Monday, February 12, 2007

On the question for Buddhism (edited)

Anonymous wrote:


I don't think you are anywhere near being able to to understand Buddhism in anyway. Hallq is in a similar position or he wouldn't refer to Mahayana Buddhism as a popular religion for the ignorant masses.

To understand the anatta or anatman doctrine you have requires knowledge of the views of the atta (Pali) or atman (Sanskrit) before and during the Buddha's time. You cannot assume it is simply "soul or self" as you as a modern christian take those terms.

VR: I should point out that I too take issue with the claim that Mahayana Buddhism is a religion for the ignorant masses. Mahayana Buddhism has a very active philosophical tradition. It is very likely they have dealt with this issue. Nor am I doing this in order to bash Buddhism. I am wondering if the Mahayana tradition keeps the doctrine of anatta intact, or if they modify it. A good deal is modified in Mahayana; is anatta modified as well?

I do not think I am presupposing a Christian conception of the soul or self in posing this question. As some people never tire of pointing out, there are Christian materialists in the philosophy of mind, as well as Cartesian souls, Thomist souls and emergent souls. So there is no unified soul-concept that is universal amongst Christians. Nor do I think the question requires esoteric knowledge to ask. As I understand the anatta doctrine from numerous world religion textbook, anatta means no permanent identity. According to the Hindu conception of atman there are essential properties of each indvidual self such that, if a person is reincarnated, there can be a definite answer to the question of who that person was in a past life. Buddha taught that while there is samsara or transmigration, and certain elements of who a person was in a past life go on to the next life, it would be a mistake, for example, to say "George W. Bush was Abraham Lincoln in a past life." (For more than just the obvious reason).
So I am conceiving the question in terms of personal identity rather than in terms of any particular soul-concept.

If the traditional Buddhist teaching implies no numerical identity from one incarnation to another (and I take it it implies at least this), and Bodhisattvas reincarnated, then are they the same Bodhisattva each time they reincarnate? If yes, then it seems that anatta has been denied or perhaps modified. If no, then why do Mahayanists revere the same Bodhisattvas they did 700 years ago?


Boram Lee said...

Victor, the Mahayana Buddhist schools do not (I think) take themselves to be rejecting the anatman doctrine, although the idealist school of Yogacara has been accused (by other schools) of doing so.

The Mahayanists believe that there is no permanent self, that what we consider the self is a fiction constructed out of transient psychophysical elements. But these psychophysical elements are related to one another by the karmic law of cause and effect. This is what links "you" in the next life to "your" thoughts and actions in the present life.

You and Hallq seem to be referring to stories about the Bodhisattva in the Jataka tales. Jataka tales are addressed to the masses, and the more philosophically inclined take these tales to be skilful means (upaya) for leading people to the "other shore" of enlightenment. This is how you get Bodhisttvas like Guanyin ("the hearer of all sounds" who is like the Mother of God Mary in the Catholic tradition, and undergoes a sex change in the journey from India to China.) There are different more philosophically sophisticated accounts of the Bodhisattva: e.g., the Bodhisattva is someone who is on the brink of enlightenment, but gives it up to save others, who are really no differnt from himself because there are no permanenet individual selves, and everything is interdependent (i.e., the doctrine of co-dependent origination).

Boram Lee said...

Victor, I should also add: if the anatman doctrine poses problems for survival across lives, it problem about continuity within a single life as well, and not just across different lives. So the same problem arises even for some Theravada philosophers (especially for those who believed in the ubiquity of dharmas or momentary existents).

As I suggested, it is the karmic relation of cause and effect among transient elements that provide for continuity within and across individual lives. The goal of liberation is to escape from these bonds of cause and effect.

lance said...

vic, i think the costumes and inner being of these bodhisattavas are not really fixed as guan yin, manjushri etc etc. kuwan yin manjushri are mere personifications of abstract traits of compasdsion and wisdom. the guwan yin and manjushri art are mere models but actually whoever buddhists or not is compassionate and smart are already guwan yin and manjushri. in buddhism, they really believed in anatta just read about sunyata although some do accept some form of reincarnation. sunyata teaches us there is no such being that have a identity or substance. the bodhisattvas after being illuminated find there are no beings yet they somehow pretend to let the bundles of aggregates or living beings to be enligtened. they find no such beings yet they pretend the beings are real for the sake of enligtenment of the ignorants.

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