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Anatta = "Not-Self" not "No-Self"


To say: "There is no self," is to state an unprovable opinion;
To say: "There is no thing which is the self," is to state a conclusion based on the observation that no thing which has come to be does not come to an end, and that which comes to an end is not something one can say is under one's control, and what is not under one's control cannot be said to belong to one.


Pali English Dictionary: Atta [Vedic ātman, not to Gr. ἂνεμος = Lat. animus, but to Gr. ἁτμός steam, Ohg. ātum breath, Ags. aepm].
1. The soul as postulated in the animistic theories held in N India in the 6th and 7th cent. B. C. It is described in the Upanishads as a small creature, in shape like a man, dwelling in ordinary times in the heart. It escapes from the body in sleep or trance; when it returns to the body life and motion reappear. It escapes from the body at death, then continues to carry on an everlasting life of its own. For numerous other details see Rh. D. Theory of Soul in the Upanishads J R A S 1899. Bt. India 251-255. Buddhism repudiated all such theories, thus differing from other religions. Sixteen such theories about the soul D I.31. Seven other theories D I.34. Three others D I.186/7. A "soul" according to general belief was something permanent, unchangeable, not affected by sorrow S IV.54.... See also M I.233; III.265, 271; S II.17, 109; III.135; A I.284; II.164, 171; V.188; S IV.400...
2. Oneself, himself, yourself... anattā not a soul, without a soul. Most freq. in combn. with dukkha and anicca...



To Yamaka[1]


Once upon a time, the venerable Sariputta was Savatthi-town, Jeta Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika's Park revisiting.

At that time there had come into the mind of a certain beggar nam-a Yamaka the following point of view:

"This is how I understand the Dhamma as taught by the Buddha: — If a Beggar has destroyed the asavas[2], at the break up of the elements at death, he has reached his end and becomes non-existent."

At this point he is questioned by his fellow Beggars and they are unable to dissuade him from this view and he is brought to Sariputta who asks him if it is true that he holds this view. He admits that he does, and he is subjected to the following interview:

Now then, friend Yamaka, what do you think about this: Is body permanent or impermanent?


And feeling, perception, confounding [sankhara], consciousness?


And that which is impermanent; is that properly regarded as painful or pleasant?


And that which is painful, is that properly regarded as being the self or belonging to the self or being that in which the self is to be found or being that which is to be found as a part within the self?

It is not to be so regarded.

So then is it not the case that one who sees it this way knows that there is no further prospect of life identified with these conditions?

That is true.

Well, then, let me ask you: Do you regard the Tathāgata[3] as body?


Do you regard the Tathāgata as feeling, or perception, or confoundings or consciousness?


Do you regard the Tathāgata as something other than body, feeling, perception, or confoundings or consciousness?


Do you regard the Tathāgata as Inside the body somewhere?
Possessing the body somewhere inside him?
. . . feelings, perceptions, confoundings or consciousness?

None of these.

Do you regard the Tathāgata as being body and feeling and perception and confoundings and consciousness?


Do you regard the Tathāgata as not having body, feeling, perception, activities or consciousness?


So then, friend Yamaka, you are saying that right here and now the Tathāgata is not to be regarded as existing in Ultimate Reality, so how is it proper for you to assert that "If a Beggar has destroyed the asavas, at the break up of the elements at death, he has reached his end and becomes non existent"?



V: [With regard to] the activity of "observing for oneself" (specifically during meditation) impermanence, dukkha and not-self.

I find observing impermanence straight-forward. For example while meditating, I can observe for myself the arising, the existing and the passing away of thoughts, or even pain experienced during meditation (pain in the legs comes to mind). Please correct me if this is not an example of observing impermanence.

Similarly with dukkha, everything (even pleasant things) ultimately become unsatisfactory, unpleasant or even painful, because of this impermanent nature. Again, please correct any error I've made in understanding this.

But "observing for oneself" the concept of not-self is not clear to me. What I do understand of the concept of "not-self" is that there is no thing in the 5 Khandhas that can be determined to be a permanent self or soul. But how does one observe this for oneself?

I understand that when one "personalizes" the world, one is engaging in the illusion of self. This I find, I can observe. I have seen how the mind attaches to a thought of some past event and personalizes it as "mine" or wishes it to be "mine". Yet, I see this as only observing for oneself how the "self" manifests or attaches. It is not observing for oneself "not-self" (or is it?)



