Meaning of Atta

Hi, @Green. Dharmakirti uses the following criteria: whatever is real must be singular and not extended in space or time. The whole is not real in the sense that there is no entity that really permeates all the parts. Some Vedic philosophers, the Nyayas, proposed that there was a real entity, a bit like a platonic idea, that was the whole, and that was extended along with all the parts and connected to them. Dharmakirti demonstrates logically that this is not true because the whole is not in a single part (apple is not skin) and because there is no whole which is other than the parts (otherwise you could remove the parts and the whole would still be there). I think that reasoning is quite good.

Nice. Something to be discussed is the notion of emergence, that did not exist in Dharmakirti’s time and about which we talk nowadays. Then the question is: does the whole do things that can’t be explained by the movements of the parts, and is it something extra different from the parts (i.e. is strong emergence real)? There is no agreement in that regard among contemporary scientists and philosophers. Personally, I think strong emergence isn’t real, that at the end all about the whole can be explained through observation of how the parts move and interact.
For example, all about an iron vase, such as its capacity to hold water, is explainable through the characteristics of the particles and their interactions.

Yes. According to the suttas you are not only meat. You are meat, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. The 5 aggregates. And there is nothing extra that is the real thing connected to all 5 aggregates. Or the 5 real thing that comes out of the junction of the 5 aggregates. There are just the 5 aggregates, their interactions, etc.

Right. I agree with you on that. For all practical purposes, we can talk as if there is a person that lasts more than a single instant. Not only does it last more than an instant, but it also lasts a whole lifetime. Not only a lifetime but many lifetimes, etc. But that is just a conventional expression for practical purposes. What is actually there is a continuum of singular parts (instants of the 5 aggregates) that are causally connected. Thus, there is a causal connection between the 5 aggregates at the moment of the crime and the 5 aggregates at the moment of being held responsible. For all practical purposes, you can say they are the same, instead of saying that they are causally connected in a continuum.
But in reality, the feelings are not the same, neither are the perceptions, mental formations, the meat or the consciousnesses. And there is nothing extra that remains the same while all 5 aggregates change, unless we affirm a sort of transcendental person that is neither of the aggregates (like the Sammityas and the Hindus did).

If we only talk in terms of conventional expression, then there is a lasting person that is the same person throughout their whole life and who can be killed by someone. In reality, there is a flow of ever-changing 5 aggregates that we call person conventionally. This reality (of 5 aggregates instead of real person) does not change the gravity of the suffering involved in death. Neither does it change the painfulness of pain. Suffering is real, feelings and perceptions are real (etc. the 5 aggregates). The concept"person" is superimposed onto a gathering of real things. Also the concepts “killing” and “death” are superimposed onto real things that involve a lot of suffering. So, even though the person might be just a concept, killing is a horrible thing.

Now, I’m just trying to analyze it in a way similar to what Dharmakirti exposed. I think it is all very logical if you think about it. But of course there are different possible ways of exploring those issues.

One way is the Vedic way, to say that there is an eternal Self, that is not the same as the changing parts.
Another way is like the Sammityas, who similarly said that there is a real Self that is neither of the aggregates. I don’t know if their notion of self is something eternal or impermanent, and how is it different from the Vedic notion of self.

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Please do not put words into my mouth and do not bark at the wrong tree.
I never say such thing as “totally different”. I said: “not the same but related”.
I already explained the meaning when I said “not the same but related”.
I also already told you the criticisms you will receive when you keep insisting on “the same”. Read carefully again what I wrote.

That checklist is too advanced for a person who doesn’t do his homework.

See this checklist below instead:

  1. Is there a car? My answer given to you: Yes.
  2. Is that car eternal? My answer given to you: No.
  3. BEFORE that car is assembled from the parts, where is that car?
    Is there a car at that moment?
  4. AFTER that car is disassembled from the parts, where is that car?
    Is there a car at that moment?
  5. That car hit another car some time ago so it lost its entirely front:
    If it is still the same car, no damage happened, why bother apologizing and paying damage?
    If is it a totally different car, no damage can be proven to have happened, why bother apologizing and paying damage?
    Now, look: When it is not the same car but causally related to that car, damage happened and damage can be proven. So, apologizing and paying damage needs to be done.
  6. Now that car got repaired its entirely front, is it still the same car?
    If it is still the same car, no restoration can be done, why bother repair it?
    If is it a totally different car, no restoration needs to be done, why bother repair it?
    Now, look: When it is not the same car but causally related to that car, restoration can be done and needs to be done. So, reparation needs to be done and can be done.

