How do you directly observe anatta?

I find that with satipatthana practice I can directly observe transience and conditionality, but I am still not clear how to go about directly observing anatta. I would appreciate any practical suggestions you have.

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Unfortunately, this is not easy.
Even if you become a Sotapann the best you will achieve is the elimination of self-view.
If you not Sotapann the best you can do is to understand it in theory.
However, you are on the right track. Satipatthana is the direct way to realise Anatta according to Sutta. The way I understand seen Dependent Origination is the way to realise Anatta.
By the way what Anatta means to you?

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I’m not entirely clear, but on balance I assume it is saying that self-view is illusory. Like I assume there is a me having all these experiences, but really there are just the experiences.

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But you are the one who wrote above post.

How can you “see” the absence of something?

Surely it must be something else that is seen and then selflessness is inferred.

It’s like asking “how can I see that there is no box in front of me”. IMO.


I find that with satipatthana practice I can directly observe transience and conditionality,
but I am still not clear how to go about directly observing anatta.
I would appreciate any practical suggestions you have.

Dukkha can be directly observed, this leads to all other aspects of Dhamma,
each becoming apparent according to conditions of time, place and currently arising Kamma.
The 4NT being the basic sequential realisation.
Anatta includes ‘insubstantiality’ as an aspect of no permanently existing identity. For this, just look
at changes, processes, flow etc. ‘No self’ is a self view, but the absence of any permanent identity is a valid observation and reflection.


This is how I practice it now.
I continually ask every day what sort of Dukkha I am going through.
I try to understand Dukkha in following three ways.


Within the Buddhist sutras, dukkha is divided in three categories:

  • Dukkha-dukkha, the dukkha of painful experiences. This includes the physical and mental sufferings of birth, aging, illness, dying; distress from what is not desirable.
    -Viparinama-dukkha, the dukkha of the changing nature of all things. This includes the frustration of not getting what you want.
    -Sankhara-dukkha, the dukkha of conditioned experience. This includes “a basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all existence, all forms of life, because all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance.”[web 1] On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.

The objective of Vipassana is not to say there is no box when you see a box.
But we can see the dependent origination nature of the box.



"He grows disenchanted with the ear…
"He grows disenchanted with the nose…
"He grows disenchanted with the tongue…
"He grows disenchanted with the body…

“He grows disenchanted with the intellect, disenchanted with ideas, disenchanted with consciousness at the intellect, disenchanted with contact at the intellect. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the intellect, experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain: He grows disenchanted with that too. Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion, he is fully released. With full release, there is the knowledge, ‘Fully released.’ He discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’”

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I agree with the statements above. Some elements of this:

  1. Lack of samadhi (and the elements of the path which lead up to that samadhi) -so we need to be able to see the arising and passing away of stimuli from each sense base, and develop it to a degree further so that we can see each aggregate arise and pass away, in the present moment. This would be a kind of EBT based vipassana, if it is to be named.
  2. Alternatively some people realize anatta when doing some other kind of meditation - watching the breath or while doing walking meditation (seeing that the walking is beyond conscious control, etc) or going into jhana (reduced conscious control). Some might realize through listening to the true dhamma and by contemplating it, further.
  3. Without samadhi we only see continuity of flow - a stream of consciousness. We do not see the fragmentary nature of consciousness and it is a unitary consciousness (not two but one- non-duality) that many hold on to as Self/atman. Seeing the arising (from the working of the sense doors) and passing (before the arising of contact/phassa) of consciousness is an important point to focus on when doing this EBT based vipassana, as the delusion of self is strong and it needs to be seen repetitively and a relatively stable setting ie. the vipassana must be performed in a continuous way to continuously see it until it literally sinks in. Some people even recall fear when doing this as the self is about to be severely damaged or lost (they are ok after the practice of course, as there was no self even before the mediation :slight_smile: ).
  4. Seeing that the slowing down of the sense bases and speeding it up shows how the 3 dimensional world is created. Slowing it down fragments it down to what is like a domino effect of factors arising ans passing away one after the next in a causal chain. By this I do not mean the arising and passing away of sense bases which isnt causal. But rather what happens with the arising of the five aggregates at a given sense base for us to experience it.
  5. Doing the practice repeateadly shows that there is only this one process of perception that happening all the time and that it applies to the seer/doer/knower and that that is an illusion (sammassana gnana).
  6. Mindfully observing intention is important. To watch the causes that automatically give rise to intention and the effects, afterwards. Seeing this it is possible to see the intention, one of the stronger portions of our thinking, that we identify as the Self, is arising from casauses and doesn’t require a Self mediating everything. In other words it works perfectly well without the need for a self.
  7. If everything arises starting from the sense bases, including the five aggregates that we strongly regard as the self, we can see that it is the external world that give rise to ‘us’. The self then has to arise anew each time we hear a sound or smell something. This is not a tenable position for a self to exist. Or to break it down, the self is causally arisen as a string of causes and effects which means it has no Self- exitence- hence it cannot be seen as a self. Also no self can exist which lasts less than a second, and then a new one has to take its place- its not possible to call such a phenomena as self.
  8. With cessation or nirodha the aggregates/sense based, everything fades away. They were insubstantial to begin with (Phena sutta) and now they don’t exist anymore for a period of time. Again if there was a self such a happening wouldn’t take place as a self would be permanently present. You could argue that even the fact that we sleep for 6 or 8 hours is against the definition of a Self.

Hope that helps.

with metta


So in your view anatta cannot be directly observed, just inferred?

I can observe the conditionality of experience, but is that observing anatta directly?

I can observe the absence of permanent identity over a period of time, but that doesn’t feel like observing anatta directly. I can also observe limited control over the aggregates, but again that seems like an indirect approach.
Interesting point about self-view, but doesn’t anatta involve a view of self?

Thanks! I will reflect on the points you have made.

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As I said before only an Arahant will fully realise Anatta.
I can’t even imagine that state because I still have not not fully realise the Anicc and Dukkha and Anatta.
It is something like a person see the water droplets and the sunlight instead of seen the rain-bow.
When you realise Anatta, you eliminate the Atta Sanna.
If I were I will not give too much importance to this at this satage. What really matters is whether you follow the Noble Eightfold Path.

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I think it is possible to adequately realize the not-self quality of the five aggregates, which is not equal to, but paves the way for, stream entry.

True; for its full realization one must become an arahanth.

“Very good, lord,” the monk… asked him a further question: “Lord, how does self-identity view come about?”

"There is the case, monk, where an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma — assumes form to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form.

"He assumes feeling to be the self, or the self as possessing feeling, or feeling as in the self, or the self as in feeling. He assumes perception to be the self, or the self as possessing perception, or perception as in the self, or the self as in perception. He assumes fabrications to be the self, or the self as possessing fabrications, or fabrications as in the self, or the self as in fabrications. He assumes consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness. SuttaCentral

with metta


This is in relation to Sotapanna.

There is a logical trap there. When one claims to observe or to have observed anatta directly one automatically creates an observer of a higher order. So logically I can observe the impermanence of objects but not the impermanence (or anatta) of the observing faculty.

In most cases in the suttas anatta is an inference, also dukkha by the way is mostly inference. Because the teaching is not interested in the toothache - or the back pain the Buddha suffered from - but an inferred fundamental or existential dukkha.

For anatta as a practice it doesn’t have to be analytically or scientifically precise or encompass all experienced phenomena at all times. Just as with other meditation objects I direct the mind to remember and recognize this aspect in the experiences that occur. When including the ayatanas it should lead to an emptiness of mind (i.e. ‘arupas’) or who knows maybe to some realization.

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Seen the box and think there is no box is not Anatta.
Not seen the box in the first place is the Anatta.

I am afraid the Buddha is Not teaching us to Directly observing anatta or even the transiency of the aggregates , which is a false approach in current Theravada lineages . That is the result of insight . The Buddha’s teaching is about watching the process of arising and passing away of the sense media interaction with the sense objects as a whole .