Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A meditation on the limits of thinking--continues

There is no thinker of thoughts, despite the experiential fact (for most of us at times) that there seems to be. Thoughts think the thinker. In point of fact, there is no such thing as a thought. Thoughts are conceptual entities, available only upon abstraction. Paradoxically, they exist only in thought! We can say the same about consciousness. In a sense, thoughts and consciousness are products of being thought (about). So, it is fair to say that we are not thinking about anything when we think about thoughts or consciousness. (This speaks to the inadequacy, or perhaps error, of translating/interpreting the Sanskrit cit as "consciousness.")

The "contents of experience" at any given moment are, simply, what is the case, or what there is. Once the force of history has enacted experience, in the present toward the future, we live the contents of our experience. Thoughts often occur when we attempt to capture what has already happened--when we reflect. However, are we "reflecting" on anything but the contents of thought or consciousness? What exactly does "reflection" mean? Our reflections are reflections on the very contents of the selfsame reflection. Reflections do not reflect anything.

The thinker is the experiential fact of selfhood, a knowing-feeling. The feeling and knowing of our self-sense are inseparable in the occurring of selfhood. However, they are distinguishable analytically. Selfhood is a qualitative and evanescent occurring. The qualitative aspects of selfhood inhere in what is not self. We have at our disposal various schemas for such categorization, e.g., form (objectivity), feeling, perception, consciousness, historically generated intentional structures for narrative content that are sedimented as habitual acts of thoughts, words, and deeds (karma). These five constitute the structure and meaning of experience. They were formed by desire, without a perceivable beginning, and they are maintained by desire or an, often unnoticed, epistemological craving. This craving results from their impermanence (or evanescence) in association with the narrative tropes of having, owning, possessing, identifying with, and being.

So, brahmin, when there is the element of endeavoring, endeavoring beings are clearly discerned; of such beings, this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer. I have not, brahmin, seen or heard such a doctrine, such a view as yours. How, indeed, could one — moving forward by himself, moving back by himself — say ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer’? (1.) (from the Attakārī Sutta: The Self-Doer)

In these words of the Buddha, he is said to have acknowledged that some sort of self-sense is present in experience. He does not commit to a metaphysics of self, but--on my interpretation--only a phenomenal sense of self as the agent, the "one who endeavors." He is speaking, in this dialogue, to a Brahmin priest who came to the Buddha with a doctrine of "no-self" that was clearly naive. He denied the existence of a self with an all-encompassing sweep of abstraction. He presents a theory that simply negates self. The Buddha points the Brahmin back to his own experience. "...endeavoring beings are clearly discerned." Metaphysics is not the issue here. We do indeed experience self, in all of our endeavors, our intended actions. This will have a great bearing on the manner in which the Buddha will instruct his students. I mention this here to pave the way for my future ruminations on experience and the minimization of suffering.

I mentioned above that self inheres in what is not self. Given that selfhood--for the purposes of our discussions--is strictly phenomenal, we intend to discuss self as it appears. Its appearance is in the form of feelings and narratives. Feelings authenticate its reality and narratives shape the manner of its appearance. If we leave aside the feelings associated with self, it would appear almost as literature and not life. If we lose the narrative clothing of self, feelings would be inchoate and selfless. Self always appears with circumstances, whether they be empirical or conceptual. Form, feelings, perception, consciousness, and historical determinations constitute the building blocks of the narrative, providing these "stories" with structure and meaning.

1."Attakārī Sutta: The Self-Doer". 2017. Accesstoinsight.Org. Accessed September 18 2017. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an06/an06.038.niza.html#fnt-3.

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