[Buddha-l] Bot being able to imagine annihilation [confused]

Richard Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Tue Jun 1 11:35:48 MDT 2010

On Jun 1, 2010, at 10:58 AM, Richard Hayes wrote:

> One way is to emphasis that no matter what one's view about personal survival may be, one's experience of life as unsatisfactory will remain unchanged. Since views about such things are not the root cause of discontent, one's time is better spent in dealing with those matters that are the root causes of one's discontent. So on this reading, the question of annihilation continued existence is simply irrelevant.

In his lectures on pragmatism, William James conjectures that having views about what happens after death probably do have some bearing on the quality of one's life. He supposed that believing in continued existence probably gives people more hope than the materialistic belief that when the body can no longer support consciousness, consciousness stops and there is no longer any recollection of one's life. Of course, James was smart enough to know that what was true of his own temperament was not necessarily true of other people, so he realized that some people might find greater comfort in the prospects of oblivion than in the prospects of continued existence.

Being one of those people who find the prospect of total oblivion deeply comforting and the prospect of continued existence quite horrible to contemplate, I naturally have an emotional as well as an intellectual attachment to materialist, and this attachment has strongly predisposed me to view nirvana as, well, total oblivion. My claim is that this is NOT annihilation of a self, but simply the cessation of consciousness (which, obviously, I do not see as the self). So I claim to be hewing the middle path on the grounds that I interpret the two extremes (the self is annihilated and the self continues) as being grounded in a presupposition that fails.

I'm not sure what a phenomenologist would make of my position. As an atheist, I am inclined to say "Only God knows." I do know what many of my fellow Buddhists make of my position. It's not a pretty picture.

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

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