Sartre’s In-itself-for-itself and Buddhism

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Sartre’s Ontology

Sartre, in the opening chapter of his very challenging read, Being and Nothingness, cleaves existence neatly in two; what he calls being-for-itself and being-in-itself.

The in-itself is being. I don’t recall Sartre ever explicitly describing it as physical matter, but that is basically what it amounts to. The in-itself is characterised by three features: 1) it is in-itself, 2) it is what it is, and 3) it is. Respectively, these mean: 1) the in-itself is independent; i.e. it doesn’t depend on anything else to exist, 2) it doesn’t refer to itself; i.e. it isn’t self-reflexive, and 3) it is neither possible nor necessary. It isn’t necessary because it didn’t have to be, but neither is it possible because inert, non-conscious matter has no possibilities.

The for-itself, on the other hand, is consciousness. What does this mean? Consciousness is precisely not being. It is an empty, ‘massless’[1] perspective on, or relation to, being. The for-itself cannot be grasped because it is not a being, it’s not a thing, it is precisely no-thing… which is not the same as saying it is an illusion or that it doesn’t exist at all. If you find this scientifically implausible, I challenge you to describe consciousness in a way that preserves what conscious clearly is, all while staying within the confines of naturalistic materialism.

The In-Itself-For-Itself

The for-itself, as the locus of subjective experience, is what brings value and meaning to the universe. Without it, the universe really would be nothing more interesting than atom-sized billiard balls smacking into each other. However, there is a problem with the for-itself; namely, it lacks the certainty and ‘fullness’ that comes with being. As something as insubstantial as a perspective or a relation, it is consigned to an ambiguous existence, never attaining a ‘full’, or ‘pure’, being. It is never wholly ‘this’ or ‘that’ thing, for if it were, it would immediately cease to be consciousness and become in-itself instead.

The for-itself is aware of this lack (a lack of being) which lies at its heart and so desires to overcome it. One way it could do this would be to simply become in-itself, thereby attaining the full plenitude and certainty that the in-itself enjoys. However, doing this would mean it would no longer be consciousness, which would therefore be equivalent to self-annihilation. It would have achieved ‘being’ but at the cost of being able to know itself as being. It therefore desires to become in-itself while at the same time preserving itself as for-itself. It desires to be in-itself-for-itself.

The problem with this solution, however, is that it is impossible. The in-itself and the for-itself are complete ontological opposites. Nevertheless, this desire isn’t something we can one day simply slough off. It is a core part of what it means to be human and it’s in this context that Sartre says, man is a useless passion.”

Buddhism

Meditation in Buddhism is specifically practiced to ‘train’ the mind so that it is not being continually pulled into imaginary wanderings or flights of fancy. Ultimately, the idea is to detach from what Buddhism sees as illusory, insubstantial distractions. Observe the ceaseless chatter of the mind but do so from a distance without getting caught up in the individual thoughts it sweeps your way. In fact, these thoughts are consistently portrayed in Buddhist literature in negative terms. One Buddhist meditator I heard once compared thoughts to noisy children demanding his attention and if he simply ignored them (or looked at them and ‘let them go’, as the euphemism might have it) for long enough, they would eventually leave him in peace. Why does Buddhism advocate this? Well, aside from the fact that our thoughts are the source of all suffering[2], you, the real you (whatever that might mean), isn’t having them. If you pay attention, Buddhism teaches, you will see that thoughts just arise by themselves (this is actually the point of meditation, to see how the mind ticks along without you). Thoughts are like commentary running in the background. We typically identify with them but, the claim goes, you can break this illusion if you look closely enough.

Of course, the ultimate goal of Buddhism, enlightenment, is a supposed, elevated state of mind in which one has achieved complete and permanent liberation from all illusory beliefs and phenomena, including the belief in the existence of a self and the belief that the external world is real.[3] This magical state allows one to live out the remainder of one’s days in perfect calm, still noticing thoughts and desires as they arise perhaps, but certainly no longer attaching to them, living beyond, or above, them, as it were.

