Nibbana tangent parts 1 & 2 (Agnosticism)

by David Turell @, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, 17:29 (64 days ago) @ xeno6696

DAVID: I am conscious of myself; therefore, I have a self I invent as I live. Being religious, that self is connected to my soul.

dhw: I’m not sure about invention. I think most of us are conscious of the different facets of our “self” and eventually of changes that may have taken place as life proceeds. But if, for instance, you are kind-hearted and like helping people, I wouldn’t say you have “invented” your kindness.> >


But kindness is a skill. So yes, we invent it. I'm with David on this one.

MATT: I think you're too hung up on the concept that Nibbana means the destruction of the self. Nibbana's best description is of an egoless person. The "self" is a concept. An idea. We invent it with our minds.

It’s a concept we use to describe something which is very real to us. That’s how language functions, even when it is used to describe something that can’t be pinned down to one specific quality. I don’t think many people would quarrel with me if I said my “self” was the sum total of all my personal attributes, whatever they maybe. (See below for changes.) The “ego” is also a concept or idea, and as you have fastened upon it here, I just wonder if maybe you are thinking in terms of egotism, which puts one’s own self before anyone else’s. That is certainly undesirable! But that was not the word you used when I raised my objections to your picture of the ideal, in which we must rid ourselves of all desires, and “all concept of self must disappear”. If you had said all egotism must disappear, I would have agreed, though I still object to the removal of desires which can bring us joy without inflicting any harm, and of passion which can often lead to good works of benefit to all.


I made the shift to "ego," as I as attempting to snag words that would make more sense than words in a dead language that none of you here know ROFL. It was the easiest word to me to represent the shift from "I AM" to "i am." The issue in Buddhism is ultimately in how we relate to ourselves, even though its outward focus is on ultimately being kind and compassionate.

Buddhism is up front that words describing experience are at best "signposts." The sense of self is one of those things, but given you didn't read the whole article (I finished it last night and found it fascinating) Buddhism certainly falls in line with the constructivist view which is that while there is no single "place" in the mind where one could locate the self, it is something that our mind produces and we can experience. When I or other buddhists talk about "all concept of self must disappear" (in relation to nibbana), the idea here is to understand that the "sense of self" is an experience like any other emotion--it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and the "end" isn't death, it's just like any other emotion where it appears, sticks around for awhile, and then goes back....

Part of the Buddha's enlightenment could also be attributed to attempting to find an unconditioned soul as was described by the Brahmins of his time. He delved to the bottom of consciousness and came back with, "there's nothing there." Which makes Dr. Turell's concept of a self separate from a soul rather intriguing, because he gets a free pass as it pertains to the Buddha's own search. Most concepts of the soul equate it with the self.

As you point out, language is important too though--the self is a concept, it is language-mediated which also means that we can easily fall into the trap of identifying with language-constructs. Like, drop the words and just enjoy the rose! But do that with your 'self,' appreciating how fleeting even that sense is.

QUOTE: “the substance theory and illusion theory are the two most representative views, despite their contradictions. The core claim of the former is that the self is a reality, an independent entity, based on the notion that most of us intuitively perceive the sameness of our personality, memories, and recollections as if the subject “I” is always present, while the latter states that the substantial, continuous self is an illusion because our experience is always fluid.”

dhw: I see this as a totally false dichotomy. For me the self is a reality, an independent identity based on personal attributes which although partially continuous may also be partially fluid. The fact that it is an independent entity does not mean that it can’t change, and the fact that it can change does not mean that it is illusory!


I mean it might be a false dichotomy, but it's an accurate description of the two main camps in Western psychology. I'm biased, but I'm for the constructivist approach. That article is worth the read, I finished it last night and the way the authors pose the question of western research on the self and hold it up against Buddhist psychology very neatly summarizes everything I've been stumbling to say.

The sense of self as I have experienced it isn't a continuous phenomenon. This body of course, is always here, but I would be lying if I told you I experienced my self as anything but discontinuous, and that's even before I got more involved with Buddhism.

And I feel my 'self' has been continuous from early childhood. It has had additions I controlled, good and disappointing. I decided to be a doctor at age three! Straight line development.


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