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Thread: Sense of separate self

  1. #1
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Sense of separate self

    On Aug 16, Jundo discussed the sense of separate self: do we exist indpendently or not. This is a very old philosophical question. Can anyone tell me what the word is in philosohpy for this question? I'm interested in reading up on what non-Buddhist philosophers have to say about it. I know many of them come to the same conclusions; there was a famous thought experiment by one of the Greeks, whereby he said if you took a piece of wood from a boat and replaced it, the boat would still be the boat. If you replaced another piece, it would still be the boat. How many pieces would you have to replace before the boat was no longer the original boat? If you replaced all the pieces, one after another, over time, would it still be the same boat?

    Kurious Kirk

  2. #2
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    OK, but that's a trick answer that is, according to physics, not actually true. The wind is gusting, which moves the flag, and the flag and the wind are moving...

    Personally, I don't find that kind of "cute" answer to be very helpful. I think reliance on such answers is what makes many people think things like Buddhism are, well, simplistic.

    Kirk

  3. #3

    sense of separate self

    Hello kirkmc!
    About the boat and replacing the wooden planks and all--
    boat as noun or boat as verb
    We'd still be afloat, or adrift

    The situation you described -- isn't it a good analogy for our very own bodies? I mean cell after cell gets replaced. Not all, but most....

    Now that body is on a boat and on the boat there is a flagpole and on that flagpole there's a flag and depending on the direction of the wind and where it is we want to go, we'll either head straight for it, or tack!

    I am sorry I don't know the philosophical word for the question you orginally posted. But sailing along with you and Harry is quite lovely--
    I'm curious about your philosophical word. I hope someone knows it.

    gassho
    Keishin

  4. #4

    sense of separate self

    PS I just read 'Buddhism and self loathing' Jundo's comments also has us in sailboats!!

    Permission to come aboard, skipper!

    gassho
    Keishin

  5. #5

    Re: sense of separate self

    Quote Originally Posted by Keishin
    PS I just read 'Buddhism and self loathing' Jundo's comments also has us in sailboats!!

    Permission to come aboard, skipper!

    gassho
    Keishin
    The age-old question is: Mary Ann or Ginger?

    More seriously, you will be hard-pressed to find Western philosophers free of the dualistic thinking inherited from the Greeks. The idea of solipsism is probably as close as one gets to a 'no-I' position, but that is an 'all-I' position.

    fwiw, it occurs to me that solipsism is like an adolescent position--"It's all about me." while enlightenment is like the position of the self in infancy, unseparated, unpercieved or at the other end of life when the self is perceived but unvalued (I can go now.)

    and fwiw, the error and burden of Christianity is the illusion and radically overvaluing of a continuation of the self and its desires into eternity. What fuel for the fire of the ego! Sigh.....my people.

  6. #6

    Re: Sense of separate self

    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc
    On Aug 16, Jundo discussed the sense of separate self: do we exist indpendently or not. This is a very old philosophical question. Can anyone tell me what the word is in philosohpy for this question? I'm interested in reading up on what non-Buddhist philosophers have to say about it. I know many of them come to the same conclusions; there was a famous thought experiment by one of the Greeks, whereby he said if you took a piece of wood from a boat and replaced it, the boat would still be the boat. If you replaced another piece, it would still be the boat. How many pieces would you have to replace before the boat was no longer the original boat? If you replaced all the pieces, one after another, over time, would it still be the same boat?

    Kurious Kirk
    Hi Kirk,

    I also find this question of a separate self fascinating.

    I like the story about replacing parts of the boat. I had not heard that one before. The story I always heard went something like this:

    "When I do woodworking I still use my great-great-grandfather's hammer."

    "Really, is it still in good condition?"

    "Yes, it's in great condition. My father replaced the head when he was a boy and I replace the handle just last year."

    In terms of our body, it is exactly like that. Our hair and nails grow. Our skin is completely replaced by new skin every month. All our red blood cells are replaced every 180 days. Bone cells are constantly dissolving old bone matrix and putting down new- estimates are that we have a new skeleton every 10 years or so. Even the cells in our brain and nervous system are continuously replacing molecules and cell componants, as well as altering their connections to each other. So in reality we are just like the boat or hammer.

    Psycologically it is very much like this as well. Our personality traits, likes/dislikes, reaction patterns, addictions, behaviors, memories, concepts of reality, all change as we grow from infancy, through childhood, to adulthood, etc.

    Where is that which I call my self? Where was it when I was an embryo? Where was it when I was just a single cell? Where was it just before the sperm and egg which would be me merged?

