MN 22 - a single anattā doctrine Pali sutta

I’m very sorry, I literally cannot follow your arguments :confused:

I don’t see any khandhas in the suttas you accept, SN 35.68 and SN 35.85. Nor do I understand why you see only the external ayatanani. It says explicitly: “eye, sights, eye consciousness, and phenomena to be known by eye consciousness”

?? Who takes us back, what takes us back?? Citta is not mentioned either.



I just see that you throw ideas from suttas together that you like, sorry, I try, but I don’t understand.

Also, even if you establish a definition of the Buddha for ‘world’ - why does this cover everyone the Buddha criticizes, like in MN 22? “so loko so atta” does not refer to the Buddha’s definition, it refers to the other’s definition - which we don’t know.

Gabriel, I am sorry to say that we won’t be able to proceed further, if you haven’t yet grasped what a dhamma is all about.

Yes it does.

No it does not.
“so loko so atta” is definitely not about the arupa loka.

We have got some communication breakdown here, I suppose .

It seems this has been a very successful discussion - involving in-depth clarification of specific suttas from several perspectives :grinning:

Convincing others of our personal views/experiences is not a measure of success.

Once the differing perspectives are fully expounded, we all take what we consider to be beneficial from it. This is the success :slight_smile: The Dhamma is a tool for each of us to use according to our conditions etc. Thanks for the many interesting points and perspectives.



No cassaṃ, no ca me siyā,
nābhavissa, na me bhavissatī’ti.
Not of this, nor present in me.
Not to become, not to become in me.

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I would like to recapitulate and go on with the sutta, maybe to finish it eventually… Key take-aways so far are

  • The sutta sees attā as something that is possessed - by which entity does not concern the sutta. It just assumes a subject that would be the possessor without addressing it.
  • The sutta says that it would be great to have an eternal possession, but that this is impossible. Whatever can be possessed must be of impermanent nature, and hence any attā must be of an impermanent nature.
  • It further generalizes its conclusion by stating that any attā-theory must lead to suffering basically because it is based on a non-real axiom.

The flaw of the reasoning is somewhat hidden in the text, but clear from the above: It all rests on the assumption that any conceivable attā or attā-theory has at its center an attā that is possessed - my attā.

Some theories/convictions might follow that, but in this generalized form this is an unbased assumption, and it’s relatively easy to conceive an attā-conviction where the attā/soul/self is not possessed by a mysterious subject.

It is not even true that all attā-theories at the Buddha’s time were of this nature. The Upanisads at least (especially the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad that circulated in a similar area as the Buddha) prove differently.

Out of any context a non-buddhist position is presented, rejected and ridiculed: “The self and the cosmos are one and the same. After death I will be permanent, everlasting, eternal, imperishable, and will last forever and ever”. Supposedly this is a or the brahmin/vedic position - but not to our knowledge at least. Maybe it’s a statement of an influential brahmin teacher at that time, but is taken out of context and surely doesn’t represent all attā-views.

Imagine someone would take one sentence of the Buddha out of context. Any teenager could reject and ridicule it. In short: This is not how you treat the position of someone you respect or are interested in a serious conversation, it’s how you treat an adversary you want to look stupid, foolish and see destroyed - which is inconceivable as the position of the Buddha, but very conceivable for later generations where different religious movements competed for superiority, following, and economic support.

SC 27 - SC 29.3 ends with the core buddhist practice of dis-owning the khandhas, which results in dispassion, freedom, and enlightenment.

SC 30-36 come from AN 5.71/72
SC 36.1-2 strangely equate any arahant with a tathagata.

Where usually the content of the sutta would have ended with enlightenment (SC 29.3) the sutta opens the case again in SC 37.1 with the misrepresentation of the Buddha to be an annihilist.

SC 40.1 - SC 41.28 goes back to the practice of disowning the khandhas - this time coming verbatim from SN 22.33/34 (the same take on the salayatanas can be found in SN 35.101-102, SN 35.138-139).

