Any and all Selves

Anything that can be considered Self needs to fall into into the categories of the five aggregates.

At Savatthi. “Bhikkhus, those ascetics and brahmins who regard anything as self in various ways all regard as self the five aggregates subject to clinging, or a certain one among them. What five?

“Here, bhikkhus, the uninstructed worldling, who is not a seer of the noble ones and is unskilled and undisciplined in their Dhamma, who is not a seer of superior persons and is unskilled and undisciplined in their Dhamma, regards form as self, or self as possessing form, or form as in self, or self as in form. He regards feeling as self … perception as self … volitional formations as self … consciousness as self, or self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in self, or self as in consciousness.

“Thus this way of regarding things and the notion‘I am’ have not vanished in him. As ‘I am’ has not vanished, there takes place a descent of the five faculties—of the eye faculty, the ear faculty, the nose faculty, the tongue faculty, the body faculty. There is, bhikkhus, the mind, there are mental phenomena, there is the element of ignorance. When the uninstructed worldling is contacted by a feeling born of ignorance-contact, ‘I am’ occurs to him; ‘I am this’ occurs to him; ‘I will be’ and ‘I will not be,’ and ‘I will consist of form’ and ‘I will be formless,’ and ‘I will be percipient’ and ‘I will be nonpercipient’ and ‘I will be neither percipient nor nonpercipient’—these occur to him.

“The five faculties remain right there, bhikkhus, but in regard to them the instructed noble disciple abandons ignorance and arouses true knowledge. With the fading away of ignorance and the arising of true knowledge, ‘I am’ does not occur to him; ‘I am this’ does not occur to him; ‘I will be’ and ‘I will not be,’ and ‘I will consist of form’ and ‘I will be formless,’ and ‘I will be percipient’ and ‘I will be nonpercipient’ and ‘I will be neither percipient nor nonpercipient’—these do not occur to him.” SuttaCentral


Thank you for saying this. I frequently see folks making statements from the viewpoint that the “I” is singular. The “I” is not singular, it is an aggregate of form identity composed of transient attachments.


Consider this:

what are the five aggregates? Any kind of form at all—past, future, or present; internal or external; coarse or fine; inferior or superior; far or near: this is called the aggregate of form. Any kind of feeling at all SuttaCentral

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Well, we have to distinguish normative-dogmatic and ontological statements. Your view is (as many of the sutta texts are) normative, which means that it allows no other position. Nothing that anyone says, thinks or experiences will change that normative position.

This is connected to, but not the same as, the ontological position that this is so (‘this’ being the phenomenon, the truth - not a norm). The latter would be more open to some scientific, logical, or experiential refutation.

To give you an example. In the Upanisads it is sometimes said that the atman is immortal (eg CU 8.12), its realization bringing about the deathless etc. The normative argument from Buddhist perspective is “No, only Nibbana is the deathless” - the normative Brahmin argument equally “No, Nibbana is not the deathless, only Atman is the deathless” - in short, an entirely pointless dogmatic religious ‘discussion’.

A more logical ontological question would be, from a Buddhist perspective: is the Brahmin deathless described as changing? If not, then they apparently had similar criteria as the Buddha.

Another dogmatic argument would be: The Brahmins couldn’t have discovered the deathless, because per definition the Buddha discovered it. Which pretty much sounds like ‘your dad can’t be the strongest man in the neighborhood, because my dad already is’.

So my suggestion is to find the atman definitions closest to the buddhist nibbana, and see which differences are left. And just as a reminder that the practical Buddhist position is not as clear cut, see the notion of the Thai forest monastics of ‘the one who knows’. Or the respect/veneration of Ramana Maharshi in buddhist circles…


(hope i don’t tread on any toes)

Most indian religions are wisdom traditions, philosophy can only take you so far.

ie. It’s for deepening experience not so much for increasing intelligence. Although it can certainly do that.

i heard a beautiful simile given by a indian yogic teacher ;
Not so long ago people used to debate wether the earth was round or flat but when humans traveled up in to space there was no doubt earth was round. similarly it’s about gaining a new or different experiential perspective. The teachings only point the way.



