Reality Series: The Virtual Self (4)
After reading the existing set of blogs, I feel it prudent to discuss our understanding of the Buddha’s teachings upon the contentious matter of ‘self’ and ‘not-self.’
To appreciate the original teachings of the Buddha, one must consult the earliest doctrinal texts of Theravadins, the Pali pitaka (basket of discourses). Tradition states that shortly after the transition of the Buddha, a council of elders convened a conference of monks so to collect and preserve his legitimate discourses. This body of discourses was recited orally from the 5th to the 1st centuries BCE. It was preserved in writing during the fourth Buddhist council in 29 BCE. .
While, such were composed some 450 years after Buddha’s transition, experts believe that they represent an accurate rendition of the preexisting oral discourses of the historical Buddha.
Over the centuries, the original teaching of the Buddha were corrupted by later commentators as Buddhism spread to other Asian countries. The indigenous populations of these countries practicing different religions and existing under varying social systems, all at variance with the traditional systems of India. For Buddhism to be successfully established in such variant environments, it would be expedient to adapt it to local belief systems and practices. However, though most likely well-intended, such adaptations introducing inconsistent and contrary doctrines into Buddhism which grew and evolved over the last 2500 years.
The easiest starting point for our discussion of self and not-self is by reviewing the four-fold logic model used by the Institute.
In an earlier blog, I introduced the mathematical system of four-fold logic stressed by Buddha. To review, in the earlier blog (The Changing Face of Spirituality 12/12/15), I began with standard logic theory with its ‘law of the excluded middle.’ That is, if one of the two statements ‘X’ or ‘not-X’ is true, the remaining statement must be false. Interestingly, human psychology (arose million of year prior to logic theory) operates similarly. Evolutionary pressures operating on our forebears for millions of years instilled, in each one of us, the innate ability to automatically characterize creatures and objects into friend or foe, dangerous or not, pleasant or unpleasant, liked or disliked, correct or wrong, and so on ad infinitum (referring to the apparent infinity of Aristotle).
During our tale of the Tower of Babel, we moved beyond the ‘the law of the excluded middle’ and into a more user friendly logic system consistent with the operational rules of neuronal circuits of the brain. In the neuronal-based system, both linear causality and associative causality are allowed, i.e.,
Self exists, Self does not exist,
Self both exists and does not exist,
Self neither exists nor does not exist.
Alternatively, we can expand upon the above by noting that  the temporal relationships of standard causality: comes X, comes Y, goes X, goes Y and  the ‘here-now’ associative relationships: with X is Y, without X is without Y.
Judicious application of the four-fold logic system to the question of self and not-self avoids the paradoxes and exclusions of standard logic. Clearly, addressing metaphysical questions rationally requires consideration of inherent limitations and contextual nuances reading upon the question asked.
Unfortunately, most arguments over whether or not individuals possess an aphysical self (permanent or not) arise because the proponents employ the law of the excluded middle. Either a person has an aphysical self or he does not. The doctrinal extremes being eternalism proclaiming permanent souls and materialism teaching that man has no soul nor afterlife are materialism. Clearly, finding a middle road is impossible.
So how does one rationally approach the subject? Do we approach the question from a pragmatic, psychological prospective, as did the Buddha? A teaching introduced as a practical method for ending unnecessary suffering and distress and securing abiding happiness. Or do we approach the question from a scientific prospective, observing, hypothesizing, and testing until a proper, temporary model is found so to have a definitive answer, useful or not for living life? Or, perhaps, we do both hoping to maximize the psychological goals?
Tomorrow, we begin addressing the question of self vs. not-self in the context of removing unnecessary suffering so to find a more abiding happiness. You will find that our explanation is very close to that of Buddha.