The sutta ends with proclaiming the result of the teaching (arahantship, non-, once-return, streamentry, dhamma-/faith-follower, heavenly rebirth).

Again, I don’t agree with your analysis Gabriel. Very sorry.
I will reformulate somewhat your own words as follows:
It all rests on the assumption that any conceivable (non-Buddhist) attā or (non-Buddhist) attā-theor(ies) have at their center an attā that is possessed - my attā - in relation to the khandhas and the ayatanani. That is to say, that the atta is considered to be also the khandhas and the ayatanani, among the “whole” rest. (This is a generalisation though - for this is not true for the Samkhya philosophy, for instance).

While a Buddhist atta cannot be the khandhas and the ayatanani.
Again what exist and non-exist (arise and fade - live and die) are the khandhas and the ayatanani. Not the atta.
Buddha is not an annihilationist. (SN 22.47 - SN 12.15). He is not just concerned by the appropriated (“clinging”) khandhas, as in SN 22.47).
He does not refer only to the appropriated (“clinging”) khandhas; as the eternalists & annihilationists do.

There is an atta as a personal pronoun, and as a spiritual atta in Buddhism. It is just that it is not in the khandhas and the ayatanani. The personal pronoun atta cannot say of the latter “this is mine, this I am”.

So in a way, all atta’s theories are based on a “my atta” . But the non-Buddhist theories in the suttas, make it a universal Atta/atta encompassing a “whole” One - while Buddhism (and Samkhya, for instance), do not include the khandhas and the ayatanani in the big picture.

In Buddhism, the spiritual Big Self is outside paticcasamupada; if ever existing (and not relevant to the Teaching anyway) . And in Samkhya, it is outside prakriti. While in the rest of the theories, it is in the “whole” encompassing One.

In the meantime, once the citta has been liberated from the appropriated (“clinging”) khandhas (“this is mine”) , and from seing atta in the khandhas, or atta as khandhas, etc. (“I am”) - the atta as personal pronoun, dwells in the “deathless” - outside the kama & rupa loka. A spiritual atta, detached from matter and senses. Yet not completely realised.

So, in @Erik_ODonnell 's diagram, the Buddhist atta, as personal pronoun should be seen in both the blue and white part. As a material atta in the former, and a spiritual atta in the latter.
Also the higher jhanas should be outside the blue circle. Idem for the arupa heavenly realms.
And lastly, the khandhas in the blue circle, refer to the khandhas in namarupa nidana and their consequential appropriated (“clinging”) khandhas by satta.
Not the ones that have to be gotten rid of in the higher jhanas - that is to say, viññāṇa nidana, and sankhara nidana. The non-manifested (anidassana) khandhas. The khandhas with no-thing.


Alex Wynne has also written about MN22 here The Buddha's 'skill in means' and the genesis of the five aggregate teaching | Alexander Wynne -
He sees this sutta as recording the skill in means moment where the Buddha formulated/closed the model of the 5 khandhas.
The phrase ‘the seen, heard or cognised by the mind’ is shown to be borrowed from the day and referred to meditative or mystical experiences – this is what he replaces with viññana


Thanks for reminding me of that paper. Looking at it again I see a few things worth discussing.

Wynne and Norman are certainly right that “drste ´srute mate vijn˜ate” is a reference to a few places in the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad. I can’t see though how that authenticates MN 22 in particular. The sutta is (like many other MN and DN suttas) largely a fragmented collection of ideas from other suttas.

For example the claim of SC 2.2 can also be found in MN 12, and more importantly AN 4.8.
SC 3.8 can be found in MN 14, and more importantly AN 5.76.
A lot of the following is formulaic or comes from AN 5.155.

We have an original middle part is SC 10.6 - SC 14.4 (simile of snake and raft).

The “so loko so attā” has some SN references

SC 16-19 and up until SN 26 is original in MN 22, but has similarities to MN 2 and SN 22.85.