MN26 The Noble Search suggests that existing practices realizable in this life maxed out at the dimension of neither perception or non-perception. The Buddha went one beyond and said:

This teaching doesn’t lead to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. It only leads as far as rebirth in the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.

This quote suggests that existing realizable traditions stopped at the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. Perhaps that dimension would be the one with relevant atman definitions.


If there are multiple definitions of Brahamincal atman we must start with the idea that it is an abstract construct.

However there’s a clear core definition (from EBTs), and there are bound to be outliers which doesn’t detract from the core concept of what Nibbana is.

That’s called knowing one’s EBTs.

But we don’t really expect so see a differentiated interrelated discussion in Buddhist texts that were canonized some 300 years after the Buddha, don’t we? We expect religious arguments that justify its own righteousness, not the others.

It’s okay to say ‘I found my practice in the EBT and am not interested in others’, but to look down on other religions as insufficient based on one’s own scriptures is…

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Um. I simply offered the suggestion of “perception or non-perception” as a direction to pursue investigation. I am in fact interested in others but not knowledgeable of others, so I am asking essentially if there is a correlation between “perception or non-perception” and some definition of Atman. I am asking to learn, and am not preaching. I have…a neutral feeling.


Sorry for jumping to conclusions! What I try to say though is that we cannot much rely on the Buddhist texts but would need to go into the texts of Brahmanism and Jainism and do comparative work with them.


Yes. I would be very interested in reading any such posts. :pray:

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This might be a simple introduction into the Jain path of liberation. It’s a PhD chapter: Kevala - A comparative study of early jainism and theravada buddhism.

The title is a bit too promising though :slight_smile:


Wow! Thanks for the link. It is very instructive. One statement struck me in particular:

Jainism believes in existence of soul like all other the Indian systems
except Buddhism. To mention a permanent entity, soul, various terms are
used as ataman, purusa or Java. Jainism, however, uses the term, yiva".

Also, Jainism is only fulfilled after death. A major point in the suttas is that the teaching is

realizable in this very life.

Basically, the Buddha switched things around and directed attention at the ajiva, not the transient jiva aggregate.

Reading about Jainism was interesting. However it was not compelling for this impatient one because the path is fulfilled after death.

Jainism asserts that

The soul in its pure state is endowed with infinite with infinite (sic)
perception, infinite knowledge, infinite bliss, and infinite power.

That assertion corresponds to the Buddhist “dimension of infinite consciousness”, which is one below the “dimension of nothingness” as taught by Āḷāra Kālāma.

Jainism would therefore be attractive to those interested in the soul in its pure state. The suttas go three steps beyond that pure state. The suttas point to nothingness, perception and non-perception and end with cessation of perception and feeling. It’s almost as if one becomes ajiva and relinquishes jiva fully.


I would take the chapter as an overview, but it’s not differentiated enough. See e.g. Acaranga

Himself understanding the truth and restraining the impulses for the purification of the soul, finally liberated, and free from delusion, the Venerable One was well guarded during his whole life.

This is about Mahavira, and it very much sounds like he was ‘finally liberated’ in his lifetimes, according to this ancient text.

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I did not understand how to find your reference, but I found this, which has your quote.

Although the first four great vows of Jainism align with Buddhist precepts (differing on intoxication vs. attachment in the fifth), the Jain notion of “finally liberated” might differ from Buddhism. Notice that the Jain forgo cleansing of the teeth somewhat above your quote. This leads to cavities and tooth decay to which the Jain might be indifferent but that Buddhism might classify as needless mortification. So a Jain might resist cleansing the teeth and just let everything rot in final liberation whereas a Buddhist arahant might simply brush teeth without aversion to the body.

As a gardener, I love the decay of living matter as part of a regenerative cycle of life. And I clean my pots where a Jain might not.

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The Acaranga, along with most other ancient Jain texts, were translated early by Jacobi in ‘Gaina Sutras’ I & II. You can find them easily on, eg. here.

But I’m afraid we’re stretching the OP too far? unless @Mat wants to discuss Jain and Brahmin conceptions of Self in detail here?

@karl_lew has outlined the differences. I believe the quality of timelessness of the dhamma is highlighted- the dhamma is realised in this life. Wrong views leads to wrong actions and wrong livelihood.

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I started a different topic to move the Jainism-Brahmanism discussion there: