman". Comparison with the Vedanta further shows that the translation 'self is appropriate, as the reference is to living beings. However, as time went by the term was taken as a possessive compound and also taken to refer to everything, so that it became the one-word expression of the Buddha's anti-essentialism.

Gombrich, Richard What The Buddha Thought Equinox Publishing Limited pages=69-70 ISBN 978-1845536145
Would this make for a good replacement for the Gethin and Hamilton quotes? At least Gombrich is a direct quote and we know it isn't taken out of context. Dharmalion76 (talk) 12:35, 24 August 2019 (UTC)
Looks like a great source to me. Thanks, I really appreciate the help! Wikiman5676 (talk) 16:31, 24 August 2019 (UTC)

living beings - category error: false.[edit]

The lede stated In Buddhism, the term anattā (Pali) or anātman (Sanskrit) refers to the doctrine of "non-self", that there is no unchanging, permanent self, soul or essence in living beings.

The qualification that this refers only to living beings is false for all Buddhism, especially (but not solely) the Mahayana tradition of Nagarjuna following Candrakirti.

Candrakirti's Bodhisattvayogacaryācatuḥśatakaṭikā 256.1.7 states that 'self' is an essence of things that does not depend on others; it is an intrinsic nature. The non-existence of that is selflessness (Anatta)

This citation is translated in Vol. 3 ISBN 1-55939-166-9

20040302 (talk) 10:30, 3 October 2019 (UTC)


I also notice that there is real confusion (also found in many cited sources) between the assertion of Anatta and the assertion of 'person' and the personal self. Most of which, some scholars believe (eg. Elizabeth Napper) was based on erroneous assumptions of early Buddhist scholars concerning the scope of Anatta. (20040302 (talk))