Atma- analysis of Self


OK, if that’s your point, that’s fine. I was simply pointing out that the anattā characteristic of all experience is quite common in the SN (along with the other two). I wasn’t making any judgement on how one then interprets that.

SN 18.1-18.10 are almost identical, analysing different lists of objects in terms of the three characteristics of impermanence, suffering, and not self. The lists referred to in each sutta are (using Bhante Sujato’s translations):

  1. Internal sense organs.
  2. External sense objects.
  3. Consciousness.
  4. Contact.
  5. Feeling.
  6. Perceptions.
  7. Intention.
  8. Craving.
  9. Elements.
  10. Aggregates.
    Suttas 11-20 are almost identical to 1-10, on different by Rahula not having to ask to be taught.



Ok, let’s be very precise here - because the whole issue comes from imprecision.

Sorry, but please read again, this is not what the texts say. As pointed out already the three ‘characteristics’ in SN 18.1-18.10 are: impermanence, suffering, and change.

What they do feature though is three wrong interpretations of “This is mine, I am this, this is my self”.

How often does any aspect of atta-criticism occur in the SN?

  • Sagathavagga: SN 8.4

  • Nidanavagga: 5x SN 12 (SN 12.2, SN 12.15, SN 12.61, SN 12.66, SN 12.70), SN 18

  • Khandhavagga: SN 22, SN 23 4x (SN 23.17-18, SN 3.29-30), SN 24

  • Salayatanavagga: SN 35, SN 38 1x (SN 38.12), SN 41 2x (SN 41.3, SN 41.7), SN 43 2x (SN 44.7, SN 44.8)

  • Mahavagga SN 45.173, SN 55.3

  • Somewhat incompatible with an anatta-doctrine: SN 44.10, attasampada in SN 45.52, .59, .66, .73, .80, .87

So for any kind of atta-criticism we’re still basically left with four samyuttas: SN 18, SN 22, SN 24, and SN 35. This is certainly substantial, but it’s still not ‘everywhere’ or ‘all over the place’. Most significantly the practical absence from the Sagathavagga and the Mahavagga should be noted (i.e. anatta doesn’t appear in the 4NT!)


I don’t think counting the numbers of times a word appears is an acceptable way to determine the centrality of a given concept. Instead if Buddha’s dhamma is grasped, it should become clear, that there is no Self, and it never existed in the first place, and in fact its existence is denied from his second sermon (Anattalakkhana sutta) onwards. The point of highlighting the five aggregates is to say they are most commonly mistaken to be the Self, hence the Khanda samyutta. The six sense bases arise and pass away, and aren’t permanent and therefore there isn’t an abiding Self. Dependant origination gives rise the five aggregates, showing how there isn’t a Self-extant being. Mind and Matter (Nama Rupa) dances with Consciousness (Vinnana), yet each is causality in action, moment to moment (Khanda samyutta). There would have been plenty of opportunities where the Buddha could have said ‘there IS an eternal Self’ but he had only two approaches to this question- 4 fold negation (the tetralemma) or the rejection of Self (and Soul, and Belonging) to his closer disciples.

With metta


However, the 5 aggregates are included in the 1st noble truth:

Now this is the noble truth of suffering. Rebirth is suffering; old age is suffering; illness is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress are suffering; association with the disliked is suffering; separation from the liked is suffering; not getting what you wish for is suffering. In brief, the five grasping aggregates are suffering. - SN 56.11


At Sāvatthī. “Mendicants, whatever ascetics and brahmins regard various kinds of things as self, all regard the five grasping aggregates, or one of them. What five? It’s when an uneducated ordinary person has not seen the noble ones, and is neither skilled nor trained in their teaching. They’ve not seen good persons, and are neither skilled nor trained in their teaching. They regard form as self, self as having form, form in self, or self in form. They regard feeling … perception … choices … consciousness as self, self as having consciousness, consciousness in self, or self in consciousness. - SN 22.47


True. That means it is taught from his first sermon which teaches the Four Noble Truths, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. As long as there is clinging on to the five aggregates as the Self suffering will happen as then there is a Self that gets hurt, becomes offended, etc.

With metta


It seems to me that we can debate and go back and forth until we are blue in the face about this subject and similar neverending-debate subjects. But what qualities of mind does engaging in this develop? Taking some qualities from MN 8…Does it tend the mind toward arrogance or non-arrogance? Obstinacy or non-obstinacy? Attachment to views or non-attachment to views? Holding onto views tenaciously or not holding to views tenaciously? Not discarding views easily or discarding views easily?

Which of those qualities are to be developed and which discarded on the path to peace? I think we’re all wise enough to figure out the answer to those questions.



Indeed, though I think it depends on whether one interprets Nibbana as being a transcendent reality, or a state of mind free from the taints. With the former interpretation the existence of Nibbana looks no more provable than God or Atman/Brahman, or whatever.


I agree about the centrality of anicca. In the suttas the aggregates are dukkha because they are anicca. Anatta almost seems like an afterthought, ie the aggregates are not fit to be regarded as self because they are unsatisfactory.


Right. While anicca is an observation, anatta is an inference.

