Meaning of Atta

That’s a solid understanding. But there might be in atta/anatta a hint regarding a dispassion that you might not be aware of. Are anatta and not-I-me-my-myself-mine congruent, or does it have another connotation? Words in the dhamma are not random and for us to ‘agree’ on a meaning of atta isn’t worth anything. To get closer to what the Buddha meant might, on the other hand, be relevant for our correct understanding and our practice.

Reading the Upanisads :slight_smile: and other literature around it, but for the so inclined the original texts are quite interesting…

Thanks @Luis, the same here

Yes. MN1 deals with this. Apparantly everything one knows or experiences or tastes can become an object of I and mine-making afterwards, apparantly even Nibbana.

“He perceives Nibbāna as Nibbāna. Having perceived Nibbāna as Nibbāna, he conceives himself as Nibbāna, he conceives himself in Nibbāna, he conceives himself apart from Nibbāna, he conceives Nibbāna to be ‘mine,’ he delights in Nibbāna. Why is that? Because he has not fully understood it, I say”. (this is from the translation of Bhikkhu Bodhi).

This seems to imply that the mind can become under the influence of sakkaya ditthi again after tasting Nibbana. It’s start conceiving again and makes again self-views. The hunger for an answer. The first fetter has not come to an end yet and that is apparantly because one does not realy see things as they are but start conceiving again and mistakes conceiving for direct knowledge. This shows the power of sakkaya ditthi.

Yes, it could be. They all are tools for us to reach our goals. However, they are not for grasping. Whatever way we can use to reach our goal, that is good enough. One can use a toyota to reach a city. Another person can use a honda to do so.

The Suttas and their words are for us to free our attachments. They are the tools for us to reach the truth. They are not the truth. Therefore, the Dhamma is simply the raft to help us to reach the goal.

I am not saying that we should not understand what is atta. However, if we want to compare it with something else, we should clarify what do we think what it is, so others can understand what are we talking about. Otherwise, we will misunderstand each other.

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Yes, this cannot be said enough @freedom . Thanks for reminding.

IMO, Atta = who/ what we truly are.

Every sentient being knows that It is! It’s obvious, isn’t it? :wink:
Then of course come the questions. Surely, I am! But what am I? Who am I, truly? How have I come to be? What is the meaning of my existence? What is my place in the world? What indeed is the nature of the world? Etc. Etc.

Then, as now various philosophers and religious teachers had differing opinions on what Atta actually was. Even more varied were the methods expounded to actually get to know Atta- from meditation to ascetic practices.

The Buddha offered a fresh approach to this problem. Basically being “OK, can we agree on what Atta is not? Surely we all agree that Atta cannot have the nature of being Anicca and Dukkha? Well then, let’s work our way through everything in our experience, putting aside all that is Anicca and Dukkha as Anatta. Eventually if we are diligent, we will know it for ourselves.”

Of course, when we actually do that, what we get is the end of suffering. And we realize the flaw in our basic premise - “I am”. Clinging to that idea, craving for existence/ non existence … this was the cause of our Suffering all along.

@faujidoc1 ,

In another topic about poems Bodhisattva shared a poem of Milarepa.

The first verse goes:

“Someone who rests in the act of self-recognition
And is therefore in contract with basic reality
This is a yogi and happy at any time
Someone like this is a yogi and always content”

(just one verse of many)

What does that mean when there would be no self to be recognised?
What are your thoughts or impressions about this verse?

I find it very strange. I think there are buddhist who teach that seeing that all is anicca, dukkha and anatta is the way to enlightment. And it is all there is to see too.

And there seem to be buddhist who teach, all one has to see is the unborn, unchanging reality. That’s the way to enlightment.

“How is it now, Master Gotama, is there a self?”
When this was said, the Blessed One was silent.

“Why is it, venerable sir, that when the Blessed One was questioned by the wanderer Vacchagotta, he did not answer?”

