Is there a "Soul" in EBT Buddhism?

This is one of the perennially arising topics on Buddhist boards (so as someone else suggested earlier, there would be lots of long past threads here on this topic)! :slight_smile:

Anatta = an+atta is some kind of denial or negation of the atta. The question then is what exactly is meant by the atta in the EBTs and what is the nature of the denial or negation.

In terms of the EBTs, it would seem that any atta worthy of the term would be both sukkha (satisfactory) and nicca (permanent/unchanging). I think that aligns fairly well with the usual Christian concept of “soul”. IMO a certain independence or control is also implied elsewhere: an atta should be able to order the aggregates as it wishes – that it should not be at the mercy of the whims of fate or its surroundings.

The five aggregates are a kind of classification scheme for what can be experienced. The suttas would imply that an atta cannot be found there (and also these aggregates are not me or mine).

Some people have jumped to the conclusion that the above doesn’t rule out some kind of overself beyond the aggregates. IMO such a notion would seem rather alien to the suttas.

Of course, there is dependent origination (DO). That again implies there isn’t some kind of independent self. DO is implying that existence is interdependent.

DO seems to imply some kind of multi-life process, a DO chain of cause-and-effect. Not nothing, but not an eternal satisfactory entity either (not something that would meet the bar of what’s usually understood by the term “soul” or the atta of the EBTs).


As far as I studied about Paticcasamuppada, there’s no ‘soul’ that represents a self. What you called as ‘soul’ just a assemble of nama and rupa.

A very short reply:

It depends how you define a soul. If you define soul as some immortal, eternal entity, like “atta”, then no - buddhism negates existence of such with central doctrine of anatta.

But if you treat a soul like a stream of consciousness, just a synonym for mind or heart, I think of course EBT support the temporal (anicca) existence of such a thing.

So soul as eternal atta - no. Soul as citta - yes, but it is not eternal.

Even tho citta is not the ultimate goal, it is very important because it relates to samma samadhi. So I understand some people defend existence of “soul” (as more spiritual aspect of citta), because this view supports developing samadhi. But we just must remember that this is different understanding than taking it to be eternal and ultimate goal. I recommend reading DN1 and DN2 to expand view on the issue. DN2 among many things deals deeply with all samadhi states etc., and DN1 with how nothing in the universe is permanent, negating notions of eternalism.


Thanks for the replies.

What if someone insists that there is a Soul, yet it is changing, but there is always this soul?

I read some posts that people argued that the Buddha did not say “There is no Soul” and this proved that there is indeed a Soul yet we just choose to say “Not Self” for it. Does it accords to EBTs’ view?

Thank you for the link.

I would say to don’t participate in such papanca, don’t try to convince anyone. I would just focus on developing the path and samadhi and eventually you will see the truth for yourself, as Buddha instructed us to do. :wink:


I tend to agree with what you said.

But I just interested in this topic after reading certain posts on Suttacentral and Dhammawheel. It seems there are different ways to interpret this Anatta teaching (so is Paṭiccasamuppāda). Did Buddha really taught different interpretations for those core Dhamma ideas?

This is why I come to here to learn what EBTs tried to say about it.

So far I got an answer from Paul1, you and Jhindra: soulessness.

I’ve never understood the idea of a changing “Soul”. Isn’t that just using the same word for a series of different ‘things’?

Microsoft Windows has the same name in 2011 as it had in 1985, and yet it is a radically different proposition. For example, we couldn’t be doing what we are doing now if we were using Windows in 1985.

How much does something have to change before we think of it as a different ‘thing’ to it’s previous incarnation?

This is a nice sutta on the subject:

But an uneducated ordinary person would be better off taking this body made up of the four primary elements to be their self, rather than the mind. Why is that? This body made up of the four primary elements is seen to last for a year, or for two, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or a hundred years, or even longer.

But that which is called ‘mind’ or ‘sentience’ or ‘consciousness’ arises as one thing and ceases as another all day and all night. It’s like a monkey moving through the forest. It grabs hold of one branch, lets it go, and grabs another; then it lets that go and grabs yet another. In the same way, that which is called ‘mind’ or ‘sentience’ or ‘consciousness’ arises as one thing and ceases as another all day and all night.


Thank you for the answer.
Thank you for the sutta quote too.

So now it seems this idea of “ever-changing Self” isn’t in line with what EBT community learned too.

Now I have this conclusion about this topic:-

We know that the so-called “being” is made up of five aggregates affected by Clinging. And since this five aggregates are Anicca, Dukkha and Anattā, the notion of “Attā” is never to be found at the first place here and there. It is merely an illusion we created due to Ignorance and Craving.