This is a trick question...are you sure you are not taking lessons from Mara on the side?

What you are asking is: "Why is it I do not see this not-self?"[4]

Think about that.

By what you are describing, you are already observing sufficient data to "see for yourself" that there is nothing in any of the things you are observing, in any of the perceptions you are observing, in any of the sensations you are observing, in any of the personalizations that are being made that you are observing, and in any of the conscious processes that are going on that you are observing, that is this self. This is "observing for yourself that there is no thing there that is the self." [OK, at least this is the first step. Seeing that 'this' and 'this' cannot be the self. To conclude that there is 'no' thing there, one must first see that there is no thing which has come to be that is not subject to Time with it's beginning, middle, and end.]

Remember the expression made of the final process of becoming Arahant: "So seeing, he is free. And in freedom seeing freedom, he knows he is free"

You are asking the right question after all: you just need to understand what you are seeing.



V: This gets more and more funny the more i think about it. You know, I was "tempted" to ask you off-list whether this was a stupid question. Should have listened better.

Of course, now that you put it this way, this is one ridiculous question! Haha.
I wish I could say "I was just testing you..."



This is humerous, and it is tricky, but I think I would avoid any ... um ... self-recriminations here. It is definitely not ridiculous: what you missed is not only easy to miss, but is precisely the process we are missing as long as we retain the idea that there is some thing there that is the self.

This is the door to Streamwinning ... don't dawdle outside making your "self" feel foolish ... com'on ova!



C: Not self, not no-self is an interesting question, with which one is often confounded. In meditation, that I think is what the question is about; at a stage one observes all sense objects, such as sound, smell, feelings and thoughts (eyes being closed)[5] as mentality and corporiality (nama, rupa). When you hear a sound, there are three elements at work. There is the mind, the sound, and the ear consciousness[6]. It is not "me" that hears, but it is the mind (nama) that hears the sound (rupa). It is the same with a smell — mind (nama) smell (rupa) and the nose conciousness. Thus, in meditation one sees that there is no-person as such that observes, but it is just the mind (nama) being aware of the sound (rupa).



Well done C, you have stated the matter of not-self without falling into point-of-view about self. That is the way it should be done.

However, because what we are doing when we are describing these phenomena at work is piecing together a staircase for the mind in achieving height sufficient for liberation, we need to build the stairs in the proper sequence and of material sufficiently sturdy to support the weight of the doubting mind, so here we say:

Downbound blindness rebounds bound up in sankhara (a personalized world);
This is already one way of describing existing in the world.
Downbound sankhara rebounds bound up in consciousness.
This is a way of describing what we might call our ordinary world in which we do not discriminate between eye-consciousness and just being conscious.
Downbound consciousness rebounds bound up in nama/rupa.
This is describing the state in slightly more detail (the two major phenomena at work — mentality in the form of "names" or concepts, and rupa in the form of the objects to which those names are attached.
Downbound nama/rupa rebounds bound up in the six-fold sense sphere.
This is the situation in still greater detail, broken up into the six specialities of sensing.

So you see that at this stage the eye (or any of the other sense objects) is itself already a complex of namas and rupas, as is the object of the sense organ.

Now when we say that the sense organ comes into contact with the sense object and sense-consciousness arises, we have not yet got to being consciously aware. These specialized consciousnesses are in their turn processed by the mind (we might say 'brain' because the intent is the mind as a sense organ whose sense-objects are the sense-consciousnesses of the other sense organs) and formed into our personal, apparently multi-sensed world. This is the sankaramed world, and while identifying with consciousness, it is not possible to break out of this world to see those individualized, specialized consciousnesses that result from contact of sense object with sense organ.

You will notice that in those suttas where so-called 'paying attention' is being described, the object of that attention is not attention to any of these specialized sense consciousnesses, but to the nature of the body as a whole (especially as a thing that comes to be and ends) sensation (the experience of pleasure that results from the contact) or to the state of mind that results from the experience, or to ideas that may be brought to bear on that idea.

So although it may appear we are able to experience nama and rupa and sensation separately, this is not the case, and so such perception as you describe, we must deduce, is in the imagination, is an intellectual understanding, is, itself a sankaramed phenomena.

