How would you reply to these arguments by a philosophy Professor against non-self?

If identify view is uprooted, i am not sure if motivation is necessary. One can choose to be motivated in order to finish quicker but time itself is enough - if we are loyal to Buddha’s doctrine on warrantied benefit of uprooting first 3 fetters.

The wood is out of the river and in time, it will dry completely.

Re: “Sense of self is necessary” - there is sense of self before nibbana, but i am not sure that is due to maintenance. It is because it is just there, a sign that the task has not done.

Without identify view, you won’t be able to make motivation out of sense of self, at least not when you are mindful. Even if one makes a motivation out of self heedlessly, he would later discern it and make correction.

Feeling bothered, that is the motivation propelling us going on.

Hi Steffano. Nice to see you here again!

I do not wish to offend the good professor, but this seems be a case of too much thinking and not enough experience. Thinking needs to be grounded in reality.

As several people have pointed out, we need to be careful with our definitions. Fortunately the suttas give us good guidance. A self is defined as something that is neither impermanent nor suffering. Moreover, it is something we should be able to control.

Let’s see how this works from an experiential point of view. A state of deep meditation, specifically a jhāna, is powerful not just because it gives us the ability to focus with great clarity on the most detailed aspects of existence, but because the path into jhāna is itself very instructive. When you emerge from jhāna, you know that you have seen the three characteristics directly. Certain aspects of your experience that existed prior to jhāna – the body, the senses, the will – were completely gone for a long period of time. It is this cessation which is the true mark of impermanence. Further, you realise that the absence of these things is intensely pleasurable. You have no doubt that the five senses and the will are torturers that are best abandoned. They are suffering. You would prefer never to leave jhāna, but unfortunately that is not an option. Then there is the nonself aspect. In jhāna you cannot even access the five senses and the will. It is not just that they are gone, which professor Repetti argues is not enough to label something as nonself. It is the fact that they are completely beyond you. No access is possible.

Imagine a tree. Most people would say a tree cannot be their self because it is external to us. A tree is not endogenous to a person. Yet any given tree is still an experience and as such one might just be able to make a case that it is a self. In fact, a tree is a much better candidate for a self than the will as I have described it above. A tree is always accessible; you just have to look in its direction. Even if you are far away, you can potentially see the tree with the help of an electronic device at any time of your choosing. Not so the will in jhāna. From this point of view, you would be better off taking the tree as your true self than the will. Yet we can probably agree that it is absurd to take a tree a one’s true essence.

Of course, the above is still in the realm of thinking. In the end only experience of these things will be fully satisfactory. Nonetheless, thinking about this in the right way may at least make it plausible that nonself can be seen through direct experience.


I am that Philosophy professor. Greetings! I am not out to give Buddhists a hard time. I am not arguing that there is a self, although I incline to that view, and the largest minority of Early Buddhists, the Pudgalavadins, thought the Dharma didn’t entail the non-existence of the self, but more at its indeterminate nature. I’m arguing that the state or experience that lacks a self does not logically count as significant evidence for the unreality or non-existence of the self. I say I’m not a “Buddhist”because I don’t know that certain Buddhist claims are true, but I incline towards Buddhism, and have been teaching meditation in the Buddhist mode for three decades and practicing it for five. I have experienced some jhana states. I believe they are transformative. I’m only arguing that they don’t prove the no-self view.


Welcome to the forum, and I appreciate that people are asking some difficult questions. Out of curiosity, how would you define a self, and in what sense would you say that a self would or would not exist?


Welcome to the Forum, Rich. If any of the procedures baffle you, or for any kind of help at all your first call is to send a personal message to @moderators and the next one of us to come on duty will respond. :slight_smile:


Who is it that desires logical proof of anattā? What exactly would be sufficient evidence to constitute proof? How exactly would getting proof change things?

Isn’t jhana a Buddhist claim? How do you know that particular claim is true? How are the claims of anattā different or similar to claims of jhana?

