Atma- analysis of Self


You are probably confusing me with another person. I was never fond of Nagarjuna and consider him to be in the same basket as postmodernist buddhist like Nanananda, Nanavira, etc.


The responce would be that the myriad appearances are dependent upon the constantly abiding presence of the inner essence. The perceived effects are dependent on the unseen cause. A Buddhist might argue counter with an interpretation of dependent origination, trying to get rid of the need for the unseen cause.

Then the new impasse: whether or not a without-beginning essenceless manifestation of myriad appearances is an acceptable genesis narrative.

Indeed. But look how well he deals with the eel-wrigglers!

Not bad for a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad postmodernist. Almost as if he was a Buddhist or something.

  1. Why on a constaly abiding inner essence ? Why not dependent on a spagghette monster ?

  2. Are the myriad of appearences on the screen of a computer dependent on a constantly abiding inner essence ? Has this idea ever occured to you ? If not, why not ?

Then the new impasse: whether or not a without-beginning essenceless manifestation of myriad appearances is an acceptable genesis narrative.

Then this is in the same category as the spagghette monster.


It seems that if he had been familiar with them, Plato may have believed that there was a constantly abiding inner essence to the screen. He certainly thought that about numbers, like Pythagoras.

People believe these sorts of things, even though they sound silly when I present them.

Indeed, one could say that. After all, the reverse is essentially the norm for Mahāyāna sectarian rhetoric (:sweat_smile:!), saying things like “for the practitioners of low capacity the Buddha taught the selflessness of persons, but for practitioners of the great vehicle the Buddha taught directly the definitive teaching of selflessness of phenomena”. I don’t see what is wrong with speculating as to the reverse in light that.

There isn’t really a difference between a personal and a phenomenal selflessness, anyways. I think that’s something we can probably all agree on.


Pythagoras is a good example. His views on numbers are actually, now that I think of it, vaguely like Indian views on the “self”.


People also believe in pastafarianism : D Flying Spaghetti Monster - Wikipedia

And the flat earth theory has become very popular in recent years.

What makes you think hidden causes might be pointing towards a self, since they are hidden to begin with ? Why are they not pointing towards someting different such as an inner spaggette monster or some inner god-essence or some inner evil-essence, or some tiger-spirit etc ?


When my roommate drops a glass, and later I walk over the spot and cut my foot, if I did not see the roommate drop the glass, and did not know of it happening, and if I did not see the glass there before stepping as to infer a glass was dropped, than that would be a hidden cause with a perceived effect. After stepping and experiencing pain, I might infer as to causes later.

Now say someone else, not me or my roommate, is also present, and I say “Why is this glass here? I know, I must have stacked it poorly on the drying rack after washing the dishes.” That other someone may well say “No, your roommate dropped it and did not pick it up.” He would have special wisdom in this instance.

The hidden cause, the dropped glass, is not “truly hidden”, it is only “hidden from person(s)”.

The same can be argued about anything else. That is something that I could see an ātmavādin cooking up.

For that matter, when the walker stumbles on the floor and cuts his foot on broken glass, and a nearby ascetic suggests a quite complex set of causes as to why there is union with the hated and separation from the loved, that would be a similar instance of a “hidden from person” cause with an “unhidden from person” effect.

I guess it all depends on the nearby ascetic, on who we believe, if we believe third parties at all.

Ātmavādin, would be a follower of ātman doctrines.

Consider something else I can imagine an ātmavādin saying:

Let us say we are exploring a fantastical society based on historical India, let us say that here the people are plagued with an unusual and fantastical fungus. As large as a tree, they spring up suddenly overnight in a miraculous display of biological marvel.

Because they spring up so unnaturally suddenly, and because their stems go so deep, none among the people have ever seen the bottoms of these enormous biological structures. They are a problem to the community because they have to potentiality to upset houses and structures, etc., leading to loss of life.

Once in a generation, there is a miraculous birth, the spendid and accomplished Hero, unparalleled in strenth and physical vigour, who is able to dig deep, deeper than anyone has ever dug, into the earth, or let us say perhaps he is a wise planner and assembles a team of diggers and achieves it that way, either way, it is discovered that the fungi grow from seeds, and are not fungi, but a kind of eccentric plant.

So too is how the wise sages discover the ātma-seed that gives birth to momentary embodiment.

Or consider:

O, bodhisattvāḥ. It is as if there is a single voluminous great sūtra. As if it is like the trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu. Like the trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu all entirely without exception remembered and recorded.

