MN 22 - a single anattā doctrine Pali sutta

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If there is a self that is in no way related to the khandas then how would perceptions and knowings (which are functions of the aggregates) have any effect upon the self such that the self would become freed? How could there possibly be a recognition of such a self? If the self is not entangled with the aggregates then would it not be the case that there is nothing to do and nothing that could be done to realize such a self?


The khandhas of course would have no influence at all on that type of ‘self’. This ‘self’ is immovable, unchanging, devoid of any possibility of suffering.

The whole problem is exactly on the khandhas’ side, that in their nature they desire (to possess) and want to control, and when they fail concrete suffering arises (that as a potential is even there without the failing).

There would be nothing to do for the ‘self’, yes. There would be something to do for the faculties, namely to realize that their instinctual identifications and desires are futile and bound to create suffering. When the spasms of the khandhas have ceased it’s the khandhas that are released (not the ‘self’), and the ‘self’ only shines.


One would say: “know your Cit”.


Then what use is the ‘self’ to the poor suffering khandas? And I’d ask why would the self care about the khandas but the answer is it wouldn’t.


That’s right. The ‘self’ is no ‘use’ for anything. The sun doesn’t care if it is of any purpose for the clouds. And it doesn’t care about them either.

But linking back to the sutta: I think that the above self-view would be 1. free of the dialectic of possessor/possessed 2. does not demonstrably give rise to dukkha.

This would prove that the sutta’s logic of refuting atta is limited to attas ‘possessed’ by the khandhas. The reader is trapped by the seeming self-evidence of the questions and answers. Most interlocutors in the suttas just shoot out an answer without thinking about it, whereas the insinuated self-evidence disappears at second and third sight.

Before ‘my’ self-view is criticized or refuted more: It is more explicit than the nibbana-view is in the suttas. It’s easy to remain aloof by just saying “you can’t say anything meaningful about nibbana because it’s beyond”. The suttas stay silent, and so can I say just as well that ‘my’ self-view has been explained enough, and that we should talk only about the path. (easy way out isn’t it?)

Shall we go on with the sutta?


I apologize for derailing your thread. This’ll be my last post regarding this specific issue. I’m not sure that it makes sense in the “self” view you proposed to even say that there is a self since it would be khandas doing the saying and the khandas don’t have any relation to your unchanging formless featureless essence (essence of what? I wonder). I think the view you proposed might lead to dukkha if you seriously held it because it might cause you to engage in some fruitless pursuit.

As for nibbana being unclear, I don’t necessarily agree. I think all the metaphysical sounding stuff could be metaphor or later insertion or some mix of the two. There are plenty of descriptions of nibbana that are clearer than the idea of some unchanging formless featureless essence where you didn’t even say what it was the essence of.

And what is the unconditioned? The ending of greed, hate, and delusion. This is called the unconditioned. - SN 43.12 (see also the next suttas where every cool sounding epithet of nibbana is defined simply as the ending of greed, hate, and delusion).

“Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it. - SN 56.11

“He who has no in-dwelling sense desires,” said venerable Todeyya,
“he in whom no craving is found,
he who crossed beyond doubts,
what kind of freedom is there for him?”
“He who has no in-dwelling sense desires,” said the Gracious One,
“he in whom no craving is found,
he who has crossed beyond doubts,
there is no further freedom for him.” - Snp 5.10

So nibbana is potentially just the removal of certain mental qualities. Anyway, digression completed.


If I may reply still…

yes, and yet the samana movement including the bodhisatta had the conviction that there is a beyond and a nibbana before they reached it. I don’t see why I am not allowed to have a similar conviction that doesn’t give rise to suffering.

Let me remain silent on that so to not ‘confuse’ anyone with a positive definition :wink:

You are right, but also nibbana emphasizes the nirodha-aspect of the teaching. If you take the synonym ‘the deathless’ (amata) I can equally ask “The deathlessness of what?” - and the suttas don’t provide. Or if you take ‘asankhata’ - what is not conditioned here? So it’s not that the buddhist teaching is free of potential confusion regarding the goal.

Haha, I think over the last 2000 years millions of Buddhist had a ‘fruitless pursuit’ in the sense that they ‘practiced’ and didn’t get enlightened. I don’t see ‘my’ view as more harmful.


Well, if you don’t pursue any view than you don’t suffer - isn’t it what the path is all about?

You develop it because it makes you suffer less, if it makes it suffer more it’s that you’re not developing the path yet then! :smile:

You may do so with some working assumptions, but eventually even those are in theory to be left behind as knowledge of fulfilment of the path kicks in…


Nibbāna is the removal of the bond. Not just of mental qualities.
When one binds his hand with a resinous tree, he gets away with the resin. He does not get away with himself.