You are certainly right about it, and I hope we have a relatively toned down discussion. I actually do serious anatta practice myself, so I’m not even arguing against it. Personally my major point it to read the texts closely.

Most EBT students and practitioners know the problem: We read books, heard teachers, and it turns out that a lot of what they told us was Abhidhamma, Visuddhimagga, commentaries, or simply their own interpretation.

So why do I read ‘anatta’, when it’s not in the text? Why do I deduce an apodictic “There is no atta” when the texts say “the khandhas are not atta”, “the salayatanas are not atta”?

The counter-argument is “well, what else is it supposed to mean? the khandhas are everything, right?” My response is "I have no idea, I’m not the Buddha. But I assume that he didn’t say “There is no atta”, not because he was a bit simple-minded, or shy, or over-complicating things, but because this is not what he wanted to say, for whatever reasons.

And if I think that differences and contexts don’t matter, that I know what ‘Buddhism stands for’ it must certainly mean that the Buddha was not quite the best teacher, he clearly needs my help to get the correct message out there.

It’s like when contemporary conductors ‘correct’ the sheets of Mozart, because well, they know better what he meant to say.

So I’d like to contribute to close readings, and yes, sutta-counts, distribution of ideas across the Nikayas etc, in short re-contextualizing the different aspects of ‘Buddhism’.


Sorry, I’m not a good enough Pali scholar to understand the point you are making or to see where @sujato, Bhikkhu Bodhi, etc, have gone wrong with their translations.

“But if it’s impermanent, suffering, and perishable, is it fit to be regarded thus:
“Yaṃ panāniccaṃ dukkhaṃ vipariṇāmadhammaṃ, kallaṃ nu taṃ samanupassituṃ:
‘This is mine, I_ am this, this is my self’?”
‘etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’”ti?

I presume the objection is around the subtle difference between saying
"is x fit to be taken as a self?“
"is x not-self?”


It is in reference to one own experience that we say that the khandhas are everything .

If the khandhas are everything , then when the khandhas vanish, the universe surely vanishing with it . But it doesn’t .

Therefore , in reference to the change and transiency of the aggregates in our sphere of experience that we say such phenomenon is void of permanency
or not atta .


There is nothing wrong with the translations. When we say ‘three characteristics’, we simplistically mean anicca-dukkha-anatta.

SN 18 has a different set of ‘characteristics’. It doesn’t include anatta. Instead we have anicca-dukkha-vipariṇāma. Do you see the difference? --> impermanence-suffering-change

The “This is mine, I am this, this is my self” is not the ‘three characteristics’. It has no label, it’s a different practice-approach.


I repeat your quote because this “quote” thing does not hold the mere extract - you say above:

Instead if Buddha’s dhamma is grasped, it should become clear, that there is no Self, and it never existed in the first place, and in fact its existence is denied from his second sermon (Anattalakkhana sutta) onwards.

Even the Vedists made a distinction between self and Self.
Some early Vedists had the Self totally severalized from the selves (a bit like Aristotle’s God) .
Then some early Vedists had a demiurge called the One, springing from the Ajo (the Unborn/Self).
Late Upanishadic) Vedists had a universal God to which, the permanent and continuous selves (through their permanent and continuous khandhas), would go back once realizing the all creation as Such, to the Self (as Such). The latter is also the core creed of Hinduism.
A permanent, continuous and blissful self, at the image of paticcasamupadda.

Don’t mix up self and Self.

Buddha categorically denied a self, IN PATICCASAMUPPADA (the Buddhist dharma).
However, He never categorically denied a Self.
The latter was just irrelevant to the Teaching - which can sums up to “everything in paticcasamuppada is dukkha; therefore get out. Might the khandhas be of the kama, rupa or arupa lokas”.

See Ajo as a mere possibility of a Self.
Isn’t birth (jati), a key concept in Buddhism ?
That could be a quite possible speculation; yet irrelevant to the Teaching. A useless speculation, as far as going out of paticcasamuppda.

This discussion is absolutely useless for a Buddhist.
What counts is, as Gabriel says, what anatta really means.
And that is very simple.
Atta (self) is impermanent, not continuous, and not blissful (dukkha) - (because the khandhas, of which he/she is made, and of which he/she interacts with, are such). Therefore atta is indeed anatta, because it has nothing that pertains to a sel/Self.
Most people have understood that by now.
That is just Indian philosophy 101.

So NO ! - the Anattalakkhana sutta is not about denying a Self, but about denying a permanent, continuous and blissful self.
That is very different.


Take out the five khandas from the process of perceiving, and what is left? Nothing, functionally that is. Without mind or matter (nama or rupa) nothing can arise afterwards. Same with consciousness. Atta without the five aggregates is meaningless.

He didn’t say there is no attta, because the five aggregates are there, and people would misunderstand that he was saying there was nothing at all,which wasn’t what he was saying. People naturally think in a binary manner when it comes to the Self.

The Buddha taught individuals 2600 years ago. The speech was memorized, in a standardized manner, and certainly some nuances of what he was conveying might be lost now. However the teacher that he is, wisely made certain that if it was compared with the entirety of his dhamma, then the person trying to understand these texts would grasp the correct interpretation. I would say there isn’t hardly even the flavour of Atta in his teaching.

