[Advayavada Study Plan – week 2 – anatman] Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but invites us all to make the very best of our own lives by attuning as best as possible, by means of the Noble Eightfold Path, with wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction; we seek to become a true part of the whole in this way, and our reference standard is wondrous overall existence and not misguided and failing mankind.
In Advayavada Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is fully personalized: it is firmly based on what we increasingly know about ourselves and our world, and trusting our own intentions, feelings and conscience. Adherence to the familiar five precepts (not to kill, not to steal, sexual restraint, not to lie, and refraining from alcohol and drugs), and a well-considered understanding of the Buddha’s four noble truths and of the, in Advayavada Buddhism, four signs or marks or basic facts of being (lakshanas), suffice to start off and proceed on the Noble Eightfold Path at any time.
Evolution or, in human terms, progress (pragati in Sanskrit), i.c. our natural impulse or drive to thrive, change and advance is recognized, in Advayavada Buddhism, as the fourth sign of being or caturtha lakshana (cf. conatus, élan vital). To follow the personalized Noble Eightfold Path is our way of responding to it and, when done conscientiously, it becomes nothing less than the main karmic (and neuroplastic) factor in our life, i.e. in our fleeting share in the universal interdependent origination process (madhyamaka-pratityasamutpada) that brings forth wondrous overall existence.
The purpose of this autonomous and open-ended 13-week ASP, which can conveniently be repeated four times in a calendar year, is that we study and debate in a local group, the family circle or with good friends the meaning and implications of the weekly subject, not as a formal and impersonal intellectual exercise, but in the context of whatever we ourselves are presently doing or are concerned with, or about, or affected by, such as our health and state of mind, relationships, work, study, physical and social environment and circumstances, etc.
The second preliminary subject of this first quarter of 2022 is again this week, week 2, anatta (Pali) or anatman (Sanskrit), which literally means no-self and is traditionally considered the second of the three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) lakshanas. The Buddhist anatta or anatmata doctrine teaches that no immutable and immortal soul, spirit or self exists ‘in the sense of a permanent, eternal, integral, and independent substance within an individual existent’.
In Mahayana Buddhism, the nissvabhava doctrine teaches further that as all things without exception are produced by interdependent origination (pratityasamutpada, all-conditionality) indeed all are, in fact, empty (shunya) of self-nature (svabhava); thus the ego e.g. is ‘no more than a transitory and changeable empirical personality put together from the five aggregates (skandhas): form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness’.
Svabhava-shunyata (lit. self-nature emptiness) is a central notion in Madhyamaka philosophy: in Advayavada Buddhism, the selflessness [and, therefore, finitude] of all things is, as stated above, the second of the four lakshanas, the other three being the impermanence or changeability of everything (as explained last week, week 1), the ubiquity of existential suffering (see next week, week 3), and evolution or, in human terms, progress (see week 4).
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