Buddhism and Sartre

It strikes me that Sartre’s goal of the in-itself-for-itself is not overly dissimilar to these Buddhist ideals. There are at least two points of contact between them. First, Buddhism sees thoughts as the enemy. The ideal meditative state is achieved when one has either detached from one’s thoughts or stilled them completely. Now, in a way, thoughts are like the currency of the for-itself. They account for its capacity to exist as non-being, as never ‘this’ or ‘that’ thing, precisely because I can always conceive (think) of myself as the opposite. In essence, the idea of non-attachment in Buddhism amounts to a rejection, or dismissal, of thoughts as superfluous, or at the very least, as not coming from you. Get rid of them, or break the illusion that you are them, and what do you have left? Well, something that is a little bit less of a relation, a little bit less of a for-itself, and a little bit more of an in-itself.

Second, the permanent liberation enlightenment promises can hardly be more aptly conceived in terms other than Sartre’s in-itself. The Buddhist arahant (the term in Theravada Buddhism for someone who has attained nirvana) no longer experiences that ambiguity in being we talked about earlier. Of course, this isn’t to suggest that he or she knows everything or never experiences doubt; but there is some part of them, a disposition, an attitude, a part of their character, whatever you want to call it, which is fixed, which no longer suffers from that uneasy ambiguity that pervades the for-itself. A part of them which is, in other words, in-itself.

These two points suggest ways in which Buddhism tends to value modes of being that correspond to Sartre’s idea of the in-itself, but this hasn’t quite gotten us to our goal yet. What takes us all the way is when we realise that, while the Buddhist aspires to these in-itself ideals, she does so while at the same time trying to maintain herself as being-for-itself. In short, she attempts to make herself into an in-itself-for-itself. She wants the security, the completeness, the plenitude of being, that being in-itself confers but she doesn’t want to give up the consciousness that would allow her to know herself in this way. Unfortunately, this renders Buddhism, as far as the two ideals discussed here anyway, a useless passion.


[1] Sartre never uses this crude materialistic term. I only throw it in here because, while a modern mind may balk at the idea of consciousness as nothing, modern physics has paved the way with its insistence that some ‘particles’ have no mass.

[2] Although they are also the source of all happiness.

[3] This isn’t the same as idealism. Buddhism doesn’t teach that the world is mental. However, it does hold that reality is constructed, not perceived. In being constructed, we aren’t perceiving reality as it really is. In this sense, reality, as most of us perceive it, is deemed to be an illusion.

4 thoughts on “Sartre’s In-itself-for-itself and Buddhism

  1. Dear Nathan,
    I think that you are misrepresenting the Buddha’s teaching here (at least from the point of view of the Sutta Pitaka in the Pali Cannon). There are some Buddhist thinkers who have ‘married’ existentialist thought and Buddhism and, upon reading them you might change your views on what the Buddha actually taught. They claim that there are many similarities between them but also that the Buddha has been able to reach a conclusion that has gone beyond the limits of the famous existentialists’ field of vision.
    Let me refer you to such thinkers in from these two websites: https://pathpress.wordpress.com
    https://nanavira.org

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Vajiradhamma,

      Thanks for reading my post and taking the time to respond. You say I’ve misrepresented the teachings of the Buddha but haven’t actually pointed out where or how. I did have a look at the links you posted, but they are very general sites, and I just don’t have the time to look through every article posted there to find where I have gone astray.
      I would be happy to respond to, or at least accept, your viewpoint if you were to outline one, and point out how you believe my post is inaccurate.

