How do you directly observe anatta?


And rightly so. It’s good to collect the clearer examples of an anatta-doctrine. MN 22 is a typical late EBT mishmash sutta, nonetheless we should take it seriously…

SC 15.1 is where it starts to get interesting. It says there are six grounds for (self?)views. Do you get which six are meant? I guess 1.form 2.feelings 3.perceptions 4.choices 5.seen, heard, thought, cognized, searched, and explored by the mind (which I guess stands for vinnana-khandha) 6.‘The self and the cosmos are one and the same. After death I will be permanent, everlasting, eternal, imperishable, and will last forever and ever.’

If these are the six I don’t quite understand why 6 is not included in 5. Is it just a very special case? Or else what are your six?

If that is so far correct, the main subject of the sutta to identify the grounds on which to form an atta-view and to reject them. Do we read it the same way so far?


I think the Buddha is of the opinion that some metaphysical ie objects of the spiritual dimension are imaginary and are based on imaginary elaborations of what we already know, for example an ‘all powerful man in a heavenly place’… To complicate matters further, some are imaginary elaborations (Soul) of illusions that we cherish (Self).

When we go from concepts such as ball, table and tree (break them into their components without ever finding the essence of the tree or table) and watch how they are generated in us, one aggregate at a time through the lense of vipassana we see that the five aggregates are impermanent (‘monks is form permanent or impermanent; impermanent, Sir’). Then when the meditator continues to see nothing but the arising and passing away of phenomena day and night and comes to see that it is all there is to see, it is seen to be unsatisfactory; like Groundhog Day Just 100 times more intense (‘is what is impermanent, unsatisfactory? Yes, Sir’). To see impermanence in this way, is to see specific conditionality, of aggregates giving rise to each other and also that nothing and no one has control over these aggregates (which in turn also means they are not ‘mine’). Also dukkha here, would include repulsion or nibbida. To see this process in this manner is to let go of the process (viraga) and lose the desirability of the aggregates, temporarily losing their state as ‘aggregates of clinging’. In short what I’m saying is that the Anattalakkhana sutta is taught to mendicants who have a basic level of insight like ‘delineation of mental and material dhammas’ (nama-rupa paricceda nana), and have identified the five aggregates in the process of perception. They know that they are impermanent and the Buddha is drawing out or leading them to further insight/implications of what they observed. As Gabriel correctly recognised, on a mundane level impermanent doesn’t always allow for the listeners to think that it is something that we feel is suffering. Nor would it naturally incline to not- self either. We mustn’t forget that the aggregates must be viewed in light of the Kaccayanagotta sutta as well to get the full impact of the depth of this insight. There is no solid ontological world anymore and it’s illusion has been shattered. So it’s not even a description of how the outside world is experienced inside. It’s just seeing what was previously mistakenly thought of as the world. After this not only is there no Self there is no Buddha or God either; just causality in its meaningless dance. But the meditator doesn’t forget the conventional world and is able to converse just like before.

With metta


Seems like a variation to me. Maybe it was an alternative terminology used at the time?

I can’t say I’m a 100 percent sure I understand the sutta. If you have an interpretation I’d be glad to hear it.


Also Analayo’s comparative treatment shows that parts of it are unclear, so we have to live with uncertainty. I’d still like to avoid the commentaries…

That the “six foundations for views” in SC 15.1 cover all views is doubtful because view 6.“The self and the cosmos (loka) are one and the same” is just too specific. Also it is ahistoric because the brahmanic view at that time was that only the highest developed beings would reach brahmaloka, the eternal deathless state. Also of the named sectarian movements nobody had this view. So I think what is meant here with loka is brahmaloka, therefore not ‘cosmos’ but ‘realm of highest attainment’.

In short we deal with self-view here, not views in general. What follows though are not so much the ṭhānāni for self-view but the objects of self view, namely the khandhas (1-4 as usual, 5 very unusual) + number 6 that either means “I believe that for the spiritually advanced there is a brahmaloka” or it deals specifically with the view of highly developed brahmins who think that their state of achievement grants them eternity after death. Either way it is an odd enumeration.

My best guess is “The self-view of the uninstructed can be based on an identification with the khandhas or spiritual attainment”

Then it goes on that the instructed ones dis-identify themselves from the khandhas (so far so good) and from number 6 too. Which is weird - because the instructed would simply not be an eternalist. It’s not that he would first have the view and then disidentify from it. What I mean is I can’t help to have a sense-perception or a memory, but in meditative effort I can distance myself from it - why would I as an instructed disciple have the view that I’m eternal to begin with? Unless it’s something that spiritually advanced Buddhist monastics can’t help having as well. Maha Boowa for example told how due to his strong samadhi he falsely thought to have reached the unchanging goal already when in fact he was attached to a pure citta.

Any other interpretations so far?

[Edit: tracing “so loko so attā” confirms that we deal with a spiritually advanced position. Other than in MN 22 we find it only in SN 22.81, SN 22.152, and SN 24.3.

