In order for something to exist (bhava), in order for it to be, in a full and appropriated sense, that thing has to be given first, in the form of an experience as a whole. When I say ‘given’, this should be understood in the sense that we can only “find” things as already being there, in the world. (Cf. Sartre’s statement in Being & Nothingness that every thing comes with past). The fact is that things can only be found when they are attended to and this means that – fundamentally speaking – they are beyond one’s control1: one is not their creator. Thus, one’s experience as a whole cannot be controlled; the most a person can do is to modify an already given state of affairs, on a more particular level.
Take the five-aggregates as an example: their nature is to appear, disappear, and change while standing, at their own accord. It is only with upādāna that this characteristic is obscured2, and in such cases the apparent Self becomes the fundamental agent of the process instead, or at least this is how it appears to a puthujjana. One who is not free from upādāna, and the Self-view, confuses the fact that the five-aggregates (or in this case the five-holding-aggregates) can be modified or affected once they arise, with the notion that they are controlled. This notion of control also supports (or feeds) the view that ‘Self’ is their creator, which in return feeds that notion, and so on indefinitely. This is why with ‘Self’ there comes the perception of mastery over one’s experience –
Attā, ‘self’, is fundamentally a notion of mastery over things. (Ñāṇavīra Thera, Notes on Dhamma, DHAMMA)
The Self then, as a “master”, appears as something different, something apart from the five-holding-aggregates. Furthermore, the Self keeps finding proof for its existence by constantly interfering and modifying (when possible) the arisen states of the five-holding-aggregates. The Self finds pleasure in doing so.
On the other hand, if the Self would see that, despite all of the proof, its mastery actually requires (or directly depends upon) the five-aggregates, the notion of control would cease3. It becomes clear that ‘Self’ cannot possibly exercise any fundamental control over their appearing, disappearing, and change while standing. This is why by contemplating this long enough, one can become an arahat:
Then, monks, at another time the Buddha Vipassī dwelt contemplating the appearing and disappearing of the five-holding-aggregates… And as he remained contemplating the appearing and disappearing of the five-holding-aggregates, before long his mind was freed from the fetters without remainder. (Mahāpadāna Sutta, D. 14/ii, 35)
Bhikkhu Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
0 thoughts on “Existence means control”
Sadhu Bhante! This has been a very helpful essay on my quest for the path and fruit.
there is a wonderful work I currently came across and seeing this post while reading the bio of Sister Vajira (which is not available in German aside of market! Thanks here on this place for the generous translation and share!), I saw the topic teaser and the inspiration to share it in addition arose: Selves & Not-self. It goes direct to the hardwood of that issue.