      Like

  2. Dear Nathan,
    You say “Meditation in Buddhism is specifically practiced to ‘train’ the mind so that it is not being continually pulled into imaginary wanderings or flights of fancy.”… In the meditation it is true that there is a training of the mind to refrain from intending certain mental intentions (by mental I am referring to what manifests in the domain of the imaginary) but the goal is not to prevent one intending all mental intention (which is impossible since trying not to intending thoughts is an intention and besides most thoughts are chosen beyond your control, involuntarily.) What one is refraining from is intending those which are specifically rooted in the unwholesome qualities, that is, greed, aversion and distraction. Furthermore it is not about trying to prevent one attending mental phenomena as an object either; such a thing would be impossible because one cannot possibly control not eventually having some kind of direct engagement with them and one also have one’s attention completely focused on an actual aspect of experience with the complete exclusion of thoughts since both are always simultaneously present in ones attention – it is inconceivable to have one without the other (although it is conceivable to have one ‘prioritised’ over another). You can attend to thoughts as much as you like so long as your intentions to do so are rooted in the wholesome, which is non-greed, non-aversion, non-distraction. This means that all one has to do is establish ones mind on the token of the wholesome (which obviously the requires one to have knowledge on what it is and how to do so) and one’s practice will be done effortlessly for him for all his intentions will be automatically wholesome. Also, one cannot accidentally start intending the unwholesome from this establishment, one actually have to go out of ones way to give in to the unwholesome intentions.
    So why, you might ask is unwholesome called unwholesome and wholesome called wholesome? Because attending to the wholesome long enough will take you to freedom from suffering which is what the goal of Buddhism is all about. This means one has abandoned all possibility of engagement in the unwholesome and so has transcended both it and the wholesome.

    “Ultimately, the idea is to detach from what Buddhism sees as illusory, insubstantial distractions” What the Buddha saw as illusory is not the things in the world (including ones thought) but the sense the mastery in regard to them. I can send you a note a made on the first Sutta in the Majjhima Nikaya to clarify this further if you want…

    Observe the ceaseless chatter of the mind but do so from a distance without getting caught up in the individual thoughts it sweeps your way. In fact, these thoughts are consistently portrayed in Buddhist literature in negative terms. One Buddhist meditator I heard once compared thoughts to noisy children demanding his attention and if he simply ignored them (or looked at them and ‘let them go’, as the euphemism might have it) for long enough, they would eventually leave him in peace. Why does Buddhism advocate this? Well, aside from the fact that our thoughts are the source of all suffering” I am sorry but this is deeply mistaken, thoughts are not the problem, it is the attitude of desire and lust in regard to thoughts that is the problem- that is cause of suffering…

    “the real you (whatever that might mean), isn’t having them” Nope, the Buddha taught that nothing that is experienced what so ever belongs to no one, which therefore includes that in the ‘background’, so to speak which observes thoughts as arising on their own.

    “ Buddhism teaches, you will see that thoughts just arise by themselves (this is actually the point of meditation, to see how the mind ticks along without you). Thoughts are like commentary running in the background. We typically identify with them but, the claim goes, you can break this illusion if you look closely enough.” I presume this is your interpretation of the Buddha’s doctrine of not-self and how to develop an insight into it… but this is not this case. What you want to see is not what is in front of your sense of self i.e what your self determines as being uncontrollable in order to undermine your sense of self for this will be inadequate to do so. You will still regard them as uncontrollable but that is it uncontrollable presenting as if it is for you- in other words it still points to your sense of self. Rather what you want to see is that which comes behind your sense of self i.e that which your sense of self is dependant upon, it’s determinations as being uncontrollable. This is the only way to undermine the sense of self and see it and everything that precedes it as not-self.

    “Of course, the ultimate goal of Buddhism, enlightenment, is a supposed, elevated state of mind in which one has achieved complete and permanent liberation from all illusory beliefs and phenomena, including the belief in the existence of a self and the belief that the external world is real. This magical state allows one to live out the remainder of one’s days in perfect calm, still noticing thoughts and desires as they arise perhaps, but certainly no longer attaching to them, living beyond, or above, them, as it were.” I agree with this to a certain extent, yes the ultimate goal of Buddhism is to achieve enlightenment and yes it is a state of removing all illusory beliefs… but it is only up to when you say that it removes the illusion of the self is where I will agree with you here. And I would agree with you with that there is a removal of a belief in an external world if you meant that the Arahant stops assuming he mistaken view that there is something that exists outside and beyond this point of view of his (including an extra temporal, eternal self). But in light of what I have read on what your views are on Buddhism so far, I am unwilling to give you the benefit of the doubt, and so I assume that you are implying here that Buddhism aims to see that somehow nothing is real, and everything is an illusion and on this point, I am certainly not willing to agree with you. Consider this verse from the Anguttara Nikaya VI 63: iii,411 – ‘Thought and lust are a man’s sensuality, not the things in the world; thought and lust are a man’s sensuality, The various things just stand there in the world; but the wise get rid of desire therein.”
    Also read what Ven. Nanavira in CP L.130 says ‘For the Hindu, then, the variety of the world is illusion, and for the Mahayanist it is ignorance; and in both cases the aim is to overcome the world, either by union with Brahma or by attainment with knowledge. Unlike the Hindus and the Mahayanists, the Pali Suttas teach that the variety of the world is neither illusion (maya) nor delusion (avidya) but perfectly real. The attainment of Nibbana is certainly the cessation of avijja, but this leaves the world intact.”
    Just to note desire and lust, the sense of self, ignorance, suffering, although are all different phenomena, imply one another, which means with the removal of one there is the removal of the others. So when you say the state of Nirvana, you still watch desires as they come and go, this is mistaken – for in such a state there are no desires left although this does not mean the Arahant cannot exercise choice.”

