A Poll on How to Translate Anattā

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Yes, but I suppose in this case the question is which translation needs the least looking up. It seems to be a choice between failure and an even greater failure.


My understanding is that traditional and authentic Christian doctrine was based on the resurrection of the dead, not the immortality of the soul. The currently popular emphasis on the soul is a result of the gradual incorporation of aspects of ancient Greek philosophy into Christianity.


[quote=“DKervick, post:84, topic:4971”]
The currently popular emphasis on the soul is a result of the gradual incorporation of aspects of ancient Greek philosophy into Christianity.
[/quote]Also the “spiritualism” movement of the 1800s, possibly, a lot of reform Christian metaphysics has terms like “spirit bodies”, particularly the Mormons.


I’m sympathetic to the idea. If I shoot a bit far in the other direction, how about “spiritual essence”, or “divine essence”?

It’s obviously not the ‘right translation’, but maybe our hypothetical newbee would not stumble?


There is nothing really in the Bible about such matters, at least not in any coherent form, and the Christian schools have different ideas. At least there is no obvious meaning of a Christian soul.

So true, and actually few Christians now realize that. According to Bible texts when you die you go down under, to the place called Sheol, and it doesn’t matter if you lived good or bad life. Only after Christ comes again and resurrects you, you live in His new Kingdom, together with your body.

It’s interesting, when the concept of separate soul appeared? Could it be from Greeks, or maybe northern pagans as Christianity spread?


[quote=“tuvok, post:87, topic:4971”]
It’s interesting, when the concept of separate soul appeared?
[/quote]Medieval Christian Scholasticism had a definition of the soul that was very similar to some Buddhism concepts of how the 5 aggregates operate, however they posited the “soul” (or “self”) as identical to “the principle of thought-activity” (Catholic Encyclopedia, “The Contents of the Scholastic System”), however, they argue that the “soul”/“citta”, in as much as it exists in the unredeemed/unconformed-to-God state, was “impermanent” (to use Buddhist terms), however, the soul/citta of the devout Christian would be reborn in an eternal glorified state (eternalism or partial-eternalism in Buddhism parlance).


Futility is a negative term; if something is futile, then why try? The absence of self (self-identity, selfhood, individual distinction), on the other hand, is a fact of life, a fact true of every thing in the universe, from quarks to galaxies, and just maybe, of universes themselves. And seeing how that’s so, and recognizing the contingent fact that every one of is on that continuum, is far from a negative or negating recognition; in fact, my deep realization that I have no Self - no me, no my, no mine - frees me to be a better person tomorrow, through practice and disciplined responsibility, than I was when I woke up this morning.

The problem I have with “soul” is two-fold. First, it carries connotations in the religious traditions of both Western and Eastern cultures that get in the way of understanding the Buddhadhamma, and, second, it’s pretty easy to accept the fact that there is no soul in the sense that it has in those traditions and still remain hung up on what the Buddha called “I making, my making, mine making”.


That is precisely the intention. It intends to convey the negativity of sticking to the mundane path.

The following is known as the Thilakshanaya

Anicca - that nothing in this world can bring a permanent happiness.
Dukkha - we will be subjected to much more suffering than pleasures in the long run despite our struggles.
Anatha - therefore, we are truly helpless in this struggle to attain something that is just an illusion.

The purpose of the above is to show the futility of things and motivate one to the path of renunciation that is the Noble 8fold path.

When one realises the Thilakshanaya he/she enters the 8fold path and even become a Sottapanna.

The Thilakshanaya is the signpost that forces one to take a detour. So ideally this should be the first thing one sees upon entering a Dhamma site.

What happens at present they see “no self”. This is just gobble-de-gook and does not serve the above purpose. It does it not make any sense because that is not how Buddha described it.

Self/Soul are dirty words as far as Buddha Dhamma is concerned. They are Sakkaya-Dhitthi. Buddha will never define the entry point into the 8fold path using terms prevalent in a Sakkaya-Dhitthi.