Now, as far as a spirit might be concerned, we might turn to this quite old remark from one of the leading teacher of electrical and computer engineering at MIT.

Computational processes are abstract beings that inhabit computers.
As they evolve, processes manipulate other abstract things called data.
The evolution of a process is directed by a pattern of rules called a program.
People create programs to direct processes.
In effect, we conjure the spirits of the computer with our spells.
A computational process is indeed much like a sorcerer’s idea of a spirit.
It cannot be seen or touched. It is not composed of matter at all. However, it is very real.
Hal Abelson

How would you define the “essence” in all that.

Not that I believe in a Penrosian computer world; but a program needs a computer to perform.

Computer oriented people might appreciate that “Cit” (from which Citta comes from), also means “piling up” (layers, stratum, fields).
Garbage collecting somewhat ?


Moving forward with the sutta a bit… As discussed SC 22 claims that there is no possession that is eternal - a claim that is obviously true, or rather a truism.

SC 23 pretends to go on with obvious truths but in fact employs a trick. Like a sales-person is taught “bring people into a ‘yes-mode’, let them answer simple questions three times with ‘yes’ and they will be likely to answer any fourth question with ‘yes’ as well” - in a similar way the sutta now brings a completely different question, namely

“It would make sense to grasp at a doctrine of self that didn’t give rise to dukkha… But do you see any such doctrine of self?” “No, sir.”

This exchange is suggesting that any attavāda gives rise to suffering. Instead of the laconic “No, sir.” I would have liked to see a discussion here. What is the purpose of this?

Obviously the sutta assumes that any attavāda implies the wish to possess an eternal atta - which is not the case. Maybe there was a deeper discussion about this in the real event, maybe not. What is problematic is the implication for the recipient/reader of the sutta, who was not there. The distinct impression is namely that the absolute authority (the Buddha) categorically says there is no attavāda without suffering - because no possession is eternal.

As the discussions at this forum show, this pseudo-logic has been persuasive ever since. People forget the argument and only remember that the Buddha states a dogma of “atta = suffering” and further on defend this dogma at all costs - because they defend a belief they hold dear because it seems to come directly from the Buddha.

SC 24 repeats the same

SC 25 continues with another pseudo-logic:

“were a self to exist, would there be the thought, ‘Belonging to my self’?” “Yes, sir.” (SC 25.3-4)

Again, why there is such an unquestioned affirmation is not clear at all. The possession-dialectic is re-introduced as self-evident when it isn’t. Certain ‘selfs’ would imply a possession, yes. Others not. The categorical implication is problematic as it leads the reader by the authority of the Buddha and not by a transparent argumentation.

As a last strike 25.5-8 ‘conclude’ that the teaching “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” is ‘totally foolish’ - without having the discussion with someone who actually represents this view and asking them what they mean. It’s basically the principle that is used in social media today: You take a sentence of someone you don’t like out of context and ridicule it - trolling.

There are enough hints that this sutta is late, so I don’t worry about insulting the Buddha here. And it’s easy to imagine how a polemic would sneak into the canon - it wouldn’t be the first.


As far as SC 22-23 is concerned, things are a lot more simple.
What Buddha says is that, as per definition of the Buddhist “world” (of senses)/cosmos? (viz. the internal ayatanani and the clinging khandhas (SN 35.82,) that are suffering in nature see above,) the late vedic creed that atta is the latter, is a false conception.
To believe that a body with it’s senses + mano - and their resulting sensory experiences with the appropriated (clinging) khandhas - could have anything to do with a spiritual atta, is just a wrong conception.

Simple as that.
SN 22.85/SA 104 is very clear about that.

SC 25 shows that there can’t be a spiritual self, as conceived by late Vedism - for there is nothing belonging to an impermanent and blissful spiritual self, in the khandhas or the internal ayatanani.

“Self and the (Buddhist) world° are one and the same. After death I will be permanent, everlasting, eternal, imperishable, and will last forever and ever”.
Is a wrong conception.

In other words, Buddha tells the monks and disciples, that the Vedist view of a satta/atta as internal ayatanani & khandhas, that can be permanent, everlasting, eternal, imperishable, and will last forever and ever, is a foolish view.

What’s so difficult to understand about that ?

° which is neither “cosmos”, nor veltanschauung.



could you please refer to sentences of the sutta? I don’t see ‘loka’/‘world’ in SC 22-23 for example. Are you reasoning from within the sutta or infer from other suttas?


Is this bad faith; or are you totally lost ?

Don’t you see that Buddha is talking about the internal ayatanani and the appropriated (clinging) khandhas. °
Isn’t that the definition of the “world”? (SN 35.82)

Gee. :upside_down_face:

° There is tough, a little nuance to add, that is not consequential.

