Atma- analysis of Self


What do you think about this?

With metta


I think Ramana Maharshi was a fascinating and colourful character, but his views are Advaita Vedanta not Buddhist. As such I don’t really see them as relevant to this forum. Vedanta is eternalism. Enough said.


We often find references to Ramana in Buddhist circles. And why not? Should we have a conditioned reflex to whenever someone utters ‘atman’ to hold our noses like vampires with garlic?

I see the advantage in Indian sages that their language, while steeped in tradition, is sometimes still more free and creative than many Buddhist teachers.

Not labels like ‘atman’ or ‘brahman’ should guide us, but rather questions like “how was their conduct?” and “does their teaching lead to peace, dispassion and liberation?”

I’ve been personally inspired by many Indian teachers like Ramana, Ramakrishna, Nisargadatta, Siddharameshwar, Atmananda Menon, the two Krishnamurtis. In the end they added to my understanding of the often pale 2500 years old Buddhist texts and more importantly to my spiritual practice.

Sure, their teachings differed from Buddhism in many points, but sometimes I decide not to care about those differences.


I found that when I contrast the Buddha’s teachings with this type of Advaita, or other teachings, it helps me contextualise the Buddha’s teachings much better and therefore understood it much better. Everyone is entitled to what they believe or not believe, of course. For those of you who are Inclined to believe the Buddha’s dhamma (or find it more rational, relatively) I wondered how you find this argument put forth for the existence of a Self (Atma) - commonly found in the negative as ‘a-n-atman’, in the Dhamma.

Can you refute his arguments? (Purely as an analytical exercise)!

With metta


If I may respectfully refer to the (failed) experiment in An unique experiment - First time on a buddhist forum

Whoever thinks they can ‘refute’ atman, please consider if they could have gone to Ramana and refute his atman so that in the end he would have given up and admitted defeat? I don’t think so.

I’m not saying that there is (or is not) an atman (in whatever historical meaning). It’s just a pointless debate. Anicca is the key to the ‘buddhist anatta’, and obviously Ramana and others locate ‘their’ atman beyond anicca.

Just replace their ‘atman’ with ‘the deathless’ - a perfectly fine buddhist synonym for nibbana - and most of the problem has disappeared.

On not-self, existence, and ontological strategies

There is no atman. Search as much as you want, all you can find are the 5 impermanent aggregates.


That’s not actually very easy to prove. For instance, I gave you a “proof” of ātma in the questionably successful experiment. I claimed to be an ātma talking to you. You didn’t really prove I wasn’t an ātma speaking to you.

I am an ātma. I appear as impertinent bundles and temporarily arising heaps and collections, but in my secret essence I am eternal and unchanging. My secret essence is only accessible to highly advances rishis, one of which you are not.

The impasse of ātma/god.


Anything I can’t detect, after seeing conventional reality, ultimate reality and Nibbana, is irrelevant and has much relevance as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to me.

With metta


Whatever I can’t detect under a microscope doesn’t exist? That’s an impasse right there. Because whatever you find is an artifact of the tool you are using.


It may or it might not. If I cannot detect it and a people who want priesthood preach it to me, I’m more inclined to believe a personal gain narrative.


If I understand your argument correctly it goes both ways, no? There is also Buddhist dogmatism that gets pimples when it hears ‘atman’ and preaches from a position of intellectual superiority against ‘primitive’ philosophies.

Dogmatism on both sides instead of an investigation, literally an ‘atma-vicara’. Not for the sake of winning a debate but for spiritual progress.


I think that’s your perception of that. Buddha has no conceit and nor do any of the arahanths, so to say they are conceited and feel themselves superior, and that this affects their words isn’t logical. Also this isn’t about philophers but about the philosophies. Animistic beliefs, animals sacrifices, pujakas holding power over the masses with their rites and ritual, and beliefs that cannot be confirmed aren’t Buddha’s dhamma. For all purposes it’s not a religion. It is based on what can be experienced and not a philosophy based on inclinations and likings of a founder, that everyone has come to believe in.

True , it is possible to see religion in later expressions of it, but this is not a feature in early Dhamma, hence the need for identification of EBTs. Rebirth etc are part of it. But the Buddha was never dogmatic about that which was not verifiable- see the Kalama Sutta which shows he was flexible about whether rebirth was accepted or not. Devas etc were never central to the teaching. In essence dogmatism is about teachings which cannot be verified ie taking it on faith. Dogmatism is necessary when something cannot be verified. The only accusation I could make to the Buddha is that it isn’t verifiable right this moment, and takes practice. But if we don’t put in the effort we will never know. Since we don’t have enough time in this life to fully commit to all the workd’s religious practices, taking one which resonates best for us personally might be more meaningful, and less conflicting/confusing. The path is beneficial in this life, and done well, suffering should reduce, gradually.

In any case anything that can be perceived as the Self will still be composed of the five aggregates. Alternatively true emptiness could not have any feature to it. Certainly not something as earth-shakingly significant as Atman or an ephemeral God-Brahman. I understand the need, or yearning for God, but the Dhamma teaches us that is yet another suffering brought on by cravings against insecurity, disempowerment and insignificance, that we want an all loving, all powerful and all knowing God, in our side. Or even better - in us, as in the case of Advaita.

With metta


Maybe you misunderstood me. I’m not speaking about the Buddha or arahants but precisely about non-arahants who are the most dogmatic and defensive proponents of anatta.

