Monday, February 04, 2008

bdag and bdag med, self and no-self

I think it's time to switch to lower gears now and then so anyone really new with Tibetan has a chance of a slower pace, so expect from time to time simpler postings just dealing with a keyword or key construct. As we will dwell more in self in the next postings of Abhidharma-Samuccaya, it's good to go through this word that you will encounter hundreds of times in most Tibetan Buddhist texts.

Self is bdag in Tibetan, atman in Sanskrit. Sometimes this is translated as ego, which sounds for me a little bit more like a western psychology term. It's also sometimes translated as soul, which for me is not really a good translation, but it's something that Westerners dealing with Western philosophies and religions might have a connection to.

A somewhat more clear position is to think of this as a self-existent identity, something that exists from its own side, and it is me.

The big debate in ancient India was between those who supported the idea of atman, self, and the Buddhists who subscribed to anatman, no-self, or bdag med in Tibetan. med is a negation, so adding it to bdag makes it the opposite of bdag. Actually, another Sanskrit term for this is nairātmya, and that should sound familiar for anyone studying the Hevajra tantra.

All Buddhist traditions subscribe to this term of anatman. Depending on the school, other Buddhist systems go further and even subscribe to the idea that there's nothing that is self-existent, no self-existent phenomena, no self-existent mind stream, nothing self-existent such as time, space, and so on.

As Abhidharma-Samuccaya is a Mahayana text, it both supports the notion of no self as well as no dependency to self-existent outer things. However, it has an emphasis on the Mind Only view where everything can be connected back to the observer, the mind, and how that triggers various experiences. More about that then much later in the text. Anyway, just by describing various mental processes as parts that interact with each other, and the superficial result appearing as something self-existent such as self, is one of the main purposes of this text.

The astute reader would notice that there's no long stroke (shah) in the first word. The reason is that Tibetans consider the long stroke in the letter ga to work as a stroke. It's a thing good to know as you could find sentence separators this way.

Next, we will indeed connect the notion of bdag (as well as bdag med) with the concept of the five skandhas.


eric said...

I've noticed that a terminal ga is followed by a tshig [syllable stop] within a sentence, and sometimes followed by a space and then a shag stoke at the end of a sentence, but never has a shag stroke immediately after it.

Kent Sandvik said...

I think if there's a real section stop, two sha signs in general, then the ga plus a sha also works.