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  3. Dear Nathan,
    I will like to post an edited version of my reply if you don’t mind. It is just a brush up on my previous one with some additional remarks:
    You say “Meditation in Buddhism is specifically practiced to ‘train’ the mind so that it is not being continually pulled into imaginary wanderings or flights of fancy.”… In the meditation it is true that there is a training of the mind to refrain from intending certain mental intentions (by mental I am referring to what manifests in the domain of the imaginary) but the goal is not to prevent one intending all mental intention (which is impossible since trying not to intending thoughts is an intention and besides most thoughts are chosen beyond your control, involuntarily.) What one is refraining from is intending those which are specifically rooted in the unwholesome qualities, that is, greed, aversion and distraction. Furthermore it is not about trying to prevent one attending mental phenomena as an object either; such a thing would be impossible because one cannot possibly control not eventually having some kind of direct engagement with them and one also cannot have one’s attention completely focused on an actual aspect of experience with the complete exclusion of thoughts since both are always simultaneously present in ones attention – it is inconceivable to have one without the other (although it is conceivable to have one ‘prioritised’ over another). You can attend to thoughts as much as you like so long as your intentions to do so are rooted in the wholesome, which is non-greed, non-aversion, non-distraction. This means that all one has to do is establish ones mind on the token of the wholesome (which obviously the requires one to have knowledge on what it is and how to do so) and one’s practice will be done effortlessly for him for all his intentions will be automatically wholesome. Also, one cannot accidentally start intending the unwholesome from this establishment, one actually have to go out of ones way to give in to the unwholesome intentions.
    So why, you might ask is unwholesome called unwholesome and wholesome called wholesome? Because attending to the wholesome long enough will take you to freedom from suffering which is what the goal of Buddhism is all about. This means one has abandoned all possibility of engagement in the unwholesome and so has transcended both it and the wholesome.
    “Ultimately, the idea is to detach from what Buddhism sees as illusory, insubstantial distractions” What the Buddha saw as illusory is not the things in the world (including one’s thought) but the sense the mastery in regard to them. I can send you a note a made on the first Sutta in the Majjhima Nikaya to clarify this further if you want…
    “Observe the ceaseless chatter of the mind but do so from a distance without getting caught up in the individual thoughts it sweeps your way. In fact, these thoughts are consistently portrayed in Buddhist literature in negative terms. One Buddhist meditator I heard once compared thoughts to noisy children demanding his attention and if he simply ignored them (or looked at them and ‘let them go’, as the euphemism might have it) for long enough, they would eventually leave him in peace. Why does Buddhism advocate this? Well, aside from the fact that our thoughts are the source of all suffering” I am sorry but this is deeply mistaken, thoughts are not the problem, it is the attitude of desire and lust in regard to thoughts that is the problem- that is cause of suffering…
    “the real you (whatever that might mean), isn’t having them” Nope, the Buddha taught that everything that is experienced what so ever belongs to no one, which therefore includes that in the ‘background’, so to speak which observes thoughts as arising on their own.
    “ Buddhism teaches, you will see that thoughts just arise by themselves (this is actually the point of meditation, to see how the mind ticks along without you). Thoughts are like commentary running in the background. We typically identify with them but, the claim goes, you can break this illusion if you look closely enough.” I presume this is your interpretation of the Buddha’s doctrine of not-self and how to develop an insight into it… but this is not this case. What you want to see is not what is in front of your sense of self i.e what your self determines as being uncontrollable in order to undermine your sense of self for this will be inadequate to do so. You will still regard them as uncontrollable but that it is uncontrollable presenting as if it is for you- in other words it still points to your sense of self. Rather what you want to see is that which comes behind your sense of self i.e that which your sense of self is dependant upon, it’s determinations as being uncontrollable. This is the only way to undermine the sense of self and see it and everything that structurally proceeds it as not-self.