[… summarizing here a long section of various things of the trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu, the threefold world, remembered and recorded, like details about Sumeru and Indra’s Palace, the planes of existence, the meditation heavens, etc. …]

As if there are these things and more of the trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu in the voluminous great sūtra.

在一極細小微塵內。一切微塵皆亦如是。時 有一人出興於世。智慧聰達具足成就清淨天眼。
It is as if it [i.e. the sūtra] is in one extremely minute particle’s interior. And it is as if it were in all particles’, each and every one’s, interiors also like this. Eventually there is a man who goes forth to flourish in a generation. Wise, acute, able to accomplish the goal, with clear divine sight.

He regards this sūtra bound in atoms’ interiors. He speaks aloud like this: Why in this way is the voluminous great sūtra bound in atoms’ interiors and not unbound for the benefit of all sentient beings?

我今應當勤作方便破彼微塵出此經卷饒益 眾生。作是念已。爾時彼人即作方便。
I presently shall muster great perseverance and power to break these atoms and send forth the sūtra for the benefit of all sentient beings. Then that man promptly musters power.

He breaks the atoms sending forth the sūtra for the benefit of all sentient beings. O, bodhisattvāḥ. The tathāgata’s wisdom. The signless wisdom. The unobstructed wisdom. It perfectly dwells within all sentient beings’ minds.

Yet in ignorance, sentient beings err and think it covered. Not knowing, not seeing, not giving rise to faith.
~Āryamaitreyanāthasyottarekayānaratnagotraśāstra (T1611), uttaratantra commentary

Ātmavāda or something more refined?

The Tathāgata “penetrates through” to realize pratītyasamutpāda, suchness, nibbāna, whatever we wish to refer to it as. Where do the lines that define ātmadṛṣṭi precisely lay? We say yes to one, and no to the other. Where is the line?

I can imagine a Buddhist monk giving an account of the Buddha, describing the Buddha penetrating and realizing dharmatā, and describing it in much the same way.

I suppose this is where someone links us to the Dharma Seals.


This has been an interesting thread to read, particularly this last bit between yourself and @Mat, @dxm_dxm and @Gabriel. I have read it with interest.

As an unabashed eel wriggler myself (even if only to try and wrap my own mind around the subject, not to try and teach to others) I wonder if some of the Buddhas descriptions of nibbana itself may be of help in understanding the issue.

I seem to recall somewhere that the Buddha gives a simile where he describes the attainment of nibbana by a Bhikkhu as occurring when the Bhikkhu let’s go of craving and desire for name and form, sensual gratification etc and ‘merges’ with the ultimate, the deathless. I may be quite mistaken but I also seem to remember that there is also a passage where he states we are all the same, that we are no different from each another, that we are all the same thing.

After some thought and consideration - and I make no claim to be correct - I have come to a tentative theory that although it is not stated directly the Buddha is hinting that while there is no individual self in this body or any of the five aggregates, that all consciousness or life in the physical plane springs from the same source, this ultimate deathless - nibbana.

As a result of our lack of awareness of this, for the unawakened, upon death of the physical body desire for life and sensual gratification leads to the next life and continued ‘wandering on’, according to dependent origination. So when or more likely, if, one of these seemingly discrete physical beings (or non beings) manages the almost impossible and attains nibbana the Bhikkhu then merges or joins with the ultimate, the place she/he came from in the first place.

So there was never a discrete self that exists separate to the universe and other life, the individual ‘self’ that we perceive ourselves to be is (perhaps) merely an extension of the ultimate into the material planes of existence.

Now this I know sounds suspiciously like a universal mind or consciousness similar to Hinduism but it’s the best that this unenlightened mind can come up with in the way of intellectual understanding of something that I have not experienced.

I am wondering what other eel wrigglers might think about what I have said here in my inadequate attempt to understand this wriggly problem. :slight_smile:



Nailing down a cogent and direct explanation of precisely what this productive activity/capacity would be and how exactly it would function is the problem.

That being said, now we deal with “right or wrong view of cosmology” vs “right or wrong view of how we treat that cosmology”.

For instance, one could become very attached to this transpersonal nirvāṇa that “produces us” and which awakening “brings us home” to. It could even be seen as “my nirvāṇa that gave birth to me”.

That’s only one possibility of such a view though.

Gosh, I’m dour. :sweat_smile: I mean only engaging conversation.

If I had produced the above interpretation I would tweak your statement to produce this:

all consciousness or life in the physical plane is the same only in as much as it is all the ultimate

One objection that I can see raised to this, and this is a more concrete point I think than my earlier comment that a ‘transpersonally productive Nibbāna’ that produces ‘all (persons)’ might grow to be a source of particular attachment that other nirvāṇa-proliferations are less likely to be, and this is that the above seems to be framing ultimate/materiality, or nibbāna/materiality, as two elements participating in a relationship of substance dualism.

