Logical Criticism of Buddhist Doctrines

A Thematic Compilation by Avi Sion

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9. Impermanence


1.    Impermanence: concept and principle

Buddhist meditators attach great importance to the principle of impermanence. They consider that if one but realizes that “everything is impermanent”, one is well on the way to or has already reached Realization.

However, the principle proposed by Buddhism should (in my view) be approached more critically than its proponents have hitherto done. They have taken for granted that such a principle is immediately knowable, in the way of a direct experience, and have not given enough attention to the epistemological issues this notion raises.

To be sure, we can and do commonly have direct experience of some impermanence: that of present changes. Whereas we might rationally analyze change in general (when it occurs) as an instant replacement of one thing by its negation, many phenomena of change evidently occur in a present moment (an extended amount of time). If, for example, you watch a dog running, you are not personally experiencing this sight as a series of successive stills of the dog in different positions, but as one continuous series of moves.

A good meditation on such evident impermanence is meditation on water[1]. One sits or stands calmly in front of a body of water (the sea, a river, a lake, a puddle), watching the movements on its surface – reflections on it, waves or wavelets, currents, droplets of rain, listening to the sounds. I find this practice both soothing and a great source of understanding about life.

But we must keep in mind that the concept of impermanence covers a wider range of experiences than that: it includes changes not sensible in a present moment, but only inferred over time by comparing situations experienced in distinct moments, whether contiguous or non-contiguous. Such inferences imply a reliance on memory, or an interpretation of other present traces of past events. Still other changes are known even more indirectly, through predominantly conceptual means.

Generally speaking (i.e. including all sorts of experience under one heading): we first experience undifferentiated totality, and then (pretty much automatically) subdivide it by means of mental projections and then conceptually regroup these subdivisions by comparing and contrasting them together. Buddhist philosophy admits and advocates this analysis: the subdivision and conceptualization of the phenomenological given is, we all agree, ratiocination (i.e. rational activity); it is reason (i.e. the rational faculty) that mentally “makes” many out of the One.

It follows from this insight (we may now argue) that impermanence cannot be considered as a primary given, but must be viewed as derived from the imagined subdivision and conceptual regrouping of the initially experienced whole. Even to mentally isolate and classify some directly experienced particular change as “a change” is ratiocination. All the more so, the “impermanence” of each totality of experience, moment after moment, is an idea, obtained by distinguishing successive moments of experience; i.e. by relying on memory, and comparing and contrasting the experience apparently remembered to the experience currently experienced.

The latter act, note well, requires we cut up “present experience” into two portions, one a “memory” (inner) appearance and the other a more “currently in process” (inner and/or outer) appearance. This is rational activity; so, “impermanence” is in fact never directly experienced (contrary to Buddhist claims). Unity phenomenologically precedes Diversity; therefore, the experience of diversity cannot logically be considered as disqualifying the belief in underlying unity.

This argument is not a proof of substance, but at least serves to neutralize the Buddhist denial of substance. It opens the door to an advocacy of substance[2] by adductive means, i.e. in the way of a legitimate hypothesis to be confirmed by overall consideration of all experience and all the needs of its consistent conceptualization.

Note well that I am not here denying validity to the concept of impermanence, but I am only reminding us that “impermanence” is a concept. Being a concept based on experience of change, it is indeed a valid concept. This is true whether such change be considered as real or illusory: it suffices that such change appears phenomenologically for a concept of it to be justified.

The principle of impermanence is more than that the mere concept. It is a generalization of that concept. It is not a mere statement that change exists – it is a statement that only change exists, i.e. that everything is continually changing and there is no underlying rest. Now, such a general proposition logically can simply not be validated with reference to experience alone. There is no epistemologically conceivable way that, sitting in meditation, the Buddha would be able to experience this (or any other) principle directly.

This principle (like any other) can indeed conceivably be validated as universal, but only by adductive methodology. It must be considered as a hypothesis, to be tested again and again against all new experiences, and compared to competing hypotheses as regards explanatory value. The result is thus at best an inductive truth, not a pure experience or a pure deduction from experience.