    “Of course, the ultimate goal of Buddhism, enlightenment, is a supposed, elevated state of mind in which one has achieved complete and permanent liberation from all illusory beliefs and phenomena, including the belief in the existence of a self and the belief that the external world is real. This magical state allows one to live out the remainder of one’s days in perfect calm, still noticing thoughts and desires as they arise perhaps, but certainly no longer attaching to them, living beyond, or above, them, as it were.” I agree with this to a certain extent, yes the ultimate goal of Buddhism is to achieve enlightenment and yes it is a state of removing all illusory beliefs… but it is only up to when you say that it removes the illusion of the self is where I will agree with you here. And I would agree with you that there is a removal of a belief in an external world if you meant that the Arahant stops assuming he mistaken view that there is something that exists outside and beyond this point of view of his (including an extra temporal, eternal self). But in light of what I have read on what your views are on Buddhism so far, I am unwilling to give you the benefit of the doubt, and so I assume that you are implying here that Buddhism aims to see that somehow nothing is real, and everything is an illusion and on this point, I am certainly not willing to agree with you. Consider this verse from the Anguttara Nikaya VI 63: iii,411 – ‘Thought and lust are a man’s sensuality, not the things in the world; thought and lust are a man’s sensuality, The various things just stand there in the world; but the wise get rid of desire therein.”
    Also read what Ven. Nanavira in CP L.130 says ‘For the Hindu, then, the variety of the world is illusion, and for the Mahayanist it is ignorance; and in both cases the aim is to overcome the world, either by union with Brahma or by attainment with knowledge. Unlike the Hindus and the Mahayanists, the Pali Suttas teach that the variety of the world is neither illusion (maya) nor delusion (avidya) but perfectly real. The attainment of Nibbana is certainly the cessation of avijja, but this leaves the world intact.”
    Just to note desire and lust, the sense of self, ignorance, suffering, although are all different phenomena, imply one another, which means with the removal of one there is the removal of the others. So when you say the state of Nirvana, you still watch desires as they come and go, this is mistaken – for in such a state there are no desires left although this does not mean the Arahant cannot exercise choice.”
    Before I address the part of this blog regarding how your criticism in light of Sartre’s Philosophy is rather inadequate I would like to add some more to my previous comment and so refer you to a few Sutta Passages that goes against your claim that the Buddha is somehow ‘anti-thinking’. Firstly in the MN 52, Ven.Ananda (one of the foremost disciples of the Buddha back in the day) says that being to develop the mind only to extent of being to dwell in the first Jhana (a level of composure of the mind) is sufficient for the removal of all the defilements and therefore attain Arahantship. One of the factors of the first Jhana is Vitakka-Vicara which, translated into English from the Pali, means ‘thinking and pondering’. Now if thoughts were seen in such a negative light from the Buddha’s point of view why would his chief disciple teach that it can be used as the basis for liberation? Also in the MN 70:23 ‘he examines the meaning meaning of the teachings he has memorised; when he examines their meaning, he gains a reflective acceptance of those teachings; when he gains reflective acceptance of those teachings… he realises with the body the supreme truth and sees it by penetrating it with wisdom.’ Lastly, in the Dhammapada the second verse: ‘Thought is the forerunner of all things, thought is their chief, they are produced by thought, if one is to speak or act out based on wholesome thought; happiness follows one like a shadow that never leaves.’
    Also you talk about nirvana as a ‘magical state’- it seems a little ambiguous what you quite mean by this this but from how I see it, you are somehow stating that this state is somehow the product of make-belief, that somehow it is unattainable by anyone. Therefore, it would seem that you are accusing the Buddha’s teaching to be somewhat fraudulent. This is a perfectly understandable stance for someone who has not seen the Buddha’s teaching for oneself. Such a person is called Puthujjana in the Buddha’s teaching, and for the Puthujjana it is simply beyond his scope to see how to put an end to suffering and so for him it would seem impossible. Also I could sympathise why you would see it as such even logically due to your views on Buddhist meditation. Your views on the meditation practice stem from the notion Kammathanna or ‘meditation object’ practice that is widely preached in the Therevada world whereby ones meditation is all about trying to not get distracted by distracting thoughts, trying to push