Bodhi vs Ṭhānissaro debate

Even Noble Eightfold Path also a fabrication which has to let go in final liberation.
Does this mean Ven. T’s proposition that Anatta as a strategy is correct?

Well, it has been a long time since I looked at these arguments, and you will notice I avoided commenting directly on this!

I think the problem with this position is that he argues it on a specific textual basis as a property of not-self. Again, from an imperfect memory and he may have changed this, but last time I looked I found that his handling of textual sources was mistaken, and the texts he quote did not support his conclusions. That is, there is nothing special or distinctive about the doctrine of not-self that marks it as a “mere” strategy any more or less than anything else.

It seems to me that the problem is misframed. It’s not about not-self, it’s about the nature of truth or reality.


Does this mean Ven. T’s proposition that Anatta as a strategy is correct?

Actually, Ven. Bodhi also agrees that “anatta” is a “strategy”. This is just another word for describing, essentially, what is an approach, a methodology, a teaching, a pragmatic instruction, etc.

So calling it a “strategy” doesn’t really add any novelty to what is already known. What it does is emphasize an hesitation to infer an ontological assertion (where the disagreement lies).

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Is there a consensus on whether “sabbe dhamma anatta” includes Nibbana?

Bhikkhu Bodhi uses the term ‘dhamma’ to mean nibbana in his article Dhamma and Non-duality. I can’t find an equivalent by Thanissaro bhikkhu.

with metta

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This was, I think, answered conclusively by Kheminda Thera in an extensive article on this point. He pointed out that this phrase is typically used in such contexts as:

Sabbe dhammā anattāti,
“All things are not-self”
yadā paññāya passati;
When you see that with wisdom
Atha nibbindati dukkhe,
you get disillusioned with suffering.
esa maggo visuddhiyā.
This is the path of purity.

Obviously you don’t get disillusioned when you see Nibbana!

The point is that this contemplation represents an aspect in the development of vipassana meditation, where we are understanding the “things of the world” leading to letting go of them.

Nowhere in the tradition or commentaries, apparently, is dhamma in this context taken to include Nibbana. This was a modern innovation, promoted by the German monks (I can’t recall if it was Nyanatiloka or Nyanaponika who first used it) who were combating the then popular idea advocated by Caroline Rhys Davids that the Buddha taught a Higher Self. Obvious Mrs Rhys Davids’ view was incorrect, but this specific argument seems to be ill-founded.

This doesn’t mean that it is incorrect to refer to Nibbana as a dhamma, but simply that this is not what this passage is about.

If not Nibbana, what then is the passage about? Why is there a shift in terminology from saṅkhārās—which are said to be impermenant and suffering—to dhammās, which are said to be not-self?

Briefly, it involves the idea that dhamma means “principles” as well as “phenomena”. The principles include such things as conditionality or impermanence.

Impermanence, curiously enough, is not itself impermanent. Things always have been impermanent, they are now impermanent, and they always will be impermanent. The Buddha shied away from actually saying that the principle of impermanence was permanent, but it’s not too far away from it.

So this is why we can’t describe the principle of impermanence as impermanent. We can, however, describe it as not-self, obviously. And this, I believe, is the reason for the shift between saṅkhārā and dhammā.


There is a sutta (AN10.93 Ditti sutta)where Anathapindika proves the arguments by other debaters as false, as they were causally arisen from that which is subject to causality and (therefore) impermanent. Now those view (some of which no doubt contained views of permanent entities), aren’t in themselves permanent (and don’t point to anything truly permanent, either).

Similarly dhamma (as in, ‘teachings’) may refer to patterns (such as impermanence)- the concept of anicca is only in one’s mind. It is a thought, that which is impermanent. The idea of concepts (or Plato’s ‘True essences’) almost having a life outside of the form that which it represents, is like a soul theory for objects. It seems our ability to conceive concepts far outweighs the reality’s ability to produce them! Therefore, our concepts can be false obviously, and aren’t permanent (even if we conceptualize them to be permanent; reasonably or imaginatively).

