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Your articles are always most interesting sir!
somehow this clip keep sticking in my mind …
David, I continue to look forward to reading and learning. I find your writing style accessible. Thank you for your time in providing this informative site.
Look at the nice clip on top and see Eckhart Tolle Dalai Lama
Both are not dhama. Emptiness
Is not a concept it is a state. There is nothing to say on this. Void or not void. No debate
Actually what he teaches is NOT Buddhism. He gives his understanding of what many teachers, from different cultures, taught, Jesus, Buddha, Vedic (Krishna) and several others. Its really a “to the point of what they meant”, kinda thing. It supersedes any religious meaning too, since all religions are actually created by followers of a teacher with their interpretation (Always lacking) of the teachers “Message”. Mr Tolle tries to bring the reader or the listener into an Actual Experience of being present. Same like Buddha and Jesus. Beyond a cognitive process, The point is to “find the kingdom” (JC) or end “Samsara” (Buddha)
Would it hurt the world if was a little more peaceful? (a little more Buddhist?). If we look back and see the horrific events that mankind has been subject too because he is lost in concept. Does his message start a war where children are being killed daily? (Israel, Iran, Syria). If you want to change the world to be a better place, you must start with yourself. Control your mind, actions and words so that you always try create a loving, peaceful situation with other earthlings.
I do thank you for your blog however, the more people asking questions and having a say the better, its the only way, on a cognitive level, to come to see (with our minds) what the truth is.
I actually think Tolle’s teachings are more in line with Advaita Vedanta than Buddhism, though I know those two traditions are similar in many ways. I’ve read Tolle say that he feels his teaching is in some way a continuation of the teaching of Ramana Maharshi and Krishnamurti, and, reading through those teachers, that sounds fairly accurate to me - both of those teachers stood kind of apart the more formal traditions they sort of originated in, and don’t seem as formal and particular as many schools of Buddhism are in their teachings and meditations.
Thanks for that! Yes, I think you are probably right.
Hey David. The Thai forest masters teach a permanent eternal citta (the one who doesn’t die) that seems to be able to exist independently of the five khandas. In fact it is the creator of the five khandas. It is outside of the domain of the three characteristics anicca, dukkha, and anatta. And the idea is once you become enlightened the citta merges with nirvana and returns home. The Thai forest masters like to point at the heart a lot, saying everything is in the heart. There’s some talk of getting the (citta) to drop into the heart center when you are practicing samadhi. Interestingly enough, I read the heart chakra is the physical location where the soul resides. This citta is also said to be the watcher (the one who knows). There’s a quote of Tolle saying this “What a liberation to realize that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that.” So who is the one who see’s that? Perhaps the Citta. It was called (the one who knows) by Ajahn Chah. Thepermanent unchanging watcher in the backround. The one who knows, the one who see’s that? This ( Citta merging with nirvana and returning home) also has an interesting parallel to a Taoist idea of returning spirit to the great void. But anyways there are teachers that teach this true self thing. The lotus sutra speaks of a true self. Dolpopa talks about it. The Thai forest masters speak about some kind of eternal Citta. (Citta is usually translated as mind, Ajahn Pannavaddho says this is a misleading translation). Tong Songchol a Zen teacher.
Why does eternalism necessarily have to be related to a cosmic plan or produce suffering?
Thinking the khandas are permanent can be problematic because they aren’t, but this one who knows isn’t the khandas, it’s not anicca, dukkha, or anatta. And it doesn’t die. So how could it produce suffering by thinking it is what it is. In fact how could it do anything but end suffering? Milarepa said it himself “afraid of death, I took to the mountains, there again and again I meditated on the uncertainty of the hour of my death. Now, having captured the fortress of the deathless unending nature of mind, all fear of death is over and done” When he says mind I imagine this is not a correct translation, the mind as we think of it is just impermanent stuff arising and passing away. The deathless unending nature of the Citta or Atman, now that makes sense. And as for your idea of it going against emptiness, here’s something from the Dolpopa wiki , “the indwelling Buddha (or Nirvana) is genuinely real, yet ‘empty’ in one sense - in that the internal Buddha or Buddha nature is empty of illusion, but replete with wondrous Buddha qualities. For Dölpopa and those who espouse analogous shentong doctrines: “[T]he whole point of establishing the empty nature of illusion (rangtong) is to discover the Reality of the Absolute Buddha Wisdom Mind (Paramarthabuddhajnana) beyond the reaches of the conceptual mind that can only function in terms of grasping its own creations.”