So then what can we see?

What we can see is that what we have seen doesn't last. Still downbound to ordinary consciousness I can know that the orange I just saw whole, then ate, is now gone.

I can (still intellectually) apply this understanding to all phenomena. I can then say: That which is experienced by consciousness is not under my control. In the case of something not under my control it is not a reasonable thing to be claiming ownership; and furthermore, to the degree that I attempt to hang on to that which is out of my control, I am asking for pain.

Relinquishing ownership, seeing intellectually that nothing lasts, I can understand that by letting go of this sankaraming, I can bring the pain associated with hanging on to an end.

Seeing this intellectually, I have a basis for experimentation. I am able to practice 'not-doing' with an outcome in mind.

Practicing 'not-doing', it happens that I set going no new sankaram in this and that area. Over time, reviewing, I can see: 'Having practiced not-doing, I do not suffer in connection with such and such a phenomena.

So seeing one has seen 'outside' one's personal sankaramed world.
So seeing we can see 'how' we can see without the consciousness bound up in the sankaramed world.

Then we can say: upon the ending of going after getting,
came the ending of desire;
upon the ending of desire came the ending of sense experience;
upon the ending of sense experience came the ending of the sixfold sense sphere;
upon the ending of the sixfold sense sphere came the ending of sense consciousnesses;
upon the ending of sense consciousnesses,
came the ending of nama/rupa;
upon the ending of nama/rupa came the ending of consciousness;
upon the ending of consciousness came the ending of sankaraming;
upon the ending of sankaraming came the ending of blindness.

Then we can say: It is not that there is no self;
and it is not that there is a self;
but it is that when this (sankaraming) is,
that (personalized existing) becomes,
upon the ending of this,
the ending of that.

Then one can say:
Now I see what remains to be done is the detachment of any notion of 'myself' from that which remains attached to this consciousness. And that includes any notion that it is "I" that am the knower.



All those interested in this subject should read the Rhys Davids translation of the The Potthapada Sutta.

This sutta deals with a number of issues that are continuously coming up with regard to the Buddha's position concerning the soul.

Please note specifically that it is quite clear here that what is meant by the Buddha's statement (not specifically made here, but occuring often elsewhere — see below: Not Taught) that he does not teach that there is no soul, is that we are to take that which is conventionally understood to be the self of the current moment (whether it is made of material, an 'astral' form, or pure consciousness) as being a real thing ... that is, that we cannot say that there is no self because this that is here now is understood to be a self of sorts. This is not the same thing as saying that it has "Ultimate Reality" or any continuance over time; it is just the acceptance of conventional reality as being a phenomena with as legitimate a standing as the view that because under analysis, there can not be shown to be any ultimate, continuing soul in anything that is there, that there is no basis for holding a view that there is a self. He just does not take a position on the matter when it comes up in terms of existence or non-existence (or more accurately, he takes a position against the positive assertion of either stance), but explains the phenomena in terms of process...the paticca samuppada. Note the simile of the transformation of milk to cream to butter to clarified butter ...

Note the specific issues stated to have been left un-commented on by the Buddha:

"Is the world eternal? Is this alone the truth, and any other view mere folly?"'

Rhys Davids has: 'That, Poṭṭhapāda, is a matter on which I have expressed no opinion.'

'Avyākataṃ kho Poṭṭhapāda mayā: "Sassato loko, idam eva saccaṃ mogham aññan ti."

But I would translate: "Not in this way do I say this (A=not, vya=via, kata=make, m=-um), Potthapada: Endless is the world, this is the truth anything else is stupid."

2. Is the world not eternal? —

3. Is the world finite? —

4. Is the world infinite? —

5. Is the soul the same as the body? —

6. Is the soul one thing, and the body another? —

7. Does one who has gained the truth live again after death? —

8. Does he not live again after death? —

9. Does he both live again, and not live again, after death? —

10. Does he neither live again, nor not live again, after death? —

And to each question the Exalted One made the same reply: —

Note that these issues are in fact dealt with in the response that they are not issues that relate to profit, to the Dhamma, to good conduct, to detachment, or to purification from lusts, and quietude, tranquilization of heart, real knowledge, insight into higher things, and to Nibbāna ... and that what he does teach is pain, the origin of pain, the cessation of pain and the method, because these things do relate to those things.

