Idappaccayata, anicca and anatta

I disagree here. We don’t want to die, we want our body, health and life to last and not to perish.

We want our family and friends, our country and sport teams to endure, not to perish. We want our posessions to endure, not to perish.

We want stable improvement: a pay increase each year, our relationships to get better, not worse over time, our bank account to grow over time, etc. But impermanence implies instability.

Seems to me that people focus overly on the anatta part instead of seeing the whole phrase ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self.’

Anatta is only 1/3 of the phrase. The other two (This is mine, I am this) seem relevant for ‘ordinary’ life, not just for spiritual seekers.

Consider if the Buddha never taught the Dhamma and/or you never came into contact with the Dhamma during your life.

If this were so, you would not be practicing like you are doing now. The choice to practice is just as conditioned as every other choice IMO :slight_smile:


But there are still choices to be made. Conditionality isn’t the same thing as cause and effect, and therefore it isn’t determinism.
Conditions are more like parameters, but those parameters can be changed.

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The basic “equation” for anicca seems to be something like: impermanence+attachment = dukkha. That seems fairly convincing and uncontroversial to me (well, assuming dukkha implies ups and downs, joys and sorrows, not just uniform bleakness).

This then becomes a problem to be solved (a solution being some notion of salvation). A solution can involve tackling the attachment, focusing in on the impermanence bit, or perhaps a mix of both (most approaches usually involving a few more metaphysical assumptions).

Brahma/Atman-type systems target the impermanence bit, asserting that actually really there is a permanent part immune from this problem; though they target attachment too somewhat, some kind of spiritual development via reincarnation where attachment is reduced until one reaches the Godhead eventually.

YOLO (You’ve One Life Only) Buddhism assumes even less. I think this mostly just works with the above basic equation, makes no assumptions about past or future lives or karma, and targets reducing attachment for a life with less dukkha now. And I guess there can be YOLO notions of self/atta and anatta too. In this case, I guess the person has to assume this will be worth the effort (perhaps otherwise going more towards a “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” type philosophy :slight_smile: ). Ancient Greek Epicurianism seemed to be somewhat in the middle (advocating living quite a simple “good life”).

Early Buddhism does, of course, have its own metaphysical premises. A core one is that there is nothing permanent anywhere to be found. Effort then obviously has to be devoted to tackling the attachment side of the equation to reduce dukkha (there’s no other option left).

This then is where atta and anatta comes into things. I guess for the YOLO case we can have a self as a kind of ephemeral physical/biological operating system for the body/mind (rather like a mobile phone OS; it exists in a sense but vanishes when we turn the phone off or it is destroyed, and there being no continuity to/from any other future/past mobile phones :slight_smile: ). It’s there but completely transient. I don’t think it’s invalid to call this a “self” even it is not the “self” of other systems.

Buddhism asserts quite a bit more about such a “self”, that there’s kind of causal link between lives (and associated karma also). It’s still rather ephemeral but in a more persistent life-spanning way. Actions have consequences. “Eat, drink and be merry” now has more definite downsides. Salvation and the solution to attachment is now is placed in a much larger context.

More assumptions are being made about a “self” than the materialist or YOLO approach. However, it doesn’t come with all the Atman baggage (though there is still rebirth and karma). It is still impermanent and still is in a sense just a chain of cause and effect. It’s assuming more than the minimalist YOLO but less than the more maximalist Brahma/Atman systems.

I think the Buddha’s argument that if there really was an imperishable atta at the core of your being, then the atta should simply be able order its various aggregates to be such and such (choose sukkha over dukkha whenever it wanted) is a good argument. It’s a reasonable question to ask “atta” believers. There are always workarounds of varying credibility to such things though. A believer could argue that a spiritually advanced enough soul (“ascended master” or Taoist immortal) could, of course, do such a thing. Conveniently explains why the believer themselves can’t do this right now! :slight_smile:

I think one has to try to reverse-engineer from the suttas to try to find a consistent meaning for atta (and therefore what anatta is denying). Is it just “self” with its usual connotations in the English language? I’m not so sure. There’s certainly a lot more metaphysical baggage for the dukkha to anatta leap, I think, in comparison to going from anicca to dukkha (which is more like a more straightforward causal jump). Buddhism is trying to put clear water between itself and both the Atman/Brahma and YOLO/materialist approaches. Anatta seems to me to be more about making clear water with the Brahma/Atman systems. Concepts like kamma and dependent origination are more about clear water with materialism/YOLO approaches. Kamma, DO and anatta, I think, are all metaphysical jumps beyond the basic anicca proposition.

