Atma- analysis of Self

Regardless for the moment what atta is as a concept and if ‘self’ is a proper translation for it - but what is exactly this concept of ‘self’ in English? We throw around the word ‘self’ or ‘soul’ as if its meaning is as clear as ‘table’ or ‘hammer’.

I would argue that (as atta is) ‘self’ and ‘soul’ are abstract and intangible objects which make them soak up complex philosophical and religious discourses. Or shorter: we have little idea what we mean with it and project a vague meaning onto it, assuming that everyone does the same projecting - and of course when people start to reflect on it they start to wiggle.

This is relevant for everyone who tries to implement a ‘no-self’ meditation practice. In order for it to have an effect on one’s in-mind experience the unconsciousness needs to know which ‘selfing’ activity to look for.

Whether or not the ‘selfing’ I defined for myself is the same as the ‘atta-ing’ that is referenced in the suttas is still a different issue.

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No. Any EBT based vipassana should not be a conceptual process, which requires a defined Self, to then see past the illusion, to come to see that the five aggregates are not-self.

If you triangulate the Self contextually in Buddhist texts, Brahmanical texts, and the ‘ordinary Joe’s/Jane’s’ (putujjana) understanding of what it is I would say there is 98% consensus- there’s no great difficulty understanding it. The lack of a Self then becomes relatively easy to appreciate- though perhaps not as simply but that is what the practice is for. Delusion hides Not-Self, and we strongly believe there is a Self. You could almost argue we have been brain-washed into thinking there is a Self or Soul by group-think and of course, religion.

with metta

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There is impermanence in the conventional world (melting ice-creams, etc). The person is also similarly changing. However to truly see not-self we must develop sila, samadhi and with that mind of hindrance-free samadhi, delve into vipassana that enable seeing the arising and passing away of aggregates. It is only then we can really see how the so called Self that we thought existed can be seen to be nothing other than just aggregates arising and passing away.

with metta


Luckily we don’t have to understand any of that, we just do it. Is that right? It’s just soo weird that there are few arahants around - the millions of them must be hiding somewhere in underground cities. Because the buddhist teachings are very very clear, we just have to read and implement them and that’s it. We’re also very successful with our religions to brainwash animals to believe in a self…

All the advocates of “not-self is so easy” on the forum somehow can’t explain why 20 years of vipassana training still doesn’t bring enlightenment. All those failed practitioners must either be of low intelligence, or they lack in sila or faith, or I don’t know.

To me it’s obvious: the teaching is not clear, the practice is not clear. You will of course say the opposite. But then again: where are all the arahants?


A clear definition of what is not my self is given in the Saḷāyatana Saṃyutta (SN 35), as well as in the Khandha Saṃyutta (SN 22).

Being dispationate about the fields of sensory experience (ayatana), as the eye, the ear, etc. - as well as laying the burden down, as far as the khandhas are concerned, is the result of understanding that all these are not my self.

“Bhikkhus, the eye is impermanent. What is impermanent is suffering. What is suffering is nonself. What is nonself should be seen as it has come to be with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this Iam not, this is not my self.’
“The ear is impermanent… (viz. the internal ayatanani)
“Cakkhuṃ, bhikkhave, aniccaṃ. Yadaniccaṃ taṃ dukkhaṃ; yaṃ dukkhaṃ tadanattā. Yadanattā taṃ 'netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya
Sotaṃ aniccaṃ…

Impermanent and suffering.

Idem for form, sound, etc. (external ayatanani).

“Seeing thus, bhikkhus, the instructed noble disciple experiences revulsion towards the eye, revulsion towards the ear,… revulsion towards the mind. Experiencing revulsion, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion his mind is liberated. When it is liberated there comes the knowledge: ‘It’s liberated.’ He understands: ‘Destroyed is birth, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more for this state of being.’”

See SN35.1 to 12

Also SN 22.9 to 22 deal in the same way, with the clinging khandhas.