The meaning of this last is often overlooked when the subject of "The Unanswered Questions" comes up. This is the The Four Truths. This is the Paticca Samuppada. Consequently it is a response to these issues. It is just not a direct response.

Please note the simile of the man building a staircase to a celestial mansion: This is the staircase. The understanding of The Four Truths or the Paticca Samuppada leads to an understanding of these other issues. Tackling the questions head on is the staircase with no understanding of the location of the mansion. This is not the same thing as just scoffing at the man building the staircase in the useless way and providing no alternative; a staricase is being built, just with a better plan. It is: "I do not answer these questions this way," not "I do not answer these questions."



For Warren's translated selections on this topic see:

#15 There Is No Ego

#16 All Signs of an Ego are Absent

#17 No Continuous Personal Identity

His "No Ego" is Anatta, and should, in my opinion, be being understood to mean that "there is no thing that is the ego."



What is Unity or One?

Check out: Warren: #19 What Is Unity Or One?[7] where it appears to have been taken as a matter of common understanding that seekers understood the "analytical" point of view (i.e., that the name of an object had no corresponding ultimate reality) ... but that prior to the Buddha this observation was used as a basis for the conclusion: There is no self, a view which breaks down in the face of horse sense ... a dish of which is served to this ascetic.

I hope everyone has read Warren's: Buddhism in Translations? It has been a long time since I looked into this book, but preparing it for inclusion in BuddhaDust I have been able to see the powerful influence it has had on me. A really intelligent selection of suttas covering not only the basic concepts of the system, but also showing the wide scope of the collections in terms of literature.



Not Taught

Majjhima Nikaya #22: Alagaddūpama Sutta

After a long series that goes into a familiar description of precisely the way The Buddha deals with the idea of Self but here serving to point out the Buddha's teaching that is often misunderstood by outsiders as teaching No Self or the Annihilation of Self:[8]

There are five things on which individuals take a stand with regard to points of view concerning the self:
Holding the view of matter that: "This is mine," "I am this," "this is the self of me." Holding the same view of perception, sense experience, one's own (the individual's) world, or consciousness.

Beings experience worry based on these things perceiving their ending, perceiving their unattainability; and this whether what is being observed is an objective thing such as the body, or a subjective thing such as the belief that the body is the self. Such is the origin of the idea held by the ignorant that there is the annihilation of the self.

But here the Buddha teaches that there is no possession which is permanant, lasting, not subject to change that would last eternally;
That consequently grasping after any thing as the self must necessarily result in grief and lamentation, pain and misery and despair.

If it were the case that there was that which is self, it would be permanant, lasting, not subject to change and would last eternally and it would be possible to point it out and say of it: "This is mine." "This is my self."
But it is not possible to find such a self or such a thing that belongs to self and point to it.
Consequently it is not possible to say: "This is the world. This is the self. After the death of the body I will be permanant, lasting, not subject to change and will last eternally. Holding such a position is simply foolish.[9]

Material shape is impermanent.
Holding on to what is impermanent is inherently painful.
It is not fitting to regard that which is inherently painful as the self or as belonging to one.
And it is the same for perception, sense experience, the personal world, and consciousness.
Therefore all material things, perception, sense experience, personal worlds, and consciousness should be seen as they really are: as not self or belonging to self.

The educated student of the Aristocrats, so seeing, disregards and becomes dispassionate towards material things, perception, sense experience, the personal world, and consciousness; dispassionate he is free; in freedom comes knowing freedom; knowing freedom as freedom is knowing that birth has been left behind, done is duty's doing, lived is the best of lives, and that there is no more it'n'n'at'n for that'n.

Such a one is known as one who has:
Removed the obstruction — he has removed blindness.
Filled the mote — he has protected himself from the possibility of rebirth
He has pulled up the sacrificial post — he has removed desire and wanting
He has unlocked the shackles — he has overcome the five fetters
He has become one of the Pure Ones, has lowered the battle flag, dropped his burden and is without fetters in that he has got rid of the fiction: "I am" and has made it such as will not return again.

