Are Annata And Karma Reconcilable? Essay, Research Paper
The Buddhist theory of no-self (annata) is perhaps one of the most alien, complex and misunderstood concepts for the westerner to grasp. Essentially the “no self” refers to the denial of a soul. In this sense the soul is “the abiding, separate, constantly existing and indestructible entity which is generally believed to be found in man…it is the thinker of all his thoughts, the doer of all his deeds and the director of the organism generally” (Malalasckera 1957). Buddhists assert that you can only be happy once you have discarded the view of a self ; a paradoxical situation that seems absurd. The Buddhists see the idea of “I” as a figment of the imagination with nothing real to correspond to it. If I conjure up another figment of imagination like the idea of “belonging” the “I” concludes that some portion of the world belongs to me. The doctrine of annata assumes two basic propositions ; that nothing in reality corresponds to words like “I” or “mine”, as there is no fact in self and that nothing in our empirical self is worthy of being regarded as the real self. `There are three basic ways of viewing the self. These are best summarised by a leading figure in reformed Buddhism, Nyanatiloka, who says : “there are three teachers in the world. The first teacher teaches the existence of an eternal ego-entity outstanding death : that of the eternalist, as for example the Christian. The second teacher teaches a temporary ego-entity which becomes annihilated at death : that is the annihilationist, or materialist. The third teacher teaches neither an eternal nor a temporary ego-entity : that is the Buddha. Annata is an essential point of Buddhist philosophy, and is interestingly unique to almost all other beliefs and philosophies in the world today (with the possible exception of David Hume, some 2000 years later). The importance of annata to Buddhists and it’s implications for all human actions, ethics and morals is staggering. Rahula, a Sinhalese monk, believes that a view of a permanent self/soul is “the source of all the troubles in the world…in short, to this false view can be traced all the evil in the world” (Rahula 1967). In this essay I hope to accomplish a number of things. Firstly to provide the arguments for the no-self theory and explain how Buddhists construct personality. Secondly, I intend to look at the arguments refuting annata, especially Descartes “I think therefore I am”. Thirdly, I hope to draw some parallels to Buddhism with Western philosophy and finally conclude the essay. `An important part of understanding how Buddha came to dismiss the concept of self is to see how he constructed the personality of the individual. Buddhist’s outline five factors (Khanda’s) which relate to a state of grasping and attachment that identifies with “I” or “myself”. The first is rupa, material shape, which takes its form in the outer world or in the living body. It is composed of earth, wind, fire and water that are the components from which are bones, flesh and tissue are created etc. The other khanda’s are all mental in nature. The second factor, vedanna, is “feeling”; the pleasant, unpleasant or indifferent “taste” of an experience. The third khanda is sanna, or cognition, which allows us to label things “man” “blue” “tomato” etc It informs us of what we are conscious of. Sankhara (constructing activity) refers to mental states that initiate action ; like attention, anger and most importantly “will”. The final khanda, vinnana, is discriminative consciousness, or mentality (see later). Via meditation and virtue, it is possible to transcend the interpretation of “self” which the khanda’s provide and reach Nibbana (a permanent state of bliss). `What then are the arguments which support annata? In Brahmanical thought, the self could attain universal power through attained knowledge. Buddha denied the existence of such a self by claiming we had no such control over it. In the “discourse on the characteristics of not-self” (Anattalakkhana Sutta) the Buddha uses the example of a body, the first khanda rupa, to prove his point : `”body, monks, is not-self. Were it self, the body would not suffer affliction, and one could have of body `let my body be this, let my body be that`”. Due to the naturally changing behaviour of our bodies, for which we have no control, the misguided concepts of “I am body” or “body is mine” is clearly false and causes grief, suffering and anxiety. The Buddha is obviously referring to deformities, disease, old age and inevitably death as well as more trivial things such as attractiveness, hair colour etc. The five khanda’s are not-self because we have no voluntary control or direction over them. `Buddha extends his argument by suggesting what is impermanent, unsatisfactory and subject to change could not possibly be regarded as self. In the following discourse with another monk, he argues ; `”Is what is impermanent satisfactory or unsatisfactory?” `”unsatisfactory, sir.” `Is it fitting to regard what is impermanent, unsatisfactory and subject to change as `this is mine, this I am this is my self`?” `”No sir”. (Anattalakkana Sutta) `The argument which Buddha is essentially putting forward is anything which comes into existence from an unsatisfactory, random and temporary source could not logically or possibly lead on to the creation of something controllable, permanent and satisfied. `Another argument for annata concerns the ways in which you can regard the concept of self. A monk, Ananda, was severely criticised by Buddha for believing there were three possible ways of accomplishing this task. They were feeling s regarded as identical to self (feeling is self), self without feeling (the self is insentient) or neither except “my self has the attribute of feeling”. Buddha believed this view was wrong on a number of accounts. To begin with feelings were of three types (vedana) ; pleasant, painful and neutral. Because these feelings are impermanent then the self would have to be too, and because it is assumed that the self is of a permanent nature, then clearly self can not be feeling. Buddha’s counter to the argument that the self is insentient is simply to say that it would be impossible to say “I am” where there is no feeling at all. In response to the argument that the self is able to feel, or have the capacity to feel, he answers : “where feeling is completely absent…might one be able to say `this is what I am?