Furthermore, in addition to the generalization from particular experiences of change to a metaphysical principle of the ubiquity of change, the principle of impermanence involves a second fundamental generalization. Since it is a negative principle, it involves the act of generalization inherent in all negation; that is, the generalization from “I found no permanence in my present experience” to “There was no permanence to be found in my present experience”.

While the conclusion of negation by such generalization is not in principle logically invalid, it is an inductive, not a deductive conclusion. It stands ab initio on a more or less equal footing with the competing speculation that there might well be an underlying permanence of some sort. The latter positive hypothesis could equally well be (and sometimes is) posited as a postulate, to be gradually shown preferable to the negative assumption using adductive means.

Even within meditation, note, constancies do appear side by side with changing phenomena, if we pay attention to them. Thus, for instance, if I meditate on water, I may reflect on the inconstancy of its surface; but I may also reflect on the underlying constancy (during my period of meditation, at least) of the horizon or shoreline, or of rocks in or around it, or simply of the fact of water, or its color and consistency, etc. I may, moreover, later discover that water is uniformly composed of H2O.

Seen in this light, the status of the principle of impermanence is considerably less sure. To present such a principle as an absolute truth knowable directly or obtained by some sort of infallible analysis of experience would be dishonest.

All this is not said to annul the important moral lessons to be drawn from observation of impermanence. A “principle” of impermanence may still be proposed, if we take it as heuristic, rather than hermeneutic – i.e. as a useful “rule of thumb”, which helps us realize that it is useless to attach importance to mundane things, and enjoins us to strive for higher values. Beauty is passing; pleasures are ephemeral. Life is short, and there is much spiritual work to be done…

With regard to predication of impermanence, it is relevant to ask whether the concrete data (experiences, appearances) referred to are phenomenal or non-phenomenal, i.e. whether they can be physically or mentally seen, heard, felt, smelt or tasted, or instead are intuited. To indicate that the data at hand is phenomenal, and so particularly transient, does not in itself exclude that relatively less transient non-phenomenal data might also be involved behind the scenes. That is, while current objects might be perceivably transient, it does not follow that the one perceiving them is equally transient.

Of course, whether the data is phenomenal or not, it may still be transient. However, transience has degrees. Data may be merely momentary, or it may appear more continuously over a more extended period of time. The issue here is not “transient or eternal”, as some Buddhist philosophers seem to present it. The issue is “momentary or continuous” – with the eternal as the extreme case of continuity. It is analytically erroneous to ignore or exclude offhand periods of existence that are longer than a mere ‘moment’ of time and shorter than ‘eternity’.

Moreover, as already pointed out, the underlying claim that all phenomena, or for that matter all non-phenomenal events, are transient is not something that can be directly observed – but can only be based on generalization. There is no a priori logical necessity about such ontological statements – they are epistemologically bound to be inductive. Even if all appearances experienced by me or you so far seem transient, there might still be eternal existents our own transience makes us unable to observe.

Conversely, only an eternal being could experience eternity – and it would take such a being… an eternity to do so (not a mere few hours, days or years of meditation)![3] This however does not exclude the possibility of ascribing eternity to certain things on conceptual deductive grounds. For example, I can affirm the laws of thought to be eternally true, since they are incontrovertible; or again, I can affirm all contradictions or exclusions of a middle to be eternally false.

Furthermore, Buddhists implicitly if not explicitly ascribe some sort of eternity to the existential ground in or out of which all transient phenomena bubble up. That is, although particular existents may well all be transient, the fact of existence as such is eternal. Therefore, their argument is not really intended as a denial of any permanence whatsoever (as it is often presented), but more moderately as a denial of permanence to particular existents, i.e. to fragments of the totality. And of course, in that perspective, their insight is right on.


2.    Not an essence, but an entity

Buddhist philosophers have stressed the idea of impermanence, with a view to deny the existence of “essences” in both the objective and subjective domains. However, an impermanent essence is not a contradiction in terms. This means that the question of essences is more complex than merely an issue of impermanence. Several epistemological and ontological issues are involved in this question. We have indicated some of these issues in the preceding chapters.