As for the Theravada, some people would say doesn’t the Citta go against the teachings that everything is impermanent? But the idea is that the Buddha taught the five khandas were impermanent, not the deathless Citta. So I don’t think what Tolle says about the true self or eternalism goes against Buddhism, just certain traditions.
Yes, there are some threads in Buddhism that teach an eternal soul. I would say they are small minority viewpoints, historically, and strongly denied by the mainstream. So the “certain traditions” that contradict Tolle are almost all of Buddhism. However, I would have to agree that it’s a quantitative matter, not an absolute.
There’s no support in the Pali Canon for the modern Thai Forest teaching of “original citta” or “deathless citta.” The Buddha didn’t say that was impermanent because he didn’t discuss it at all. He did strongly deny atman.
There’s a really nice discussion of this by Bhante Sujato. It’s not clear what those guys are talking about. Some may seem to advocate an eternal soul; some seem to use the word to mean some sort of meditative state. In any case, it’s not clear where the idea comes from (an interesting question, to me). Sujato suspects it’s Hinduism or Mahayana (Yogacara). I suspect it might also be German Idealism.
Dolpopa was an outright eternalist, and his stuff was banned in Tibet for that reason. It was wrong to ban it, by modern standards of free speech, but they did ban it for the right reason. He took the tathagatagarbha doctrine, which was already incoherent and unworkable and verging on eternalism, and reified it further. Bad move, dude. (I’ve discussed what’s wrong with tathagatagarbha elsewhere.)
People die, and everything that is personal dies with them. There’s a sense in meditative experience that awareness is impersonal and therefore unborn and undying. When you have that experience, it can remove your fear of dying. (I can attest to that personally.) Quite likely this is what the Thai Forest guys, and the other Buddhist sources you mention, are pointing at. In meditation, one can identify with the “undying awareness,” rather than with discursive mind. Talk of “true self” is the instruction to do that.
However, if the meditative insight is accurate, it’s not pointing at anything like a soul, because it’s not individual. It’s not like the Hindu idea that atman temporarily separates from brahman to become an individual soul and then returns to brahman at death.
It’s notorious frustrating to talk about this in words, because that strongly tends to turn the mind-states into metaphysics, and the metaphysics is always wrong.
Basically, everyone wants to go on as a person after death, and you can’t do that.
As for what makes eternalism harmful… I’ve written about that here, and in the book chapter that page introduces.
Over on that site, I’ve written another critique of Tolle, in case that’s of any interest!
Hey David. Thanks for the reply. I’ve spoken with Ajahn Thanissaro, and if my memory serves me correctly, when I spoke with him he referenced me to where the Citta is spoken about in the Canon. I may have been asking him about all the people skeptical of the Citta. To double check you can try giving him a call at his monastery. But if you have better things to do then call Ajahn Thanissaro to double check what someone on the internet is saying, here is a video link for you.
I will give you some talk from this video below,as well as my own comments, and when I quote scripture I will put —Scripture beside of it to make it easier to distinguish. If you want the direct references to the quotes in the Canon that I give below he says them in the video.
The Citta, translated as mind, actually means spirit. The entire basis of Buddhahood revolves around this one word only.
“The purification of ones own Citta, this is meant the doctrine of the Buddha”—Scripture
“he gathers his citta within the realm of immortality” ----Scripture
“This is immortality, that being the liberated Citta”----Scripture. Here we have a translation of the scriptures bluntly saying the liberated Citta is immortality (eternal) and speaking about an immortal realm. And this immortal realm is perhaps the place Ajahn Pannavaddho is talking about when he says “The Citta merges with nirvana and returns home”
“He Gathers the Citta inside of the immortal realm”----Scripture
“The Citta being so liberated and arisen from defilements one is fixed in the SOUL as liberation, one is quelled in fixation upon the soul,
quelled within the SOUL, one is unshakeable. So being unshakeable at the very soul one is thoroughly unbound.”—Scripture
The liberated Citta which does not cling,means nibanna”—scripture
Keep this part in mind, because the Dharmakaya believes Nibanna is the true self and here we have a passage from the suttas saying the liberated Citta means Nibanna.
