Anguttara Nikaya


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Aŋguttara Nikāya
Chakkanipata
IV. Devatā Vagga

Sutta 38

Attakārī Sutta

Self-doer

Translated from the Pali by Michael Olds

 


 

Introduction

This sutta addresses a perception attained through meditation where the meditator perceives the nature of what he has previously believed was 'himself' and 'the world' as being an illusion — a work of the imagination made from a play of light — and comes to the conclusion that 'there is no self'.

The way this is to be put following Gotama's system is: 'There is no thing there that is the self.' The Pali is 'Sabbe dhammā anattā.' = All things not-self.

The difference between the statement that there is no self and the statement that there is no thing there that is the self is that the former is a point of view, the latter is something verifiable by the observation that, by definition, existence is bound by a progression of identified shapes and consciousness, [aka: Time].

Whatsoever comes into existence comes to an end.

Whatsoever comes to an end is not under one's control and cannot therefore be called one's own or one's self.

To say such an ending thing is the self would be to say, to quote Gotama: 'Myself comes to an end in myself."

To describe this phenomena with a point of view is to place one's self in conflict with the opposing points of view — e.g.: there is a self; there both is and is not a self; there neither is nor is not a self — and will lead to behaviors that will in every case bring one to a bad end.

Today we have groups who hold each of these positions, but the most pernicious of these views is the view that there is no self in that it leads to belief that there is no consequence for inhuman behavior ... and even more damaging, that there is no need for personal endeavor to escape the disadvantages of identifying with what is not the self.

With regard to behavior and it's consequences, Gotama's system speaks of kamma or sankhara, action and reaction, or own-making and identified-with experience.

From early on, the student of Buddhism will have been told that to say things like: 'I went to the store today,' 'please pass me the salt,' 'This is my ... mine ...,' etc. is acceptable if one retains in mind that one is 'speaking conventionally.'

While this is largely considered a 'mere convenience', there is nothing in Gotama's system which is insignificant. The problem with 'existence' and the coming to an end of things is precisely the subjective nature of this phenomena.

The individual experiences himself and the world through the senses.

A sense-object comes into contact with a sense organ and together with consciousness is experienced as sensing as an individual.

The phenomena is generated by way of a previous intent by an identified-with individuality to create experience as an individual.

The problem with existence as an individual is the identification with its unpleasant aspects, such as dying, and worse the subsequent confusion leading to an endless repetition of the sequence.

The solution to the problem is subjective.

It is the subjective individuality that has generated the desire and attachment that resulted in experience as an individual.

That desire and attachment must be seen, understood, resolved and let go within the subjective experience; it ends at the level where it began.

This sutta translation is important from another aspect.

What I call the 'Rhys Davids/Stead' translators, those who rely primarily on the understanding presented in the Pali English Dictionary and which are all, more or less, as I have said elsewhere many times, 'editings' of the original PTS translations, all miss the magic of sutta discourse. The magic is further obscured by the use of abbreviation. The student of the system is by these two phenomena deprived of the need to slow down and visualize what is being said and done.

This sutta is a typical case. The sequence of terms is a progression. The progression is of a dual nature. It can be taken in the 'conventional' way as a series of mere logical arguments; but it is also to be seen as showing the way to the solution of the problem. For this latter to become clear the meditator must sit down, visualize and understand the significance of the progression, or, if hearing the sutta face to face, it is the repetition of the formula which will induce a state where this progression is 'visible' to the mind.

This is how I understand and attempt to translate this sutta and why it is important to have this new translation and to be able to relate it to the Pali.

Michael Olds
Los Altos
2011
[email protected]

 


 

[1][pts] I HEAR TELL:

Once upon a time, The Lucky Man Savatthi Town revisiting, Anathapindika Park, Jeta Grove.

There then a certain Brahman came upon The Lucky Man and approached.
Having approached The Lucky Man he exchanged welcomes.
Having exchanged welcomes, pleasantries and reminiscences, he took a seat to one side.
Seated to one side then, the brahman said this to Bhagava:

2. I, Good Gotama, state this, theorize thus, namely:

There is no self-doer;
there is no other-doer.

