Ajahn Sumedho's quote about the Unconditioned


By “such a self” I mean a self in relation to the five aspects of personality, the khandhas. The Buddha clearly denies that such a self exists. And if there is no self in relation to the five khandhas, then there cannot be any self at all. You still exist, but in a different way from what you think.


The places that are generally considered as self (through ignorance) are the five aggregates. Through contemplation and vipassana meditation it becomes possible to see that the five aggregates cannot be considered as Self. That is not to say the five aggregates does not exist.

I might add, that it is important to understand that there is nothing can be considered the self out side of the five aggregates, or anywhere else either, less we fall into misperceptions of eternal Self/soul. In short, there are phenomena out there (that we by mistake considered the self), but not one of those phenomena can be in reality considered the self.

with metta


Thanks for your response, I am wondering if you could clarify what are the differences between the so-called self and the self relates to the khandhas?

Whenever I identify “I”, I see “form and/or feeling, perception, volition formations, consciousness” and nothing else.

I am 6 feet tall. I see this form as "I"
I am sad. I see that feeling as “I” or “my feeling” …

Of course, that “I” is a changing identity, but it represents the so-called “self” at that moment.

To me, the self is simply the representative of “form and/or other khandhas”.

In AN 6.38

“Venerable Gotama, I am one of such a doctrine, of such a view: ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer.’”

“I have not, brahman, seen or heard such a doctrine, such a view. How, indeed, could one—moving forward by himself, moving back by himself —say: ‘There is no self-doer, there is no other-doer’? What do you think, brahmin, is there an element or principle of initiating or beginning an action?”

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“When there is an element of initiating, are initiating beings clearly discerned?”

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“So, brahmin, when there is the element of initiating, initiating beings are clearly discerned; of such beings, this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer.

What are the differences between this self-doer and the so-called self relates to the khandhas?

What is this “you” if there is no self? What can this “you” do if it is different than what we normally think?


Thanks, I do not see that too.


In the suttas the sense of self is normally related to the five khandhas. This is why it is natural to speak about it in this way. But there is no difference between the two, because all sense of self must relate to the five khandhas one way or another.

I am not sure what you mean by this. It would probably be better to say that “the sense of self”, not “the self”, takes one or more of the five khandhas as its identity.

First of all “self-doer” is a confusing translation. Here is Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation:

“Master Gotama, I hold such a thesis and view as this: ‘There is no self-initiative; there is no initiative taken by others.’”
“Brahmin, I have never seen or heard of anyone holding such a thesis and view as this. For how can one who comes on his own and returns on his own say: ‘There is no self-initiative; there is no initiative taken by others’?
(1) “What do you think, brahmin? Does the element of instigation exist?”
“Yes, sir.”
“When the element of instigation exists, are beings seen to instigate activity?”
“Yes, sir.”
“When beings are seen to instigate activity because the element of instigation exists, this is the self-initiative of beings; this is the initiative taken by others.

This passage does not concern “a self”. The word attā here is the relative pronoun meaning “oneself”, “yourself”, etc. The brahmin here is saying that there is no action done by oneself, nor by others. This does not relate to whether there is a self or not, in the sense of a permanent essence.

This “you” is the personal continuation of habits, memories, and kamma. It is your particular stream of consciousness as it evolves over time, and from life to life. There is no permanent essence there, but there is a degree of continuity.


It seems to me that you take “self” as a permanent essence while I do not see that way. What I consider “self” is whatever represents “I, me, my, mine, myself” regardless of what it is or how it is.

"I am fat"
As long as “form” is taken as “I”, the so-called self exists since form exists even if form is impermanent. That’s what I see by my understanding of self.

With my understanding of self, I can see how self is constructed in MN 1 and how we should avoid that to end self-view and reach our goal. However, I respect your take of self as a permanent essence so I will not question that view.

Thanks for your explanation, Venerable.


There is no permanent self or an impermanent self.


This is how I understand it too. There is a continuation of Samsara due to our ignorance. Samsara continues due to Dependent Origination. What we identify as self is the continuation of Samsara fueled by our action due to our ignorance.
Perhaps if we replace the word “self” with “ignorance” it may make bit more sense.


This is from a translation of Ajahn Chah

About this mind…. In truth there is nothing really wrong
with it. It is intrinsically pure. Within itself it’s already
peaceful. That the mind is not peaceful these days is because
it follows moods. The real mind doesn’t have anything
to it, it is simply (an aspect of) Nature. It becomes
peaceful or agitated because moods deceive it.

How does this fit in?


Perhaps this is another topic named what is luminous mind.