“Whatever form there is, feelings, perceptions, experiences, or consciousness (the five aggregates), these he sees to be without permanence,
as suffering, as ill, as a plague, a boil, a sting, a pain, an affliction, as foreign, as otherness, as empty (suññato), as Selfless (anattato), so he
turns the Citta away from these five khandas” So here we have the Citta talked about in a way that can be interpreted as the Citta being something separate from the five khandas, and turning away from them. and then the Sutta goes on to talk about gathering inside the realm of immortality. “therein he gathers the Citta
inside the realm of immortality”
“this Citta goes heaven bound to auspiciousness”—Scripture “The Citta is the only thing that is said to go toward the light, or the heaven realm” Keep in mind Ajahn Panavaddho’s words about the Citta merging with nibanna and “going home”
“For a long time I have been cheated, tricked and hoodwinked by my citta. For when grasping, I have been grasping onto form, for when grasping, I have been grasping onto feelings, , for when grasping, I have been grasping onto perceptions, for when grasping, I have been grasping onto experiences, for when grasping, I have been grasping onto consciousness.”—Scripture. So here we have another Sutta speaking of the Citta in a way that can be interpreted as one and the other. The Citta as one thing and the Khandas as another.
Citta is the only thing which, when perfected by samadhi and panna, is = Soul (attan): “Steadfast-in-the-Soul (thitattoti) means one is supremely-fixed within the mind (citta)” [Silakkhandhavagga-Att. 1.168]. ----Scripture“‘The purification of one’s own mind’, this means the light (joti) within one’s mind (citta) is the very Soul (attano)” [DN2-Att. 2.479].----Scripture [Silakkhandhavagga-Att. 1.168] “Steadfast-in-the-Soul (thitattoti) means one is supremely-fixed within the mind (suppatitthitacitto)”.—Scripture [AN 2.6] “Him who is Lord of the mind (citta) possessed with supernormal faculties and quelled, that One is called ‘fixed-in-the-Soul’ (thitattoti)”.— Scripture [AN 1.196] “With mind (citta) emancipated from ignorance…this designates the Soul has become Brahma”.----Scripture [MN 1.213] “The collected and quelled mind is the Supreme Soul”. —Scripture “Steadfast-in-the-Soul (thitattoti) means steadfast in ones True-nature (thitasabha’vo)” [Tikanipa’ta-Att. 3.4]. —Scripture. So here we have talk of a soul, and interestingly enough we have talk of the soul becoming Brahma. Once again, keep in mind Ajahn Pannaaddho’s words about “Merging with Nirvana and going home” Merging with Nirvana? The soul becoming Brahma? I’m not making this stuff up. Keep in mind in the book Uncommon Wisdom (the life and teachings of Ajaan Pannavaddho) it says the mind is a misleading translation of the citta.
You can find a lot more in the video with Sutta references.
This guy in the video also speaks about the no soul deniers and how they are always on guard when it comes to pali passages on the Atman and how they fudge over it and translate it as yourself, myself, himself, and try to undercut it. So here it seems there could be a potential deliberate, or unintentional, phenomena of mistranslation happening from Pali into English.
Bhante Sujato is one monk. Many monks have different opinions and views. I recall Yuttadhammo Bhikku saying something humorous on youtube which was “monks can’t agree on anything” I think this is a common thing among many schools, religions, science, etc. How many teachers in Hinduism are there that disagree on what the Atman even is? Yet Buddhists deny the Atman? Which Atman? the one thousandth and thirty first definition of the Atman or the 676th definition?
I did a search on the universal atman and found a website talking about the universal Brahman and individual Atman. It says “to them (don’t know if they are refering to Vedanta or not) this suffering is due to people’s ignorance (called avidya) of the essential non-difference between Brahman and atman.” So what does this mean? The individual Atman is not different from the universal Brahman? So if it’s not different, doesn’t this mean it’s the same, in which case the individual Atman would be the universal Brahman and not actually individual aye? I’m not convinced Buddhism and Hinduism are teaching different things. But when I say Hinduism I mean what even is Hinduism? How many different schools of Hinduism with different teachings are there. How many different Buddhist schools with different teachings are there.How many different definitions of the self and soul are there. In the synopsis of Bhattacharya, Kamaleswar’s book, “the Atman-Brahman in ancient buddhism” it says “The thesis of this book is nothing less than epoch-making. While no one doubts that the Buddha denied the atman, the self, the question is: Which atman?” You can find the book here.