SN 22.81 shows a progression "He may not regard form etc. as self, but he holds such a view as this ‘so loko so attā’.
SN 22.152 doesn’t show a progression but thinks that as soon as I identify with any khandha I automatically become an eternalist - which doesn’t make much sense to my mind.
SN 24.3 repeats SN 22.152 and cryptically adds “in these six cases”, so probably this is where MN 22 got its ‘six’ from]


What is the meaning outside the realm of experience ? Is Nibbana in the realm of experience ? Is Nibbana something can be known ?


This is does make sense, but if you increment suttas from SN 24.3, you’ll see that ‘grasping and insisting on’ the five khandas is the basis of many different views, for example SN 24.5 has grasping and insisting on the khandas as the basis for the view:

‘There’s no meaning in giving, sacrifice, or offerings. There’s no fruit or result of good and bad deeds. There’s no afterlife…

So perhaps identifying as the khandas is a basis for speculating about how the world works in general. But since there are potentially infinite views one can have, it makes sense to just focus on the common ones.

Firstly, it looks like “The self and the cosmos are one and the same…” just refers to an eternalist view in general. For example:

(SN 22.81) ‘The self and the cosmos are one and the same. After death I will be permanent, everlasting, eternal, and imperishable.’ But that eternalist view is just a conditioned phenomenon.

Here is the agama version of the eternalist view:

(SA 152) The self, this world and the other world, exist permanently, are of a lasting and unchanging nature, dwelling at peace like that

When looking at SN 22.152, the point seems to be that ‘grasping and insisting on’ the khandas is what gives rise to an eternalist view. It’s also what’s give rise to an annihilationist view:

(SN 22.81) Still, they have such a view: ‘I might not be, and it might not be mine. I will not be, and it will not be mine.’ But that annihilationist view is just a conditioned phenomenon.

This seems to be the agama version of the annihilationist:

(SA 156) 'All living beings who live in this world will be annihilated after death, will be destroyed, and will no longer exist. A human being is a combination of the four great elements…

To sum it up, my impression is so far that grasping/identifying as the khandas is what gives rise to a whole host of different speculative views on the self and on the world.

It seems that maybe MN 22 is suffering from a copying error; the eternalist view isn’t itself a ground for views, it’s just a wrong view that isn’t explicitly formulated in terms of the khandas, that arises from grapsing the khandas. So maybe MN 22 got a bit jumbled up somehow.

These were very interesting suttas, thanks for bringing them up :slight_smile:

MN 22 - a single anattā doctrine Pali sutta

Nibbana as the ending of greed, hatred and delusion can be known, since the presence/absence of greed, hatred and delusion can be known in oneself (AN 6.47).

Nibbana as the ending of continued existence can be known (AN 10.7, SN 12.68).

The arahat is one who understands ‘Rebirth is ended, the spiritual journey has been completed, what had to be done has been done, there is no return to any state of existence.’ (e.g. DN 15).

So it seems that people who are getting enlightened (unlike me :sob:) understand what nibbana is, or what the phenomenon “nibbana” means or entails.

In other words, whatever nibbana is, means or entails, it must be possible for people to understand what it is, means or entails with their minds (even if it can’t be described well by words).

Edit: To rephrase, knowledge of nibbana is in the realm of experience (whatever nibbana is).

That’s my take on it anyway :slight_smile:


It may be helpful to reflect carefully on your question as the way you are perceiving the teaching of not-self is going to leave you in the situation you wish to resolve.

The idea that: “[I] can directly observe transience and conditionality” is worth questioning. There is attention to arising and ceasing phenomena but there is no (I) attending.

“In the seeing just the seeing […] in the cognising just the cognising.” - the Buddha

When you cease to identify with the act of being aware of anything - as well as - that which is arising and ceasing in the field of attention, there is a simple-awareness of passing experience. There is just attention and what is experienced - they are interdependent.

This is something that is truly astonishing i.e. the interdependence of attention and experience. When everything settles down - a natural stilling of formations - there is nothing more to attend to. When this happens the process of attention also stops.

This means that the end of input into experience - the stream of conscious events - leads to the ending of anything we could refer to as an observer (an experiencer).

The ‘subject’ (the sense of self) is an impermanent happening - it is discontinuous.

This insight changes our perception of human ‘being’ in unprecedented ways.

There does not need to be an act of identification with any aspect of that which arises and passes away - this includes the process of attention itself.

Attention is also not-self.

This lack of identification with anything without any reactivity to what arises and passes away can give rise to insight into the ‘impersonality’ (not-self) of human ‘being’.

This insight is not something you get it is simply seen directly. Usually, the practice has to be ‘unbroken’ - reaction-free attention - for an extended period of time before insight into impersonality - anatta - arises.

Until this direct-seeing takes place we can infer the theoretical meaning of ‘anatta’ through reflecting on the Buddha’s teachings and, benefit from the pointers of others who have practiced well.


