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Asian Philosophy

Introduction

The illusion of control brings to the table the conventional view that a person can alter aspects of their lives and that it is up to ‘him/her’ to do it. Guided by such judgment, one thinks that if there is an aspect of a person which dissatisfies him/her, he/she may try to change it. This concept presupposes that one’s mind can perform a controlling function towards certain aspects of one’s personality. One challenge that comes with the study of the philosophy of Gita relates to the difference between the law of Karma and the grace granted by Krishna as he helps his devotees attain liberation. The two views are brought into one perspective, concluding that Krishna is sovereign over the law of karma, for it is an instrument for him to punish or reward (Prabhupada). The other alternative view is that karma is a law functioning on its own; it has no external controls. Therefore, one is meant to struggle with its drive throughout all the reincarnations. The interference of God is hence a construct of Hinduism. Due to this, the Hindu analysts of the Gita had to decide whether the supremacy belonged to Krishna or the ultimate power of karma. One more inconsistency in regards to the character of Lord Krishna is that Krishna is just but the incarnation of the Hindu god. The argument comes about from the fact that Krishna is referred to as the Lord of the Universe and as the source of all existence. This, however, conflicts with Vedanta, because Krishna therefore becomes the source of Brahman, which is contrary to Vaishnavism, for he is instrumental in obtaining fusion with Brahman. Even though the main intention of the Gita is to show that Krishna is super-personal, rather than a combination of pantheistic, theistic and dualistic and other aspects, this cycle of predictable incarnation that exists between a manifested and non-manifested state characterizes Krishna, just like Brahman.

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Buddhists and No-self

Therefore, Bhagavan Sri Krishna advises that in such discussions, the only option is to rise up to the occasion. One’s personality has to be built up and the strength infused into one’s character. What comes next when one chooses this path is the intellectual, moral and physical enrichment. This has formed the basis for various Hindu philosophies. It is on this basis that the Gita is found. It states that spiritual perfection is not attained by asceticism or by abandoning action, but by giving a new meaning to action – that of detachment from its fruits. It is this kind of attitude that ensures that no attachments are formed and that karma and the current reincarnation are not affected. A famous principle that Krishna formulated states: “Be focused on action and not on the fruits of action. Do not become confused in attachment to the fruit of your actions and do not become confused in the desire for inaction”. This saying hence encourages individuals to live in detachment. It, however, brings into perspective some, if not all of the loopholes that have overtime come to life based on the doctrine of no self, so many questions are raised. This paper therefore explains the reason why Buddhists believes in no self and how they respond to questions that try to disagree with this doctrine.

Discussion

One major issue that most people find difficult to understand is the teaching on anatta, also referred to as no-self. It is viewed as a stumbling block mainly for two reasons. The first one is that the idea of the existence of no self doesn’t marry with other Buddhist teachings. One of the examples is, the doctrine of kamma together with the doctrine of rebirth. Rebith in Hinduish is a belief that after a person’s life on earth, one enters karma, a reincarnation system where he or she is reborn either as a divine being, a human or an animal. The question brought forth is, if there is no self, what then experiences kamma or rebirth? If the karma system is indeed present, there should be a part of the being that is not destroyed by death, and the one that enters the nest life form. Otherwise, this would mean that there is no rebirth and the person born is a new entity, and not a reincarnation of the previous form. For this reason, if indeed Karma and rebirth system exist, there must be an entity that transits from one life form to the next one, and that would be the self. For this reason, Karma and the rebirth system presupposes the existence of a self.

Secondly, the doctrine of no self may not fit well with other religious beliefs, especially the ones with Judeo-Christian background (Prabhupada). For instance, Christianity assumes the existence of an immortal soul. Therefore, if there is no self, what’s the purpose of the spiritual life? Many authors have tried to explain this phenomenon. In the Pali canon, which is among the earliest extant manuscript of the Buddha’s teachings, such questions are not addressed. It records that at one point, the Buddha was frankly asked whether or not there was self, and he refused to respond. Later on, he responded that to doubt such a fact was to fall into extreme forms of wrong, which can cripple the path of Buddhist practice. This is the only instance in which Buddha himself alludes to the presence of a self. Such a question was to be brushed aside: he may have thought that the answer was obvious. However, to gain a deeper understanding concerning the meaning of anatta, his teachings need to be well-examined.

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Buddha divides all the questions into four categories: those deserving a straight or categorical answer, analytical answers which require defining and qualifying, those that deserve a counter answers that put the ball back in the questioner’s court, and finally those that deserve to be put aside (Prabhupada). The latter is made up of questions that do not lead to the end of suffering and stress. According to the teaching, the first responsibility of a teacher is to categorize the kind of question a student asks and respond accordingly. A teacher or Buddhist should therefore not say yes or no to a question that deserves to be put aside. Another aspect to consider is how the answer should be interpreted if one is asking questions. According to Buddha, two categories of individuals misrepresent him: those who draw conclusions from statements that do not have conclusions, and those who don’t make inferences from those that should. Buddha could have avoided the question because the answer in anyway would be confusing and lead to more questions. He could also have gone silent because his learners had refused to make the required inferences, turning their question into a rhetorical one.

