Persons, Objects, and Happiness

Let's say you're not happy. Why not? Very plausibly it's because there's something you're not getting - some kind of understanding you lack, which would put you "back at home" in the world. That understanding will concern who you are, what you are, what you do, and what happens to you.

Most philosophers in the Buddhist tradition agree that misery-inducing misunderstanding centers on mythologically inflating the reality of a substantial "self" - the core of personhood, of I-ness, that we often take to be the most important thing ever. Sophisticated Buddhist psychological analyses trace the evils we inflict on ourselves and on others to the pervasive failure to appreciate what really exists instead of a timeless, positively characterized, desperately important self.

In this meetup we'll trace a series of arguments for what there really is instead of the mythologically inflated person. Referencing several texts of Vasubandhu (none of which you're expected to read in advance), we'll argue out the following claims: (1) what we clumsily call "selves" are really complex streams of discrete events; (2) our joys and sufferings should be understood as caused by events inside that complex stream, not by intrusions from outside it; (3) ultimately, there aren't any objects external to consciousness. (This doesn't mean that mine is the only mind, but it does mean that everything real is mental.)

What we'd be left with - if we wind up persuaded by Vasubandhu's arguments - is a worldview where our own actions ultimately determine everything (or almost everything) we experience, and where there are neither persons nor objects so much as event-like ascriptions of personhood and objecthood.

Join or login to comment.

  • eric

    From the mouth of babes. Today I was driving my daughter and her friend to a sledding hill by a animal shelter. I told them we would sled and then go into the shelter to see the cats and dogs. But if the shelter is closed we can come back to it another day...OK? (It's good to let kids know what is happening and what will and may happen to lessen the possibility of a "freak out".) Anyway, my daughters 4 year old friend says in a tweety bird voice, "we get what we get and we don't get upset". <Insert ear to ear grin.>

    2 · March 6, 2013

  • Jenny T.

    Even though the conversation drifted into small groups and there were several annoying side conversations that distracted me from hearing the main conversation, I still think the meetup was worthwhile. I really liked the topics discussed because they were so controversial and apparently easily appropriated in a personal manner.

    1 · March 4, 2013

    • eric

      Most Buddhist commentators (like Vasubandhu) are mostly talking to other Buddhists about the Right View (understanding) of Buddhism. They have already swallowed the kool aid. The people coming to the meetup may not want to ever be believers nor want to even temporarily don the perspective to try and see what Buddha saw. Look at the vehement rejection of non-self by some, the unwillingness to even consider what it possibly could mean. Which I am totally fine with as everyone has their own intentions for coming to a meetup. Not everyone wants to leap...some may simply want a better nest experience...some may have wanted a cup of coffee with friends on a night they were free. Its all good...the night played out exactly the way it needed to based on everyones karma (intentional actions). And so everyone got what they deserved. :-)

      2 · March 5, 2013

    • Thrashionalist

      Vasubandhu does present certain difficulties for people new to Buddhism. As Eric points out, V is able to assume that his readers will agree with him about many things in advance. He does, however, give interesting and insightful arguments for much of what they assume, as well as advancing more controversial points of his own. It was my perception that the final topic, mind-only, played better than the previous two. This may well be because V was fighting uphill with that one, assuming minimal agreement from readers, and so being maximally forceful in his reasoning.

      March 5, 2013

  • Chad B.

    Conversation splintered into its smallest parts, thereby proving the non-existence of the meetup.

    March 3, 2013

    • Chad B.

      I had my own fun, but in that moment, some were alienated from the discussion and the mission of the meetup. I prefer a shared conversation where everyone gets heard without talking over each other. But I'm not the meetup police and am not trying to solve a Marxist mystery.

      1 · March 4, 2013

    • Brian

      lol

      1 · March 4, 2013

  • Dustin

    Not Good

    March 2, 2013

    • Ivo

      ...because?

      March 3, 2013

    • eric

      I think Dustin was talking to Paul below.

      1 · March 4, 2013

  • eric

    I had a blast but then I never expect much going in. Sure there is an anticipation that something cool may happen but I am not expecting it to happen. It's natural for challenging ideas to set off a bomb and little fires erupt in a group of thinkers. How should the organizer act? As a conductor? As a judge? As a schoolmarm? As a billboard? I thought the meetup went well. The 3 ideas were presented clearly and most people chewed on them. Some digested them, some spit them out and some seemed not to have any appetite at all.

    March 4, 2013

    • Brian

      I agree the organizer did a great job and clearly presented to the group. I'm curious, if not for something cool to happen, what is the point of presenting buddhism to the group? It sounds like your answer will be something like "spreading/serving up buddhist ideas to new people". No?

