Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Uniqueness of Soul-less (Anātma) Theory


In understanding the uniqueness of Buddhism among other Indian religions, it is very important to have a clear idea about the anAtta (soul-less) theory of Buddhism. In whatever way dealt with this theory, it will lead to wrong ideologies. This theory is such a subtle subject, so even the Buddha was very careful in talking on theme. According to the åtthattasutta of SN, once the Buddha was silence when Paribbājaka Vacchagotta questioned whether there is a soul or not. When the Vacchagotta left from him, the Buddha explained the reason to be so careful in answering the questions related to the soul.

åhaJca Ānanda vacchagottassa paribbAjakassa atthattAti puttho samANo atthattAti vyAkareyyaM. Ye te Ānanda samaNabrAhmaNa sassatavAda tesametaM laddhi abhiissa. ahaJca Ānanda vacchagottassa paribbAjakassa natthattAti puttho samaNo natthattAti vyAkareyyaM ye te Ānanda samaNabrAhmaNa ucchedavAda tesametaM laddhi abhivissa.

=O Ānanda! When I was questioned by Vacchagotta whether there is a soul or not if I answered him affirmative it would have been the view of eternalist . . . if I answered in negative it would have been one of the views of nihilists.

This answer of the Buddha depicts one profound problem related to human language, affirmative answers are understood in eternalist sense, and negative answers are understood in nihilist sense. These both extremes, which represent the nature of human thinking are not related to reality of the world. The KaccAyanavacchagottasutta of SN clarifies the Buddha’s position in explaining the things as they are:

∂vayanissito khoyaM kaccAna loko ye bhuyyena atthitaJceva natthitaJca. SabbamatthIti bho kaccAna ayameko anto sabbaM natthIti ayaM dutiyo anto. Ete te kaccAna ubho ante anupagamma majjhena tathAgato dhammaM deseti.

=O Kaccāna! This world is related to two (views), mostly the existence and the non-existence. O! Kaccāna, everything exists, this is one extreme, everything does not exist, this is second extreme. O Kaccāna! The Well Gone One without following these two ends preaches the doctrine in the middle way.

In understanding the Buddhist philosophy of non-soul, the way the Buddha has explained it should be understood very clearly and  it is one of the three signatas (tilakkhana). The three characteristics are:
1.  ånicca (impermanence),
2.  ∂ukkha (unsatisfactoriness) and
3.  ånattā (soul-lessness).

Buddhism explains everything as impermanent,

sabbe saGkhArA anicca (all formations are impermanent)
anicca vata saMkhArA (indeed formations are impermanent)
hA matantA sajIvakA (alas! All living things are ending with death).

Then it is said
yam aniccaM tam dukkaM(whatever is impermanent that is unsatisfactoriness)
 “yam dukkhaM tadanattA” (whatever is unsatisfactory that is not soul).

The µahAvaggapAli explains the philosophy of anAtta as follows,

®UpaM bhikkhave anattA. rUpaM ca hi idaM bhikkhave attA abhavissa nayidaM rUpaM AbAdhAya saMvatteyya. labbhetha ca rUpe evaM me rUpaM hotu. evaM me rUpaM mahosIti. yasmA ca kho bhikkhave rUpaM anattA tasmA rUpaM AbAdhAya saMvattati. na la labbhati rUpe evaM me rUpaM hotu evaM me rUpaM mahosī’ti.

=O monks! The form is soul-less. O monks! If this form is with a soul it will not exist for sickness. Do you get form as may my form be like this or may my form not be like this? By which O monks! The form is soul-less with that it exists for sickness and doesn’t get may my form be like this or may it not be so.

The same description of voidness is given with reference to other five aggregates also. They are rejected as they themselves have no essence within for they cannot be kept under the control of person as he likes. As recorded in CUlasaccakasutta of MN once Saccaka who was a disciple of Jainism said that the five aggregates are the soul, without answering the proposition presented by Saccaka the Buddha questioned the same to him that there is no essence within five aggregates. Saccaka answers themselves convinced him that the five aggregates have no soul. The conversation between the Buddha and CUlasaccaka is seen in below:

The Buddha: ®UpaM niccaM vA aniccaM vA? - Is form permanent or impermanent?
Saccaka: åniccaM bho gotama - Indeed, Gautama! impermanent.
The Buddha: YaM panAniccaM taM dukkhaM vAā sukhaM vA? - Whatever is impermanent is unsatisfactoriness or happiness?
Saccaka: ∂ukkhaM bho gotama. - Indeed, Gautama! It is unsatisfactoriness.
The Buddha: YaM panAniccaM dukkhaM viparinAmadhammaM kallannutaM samanupassituM etaM mama, eso ahaM, eso me attA? - Indeed, whatever is impermanent, unsatisfactoriness, changing, is it suitable to see completely as is this mine? Is this me? Is this soul mine?
Saccaka: ño hidaM bho gotama. - Indeed, it is not Gautama!

The Buddha’s answer and attribute towards the soul are not leading to another extremist view against soul theory, the soul as well as non-soul when they are held as strong views they don’t show the reality.

ånattani bhikkhave attAti saJJavipallAso, cittavipallAso, diTThivipallAso.
                                                                                (VipallAsasutta, AN II)

=O monks! Taking a soul in what is non-soul is a deformation of perception, mind and views.

Uniqueness of Buddhist teachings lies in the fact that without coming to any extreme it explains the reality in such a way that it helps wise human beings to get themselves away from defilements.

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