How do you directly observe anatta?


I notice that stuff too, but how is it related to observing anatta?


My thought was: if you do not control something, it is not your self.


@kstan1122, of your definition of anatta as unfruitful:

හිස් වශයෙන් යනු නම් අනාත්මය අනුව බැලීමයි. තුච්ඡ වශයෙන් යනු නම් අනාත්මය අනුව බැලීමයි. ශුන්‍ය වශයෙන් යනු නම් අනාත්මය අනුව බැලීමයි. Ps

“Seeing as empty is seeing as anatma. Seeing as ‘lowly’ is seeing as anatma’. Seeing as void is seeing as anatma”. Ps

There is a parallel in the suttas as well:

"In the same way, in the course of the future there will be monks who won’t listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent (lokuttarā), connected with emptiness (suññatapaṭisaṃyuttā)— are being recited. SN20.7

The point is seeing “unfruitfulness” is a mundane matter and would not be seen in vipassana which deals with lokottara dhammas. A better translation would aadinava (drawbacks) of dhammas, ratha than anatta. It would make no sense why the five aggregates would be connected with anatta if it meant unfruitful. On the other hand it makes a lot of sense why the five aggregates are connected with anatta if it meant Not-self, as the each of the five a thing we take to be elements of the self (body is me, I experience feelings, I recognise experiences, I think, therefore I am, my consciousness is me/self/soul/God). A stream entrant wouldn’t believe in a soul or a God because of this insight. He/she would do so if it anatta meant unfruitful, but it doesn’t.

The problem sentence is this: නිසරු වශයෙන් යනු නම් අනාත්මය අනුව බැලීමයි [seeing as infertile is seeing as anatma], and this one තුච්ඡ වශයෙන් යනු නම් අනාත්මය අනුව බැලීමයි [Seeing as ‘lowly’ is seeing as anatma’]. I wouldn’t rely in later writings, as the Ps is proven to be, for core Dhamma concepts, as it might be incorrect.

Patisambidamagga (see below) describes impermanence (anicca) and suffering (dukkha) in the below terms, and they would be not much different from ‘unfruitful’. Therefore there would be no need for another distinct term named anatta, if it meant unfruitful. Sakkaya ditti is also penetrated at stream entry. This would only be meaningful if something in the practice allowed them to analyse the self-view. Unfruitfulness doesn’t allow that to take place.

අඝ මුල වශයෙන් යනු නම් දුක් අනුව බැලීමයි [seeing as arising and passing is seeing suffering]. වධක වශයෙන් යනු නම් දුක් අනුව බැලීමයි [seeing as torturer is seeing as suffering] . විභව [non-existence] වශයෙන් යනු නම් අනිත්‍ය [impermanence] අනුව බැලීමයි. ආශ්‍රව සහිත [defiled] වශයෙන් යනු නම් දුක් [suffering] අනුව බැලීමයි. සංඛත [fabricated] වශයෙන් යනු නම් අනිත්‍යය [impermanence] අනුව බැලීමයි. මාරයාගේ ආහාරයක් වශයෙන් [food for Mara]යනු නම් දුක් [suffering] අනුව බැලීමයි. ඉපැදීම් ස්වභාව වශයෙන් [subject to being born] යනු නම් දුක් [suffering] අනුව බැලීමයි. දිරීම් ස්වභාව ඇත්තක් [subject to old age] වශයෙන් යනු නම් දුක [suffering] අනුව බැලීමයි. රොග [illness] ස්වභාව වශයෙන් යනු නම් දුක් අනුව බැලීමයි. මරණ [death] ස්වභාව වශයෙන් යනු නම් අනිත්‍ය අනුව බැලීමයි. ශෝක [sadness] ස්වභාව වශයෙන් යනු නම් දුක් අනුව බැලීමයි. පරිදේව [wailing] ස්වභාව වශයෙන් යනු නම් දුක් අනුව බැලීමයි. දැඩිශෝක [deep anguish] ඇත්තක් වශයෙන් යනු නම් දුක් අනුව බැලීමයි. කිළිටි [soiled] ස්වභාව ඇත්තක් වශයෙන් යනු නම් දුක් අනුව බැලීමයි. - Ps

Furthemore atta/anatta has the meaning of self and its opposite in these suttas, and ‘unfruitful’ doesn’t fit, contextual to the sutta it is in:

Unfruitful isn’t a supramundane insight and this sutta is discussing removing avijja/ignorance. So contextually it doesn’t make sense.

This sutta is talking about self-action/efficacy and unfruitful doesn’t fit in to the translation.

This sutta is taking about ‘me, belonging, (my) soul’ and unfruitful doesn’t again fit in.

with metta


I just observe attā, and test it in different ways



As I have said:

anatta may not be what you interpret as, as the other 4 anattānupassanā mostly point to empty, void or devoid

if you are not able to see the truth of real anatta now keep on learning will one day lead you to the truth.