“If, Ānanda, when I was asked by the wanderer Vacchagotta, ‘Is there a self?’ I had answered, ‘There is a self,’ this would have been siding with those ascetics and brahmins who are eternalists. And if, when I was asked by him, ‘Is there no self?’ I had answered, ‘There is no self,’ this would have been siding with those ascetics and brahmins who are annihilationists.

“If, Ānanda, when I was asked by the wanderer Vacchagotta, ‘Is there a self?’ I had answered, ‘There is a self,’ would this have been consistent on my part with the arising of the knowledge that ‘all phenomena are nonself’?”

“No, venerable sir.”

“And if, when I was asked by him, ‘Is there no self?’ I had answered, ‘There is no self,’ the wanderer Vacchagotta, already confused, would have fallen into even greater confusion, thinking, ‘It seems that the self I formerly had does not exist now.’”

“When there is an element of initiating, are initiating beings clearly discerned?”

“Just so, Venerable Sir.”

“So, brahmin, when there is the element of initiating, initiating beings are clearly discerned; of such beings, this is the self-doer, this, the other-doer.

“Suppose, bhikkhus, a dog tied up on a leash was bound to a strong post or pillar: it would just keep on running and revolving around that same post or pillar. So too, the uninstructed worldling … regards form as self … feeling as self … perception as self … volitional formations as self … consciousness as self…. He just keeps running and revolving around form, around feeling, around perception, around volitional formations, around consciousness. As he keeps on running and revolving around them, he is not freed from form, not freed from feeling, not freed from perception, not freed from volitional formations, not freed from consciousness. He is not freed from birth, aging, and death; not freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair; not freed from suffering, I say.

“But the instructed noble disciple … does not regard form as self … nor feeling as self … nor perception as self … nor volitional formations as self … nor consciousness as self…. He no longer keeps running and revolving around form, around feeling, around perception, around volitional formations, around consciousness. As he no longer keeps running and revolving around them, he is freed from form, freed from feeling, freed from perception, freed from volitional formations, freed from consciousness. He is freed from birth, aging, and death; freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair; freed from suffering, I say.”

”If it’s impermanent, it is suffering. It is a changing dhamma. Would the well-learned noble disciple in the middle way rather view: there is a self, there is other than self, both, or not?” The mendicants explained to the Awakened One, “Not at all, World Honoured One.”
“Mendicants, the well-learned noble disciple regarding these clinging aggregates, contemplate and examine them as they are: not self and not belonging to self. Having contemplated and examined them as they really are, they do not cling to anything that could be clung to in the world. Not clinging to anything that could be clung to they therefore do not hold onto anything. Not holding onto anything they therefore realise for themselves extinguishment.

My understanding is as follows:
All phenomena experienced by a sentient being are volitional constructs based on the fundamental delusion ‘I am’. Becoming conscious of its construct, it clings to its experience in a variety of ways… all of which ultimately lead to Rebirth and Suffering.
The way to break through this endless cycle- which is without discernable beginning - is to investigate the phenomena experienced and realize their Anicca, Dukkha and ultimately Anatta nature. This needs a calm, collected mind, which is where Sila and Samadhi come in.
Having seen through the illusory nature of all phenomena (even the very subtlest experienced in the formless meditations) - having let go of all constructing - the unborn, unchanging ultimately Empty nature of Everything becomes evident.
There never was anything permanent (viz Really Real) all along. It was its own conceiving, resting on the tripod of Namma/Rupa/Conciousness and originating with the volition ‘I am!’ that was the cause of the being’s Suffering.
At that point, the entire question of Is there a Self/ Is there no Self becomes pointless.
If at all there is to be an answer, IMO it could be “Having perceived X, identifying with X, delighting in X, not having understood the true nature of X a Self becomes apparent. Having directly known X, not identifying with X, not delighting in X, having understood its true nature, even the concept of Self can be let go of.”

Just my two bits… we all need to come to our own understanding in the end! Not to mention, actually walking the Path! :grin: :smiley:


Isn’t it important to base our opinions on the texts? Or, on which texts is this opinion based on? How do you reconcile it with Vedic texts where atman is obviously not what we truly are?