Some writers try to explain the no-self concept by saying that the Buddha denied the existence of an eternal self or a separate self, but this is to give an analytical answer to a question that the Buddha showed should be put aside. So, instead of answering ‘no’ to the question of whether or not there is a self — interconnected or separate, eternal or not — the Buddha felt that the question was misleading to begin with. To back the argument further, it is important to point out the fact that the ability of the Buddhist philosophy to verify the idea of a self-entity as a wrong postulation stems from the doctrine of no self (Prabhupada). This doctrine’s ethical aspect shows how the self is overcome, which leads to Nibbana (showing that a self indeed exists).

One the other hand, others may argue that there is no self at all. This can only be true only if there is no Karma and the system or rebirth. In the description of rebirth given earlier, there is no physical connection between the previous form and the current one, meaning that the only link must be spiritual. For this reason, the concept of ‘no self’ can only be true if there is no Karma. For someone who believes in self, this could be wrong, as the rebirth shows a possibility of appearance in another form. For instance, a divine being in the afterlife is a completely new creature and form to reappear in. For this reason, there is clearly no continuity. Even with Karma and rebirth, there is nothing from one life that goes to the next. For those who believe in self, Buddha stated that consciousness creates a false feeling of self. For this reason, it is possible that self does not exist, and is only an illusion created by consciousness.

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It is therefore inevitable to argue that no matter how one explains the fine line between ‘self’ and ‘other’, the notion of self is composed of an aspect of self-identification and clinging, which translates to suffering and stress, a fact that is greatly emphasized in the kamma and rebirth doctrine. This refers to an interconnected self that does not recognize the ‘other.’ One hence is identified with all of his or her nature; for example, if a tree is felled, one is pained. It inevitably holds for an entirely ‘other’ universe, whereby the sense of isolated and debilitating living makes the search for one’s own happiness impossible (Prabhupada). The insistence on ‘no self’ could be a Buddhist way of shunning individualistic thinking and embracing the notion that the entire universe operates as a unitary system.

To steer clear of the sufferings of ‘self’ and ‘others’, the alternative put forward is divided into four noble truths of stress, its cessation, and the path to its cessation. Instead of seeing these truths as relating to the concepts of self or other, one should acknowledge them merely for what they are, as they are openly experienced, therefore performing the duty applicable to each of them. Stress should be understood, its evolvement abandoned, its termination realized, and the lane to its termination developed (Prabhupada). These obligations form the framework for the anatta doctrine, where it is best understood. Eventually, a virtuous path filled with concentration, together with a calm state of well-being is developed. This calm state enables one to see through the lens of the Noble Truths. Here, the question that would occur to the mind is not “is there a self?” or “what is myself?” but rather “am I experiencing stress due to holding onto a certain phenomenon? Is it really me, myself, or mine?” By asking such questions, one is able to decipher whether it is stressful or not. If not, why hold on? Such questions help to comprehend stress and help to chip away at attachments. As a result, all traces of self-identification are lost, leaving a limitless freedom. With this perspective, the anatta teaching is no longer a no-self doctrine, but rather a not-self strategy, useful for shedding suffering by not clinging onto attachments, which leads to an undying happiness.

Conclusion

As seen earlier, going by the common belief of the existence of karma and a rebirth system, the presence of a ‘self’ that is independent on the physical form and the one that inhabits another body in the afterlife shows that a self exists. There can only be a ‘no-self’ if there is no rebirth. For those who believe in self, Buddha stated that existence created a consciousness that made one to feel like a self, which could be nonexistent in the first place. Buddha’s statement could be true.

The radical concept of ‘no-self’ popularized by some Buddhists is an idea meant to provide a new perspective on human personality. Because of such views and perspectives, Buddhism religion insists on the ‘no-self’ doctrine, while a look into karma, rebirth and Buddha statements shows a ‘not-self’ doctrine. It is the ground that all other Buddhism philosophies flow from. As mentioned earlier, the existence of Nibbana brings this view into perspective (Prabhupada). It is true that Buddhist philosophy finds ways to show the idea of a self-entity as a wrong postulation, its psychology. Its ethical aspect shows how it is overcome, while its final goal, Nibbana, shows the process where it is completely eliminated. This statement, however, does not try to show the superiority or inferiority of the Buddhist doctrine of anatta, but rather analyzes how Buddhism differs from other world religions.

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