Thursday, 31 March 2011

Concept of ĀtmavAda (The Theory of Soul) in Buddha’s Time


In religious philosophy contemporary to the Buddha, one major characteristic that was common to many of them was that they were ĀtmavAdin (holder of theory of soul). This means believing in permanent soul which has continuity after death. Brahmanism maintains it by saying “na hanyate hanyamAne sarIre” (the being that is undestroyable in the destroyable body).  In the personality of human being the body can be broken up at sometimes, yet the soul is continuous even after death of physical body. Therefore, it is underlying principle entity behind the process of life continuity after death. Therefore, physical death is not a real end, but the change of soul into another body.
The religions who maintain this philosophy of soul were called eternalists (ßassatavAdI).  Those who believe otherwise – that are the soul are not eternal, but temporary were called nihilist (UcchedavAdI). These theories were based on three forces of sources.
1.   Hearsay
2.   Logic
3.   Experience
Those who believe in a soul depending on a traditional text or texts a teacher or teachers or any other forms of traditional knowledge were depending on hearsay. There were those in second group who accept a permanent soul depending on logic and argument. There was the third group that accepted a permanent soul on their religious experiences.

Lectured on 29.08.2005
Some presented their theories of soul on a basic epistemology deriving experience from higher knowledges and spiritual attainments based on practice of mental culture (yoga bhAvana), some other presented their theories of soul based on inference in logical reasoning (takka pariyAhataM vImamsAnucaritaM sayaM paTibhAnaM). In the Brahmajalasutta of DN records four etenalist theories of soul three of them are based on pubbenivAsanussatiJAna and one is related to logic. The soul view related to knowledge to former birth (pubbenivAsanussatiJAna) arises when the person who has this knowledge come to know through observance various births that there was a former birth in him. When he observes birth more then one passed through one individual he sees those bodies have been destroying, yet there is continuality. From that he thinks that there must be something going from birth to birth and he recognizes it as the soul, also he thinks that his soul is eternal.

iti sAkAraM sanddesaM anekavihitaM pubbenivAsaM anussarati. sa evamAha.  Sassato attA ca lokA ca vaJjho, kuThaTTho, esikaTThayiTThito. Teva sattA sandhAvanti, saMsaranti, cavanti, uppajjanti ca. atthitveva sassataM samaM
=Thus (he) recollects various past existences with forms and reasons he said thus “soul is eternal and world is barren, essence-less and depending on thing (that is soul) there is indeed eternality.
This developing soul concept in this manner with reference to past lives is called Pubbantakappana.  The åparantakappana means developing soul concept with reference to fixture lives. By samatha meditation one can develop the higher knowledge named cutUpapAtaJJAna (cuti + upapAta = death arising), the knowledge of dying of arising in rebirth, by which he can observe death and rebirth of other beings. By that one can see beings are reborn at many places, in many times so they there is an unchanging entity behind this continuity. In the Buddha’s time the soul theory was born by these two ways. In the Brahmajalasutta of DN there are sixteen theories in which the soul is explained according to observance of future births “santi bhikkhave eke samaNabrahmaNA uddhamAghAtanika saJJIvAdA uddhamAghAtaNA saJJiM attAnaM paJJApenti soLasavatthUni(O monks! There are some recluses and Brahmins who hold the view of soul after death; they saw soul after death in sixteen ways). The common characteristics are that all accept soul after death (…attA hoti aroga paraM maraNA). All these above mentioned soul views are based on the knowledge in the former trances.
Some observe an end of Atama in according to a observing of future. From that Nihilism or Annihilionism (ucchedavAda) comes into existence. They see the soul for sometimes and also its end. There were seven theories of nihilism in the Buddha’s time develop in this way. “santi bhikkhave eke samaNabrahmaNA ucchedavAdA sato sattassa ucchedaM vinAsaM vibhavaM paJJApenti, sattahi vatthUhi (O monks! There are seven theories of nihilism as some recluses and Brahmins being nihilist show the annihilation destruction on the non-being of the being.
Some others having taken the body made of four great elements as the soul declare its death as the end of the soul. Some others rejecting that say Atma comes to end in the divine existence of sensual pleasure that take material food (kabariGkAra Ahara). This way there are others theories Atma coming to conclusion by the end of the mental body. By attaining of trances of infinite space (akAsAJcAyatana), infinite consciousness (viJJAnaJcAyatana), the state of nothingness (aciJcaJJAyatana) and the state of neither perception nor non-perception (nevasaJJAnAsaJJAyatana). All these forms of nihilism accept the soul. They all reject the views of each others. Their knowledge is based on mental development (cittabhAva). From the way they reject other’s soul theory we can know that they also hold the soul theories.

åtthi kho bho eso attA yaM taM vadasi, na so natthIti vadAmi. No ca kho bho ayaM attA ettAvatA sammA samucchinno hoti atthi kho bho aJJo attA
=O friends! What you call as soul is there. I do not say that is not, that soul does not end there. O monks! There is another soul.
Until one realizes the reality of soullessness through vipassana he can be misguided on existence of soul even by higher knowledges. 

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