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)