By this reason, both tenets: (1) Atthattā & (2) Natthattā are not relevant since both of them assumed there is a Self to begin with (as in Ānandasutta SN44.10). What Buddha taught is Anattā, in which all five aggregates are without the notion of “Attā”. Rejecting both tenets, one should see Paṭiccasamuppāda and know that all things come and go according to conditionality.

Is my conclusion here in line with the way of EBT community learned?

In the second discourse of not-self characteristic (SN 22.59), the Buddha’s first argument for not-self is that if X is self then it wouldn’t lead to affliction and it would be possible to have it of X: ‘Let my X be thus; let my X not be thus.’ (X is whatever part of your physical body and mental function, i.e the kandhas). Because there is nothing which wouldn’t lead to affliction and which we can wish according to our will, there is no self both inside and outside the kandhas.

The second argument is that whatever is impermanent (anicca) is suffering (dukkha) and whatever is suffering is not fit to be regarded as “This is mine, this I am, this is my self”. The kandhas are also impermant and thus they are sufferig and not-self.

1 Like

Thank you for the explanation. So it is clear to me now, there isn’t an Atta within or related to Khandhas. For all five aggregates are Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta.


Conventional reality has been arrived at by common consensus, so is a valid reality but subordinate to ultimate. Therefore its self is legitimate in context, as stated in the quote from SN 1.25. However this cannot be understood in mere words it has to be experienced, that means having some knowledge of both realities from the Buddhist view. It’s not possible for a beginner to know what conventional reality is until it has been isolated through studying impermanence.

"You may know the story. The Buddha was once staying in a simsapa forest with a group of monks. He picked up a few simsapa leaves—which are like miniature aspen leaves—and asked the monks which was greater: the number of leaves in his hand or the number of leaves in the forest. The monks replied that, of course, there were far more leaves in the forest than in his hand.

The Buddha went on to say that, in the same way, the things he had known through direct knowledge but had not taught were like the leaves in the forest. The things he had taught based on his direct knowledge were like the leaves in his hand. Why had he taught so little? Because, in his words, the things he had not taught “were not connected with the goal, do not relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to unbinding.”


"As for teachings whose meaning shouldn’t be drawn out any further, two prime examples are the Buddha’s teachings on self and not-self. Nowhere in the Canon does the Buddha say either that there is a self or that there is no self. Questions of “Who am I?” “Do I exist?” “Do I not exist?” he says, are not worthy of attention. In fact, he goes on to say that views that attempt to answer these questions—such as “I have a self” or “I have no self”—are a fetter bound by which you’re not freed from suffering and stress (MN 2). So, to stay on the path, you should try to avoid paying attention to such questions. "—Thanissaro

" “As he attends inappropriately in this way, one of six kinds of view arises in him: The view I have a self arises in him as true & established, or the view I have no self—MN 2


One thing is what the EBTs actually say, the other what it means.
What the texts say consistently is that Khandhas and Salayatana are anatta.

There are roughly two camps about how to interpret this: 1. There is no atta 2. That the Buddha didn’t make an ontological statement but rather a pragmatic epistemological one (which would not mean that there is a ‘hidden’ atta but rather that any statement about a ‘real’ atta-as-such is worthless).

What does that mean? In my observation this is enough for large parts of the ‘community’ to still infer the traditional interpretation of “In Buddhism there is no soul”.

This, however, is a superficial interpretation. It would be more correct to apply interpretations to atta. The jump to the conclusion that atta = self/soul is not justified (yet). Mostly because our understanding of what ‘self’ and ‘soul’ is supposed to mean in the Christianity-infused English is superficial itself. So it’s necessary to investigate what atta/atman actually meant at that time (in contrast to jiva and purusa for example), and to apply anatta to that.

The majority of people want neat little boxes and concepts, hence the ‘teaching’ of anatta = no/not-soul. That’s just how the mind works.


Thank you, Gabriel, for the explanation.

Yes, I think people got different ways of interpretation of Anatta. I have read some people even said there is indeed a Self yet it should treated as “Not-self” on internet. Meanwhile, some said Soul and Self is different concept and Buddha never denied that there is a Soul. While as I read in Kathavathu, the Puggalavadin argued since Buddha said “One working for own self’s good…”, there must be a Self.

But reading both Suttas and Abhidhamma texts, along with daily experiences, I realized that the entire Five Aggregates affected by Clinging is actually Anicca. With that being said, these aggregates are bound to sufferings and heading to sufferings in the end of the day (no matter how pleasant they are now). Since we know that these aggregates are Anicca and Dukkha, we don’t exercise control over them, then it is Anatta (this is not me, not mine, not my Self). With this being said, the entire Five Aggregates affected by Clinging is exhibiting these three characteristics, hence it is void (Suññatā), without “Atta”, and it is merely a chain of rising and ceasing phenomena. Whatever things arise, thereby will cease accordingly due to conditionality. This is so far my understanding of this teaching.