I don’t think you can really determine the veracity of such things by argumentation. Inherently these are just different metaphysical assumptions about the universe built on top of the basic anicca+attachment=dukkha proposition, assumptions which may or may not be true.

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Isn’t the implications arrived at by insight… rather than arrived through analysis?

Sorry, what did you mean creationism…?

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I guess an insight is probably needed to for it [the implication] to have a profound effect on one’s psychology, to make it more than just intellectual.

But it still seems useful to investigate the Buddha’s teaching intellectually now and again. It doesn’t hurt that the ideas also make sense logically.


Well, exactly my point that logically it may not make sense and we end up coming up with a new Abhidhamma!

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An interesting analysis, and having read both Buddhist and Hindu texts I’d agree that anatta v. Atman is the pivotal difference, given the common goal of liberation from samsara.

I don’t think the control argument makes much sense if anatta is negating Atman, since Atman is not involved in the activity of ego or conventional self (like the unconditioned in the EBT, Atman is quite separate from the aggregates of personal experience).

The control argument makes more sense if anatta is negating conventional self, the sense of a “me” making decisions, and so on.

I still don’t think we’ve seen a coherent explanation for how anatta is a logical consequence of dukkha.

IMO a coherent argument for anatta would need to include conditionality. Conditionality creates instability and uncertainty.


I’m not convinced that all the ideas do hold together logically.
I still don’t think we’ve seen a coherent explanation for how anatta is a logical consequence of dukkha.
And I still don’t think it is clear what exactly anatta is negating in the EBT.

Just noting that this is your opinion :slight_smile: Others have different ones, and may be convinced already :slight_smile:
There is no definitive right or wrong - but rather it is something that each person must see for themselves…

Best wishes for the work and the journey

with Metta


The most common representation of the self is the body, and the body changes, gets ill and dies all beyond our control, therefore it cannot be a self.

“Form, monks, is not self. If form were the self, this form would not lend itself to dis-ease. It would be possible [to say] with regard to form, ‘Let this form be thus. Let this form not be thus.’ But precisely because form is not self, form lends itself to dis-ease. And it is not possible [to say] with regard to form, ‘Let this form be thus. Let this form not be thus.’”— SN 22.59

In AN 2 125-126, it is stated that the only two ways to acquire right view are through the words of another, which includes reading, or through applying appropriate attention in personal experience.

In the Buddha’s definition of appropriate attention (MN 2), he instructs that debating abstract subjects such as anatta is not appropriate attention, and so will not lead to right view. He says appropriate attention is when the cause of suffering is investigated in daily life through observing the results of sensuality, and that this results in the abandonment of identity view:

"He attends appropriately, This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress… This is the way leading to the cessation of stress. As he attends appropriately in this way, three fetters are abandoned in him: identity-view, doubt, and grasping at precepts & practices.”— MN 2

Just noting that I clearly expressed what I said as an opinion, so I’m not sure what your point is.
Obviously we’re going to have different opinions and perspectives here on occasion.

Just noting also that I did say above: “For me ultimate truth is something to be discovered, not something to be told”. So you’re preaching to the choir here.


I’m still not seeing anatta as a logical consequence of dukkha, when considering the impermanence of the body.
I can see dukkha as a logical consequence of attaching to the body, identifying with it as me and mine.

I’m afraid that I still find the lack of control argument rather contrived. I don’t see it as a “proof” for anatta since its a circular argument. It assumes that a self has to be in control in order to be defined as a self - but that looks like an arbitrary assumption.
I can see it as a strategy to reduce attachment, but not as a logical argument for anatta.

As for Right View, i think the problem is that anicca and dukkha can be directly observed, whereas anatta cannot. Also its pretty clear how anicca leads to dukkha, but it’s far from clear how dukkha leads to anatta. I suppose if you equate anatta to lack of control, you could say that anicca and lack of control lead to dukkha.

My interpretation is ‘not me, not mine, not my soul’; as I understand it Brahminic beliefs had an important role for the Soul to merge with Mahabrahma! This true Self was pure; it had to be completely blissful to join a blissful Mahabrahma! This is what the above reasoning means.

In your estimation does the five aggregates include disease, aging, death and all unpleasant things that happen? Do the five aggregates function as a result of your manual involvement or automatically; you will see they are causally generated, and there’s no requirement for the 6th aggregate of a Self for their functioning. Attachment to the khandas, as well as their arising and passing away is in it self dukkha.

