Anatta and rebirth


i think what @Bussho meant was to find out how the kamma maintains its individuality and attribution across lives and, if we go by your @raivo understanding of the kamma mechanism, what that is which ensures that your experiences trigger the potentials earned and amassed by YOURSELF and not someone else

i came to a conclusion that the self, in a sense of an individuality different from everybody else, does exist but only in samsara, one who wishes to attain nibbana cannot do so without relinquishing attachment to notion of this individualy, and as soon as this notion is uprooted from one’s mental activity and a person decisions cease being governed by it, production of new kamma stops and so the chain of re-births breaks off once old kamma is exhausted. since there’re no more re-births there’s nobody to be reborn.
probably such understanding is more digestible for a mind conditioned by a tradition which recognizes the existence of an individual self/soul


Dear Brenna,

thanks so much for the references! :smile: Should you come across further occurences of these similes in the EBT, I would be interested to learn of them. (Just in case, you should come across these in the near future by coincidence and if it is no hassle for you to post them… You seem to be quite familiar with the EBT…)

Thanks so much again and with much mettā,

P.S.: It is funny, I came accross MN 146 and the simile myself yesterday in a completely different context. :slight_smile:


Dear Bussho,

I very much like the questions you raise. I had and sometimes still have the same questions. I guess, we will either be able to see these things ourselves in deep meditation (and then have some intuitive idea about them) or we will never reach a truely satisfying explanation.

I often catch myself talking about something (like the combustion process in a candle) and thinking that I understood it. However, as Ajahn Brahm says, I do not really understand it. I just got used talking about it, using a certain language and applying a set of more or less consistent rules that say that physics work this and that way. I talk about gravity as if it was the most usual thing in the world and yet it is a complete mystery. How can it be that galaxies, which are millions of lightyear away, attract each other through gravity? What is the mechanism for gravity to happen? It is the same for me with talking about consciousness. I get more used talking about the five khandhas including consciousness, but the interaction of nāma rūpa with viññāṇa really is a mystery to me. Again, I guess, I will understand the link between body and mind (and the links between the individual processes in the mind) better through experiencing deep meditations.

So, I am not sure how this process works, which allows a stream of consciousness to go from one life to the next. (Also, note that there is a speaking of some kind of inbetween-state. As far as I understood, beings have a body in this inbetween-state, but not one of solid matter as ours.) It could just be a natural process in the universe, just like gravity. If there is Mass, there is Gravity. If there is Consciousness, there is a process called Kamma. Part of this process is that a stream of consciousness migrates from one life to the next until all craving, hate & delusion has been ended.

So, currently, I have given up trying to dig further into this and I try to focus on the meditation. However, when reading your question, I noted that my fascination with this topic remaind, so I am curious to learn about everyones ideas, views and personal models (such as @LXNDR shared) that try to deal with or explain that “gap” in the teaching. :slight_smile:

Thanks to all for this discussion and with much mettā,

P.S.: I really think it is good to ask these questions. It is good to find out exactly what the Buddha explained, how he could have meant it and what he seems to have left open. It is certainly better to discuss these things (always trying to base such discussions on what is in the EBT), rather than to not bother about them at all (or God fobid :slight_smile: merely fantasize about them). Wondering about such questions now is a seed which we plant, so that we will recognize (within the bounds of our perception) what is “really” happening when we have an experience of deep meditation. So it is good to know the limits of our understanding, to know what in the EBT, and to know which part of our understanding of the dhamma is just our invention (our crutch to fill a perceived gap).


Thank you @LXNDR,

You are right, I was asking about “how the kamma maintains its individuality and attribution across lives”. I really need to improve my English.

Inside one lifetime, we could have individuality without an actor in command. So, I am not sure that we absolutely need to have a self for a trans-life individuality. Anyway, I am open on this matter, just want to learn. :slight_smile:


So you say Walpola Rahula misrepresented a teaching of the historical Buddha.

I think you are right in saying that the Buddha didn’t deny self as an agent of actions (say, an experiential self, for want of a better term). But it’s entirely another thing to deny self as a distinct metaphysical entity which has a permanent, or… (at least for a certain time period, say about 100 years or less) an enduring essence and substance, existing on its own. And we have good reasons to think that the Buddha denied that kind of Self and pointed out that most of human-beings (unenlightened ones) act as if they had that sort of Self (thus, being in delusion).