How do you know that you’ve experienced jhana? Have you proved this to yourself and if so, what is the evidence that constitutes that proof? Can it be logically proven?


Those questions are food for thought rather than an invitation to debate. Please forgive me if anything comes off as confrontational.


I think for understanding the notion of not-self (anatta) in Early Buddhism, one needs to look closely the connection between anicca (impermanence), dukkha (suffering), and anatta (not-self). The connection is about the reason why “anicca is dukkha” and the various terms for the notion of anatta in EBTs, particularly in SN/SA suttas. The following pages may be useful:
Pages 55-60 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (447.3 KB)


I think the main point of self is the conception that it’s permanent, thus always there, not possible to do away with, not possible to disappear.

Following Ajahn Brahm’s description of deep meditation resulting in insight into no self, it’s the following:

  1. 1st Jhana: body disappears, thus one can see that the body cannot be a self, cause the body has been left behind when one goes into this deep meditation.

  2. 2nd Jhana: will (the doer) disappears, thus one sees that the will is not self.

The following is more of my speculation:

  1. Reaching to the sphere of nothingness, consciousness disappears, thus consciousness is seen to be not self.

  2. Reaching to the cessation of perception and feelings, both perception and feelings disappear, and after emerging, one sees that even perception and feelings are not self.

All 5 aggregates are seen then to be not self, self is not to be found anywhere.

Again, note that this self is the conception of it being permanent, always there no matter what.

That’s the logic of how deep states of meditation can lead to insight into no self.


Hi Rick,

Is the above a typo (i.e., with the figures the wrong way round), or did you really teach meditation for 25 years before you began practising it?


Oh, come to think of it, it’s weird. Haha. I thought it was possible cause there are some academic professors who are just interested in Buddhism academically don’t actually have faith in Buddhism, so they are not Buddhists. I think the quote from Dhammapada is like the spoon touching the soup, but not tasting it. So close yet so far.

So teaching meditation could be more of academically teaching it as a subject, not so much on how to practise it, maybe more like, there’s this thing called 1st Jhana, 2nd Jhana and so on in Buddhist meditation. Or just to repeat the formulas from other teachers, but only as a parrot, without practising it for 25 years.


Rick, not Rich. Thanks! Happy to participate.


Lots of good questions. I am not sure they undermine my claims.

I am happy to be on the side of one of the two following stereotypes:

Religion: Answers that cannot be questioned.
Philosophy: Questions that cannot be answered.

Can you guess which of the two I would favor, if girded to choose?


I’ve been teaching meditation regularly since 1991, and practicing since 1973.


Those are scriptural, theoretical, doxological claims. They’re also open to critical examination. Simply appealing to sutras is technically an appeal to authority, which is not persuasive for those who do not accept those sources as true authorities.


I do both. Been practicing since 1973. Teaching since 1991.


Those are certainly just texts, not authorities, and open to critical examination, regarding the connection between anicca, dukkha, and anatta, and the notion of not-self in Early Buddhism.

The main point is, if questioning about the not-self view (taught by the Buddha), then one needs to first find out what is “not-self” according to the available information provided in the study of early Buddhist texts.


Thank you Ajahn. So to take the simile of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the OP, rather than moving away from it and not being able to see it, it would be as if the cathedral itself (no pun intended) were to disappear.
I now remember Ajahn Brahm’s discussion of impermanence in terms of the simile of the sea and the waves (anicca is not to be understood in terms of the waves going up and down on the surface of the sea, rather in a jhana it’s like the whole sea disappears).


Your personal practicing and teaching are in fact irrelevant to the arguments.

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However Rick’s answer is 100% relevant to the question he was answering: which was merely a request for clarification, Thomas.

Click on the arrow at the top of a post to see which previous post is being responded if the answered hasn’t used the quote function. :slight_smile:


Hello Prof. Rick,

In your view, what would be a good argument for non-self?