Now, please go and do your homework first. :pray:

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Thanks Luis for sharing all this great info. I can follow the logic behind what you share. Still, for me it feels a little bit artificial on account of logic or reasoning too demonstrate that I and other living beings do not really exist, only rupa, vedana etc. It’s like saying there are only atoms in the world and not houses, not mountains, not cars, no Earth, not rivers, no trees. I will leave this to rest for now.

I do not understand why people say that we are the khandha’s while Buddha surely says we are not the khandha’s. In many sutta’s it is said: see it like it actually is, with wisdom, rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana is not Me, not who I am, not mine, not my self.

It seems the Buddha means that this is not only a skillful means to see it this way. But he says “as it actually is”…So, I belief Buddha’s message and discovery is that we actually are not rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana. That’s what we have to see for ourselves. It is due to defilements we do not see and experience it this way.

So the perspective that we, or i am rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana is the perspective of a deluded mind. I am not the meat, i am not the feelings etc.

So what are we?

Can you agree with this?

@ORsEnTURVi , again: if you were part of Buddha’s Sangha in his time, and you were reprimanded because of some violation, do you think the Buddha would accept your ‘excuse’ or reasoning that it was not you who violated but another version of you, some former version of you?

Please do your homework first, I already gave you the checklist with the car. If you have properly done your homework, you would not have ask such questions.

@ORsEnTURVi @Green

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Hi, @Green. This is exactly what I’ve been questioning since I started the post. I think that your interpretation is similar to the Sammityas’. I’ve only had contact with this interpretation through their critics, so my view might be biased to see it otherwise (both the Sarvastivadins and Theravadins criticized the Sammityas, aka Puggalavadins).
I think there are some problems with this interpretation, though. For example: if the person exists but is neither of the aggregates, then does this person feel anything? If it feels, how is it related to the aggregate of feeling? If it doesn’t feel and is unrelated to any of the aggregates, what this person has to do with all matters for us, such as suffering and freedom from suffering?

If i stole some belonging of you, and you find out, I do not start a discussion with you of what you mean by Me who stole, or if there is literally a Doer, or if i am now a different person than the moment i stole, or if there is a self, or if i am the khandha’s or not, or that my true self does not steal, etc.

I just admit…yes I stole. For me that is enough wisdom.

I would not do such thing either.

I would do the same.

For me, that’s not enough wisdom. Wisdom requires you at least understand:

  1. Why did you steal?
  2. Why other people steal?
  3. Why stealing is bad?
  4. Does punishment prevent stealing?
  5. Is there a way to prevent stealing from ever happen again?

Hi Luis,

I do not really understand that its my personal interpretation of the teachings of the Buddha that we really are not rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana.

There ar many sutta’s with this kind of phrase:

"Therefore, bhikkhus, any kind of form whatsoever … . Any kind of feeling whatsoever . . . Any kind of perception whatsoever . . . Any kind of volitional formations whatsoever . . . Any kind of consciousness whatsoever, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near-all consciousness should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ (SN24.71 and many others).

Because it always says: ‘as it really is’…that shows, for me, that this was not only a view for the Buddha, or some kind of skillful means, but something he must have seen directly.

Can we first discuss this?

Yes. All Buddhist schools will agree that all dhammas are anatta. That is very very clear in the suttas. Two possible interpretations from this are:

1 - self, or person, does not exist. It is just a concept superimposed onto the 5 aggregates. It is not real, because, as the suttas say, all dhammas are not the self. This is the interpretation found both in Sarvastivada and Theravada.
2 - self, or person, actually exists but is neither of the 5 aggregates. This is the interpretation of the Sammityas/Puggalavadins. And that seems to be your interpretation, from what you’ve said.

When one takes delight in a view, one takes possession of it.
Taking possession, one establishes Self in it. This is the same for the rest of the aggregates.
This Self is a liability for suffering.
This Self leads to affliction.
This Self is impermanent and not satisfactory.
This establishment of Self is to be abandoned for benefits of oneself.