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Saying that the aggregates are not fit to be regarded as Atman is a strawman, since from a Hindu perspective Atman would be viewed as separate from the aggregates anyway. This suggests that it is self-view which is being challenged here, rather than Atman.

As for the aggregates, I think it’s the sankharas aggregate which “contains” self-view, so there is no need for a 6th aggregate.
The sankharas nidana (volition/choices) is also significant here. It’s presence in DO argues against the idea that conditionality is deterministic, or crude cause and effect. Clearly choices are made, the problem is the basis on which they are made, and what they lead to.

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I don’t really see a workable logical conditionality argument going from dukkha to anatta myself (at least that doesn’t make some other extra assumptions).

The Buddhist argument is that everything, including any putative self/atta, can only be made up of the five aggregates (which are also viewed as non-permanent in Buddhism); this atta won’t have any real control over these aggregates; therefore whatever it is it doesn’t measure up to what is usually understood as an atman/atta (and will be subject to dukkha whether it wants to or not).

The control or dukkha arguments against atta are a bit like the argument that because there is suffering in the world then there can’t be a God. It’s a good and reasonable argument but not a watertight one (various workabouts of varying strength/credibility do exist).

Similarly, an atta believer can contend that some aggregates really are permanent or the atta has control over them (or will at some future point) or that the atta is something beyond the aggregates entirely. Can one conclusively prove purely by argumentation that their assertions are not so because there is dukkha? Probably not in this case.


My two cents:

The path is conditioned, not unconditioned. It is a medicinal path, not absolute philosophical truth.

There is an underlying tendency in living beings, propagated through natural selection, towards struggling for survival. In humans this leads to fear of death and the causes of death. It also leads to hoarding of recourses needed for survival (labelling them “mine”).

Thanks to our relatively complex minds we observe the fact that all organisms are impermanent. They are here one day, and dead the next. I am here today and may be gone tomorrow. I am impermanent, like a dewdrop or a soap bubble. To alleviate this fear, we have come up with various ways of trying to convince ourselves that we will continue to exist, despite the obviousness of death. Enter self-views.

Anatta is not a metaphysical truth, but a pointer towards the medicine. Ideas of self are conditioned by suffering due to fear of impermanence. Not self is a description of how one’s subjective world is experienced once one has been cured of the underlying conceit “I am”, and it is a far more pleasant world than the alternative, reportedly.

Clinging to “not self” or “non self” as some sort of absolute truth would be wrong view, and harmful. While no self can be found in the five khandas that make up a subjective universe, they do not lack such a self either. Anatta is a response to atta. Anatta is a so without a self. Emptiness is empty. In a world without identity-view, no refutation of identity-view would be necessary or meaningful.


Please don’t make the mistake to simplify the ‘Hindu’ or ‘Brahmin’ beliefs. Keep in mind that the late Vedic philosophies of the Brahmanas and the pre-Buddhist Upanisads had a few centuries to develop. Even the Brahmins in the suttas argue about different paths to brahmaloka! The ancient Indian mind was logical, sharp, and argumentative. Every teacher had a slightly different spin on things.

There are passages in pre-Buddhist paths that teach that atman is the body, and other teachings are more subtle, to the most subtle (that atman is beyond any change). It is not reasonable to believe that the Buddha swiped away all of these paths and arguments with one sentence. What we find in the suttas is a snapshot of much deeper and more subtle discussions, of which we don’t even get a real taste because we are left only with some formulas and abbreviated discussions.

Do you really think that the Buddha taught day and night the first five bhikkhus but disarmed all different views of Brahmins (and other sramanas) in one minute? We have to be more cautious in reverse-engineering what anicca-dukkha-anatta meant.


Mat: Isn’t the implications arrived at by insight… rather than arrived through analysis?

Well the insight will be in line with the EBT, but our logical analysis might be skewed. The point of the insight is that it simplifies a hundred lines of reasoning, some of which we might miss, into a some hours of direct seeing in a retreat setting.

Returning to the OP, I’m now leaning to the view that the Buddhas greatest innovation was idappaccayata rather than anatta, a rejection of Absolutes in favour of comprehensive conditionality. With this view anatta would be a consequence or symptom of idappaccayata - as would anicca.

The only exception to idappaccayata in the EBTs is Nibbana, which is unconditioned. I’m not sure whether Nibbana qualifies as an Absolute.

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