One point of controversy I see: if we are merely extensions of the ultimate into materiality, then why do we appear to have materiality?


Here goes the ‘proving’ again. Prove that:

  • the Buddha existed
  • there is Jhana, nibbana, the other shore, asankhata, amata, animitta-samadhi
  • prove that you brushed your teeth yesterday
  • prove that you’re not a russian (and still weirdly Buddhist) bot

The issue is that you from the beginning already categorically deny that a proof exists. As I can deny that a proof for any of the above exists - even videos can be tampered with. So what’s the point?

I propose a different model. There is no proof for anything. In metaphysical claims there is inspiration and conviction, and that’s it. And it doesn’t start with fancy philosophy, it starts with fascinating, inspiring people. Like Buddha, Mahavira, Ramana - and even inauthentic ones like Castaneda.

Remember the first witness of the Buddha, Ājīvaka Upaka in MN 26. What was he attracted by? “Reverend, your faculties are so very clear, and your complexion is pure and bright.” No philosophy or proving involved.

Same with Ramana who was a mute when he was ‘discovered’. His dispassion, conduct and otherworldliness attracted people - not that he ‘proved’ anything.

I just don’t understand why to disparage other traditions which teach dispassion and kindness - but wear a t-shirt you don’t like?


Not that dour lol, true, getting attached to ideas is as much a problem as it is getting attached to anything else, that’s why I am being so tentative about it. I find that it a really hard subject to gain an understanding of and I have to say at this stage in some ways I am starting to get a bit disillusioned with trying to understand it altogether and am getting to the point of putting it in the too hard basket, to be dealt with at some undefined point in the future - which is probably never. That is also probably the most sensible thing to do, I should just practice my meditation instead of thinking about these things and trying to puzzle them out.

I do wonder though what more experienced scholars of the EBT’s than myself have gleaned from their study of the EBT’s on the subject though and what their understanding of the matter is. Online, I see a lot of Buddhist’s who just flat out state as per the general understanding that there is ‘no self’ and just leave it at that. That response seems a bit unsatisfactory and lacking to me, I don’t really find it to be a meaningful response, it’s just someone being dogmatic about the subject and does not help anyone gain an enhanced understanding of the Buddha’s meaning and no one seems to have anything else to say that isn’t related to Hinduism or pan-creationism.

For an english speaking lay person like myself who is trying to gain an accurate understanding of what the Buddha was teaching, reading the mostly archaic sounding translations full of obscure words and odd phrasing, makes gaining an understanding quite difficult at times. It’s probably a bit of a childish wish but I sometimes just wish there was someone with a clearer understanding to explain it to me using plain old english so I don’t end up twisting my brain into knots. Oh well, at the end of the day I guess it’s just another thing to let go of lol



Greetings ,
Can we take a different approach ?
What is it that we called understanding ?!
We try to understand what is Nibbana and Atman . As a theravada buddhist we surely in favour of Nibbana over Atman .
It’s by reasoning and analysis we arrive at our own understanding and conclusion .
Even so, one camp emphasised on there is a state called Nibbana , another camp preferred non state whatsoever .
Without lens of experience and knowledge accumulated over many years , there is no understanding of anything . Say for example , before one accumulate the knowledge of dhamma , Nibbana is just a combination of few letters .

And from this lens of dhamma knowledge we come to a certain conclusion. However, this understanding and view is not exactly completely belong to one person . We just pick up something along the line and identify with it .
However , for Nibbana and Atman there is no way one can identify with it and therefore no concrete evidence to support anything one claims for at the end of the day .


Not really fulfilling your wish, but Joseph Walser wrote a really good (and I find neutral) article this year that might be helpful:

When Did Buddhism Become Anti-Brahmanical? The Case of the Missing Soul


Hardly. Anathapindika, the stream entrant refutes views of other religions on his visit to a debate hall using cause and effect, and the Buddha praises him.

I think you are confusing emotional satisfactoriness, with the Truth. I am from a Buddhist background and we all do not need a ‘acceptable’ genesis narrative - endless rounds of samsara, not very comforting or comfortable, is what everyone believes. Not the everyone has to believe the same thing of course. But we cannot call something a truth because it gives a warm and pleasant sensation, which is fleeting, by the way. This is known as ‘emotional reasoning’, in psychology realms.

myrad appearances … inner essence.