“And what, bhikkhus, is the burden?
It should be said: the five aggregates subject to clinging.
Katamo ca, bhikkhave, bhāro?
Pañcupādānakkhandhā tissa vacanīyaṃ.

“The five aggregates are truly burdens,
The burden-carrier is the person.
Taking up the burden is suffering in the world,
Laying the burden down is blissful.
Bhārā have pañcakkhandhā,
bhārahāro ca puggalo;
Bhārādānaṃ dukhaṃ loke,
bhāranikkhepanaṃ sukhaṃ.
SN 22.22

This sounds pretty clear.

Note that SA 195, the parallel to SN 35.1-12, or more properly the parallel to SN 35.1-9, does not include the external ayatanani (viz. form, sight, etc.)

SN 22.22 has a perfect parallel in SA 73.
And SA 73 is a pretty good read (particularly the end).

Is there a Self/self that is not impermanent and not suffering, (and that is “mine”) - is somewhat not relevant in the first place. What (in the" second place" [after death],) is the exact nature of that Self/"self, is an insane endeavour.
Asankhata & Avyakata, I presume.

Get (first) out of salayatana (eye and form, ear and sound, etc.) [aka, kama loka] - that is what is relevant.
And that is what no one, (if for some equivocal few,) seem to agree here.
Bad faith, I suppose.

Also read Chandogya Upanishad 8, section 7 to 12, for some relevant context.

Probably enjoying the solitude of not being on-line, as many monks and lay practitioners are. There have been a few monks claiming and going public that they were arahanths, maybe not enough for our liking. But it is an intensely personal matter even if we leave aside the vinaya barriers to coming out in that fashion. They don’t owe anyone anything.

Didn’t someone say if anyone claimed to be an arahanth they would have to be constantly proving this to everyone?

With metta


Phrasing can reinforce the notion of self. Look at the difference between “I have a body”, and “This body has arisen”. The second sentence does not refer to a self or mention something having possessions (e.g. something to which the body belongs).

I have this mental picture of noble disciples discussing the Dhamma amongst themselves and never using personal pronouns.


Good point. On Second thought, it would have been better to phrase the sentence “We have a body” as “Human beings have physical bodies,” hence leaving out any assumption about conscious “self”-awareness since what is meant by “self” is both ambiguous and depends on how it is understood in a philosophical sense.

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Out of curiousity, does this refer to DN? or the Vedas?

Because the ‘religion of the Brahmins’ has two incredibly different attestations. One in its own literature, one in Buddhist literature.

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As in there is Atman -and Brahman. I think that should be consistent across the board, in some shape or form?

with metta

Like for example citta is consistent in suttas, abhidhamma, and medieval buddhist philosophy?

I’m saying that Brahmanical literature consistently say that Atman is present. It’s the binary choice I was referring to - either a text says it’s present or not. As for the various forms it might be present as look at the Brahmajala sutta DN1. Whether present internally, or externally, past present future etc all such ‘placements’ aren’t that significant to this discussion. If you don’t know what Atman and Anatma is probably you should discuss some thing more in line with what you do know!

Atma is Self. If this concept is fuzzy- it’s because it cannot be pinned down in this conversation. Frankly that to me is another indication that it’s a made up concept and but possibly naturally present for evolutionary reasons, that is to easily think about this collection of mental and physical phenomena, which offers an evolutionary advantage over thinking that things are not-self. This advantage is not relevant in many modern contexts, and might be a disadvantage.

With metta

And so is nibbana, asankhata, dipa, para, amata, nirodha. Quite many things are ‘present’ in buddhism. But that doesn’t bother you at all. What bothers you is what is ‘present’ in other traditions. Because your tradition represents truth, and others are made up and fuzzy.

“Atma is Self”, easy. And what is this ‘Self’? Suddenly not easy. So it must be fake…

I hope you don’t think I want to convince you of anything. I’m quite sure I can’t. I’m arguing for those who are still figuring out what in Buddhism is religion and what is spirituality. You defend your suttas and ‘Buddhism’ at all costs. That for me is religion. And I hope I am forgiven for saying the Buddhism as a religion is worth as much or little as any other religion.

