Nibbana tangent parts 1 & 2 (Agnosticism)

by David Turell @, Sunday, May 26, 2024, 17:15 (59 days ago) @ dhw

MATT: In the spirit of trying to keep things focused, I'll shelve the other ideas for now (or at least do my best...)

DAVID: (to Matt) I feel no need for what you do.

MATT: To be clear, I never felt the need for it myself. I was perfectly happy being a fairly rote materialist. What happened was in 2017 my job took a turn for the worst and I was suffering from panic attacks just walking in the building.

dhw: Perhaps if David and I had had a similar experience, we too would have needed therapy. My earlier point was that the self is not continuous, but the fact that it can change does not mean it is not real. The panicking you was real, and the newly tranquillized you is real. You are totally aware of this. Your “self” has changed; but it has not disappeared. It is not an “illusion”.

MATT: So I think I can finally respond and settle this. In the same talk I was listening to by Ajahn Brahm (not my friend but I wouldn't mind meeting him) he was clear that what he was talking about was shifting consciousness, in other words, you (and Turell) were describing it correctly.

dhw: Thank you.

MATT: The point was being made against two common assertions in ancient Vedic thought, firstly that there was an unconditioned self, secondly, that the self was synonymous with consciousness or 'this mind.' The Buddha's response more or less, is that having literally touched the bottom of consciousness, there is no eternal self. The sense of self is discontinuous, QED.

dhw: I’m sorry, but I find this confusing, so please forgive me if I’ve misunderstood something. Firstly, I see no way in which the self can be “unconditioned”: it is conditioned by a variety of factors, including heredity, upbringing, society etc. and, very importantly, experience, which is why it is NOT continuous but is a reality subject to changes. Secondly, there is no way it can be synonymous with consciousness, since vast areas of our self – including the organs of the body and the subconscious “mind” – function quite independently of consciousness. I have no idea what is meant by literally touching the bottom of consciousness, but of course if our self dies with our body, it is discontinuous in the sense that it comes to an end.

MATT (to me): You in particular define a 'self' that is sometimes conscious of itself, and sometimes isn't, my interpretation is that the only time that you ARE "yourself" is precisely when you're conscious of it. The rest of the time, you're mentally some amorphous thing. I am puzzled by the insistence.

dhw: I am equally puzzled by your insistence. At any one moment, we will generally only be “using” part of of our self. If I’m focusing on writing a play, I’m using my imagination and those parts of the body that are needed to record the words of the dialogue I am imagining. That doesn’t mean that my love of cricket no longer exists! The self is the total of all our personal attributes. What you are saying amounts simply to the fact that we are only conscious of them when we are conscious of them! As an analogy, I have flat feet. You seem to be saying that if I’m not thinking about my flat feet, I don’t have flat feet.

dhw: The only disagreement I have with Matt is over the general Buddhist “doctrine” that to achieve the vital balance, “all concept of self must disappear” and with it, all desires.

MATT: You misrepresent me. (again, actually!) So let me be clear:

The sense of self must only disappear if you're aiming for Nibbana!
[…] I thought I was clear that my goal wasn't nibbana, apparently I need to say that again as well. To achieve 'balance' as you say, doesn't require Nibbana. THAT work is for monks. I am not a monk. Monks can do monk things, I'll be living my life as before, but with hopefully some more grace.

dhw: I’ve left out the rest of your statement because the misunderstanding is apparent on both sides. If you read my comment above, you’ll see that our disagreement has nothing to do with your personal circumstances. It is the Buddhist “doctrine” that I oppose: namely, the belief that for someone to achieve the ideal of Nibbana, they must lose all concept of self and all desires. I’m delighted that you have found your own “balance” without what I consider to be a renunciation of all that I consider to be fundamental to the enjoyment and I might even say the value of human life (in the context of those desires that benefit us and others). I think we actually agree - but I'm sure you'll tell me if we don't!

I'm still with dhw's thoughts.


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