A few translation contexts for anattā as not self

Here’s a copy of the essay Bhante. Does this work?




If you had read me above, you would have noticed that I consider crazy, someone who does not follow the Path, and who imagines, or fantasizes upon “mystical” things.
However, if you read Buddha, and that you are not one of those pseudo-“buddhist” nuts, that advocate like parrots in unison, that “life is a present”; or that “you should enjoy life”; then you might follow the Path correctly.
As Buddha said, if you start with wrong view, you are going to go wrong all the way.

It seems to me that on most forums, laden with the “enjoy life” faddists, we now have craziness defined by the latter, as people who don’t want to believe that “life is a present to be enjoyed”. Or again, that the ultimate insanity is be to believe in things like “heavens” - like when Buddha teaches about that in MN 56, that you’ve nicely quoted. You have to wipe this out to be “sane”. There is not a sane “buddhist” world with its brahmas and maras and humans, for the western “buddhists”. That is absolute craziness for them (unless, maybe you’ve been “initiated” under the silence oath).

Also, what @Coemgenu said above, for instance, is purely totalitarianism to me; and you liked it.
I was just bloody shocked! - That is pure fascistic stuff.
For him, anyone not having the same point of view as the “neo-saṅgha” brass, should be gotten rid of.
The people he objurgated, are certainly not part of his “Universality”, I suppose.

What’s next?
Did Buddha say that the “thing we have in common, is greater than our differences” - and that we have to preach these sorts of nonsense, in a totalitarian manner, to the rest of the world.
Well, I have definitely something in common with some nutsos - but my difference is that I am not a quisling. I don’t buy that stuff.
Also, I have not been initiated in a formal esoteric association. So I don’t have to shut up. And my Path is cleaned alright; so no problem.

I am under shock! - really - That’s the kind of moha (bewilderment) that I still endure with difficulty.
Even the powers of maras don’t baffle me like that.

Gee whiz.

Anyway, what is your point with MN 56? - Buddha teaches a guy about the path; and when the guy has completed the first steps, he goes further. That is a normal teaching process. Like first grade goes to second grade, then … blabla.

The guy does not have to have a “ready mind” ?!?

[quote=“suci1, post:79, topic:4926”]
Also, what @Coemgenu said above, for instance, is purely totalitarianism to me; and you liked it.
[/quote]I’m not really sure what your complaint is, or how anything I said would be totalitarian in any way. I was making a general observation about some of the behaviours present in internet trolling, and how those who do it generally go about justifying their behaviour (namely in this instance, claims of stream-entry, with stream-entry interpreted in some obscure way as to mean “never wrong” or something), as evidenced by their advertising of their own justifications, often.

Myself, and I believe @Mkoll as well have seen this phenomena many times on other forums, but I wouldn’t want to put words in their mouth.

My apologies if a lack of clarity on my part caused a miscommunication. Totalitarian commandments as to if someone should obey some abstract orthodoxy expounded by any group, “neo-sangha” or not, was certainly not what was intended to be read out of my text. My apologies.

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Could you give examples, so we can understand what you are effectively calling “trolls”.

Because, for me, the actual Establishment of “buddhism” is what I call trolls.
So I love when someone does not repeat like a parrot the sempiternal litany of nonsense that are going nowhere.

Also, I am pretty sure that Buddha must have appeared as a troll to its fellow Indians brahmins, at the time.

[quote=“suci1, post:81, topic:4926”]
Because, for me, the actual Establishment of “buddhism” is what I call trolls.
[/quote]I fear that we have too different a definition of what a “troll” is then for us to be talking about the same thing at all when we talk about “trolls”.

My examples were above, trolling behaviours accompanied by claims of stream entry that cannot abide critique or dissent, trolling behaviours of accusing others of slandering the Buddha constantly, unable to abide critique or dissent, etc.

Trolling behaviour, by my definitions, and the definitions of some others I certainly think, but cannot presume necessarily, is arrogant and prideful behaviour, bullying others in endless contrarian arguments and harsh speeches, questing in this for self-gratification. So I cannot think of the establishment of Buddhism as trolls under that definition.

