How do you directly observe anatta?


By coincidence I just happened to watch this the other day. I love the perspective it offers on dhamma. Dhamma as a tool to understanding things the way they truly are :slight_smile:

This is addressed in the first few minutes of the talk.

SN35.160-1 Samadhi and Solitude for Self-awakening: talk by Piya Tan


I’m afraid there is nothing simple about it. Attempts so far have failed to show that there is a consistent logic behind the usage of manas, citta, and vinnana in the suttas - sometimes they mean similar phenonema, sometimes different, whereas citta and vinnana seem closer to each other than manas.

I think there is a similar ambiguity in the usage of the English words/concepts mind and consciousness except that we have the advantage of modern philosophy, linguistics, etc to hone in on more defined usable meanings. With Pali we are dealing with a dead thought world.

But all I’m doing is playing at apologetics by showing that there is leeway to chuck pretty much anything I want into the range of manayatana since dhamma is such a potentially broad category. In other words, it is perfectly conceivable that anything that can be experienced that does not partake of the first 5 sensory-fields would have been included under the sensory-field of the mind by the Buddha. It isn’t necessarily the case that this is so but it might still be the case.

Besides, there is one sutta I can cite which suggests that if the discourses on the 6 sense spheres and those on the arupas are not coming from two different schools of thought or one muddled thinker then the arupas must fall under the domain of manayatana.

At Savatthi. “Bhikkhus, I will teach you the all. Listen to that….
“And what, bhikkhus, is the all? The eye and forms, the ear and sounds, the nose and odours, the tongue and tastes, the body and tactile objects, the mind and mental phenomena. This is called the all.
“If anyone, bhikkhus, should speak thus: ‘Having rejected this all, I shall make known another all’—that would be a mere empty boast on his part. If he were questioned he would not be able to reply and, further, he would meet with vexation. For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, that would not be within his domain.” - SN 35.23

Somaratne writes here (p.185) that manas and vinnana are being “perfumed by citta” - as maddeningly poetic this is where we’d hope for clarity I’m afraid this really gets as concrete as the suttas are.

I tend to see the suttas as being at times pretty loosey-goosey with terminology. Presumably because that terminology was already being used in a rough, perhaps semi-nebulous, manner, or because the Buddha or the compilers didn’t see any need to be too analytical or rigorous in defining their terms, or both.

I don’t pretend to have a solution for that (because the suttas don’t), but understanding ayatana as locus of experience we cannot assume either that ayatanas are like babushkas: an ayatana within an ayatana within an ayatana. Nowhere do the suttas say that the endless-space-ayatana is within manayatana. A more simple reading (to me at least) is that leaving the salayatana results in reaching the ākāsānañcāyatana.

I’m not saying their is some babushka hierarchy of ayatanas going on, just that words can be used in different ways. If I said that a football field was in my field of vision that would make perfect sense but I wouldn’t usually speak that way. Instead I’d say I was at a football field and it would be implied that the football field was in my visual field, assuming the person I was talking to knew I wasn’t blind. I can imagine that it is similarly implied that if someone says they had been dwelling in ākāsānañcāyatana that they were having a kind of purely mental experience, that they were in contact with some dhamma via manayatana.

And again I’d refer to the sutta above to suggest that the simpler reading is to include ākāsānañcāyatana within manayatana unless we assume that the suttas on the arupas and those on the six sense spheres come from different authors or one muddle-minded author.



When it comes to the ayatanas and manas-citta-vinnana there is indeed a lot we don’t know, either because of loose ancient concepts, lacking transmission or different interpretations on the way.

At least for ayatana it’s safe to say that it’s more specific than just ‘field’. Please see Gonda’s detailed treatment of the pre-Buddhist ayatana here. Unfortunately the Buddhist understanding of it is very crude. ‘Field’ is already better than the meaningless ‘base’. What is missing is that ayatana is a home-field, the center of my experience, where I rest and eat (in Buddhism of course metaphorically). The place I return to after a venture (to the objects).

That would mean that I don’t observe an ayatana (like I could observe a field). Rather from an ayatana I observe the respective object.


Where did I say that ?
And the rest ?

My simple question to your cryptic answer is:
“Do you believe in existence after death” ?

And please, don’t give me that annihilationism vs. eternalism stuff as a counterproff. I have already covered that. And we are not talking about the “world” (SN 35.82) here, anymore.

I don’t know about “pure consciousness” ; but consciousness does take a lot of different substances, while “travelling” paticcasamuppada. And it has very little to do with a spiritual atta.
And consciousness is not circumbscribed to the “world”. Buddhism is not anglo sensationalistic empiricism. Might you want it desperately to be so.