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I’m not sure it’s that clear. In some suttas anatta seems to be negating self-view, our sense of being somebody, our sense of being “me”. In other suttas the negation seems to be of Atman or “soul”, an eternal essence.


In these documents, (the Upanishads), the term most frequently used with reference to a living, breathing body is atman, a term liable to misunderstanding and mistranslating because it can also mean the spiritual self or the inmost core of a human being, besides functioning as a mere reflexive pronoun.
Olivelle (The early Upanishads)

I believe you still have a hard time to integrate Buddhism into Indian philosophy. And that you have a tendency to want to make of Buddhism, some sort of 21st century anglo-empiricist charvaka.
My previous post might help to understand the nuances. As well as the underlying asankhata/avyakata concepts involved.
My two cents on the matter.


My answer to that, in Olivelle’s quote above.

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Prove it , that God never existed !
I can’t . Can you ?
Brahman / Atman, what is it ?
Where is it ?
How do you know for sure ?
By what standard one apply ?

Asking for proof of Atma or Anatma is pointless and therefore there is no point talking about it.

Nirvana doesn’t have any concepts like God-heaven weighing it down so it seems the most simple and honest answer to what is your religion’s/path’s goal, not doubting the simplicity actually makes it harder (and scary) to understand.

Anatta doesn’t necessarily make the Buddha’s dhamma superior- in fact it makes it more unappealing. So the Buddha took a great risk in revealing what he saw was the truth, to his colleagues in the Dhamma.

With metta

Oh dear , but the topic is about analysing the Atman ! Pointless ? Or is there a fallacy occur in the attempt ?
Please bear with me , you are trying to perform dissection on the Atman , the autopsy surely will need to provide a sample specimen beforehand .
Now , instead of analysing Atman , you ended up in analysing the five aggregates !
If you don’t know your subject and how would you investigate it ?
Isn’t that there is a mistake in the approach in the first place ?!

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Analysis, yes; but asking for proof of anatta ie of something that doesn’t exist, is pointless. You cannot prove that things do or don’t exist - see the Kaccayanagotta Sutta for the Buddha’s view on it. :blush:

With metta

This sutta, the Kalaka sutta, is a classic and is relevant here:

The Blessed One said: "Monks, whatever in the cosmos — with its devas, Maras, & Brahmas, its generations with their contemplatives & brahmans royalty & common people — is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought after, pondered by the intellect: That do I know. Whatever in the cosmos — with its devas, Maras, & Brahmas, its generations with their contemplatives & brahmans, their royalty & common people — is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought after, pondered by the intellect: That I directly know. That has been realized by the Tathagata, but in the Tathagata[1] it has not been established.[2]

"If I were to say, ‘I don’t know whatever in the cosmos… is seen, heard, sensed, cognized… pondered by the intellect,’ that would be a falsehood in me. If I were to say, ‘I both know and don’t know whatever in the cosmos… is seen, heard, sensed, cognized… pondered by the intellect,’ that would be just the same. If I were to say, ‘I neither know nor don’t know whatever in the cosmos… is seen, heard, sensed, cognized… pondered by the intellect,’ that would be a fault in me.

"Thus, monks, the Tathagata, when seeing what is to be seen, doesn’t construe an [object as] seen. He doesn’t construe an unseen. He doesn’t construe an [object] to-be-seen. He doesn’t construe a seer.

"When hearing…

"When sensing…

"When cognizing what is to be cognized, he doesn’t construe an [object as] cognized. He doesn’t construe an uncognized. He doesn’t construe an [object] to-be-cognized. He doesn’t construe a cognizer.

Thus, monks, the Tathagata — being the same with regard to all phenomena that can be seen, heard, sensed, & cognized — is ‘Such.’ And I tell you: There’s no other ‘Such’ higher or more sublime. AN4.24

With metta