The path is all about the removal of the conceit of “I”. This is the final destination of the path. We are talking only about the entry into the path. All one require at the beginning is the understanding their present mundane path is futile.


Try to insert Ven. Waharaka’s translation into the Anatta’lakkana Sutta SN 22.59, and we get the Discourse on the characteristic of futility.

"Bhikkhus, form is futile. Were form not be futile, then this form would not lead to affliction, and one could have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.’ And since form is not-self, so it leads to affliction, and none can have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.’

“Bhikkhus, how do you conceive it: is form permanent or impermanent?” — “Impermanent, venerable Sir.” — “Now is what is impermanent painful or pleasant?” — “Painful, venerable Sir.” — “Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, this is I, this is not futile’”? ('etaṃ mama, eso’hamasmi, eso me attā’ti)— “No, venerable sir.”


Hi Ven Brahmali,

I haven’t read the entire thread so this may have been said before, but the choice between soul/self/essence aside, one could also translate it with “has no self”. For example “perception has no self.” This sounds a bit more natural to me than “perception is without a self” especially in longer sentences, while the meaning to me is exactly the same.

Also, I think ‘self’ is decent given the meaning:

“a person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action.
synonyms: ego, I, oneself, persona, person, identity, character, personality, psyche, soul, spirit, mind, intellect,”

Other options may be “no core”, or “no entity”.



Yo Ven. S,

Perhaps. I am still thinking about this. What do you think about “personal essence”:

“Form is without personal essence”/“Form has no personal essence”?


Ven Yuttadhammo translate Anatta as “not under your control”


The teaching “Subbe Dhamma Anatta” is applicable to animate and inanimate objects.
Can I say a rock is without a self or without a soul?
The question is how do you apply Anatta to a rock.


It appears the Anatta debate now comes to the mainstream.
Many thousands of monks questioning the teachings of some modern interpretations.
The following video is in Sinhalese.


Hi Sarath,

You can certainly say that a rock is without self. Apparently there are philosophies or views of the world where a “self” is projected onto inanimate objects.

But a more Buddhist way of thinking about it is to regard the rock as an object of your awareness. In this sense it is your experience that you regard as non-self. The rock as an independent object - if there is such a thing - is really irrelevant.


What about the awareness?


I can’t argue the relationship with the original and haven’t voted, but speaking from a consumer’s point of view ‘personal essence’ is very helpful. It steps away from both Graeco-Christian duality and post-modern notions of the constructed self.




Same, same. Awareness, too, is non-self; there is no essence to it. That’s why you have viññāṇa anicca/viññāṇa anattā.


Seeing a “rock” in terms of sensory stimulation (rupa) perceived and otherwise massaged mentally (nama) into a sort of identity, one can understand how perhaps a “self” or identity-essence is posited into, as existing within or behind that phenomenon.

Yes – does the perceived phenomenon contain identity-essence, or does the mind create and project such, and does the mind then dwell on that activity itself as real, i.e. itself identify with, find self-essence in treating phenomena so? (Compare Antonio Damasio’s (in his book “Self Comes to Mind”, 2010) idea of “core self” where the sense of agency – that “I” am doing it, am responsible for action – arises neurologically.)

Is that a sort of anthropocentric stance that the Buddha is pointing to as potentially surmountable (to be liberated, “wake-up” from)? That “reality” consists of, is a product of the human organism’s sensory apparatus and mental habits of dealing (functioning) with it.

Consider a lizard sunning itself in the “rock” – in the lizard’s sensory-cognitive world, is it the same kind, identity of “rock” that humans perceive? Or the insects burrowing around beneath the “rock” – what’s their idea of “rockness”, relative to their behavioral needs and functioning?

But, of course, human capabilities are so much superior to those of lizards and insects. Our “science”, in addition to functional / empirical relationship to “rocks” is so more highly developed, is the “real” reality? Well, yes – at least to the human mind in its native conditioning.