Language, Conscious Experience and the Self in Early Buddhism A Cross-cultural Interdisciplinary Study

Grzegorz Polak


To what degree is ordinary conscious experience shaped and mediated by linguistic and conceptual factors? How does this mediation influence human functioning? This article attempts to reconstruct impressive, but unsystematically presented early Buddhist ideas regarding these matters. It takes as its starting point the paradoxical statement in the Rohitassa Sutta concerning the world found in the body endowed with apperception (sasaññimhi) and mind (samanake). The first part of the article examines the early Buddhist concept of apperception (saññā). Particular attention is given to its connection with language, and to the way it contributes to arising of the notion of Self (attā) as “being” (satto), speaker (vado) and experiencer (vedeyyo). In order better to make sense of these ideas, the article employs a cross-cultural interdisciplinary approach, drawing from what appear to be analogous ideas in Western philosophy of language and cognitive science. The article also discusses the relation of the five khandha-s to the individual who takes them to be “Self” and the issues of agency and subjectivity. The early Buddhist ideas explored in this article constitute a conceptual framework necessary for making sense of several key meditative and soteriological concepts. Detailed discussion of these concepts will be taken up in a future paper.

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