The idea that it is Yogacara, Mahayana, Hinduism, etc, seems very scholarly. Ajahn Martin, one of the monks at Ajahn Maha Bua’s monastery when he was alive, simply says something like “if you want to know if it’s the same as the Atman just get into Samadhi” Paraphrasing here, memory is vague. I also recall him saying something about how “nirvana can even be the highest happiness, like the Buddha said, if there is no Citta”. What in the world will continue to exist to experience the highest happiness of nirvana if this Citta isn’t real! :p
There’s a whole chapter on the Citta in the book (Uncommon Wisdom, the life and teachings of Ajaan Pannavaddho) The book is printed for free distribution, and available for free download. It is uploaded for free at forestdhamma.org The link is here http://www.forestdhamma.org/ebooks/english/pdf/Uncommon_Wisdom.pdf
In case you’re interested, It may be one of the best descriptions of the Citta you’ve ever come across. He addresses in the Chapter on the Citta that the way the Thai fores tradition uses the word Citta may be hard for some Buddhists to comprehend. Ajahn Maha Bua was also aware of skeptics and responded. Ajahn Pannavaddho speaks about the non-duality of the Citta in there too. He says “Consciousness is necessary to experience the duality of subject and object, but it is completely extraneous and unnecessary to the original citta” May be of interest to you since you write about Vajrayana. I’ve heard your guru talking about the goal of Vajrayana being non duality.
Yes, the Canon talks about citta constantly, because it’s just the standard word for “mind.” It doesn’t mean exactly the same as “mind,” but that’s close enough for most purposes.
I think the quotations from scripture are misinterpreted and/or mistranslated here. (I am far from expert on Pali Buddhism, so I may be wrong about that. However, this sounds heavily filtered through Perennialism.)
As for the rest, I think it is a small minority view in Buddhism. Yes, some of the Thai Forest people say things like this; I think they are both unorthodox and wrong.
I don’t think I’m going to persuade you of that, and you are unlikely to persuade me of your view, so maybe we should leave it now.
An important thing to note though is that, while eternalism is to be avoided, so is nihilism. Emptiness does not mean that ‘most things happen for no particular reason, that most experiences have no particular meaning’ as you said. Everything happens because of karma, which is relative cause and effect, and while experiences have no ultimate meaning, they do have a relative meaning. To believe that everything is ‘part of a plan’ is eternalism, and goes against the doctrine of emptiness, but to believe that everything is random is nihilism, which also goes against this. Buddhism is the Middle Way - as Buddhists we reject both extremes.
Also, remember that in samsara, there is no permanence, no self, and suffering, or unsatisfactoriness. But in Nirvana, there is what is sometimes referred to as permanence, true self and bliss. Whether people are willing to call it ‘true self’ (or any other name) or not differs from religion to religion, but also within Buddhism itself, from sect to sect and teacher to teacher.
Gosh! Lots of discussion here! I just wanted to say thank you for such a well thought out and explained blog post.
I have seen a few ‘self-help’ writers who sound very much like some of the teachings of Buddhism. I think your article makes some really great points. While lots of people may read these books, I think that there are probably a number who will find this a gateway to Buddhist teachings.
I particularly liked your points about Eternalism, which I’d really struggled with in these ‘self-help’ books. Anyway, great post that I’‘ll be bookmarking. :-)
Except that it was Eckhart Tolle who led me to Lama Ole Nydahl, who pointed me to Pema Chrodron, who led me to Trungpa Rinposhe, who led me to the Buddha. And there were others who led me to Tolle in the first place including Christian thinkers. I think Tolle is serving a grand purpose. In a dynamic human world, not everything needs to be judged in comparison to all truth, and big everything is merely a get rich quick scheme taking advantage of the lazy people. Or even if it is (which I don’t believe in this case), there is a purpose.
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