Seeing this way, I felt that my clinging to material things and mental states (especially envy and greed) can be reduced bit by bit.

In light of new information…

...I ghetto-hide my original thoughts on this subject; I am playing catch-up.

I’ve been musing on ideas near this ^^ for some months.

The description of atman is typically given something like ‘eternal self’, ‘persistent self’, ‘absolute self’…something of that nature. It seems reasonable then that if ‘anatman’ = ‘no atman’, then it would mean ‘no eternal self’, ‘no persistent self’ etc. Somehow though, the ‘eternal’ (etc) qualifier is dropped when discussing anatta.

In simple language, “I / you / they” all exist:

  • even the Buddha made self-references e.g. “I have a sore back”
  • no-one will seriously suggest that we all use one shared user account for D&D forum
  • most here will have social security numbers or equivalent.

In simple terms I exist, albeit as a constantly changing process, a thought about thoughts yada x3. “I” just won’t exist beyond this life any more than Descartes :neutral_face:

:sparkling_heart: :sunflower: Ayya Khema :blossom: :two_hearts:, in this relevant dhamma talk, explicitly states at ~44’10 that “you are not going to come back”…Or as @ravi said (italics mine):


AFAIK, the Buddha refuted Brahmanical atman/atta and brahman with anatta, isn’t it?

Actually he didn’t refute the brahmanical atman but a certain idea of atman that we don’t know the source of. Most likely a shared understanding of sramanas that isn’t known to us because of the lack of their sources. There are only very very few references to concepts mentioned in the upanisads.

Just because atman is mentioned prominently in the upanisads doesn’t mean that the Buddha addressed these concepts specifically.


What if someone insists that there is a Soul, yet it is changing, but there is always this soul?

Soul as Atman was particular to the Brahmins. Others at the time did not share this view, such as the Naganthas. They viewed the soul as always changing and so emphasized the need for absolute mind and body stillness.

In a nutshell, soul can be viewed as a photograph or a movie. Somewhere in this site I know that @Sujato says that the 5 aggregates have this property of always changing and so do not meet this notion of Atman self.

Having never been a Brahmin, I find the not-Atman thing something of a nothing burger. I find deeper states of meditation (Jhanas) help undermine self as person. This is more meaningful to me.

@anon72036881 You are on the right track there :+1:

Below are my understandings:

  1. Is there a person? Yes.

  2. Is that person eternal? No.

  3. Are the person experiences the consequence and the person did the action the same? No.

  4. Are the person experiences the consequence and the person did the action unrelated? No.

  5. Is there something eternal? Yes, only nibbāna.

  6. Does that person possess something eternal? No.

  7. Does that person control something eternal? No.

  8. Does that person have something eternal as a characteristic? No.

  9. Is something eternal inside that person? No.

  10. Does that person create something eternal? No.

  11. Does that person belong to something eternal? No.

  12. Does something eternal control that person? No.

  13. Does something eternal have that person as a characteristic? No.

  14. Is that person inside something eternal? No.

  15. Does something eternal create that person? No.

  16. Does that person feel/perceive/think/do/know? Yes.

  17. Does something eternal feel/perceive/think/do/know? No.

  18. Does something eternal have physical/feeling/perception/thought/act/consciousness as characteristics? No.

  19. Is physical/feeling/perception/thought/act/consciousness something eternal? No.

  20. So, what does a person have anything to do with something eternal?
    The eternal is no suffering. If a person does not want suffering, he/she needs to realize and practice the path leads to the eternal. Succeeding in doing so, a person will experience the eternal.

Soul is nothing but your emotions that changes influeced by the mind. The question should be is there a spirit in Buddhism. Mind Body and Spirit is all part of your Self. But the point is realizing they aren’t really yours as a method to reach the Deathless. Which I’m starting to think otherwise what it meant. Buddha said after reaching Nirvana there isn’t rebirth. But maybe what he meant was that there will be no new rebirth. Meaning the consciousness will not change into a fresh new life again. For me those that reached Nirvana are actually spirit that went to another planet which is more advanced. I mean the point was trancend this planet. Samsara of this planet. Buddha also said he found out many things which he didn’t want to declare because it doesn’t help in the spiritual life. Now tell me what you think they are? :thinking::rofl:

“The consciousness of a person is like the milk, milk can turn into curds, then from curds to butter, and from butter to ghee. The spirit of a person is the same, from the spirit, a person is reborn, grows up, and becomes old. From old age comes death, and after death, the consciousness is again reborn. When this body comes to an end, it takes another body. It is like the interchange of two wicks (of a lamp).”