With metta.


depends on what you’re looking for - no matter what perspective you have on an-/atta it is only a perspective in the end. ‘only’ is a misnomer though: perspectives and views are creating worlds in the blink of an eye. If you think you ‘see anatta’ you will surely build a reality like that. If you think ‘there is no atta’ you’ll have a perfect according reality as well

[Wrong views of MN 2:] ‘self exists for me’ … ‘no self exists for me’ … ‘I perceive self with self’ … ‘I perceive not-self with self’ … ‘I perceive self with not-self’


It’s great that people present their views and the evidence for it. That way everyone can apply their own reasoning, and readers can come to their own conclusions…

However, arguing about what constitutes, “The Truth”, and who is Right and who is Wrong, after these rational arguments have been presented, will yield no positive results for anyone.



How do you know I cannot? My understanding of anatta comes not from following any book or any teacher, but because I see it from my own meditation and understanding into dhammas, and it agrees with the understanding of anatta as not-self, which is the mainstream understanding of anatta in all schools of Dhamma for the past 2500 years. Even emptiness is about being ‘devoid of self’ existence, not just empty in some other manner, as a existence in its own right is a key feature of a Self.

with metta


Could you say a bit more? How do you do this, practically speaking?


This is an aspect I struggle to understand, since I associate self-view with a sense of identity, a sense of “me”, not necessarily with how much control I have over the stuff I experience.


I believe the Buddha takes not being able to control something as a sign that it is not your self. In the Anattalakkhana Sutta, the Buddha says:

Bhikkhus, form is not-self. Were form self, then this form would not lead to affliction, and one could have it of form: 'Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.’ And since form is not-self, so it leads to affliction, and none can have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.’ [emphasis mine]


You are close to the understanding of anatta. It is due to the nature of anicca (nothing that can be maintained to our satisfaction in the long run) and dukkha that you are not in control which is anatta (anatta is not “not-self” and atta is not “self” but is “not in control” for anatta and “in control” for atta). If you replace the word anatta as “not in control or without refuge” and the word atta as “in control or with refuge” it is more meaningful for the whole sentence; see below.


So is dukkha caused when we try to control the aggregates, or believe that we have control over them?


In the process of observing there is a sense that there is the observed, and an observer.

However it is possible to ‘turn around’ and look at the ‘observer’, that is make the observer, the observed ie. the object of observation.

This then ‘creates’ a second observer looking at the first observer, and so on infinitely. This lays out the illusion and insubstantiality of the ‘observer’; or what we assume is the observer. I propose that this assumed observer is still another mind door object (a dhamma, in that sense, or Nama) that we mistake for an observer. That is the identification of what is perceived as the observer is filled with ignorance (avijja). There is a sort of a remedy for it - just keep observing what was thought of as the observer, and you will watch it shift and change - something which would be impossible for a Self.

With metta


I had a brief encounter with this recently. During a long walk I reflected on the concept of Kamma and how, under certain circumstances, it can be viewed metaphorically. That is, re-birth may not literally mean in a new body after one dies, but figuratively as experiencing each moment as a sort of new life even in the same body.

That night I was lying in bed and it occurred to me that I needed to jot down on an item on my shopping list to pick up at the supermarket later in the week. I really didn’t want to get out of bed, but I wanted to remember to make a note to by the particular item. At some point, I had the following thought: “He will remember to get that item at the store.” Not “I”. But “He,” as if I was observing someone else. Not my Self. I even had a mental image of an individual, not my self.

In that moment I had a fleeting glimpse of Not-Self. There was not a “Self,” but an observer seeing another individual, re-born, as it were, at a later date. Presumably that other individual could observe the original observer (via memory) and grasp that that original observer was Not-Self. This insight lasted for a brief moment, but it has left an impression on me and helped me better understand these concepts.


That’s a good insight. Physical rebirth is a part of EBTs, but this life can be used to understand rebirth as well. I often think of setting up practice conditions for the future person to be in a more positive and peaceful state of practice, and see the past me leading me to where I am now. It is a helpful way of thinking about it, I think.

With metta


that there is an inside and an outside

that there is no side, just this!

what ever you think it is, that it is not!

  • Ajahn Sumedho

mirror facing mirror, nowhere else

  • ikkyu


The more one says the cloudier it gets … :wink:

Basically, I practice from a level of stable mindfulness where i’m able to choose if I want to be that which moves or stay as that which sees all movements in the mind


We seem to come to the world with the understanding that we can improve and learn how to control ourselves, our movement, behavior, look, thinking. There is an extreme dissatisfaction of the baby when it is helpless and exposed.

Even though we suffer then, we don’t know the dimension behind it, we just want to improve the suffering, i.e. control these aspects of ourselves - as others seem to be able to.

The suffering comes from the inability to control what makes us suffer. What doesn’t make us suffer is of little concern to us. Last week’s tooth-ache is far far away - yet we are structurally changed a bit, a tad more traumatized and intimidated.

That’s my personal view. Applied to the suttas I read the ‘tilakkhana’ as a fundamental discourse, not one applied to daily life. Even though I learned how to move my muscles by will, it is only an approximation, not a direct translation. I cannot tell my fingers to move as Liszt did, and this to every pianist is a fundamental frustration.


Jhana is probably a most unusual state of mind, but it doesn’t make the impossible possible. To “observe not self with not self” is a mental cramp, inevitably leading to “I can observe not self with not self” - and what is gained by that? ok as a practice, impossible as a metaphysical stand. Or else I can’t see how it could work. I have to agree with MN 2 here.