Nibbana as the ending of greed, hatred and delusion can be known, that is in the future assuming by then you already enlightened but not now as something you know in the realm of experience .

Nibbana as the ending of continued existence can be known is by inference and not in the realm of experience immediately by yourself .

knowledge of nibbana is in the realm of experience (whatever nibbana is), BUT ,


Sure, my intention wasn’t to get into a discussion about the nature of nibbana. I guess I’m saying ‘let’s avoid getting into metaphysics, and stick to things that are knowable’ or something like that :upside_down_face:


Unfortunately , discussion of whatever you know is including Nibbana which actually is something that you don’t know which is unavoidable .


Lots of references to knowing, the known, knowledge and, understanding may lead to confusion with regard to the not-born.

We assume we clearly-see what we are talking about when we talk about knowing and understanding but we may not understand the process directly.

Careful and sustained reaction-free attention can shed light on the nature of experience. We may take the process of experience for granted.


We take for granted there is a not-born .


That which (is) must exist - it is phenomenal. Once in existence - whatever (it) is - is death-bound (it will cease). When phenomena no longer arise and cease there is nothing to experience. When experience ceases, subject/object, knowing and the known comes to an end.


That makes sense, so maybe we should distinguish two kinds of khandha grasping: 1. the involuntary one, common to animals and non-philosophical humans, giving rise to all kinds of normal phenomena and views 2. an explicit conviction / teaching / agenda that says something like “My spiritual insight tells me that after death my formless essence will merge with the highest deathless realm”…

Coming from the unusual to the exceptional we find in SC 17.1

Seeing in this way they’re not anxious about what doesn’t exist.” (Sujato, very similarly Gethin)
Seeing thus, he is not agitated over what is not present. (Thanissaro)
So evaṃ samanupassanto asati na paritassatī”ti.

which appears only in this text and lays the foundation for all further anatta discussion of the sutta.

Somewhere in the middle would be a translation as “he is not anxious about what is not

I just had a deja-vu reading to older thread where @Sylvester offers a nice interpretation

Anyhow, I cannot interpret SC 17.1 other than that the educated noble disciple is not afraid of “what is not” - which is that the self is not in the six mentioned before. There is no introduction of an ontological argument here - just before we had the exposition that the khandhas + 6th is not atta. And this is “what is not” - the atta in the khandhas.

Is this at that point agreeable, or is there another good reading?


If there is the notion of possessing something that gives rise to attachment then the loss of that possession creates stress.

If there is the belief that something precious is possessed that cannot be found then we are inviting trouble.

Emptiness cannot be found because it was never lost. How can we find something that has no location? Just let go …

Anything we may find no matter how wonderful it may be will not resolve the dukkha because it will not last.

We are left with nothing and that is where the world of becoming ends.

No more fabrications, the natural stilling of all formations, the ending of compounded phenomena without essence.

In order to enter it must be empty. On entering everything vanishes.


I understand it like this:

[Paraphrased] Can someone get anxious about something that doesn’t exist internally?

Yes, eternalists get anxious about that. When they hear about fading away, cessation, extinguishment etc., they get anxious because they think they are going to be destroyed.

But people who aren’t eternalists dont have this problem. They don’t get anxious because they don’t think they are going be destroyed.

It seems to me that MN 22 might be particularly targeting eternalism, maybe this was Ariṭṭha’s view? Seems like the Buddha is going out of his way to point out eternalism as a particularly foolish teaching.

Annihilationism doesn’t seem to get the same treatment, see e.g. AN 7.55.

Edit: Here is the agama version of AN 7.55, MA 6. Here we can see the Pali version of annihilationsm view vs the Agama version:

It might not be, and it might not be mine. It will not be, and it will not be mine. I am giving up what exists, what has come to be.’ (Pali, AN 7.55)

There is no self, nor is there anything belonging to a self; in the future there will be no self and nothing belonging to a self. What has already come to exist will be abandoned; when it has been abandoned, equanimity will be attained; [I shall be] neither defiled by delight in existence nor attached to contact [through the senses]. (Agama, MA 6)

Interesting that the Pali and Agama present the view of annihilationism in such different ways (if this is indeed what is going on).

Of course, the view of annihilationism can be used as a means of practice (AN 7.55, MA 6), where as eternalism it seems cannot.


Could you please use the internal references for which passage you refer to? It’s a long sutta…

“Can someone get anxious about something that doesn’t exist internally?” Isn’t that introduced only at CS 20.1? So far I only dealt with up to CS 17.1


Sorry I don’t understand this numbering. What does CS mean? Is there any way to see this in the browser?

Before it was possible to indicate paragraph by adding “/17” at the end of the url.


at the top of the sutta you find the ‘text settings’ wheel. There you can activate ‘view textual information’ - at least it works in my browser…

Sorry, it’s SC (not CS) - I guess suttacentral?