With metta


That’s if ones goal is to become a “faith follower” and nothing further than that.


Externally I am many parts, many things, but internally, deep in the cave of the mind, there is a quiet place devoid of features, only mind, without distraction.

Within the quiet, it is unchanging, like a calm pool amidst rapids.

An ātman? Would this qualify?


First, nama is not “mind”.
Second, if rupa appears first in the nama-rupa nidana - nama as khandhas, (as per SA 298 Agama’s definition of the latter nidana) , does also appear well before, in sankhara nidana.
There might be citta (mind) into that, but definitely no mano (mind) of the salayatana/satta realm.
Not yet.

You are just refusing basic facts.

Nama as “mind”. Where did you get that from ?


‘Mind’ is conventional shorthand for:

"And what is name-&-form? What is the origination of name-&-form? What is the cessation of name-&-form? What is the way of practice leading to the cessation of name-&-form?

"Feeling, perception, intention, contact, & attention: This is called name. The four great elements, and the form dependent on the four great elements: This is called form. This name & this form are called name-&-form.

"From the origination of consciousness comes the origination of name-&-form. From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form. And the way of practice leading to the cessation of name-&-form is just this very noble eightfold path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. MN9.

What did you think nama was?

Avijja, sankhara etc wouldn’t be free-floating and conventionally speaking would require a mind (and a body) to appear in, IMO.

With metta


That is your opinion. But this is not what Buddha says.

Let’s redefine mind !
The customary translation of mind, across the translators board, is attributed to citta and mano. Which are two different things.
Then here you are @Mat, adding a third meaning to it, as nama.

I would suggest everyone to keep citta as citta, mano as mano, and nama as nama. And try to refer to the definitions given in the Nikayas or Agamas; to at least make some sense out of them.
What we can say for sure about nama, is that it is not material.

We have seen as nama is concerned, that it is defined in the Agamas (SA 298) as sankhara, vedana, sanna and vinnana. And in the Nikayas (MN 49 & SN 12.2) as phasso, vedana, sanna, manasikara and cetana.

How you name nama is your own choice. But it is not conventional.

The second point is that avijja, sankhara, etc does appear without your Theravadan definition of nama. At least if we take out vedana and sanna; that by the way seem to be clinging khandhas and not just khandhas anymore. That is to say, somewhat appropriated khandhas by what you refer to as a mind and a body.

Khandhas can be experienced without mano for instance.

  1. sabbaso rūpasaññānaṃ samatikkamā,
  2. paṭighasaññānaṃ atthaṅgamā,
  3. nānattasaññānaṃ amanasikārā
  4. ‘ananto ākāso’ti
    ākāsānañcāyatanaṃ upasampajja viharati.
  5. with the complete overstepping of perceptions of form (matter),
  6. with the vanishing of perceptions (based) upon the organs of senses (viz. ajjhattikāni āyatanāni [including mano]),
  7. not striving with the mind (manasa/mano) to perceptions of manifoldness (lit. (what is) differently than one),
  8. aware that ‘space is boundless,’
    he attains and seizes distinctively, the field of boundless space.
    MN 59

Here we are with a (liberated) citta, but not a mano.
And, as far as paticcasamuppada is concerned, citta does not require a body in salayatana nidana to perform. Citta performs as early as the sankhara nidana. No rupa, no-thing, no satta.
Just a bloody experience and a need to know more (vedana), and an inquiry with assumptions (sanna) - born of ignorance (avijja).
Macro stuff.


Sorry, I don’t get it. The discourse certainly mentions self, so I don’t get why you want to say it’s only about impermanence, suffering and change. The self part seems to me to be the key point of it!

Sorry to be dense, but you seem to be simply disagreeing with the common labelling of these suttas as being about “the three characteristics”.

So, I presume that passages like this are about not-self:

And what is that practice that’s conducive to extinguishment?
katamā ca sā, bhikkhave, nibbānasappāyā paṭipadā?
It’s when a mendicant sees that the eye, sights, eye consciousness, and eye contact are not-self. And they see that the painful, pleasant, or neutral feeling that arises conditioned by eye contact is also not-self.
Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu cakkhuṃ anattāti passati, rūpā anattāti passati, cakkhuviññāṇaṃ anattāti passati, cakkhusamphasso anattāti passati, yampidaṃ cakkhusamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi anattāti passati … pe …

But Rahula’s awakening sutta isn’t?
B> ut if it’s impermanent, suffering, and liable to fall apart, is it fit to be regarded thus:

“Yaṃ panāniccaṃ dukkhaṃ vipariṇāmadhammaṃ, kallaṃ nu taṃ samanupassituṃ:
‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self’?”
‘etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’”ti?
“No, sir.”
“No hetaṃ, bhante”. ()

And while this discourse was being spoken, Rāhula’s mind was freed from defilements by not grasping.
Imasmiñca pana veyyākaraṇasmiṃ bhaññamāne āyasmato rāhulassa anupādāya āsavehi cittaṃ vimucci.

Presumably SN 35.121 are instructions to realise the principle in sn35.149?