The world does not really involve the khandhas
and clinging khandhas per se - but the external ayatanani , the internal ayatana- consciousness, the internal ayatana-contact, and whatever feeling arises with that internal ayatana-contact. One can indeed infer from that, that not only the khandhas in namarupa nidana are involved (as a cause), but also the clinging khandhas in satta, (as a result) .

The “world” is therefore the internal ayatanani, the consciousness born of the meeting of these internal ayatanani with the external ayatanani (coming from namarupa nidana), and the contact (transfer) & experiences (feelings) born of that.
By extension, all this becomes clinging khandhas.

In other words, the world might just be summarized as a “sensory experience (feeling)” . A" Salayatana experience".


In this topic I’m mostly interested in MN 22, and while it’s okay of course to bring in other ideas from other suttas I would like to keep the discussion close to this particular sutta.


I understand, and I hope not to be flagged for my remark. And I hope that I have not hurt your feelings.

But again “so loko, so atta”, that you have mentioned in your post previously, is quite an important event in MN 22. And we need at least to have a proper definition of loko (“world”).

No ?

I know that: “there is more to Buddhism than mere sense experience”, disturbs many people around here. Although this is a fact.
But I thought, up to now, that you were of those who thought so.

So I will reformulate my SC 22 passage above:

What Buddha says is that, as per definition of the Buddhist “world” (viz. a sensory experience (SN 35.82,) that is suffering in nature (see above) ,) the late Vedic creed that atta is about the latter, is a false conception.
To believe that a body with it’s senses + mano - and its resulting sensory experiences (feelings) could have anything to do with a spiritual atta, is just a wrong conception.

This is not atta.

And that leads to:
“so loko, so atta is a foolish view.”

Note also that another rare sutta with parallel, with quite the same definition of the “world” is SN 35.68 / SA 230.
Full parallel, with SA adding pleasurable/not pleasurable/neither-nor experience (feeling).
It might even be more accurate than SN 35.82.


Yes, ‘so loko so atta’ is a central other-view of the sutta. But whose is it exactly? There is no direct source for it to be found neither in the Upanisads nor in the Brahmanas. And anyway it’s a sentence out of context, catering the projections of the reader. Anyhow, Szczurek traces ‘so loko so atta’ back to Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 1.4.15, Gombrich to BU 4.4.23 and it might be interesting to quote this in length:

MN 22: The self (attā) and the cosmos (loka) are one and the same. After death I will be permanent (nicca), everlasting (dhuva), eternal, imperishable (avipariṇāmadhamma), and will last forever and ever’

BU 1.4.15:… If someone were to depart from this world without perceiving his own world, it will be of no use to him as it remains unknown to him, just like the Veda that is not recited or a rite that is left undone. If a man who does not know this performs even a grand and holy rite, it is sure to fade away after his death. It is his self (atman) alone that a man should venerate as his world. And if someone venerates his self alone as his world, that rite of his will never fade away, because from his very self he will produce whatever he desires.

BU 4.4.23: He is a Brahmin’s eternal greatness - he’s not made greater or smaller by action. It’s his trail that one should get to know; And when a man knows him, he’s no longer stained by bad deeds. "A man who knows this, therefore, becomes calm, composed, cool, patient, and collected. He sees the self (atman) in just himself (atman) and all things as the self. Evil does not pass across him, and he passes across all evil. He is not burnt by evil; he burns up all evil. He becomes a Brahmin—free from evil, free from stain, free from doubt.

I’m not convinced that we have found the source quote here. The similarity is vague and the sutta text used distinctly buddhist vocabulary, e.g. nicca/nitya occurs in the BU only once (in a different context).

I see a greater similarity with Chandogya Upanisad 7.5.3:

If someone venerates brahman as citta - well, himself remaining constant (dhruva), firmly based (pratiṣṭha), and steadfast, a man wins the worlds that he sets his thought on, worlds that are constant, firmly based, and steadfast; and he obtains complete freedom of movement in every place reached by citta, if he venerates brahman as citta. [The text goes on that brahman as dhyana = jhana is even superior, and as vijñāna even more etc. etc.]

I don’t know what “the vedic creed” is supposed to be - the late vedic thinkers were quite anarchic and were not sticking to a code. If we were to collect which upanisadic knowledges were supposed to lead to liberation and what atman supposedly is we would come to metastazing confusion - the upanisads don’t have one view on world, eternity and atman but dozens.