them away, ignoring them in order to zone in on a specific, foreground aspect of experience. Putting aside that this, although popular, is a pernicious corruption of the Buddha’s teaching (cf. Ven.Ariyavamsa’s essay on the Pathpress Website titled ‘Kammathanna’, cf. Ven Nanamoli’s essay on the website titled ‘Peripheral Awareness’ and cf. my own short criticism of it that I will put at the end of this comment.) it would seem to make sense why the attainment of Nirvana, at least, from how you describe it would seem ‘magical’. You said that it is a kind of ‘detachment from thoughts even though you notice them arise’ and I am willing to agree with you providing that by detachment you mean a state unaffected by thoughts and not some kind of detached perspective which you still take as self in regard to the thoughts, which means it is you are still attached to something, namely the perspective. It is a state whereby the thoughts or more precisely the Vedana of which constitute those manifested thoughts can no longer affect you since there is you have abandoned all sense of appropriation regarding your experience and so there is really no-one there to feel them; hence they can no longer cause you to suffer (this is not to say that there is no individual point of view with removal of the self). Therefore it would follow from this that there is a kind of discrepancy between the practice of meditation and the goal of Buddhism of which you both have prescribed. How could one possibly lead to another? How could one by, perpetually and actively ignoring thoughts (which means that the thoughts affect you) learn to reach a state where one is at peace whereby the thoughts are allowed to manifest (which means you are no longer affected by the thought)? It surely requires you to actually see the thoughts as they are in all their glory and then find a way to surmount them through understanding them, which means you have to do quite the opposite of trying to run away from them.
    Now a lets examine, briefly, Sartre’s ontology in light of the Buddha’s teaching. Firstly The Buddha said in MN 2 that there are three kinds of wrong views due to the Puthujjana can conceive regarding his sense of self whereby he perceives self 1)Self with Self 2) Self with not-self 3) Not-Self with Self. In Sartre’s Philosophy, he has separated existence into two parts (being-in-itself and the being-for-itself) which is separated by a nothingness. In the case on Sartre’s being-in-itself, it seems that there is some kind of duality implied; it is not enough for a phenomenon for Sartre to just ‘appear’ it has to ‘exist’ on top of that. Existence or ‘being’ is for Sartre is rather equivocal since it neither appears but neither does not appear. It would not be mistaken to say, from the Buddhist perspective that a phenomenon transcends it-self towards its nature, towards the general constituents of which all things are a particular manifestation of and although they cannot be conceived they can be discerned and understood when one realises that such is their case and stops maintaining their ‘bringing-to-life’ so it were, but it would be a mistake to unite these together and designate them as the ‘existence’ of the phenomenon’s appearance for he is then conceiving them. Also their ‘infinite aspects’ that he talks about in his introduction of B&N from the point of view of the Dhamma are not something which is ‘outside’ this point of view which resides in a world beyond it but within the being-in-itself as it transcends the ‘grip of consciousness.’ These are in fact a form of Sankharas; mental phenomena which although gives the actual aspect its significance by being paired with it and so transcends in the direction of the periphery of our experience, it being each of and themselves a particular phenomenon, are in fact wholly within the domain of consciousness and so do not surpass it. What does surpass consciousness is relation to those Sankharas, are the general nature the point towards, namely, the other 4 aggregates (matter, feeling, perception, determinations, consciousness).
    And so, in the Buddha’s teachings, the self implies existence and vice versa and how does Sartre describe being-in-itself: he says it is what it is; this is none other than the result of his conceiving founded on the first out of the triad, (it is a projection of it towards the foreground aspect of experience). Now lets look at Sartre’s concept of nothingness; he is right to say that the foreground aspect of our experience from which I believe he has based being-in-itself is on a separate domain to the background aspect from which he bases his being-for-itself on and that these two domains cannot be merged although simultaneously present but he attempts to fill in the gap between these two conceiving a nothingness which separates them, but if it was a true nothingness then surely it would surpass ones ability to locate and describe? This is nothing more than conceiving the existence of nothingness and so he falls in the same trap here too as with the being-in-itself.