I don’t say you have to take atman research into account, but then at least you would have to posit that you don’t think that Vedic atman and Buddhist atta have anything in common. Which is possible, but it would require a bit more justification than “the Buddha reframed concepts all the time” I think.

As I said, just my opinion.

I haven’t come across any sutta text which says what Atta is. :thinking: On the contrary, there are many texts which say what is Anatta viz what Atta is not. So, :man_shrugging: :man_shrugging: IMO one way to understand the Buddha’s concept of Atta might be to first understand everything he points out as Anatta (MN1 has a comprehensive list of things which should not be identified with and DN1 contrasts the teaching of the Buddha with that of others).

I think one may infer the meaning of Atta from first and second sermons.

From the first sermon, Dukkha was defined as 5 clinging aggregates in brief. I believe the ascetics were bewildered because they thought that the 5 clinging aggregates should somehow be the basis for Atta. How could they be dukkha?

The characteristics of Atta can be drawn from second sermon to be:

  1. eternal, constant
  2. happy state. One can seek refuge, safety and satisfaction in it.
  3. absolute control. One owns it and will be able to control it as one wishes

The Buddha refuted the idea that 5 clinging aggregates could form the basis of Atta with two arguments. The first categorically states that one cannot control them and second argues that they are impermanent, not satisfactory and, thus, not self.

Correct, for example “earth” and “creatures”. Now, who in their right mind would think “Truly, in my essence, in my soul, I am creatures”? or “Truly, in my essence I am earth”? Why would the Buddha refute declarations that are non-sensical to begin with?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the texts don’t say that atta would have to be sukha, only that it can’t be dukkha. Which would leave the option that atta could be neutral.

And who says “I have absolute control over my soul, I control it as I wish”? The concept of soul / essence is incongruent with control. If I am my soul maybe I can control my body, thoughts, etc. But who would think that the superficial ego controls the soul? And what does one “do” with the soul anyway, even if I could control it?

Again, you bring in the conclusion into your understanding. It’s: impermanent - not satisfactory - anatta (not the yet-to-be-established “not self”)

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Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dhamma

The Discourse on the Non-self charachteristic

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Thanks for sharing your understanding @faujidoc1 .
The above statement i do not understand. An arahant and Boeddha would be free of asmi mana (the conceit I am) but still experience a world ofcourse. Is the vipaka vinnana, the first moment of becoming aware of a smell, sound etc. a volitional construct based on the delusion I am? In other words, is all we perceive a volition construct?


Prince, before my awakening—when I was still unawakened but intent on awakening—I too thought: ‘Pleasure is not gained through pleasure; pleasure is gained through pain.’

It can be inferred that the bodhisattva had the idea of practicing painful mortification in order to attain the ultimate supreme pleasure from this sutta.

There are many different views of Self. Looking at DN9 Potthapada Sutta already give you a sample of some. If you ask various people now, they would probably postulate a Self differently each, even if they come from the same religion.

What matters more is to understand what Self meant to the five ascetics, how the Buddha refuted them so that we may utilise them in the same manner when we have the same views.

As a basis for existence, the five aggregates can be seen as belonging to Self or are Self.

If one view that they belongs to Self, Buddha refuted it categorically as they cannot be controlled.

First Argument

Mendicants, form is not-self. For if form were self, it wouldn’t lead to affliction. And you could compel form: ‘May my form be like this! May it not be like that!’ But because form is not-self, it leads to affliction. And you can’t compel form: ‘May my form be like this! May it not be like that!’

If they are existence itself, the Buddha asked the ascetics to consider the fact that they are impermanent. It follows naturally that they cannot be satisfactory. Just think of this body and mind that grows old, get sick and dies. Can you develop a sense of security and satisfaction in it? Is it a good candidate befitting for Self? If not, what would be the most skillful mean to go about considering it?