      March 4, 2013

    • eric

      I don't know why Stephen presents Buddhist ideas to the group. I am glad that he did as it has allowed me to meet such wonderful thoughtful people. Personally I have always loved considering anything with anyone that challenged my assumptions. Buddhism has held my attention over the years because of the depth and accessible praxis to cultivate more depth. So for me it's much less about spreading Buddhamemes as it is sharing a willingness to contemplate and learn. Buddhism is just the context. If I organized a philosophy meetup it would probably be on Ken Wilber's AQAL or Spiral Dynamics or Krishnamurti or nonduality.

      1 · March 4, 2013

  • Peter R.

    I definitely think that the meet up was worthwhile, but I think during the time it breaks up into several different discussions, that time is wasted for most of those present. Usually several people can't hear anything and are uninvolved. If something is being said in one of those side discussions which is important, not everyone hears it so they are not on the same page for the rest of the discussion. If the discussion goes into an area irrelevant to the topic, why should it be occurring within the group at all? I think it is much more productive for most people when there is a single discussion going on.

    2 · March 4, 2013

    • Ivo

      The point has been missed here - "why the side conversations occur in the first place". Normally no one should even feel the need of side conversations... Treating the symptoms (like "Can you please shut up") is pointless, isn't it?

      March 4, 2013

    • Brian

      I agree, Ivo. If the side conversations are a disorder, they are caused by a disorder.

      March 4, 2013

  • Paul

    I'm really sorry for the short notice but my car is disabled. I was really looking forward to it.

    March 2, 2013

  • Tom

    You nailed it! Thanks Thrashionalist. Now, is there a way to annihilate the self permanently? I am afraid that's death itself.

    January 31, 2013

    • Tom

      @Eric. Nicely put. I like your analogy of the image pixelated and disappeared upon closer examination. I often reach this state during meditations. The 'I' pixelated then disappeared.

      March 2, 2013

    • Tom

      @Thrashionalist. The 'I' or the self or whatever you're calling it IS there. Like a balloon, it inflates and deflates but never really pops. Okay, it may pop the moment I expire.

      March 2, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Sorry, I just learned I must "mingle" with work-related people instead ...

    March 1, 2013

    • Thrashionalist

      Just remember that "you" are only "experiencing"­ "them" because the fruits of your past deeds are ripening.

      March 1, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    What is arisen (dependently or otherwise) is not born? That's hard to understand. Or if born means not just arisen (but specifically arisen out of absolutely nothing), then it's almost too easy to understand. Also, if I say "here is this thing", am I really interested in the details of its arising? How does knowing that its beginning not clear-cut help?

    The aim here may be to show that if I say here is this thing, I ascribe some durability to it, and if I accept the tiniest bit of endurance of any thing, "somehow" I am forced to ascribe absolute permanence to that or some other thing. Which is presumably absurd. But that "somehow" isn't obvious. And why couldn't there be a permanent substance down there somewhere.

    February 8, 2013

    • eric

      The Buddhist ap was not made for metaphysical speculation. To familiarize yourself with the ap you have to investigate your first person perspective and see how thought imputes identity. Buddha was once asked what a person was...he said a person is a collection of 5 heaps or piles (maybe see them as disintegrating tables...records added, deleted, updated). Piles of form, sensation, perception, conception and consciousness. With a 1st person perspective firmly established (this takes a bit of practice...to not let the centrifugal force of desire spin 1st person perspectives into 2nd and 3rd), systematically investigate each pile and see if you can find any permanence in which identity can really be ascribed (normalize the database and search each and every record to convince yourself of the relational dependency ). If you can't find a permanent substantial entity, what is the implication? Here is how Buddha saw the 5 piles (cloud of human data)...

      February 15, 2013

    • eric

      Form is like a glob of foam;
      feeling [sensation], a bubble;
      perception, a mirage;
      fabrications [thoughts], a banana tree;
      consciousness, a magic trick —
      this has been taught
      by the Kinsman of the Sun.
      However you observe them,
      appropriately examine them,
      they're empty[of self], void
      to whoever sees them
      appropriately.

      http://www.accesstoin...­

      February 15, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    This is excellent, quite how I see the world :)

    In this, wherever I am, I feel at home with family :)

    January 29, 2013

19 went

Imagine having a community behind you

Get started Learn more
Henry

I decided to start Reno Motorcycle Riders Group because I wanted to be part of a group of people who enjoyed my passion... I was excited and nervous. Our group has grown by leaps and bounds. I never thought it would be this big.

Henry, started Reno Motorcycle Riders

Sign up

Meetup members, Log in

By clicking "Sign up" or "Sign up using Facebook", you confirm that you accept our Terms of Service & Privacy Policy