With regard to the objective domain, comprising the material and mental objects of experience, i.e. the phenomena apparently experienced through the senses or in the mind – their reasoning is that we never perceive firm “essences” but only constantly changing phenomena; whence, they conclude, the objects we refer to are “empty”.

In reply, I would say that it is true that many people seem to imagine that the “entities” we refer to in thought (e.g. a dog) have some unchanging core (call it “dog-ness”), which remains constant while the superficial changes and movements we observe occur, and which allow us to classify a number of particulars under a common heading (i.e. all particular dogs as “dogs”).

But of course, if we examine our thought processes more carefully, we have to modify this viewpoint somewhat. We do “define” a particular object by referring to some seemingly constant property (or conjunction of properties) in it – which is preferably actual and static, though (by the way) it might even be a habitual action or repetitive motion or a mere potential.

Note too, there may be more than one property eligible for use as a definition – so long as each property is constant throughout the existence of that object and is exclusive to it. The defining property does not shine out as special in some way, and in some cases we might well arbitrarily choose one candidate among many.

However, defining is never as direct and simple an insight as it may at times seem. It requires a complex rational activity, involving comparison and contrast between different aspects and phases of the individual object, and between this object and others that seem similar to it in some respects though different from it in others, and between that class of object and all others. Thus, the property used as definition is knowable only through complex conceptual means.

Therefore, our mental separation of one property from the whole object or set of objects is an artifice. And, moreover, our referring to all apparently similar occurrences of that property as “one” property gives the impression of objective unity, when in fact the one-ness is only in the mind of the beholder (though this does not make it unreal). In short, the definition is only an abstraction. It indeed in a sense exists in the object as a whole, but it is only distinguishable from the whole through cognition and ratiocination.

The material and mental objects we perceive are, therefore, in fact nothing other than more or less arbitrary collections of phenomena, among which one or more is/are selected by us on various grounds as “essential”. The “essence” is a potential that can only be actualized relative to a rational observer; it has no independent actual existence when no observer is present. Definition gives us a mental “handle” on objects, but it is not a substitute for them.

An entity is not only its definition. An entity is the sum total of innumerable qualities and events related to it; some of these are applicable to it throughout its existence (be that existence transient or eternal) and some of them are applicable to it during only part(s) of its existence (i.e. have a shorter duration). Although the defining property must be general (and exclusive) to the object defined, it does not follow that properties that are not or cannot be used for definition cease to equally “belong to” the object.

It is inexcusably naïve to imagine the essence of an entity as some sort of ghost of the object coterminous with it. In fact, the entity is one – whatever collection of circumstances happens to constitute it. The distinction of an essence in it is a pragmatic measure needed for purposes of knowledge – it does not imply the property concerned to have a separate existence in fact. The property selected is necessarily one aspect among many; it may be just a tiny corner of the whole entity.

We may thus readily agree with Buddhists that named or thought-of objects are “empty”; i.e. that it is inaccurate to consider each object as really having some defining constant core, whether phenomenal or non-phenomenal. But the Buddhists go on from there are apply the same reasoning to the Subject (or soul) – and this is where we may more radically disagree.

They imply that the Subject of cognitions is itself cognized by way of phenomena, i.e. like any other object. This idea of theirs has some apparent credibility due to the fact that they confuse the Subject with his ‘inner’, mental phenomena[4]. But though such phenomena are indeed internal in comparison to physical phenomena sensed in the body or further out beyond it, they are strictly speaking external in comparison to the “soul”.

Anyone who reflects a little would not regard, say, the stuff of a dream he had as himself. His self-awareness is the consciousness of something more inward still than the stuff of imaginations. He is the one experiencing and generating the imaginations. The soul is not a phenomenon – it has no smell, taste, solidity, tune or color; it is something non-phenomenal.

The self is not perceived as an object in the way of mental phenomena (as the Buddhists suggest), but is intuited directly in the way of a Subject apperceiving itself (at least when it perceives other things, or when it expresses itself through volition or valuation). Our soul is not a presumed “essence” of our mental phenomenal experiences; it is an entirely different sort of experience.

Of course, it could still be argued that – even granting that acts of cognition, volition and valuation are non-phenomenal events, known by self-intuition – such acts are mere momentary events, which do not necessarily imply an underlying non-phenomenal continuity (an abiding self). Admittedly, the fact that we cannot physically or mentally see, hear, smell, taste or touch the acts of the self does not logically imply that the self is abiding.

However, note that this last is an argument in favor of the possibility that the self may be impermanent – it does not constitute an argument against the existence of a self (whether lasting or short-lived) underlying each act of cognition, volition or valuation. That is, these functions are inconceivable without someone experiencing, willing and choosing, even if it is conceivable that the one doing so does not abide for longer than that moment.[5]

To deny that cognition, volition and valuation necessarily involve a self is to place these apparent events under an aetiological régime of natural determinism or spontaneity. That subsumes willing under mechanistic causation or chance happenstance – i.e. it effectively denies the existence of freewill.

Similarly, it implies that there is no more to knowing than the storing of symbols in a machine (as if the “information” stored in a computer has any knowledge value without humans to cognize and understand it, i.e. as if a computer can ever at all know). And again, it implies that valuing or disvaluing is no more relevant to a living (and in particular sentient) being than it is to a stone.

The effective elimination of these three categories (i.e. knowing, willing and valuing) by Buddhists (and extreme Materialists, by the way) is without logical justification, because in total disaccord with common experience.

The confusion may in part be caused or perpetuated by equivocation. Because we often use the word “mind” – or alternatively, sometimes, “consciousness” – in a loose, large sense, including the soul, it might be assumed that the soul is similar to mental phenomena in its substance. But the soul and mind are only proximate in a spatial sense, if at all. The soul is not made of mental stuff or of consciousness – the soul uses consciousness to observe mental and physical events (and, indeed, its intimate self).

The self or soul is not an abstraction from mental or physical phenomena. It receives and cognizes mental and material information (and it indirectly chooses and wills mental and material events) – but it is not identical with such information (or events).

Only intuited events of cognition, volition and valuation can be considered as truly parts of, and direct responsibilities of, the soul. And even here, it would be inaccurate to necessarily equate the soul to these functions. Such a positivistic approach is a hypothesis to be adopted inductively only if we find no good reason to adopt the alternative hypothesis that the soul is more than the evidence of its functioning.

Thus, the inevitable impermanence of the phenomenal world cannot be construed as necessarily implying a similar impermanence for the self. Even granting that material and mental objects are “empty”, it does not follow that the self is a non-entity, i.e. non-existent as a distinct unit. The self is not a material or mental substance or entity – but it is a non-phenomenal substance and entity. We may legitimately label that distinct substance ‘spiritual’ and that entity ‘soul’.

Note well that such labeling does not preclude the idea, previously presented, that the individual soul’s individuation out from the universal spiritual substance or universal soul is ultimately illusory. We may thus well consider the soul as impermanent in its individuality, while regarding its spiritual substance as eternal.

Upon reflection, this is pretty much the way we view the phenomenal realm, too – as consisting of impermanent illusory individual entities emerging in a permanent real universal substratum. Their illusoriness is mainly due to the conventionality of their individual boundaries.

At this stage, then, we find ourselves with two ‘monistic’ domains – the one giving rise to material and mental phenomena and the other giving rise to spiritual entities (souls). Obviously, such double ‘monism’ is not logically coherent! We therefore must assume that these two apparently overlapping domains are really ultimately somehow one and the same.

So, we have perhaps come full circle, and our opinions end up pretty much coinciding with the Buddhists’ after all. We ought perhaps to lay the stress, instead, on our difference with regard to continuity.

According to Buddhist theory, the self has no continuity, i.e. our self of today is not the same person as our self of yesterday or of tomorrow. In this perspective, they are causatively connected, in the sense that earlier conglomerations of phenomena constituting a self ‘cause’ later ones – but there is no thread of constancy that can be identified as the underlying one and the same entity. It is not a case of mere succession of totally discrete events; but there is no essential identity between the events, either.

However, many (myself included) object to this theory on various grounds. While we may admit that one can logically regard selfhood (i.e. being a Subject and Agent) as punctual at every instant without having to assume its extension over a lifetime, we must realize that such an assumption removes all logical possibility of a concept of moral responsibility for past actions.

If one is no longer ever the same person as the person committing a past virtuous or vicious act, then no good deed may be claimed by anyone or rewarded, and no crime may be blamed on anyone or punished. Ex post facto, strictly speaking, the doer of any deed no longer exists. Similarly, looking forward, there is nothing to be gained or lost by any Agent in doing anything, since by the time any consequences of action emerge the Agent has already disappeared.

In such a framework, all personal morality and social harmony would be completely destroyed. There would be no justification for abstaining from vice or for pursuing virtue. Even the pursuit of spiritual realization would be absurd. Of course, some people do not mind such a prospect, which releases them from all moral obligations or responsibility and lets them go wild.

It is very doubtful that Buddhism (given its overall concerns and aims) supports such a nihilist thesis[6]. In any case, such a viewpoint cannot be considered credible, in the light of all the above observations and arguments.


3.    Relief from suffering

Many people look to meditation as a momentary oasis of peace, a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the world, a remedy against the stresses and strains of everyday living. They use it in order to get a bit of daily peace and calm, to get ‘centered’ again and recover self-control, so as to better cope with their lives. Even so, if they practice it regularly, over a long enough period, for enough time daily, they are sure to discover anyway its larger, more radical spiritual benefits.

One general goal of meditation we have not so far mentioned is relief from suffering. We all to varying degrees, at various times of our lives, experience suffering – and nobody really likes it[7]. The wish to avoid or rid oneself of suffering is often the primary impulse or motive for meditation, before we develop a broader perspective (like “spiritual development”, for instance) relating to this practice.

Thus, “liberation” is often taken to at first mean “liberation from suffering”, before it is understood as “liberation from restraints on the will”. These two interpretations are not as opposed as they might seem, because suffering is a negative influence on volition, so when we free ourselves of the former, we experience the latter’s release. Contentment, the antithesis of suffering, implies a smoothly flowing life.

The relation between meditation and relief from suffering is not always simple and direct. Although it is true that over time meditation renders one immune to many disturbances, it may first for a while make us much more sensitive to them[8]. When we are more unconscious, our faculties function in coarser ways, so we feel less. As we refine our faculties, and become more conscious, we naturally feel more clearly. For this reason, a meditator may even on occasion find inner peace a bit scary and build a resistance to it, like someone who gingerly avoids a surface he suspects has a static electricity charge[9]. Peace, too, takes getting used to.

Suffering should not be confused with pain, but rather refers to our psychological response to feelings of pain. Some people cannot handle felt pain at all; whereas some, though they feel the same pain, do not take it to heart as much. Moreover, suffering refers not only to experienced pain, but may refer to lack of pleasure; i.e. to the frustration of not getting pleasure one wished for or expected, or of having lost pleasure one had for a while.

All this of course concerns mental as well as bodily pain or pleasure. Pain or pleasure may be felt as a purely physical sensation (e.g. a burnt finger or a pang of hunger); or as a visceral sentiment occurring in the body but having a mental cause (e.g. cold fear in the belly or warm love in the chest); or again, as a purely mental experience (e.g. a vague feeling of depression or elation).

Suffering primarily refers to actual pain; but it often refers to remembered or anticipated pains. For example, one may suffer for years over a bad childhood experience; or again, one may suffer much in anticipation of a big and difficult job one has to do soon. Suffering can also relate to abstract or conceptual things, whether past, present or future. For example, one might suffer at the general injustice of life. In all such cases, however, some present concrete negative feelings are felt, and the suffering may be taken to refer to them.