To further contextualize, a quote that explains better what I would call “trolling behaviour”:[quote]Always desiring to be superior to others, having no patience for inferiors and belittling strangers; like a hawk, flying high above and looking down on others, and yet outwardly displaying justice, worship, wisdom, and faith — this is raising up the lowest order of good and walking the way of the Asuras.
-Śramaṇa Zhìyǐ, Mahāśamathavipaśyanā (沙門智顗, 摩訶止観 )[/quote]If you are so inclined, perhaps we could take our dialogue into private-message territory, as to not have too many off-topic posts or too involved a subdiscussion going on at the same time as the main discussion.


Thanks, yes, I can read that, albeit poorly.

In addition to my remarks above:

  • The essay is mistaken in saying Saccaka was a Jain, as I pointed out some time ago. This is an understandable mistake, given the confusion among scholars. Indeed, the argument of the essay supports this, and he concludes that the argument could not be Jain. However, the implication is that the text is corrupt, which lends credence to the idea that the passage on not-self is also corrupt. Once we drop the assumption that Saccaka was a Jain, this argument no longer applies, and we longer have a compelling reason to see this text as a source of the corruption of the philosophical idea of not-self.
  • He goes on to argue that on doctrinal grounds Saccaka is more likely to be Ājīvaka than Jain. This may be so, but I am reluctant to follow this, still less to draw any conclusions from it. It seems to me just as likely that Saccaka was simply an independent thinker. Not everyone has to belong to a school.
  • He argues that a corrupt pericope could propagate through the texts. Indeed it could, but that is not an argument that it in fact did in this case. It seems to me unlikely that the passage in MN 35 was so influential. In any case, it is just as likely for such propagation to occur in the other lineages, or indeed in the Chinese translations.
  • He also argues on the basis of translations in SA. This gets a little involved, so I will move that to its own thread.

[quote]MN 56
When the Blessed One perceived that the mind of Upāli, the householder, was prepared, pliant, free from obstacles, elevated and lucid,[/quote]
That’s what I mean by “ready mind.” Could also label it a “prepared mind” or whatever else you want. The label doesn’t change the reality it is indicating.

But you read it however it makes sense to you and I’ll do the same. I’m not looking for a debate with you.

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I haven’t properly read Kuan’s article, but here are a few preliminary thoughts.

The idea that anything regarded as an attā must be subject to control is not peculiar to MN 35. In fact it is a core aspect of the Dhamma found in such suttas at the Anattālakkhaṇa Sutta, SN 22.59. The exact relationship of the controller to the controlled is not crucial, and several possibilities are possible. Typically the suttas give four ways of relating the supposed attā to the aggregates: material form (etc.) is the attā, or the attā owns material form, or material form is in the attā, or the attā is in material form (MN 44). Except for the first of these, they all allow for control and the controlled to co-exist as part of the attā.

Kuan relates his critique of MN 35 to Upanishadic and Jain ideas of what an attā is supposed to be. Although the Buddha critiqued the doctrines of others, it would be a mistake to think that the Buddha’s teachings are limited to this. The Buddha’s doctrine is ultimately derived from his own personal insight, and it is this more than anything else that shaped the way he taught. In other words, the Buddha is not necessarily concerned with refuting any particular religious tenet, as Kuan suggests. (P.13: “If so, the idea of ‘self’ refuted in this text is obviously not that of Brahmanism. Then, which religion‘s tenet is the Buddha refuting in this context?”) This argument becomes especially weighty if Saccaka was not Jain at all, as argued by Bhante Sujato.


Especially given the vast range of self doctrines mentioned in the EBTs. I think it would be a mistake to assume that all doctrines of self required that the self be an agent, a controller. Certainly this is not the case in folk notions of the soul.

Such doctrines would fall solely under the saṅkhārakkhandha, and in fact that is the very purpose of that category. A purely material self has no intentionality at all. That’s why, I presume, the aggregates are depicted as the subject of control rather than the agent.