Consciousness is ‘I’; I am conscious (it could be nothing else). My stream of consciousness seems permanent, but actually upon close inspection and greater samadhi, cracks appear, and arising and passing away is discerned; there is no stream of consciousness and nor any other kind of ‘stream’. Heraclitus the greek philosopher said ‘you cannot get into the same rive twice’, and he was hinting at not-self here, but of rivers!

with metta


That’s great to point out to deepen our understanding of āyatana.

I think Bhikkhu Sujato has been translating āyatana as ‘dimension’, at least in the samāpatti’s. While that’s probably better than ‘field’; it doesn’t quite capture this other aspect you’ve highlighted (maybe ‘base’ is more to your point). Of course, translation is hard, and I personally can’t think of any word or phrase that would clearly bring all this meaning together.


Why would it be better,?
Field is closer to the oecumenical philosophical concept of “ground”, which seems to apply to ayatana.
And people will understand better “field”, than “ground”.


Really ?

There has never been an accurate translation of the fifth jhana in MN 59.
It looks like taboo among the empiricists.

Better to have these uncomprehensible translations.

While it should be the following (see the lexical notes at the end of the latter link) :

  1. sabbaso rūpasaññānaṃ samatikkamā,
  2. paṭighasaññānaṃ atthaṅgamā,
  3. nānattasaññānaṃ amanasikārā
  4. ‘ananto ākāso’ti
    ākāsānañcāyatanaṃ upasampajja viharati.
  1. with the complete overstepping of perceptions of form (matter),
  2. with the vanishing of perceptions (based) upon the organs of senses (viz. ajjhattikāni āyatanāni [including mano]),
  3. not striving with the mind (manasa/mano) to perceptions of manifoldness (lit. (what is) differently than one),
  4. aware that ‘space is boundless,’
    he attains and seizes distinctively, the field of boundless space.

The latter shows experiences out of matter and the sensory world.
With no Buddhist “I” (asmi’ti); but still with Buddhist consciousness (viññāṇa).

What does "perception" exactly mean in this context?

Right view is the “Four Noble Truths”: the only line of thought compatible with the most refined states of phenomenal cognition. Aj Thanissaro’s rendering of ‘Stress’ is useful in this third definition.

With the successive development of Right View, the path successively unfolds: to attain it’s successive development, the path has to develop as support. In one instance either one is the result of the other, in another instance it is the cause of the other. Hence clarity and skillfulness go hand in hand, ie. samadhi and punna need to develop as occasions present: either one sharpening-up the other.

Trying to see no-self begs the question of who or what is looking. In the perception of endless transience and stress, the complete absence of any unchanging eternal identity may be noted: simply a fresh identity corresponding to each successive observation. In D.O., contact with, or cognition of, an object results in the arising of a feeling. If attention turns to this feeling, it is understood to be a bodily sensation. Thus identity with the initial object won’t arise, though identity with the body may well do so: in which case Stress continues, and the whole tangle of Samsara ensues.

Since this happens unknowingly, the ‘unbinding’ is simply making this very unknowing fully knowable.


There is no problem if there is an understanding of the ‘conventional’ use of words like ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’.

Experiences arise and cease - there is nothing carried over from one experience to the next. Memory is a re-presentation of events that have ceased to exist. The re-presentation process is also impermanent - much is forgottten.

Through identification with and attachment to memories a personal story is created.

Not-self is realised in the stilling of all formations that includes the (vanishing) of the sense of self then, the sense of self (reappears).

There are perceptions and thoughts about cessation (after) the sense of self returns.

The ideas about emptiness that arise after the stilling of formations are not based on conjecture. There is a clearer understanding of the process of letting go.

What is thought about not-self is also not-self - not-self cannot be reduced to a perception or a cognition or anything at all.

Thinking about the ‘nonexistence’ of an imaginary thing - like a flying spaghetti-monster - takes place in the stream of experience.

Thinking about the absence of something - that has ceased to exist - happens in the stream of experience.

The realisation of emptiness takes place when the stream of experience discontinues - it stops.

That which can be known is what is involved in letting-go and, there is the realisation of emptiness when the process of letting-go reaches its natural conclusion.

When it comes to inquiry into the absence of a ‘atta’ it can be problematic to refer to a subject who is a ‘doer’ - a witness, a receiver and, owner of experience.


It might be useful to broaden our reflection on the ‘stream of consciousness’.

“A ‘river’ or a ‘stream’ are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described. In talking of it hereafter, let us call it the stream of thought, of consciousness, or of subjective life.” - William James

In the link below, the 3rd of the (five characters in thought) i.e. “Within each personal consciousness, thought is sensibly continuous” there is an interesting reflection.