My ‘understanding’ at this moment is like this:

The Buddha discovered there is a cessation to rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana. The Buddha was able to taste this cessation in this life. At that moment it is not a view anymore that rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana “is not Me, not mine, not my self’” It is seen directly.

If it is impossible to see this directly, than it will be always some kind of belief or view that rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana is not Me, mine, my self.

But, I belief, one cannot taste this cessation from a personal perspective. Not as an observer who observes this cessation. That is impossible because the observer itself is part of the khandha’s.
So, as long as one observes the progressive stilling of formations, and tastes this, such as in jhana, one does not taste cessation. This personal perspective of an observer who observes has to fall away too to see and taste cessation.

From the perspective of delusion we very much feel we are the khandha’s. The awakened mind has seen this is also construction, based on active kilesa’s who construct this perspective. It is not some kind of absolute fact. In that sense, being a person, is true to the extent that this I and mine making of rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana actually takes place.

But i think there is no real use to convince oneself of all this. We have to discover, unravel, see this for ourselves. There is no use in artificially pretending one is not a person, not a self, not identified with rupa etc.

Does this make sense?

Hi, @Green. That makes sense to me :slight_smile:

That’s interesting. What I’ve read is that cessation is the end of all taints, including personality view. But I think there is some sort of experience of cessation, which might be experienced by an arahant but not by an ordinary being. I don’t feel confident enough to comment on that, though :sweat_smile: Cessation is a tricky subject and quite far from my experience. This sutta below has a brief account of the absorption of cessation:

But i think there is no real use to convince oneself of all this. We have to discover, unravel, see this for ourselves. There is no use in artificially pretending one is not a person, not a self, not identified with rupa etc.

Does this make sense?

I think there is use in understanding what atta and anatta actually mean, which is what I’m striving for. Still, as you said, pretending one has no identification with rupa, with consciousness, etc. is not helpful.

Hi @Luis,

Interesting sutta Luis.

It says:

“Furthermore, take a mendicant who, going totally beyond the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters and remains in the cessation of perception and feeling. And, having seen with wisdom, their defilements come to an end”.

What does this exactly mean? Does this mean that at the same moment of tasting cessation their defilement come to an end? I assume that this something which happens when one emerges from cessation, because it says…’having seen with wisdom’, and not ‘seeing with wisdom’…

The sutta continues:

“They meditate directly experiencing that dimension in every way. To this extent the Buddha spoke of the personal witness in a definitive sense.”

What does this mean? Does this mean one can be a personal witness of cessation or does it mean one can be personal witness of the total ending of lobha, dosa and moha, as an arahant is?

In regard to the meaning of atta. For me atta refers to the common perception there is some kind of mental or spiritual entity inside which feels, cognizes, lives, experiences all kind of things, is burdened etc. I think the Buddha referred to it as asmi mana, the mana of ‘I am’.

I have seen how asmi mana works when once I felt no body anymore. The moment that happened fear arose, because asmi mana . The mind has the following internal program i saw: “There are bodily sensation, so ‘I am’ and ‘I am’ because there are bodily sensations. ‘There are thoughts’ , so ‘I am’…There is longing, so ‘I am…’ and vice versa. Etc.
So, there is kind of internal mirroring happening in the mind , and the khandha’s confirm the notion or sense of ‘I am’ or ‘I exist’ and vice versa .

It is like when you see your face in a mirror. You would be shocked when you not see a face. Seeing your face in the mirror confirms ‘I am’. But what if you do not see your face? You would think…’huh, i do not exist anymore’? Mabye fear arises. Inside this mirroring is also happening.

The Buddha discovered that this notion ‘I am’ can also end. It is also an addition to mind and one of the most subtle defilements. But there is a strong impression on the heart that a mental entity exist inside and does the feeling, experiencing, living and dying. I think we in the West would call this the notion of an ego.

In the way we experience and understand ourselves and others we also tend to belief this ego is some kind of ruling entity inside. I think that idea of a ruling entity is also related to atta. One can start believing that any behavior starts as a choice or act of this ruling entity inside. For me that is what is atta. And the Buddha discovered there is not such a ruling atta, mental or spiritual entity, that evokes all thoughts, speech and actions. That’s why nothing can also be a possession of atta.


Nice contemplation. Thanks for sharing, @Green!

I found this nice sutta with some hints on the meaning of Nibbana:

‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment.’