3. I, brahman, would not thus state,
thus theorize,
for such is unseen, unheard of.[1]

How, tell me,[2] could one,
going ahead on one's own,
returning on one's own, thus state:

There is no self-doer;
there is no other-doer?

4. What do you think, brahman,
is there such a thing as starting?

Even so, good man.

There being such a thing as starting,
are beings clearly known to start?

Even so, good man.

Well then, brahman, there being such a thing as starting,
and beings being clearly known to start,
this is, among beings,
the self-doer;
this is the other-doer.

5. What do you think, brahman,
is there such a thing as departure?

Even so, good man.

There being such a thing as departure,
are beings clearly known to depart?

Even so, good man.

Well then, brahman, there being such a thing as departure,
and beings being clearly known to depart,
this is, among beings,
the self-doer;
this is the other-doer.

6. What do you think, brahman,
is there such a thing as going beyond?

Even so, good man.

There being such a thing as going beyond,
are beings clearly known to go beyond?

Even so, good man.

Well then, brahman, there being such a thing as going beyond,
and beings being clearly known to go beyond,
this is, among beings,
the self-doer;
this is the other-doer.

7. What do you think, brahman,
is there such a thing as perseverance?

Even so, good man.

There being such a thing as perseverance,
are beings clearly known to persevere?

Even so, good man.

Well then, brahman, there being such a thing as perseverance,
and beings being clearly known to persevere,
this is, among beings,
the self-doer;
this is the other-doer.

8. What do you think, brahman,
is there such a thing as endurance?

Even so, good man.

There being such a thing as endurance,
are beings clearly known to endure?

Even so, good man.

Well then, brahman, there being such a thing as endurance,
and beings being clearly known to endure,
this is, among beings,
the self-doer;
this is the other-doer.

9. What do you think, brahman,
is there such a thing as approaching?

Even so, good man.

There being such a thing as approaching,
are beings clearly known to approach?

Even so, good man.

Well then, brahman, there being such a thing as approaching,
and beings being clearly known to approach,
this is, among beings,
the self-doer;
this is the other-doer.

10. I, brahman, would not thus state,
thus theorize,
for such is unseen, unheard of.

How, tell me, could one,
going ahead on one's own,
returning on one's own, thus state:

There is no self-doer;
there is no other-doer?

11. Superbly done, good Gotama!
Superbly done, good Gotama!

It is as though, good Gotama,
that which was upside-down were set right-side up,
the covered were uncovered,
the lost were told the way,
an oil-lamp were brought into the darkness
so that those with eyes in their heads could see shapes.

Thus thusly the Elder Gotama has shown Dhamma with not simply one exposition.

I go to The Lucky Man for refuge
and to the Dhamma
and to the Order of Beggars.

Having been given life this day, remember me as a follower who has taken refuge in the Venerable Gotama.

 


[1] Māhaṃ brāhmaṇa, evaṃvādiṃ evaṃdiṭṭhiṃ addasaṃ vā assosiṃ vā. Hare: "Never, brāhman, have I seen or heard of such an avowal, such a view." Nizamis: "I have not, brahman, seen or heard such a doctrine, such a view."
The complication here being that Gotama has surely both heard and seen such a view, such a theory.
We have the expression "Well I never!", short for 'I have never seen nor heard of such a thing' made with a derisive or astonished tone which might do, but then how to explain evaṃvādiṃ evaṃdiṭṭhiṃ? "Thus-stated, thus-theorized."
On the other hand, the 'reality' that should be behind any view or theory is not to be seen for this theory and view.
Hare notes: "This is Makkhali Gosala's heresy; see Dial. i, 71; K.S. iii, 169;..."

[2] Nāma. Name, name for me, namely; OED: for example, by name; show me, identity, identify, describe. Nizamis, with PED has 'indeed'; Hare skips.

 


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