Such a one is called "Trackless," because neither man nor god, whether with Inda or Brahma or Pajapati(here meaning Mara) do not find the individual consciousness of the ThatThatGotThat.[10]

Then comes the statement directly stating the fact that The Buddha is not teaching "No Self", or the "Annihilation of Self":

Horner (MLS I, #22, pp: 180

"Although I, monks, am one who speaks thus, who points out thus, there are some recluses and brahmans who misrepresent me untruly, vainly, falsely, not in accordance with fact, saying: 'The recluse Gotama is a nihilist, he lays down the cutting off, the destruction, the disappearance of the existent entity. But as this, monks, is just what I am not, as this is just what I do not say, therefore these worthy recluses and brahmans misrepresent me untruly, vainly, falsely, and not in accordance with fact when they say [such]...Formerly I monks, as well as now, lay down simply anguish and the stopping of anguish."

Nanamoli/Bodhi: (MLD #22, pp234)

"So saying, bhikkhus, so proclaiming, I have been baselessly, vainly, falsely, and wrongly misrepresented by some recluses and brahmins thus: 'The recluse Gotama is one who leads astray; he teaches the annihilation, the destruction, the extermination of an existing being.' As I am not, as I do not proclaim, so have I been baselessly, vainly, falsely, and wrongly misrepresented by some recluses and brahmans [thus]...Bhikkhus, both formerly and now what I teach is suffering and the cessation of suffering."

The Pali:

Evaɱvādiṃ kho maṃ bhikkhave evamakkhāyiṃ eke samaṇa-brāhmaṇā asatā tucchā musā abbūtena abbhācikkhanti: Venayiko Samaṇo Gotamo, sato sattassa ucchedaṃ vināsaṃ vibhavaṃ paññāpetīti. Yathā vāhaṃ bhikkhave na, yathā cāhaṃ na vadāmi, tathā maṃ te bhonto samaṇa-brāhmaṇā asatā tucchā musā abhūtena abbhācikkhanti: Venayiko Samaṇo Gotamo, sato sattassa ucchedaṃ vināsaṃ vibhavaṃ paññāpemi dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ.


[1] SN 3 22 85: Yamako

[2] See: The Destruction of the Asavas; and Glossology: Asavas

[3] Lower case "t" here in that the meaning is "he who has penetrated through to the goal"; not necessarily the Teacher.

[4] Just in case this phraseology too slips past someone: what is being said here is effectively: "Why do I not see this self that isn't there?"

[5] There is no requirement that the eyes be closed. Nothing whatsoever is stated about this issue in the suttas.

[6] Correctly there is a fourth element at work here: contact; sometimes held to be the root cause of all Dukkha.

[7] This is a "Birth Story." The Jatakas, or Birth Stories are, for the most part, missing from collections on the web and from almost all discussions. For a very long time I just outright dismissed the Jatakas as a collection of folk tales made to serve the story of the Buddha. As my perception of the evolution of science and physics and the madness of what we call the ordinary world developed I began to accept the stories as no crazier than many other things. One important thing that they do do is to give examples of this business of repeating the past that is an earmark of downbound confounded rebounding conjuration (paticca samuppada). The contrast in this story is similar to most of the Jataka stories...someone does something in the current Buddha's life that was done in a past life shared by both — only the Buddha has moved on.

[8] Summerized only; and it should be understood that this is only one of a large numbers of ways this same subject is explained. See below: Yamaka

[9] This passage occurs frequently and should be understood to mean that the speaker is saying: "The world is one thing, I am another, while the world may be transient, I am permanent. This business of apparent transience of self is a matter of being connected with the world. After death a separation of myself from the world will occur and the world will pass on while I remain."

[10] Tathāgata. See note 3. This term is often used by the Buddha to refer to himself, but here again, it is being used in its general meaning of one who has got the goal.




PTS: The Book of the Kindred Sayings: The Khandha Book: Kindred Sayings on Elements, Yamaka, III.93, Woodward, trans.
WP: The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: The Book of the Aggregates, Yamaka, I.931, Bhikkhu Bodhi, trans.
ATI: To Yamaka, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, trans.

See also: Attadipa

Digha Nikaya I: I: Brahma Net Spell, Sections on Soul Theory 1

Dialogues of the Buddha Part I: The Perfect Net (Sections on Views) (I: Brahmagala), and The Soul Theory (IX. Poṭṭhapāda Sutta)

ATI: No-self or Not-self? by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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