Looking for Sutta association of anatta and 'lack of control'

I recall passages, roughly, that demonstrate that one doesn’t ‘own’ or ‘control’ the khandha-s , notably in not being able to counteract aging, sickness, death.

Can someone remind me where such passages are found? (It would seem a rather complex notion to do algorithmic search on.)

A couple of weeks ago, Sayadaw Thuzana (at a weekend retreat dhamma-talk, Tathagata Meditation Center), mentioned the list of 3 “characteristics”, and for the 3rd he phrased it as something about being uncontrollable – i.e. not the usual no-self or not-self sort of expression.

I want to look more closely at such passages (but have a rather poor memory for exact citations).

The idea resembles the notion in Antonio Damasio’s hypotheses as to neurological construction of “self” functionality, where at the 2nd stage (of his three stages or levels: 1) primal self, 2) core self, and 3) autobiographical self) the aspects of agency, recognition of “ownership”, of control first emerge.

Damasio’s hypthotheses (in “Self Come to Mind: The Construction of the Conscious Brain”, 2010) have fascinated me as several aspects of his theories strikingly resemble notions elaborated in the Abhidhamma texts (i.e. phenomenological “deconstruction” of consciousness), though he has avowed (heard in a PBS interview) that he knows next to nothing of Buddhist thought.

(Please forgive bringing up Abhidhamma around here. It is, though, the Suttanta sources that I’m looking for.)


SN 22.59 comes to mind:

“Bhikkhus, form is nonself. For if, bhikkhus, form were self, this form would not lead to affliction, and it would be possible to have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus.’ But because form is nonself, form leads to affliction, and it is not possible to have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus.’

Where the lack of being able to “have it of form: be like this, not like that” is the lack of control :slight_smile:


[quote=“Erik_ODonnell, post:2, topic:4166, full:true”]
SN 22.59 comes to mind:…[/quote]
Thanks. The Samyutta Nikaya being as it is, there are probably further similar passages in the neighborhood of that one.

Oh and SN 22.33, containing one of the (in my opinion) clearest similes on non-self:

At Savatthi. “Bhikkhus, whatever is not yours, abandon it. When you have abandoned it, that will lead to your welfare and happiness. And what is it, bhikkhus, that is not yours? Form is not yours: abandon it. When you have abandoned it, that will lead to your welfare and happiness. Feeling is not yours … Perception is not yours …
Volitional formations are not yours … Consciousness is not yours: abandon it. When you have abandoned it, that will lead to your welfare and happiness.

“Suppose, bhikkhus, people were to carry off the grass, sticks, branches, and foliage in this Jeta’s Grove, or to burn them, or to do with them as they wish. Would you think: ‘People are carrying us off, or burning us, or doing with us as they wish’?”

“No, venerable sir. For what reason? Because, venerable sir, that is neither our self nor what belongs to our self.”

“So too, bhikkhus, form is not yours … consciousness is not yours: abandon it. When you have abandoned it, that will lead to your welfare and happiness.”


@cjmacie You might be interested in this paper: Rethinking Non-self: A New Perspective from the Ekottarika Āgama which also deals with an idea of self and control.


There’s also the ‘five daily recollections’ often recited. AN 5.57 contains them.

How about SN 22.95?.

With Metta

That appears to be some earlier or later version of:

I guess yours is later, thanks!

A tangential questioning: in the article cited by piotr (“Rethinking Non-Self: A New Perspective from the Ekottarika-āgama”):

“…All dhammas are non-Self • (sabbe dhammā anattā).

With reference to these three verses, Walpola Sri Rahula (2000, 57–58) states:

The Buddha denied … the existence of Ātman, Soul, Self, or Ego within man or without, or anywhere else in the universe. … The term saṃkhārā denotes the Five Aggregates, all conditioned, interdependent, relative things and states, both physi­cal and mental. … The term dhammā … includes not only the conditioned things and states, but also the non-conditioned, the Absolute, Nirvāṇa. … Therefore, … according to this statement: ‘All dhammas are without self’, there is no Self, no Ātman, not only in the Five Aggregates, but nowhere else too outside them or apart from them.”

At the very end of that – “no Self, no Ātman, not only in the Five Aggregates, but nowhere else too outside them or apart from them” – is there support in the Sutta-s for this “nowhere else too”?

Perhaps a couple of modernist interpretive views muddy the waters here:

  1. The, largely Western and most often unconscious, ontological bias in the language, that customarily deals in terms of “things” that “exist” (vs phenomena that arise AND pass);
  2. The idea that the Buddha’s teaching asserts that this, whatever “self” or “Self” does not “exist”, in any way, shape or form, anywhere;
  3. The interpretation that the Buddha taught that, pragmatically speaking relative to his path to release, a substantive “self” or the “Self” can not be found in human experience (aka experienced phenomena); and that he refused to answer questions as to “existence” beyond this context.

The sense that I’ve been working with is along the lines of (3), largely from the interpretations (teachings) of Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Is there “solid” evidence in the sutta-s to the contrary? (Or, are we simply caught in the flood – to mix metaphors – or the “tangle of views”, at least until we can awaken out if it all?)

On the other hand, the paper by Tse-Fu Kuan (“Rethinking Non-Self…”) raises very interesting perspectives… a lot here to be studied further…

The clearest evidence is of course that there is nothing starting the contrary, ie there being a self. Given the amount of text we have and the clarity of the Buddha (no “closed fist” teaching–not hiding things) that says a lot.

There’s also:

“Bhikkhus, there being a self, would there be for me what belongs to a self?” -“Yes, venerable sir.”-“Or, there being what belongs to a self, would there be for me a self?”-“Yes, venerable sir.”-“Bhikkhus, since a self and what belongs to a self are not apprehended as true and established… MN22

This just means they don’t exist.

Or SN35.85: the world is empty of a self.


And furthermore, a brahmin says this: ‘I am not a part of anything whatsoever anywhere, nor is there anything that is mine anywhere wheresoever.’ What that brahmin says is true, not false. AN4.185


Only suffering comes to be.
Only suffering exists and vanishes.
Nothing but suffering comes to be.
Nothing but suffering ceases.” SN5.10

Quotes like this make it clear that anatta is not just a pragmatic teaching or that the Buddha didn’t really know. Ideas leaving room for a self are like looking for the most beautiful girl in the country (DN 9)


That would be MN 22. The Pali version asserts this twice -

  1. Firstly in the bit “with reference to what internally does not exist”;
  2. Secondly in the section that records the Buddha using Modus Tollens to deny the existence of the Self.

Sue Hamilton acknowledges that #1 is the standard citation of the No-Self proposition. However, she says (without substantiating her opinion) that asati in that passage might be derived from another non-Pali word that does not mean “with reference to what does not exist”.

Edit - I see Bhante Sunyo has already cited MN 22’s Modus Tollens proof.