`”. As this is not possible the idea is dismissed. `Paticca-samuppada, the continuity of experience as explained by the “dependent Origination” is another argument which supports the no-self hypothesis. For Buddhists, the agent behind experience (such as consciousness) is replaced by impersonal conditioned elements. Consciousness is defined “according to the condition through which it arises”. This is compared to the analogy that a fire is named after the fuel that feeds it ; “grass fire”, “oil-fire”, “forest-fire” etc. These elements form a twelve fold sequence which embodies the succession of events and lives in the “round of rebirth”, without the concept of reincarnating the individual. Consciousness is not a permanent, unchanging self, but rather a condition created by it’s environment. `One of the most famous arguments against the no-self theory is Descartes “Cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am). The reasoning behind this relatively simple statement seemed undeniable proof of the existence of “self”. Even if you think of not existing or not thinking, you are still aware of yourself, an “I”, doing the task. For Descartes, this was the first undeniable fact from which he could discover the truth. The argument is perhaps more clearly demonstrated by the story of a student who reads too much metaphysics. He becomes unsettled when he discovers that he has no proof of his existence and in desperation asks his lecturer “do I exist?”, to which the lecturer replies “who’s asking the question”. Although the answer presumably satisfies the student, the argument which Descartes put forth is actually flawed. His original argument is confused by the grammatical terminology of the word “I”. There is no need for the “I” in “I think” to refer to anything. According to Buddhism, Descartes was merely aware of thinking, not that “I” was doing the thinking. He could have, and perhaps should have said “there is thinking therefore there are thoughts”. Without the “I” there is no evidence of a self involved. The common reply to this counter argument is that the term “think” requires “I” as a subject to the verb. However, this is also flawed as it is only a grammatical convention and the word “it” could be replaced with “I” which again would not imply a subject/self. `Another argument which places some scepticism on the theory of annata is a claim that the no-self theory is merely another ontological phenomena created for the sole purpose of undermining Brahmanism and Jainism whilst simultaneously acting as a component of faith akin to Western religions. Buddha’s spiritual quest can be seen as a search to identify and liberate a person’s true self : atman. Such an entity was thought to be a persons inner nature, a permanent source of true happiness. In Brahmanism, atman was seen as the universal self identical with Brahman, whilst in Jainism it was seen as Jiva, the individual life principle. However, as I have already described earlier, the Buddha has clearly laid forward many argument to dismiss the permanent nature of the self. If you consider religion to be a man made creation which fills a social function then you can understand Buddha’s reasons for denying the self. If he thought he had discovered a way of living which reduced the suffering he observed around him, then he would need to undermine people’s faith in the two leading religions of his time (Brahmanism and Jainism) in order to convert them. The theory of no-self fits this role perfectly for it attacks the core assumptions of these religions (and unbeknownst to Buddha, most western religions as well) whilst providing a goal (Nibbana) which is just as impossible to prove or falsify as heaven or hell. `Some critics have also attacked the no-self doctrine on a supposed contradiction between karma and annata. Buddhist karmic theory states that people undergo more than one life, sometimes maintaining memories and behaviours after death. This would seem to suggest some permanent self within us which transcends death but annata clearly refutes such a claim. It would seem logical then to conclude that one of these concepts must be wrong, yet this is not the case, for once again it is a matter of interpretation. One way of looking at this argument is the difference between speaking convention and philosophical truth. Reference to death is a convenient and useful expression yet it does not imply a permanent self. The reason for this, is simply that our view of death as a final end is incorrect. To the Buddhists, death is merely another experience in a chain of events which continues endlessly. In a conventional way a person deaths, but the philosophical view says that no permanent self survives, only a series of mental and physical events. ` David Hume, a western philosopher, came to a similar view of the self as Buddhism. He found no evidence for the existence of a permanent self. However, Hume believed the mind was a series of discrete momentary “awareness” or “impressions” which followed one another rapidly in succession, very much like a link on a chain. This analogy raises an important distinction between the Buddhist conception of mind and Humes conception of mind, for the Buddhist’s view consciousness as a constant flow of thought. In this respect, the Buddhist theory is more like William James’s (1850) view of the mind who saw mental activity as a “stream of thought”. `Even though the arguments for annata convincingly deny the existence of a self, I can still not believe that they are correct. The argument against Descartes’ “I think” argument still lacks something. It is not adequate to say that the word “I” is not needed in the term “I think” for the word “I” was created to describe an inner feeling of self and was not created as a convenient means of belonging. I think the Buddha was trying to identify and cure people’s dissatisfaction by eliminating the ego. I would interpret his denial of the self as a denial of those negative feelings associated with possessiveness, greed, bitterness, vanity and arrogance. ` `BIBLIOGRAPHY: `Harvey Peter (1990) An introduction to Buddhism Cambridge : Cambridge University Press. `Collins, S ( ) Selfless Persons. `Giles, J “The no self theory : Hume, Buddhism and Personal identity. In Philosophy East and west. `Jewell, Nik (1995) Buddhist Philosophy Seminar Notes.