There is a huge difference between modern notions of self and ancient notions of soul. The bottom line, it seems, is that the anatta teaching is actually a no-soul teaching rather than a not-self teaching. The idea that there is not in humans (or anything else) an unchanging, underlying essence. So in this context there is no significant distinction between soul and essence; they are basically synonyms. So @sujato and @Brahmali are both correct. But it is impossible to understand unless you first understand the concept of an unchanging essential soul; even more reason to use the word soul rather than self. If the word soul was used in the first place, I would never have started the whole no-self vs not-self thread, because the Buddha actually allows for the modern notion of self!

It is simple really and not a big deal to any modern atheist who already doesn’t believe in an unchanging essence. Whereas an atheist would certainly be surprised and somewhat puzzled to be told she doesn’t have a self! By the term ‘self’, I mean the modern concept of self. The self that grows and develops and changes. The self that goes to the gym, goes to the temple, meditates, studies, learns, improves and is constantly changing into (hopefully) a better person intellectually, physically and morally. The self that gets old, gets sick and dies. The Buddha allows for such a notion of self, as does the entire western self-help industry!

Put in that way, it is actually misleading and probably sort of dishonest to call it a not-self teaching. No-soul captures it much more honestly than not-self. It also means that Buddha allows for the modern idea of self: a self that is constantly changing both in mind and body


That’s right. The Buddha asks monks to contemplate (apart from meditate on) the Four Noble Truths (SN 56.45) and the Dependant Origination. I think this helps take out the ‘self’ out of the process (that is mistaken for the self -SN 12.35).

Also in the wider Four Noble Truths, the first noble truth unstatisfactoriness (dukkha) is to be comprehensively (deeply) understood. This involves insight into the three characteristics (tilakkhana) of phenomena. Contemplating the moment to moment impermanence of phenomena and unsatisfactoriness of phenomena sets the scene to contemplate the dependently originated nature of phenomena (2nd noble truth).

The causally arisen nature of phenomena (moment to moment) is a good antidote for any Self view which often depends on something solid and persisting. Practitioners can break through into not-self from contemplating the process of perception, which is easily accessible (compared to rebirth).

This seems to set up the right view to progress further into dispassion: SN 12.61

with metta


I don’t think that has been established.

If that self exists, then it would seem that at the death of an arahant, following the attainment of Nibbana, that self must either, (i) cease to exist, or (ii) continue to exist in some other way. If it ceases to exist, then the Buddha is an annihilationist. If it continues to exist in some other way, then what way is that, and why did the Buddha decline to say?

It seems more consistent with the Buddha’s teachings overall to say that a self doesn’t cease to exist at the death of the arahant, because the arahant’s self always had only a tenuously real, somewhat illusory and constructed nature to begin with, and so there was never any real existent to cease - at least given the Buddha’s understanding of existence.

The practitioner can eventually come to a full grasp of this process, and a transformed relationship to it, by understanding directly the causal processes that make it up, and by gradually ceasing to conceptualize, feel or regard anything that falls within one’s experience as being oneself or pertaining to oneself.


Definitely Visvakarman is defined as the creator from the outside, and the controller of the worldly outcomes. (R.V.10.82)
Again Hiranyagarbha creates and controls by determined ordinances, the earth, heavens, etc. (R.V. 1. 121)
Sure that Prajapati is the Lord controlling the creatures it has produced.

But what about this Upaniṣadic Atman = Brahman?

Note that in the Ṛg Veda, soul is called manas, atman and asu.
Atman became (the ubiquitous & pervasive) “vital breath” in later Indian philosophy. And (the ubiquitous & pervasive) Manas was, in satta, viewed as the seat of thought and emotion in the brain/heart locus.

How this atman as vital breath, did become the ultimate essence or reality in man and the cosmos, would have remained a mystery, if there had not been some passages in the Vedic litterature to clarify the matter.
First, in the Ṛg Veda, there is this excerpt where the Ṛsi (sage), discriminating deeper and deeper, moves from the vital breath (asu) to the blood, and thus to atman, as the inner self of the cosmos.
Then in TaittĀr. 1.23, Prajapati after having produced his self (as the cosmos) with his self, moved into it. And in TBr., this atman is defined as being ubiquitous (pervasive).
Thus we have a pre-Upaniṣadic Vedic literature with an atman defined first as the “vital breath” in man, then as the “self of the world”, and then as the “self in man”.