For a more-than-you-wished-for treatment on loka I can recommend Gonda: Loka. World And Heaven In The Veda

Also Kalātattvakośa Vol. II has a good concise description on it


I agree that going into details would be worthless. This is why I gave previously Olivelle’s summarized definition of (A)atman in the Upanishads as such:

a term liable to misunderstanding and mistranslating because it can also mean the spiritual self or the inmost core of a human being , besides functioning as a mere reflexive pronoun.
Olivelle (The early Upanishads)

As far as we are concerned, it is the middle definition that applies here; id est: “the inmost core of a human being”.

As far as we are concerned, it is also Buddha’s definition of the “world” in SN 35.68 that applies here.
Note that it would be useless to compare some Vedic definition of “world”, with Buddha’s definition - as much as it would be useless to compare for instance, some Vedic definition of mano/mana with Buddha’s definition. World and mano are restricted to a sensory experience in Buddhism - there is no universe or cosmos into that.

Therefore what Buddha says, is that a dhamma [coming from the khandhas in namarupa nidana, (as per SA 298 definition)], and experienced as a sensory experience, is not atta (the spiritual Atta in each of the “inmost core of a human being”; nor anything that belongs to that) .

That you can find in the Samkhya philosophy too.

And to go back to the OP question, the suttas never said that there is no atta, but they say there is no atta “in this” (sensory actualisation).
This is not atta.

How strange that no one wants to admit that.


The Buddha’s exposition of the ontological reality of the world:

At Sāvatthī. Then Venerable Kaccānagotta went up to the Buddha, bowed, sat down to one side, and said to him: “Sir, they speak of this thing called ‘right view’. How is right view defined?”

“Kaccāna, this world mostly relies on the dual notions of existence and non-existence. But when you truly see the origin of the world with right understanding, you won’t have the notion of non-existence regarding the world. And when you truly see the cessation of the world with right understanding, you won’t have the notion of existence regarding the world. The world is for the most part shackled to attraction, grasping, and insisting. But if—when it comes to this attraction, grasping, mental resolve, insistence, and underlying tendency—you don’t get attracted, grasp, and commit to the notion ‘my self’, you’ll have no doubt or uncertainty that what arises is just suffering arising, and what ceases is just suffering ceasing. Your knowledge about this is independent of others. This is how right view is defined. SN12.15

To see Atta in a world that may or many not exist means the truth of atta cannot be determined by our faculties, however well developed they may be. But the point is our Self is usually determined by the things that we do experience ie that five khandas, and that which cannot know which lies beyond the khandas, again become irrelevant to cessation of suffering.

with metta


My pedantic instinct would be to distinguish the different pre-buddhist views on loka and atman and see what the Buddha actually referred to - if it was a real position or just a polemic.

But yes, another approach is to let the suttas themselves define what they mean. I don’t think they do it with atta, but we find a few definitions of loka: in SN 35.68, SN 35.82, SN 35.84, SN 35.85, AN 9.38. Not very diverse actually, maybe just a specific transmission line - definitions are not the suttas’ forte anyway.

SN 35.68 Where there is the eye, where there are forms, eyeconsciousness, things to be cognized by eye-consciousness…, there the world exists or the description of the world.

SN 35.82 It is disintegrating, therefore it is called the world. And what is disintegrating? The eye, forms, eye-consciousness, eye-contact, and whatever feeling arises with eye-contact as condition … that too is disintegrating… therefore it is called the world.

SN 35.84 [same except:] Whatever is subject to disintegration…

SN 35.85 [same except:] because it is empty of self and of what belongs to self that it is said, ‘Empty is the world.’ And what is empty of self and of what belongs to self? The eye…

AN 9.38 These five objects of sensual pleasure, brahmins, are called ‘the world’ in the Noble One’s discipline. What five? Forms cognizable by the eye that are wished for, desired, agreeable, pleasing, connected with sensual pleasure, tantalizing; sounds… odors… tastes… tactile objects.

So we get a more complex cognitive description of ‘the world’ in the SN and a simplified one in the AN. Basically we have the 5/6 senses. It makes a big difference if manas is in or not, but okay, loka is for the suttas not the khandhas and not the dhatus. But again, basically just two sources.

Is that helpful for MN 22? so loko so atta’ might imply the Buddha’s definition, but we can doubt that, because two of the above suttas say specifically

These … are called the world in the training of the noble one.
ime kho, brāhmaṇā, … ariyassa vinaye lokoti vuccati.

Which means the compilers were well aware that outside of the Buddha-vinaya ‘loka’ is defined differently.

Aren’t we back to square one where we don’t know which position the sutta is actually criticizing?


But this is not what SN 12.15 means.
You have to take the SF 168 parallel, to understand its simple meaning.

Arising in the world, Kātyayana, seen and correctly understood just as it is, shows there is no non-existence in the world. Cessation in the world, Kātyayana, seen and correctly understood just as it is, shows there is no permanent existence in the world.”

That’s how simple it is @Mat.