How do you directly observe anatta?


6 seems to be about pannapti or concepts, ideally included in 5, but it is more than mere thought- it is the content of thought that are getting a special mention here, as they form the basis of a myriad of views (ditti), such as the cosmos and self is eternal. The mind without samadhi or the uninstructed person isnt able to appreciate that even the thought which contains the concept ‘I am eternal’ is itself impermanent.

with metta


And you can then click on the tags, and copy the url to provide a link…


I’m at SC 26-27… :sweat_smile:


So far (until SC 17.1) we’ve had a ‘normal’ anatta discourse, i.e. there is no atta in the khandhas + the 6th.

A confirmation that also the more general-sounding “they’re not anxious about what doesn’t exist” means atta-in-khandhas (and not atta per se) follows in SC 18.2-6: “anxiety about what doesn’t exist externally”. What is described here is symmetrically atta-in-objects (again not atta per se).

More difficult is the passage at SC 20.1: “anxiety about what doesn’t exist internally”. Didn’t we have this already before with the khandhas + the 6th? And indeed it is a repetition because here the 6th is singled out and presented again (SC 20.4).

But now we get what seems to be a direct clash between late Vedic and Buddhist teachings. Because now exactly the 6th (“after death I will be permanent”) is contrasted with the Buddha teaching nibbana.

We have to see it again in context: These ‘eternalists’ must have been either advanced meditators or ritualists who thought they have secured the eternally blissful brahmaloka for themselves. Nobody else would have believed at that time to have secured eternity. The Buddha with a superior authority they couldn’t neglect “took away” their eternity, so “they sorrow and pine and lament” (SC 18.6).

SC 21.3 makes clear what all this was from the Buddha’s perspective - merely a ditthi, a conviction, a view (that educated students are not supposed to have)

So when this ditthi is not there consequently there is no “anxiety about what doesn’t exist internally”. So far we are therefore still on the level of ditthis - no ontological axiom has been proclaimed yet (until SC 22), correct?

Again, faithfully following the argument of the text I see no other way to read it but would be interested if some of you do.


I don’t get any meaningful result when I search for SC22. Is this SN or MN?

with metta


Sorry for the confusion, because I go slowly with the sutta I use the internal text reference that appears when you activate “view textual information” in the settings at the top. So SC 17.1 etc. refers to ‘paragraph’/sentence #17.1 in this sutta MN 22.


I’m still not entirely clear about the logic of this statement in the suttas. Why is the assumption made that what is self must be permanent and satisfactory? It seems to suggest that anatta is negating Atman, rather than self-view or “psychological” self?

MN 22 - a single anattā doctrine Pali sutta

In MN62 it’s the contemplation of impermanence which leads to the eradication of the conceit “I am”.

“Develop the (mind-) development that is perception of impermanence, Rāhula. For, from developing the (mind-) development that is perception of impermanence, Rāhula, that which is the conceit, ‘I am’ will be got rid of.”

The only sutta I can think of which describes a direct approach to anatta insight is the Bahiya Sutta, which I think involves the practice of “bare attention”.


The instruction is expanded here:


I don’t actually know if anyone else is interested in such a detailed discussion of MN 22, but since this is the only Pali sutta with such an explicit anatta-doctrine I’ll just continue…

SC 22.1 introduces the new idea, that it would make sense to be possessive about something that is eternal. This is problematic at least on two levels:

  1. At face value it’s simply not true. Say “the ring to rule them all” in Lord of the Rings would have been imperishable - why would it then make sense to be possessive about it? It would guarantee eternal conflict and catastrophe. Everyone would be ready to kill me for this ‘precious’
  2. Since the argument leads to arguing against atta soon in the sutta: why to sneak in a dubious possessor of atta? If somebody would claim to possess an eternal atta he would have already two eternal entities, namely the possessor and the possessed.

So the sutta here erects a straw-men and is comfortably dis-proving a self-view that nobody claims to have. If the text-book dichotomy of Buddhism vs. Upanisadic Brahmanism is true the sutta should argue against something of the following: “The essence of what I commonly hold as ‘I’ is the same as the essence of the world. By realizing this the ignorance is lifted, and after the death of the body the last veal will be removed and the perfect identity of the two will be established”

This at least is my iteration of Yajnavalkya’s atman-teaching in Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 3.7. Or else, where in the pre-Buddhist texts do we find the particular concept that is argued against? As I have tried to point out already many times, there is no one atman concept in the Samhitas, Brahmanas and Upanishads covering 1500 years (my guess is rather a dozen) and we would need to identify which particular ‘atman’ the suttas are arguing against - or dismiss the Buddhist anatta-doctrine because it’s misleading and tendentious.

