Appendix II

Some scholars, in an attempt to place the Buddha’s teachings in an historical context, have maintained that his not-self teaching was meant to apply specifically to the Upaniṣadic self-doctrine. In other words, the Buddha’s intention was to deny the truth of the Upaniṣadic doctrine of the universal self; he was not denying other, more common-sense doctrines of the self. This understanding of the non-self teaching has partial support in MN 22—which subjects the idea of a universal self to specific ridicule—but it fails to do justice to the wide variety of self doctrines that the Buddha refutes in other suttas, such as DN 15 and SN 22:1. It also fails to take into account two aspects of the Buddha’s actual historical context:

1) The Upaniṣadic tradition was not the only tradition at the Buddha’s time espousing doctrines of the self. DN 2 cites the self-doctrines of other, non-Vedic schools of the time.

2) No single self-doctrine can claim to be “the” Upaniṣadic doctrine of the self. The Upaniṣads were a diverse body of texts, offering a wide variety of teachings on the topic. Some, such as the Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad and Kaṭha Upaniṣad, state explicitly that each person has two selves, finite and infinite; and the major Upaniṣads differ on the nature of these two selves and how the infinite self can be attained.

In fact, it is instructive to classify the various Upaniṣadic self-doctrines in light of the categories listed in DN 15. There the Buddha says that people who propose a doctrine of the self define it either as possessed of form and finite, possessed of form and infinite [or: endless—ananta], formless and finite, or formless and infinite. In each of these four cases, the proponents may hold (1) that the self is already that way in the present, (2) that it will naturally become that way—in deep sleep, say, or after death—or (3) that it can be converted into being that way. This yields a total of twelve possible categories. A survey of the major Upaniṣads reveals self-doctrines falling into eight—and perhaps nine—of these categories, as follows: (Passage numbers are taken from S. Radhakrishnan, The Principal Upaniṣads. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1969.)

1) Already possessed of form and finite:

Bṛhad-āraṇyaka II.5.1

Maitrī VI.11

2) Naturally becoming possessed of form and finite:

Bṛhad-āraṇyaka IV.3.19-21

3) Can be made possessed of form and finite:

4) Already possessed of form and infinite:

Bṛhad-āraṇyaka I.4.7-10

Bṛhad-āraṇyaka I.5.20

Chāndogya III.14.2-3

Muṇḍaka III.1.7

5) Naturally becoming possessed of form and infinite:

Chāndogya VIII.3.4

Chāndogya VIII.12.2-3

6) Can be made possessed of form and infinite:

Praśna IV.6-11

Subāla III

Kaivalya VI

7) Already formless and finite:

Kaṭha I.3.1-4 (?—the description here suggests, but does not explicitly state, that the self is formless)

8) Naturally becoming formless and finite:

9) Can be made formless and finite:

10) Already formless and infinite:

Bṛhad-āraṇyaka III.8.8-11

11) Naturally becoming formless and infinite:

Praśna IV.6-11

12) Can be made formless and infinite:

Kaṭha I.3.13-15

Subāla III

Subāla IX.15

Paiṅgala III.6

There is no way of knowing if these Upaniṣads, as we have them, were composed before or after the Buddha’s time. Thus, the classifications in DN 15 may or may not have been formulated in response to them. Nevertheless, the sheer variety of their teachings shows that there was no single Upaniṣadic doctrine of the self, and that the Buddha did not formulate his not-self teaching in response to only one doctrine. As the frameworks set out in DN 15 and SN 22:1 show, the not-self teaching was formulated in such a way as to counteract the act of clinging to any self-doctrine, regardless of how the self might be defined.

Dhamma Paññā

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