I think in Buddhism the concept of Atta/Self refers mostly to an eternal unique personal entity (such as an eternal soul). Something which is individual of nature, and at the same time eternal. I belief Buddha rejected this kind of existence. He seems to teach that there is nothing in the world which is at the same time unique, individual, undivided, eternal, existing without causes and conditions, and has a power of it’s own. I belief that is in the core idea of atta. This kind of existence is rejected.
There is nothing in of about living beings that has that characteristics.

Nibbana is also not self in the sense that it is also not like that.

But Buddhism accepts that there is something in which no arising can be seen, no ending and no change in the meantime, the unconditioned, which is stable and real refuge. If this refuge were not part of our being, and cannot be seen, discovered, then there is no refuge for us.

The unconditioned is called not-self, i belief, because it is also not personal and not individual of nature.
One has to transcent individuallity, i.e. any kind of I and my-making.

I see no problem to call this ones true self. But not in the sense that this true self is personal and individual of nature, but as in ‘ones true face’. That what makes the Buddha teach that we are actually not rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana.

I have read the Pali sutta’s and i really see no problem. If you do, please share.

This is quite close to what some Mahayana texts say. Even the expression “true self” is used in reference to buddha nature in tatagathagarbha sutras, if I’m not wrong. In tantras this expression is certainly used. And it has the sense that lack of self is our true nature (and thus our true self).

In EBTs I think Nibbana has mainly the meaning of the cessation of all suffering. So it is not like a thing, a substrate, or a true nature of what we are and which would be seen when I and my-making are abandoned. If I understood well what I read in the early suttas, cessation is experienced in the sense that no taints are present (including personality view) and thus the mind is completely free from suffering.

I think those two presentations are not contradictory, but it is useful to see the difference.

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Hi @Luis

I find this quit fascinating. I have not real answers yet, at most an approach.

At this moment i cannot belief a Budddha arises in the world with the purpose all living being go out like flames and cease to exist at the moment of death. But that is the only possible outcome if a living being is nothing more than a name or designation for rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana.

Well, that all ends at death, if liberated. So there is also nothing left! There is no one realising a parinibbana after death, because nothing goes further when rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana end at death. IF we would only be rupa etc.

There is also no one to merge with Nibbana, there is simpy a definite ending of a lifestream when a living being would be nothing more than rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana.

I do not belief this can be true. For me this is negative. In this case Buddha-Dhamma would only be a way to end a life-stream in a definite way. That would be the only result. Parinibbana would , in this case, only refer to the non-existence anymore of a former lifestream consisting of rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana.

I feel this is really absurd. What is holy about this goal of going out like a flame?

For me, Budddha-Dhamma is about discovering the truth about ourselves. And we cannot really find this truth when there is Me and mine-making. MN2 is often refered to. But it does not teach that Buddhism is not about finding ones true face, but it teaches that it is not wise to approach this manner in an intellectual or psychological way and keep asking things like ‘what am I or who am I’.
Then one becomes trapped in self-views. The answer to the question must come from experience, direct knowledge.

We are now as a frog in a well. If the frog would ask "what is the world?’ it’s answers are limited to the well. So his answers are limited. The same way, if one start on the Path questioning: “who or what am I”, answers are also limited by our perception which is formed by active delusion, by are tendencies, by are impurities, by our self-views, etc. This is not the right way.

But MN2 does not say that Buddhism is not about identity because it clearly is. It is all about identity. How we perceive ourselves, who we think we are is of great concern. How can there be an end to suffering if we do not see there is inside not an entity suffering or carrying the burden of suffering.

This solution to suffering is closely related to understanding ourselves but we cannot really understand ourselves when we are still full of impurities. That’s why the Buddha teaches not to focus on identity but to focus on purirication and abandon craving. Then the identity issue becomes more and more clear. Thent our answers become less and less limited and maybe some day we also really realise the cessation of Me and mine-making and then our answers of what or who might become clear.

DN34 says:

What two things should be directly known?
Two elements: conditioned element and the unconditioned element.

If the unconditioned element would not be present how can it be known?

AN3.47 says:

Characteristics of the Unconditioned

Unconditioned phenomena have these three characteristics. What three?
No arising is evident, no vanishing is evident, and no change while persisting is evident.
These are the three characteristics of unconditioned phenomena.