I would say concepts- dhamma -are all sankhara -which could mean ‘mental creations’, here.
sabbe sankhara anicca.

Does nyaya, mean something similar to principle, perhaps? :slight_smile:

with metta


Nibbindati is sometimes defined as a verb for Nibbana. It would make sense that it is dukkha that is nibbanized (extinguished?). Do you know if nibbindati can be used this way, bhanthe?

with metta

No, they’re completely different words.

I think, you are correct.

Nibbindaṃ virajjati; virāgā vimuccati.
‘Experiencing revulsion [repulsion], he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion the mind is liberated’.

with metta,

Is it nibbuti you are thinking of? There is a Ven Ṭhānissaro article that talks about it in.


“If you’re not tired of never ending discussion on anatta teachings”.

“Never ending discussions” have a cause. And they do serve a purpose.
Rejecting the evident facts, and coming back endlessly to nonsenses, is purely intentional.


The Self/self is the concept of a pervasive & continuous (mental & physical) construct in Indian philosophy.
It start with the Ajo (the Unborn) in early (Ṛg) Veda, to end with Brāhṃan/Prajapāti/Kā in the Upaniṣads.
Ajo (the Unborn) is not considered as Self (by Buddha). But all the other later steps are. And (the paradoxical) self, is the Self in man.
(Atma, Brahma/Prajapāti/Ka are Self - Although in some Ṛṣis’ interpretations, Atma is as severalized from the dharmán, as the Ajo).

The late Vedic Upanisādic self’s creed, can be resumed with the following:

'You are Brahman, …, and you are the world’
tvaṃ brahma, …, tvaṃ loka iti
BṛĀr.Up. 1.6.17

You are the end - You are that in which all things merge.
nidhanam asi |saṃvargo 'sīti
BṛĀr.Up. 6.3.4

You are Veda.
You are knowledge.
vedo 'sīti
BṛĀr.Up. 6.4.26
(Note: Knowledge, in Indian philosophy is soteriological. And the concept reached its climax in Saṃkhya).

And that, Buddha denied; because things are impermanent - and not continuous - and not bliss.

Paṭiccasamuppāda is the ultimate (macro) Dhamma - ध dha (or √ dhā) - √ मन् man - somewhat meaning a “performed & established “thinking”” (dharma) [धर्मन् dharmán].

It is made of khandhas - Mahābhūtāna rūpā and their upādāyā (aka form), feeling (experience), perception, consciousness, and all kind of synergies (saṅkhārā) that can “glue” these things together (saṃ kṛ), to make a micro dhamma.

Saṅkhāra is impermanent. It yields pain. And the Dhamma cannot be Self, for Ka (Prajapati) is bliss. (that’s the attribute of Ka - even its name).

Note: Buddha was a revolutionary conservative. He did reject the late Brahmanical creed of the Upaniṣads; but I am not so quite sure, that he did reject the very early Brahmanical creed of the “Ajo (the Unborn)”.
No more than He did occult the good old blissful Ka.

Infer what you want from that. It’s your kamma.

There is a kind of stupidity, that amounts to calling others stupids.
I suppose that it also amounts at making us all as such.
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Anicca (impermanence or entropy) is a conditioned reality. What is mind made is the Dukkha. However, body pain is real.

No. I do not agree with you.
According to Abhidhamma Nibbana is considered Dhamma. Dhamma include all conditioned and unconditioned both.

I’ve just arived at the party. Has Thanissaro changed his opinion or is he still defending it with this new paper ? Does he still believe in a self ?

Last time I checked, he believed in the philosophy of eer-wriggling “I do not say there is a self, neither do I say there is no self. I just eer-wriggle and don’t say anything actually”. When it came to the Buddha and EBTs, Thanissaro said that Buddha was an eer-wriggler too, never having a clear opinion about the existence of a self. He used to back this up with half a sutta taken out of context, totally ignoring the bottom half of the sutta. That was the basis on which his opinion used to stand. Half a sutta taken out of context.

Is he still a eer-wriggler ? Does he openly believe in a self ? Does he openly not believe in a self ? Has his position changed or remained the same ?