We are all practitioners, so it’s proper to say “I believe the Buddha, but have not realized anatta yet. I cannot judge what other saintly people (the thread started with Ramana after all) are saying, but to me a teaching of anatta sounds more coherent and true.”

To say as a non-arahant (!) “only anatta is true, everything else is untrue. I don’t know the realization of anatta, and I don’t experience the realization of others who propagate some form of atta - but I still know that I’m right” is quite pretentious, don’t you think? (I don’t mean you personally of course, but the ‘dogmatists’)



The Buddhadharma, completely unrealized yet still taught, is quite literally eel-wriggling.

If the Buddha were not the Buddha, if he did not have special knowledge particular to a realized person, he would be an eel-wriggler by its most classic definition.

I’ve seen enough of what I would call “unrealized” Buddhists try to explain the hard mechanics of rebirth enough times to know that eventually an “ineffable spirit matter” or something of the like pops up, because the teacher in question doesn’t actually get it, and doesn’t know precisely what they are talking about.

You can detect the eel-wriggling within minutes.

For that matter, I myself have caught myself eel-wriggling many times and this-or-that subject that I almost knew enough about.


Haha, that sounds very familiar :wink:


I don’t want to seem contrarian by posting a “yes but- HAH!” sort-of post, if that makes any sense at all. So I just want to clarify beforehand that this is just a theoretical dialogue for the sake of dialogue, here, I am not trying to grill you or seem insistent. I also don’t actually believe in my position, so there isn’t a lot of point in substantially pursuing it further beyond the responce that it would have to you saying this.

They would simply say that X is beyond A reality, B reality, C reality, nibbāna, and supernibbāna-that-Buddhists-don’t-even-know-about.

But we all knew that.

Not to constantly bring Ven Nāgārjuna into things, but, this very notion we are speaking of, the claims of “X or Y ineffible God/Soul theory as Nibbāna”, is the very notion that the fourth element of the tetralemma is designed to dismiss from the conversation.

Negation 4 - Not: neither being nor non-being.

I remember your fondness for Ven Nāgārjuna, this is how his system of thought you call “postmodern” dismisses airy-fairy nirvāṇa claims.


I think this is another form of ‘avoiding the responsibility for making the statement’ if you like.

All these philosophical-spiritual assumptions are just assumptions. After many decades of being a Buddhist I want my spirituality to be one that I can ‘cut with a knife’. Not beliefs. Not one-upmanship or other such verbal gymanastics, that pray on people when they are weak and vulnerable to such non-sense. Even Nibbana the cessation of suffering itself if verifiable.

Nice one.

“There is no atman”

I see two approaches by the Buddha. One to outsiders, the unlearned putajjana was given the four fold negation, as not to confuse them. Alternatively to his bhikkhus he taught the Anattalakkhana sutta, where if something was impermanent and suffering, then it was not-self. If there was self anywhere (I agree with dxm on this) there would be only a fraction’s difference between Advaita Vedanta/hindusim.

Now, not-self is something which is understood close to stream entry. Having not realised it we cannot try to beat down the EBTs to our degree of understanding- it doesn’t work like that. Progressively deepening of realization is required, and we come to see the texts are true. Where belief (in a soul) is required, it is much more binary, and the journey is shorter, as either you believe or not, or is uncertain.

You might consider that since the Buddha and his arahanths did just that when they were alive, there might be something for us to consider, in our state of unenlightenment. The Buddha realised it for himself, and then had to disseminate it to his god-fearing friends. He had to make a start somewhere. They later became enlightened giving up ignorance. A philosophical position of being open to all ‘truths’ is of course having many theories, and keeping all options open. However Buddhist right view is about seeing the a truth and how it destabilizes other ‘truths’, but still yet being open to anything that would overthrow that truth as well. It isn’t a closed mind, it is open to be educated further.

with metta


No problem with that. Yet there is a difference between believing and practicing one approach (Buddhism) on the one hand, and preaching it before realization on the other - or even degrading alternative traditions.

To visit ‘the other’ may throw a light on one’s own practice when one is stuck.

All the books and teachings and preaching about Nibbana by non-arahants (no matter if Buddhist or Advaita) drags the cosmos into the garage really. There is no difference to books which describe in detail how in Atlantis they had anti-gravitation devices - it’s nice imagination.


One approach is that Nibbana can be experienced during the ‘fruit of stream entry’.

  1. Fruition Knowledge
    That again is immediately followed by knowledge that belongs to the final stage and continues in the course of its predecessor. It abides in that same Nibbana, which is void of formations since it is the cessation of them. This is called “fruition knowledge.” The Progress of Insight: (Visuddhiñana-katha)

The ‘problem’ with Nibbana is its lack of anything tantalising. However when tantalising things are added such as Atman, as the video mentions, even Maharishi’s students develop issues with the doctrine. Atman, and being one with everything sounds nice but it’s a bit of magical thinking.

Friends who aren’t arahanths, have experienced these states in meditation, after practicing sila, jhana, vipassana etc so it’s not something out of reach or ‘out there’. In any case, if you can believe the Buddha and his arahanths down the centuries talk pretty much of the same phenomena there is some thing valid in this claim, and cannot be discarded that easily.

With metta


I am a god speaking to you, therefore I am right by default. My godly essence is only accessible to highly advanced rishis, one of which you are not. Prove me that I am not a god.

… that’s not how things go. If you claim there is an atman or god or spaggette monster, you need to provide proof that it exists. The burden of proof is on you.