Buddhist teaching has the fact of human suffering at its center. This is made evident in the Four Noble Truths taught by the founder of this religion, viz.: (1) that life is suffering, i.e. that suffering of some kind or another is inevitable in the existence of sentient beings like ourselves; (2) that such suffering has a cause, namely our attachments to things of this world, our desire for pleasures and aversion to pains; (3) that we can be rid of suffering, if we rid ourselves of its cause (attachment); and finally, that the way to be rid of suffering is through the Eightfold Path.

The latter list of means includes meditation, as a very effective tool for discovering one’s attachments and the ways to break away from our addiction to them. Just as soon as one begins to practice meditation, one discovers its power to make us relatively indifferent to pain or lack of pleasure – i.e. to make us suffer less readily and intensely.[10]

Buddhists argue, additionally, that the ultimate obstacle to freedom from suffering is belief in a self – for to have a self is to have particular interests, and therefore to experience pain when these interests are frustrated (as is inevitable sooner or later) and pleasure when they are (momentarily) satisfied. It follows, in their view, that liberation from suffering (the third Noble Truth) would not be conceivable, if the “emptiness” of the self were not advocated. For only a ‘non-self’ can be free from the blows inherent to an impermanent world like ours.

However, I beg to differ from this doctrine, not to categorically reject it, but to point out that an alternative doctrine is equally possible. We could equally argue, from a Monotheistic point of view, that when the individual soul dissolves back in the universal Soul, which is God, it is conceivably free from all subjection to the vagaries of this material-mental world. The illusion of individuation, rather than the alleged illusion of selfhood, may be considered a sufficient cause of liability to suffering; and the removal of this cause may suffice to remove suffering.

Again I emphasize: the debate about the self is theoretical and does not (in my view) affect the effectiveness of meditation.

The practical lesson to draw from the Buddhist teaching is the importance of ‘attachment’ in human psychology. This realization, that the root of suffering is the pursuit of supposed pleasures, or avoidance of pains, is central. Anxiety, frustration, vexation, anger, disappointment, depression – such emotions are inevitable under the regime of attachment, in view of the impermanence of all mundane values.

If worldly pleasure of any sort is pursued, pain is sure to eventually ensue. If the pursuit of pleasure is successful, such success is necessarily short-lived, and one is condemned to protect existing pleasure or pursue pleasure again, or one will feel pain at one’s loss. If the pursuit of pleasure is unsuccessful, one experiences the pain of not having gotten what one wanted, and one is condemned to keep trying again and again till successful. Similarly, the avoidance of pain is a full-time job with no end in sight – a pain in itself.[11]

It is therefore wise to steer clear of attachment, and develop a more aloof approach to the lower aspects of life. This not only saves one from eventual suffering, but releases one’s energies for the pursuit of lasting spiritual values.

Meditation helps us (the self, the soul) to objectify and thus transcend the feelings experienced in body and mind. This can be understood by contrasting two propositional forms:

  • “I feel [this or that feeling]”, and
  • “I am experiencing [having a certain body-mind feeling]”.

These two sentences might be considered superficially equivalent – but their different structure is intended to highlight important semantic differences. In (a), the subject “I” is a vague term, and the verb and its complement are taken at face value. In (b), the subject “I” is a more specific term, and the verb and complement are intended with more discrimination.

In (a), the subject considers the act of feeling a feeling as its own act, an extension of itself. In (b), the subject lays claim only to the cognitive fact of experiencing, considering all else as mere object relative to this exclusively cognitive act. The sense of “I” is therefore clearly different in the two sentences: in (a), the ego is meant, whereas in (b) it is the self or soul that is meant.

This is to illustrate that to transcend feelings, we have to objectify them, and more precisely identify our “I” or self with our spiritual dimension (or soul) rather than with our body and mind.


Drawn from Meditations (2006), chapters 10-11, 14.



[1]              The Greek philosopher Heraclites must have practiced this meditation, when he reportedly wrote “you cannot step into the same river twice”. This meditation is commonly practiced, even unwittingly. Other similarly natural meditations consist in watching rain falling, wind blowing through trees, clouds shifting in the sky, candlelight flickering, or the sparks and flames of a camp or chimney fire. “Watching” of course here means, not just being aware of sights (shapes and colors), but also awareness of sounds, touch-sensations, temperatures, textures, etc.