You know what would be interesting ? Instead of debating weather Buddha believed in a self or not, such monks should debate the problem itself just like they do it in the suttas. If I were B.Bodhi, I would ask Thanissaro to show me the evidence that he has for the existence of a self. Show me the arguments that can be made for such a position. Let him speek his mind out and just explaing things to him the same way Buddha did when encountering such people.

Why lose time debating weather Buddha believed in a self or not ? Whatever the truth is, it should stand on it’s own. The suttas are filled with discussions between the Buddha and people like Thanissaro who believed in a self. You believe in a self ? Ok, bring your arguments up. Let’s talk.

That is what I would do if I would have a chance to talk with Thanissaro.

Sometimes we get lost in details and forget the essential. We forget how to be clear and pragmatic. If B.Bodhi or any other western monk would take their time and have a simple discussion like that with Thanissaro, this whole ridiculousness would end right there and then.

Would you mind showing me where Than. B. says there is a self? That would be helpful. I have read and listened to him for a number of years and cannot recall hearing anything like that.


Can you understand the difference between a ‘ball’ and ‘thinking about the idea of a ball’?

Then there is impermanence and thinking of the concept of impermanence.

I hope my sentence ‘the concept of anicca is only in one’s mind’ makes more sense.

with metta

Would you agree thoughts (concepts) are sankhara, including intention and contemplations (manasikara), all of which are taken to be Self by the unenlightened? Thats what I was referring to in my sentence. Sorry if this wasn’t clear.

Clarifying mean anther opportunity to describe it - so thank you!

with metta

As I said, his official possition is that of eer-wriggling, such people existed in Buddha times too:

‘If you ask me if there exists another world [after death], if I thought that there exists another world, would I declare that to you? I don’t think so. I don’t think in that way. I don’t think otherwise. I don’t think not. I don’t think not not. If you asked me if there isn’t another world… both is and isn’t… neither is nor isn’t… if there are beings who transmigrate… if there aren’t… both are and aren’t… neither are nor aren’t… if the Tathagata exists after death… doesn’t… both… neither exists nor exists after death, would I declare that to you? I don’t think so. I don’t think in that way. I don’t think otherwise. I don’t think not. I don’t think not not.’

The problem here is not that Thanissaro himself is an eer-wriggler, the problem is he claims the Buddha too is an eer-wriggler like him. Despite no-self being the most fundamental Buddhist teaching, found discussed in thousands of pages of suttas, Thanissaro claims the Buddha had no opinion about weather a self exists or not. He claims Buddha was evasive when asked about a self and, therefore, also an eer-wriggler like him.

His argument for this theory of Buddha being an eer-wriggler is based on half a sutta taken out of context. Based on that first half of a sutta, he claims “Buddha refused to answer weather there is a self or not when asked point blank about it” - despite that sutta also having a second half where Buddha explains why he answered like that.

Buddha answered like that because if he were to answer differently, that person would understand that “there was a self that now is no more”, while Buddha opinion is that there never was a self to begin with, just the illusion that there is a self existed. And he explains this in the very sutta that Thanissaro brings up to make his case for the theory of eer-wriggling, but some monks appearently only read the half of the sutta that is in line with their own views.

From what I’ve seen over the years, changing ones views is by far the most difficult thing to do by any buddhist. It is much more easy to try and change Buddha views based on half a sutta taken out of context than to change one’s own views.

I’ve seen people ask on forums weather Thanissaro has actually read the nikayas, since claiming Buddha has no opinion about the self clearly shows you haven’t read them. And I have the same opinion too, the problem here seems to be simply not reading the nikayas. There has been a monk in that topic claiming the same, that probably Thanissaro just haven’t read them and that there are very few monks in thailand actually read them. Most believe they already know what is in them so why read them ? He said there are many monks who just read random pages of the nikayas to gain inspiration for sermons and probably Thanissaro does the same.

So rather like dhamma in the fourth frame of satipatthana?

If Nibbana isn’t included in “sabbe dhamma anatta”, what implications do you think this has for the nature of Nibbana? Would it imply Nibbana not being subject to such principles?