See for example the valid question

As SC 23.1 says, it’s arguing against attavādas (atman-doctrines) that don’t give rise to dukkha. But how for example would my attavāda above lead to suffering? Only if I was reborn in a samsaric state - and who could tell if I were? a Buddha/gifted arahant. We arrive at a faith-argument: It’s right because the Buddha said so, not because of a plausible line of arguments.

The fact that the Buddha in SC 23.5 cannot conceive of an attavāda that doesn’t lead to suffering rather speaks for the lack of imagination of the polemic composer than for a truthful argument.

A more sensible (but less detailed) approach towards attavādas can be found in the introduction to MN 8.


What’s the difference between atta-in-khandas and atta per se?

I’m not sure I understand the difference. Do you mind elaborating?

I don’t think that assumption is made. You could say it’s a logical consequence; i.e. if all impermanent things are anatta, then the only things that could be atta would have to be permanent.

However, if we just take the wording of the question at face value, it can be read as something like ‘does it make sense to be things that are impermanent, suffering and perishable?’

Who would want to be something that’s perishable and suffering? Imagine having a painful tumor on your leg and saying ‘that’s me’, please don’t remove my tumor because my atta is inside it and it will get destroyed. That gets weird real fast.

Sentence in question for reference:

“But if it’s impermanent, suffering, and perishable, is it fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self’?”

Before I post any replies, perhaps we should consider moving the discussion to its own thread?

@Whippet if you feel this is drifting too far off topic please say so, we can move the discussion if you’d like.



That’s exactly it (SN 35.95 - in the Saḷāyatana Saṃyutta - Saḷa Vagga) .

The fields of sensual experience (ayatanani) should not be involved. There should be no desire (chanda), or love (passion/raga), and therefore no sensory experience. This is what "bare awareness should mean.
Just an aknowledgement of the dhamma. No chanda & raga dhatu. (see below the extract from SN 35.95).

One should strive with the mind (mano) from the origin (yonisomanasikara). That is to say from the khandhas that come from namarupa nidana.
See here.

“Bare awareness” SHOULD mean that the khandhas (from namarupa nidana) - becoming plain dhammas or desired dhatus - and actualised through the external ayatanani should be processed as “bare”; viz. with the maximum restraint of the indriya(ni). That is to say, with no sensory input as desire, lust or love. That is to say just as a mere acknowledgment.

See the simile of the lute. SN 35.205.

You will not be “by that” (viz. by the khandhas of namarupa nidana). Nor you will not be “in that” (viz. in the salayatana).

That is indeed what “bare awareness” should really mean.

There is not in Buddhism something as "let everything in, with no restraint. Ever.

But what that has to do with not being (a spiritual) atta, (aka anatta) ?

Well, this dhamma experienced by our (personnal pronoun) atta - experienced as “not ours”- is also impermanent. And a (spiritual) atta is supposed to be permanent.

First get rid of the “not yours”- then know the impermanence.


It’s not an established expression or anything. For me

  • ‘atta-in-khandas’ refers to the common context of anatta in the suttas, i.e. “the khandhas are not atta”
  • ‘atta per se’ would mean a doctrine of "there is no atta at all, anywhere, not in the khandhas, not outside of the khandhas, not for any superhuman beings or anywhere else in the universe


I don’t agree with that, Gabriel.
What the early suttas say, is that there is no spiritual atta in the particular dharman that is paticcasamuppada.
That is to say, a permanent and blissful spiritual atta, as conceived in the Upanishad, for instance.
However, it is never mentioned categorically, that there is no spiritual atta elswhere. Might it be in another dharman (dhamma), or even higher.
Nowhere in the early texts.


hence the conditional. “would mean…” :slight_smile:
and that’s why we’re going into detail with MN 22 because this is the closest to ‘anatta-per-se’ in the Pali as it gets.


Nibbana is unconditioned.


I don’t know much about MN 22, which seems to have much discrepancies with its parallels.

We could also go along with SN 22.85/SA 104.

Buddhism is definitely not Sāṃkhya - but knowing about the latter, would certainly help someone understand, what not having a spiritual self means.
In Sāṃkhya, there is no self (purusha), in prakriti. Yet !

There COULD be no self in paticcasamuppada, as there is no self in prakriti.


Clearly not. So we develop dispassion towards the aggregates, and we incline towards Nibbana, the Deathless? But who or what is doing this?


I’m fine with a more general discussion on anatta - it’s a fascinating topic, though to me also rather bewildering at times. :yum:


Is this specifically what anatta is negating? Or is it negating self-view, or “psychological” self, a sense of “me” doing stuff and making decisions? Or both?