[2]              Note well that an issue within the thesis of substance is whether we advocate a single, undifferentiated substance, or a multiplicity of distinct substances. To admit of substance is not necessarily to uphold the latter, pluralist view. In Physics, the unitary substance view would be that matter is all one substance, vibrating in a variety of ways.

[3]              I am not sure of the truth of this statement of mine. I have in the past argued (among other reasons so as to provide an argument in favor of the doctrine that God can tell the future) that this issue hinges on the span of time an onlooker can perceive in one go. The higher one is spiritually placed, the longer a ‘moment’ of time covers. God, who is “above it all”, at the peak of spiritual perspective, can see all time (all the things we class under the headings of past, present and future) as the present moment. Proportionately, when we humans meditate, the present is longer, i.e. the ‘moment’ of time our attention can include at once is enlarged. Thus, one (conceivably) need not wait forever to experience eternity, but may ultimately do so through spiritual elevation. This may be the “eternal now” experience many people have reported having. Note additionally that, if we accept this hypothesis, we have to apply it not only to external events (i.e. phenomenal physical and mental experiences) but also to inner experience (i.e. intuitions of cognitions, volitions and valuations by self). The latter is more difficult, more problematic, because it implies that one’s own being and experience is already consumed, i.e. all telescoped into the present. Still, why not.

[4]              See the Buddhist doctrine of the Five Component-Groups. In this doctrine, the fourth and fifth groups, comprising the “determinants” and the “cognitive faculty”, are particularly misleading, in that cognition, volition and valuation, the three functions of the self, are there presented without mention of the self, as ordinary phenomenal events. That is, the doctrine commits a petitio principii, by depicting psychic events in a manner that deliberately omits verbal acknowledgment of the underlying self, so as to seem to arrive at the (foregone) conclusion that there is no self. No explanation is given, for instance, as to how we tell the difference between two phenomenally identical actions, considering one as really willed by oneself, and the other as a reactive or accidental event – for such differentiation (which is necessary to gauge degrees of responsibility) is only possible by means of self-knowledge, i.e. introspection into one’s non-phenomenal self, and they have dogmatically resolved in advance not to accept the existence of a cognizing, willing and valuing self.

[5]              Note well that I am careful to say the possibility that the self is impermanent; which does not exclude the equal possibility that the self is permanent. The mere fact that the cognitions, volitions and valuations of the self are impermanent does not by itself allow us to draw any conclusion either way about the permanence or impermanence of the self. Additional considerations are needed to draw the latter conclusion.

[6]              Although the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna seems to relish it.

[7]              Not even masochists, who use one kind of pain as a palliative against another kind of pain. For instance, they might pursue physical pain to avoid having to face some sense of guilt or to forget some unpleasant childhood experience.

[8]              A meditator may barely notice a sudden loud noise like an explosion, yet find “music” like rock or techno (with very few mellow exceptions) utterly unbearable! In contrast to a non-meditator, who might jump up with fright at the explosion, yet find supermarket canned music relaxing.

[9]              Such resistance has been called “the dread of enlightenment”. In fact, most people who have heard of meditation but have never dared to try it have this dread. They think that they will somehow get lost and drowned in the sea of enlightenment. Indeed, they will do so – in the sense that they will lose their individuality. But what must be understood is that this prospect is not frightful but cause for elation.

[10]            In yoga, they teach an attitude called pratyahara, which consists in focusing clearly on pain one is feeling, calmly assessing its exact extent and intensity; after a while, a pain thus stared at tends to disappear or at least it feels less urgent. This is, then, a sort of detachment from or transcendence of pain – not through avoiding it, but by facing it.

[11]            Suffering takes many intricate or convoluted forms. Consider for instance the frustration of a rich man, who already has everything he could possibly need or want, and so finds nothing new to spend his money on. He is not free of material attachments, he has the necessary material means, but the world has nothing more or new to offer him. This is a danger of riches – because the tendency in such situations is to turn to new, more and more perverse, sensations.

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