SN 26-30 has many parallels
SN 30-36 has a few
and again similarities and references until the end…

So there is an original part in the middle - the question is why should that exactly be ‘old’ and stemming from the Buddha? Wynne has his reasoning, esp. regarding the wording of the khandhas, and it’s interesting to follow that.

I cannot really follow Norman’s/Wynne’s argument regarding the upanisads. It seems very probable that we have a reference to some brahmanic thought in MN 22 - it was valuable at that time to point that out. But we now should go beyond that and identify which concepts are really referenced. Here Wynne remains vague.

As discussed in a post above, yes, there are certain similarities to the BU, but Buddhist studies has finally to accept that “Upanisadic concept” or “late Vedic belief” is only a very vague idea. For example we can say, the idea of rebirth is vague in early vedic literature and very pronounced in late vedic texts. But this is just a pointer, nothing precise.

So in the sense that MN 22 mentions ‘atta’ and ‘eternity’ it is late vedic, but there are dozens of late vedic convictions like these. That MN 22 rejects one of these does not mean that it rejects all of them. Strangely MN 22 claims to reject all, but references only a very specific one, and that out of context as well.

To analyze the atta-view was however not Wynne’s intent with his paper, he focuses on khandhas. In our discussion here we’re interested in MN 22 because it is the only Pali sutta that (seemingly) categorically rejects any atta - and while this still stands IMO, I conclude that it is not convincing doing it because the arguments are weak.

Wynne is right about the fundamental importance of the five khandhas in the early Buddhist period (p.10) - But I think he has understood nada about what they are - As much as in p. 10, than in p. 8.
No need to go further therefore.

First, there is a need to “complete the list with the fifth item” (viññāṇa) (p. 8). Secondly, there is nothing “unusual” in the pericope in §3 of section 4, as far as consciousness is concerned, in this context.

Sometimes, the knowlege of the Oxbridge “intelligence” is lacking a bit of understanding.

I like Wynne though - but with moderation.

Glad to see in one simple sentence, what your OP question is all about.
Is there a particular passage that makes you believe that?

I tried to show that a general anatta is the impression the sutta creates in the not too detail-minded reader - but that looking at the logical arguments, one can see a sloppiness there.

The general anatta case is made in two passages:

  • SC 23.1-5
  • SC 25.1-5

Well, you have to see that on a macro level.

That is to say that, seeing khandhas as the personal pronoun self; that is to say as “mine” - might the latter be the material or the spiritual (immaterial) atta, as expounded earlier - is uncorrect.

SC 22 shows that you cannot be possessive about something that’s not permanent, everlasting, eternal, imperishable, if you want to equate that to a self.

What is at stake is that you cannot find an Upanishadic, (or whatever Vedic creed) permanent, everlasting, eternal, & imperishable self , in paticcasamuppada. Because ignorance (avijja) is the cause of the khandhas. And the khandhas are not permanent, everlasting, eternal, & imperishable.

So neither can you see the khandhas as “mine” or as"“I”.
What is permanent, everlasting, eternal, & imperishable, is outside paticcasamuppada.
The deathless is just an intermediary step (the place where the “spiritual” personal pronoun atta in paticcasamuppada, dwells) .

You know, Samkhya is very clear about this process. Although Samkhya is not Buddhism.
This is why I have already talked about the Ajo (Unborn) , and its relation to early Vedic thoughts. Maybe Buddha was just a conservative Vedist, with an accurate dharman (paticcasamuppada,) that concerns all the creatures in what we call (westernly and late Vedically-Hinduistically,) our “Universe”.

There is no self in paticcasamuppada.
There are other dharmans.
That’s what the earlier Texts say.

One more thing about Wynne, is that he seems to pretend that the edicts are a proof of some early doctrinal certainty.

It is as absurd, as comparing the early message of Christ, with the christian doctrine in the First Council of Nicaea.
With Constantine the great, Christianity just entered politics through the main door.