    In the case of being-for-itself, the story is a little more complicated. Firstly he is right in pointing out that consciousness is intentional in its nature that consciousness is always consciousness of something, this has currency in the Buddha’s teaching- in MN43 Ven.Sariputta describes consciousness as being he conscious of feeling. But Sartre lumps the whole of the background aspect of experience into a homogeneous unity, takes it as consciousness and by doing so he has paired consciousness with the self- he has therefore now conceived consciousness (as his self cf MN1). The background in the most general sense for the Buddha is not a unity but a diversity and hence discerning correctly as such undermines the sense of self. The background is not just consciousness as I have mentioned earlier, it is (the aggregates of) matter, feeling, perception, determinations (these are not to be seen as five aspects of one most general thing either, each one is an ‘absolute’ in its own right) at the same time and on equal footing with it- consciousness does not posses any priority in relation to them. To try to separate any one of these in isolation of the others and then take it to be structurally precedent to the rest is precisely nothing more that the conceiving of the self. Therefore by taking consciousness as his self it explains why he has endowed it he has endowed it with a contradiction in that it is a kind of postive-negative phenomenon, which although is something and thus seemingly fathomable (Sartre that it is ‘pure appearance’ and seems to put thoughts, what he calls ‘psychic’ in the category of the for-itself?) on the one hand, eludes it self when one tries to fathom it, through an act of reflexion where the point of view is duplicated, in very very same stroke (then goes on to say that it is ‘empty of all content’) on the other hand and so as of consequence, he describes as that which is what it is not and is not what it is and this is none other than the other two kinds of conceiving in relation to the self that is 2) Self with not-self 3) Not-Self with self. He would forever fluctuate between the two, forever failing to find what this Self is, forever trapped in what he so perspicaciously recognised and elucidated when he described it as what he calls ‘Bad-Faith’.
    Seeing this, it will be clear that to say that the aim of Buddhism is attempting to be a being-for-itself-in-itself (which affectively states that the Self can be itself or that one a perceive self with self) which implies that it aims at a certain mode of being is gravely mistaken. For the teachings aims at seeing Not-self with Not-Self which is the precisely cessation of existence (what the Buddha called bhava-nirodha) and so the cessation of being or trying to be any mode of being. With the cessation of existence things still very much appear but consciousness (cf.DN 15) no longer does hence why the Buddha described the state of an Arahant as Vinnana Nirodha for he stops giving it a foothold in experience as he stops conceiving it since he has understood that it can forever only be that-because-of-which something appears and so is inconceivable. The only reason that I can speak about something as being-in-itself or being-for-itself means that consciousness is there first (structurally speaking).
    Here is the short criticism I wrote: “The problem with the ‘noting’ technique found in the Mahasi Method and really this problem will apply to various other contemporary ‘meditation methods’, is the flaw in thinking that by repeatedly performing a designation (noted or not noted) to a specific manifestation of one’s experience, by some chance, which is an impossibility; one can develop knowledge of that which is fundamentally undeterminable. The practice of Dhamma should actually be a practice leading to a ‘non-designation’ – in particular you want to remove the designation (and this is not to be thought of as a ‘purely verbal’ one) which gives the experience the significance of ‘mine’ by seeing that which cannot fundamentally be designated. You can only see this when you stop paying attention to that which is being designated and start paying attention to the designation itself and what it is dependant upon being careful not to turn it into that which is designated. In order to properly attend to this, one has to develop a skill in doing so and the cultivation of this skill, although requiring effort and repetition, cannot be developed through an observance of some mechanical technique or method.
    This designation is then uprooted when you see that it has arisen dependant on that which cannot be designated by it, which being more fundamental structurally than it, undermines it for the designation of mine can only be maintained when it is taken to be structurally precedent to all things. This is the knowledge of Nibbana, hence why it is called the undetermined.”

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