Second Argument

What do you think, mendicants? Is form permanent or impermanent?”

“Impermanent, sir.”

“But if it’s impermanent, is it suffering or happiness?”

“Suffering, sir.”

“But if it’s impermanent, suffering, and perishable, is it fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self’?”

“No, sir.”

“So you should truly see any kind of form at all—past, future, or present; internal or external; coarse or fine; inferior or superior; far or near: all form—with right understanding: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’

In fact the Buddha presented a third way to view the relationship between existence and the five aggregates. When there is craving for the five clinging aggregates, it becomes the fuel for existence. With the cessation of craving, the fuel ceased to be and extinguishment follows as a result.

Ok, the words ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain’ appear here, but no connection to atta whatsoever. This is a comment on Jain practice.

If you made up your mind that atta means ‘self’ then there is little ground for a discussion, isn’t it?

In MN85, Buddha was explaining to the Prince about his past practices. And why does one practises? Isn’t it obvious that it is for the long term benefit of self? So that one can experience its benefits.

I’ve explained the understanding based on SN22.59 Anattalakkhaṇasutta. You may want to clarify your views as it is not clear what you are asserting.

You are right! My earlier understanding was too shallow. :grin: :blush:

Some more clues -

SN22.151 (and others)
Mendicants, when what exists, because of grasping what and insisting on what,
“Kismiṁ nu kho, bhikkhave, sati, kiṁ upādāya, kiṁ abhinivissa:
does someone regard things like this: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self’?”
‘etaṁ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’ti samanupassatī”ti?

Surādha, one is freed by not grasping having truly seen any kind of form at all—past, future, or present; internal or external; coarse or fine; inferior or superior; far or near: all form—with right understanding: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’
“Yaṁ kiñci, surādha, rūpaṁ atītā­nāga­ta­pa­c­cu­p­pa­n­naṁ …pe… yaṁ dūre santike vā, sabbaṁ rūpaṁ: ‘netaṁ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṁ yathābhūtaṁ sammappaññāya disvā anupādāvimutto hoti.

Yes, of course it doesn’t make any sense to term an external form as me or mine. And terming external form as non- atta makes sense only if Atta has a meaning beyond me and mine.

So, how about an updated proposal? :laughing:

Atta = Some thing or some state, whether internal or external, whether related to one’s aggregates or to the world, which can be found, realized, achieved or merged with in some way which has the characteristic of being without change and without suffering, which can control itself or whatever belongs to it in any way it wishes.

The stuff that Rohitassa, Sariputta, Moggallana and even the Bodhisattava left home in search of?

Your thoughts?

I think the implication of the texts is that we (i.e. the faculty of intention or will-power) can control the atta the way we wish. Which would make the intention the superior and the atta the subordinate quality.

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I was referring to ordinary unenlightened sentient beings!

An enlightened one has seen through the nature of experience. Hence though they still have contact, sensation and cognition, they do not create any volitional construct (sankhara) around it, and they do not think in terms of ‘I am’. (See Advice to Bahiya).

The enlightened one of course, can still move around in the world, perceive objects, use language such as ‘I’ etc. but this is without any delusion.

This is in contrast to the experience of ordinary sentient beings who automatically color all sense input with volitional constructs rooted in the sense of ‘I am’. So they are unable to let go of their experience - they just cannot accept it as it is- they feel the need to hold on or change it in some way viz Craving.

This difference of experience is illustrated in MN1 where the ordinary being ‘perceives’ Earth, while the enlightened being ‘knows’ Earth.

To clarify with an admittedly imperfect simile, imagine someone is wearing a Virtual Reality headset. Would they have any doubt that whatever is perceived within that virtual reality is simply based on the sense input received - its not real? Yet they would still be able to see VR generated body parts on looking down (red furry arms? :thinking:), they could move around in that world seeing departmental stores, parks etc, talk to others within the simulation etc…

(My understanding is EBT based, I find that Abhidhamma inspired hyper technical concepts to be often at odds with what is given in the suttas.)