But what is this inner reality of man, of the Upaniṣads?
There is quite an equivocalness attached to its nature; as it is defined in a diversity of senses.

  • essence of food (physical part/body) - annamaya atman.
  • vital breath - pranamaya atman - behind the scabbard of the body.
  • will - manomaya atman - behind the vital breath. [control?]
  • consciousness - vijñanamaya atman - within the will.
  • self as pure bliss - anandamaya atman - behind the consciousness. (TUp.)

Therefore, was “control” the primary concern of Buddha; or was it “bliss”, when it comes to “self”? - like in:

I dwell contemplating impermanence in all formations, perceiving suffering in what is impermanent, perceiving nonself in what is suffering, perceiving abandonment, perceiving fading away, perceiving cessation.
SN 55.3
If, bhikkhus, form were self, this form would not lead to affliction.
SN 22.59

We have already seen above that “control” is the prerogative of mano, and is more related to the “I” (as will) than the “self” (as bliss).
Again, mano is, for the first time in Indian philosophy, located solely in satta in Buddhism. (maybe a relevant remark here - or maybe another insane statement from a troll ?).

To resume: "It is not self, because it is dukkha - and dukkha is not “bliss”.
And where dukkha comes from? -Impermanence.
I really can’t understand why some people have to go over such lengthy, abysmal and pseudo-intellectual logorrhean knowledges, to dilute such a simple understanding - (or maybe I do )

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Not claiming any expertise in breadth of understanding or philology of the suttas, but having waded through so much of it that my current sense of clarity stems from the following considerations (aka a two-cents worth, possibly in need of correction):

1: The additional problem to consider of “dhamma” as “Things”, i.e. something that’s there, implying an ontological entity – – better phenomena, i.e. appearances

2: And then the whole (above) no self / not self issue, whether with or without hyphen…

Better “void of” , “without”, … in the direction of the notion I’ve found most clear in this situation: “free of/from”

‘A-/an-’ as the so-called “alpha-privitive” (in the context of classical Greek) as in deprived of, or “free of/from”, meaning just does not pertain, not to be bothered with at all.

E.g. the example “aletheia” (“truth”) i.e. a-letheia where letheia denotes “forgetfulness” (as in the river “Lethe” which, in Greek mythology, the dead cross through to cleanse memories (attachments?)). “Not- / no- forgetfulness” implies the sort of Aristotelian either-or logic (logic of non-contradiction), whereas “free from forgetfulness” implies not being limited, not trapped in the dualisms – is/is not, isn’t/not isn’t, …

3: The two perspectives re-enforce each other, in that linguistic preoccupation with “thing-ness” (nouns) goes back to Aristotelian ontology so deeply embedded in Western culture and language, as well as the Aristotelian logic of non-contradiction – either “is” or “is not”.

I think of the Buddha perspective as 1) the ontological bias liberated by the phenomenological perspective – experience of “object” involves most immediately just “appearance” (phano), from which (mundane) conditioning infers contact with some “thing” out there; and 2) the “self” as enduring substance (ontology, again) is simply something to get free of, released from, as it is not experientially verified by deeply reflective experience (sati, vipassana,…).

4: This topic comes up again and again (ad nauseum, IMO) across all the on-line English-language “Buddhist” discussion groups. As, I suspect, Western mind (or any mind that can discourse in English) just can’t seem to get over, get beyond “itself”.

Perhaps the Buddha’s message had to simply with radically re-framing of, release from the issue of the Vedic “Self”, as the be-all and end-all of religious endeavor; rather than having to do with the modern, more highly developed, e.g. in the sense of Romanticism, “autobiographical self” (to use Antonio Damasio’s term*); this modern elaboration of “self” being the one so prone to disintegration (psychosis, etc.) when confronted with deep meditation. The mundane “self” the Buddha addresses may be more on the level of Damasio’s “core self”, the level having to do with agency, ownership, control. That being built on the level prior to that, the “protoself” that has to do with any organism’s sense of its own boundaries, its individuality and concern for survival; in any case, all these hypothetical constructs of “self”, in Damasio’s scheme, remain, by implication, transient and expedient (mundane) rather than in any way either ontological or metaphysical.)