    One of my favorite Zen koans goes something like: "Show me your original face that you had before your parents were born."

    It seems to me, if we follow the line of regression of our self cellularly from us to parents to grandparents etc, we are all direct descendants of the original single celled organism that first evolved. Of course that was an expression of molecular and atomic physics, which goes back to the forces and materials creating our earth, and then back from there to the solar system and thence back to the big bang...so are all our selves just different expressions of the original energy or spirit of the universe?

    Just a thought....

    It feels to me that we are all different leaves on the one tree. That everything I see is some how related to me. The paradox of existence to me is that we are at one level all made of the same thing, yet all individually unique.

    So what does that imply regarding my "self"?

    I don't know yet. Most of the times it feels like I definitely have one. At other times, there are exquisite moments when it just feels like existence just is...

    Namaste Kirk.

    Gassho,

    Urug

  7. #7

    Re: Sense of separate self

    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc
    I know many of them come to the same conclusions; there was a famous thought experiment by one of the Greeks, whereby he said if you took a piece of wood from a boat and replaced it, the boat would still be the boat. If you replaced another piece, it would still be the boat. How many pieces would you have to replace before the boat was no longer the original boat? If you replaced all the pieces, one after another, over time, would it still be the same boat?
    Hi Kurious Kirk!

    If you say it's a boat, it's a boat. (How's that for magic powers?!) There are no objective criteria which will give you the answer, it all depends on your own perspective. If you ask a Touareg who has never seen water, he might say it's a shelter from a sandstorm; an Inuit might see it as a welcome source of firewood; termites see it as a nice meal, etc.

    Gassho
    Kenneth

  8. #8
    Hi again,

    btw there's a Pali Sutta (http://www.mettanet.org/tipitaka/2Sutta ... ggo-e.html) which addresses this as well (italics are mine):

    A mass of firewood

    004.11. At one time venerable SÓriputta lived in the Gijjha peak in Rajagaha. Then venerable SÓriputta putting on robes in the morning and taking bowl and robes and descending the Gijja mountain with many bhikkhus saw a mass of firewood in a certain area and addressed the bhikkhus: Friends, do you see this mass of firewood? Yes, friend, we do.

    Friends, if a bhikkhu desires he could, mastering his mind feel attached to that mass of fire -wood, as to earth. What is the reason? Friends, in that mass of firewood, there are elements of earth and the bhikkhu mastering his mind could feel attached to it as though to earth.

    Friends, if a bhikkhu desires he could, mastering his mind feel attached to that mass of fire -wood, as to water, ... re ... as to fire, ... re ... as to air, ... re ... as agreeable, ... re ... as disagreeable What is the reason? Friends, in that mass of firewood, there are disagreeable elements and the bhikkhu mastering his mind could feel attached to it, as to disagreeable things.
    Similarly, Dogen Zenji says the following in Genjo Koan (http://www.bob.myers.name/dogen/Truth%20Unfolding.pdf):

    Imagine, for example, looking out from a boat in the middle
    of the sea, no land in sight, nothing but the curving
    horizon. But we know the ocean is not really curved, nor
    straight. It has a boundless number of additional aspects. It
    could be a palace or a jeweled necklace. It is simply our
    eyes which at this moment cannot go beyond seeing it as
    curved. The same holds for everything. Whether amidst the
    grit or beyond the ordinary, of all the many aspects you see
    and understand only those that you have developed the
    ability to. You must realize things are not merely curved or
    straight; the features of land and sea are countless, constituting
    entire worlds. You must realize this holds not only for
    yourself, but for things beneath your feet as well, or even a
    drop of water.
    Gassho
    Kenneth

  9. #9

    Re: Sense of separate self

    Quote Originally Posted by Urug
    "When I do woodworking I still use my great-great-grandfather's hammer."

    "Really, is it still in good condition?"

    "Yes, it's in great condition. My father replaced the head when he was a boy and I replace the handle just last year."
    Sweet! Makes it so simple to see. Now I apply this to my relationships, my understandings, all my mental formations. Everything is so transient, so why hold on.

    Comes to mind that our Zen is also like this. We interpret Dogen based on Gudo Wafu Nishijima's translations, Dogen interpreted the Lotus Sutra based on the tools at hand. This repeated itself hundreds of times, all the way back to Bodhidharma then back to the Buddha. At each step some part is replaced. So what do we have now? All that is left is that special transmission outside of our ordinariness. The essential quality remains unchanged because it was not created. Unborn it can not die. (Who knows? Maybe a stupid analogy.)

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