Not an unconditioned something - or other. Nibbana is not-conditioned, not-born. That which is phenomenal comes into and goes out of existence. Phenomena makes its appearence and is sustained by supportive conditions and, when the supportive conditions disappear things vanish.


I don’t see the interest in that moment to moment stuff in Buddhism. It adds absolutely nothing to the comprehension of the Teaching. Moreover:
There is not a “return" of the sense of self”.
This is not what the suttas says.
SN 22.47 says:
SC 2.1-2

Thus this way of regarding things (viz. “this is mine”/“I am this”), and the notion ‘I am’ (‘asmī’ti) have not vanished in him.
Again Bhikkhus, as “I am” has not disappeared, there is a coming down of the five (internal) fields of sensory experience.
‘Asmī’ti kho pana, bhikkhave, avigate pañcannaṃ indriyānaṃ avakkanti hoti.

Note tha SA 63 only mentions the “this is mine”; not the “I am”.
But anyway, if there is “this is mine”, there is also the “I am”.

Important note:
The only real parallel in these 3 texts, is 1. the speculation about the self, in relation to the five aggregates of “clinging” (appropriated khandhas) - 2. the “this is mine” view - and 3., the consequential descent of the fields of sensory experience (into these khandhas). Id est “sensory actualisation”.

It is not the self that exists or not - It is the khandhas.
One cannot say I will exist, or I will not exist - because it is not the self that exists, but the khandhas.
The self is elswhere to be found. It does not have to exist or not to exist (to live, or to die).
The self is not supposed to die.

Indriyānaṃ avakkanti
Avakkanti: coming down into.
Avakkamati [ava + kamati, fr.kram]
. to enter,go into,to fall into.

Ava= down
Kamati [fr. √ क्रम् kram] = to plunge into,to enter into.

The kind of people from your page at SexoJimboPedia
Wicca buddhism now ?

And “attentional blink”(an attempt as a unified theory) , has nothing to do with experiencing one mental event at a time ; but just about choosing one phenomena over another.

Dear Buddha, where are we heading to ?


When I practice this, it is generally in the context of anapanasati.

Basically, I reflect that any of the phenomena related to the sixteen steps are not mine, no a self, not permanent and not under my control and work to release any sense of control or grasping towards them.

It is not easy.


The only ‘thing’ that carries over from one moment of consciousness to another is the latency of bodily sensation. If perception is slowed down sufficiently this may be noticed and a sense of emptiness realised, otherwise a sense of identity along with perception will continue.


Anatta is a characteristic of phenomena, the phenomena are directly observed and the characteristics become apparent. If Dukkha and Anicca are followed sufficiently clearly for a sufficient sequence or duration of time, Anatta becomes clear as an unsubstantial characteristic of the given currently running event. This includes any sense of identity.

Buddha’s teaching of wrong questions and wrongly expressed questions is worth looking into in this respect.


Sorry to butt in into this late, but I just wanted to address this claim, since I’ve been reading about it lately:

There was a discussion on this on dhammawheel about the idea that annihilationsm is more acceptable than eternalism. Anyway, Analayo is quoted as saying there is a subtle distinction between the acceptable and unacceptable “annihilationst” views:

The decisive shift of perspective that is required to really transcend becoming can better be appreciated after taking a closer look at an aspiration that a discourse in the Sayuttanikaya presents as the expression of an annihilationist view, uccheda-di…hi (SN III 99). This aspiration reads: “may I not be, may it not be for me, I shall not be and it will not be for me”, no c’ assa, no ca me siya, na bhavissami, na me bhavissati. The Sayutta-nikaya discourse points out that this aspiration is rooted in ignorance and an expression of craving.

A discourse in the A#guttara-nikaya, however, reckons this type of aspiration as the supreme among heterodox views, agga bahirakana di…higatana (AN V 63). The reason for this comparatively favourable assessment in the A#guttara-nikaya discourse may well be that a somewhat similar maxim was employed in Buddhist circles, with a small but decisive difference. The modified mode of this aspiration reads “may it not be, may it not be for me, it shall not be, and it will not be for me”, no c’assa, no ca me siya, na bhavissati, na me bhavissati (MN II 24; SN III 55; AN IV, 70; Ud 78). By replacing the
first person formulation in the verb forms with the third person, the need to go beyond the self-notion implicit in the annihilationist
approach becomes apparent.

