When do we begin to hurt?

When I posted “Pain, sensation, suffering and self” on my Tricycle blog, I introduced it with the question, “When does pain become ‘mine’?”  That post led to a long exchange of comments which can be found here.

Perhaps my question might be better put as “When do we begin to hurt?”  In the body of the post I tried to express the idea that we hurt (feel pain) when we become aware of electrical/chemical reactions in our body and aware of wanting to stop these reactions.  I was trying to undermine the view that suffering comes on top of physical pain as something we consciously do to ourselves.  To suffer and to hurt can both occur without conscious choice on our part.  In these instances we did not “opt in” to pain and suffering, even though we can “opt out.”  Mostly I have been arguing with the implication that the sufferer is to blame in the saying that “suffering is optional.”

As for the questions of self/no-self, I thank both Mark and Rudi for their enlightening exchange on the dhamma, the Buddha’s teachings.  Rudi’s emphasis on becoming “aware” avoids the confusion I created in using “mine.”  However, I do not think that positing a substantive “awareness” avoids the problem of sabhāva.*  The answer to Mark’s question “who hurts?” or my question “who is aware?” is not another substantive entity.  I think we all agree on that.

Unfortunately Thanissaro Bhikkhu has not translated SN 22.94.  Bhikkhu Bodhi translates the Buddha’s words here as:

And what is it, bhikkhus, that the wise in the world agree upon as existing, of which I too say that it exists?  Form that is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change: this the wise in the world agree upon as existing, and I too say that it exists.  Feeling … Perception … Volitional formations … Consciousness that is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change: this the wise in the world agree upon as existing, and I too say that it exists.

If these five khandas or aggregates** constitute what we mean when we talk about “me,” then the question is not self or no-self, but what do we mean when we analyze these “aggregates” as always changing, never satisfactory, and insubstantial.

*Sabhāva is a Pali word used here to refer to a self-sufficient substance, some “thing” existing on its own with its own intrinsic nature or essence.

**Khanda is a Pali word that literally means “heap, group, or aggregate.”  In the Buddha’s teaching khanda refers to “the physical and mental components of the personality and of sensory experience in general.”  (Access to Insight Glossary)

One Comment

  1. Comment by rudi

    re: I do not think that positing a substantive “awareness” avoids the problem of sabhava.
    Who posited a substantive awareness? I certainly did not. The Ashtavkra Gita certainly does not. The answer to “who hurts?” is hurting happens. The answer to “who is aware?” is awareness happens. Who was it that wrote, “Nouns are dangerous! Use verbs to sharpen your thinking.” Where do you find a need for substance, if not to confirm your own?
    p.s. I do not read your other blog.

    Comment by Kenneth Daly

    I would appreciate some clarification of your quote from the Ashtavkra Gita: Know you are pure awareness. And of “awareness happens.” You are right. I prefer verbs. When I see an abstract noun ending in -ness, particularly when used as the subject of a verb, the language at least seems to imply that something is happening. Obviously you don’t mean that so why not use different words?

    Comment by rudi

    I cannot be responsible for what exactly my words imply. If you wish to find clarification of any quote from the Astavakra Gita, I would urge you to read it yourself. And of course there are other translations and other sources as well.

    Comment by rudi

    In the eyes of the Ashtavakra, one’s true identity, the Self, is not contained in objects, nor does any object exist in It. It is without form and can be found by simply recognising one’s being as the Witness Self. Everything else is an illusion – the little self, the world, the universe. All these things arise with the thought ‘I’, the idea of separate identity. This little ‘I’ invents the material world, which in our ignorance we strive to sustain. Forgetting our original Oneness, bound tightly in our imaginary separateness, we spend our lives mastered by a deceptive sense of purpose and value. Endlessly constrained by our habit of individuation, creatures of preference and desire, we continually set one thing against another, until the mischief and misery of choice consume us. But our true nature is pure and choiceless Awareness. We are already and always fulfilled. When you know this, desire melts away. Clinging to nothing, you become still.

    Comment by rudi

    This usage had not occurred to me before, but this guy uses “awar-ing.”
    (See links on left side of page for other perspectives on awareness.)

    Comment by Kenneth Daly

    Thanks for the links. I will study them. I agree that thousands of years of using language otherwise make it hard to find words that don’t presume substance that doesn’t change. I like the sound of “awar-ing.” I’ve been trying to use “attending” or “waking.”

    Comment by rudi

    I think that at some point you will have to simply take it for granted that when you use a noun, what you really mean is more clearly expressed as a gerund. If you try to avoid using nouns altogether people will think you are crazy. Get used to the fact that language was designed for use in a society that views reality from a dualistic perspective..

    Comment by Kenneth Daly

    Could not agree more, particularly about gerunds. It can help, however, to pay attention to which verbs are implicit in the gerunds and to the ways that the dualistic perspective in language distorts our thinking.

    Comment by Kenneth Daly

    P.S. “Illusion” is a noun. I guess the verb in the passage you cite would be ” to invent.” Or perhaps “to deceive.” But there is also the activity of “comparing” implicit, particularly in “deceive.” Comparing, if we’re not careful, can lead to reifying what’s compared, e.g., truth and falsity, and to dichotomizing them as dualities. Language definitely makes these explorations difficult.

    Comment by rudi

    Are you sure that you will have enough attention left to pay attention to what you are doing? You will want to be careful that you don’t get struck unawares by Mark’s bus.

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