“Luminous, monks, is the mind.[1] And it is defiled by incoming defilements.” {I,v,9}

“Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is freed from incoming defilements.” {I,v,10}

“Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements. The uninstructed run-of-the-mill person doesn’t discern that as it actually is present, which is why I tell you that — for the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person — there is no development of the mind.” {I,vi,1}

“Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is freed from incoming defilements. The well-instructed disciple of the noble ones discerns that as it actually is present, which is why I tell you that — for the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones — there is development of the mind.” {I,vi,2}>


The Dalai Lama said something similar:
( from “How to practice”, page 173 )

“The faulty defilements that pollute the mind - such as ignorance, lust and hatred - are temporary, and therefore separable from the mind. Once these defilements are understood to be superficial and not in the minds basic nature, we see that the deep nature of mind is clear light, emptiness.”


Just light- not Self.

with metta,


To me, no matter if it is real mind or not real, peaceful or agitated, permanent or impermanent. If you are of it, in it, apart from it, take it as yours, delight it then you will suffer.


I am not so interested in my opinion or your opinion. What really matters to me is what the suttas say.

Well, let’s see what the suttas have to say about this. When you identify with something, you don’t want it to change; otherwise your very sense of existence is challenged. Because we crave to exist, impermanence is a problem.

The problem with your statement here is that we don’t just take form generically as “me” or “mine”, but rather a particular form. When you look at yourself in the mirror, you expect to see a recognisable face, “you”. If you don’t, it’s scary! And because you identify with a particular form, it is distressing when that form changes. This is the dukkha that comes from impermanence, a teaching you see throughout the EBTs. The moment you stop identifying with a particular form, this is no longer a problem. To do this you need to uproot the false sense of self.

But you are right that even a general identity with form is a problem. If all form is about to cease, as it does in the immaterial attainments, then any attachment to form whatsoever will stop you from going there.


Sure - sunyata actually.


Insubstantiality (SN22.95) shows that there is nothing that can be considered as self, as well.

with metta


It’s OK that you do not interest in my view. It’s just a view. However, it helps me a lot in understanding the Dhamma as well as reducing the sufferings in my life.

I hope that you can see what the suttas have to say about this as you have said above. All I care is if I am suffering or not. If so, then why? and how can I get rid of that sufferings forever.

If the current “self” concept is working for you then I am fully respect that. However, it does not work for me since I do not know what to do with my stream of consciousness and so on.

I can clearly see the impermanence in form, feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness. I can see there is no permanent person there with no doubt in my mind, but then what? I still suffer more and more.

Since I know wherever I see myself (I, me, mine, my), I see sufferings, I see that I am living in a minefield which can explode at anytime, anywhere. I started getting rid of whatever relates to me as much as I can. Sufferings decreased tremendously. It works for me. Until I can no longer see me anywhere and can be a master of my own thinking, I will be free from all the bonds.

I am not interest in right and wrong so I am not interest in defending my view. To me, it is just a view that currently works for me but may not fit for others.

Wish you well in the quest for liberation. There is nothing permanent including views.


Fair enough! I wish you all success in your practice. :grinning:


In Buddhist monasteries in Europe in the Ajahn Chah tradition, ideas sush as this or the idea of an unconditioned consciousness, of the ‘deatless’ etc are regularly taught and Ajahn Chah’s authority is implicitly or explicitly relied upon to support them. My question is: why did Ajahn Chah, who sent Ajahn Sumedho to establish Buddhism in many countries in the West, not correct these wrong views, which seem more Hindu than Buddhist? He surely knew he would be lending his authority to him.


Dear Venerable Sujato,

I am somewhat confused. If our consciousness does not arise from the unconditioned or deathless, where does it first arise from? I understand that conditions, namely desire and past kamma cause consciousness to be reborn from one life to the next with a whole new set of khandas each time, but surely consciousness had to first arise from somewhere or someplace or some dimension, perhaps in more modern terms from the quantum state?

If not where do our memories of past lives arise from? How can ‘we’ suddenly remember our past lives as people do in NDE’s? Indeed how could we even be ‘conscious’ and aware of past lives in NDE’s, how can we have this ‘stream of consciousness’ that passes from one life to the next if it arises out of nothingness/nowhere and returns to nothingness? Surely, although consciousness arises due to conditions, kamma and desire, which are the cause of consciousness arising anew in each new life, that still does not clarify the ‘where’ or the ‘what’ that the past life memories and the consciousness or the knowing/understanding comes from? Where are these past life memories stored between lives? Is there a great big hard disk in the sky that we can suddenly access when we die?

Or does consciousness just ‘spring’ into existence from nothing/nowhere and then is maintained via causes until such time as one (if ever) attains enlightenment and conscious existence then ends.

And just to make this all the more convoluted, I thought the Buddha did not teach annihilationism?

I would greatly appreciate your patience with and your thoughts on these many questions.