Now the question is: Did Walpola Rahula say that the historical Buddha denied an experiential self as well?

I think not.

What in general is suggested by Soul, Self, Ego, or to use the Sanskrit expression Ātman, is that in man there is a permanent, everlasting and absolute entity, which is the unchanging substance behind the changing phenomenal world. According to some religions, each individual has such a separate soul which is created by God, and which, finally after death, lives eternally either in hell or heaven, its destiny depending on the judgment of its creator. According to others, it goes through many lives till it is completely purified and becomes finally united with God or Brahman, Universal Soul or Ātman, from which it originally emanated. This soul or self in man is the thinker of thoughts, feeler of sensations, and receiver of rewards and punishments for all its actions good and bad. Such a conception is called the idea of self.

Buddhism stands unique in the history of human thought in denying the existence of such a Soul, Self, or Ātman. According to the teaching of the Buddha, the idea of self is an imaginary, false belief which has no corresponding reality, and it produces harmful thoughts of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egoism, and other defilements, impurities and problems. It is the source of all the troubles in the world from personal conflicts to wars between nations. In short, to this false view can be traced all the evil in the world.

Correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t see anything wrong with his account of the Buddhist teachings of Non-self.


Actually, once again, even in this regard Walpola Rahula is wrong. The Buddha is nor merely negating a “permanent self”. And no, at the time of the Buddha a self was not assumed to be permanent. But these views come from an incomplete reading of the Upanishads.

As it turns out, the Upanishads are far from consistent. There are some Upanishads that state that there is a permanent formless cosmic self, and some that even talk of a finite self.

The Buddha did not simply say that it is wrong to believe in a permanent self. Even belief in an impermanent self is wrong view. Merely seeing things as impermanent doesn’t change anything.

The stomach is impermanent, food is impermanent, but does knowing both these things mean that you’d stop eating?! We continue to eat because eating provides a pleasure. And it is for the sake of this pleasure that we eat. In the same way, we perceive something as self, not because we don’t see it as impermanent, but simply because it gives us a pleasure.

Let me give you another example. Let’s say you’re watching a movie. You’re absorbed in the movie fully. It almost feels as if you’re right in the movie, as one of the characters or the protagonist. But you already know that the movie and the images there are all impermanent. But that still doesn’t stop you from getting engrossed, does it?!

This is because when you watch the movie, you create a sense of self, by identifying with one of the characters, or placing yourself in the movie, you actually derive a pleasure. You don’t do it because you think the movie is permanent. This is the pleasure of becoming - bhava - that happens when you identify with a character in the movie or place yourself in it.

This is why the Buddha recommends that we should reflect on the allure, drawback, and escape of any pleasure.

So simply believing that there is no permanent self (as if the Buddha’s teachings didn’t apply to notions of impermanent selves) is also wrong view.


According to Buddha.
There is no permanent self.
There is no impermanent or everchanging self.
What we see is the ever-changing five aggregate.
Due to ignorance, we take five aggregate as I, me and myself.


Even in this regard Walpola Rahula is wrong. (…) The Buddha did not simply say that it is wrong to believe in a permanent self. Even belief in an impermanent self is wrong view. (…) So simply believing that there is no permanent self (as if the Buddha’s teachings didn’t apply to notions of impermanent selves) is also wrong view.

So are you saying that Walpola Rahula wrote in his account of the teaching of Anatta as if the Buddha affirmed the idea of impermanent self? Then I wonder what makes you think so.

Admittedly he does not mention explicitly on the idea of impermanent self. But I think if someone carefully reads his exposition (including one on the relationship between Anatta and dependent origination), he or she would most likely give a negative answer to the question, "Based on your reading of Walpola Rahula’s expostion of Anatta, do you think the Buddha would affirm the idea of impermanent self (not permanent, but something which subsists, undergoes no change, for a certain time period, having a number of changing attributes to itself, such as age, height, thought, feeling, number of cells and its organization, volition, knowledge, memories and so on… And this very thing makes a common expression like “ten-years-ago-me” be not some sort of a delusional expression but a sensible uttering, because the-present-me shares some very same thing - undergone no changes for 10 years, whatever it is - with ten-years-ago-me. ) ? "

Do you think those careful readers would definitely say “yes” to the question in all likelihood after reading the Rahula’s exposition?

I think not. I still see no reason to think so.