In other words, saying “I won’t exist” is unequivocally wrong view and is hazardous because it involves identity with the aggregates —e.g., 'I am my body, so when my body dies, I am annihilated," or something like that. On the other hand, saying “It might not be, and it might not be mine” isn’t quite right, but could be a basis for non-return, as shown in SN 22.5. In the latter case, you see the 3 characteristics in the aggregates and consequently do not self-identify with them.


I think ‘I won’t exist’ is bad because for someone who really believes that, there’s no motivation to get out of samsara; “who care’s what happens in the future? I won’t exist then anyway”.

But if someone takes a more skeptical stance, it makes more sense to practice. If you don’t know what’s going to happen, it makes a lot of sense to let go of the khandas in the case they turn out to be bad.

Or at least that makes sense to my mind :slight_smile:


Good points. I’d also add that a related downside to saying “I won’t exist in the future” is that it could lead to moral apathy, since, if you cease to exist, you can no longer experience consequences of past kamma.

You know, on second thought, I question whether Ven Analayo’s claim holds up to scrutiny. In AN 10.29/AN v 59, Buddha says the least bad wrong view is the annihilationist view w/ first person pronouns:

“Bhikkhus, of the speculative views held by outsiders, this is the foremost, namely: ‘I might not be and it might not be mine; I shall not be, and it will not be mine.’ For it can be expected that one who holds such a view will not be unrepelled by existence and will not be repelled by the cessation of existence. There are beings who hold such a view. But even for beings who hold such a view there is alteration; there is change. Seeing this thus, the instructed noble disciple becomes disenchanted with it; being disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate toward the foremost, not to speak of what is inferior.

I’m curious how the Chinese parallel reads here.

EDIT: I think I was misunderstanding Ven Analayo’s claim (here is his original article). I think he acknowledges that AN 10.29 (what he calls A. V. 63) is worded w/ 1st person pronouns, but suggests that the version w/ 3rd person pronouns was popular in Buddhist circles. Meh, somehow this seems very speculative.


I think the 8FP is the most practical suggestion…perhaps even it’s presentation as the 10FP (in the Anguttara I think).

Also, I would recommend reading Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond a couple times and then The Art of Disappearing in order to get:

  1. A reflective/intellectual understanding of the how to…

  2. A reflective/intellectual understanding of a particular window-into/View of Anatta and how to percieve it in daily life so that it is of use to you.

My View/Perception is based in accepting a couple of things:

  1. The Buddha was Awakened and this is something very much out of the ordinary.

  2. The last factor of the 8FP is synonymous with Jhanas and higher states of mind.

And thus I accept (and practise accordingly) towards achieving Jhanas by laying the foundations for what causes them - the purification of virtue & view and samadhi. And I have accepted that this is a gradual process (with some nice, interesting, useful short term gains along the way).

To me this process involves a few possible ways of

  1. One continues merrily letting go of various aspects of the 5 Khandas as one progresses through the Jhanas so that when one emerges from them one notices, with one’s incredibly powerful and clear mind: “gosh, parts of myself were completely absent for long periods of time…goodness me, I can now finally, fully, clearly see that and understand forever that ‘I’ am not a fixed entity…I’m process that can unravel.”

  2. One emerges from a lofty Jhana state and goes about one’s business in a manner which is infused with having been in that state: i.e. very loving, very peaceful, very clear… And as one goes about one’s business with this extraordinary mindfulness one (due to one’s previous conditioning/kamma making of practising the 8FP and conditioning one’s mind with a particular view/perception) one may “see/perceive/view” the Dhamma fully at some point.

I really do recommend that book, though. :slight_smile: And well…a bunch of Sutta reading too…

Sorry if my answer doesn’t help. My Practise is heavily influenced by the views I’ve found to ring true and have tested out (as far as I am currently able to) in terms of their usefulness. It’s possible your views are different and you may not find any resonance or rationality in what I’ve said. Which is cool.

I haven’t read the entire thread, so I’m not sure if this is the case or not… But anyway…here’s my two cents!

Oh…I want to add, as I perceive and have reflectively accepted it…but also as I’ve - to a limited degree - experienced it… To “directly” observe a thing, whether anatta or whatever, is to be in it. To experience it - experientially, emotionally.

A bit like eating one’s head. But of course you can’t because you’re doing/cetana-ing two things at once: getting your head in the right position (let’s just pretend you can) and then making your mouth eat itself from the inside (huh…maybe you can!)…

My point (!) is that one doesn’t directly experience anatta and understand that one has done so, at the same time. One directly experiences it, and then one understands one has done so. Because consciousness is only aware of one thing at a time.

Like I said, I’ve not read the whole thread…so apologies for any repetition!

EDIT: Oh and just to add…these are just reflections…intellectual perceptions in the most part… I’m very ordinary … lol…which is cool.