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Not just “some brahmanic thought” but much of the framework of the anatta doctrine is directly responding to Brāhmaṇa views on ātman current at the time.

In addition to the paper mentioned, a good place to begin is Norman’s A note on Attā in the Alagaddūpama Sutta (1981) and R.F. Gombrich’s Recovering the Buddha’s Message (1988).

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As already pointed out in post 49, we need to go beyond the position of Norman/Gombrich so far. It is not enough to say that “the anatta doctrine is directly responding to Brāhmaṇa views on ātman current at the time” - to which view specifically?

What is mentioned in MN 22 is 1.not found in Indian texts 2.not a philosophy, it’s just a sentence.

To refute a sentence that I pretend represents a whole philosophy is a polemic, not a ‘response’.

DN 13 for example has two brahmin students argue whether Pokkharasāti or Tārukkha teach the straight direct path to brahmaloka, but it doesn’t bother to tell us what it is. Which means that even within the Kosala brahmin elite there were already at least two different soteriological paths - not to mention Magadha.

It’s not really the job of the suttas to give us the detailed opponents’ view (a bhāṣya can do that), but to shorten it to a caricature and then to call it ‘foolish’ is also not honorable.

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Couldn’t this diversity be in favour of an anātmavāda that actually does address a variety of positions and doctrines, instead of one that refutes a particular ātmavāda?

The Upaniṣadaḥ already show a diversity of ātma views. When we speak of Upanishadic doctrine, it has to be in plurality.

Why ought the Buddha not be addressing a wild and barely-unified cosmopolitan garden of views?

Not sure I understand. For me mostly we have a significant loss of information. With the six sectarian ascetics for example we have names + doctrines, also a little bit of Nigantha Nataputta. Which shows that suttas were capable of preserving specific doctrines.

From the brahmin elite of Kosala (where the Buddha spent most of his time) we know the names, but not much doctrine: Pokkharasāti, Todeyya, Jāṇussoṇi, Caṅki, Tārukkha, (an unspecified) Bhāradvāja. As the upanisads (of Buddhists of the next 500 years) they would have disagreed on many points.

I don’t think we can speculate based on the suttas on how unified their views were, but the anatta-views of the suttas are overwhelmingly repetitive: khandhas are not atta, ayatanas are not atta, atta cannot be possessed. This doesn’t sound like a versatile conversation.

Your logic is a bit confusing to me, Gabriel.

Khandhas are not atta, ayatanas are not atta, does not logically yields a: atta cannot be possessed.
Khandhas are not atta, ayatanas are not atta, yields a definite: there is no self into that.
And it is very possible that it could mean further, that there is nothing of your self into that.
Considering for instance, the Samkhya philosophy, in which there is nothing of your-self in prakriti.
But it does not mean that there is no self. Or that self can’t be possessed.

Who can say that there’s an Atman outside of experience.

Can’t the strange organization of this sutta be explained with reference to the view held by Ariṭṭha, which the Buddha corrects? Ariṭṭha had the thought “As I understand the Buddha’s teachings, the acts that he says are obstructions are not really obstructions for the one who performs them.”

This strange opinion seems to be implicit in the idea of an eternal, imperishable self, and the view “the self is eternal” may have been the source of Ariṭṭha’s stated view in the sutta: If the one who performs an obstructive action lasts forever, then the one who performs an obstructive action is clearly not affected by the consequences of his action. He can’t be; to be affected by an action is to be dependently co-originated, and hence this thing termed the self is impermanent.

The overall import of the sutta would be something like “Ariṭṭha was wrong because – while we cannot say anything positive about the identity of the self – the consequences of your actions will still return to you, in your life, as well as affecting many others. This in itself proves that the self is impermanent.”

The origins of self-view are repeated here because they show self-view to be conditioned, and in need of discarding. Once that’s done, Ariṭṭha’s doctrine can’t be defended anymore.

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