Nibbana tangent parts 1 & 2 (Agnosticism)

by dhw, Wednesday, May 22, 2024, 12:41 (22 days ago) @ xeno6696

Matt, when you quote us, would you please indicate who said what? Otherwise, it can get confusing. Thank you.

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.

dhw: […]. 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. […] The “ego” is also a concept or idea […] 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 […]

MATT: […] [Ego] 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.

I still don’t know what you’re getting at, unless it really is the shift in priorities: away from egotism to awareness of the needs of others. This is one of our major topics: if the issue is how we relate to ourselves, why must we be rid of all desires (which means being rid of some of the things that give us the greatest joy in life) and “all concept of self must disappear”, so we’re not allowed to think how happy we are when we help others instead of just ourselves?

MATT: 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.

You give the following example as a clarification:

MATT: For example, when I'm focusing on writing code for work, there is no sense of self in my mind.
You also responded to David:
MATT: My argument is simply that if I'm not thinking about it or feeling it ALL the time, then it's not continuous.

The fact that you are not thinking about your “self” does not mean your “self” isn’t there, let alone that you must get rid of it! You don’t think all the time about your heart beating, but it is. We have now left the subjects of rebirth and Nibbana (both of which I think you have your own doubts about) and the vexed question of desirable and undesirable desires, and switched to whether there really is such a thing as self. I offered my own view on this:

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!

MATT: 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. […] 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.

Your examples only relate to the discontinuity of your consciousness of your self. You have not commented on my description above, and I’d be interested to know if there is anything with which you disagree.

DAVID: Self is not an illusion. It lives in my consciousness.
DAVID: I would say it is always there, waiting to be approached, so my attention to myself is intermittent, but as it is always available it is continuous. There are no gaps in that it always feels the same.

I totally agree that our attention is intermittent, but our self also lives in our unconscious or subconscious mind. I’d also say that although it feels the same because it’s always “you”, changes can be very substantial. I gave the example earlier of the bigot, but of course all forms of psychotherapy are based on efforts to change certain elements of the self. In THAT sense, one can say its nature may be discontinuous, but I agree emphatically with you that it is NOT an illusion.

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