Not to reduce the Buddha’s teaching to this aspect (as also noted above (DKervick 2017-04-16 04:12:49 UTC #22), but as an important kicking-off point, frame of reference for the religious mind of that time, to clear the deck for the rest of, the soteriological gist of his Dhamma.

Btw: “soul”, I think, goes back to “spiritus”, “pneuma”, or the breath-of-life notion; the po or corporeal spirit in classical Chinese (the white wandering ghost at times). Very difficult term due to the deep ontological overtones of the Christian usage in European languages and culture. And probably “ghost” notions across other cultures.

*Antonio Damasio, “Self Comes to Mind – Constructing the Conscious Brain”, 2010.

Yaṃ panāniccaṃ dukkhaṃ vipari­ṇāma­dhammaṃ, kallaṃ nu taṃ samanupassituṃ: ‘etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’”ti? “No

.”—“Is what is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my Self’?”—“No
SN 22.59

I don’t think there is an issue of whether in the suttas self (in the modern concept of it) differs from the Soul in how the absence of it is applied. I would really doubt whether there is a difference between the modern concept of the self (albeit, with some additional psychological descriptions) to that of the ancient descriptions of the ‘autobiographical’ self, though it would be again largely incidental.

When the aggregates are seen all of that is captured, as the above sutta suggests.

Any psychological explanation of the self must be understood in the light that psychological structures maybe mislabelled as self as the labellers may themselves still believe there is a self and haven’t seen deeply enough. Imagine a person always believed that they were driving a BMW only to see one day for the first time under the hood that they were driving a . Nothing has essentially changed in the machine they were driving. But it might be a different way to view the world. That might be a shock but one can be prepared for it with good guidance. This is where a ‘balanced approach’ is good. It doesn’t have to be a shock- it can be a happy experience- to be able to finally see through to anatta! To be rid of the view of a self can open the door to dismantling mental health problems like depression, which depend on the belief of the existence of a self -to be sad for, about, feel unloved, worthless etc.

with metta


Hi @DKervick

I agree with you

My only real point is that there is a huge difference between the notion of a constantly changing self that is made of mind and body whose components are constantly changing (CS) and the notion of an unchanging Essential Soul (ES). I think that is a valid point .

Imagine you are reading a sutta where the Buddha is definitely arguing against the idea of ES , but instead the translator makes it read as if the Buddha is arguing against CS. I’m sure you’d agree that the translator is misrepresenting the teachings .

Keeping in mind the distinction above, I’m sure then that you would accept that no-self (no-cs) and no-soul (no-es) take on radically different meanings. So we really need to be careful about which word we use when referring to anatta doctrine. Granted the meaning of anatta in the suttas might change depending on context. But it is certainly a step in the right direct to be acutely aware of the said distinction.

Yep, that is exactly what happened to me. It was a revelation to eventually discover that ‘unchanging essence’ was being argued against.

A very significant statement.

Totally agree. The confusion and frustration I experienced was disquieting. I’m over it now though.

Can’t argue with that. :anjal:

Bhante, I was taught from the Vajrayana that sentient beings and things lack an inherent self because every one and thing arises from prior connected causes and conditions. For me this is how I interpret ‘non-self’. But in english, self usually refers to the self of a sentient being. I haven’t tested this but could the word ‘entity’ be a better fit? For example the ‘non-entity’ of all beings and things because both rely on their parts which arise and decay depending on internal and external causes and conditions.

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In Sri Lanka we used to go to Sunday school and they taught us only Jataka.
(Now days children do not go to Sunday schools as they are burden with their school work)
In GCE (ordinary level) or year 9 we were taught Buddha’s life and few phrases from Suttas (Singalovada, Parabhava and Dhammapada)
Many Sri Lankan’s even do not know the meaning of the five precepts. Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta are written in death notices and nobody knows the meaning of this.


Sad to hear. I have seen a similar situation in Thailand, but I always thought Sri Lankans had a better education, at least in the textual knowledge.