Will there is something here, of course, and its constantly changing, and impermanent. The issue is that it is insubstantial, isn’t self-extant (is causally arisen phenomena), unsatisfactoriness is a feature, cannot be controlled aequately and for all these reasons, cannot be called a Self. But there is something happening here, for sure.

with metta


It comes across to me as a rather brilliant teaching on not-self. Stripping away layer by layer of self identity views.

I think you make an excellent point. So we can’t just go by the label, we have to consider how that label is being used.

Ramana Maharshi:

Who am I? Not the body, because it is decaying; not the mind, because the brain will decay with the body; not the personality, nor the emotions, for these also will vanish with death.

That which comes and goes, rises and sets, is born and dies is the ego. That which always abides, never changes, and is devoid of qualities is the Self.

It is clear from Ramana Maharshi’s writings that he is not talking about concepts or beliefs but rather describing his experience. It is also clear that anything that falls under the 5 aggregates, Maharshi would reject as Self. In the EBT’s I think the only thing that fits the description of neither arising nor passing yet still directly known is nibanna. As @Gabriel pointed out, by substituting nibanna for Self the differences pretty much go away at least with regard to this particular aspect of Maharshi’s teaching.


He would not be completely unrealized, now, would he though?

I said that statement about eel-wriggling, because inventing the notion of “an eel-wriggler” IMO is a methodology to destabilize and dismiss the via negativa of a non-Buddhist sect in a debate or confrontation between a Buddhist and non-Buddhist ideology. The eel-wriggler is just someone who doesn’t quite understand his own position, and constantly relies on a via negativa to say “oh no, whatever it is, its not like that” without actually having a stance.

The Buddha is not an eel-wriggler because he understands dependent origination. But his interactions, particularly his noble silences, are classic marks of eel-wriggling when done by one not the Buddha.

Notice the use of “completely”:

For instance, me teaching the dharma would immediately result in eel-wriggling, because I don’t understand how there can be continuity of consciousness.

I watched His Holiness the Dalai Lama try to explain the hard mechanics of rebirth and karma to an audience of scientists, on YouTube. While I have nothing but respect for him, he didn’t much better job. He couldn’t explain it. When the non-Buddhists asked how consciousness comes to be re-born HHDL just had to sort of say… “it just does”.

HHDL is hardly the only Buddhist teacher ever, but one would expect him to be able to produce at least a standard model that can’t be picked apart by a non-Buddhist. That doesn’t mean that I am calling him completely unrealized, and that doesn’t mean I thought he was eel-wriggling the entire time, but in my experience, you can tell when someone is specifically eel-wriggling, the moment they start and the moment they stop.

It is very good that that is acceptable to you. However, many others would say that it is as absolutely incoherent a notion as “God made the world in seven days”. Or “the universe exists because a long time ago nothing happened”.

Secondly, many Buddhists do not believe in a without-beginning essenceless manifestation of myriad appearances. They would call that nihilism.

By acceptable I meant “is cogent and coherent”, “makes sense”, etc., less so “is accepted by the people because it calms their anxieties”.

For instance, I would not call the attempted explanation of rebirth by HHDL I watched a few years ago an “acceptable” narrative, but that was not because it made me feel bad.


Imagine a bushman seeing a car for the first time. He would probably believe that it is an animal or that the car is pushed by a mysterious spirit. Even if a wise mechanic would come to him and tell him that there really is no tiger-spirit or lion-spirit pushing the car, he would still have a hard time understanding how could the car possibly move like that.

Only after the mechanic would explain how every little piece of the engine works and only after the bushman would check that out for himself - only after that will he be capable of understanding the trickery.

The same goes with the non-existence of a self. Buddha always explained things in a specific order to people and it usually took a couple of days for them to get it. First he explained causation, then aggregates, elements, sense bases, etc. and only at the end did he deliver the difficult discourses about no-self. SN (connected discourses) is structured in the same way as the Buddha explained this so called higher dhamma to people. You need to read chapter 2 (book of causation), chapter 3 (book of aggregates), and about half of chapter 4 (book of sense bases).

Nobody can explain it better than the Buddha. He was very good at explaining it.


Yet, although with so much texts from the ebt seems no one is able to accurately explain the mechanism of rebirth of consciousness ?!


I think Atman is a bit like God - there is no evidence for it, but it’s not possible to prove it doesn’t exist either.


If atman is in the void somewhere, frankly it doesn’t matter anyway because it has no bearing on anything then.

If it is one of the five aggregates, then it goes against the definition of what an Atman should be like.

Either way, it doesn’t exist or might as well not exist because it doesn’t affect us.

with metta