New age soul theories vs. not-self/anatta?

Hello folks! Been wondering about a few things with regards to this topic:

  1. Is there anything in the EBT suttas/sutras (nikayas/agamas) where the Buddha actively says “there is no soul,” and “there is no Source,” or are the texts all saying that the Buddha simply said (to paraphrase) “It’s not important whether or not these things are such since it does not lead to awakening”?

  2. I ask this question because of another idea–much of the Near Death Experiences and perhaps cases of children recalling past lives sometimes indicate an intermediate world or an “other side” where there is the sense of a “Source” where consciousness emanates from. The way I see it I can:

  • Dismiss these accounts as misremembered rebirths in a Deva realm where one does have the false belief or sense of a Maha-Brahma that has “created the consciousness/soul”?

  • See if there is a “created consciousness” that is mistakenly seen as a “soul” based on these anecdotal information–which may be misremembered rebirths or mistaken assumptions about that specific realm?

Along this line of thinking I have wondered that if there is a “Source” that creates “consciousness” that perhaps the Buddha refused to term it as a “soul” or “essence” since people would mistakenly assume it was a permanent self–but that perhaps a created “consciousness” from a specific “Source” isn’t a block to understanding not-self but it makes it harder to understand the reality of not-self. After all, to work within the New Age mindset, a soul or consciousness that has to dissolve into a “Source” is inherently impermanent and devoid of self-identity. (To be clear: I am saying that even if there is a “soul” it is still not-self!!!)

Okay this feels a tad bit “alaya-vijnana” meets some sort of Advaita Vedanta vibe but please feel free to explain or share your thoughts! In a way I ask this because it feels heretical but I also don’t quite know how to place the anecdotal evidence around rebirth and NDEs within the belief system (being, of course, one who has not seen Nibbana for one’s self).

Thank you!


I too do not see any doctrine of self that would not arouse sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair in one who clings to it.
~ MN 22

But there is a source: avijjā

Is avijjā - Ignorance

There are a few suttas pointing out exactly this tendency for people to extrapolate too far based in limited memories of past lives. DN 1 being probably the most definitive example.

The Buddha directly refutes this idea:

he conceives himself in gods, he conceives himself [emanating] from from gods, he conceives gods to be ‘mine,’ he delights in gods. Why is that? Because he has not fully understood it, I say.
~ MN 1

The problem here is that while this idea recognizes the impermanence of the self, it sets up the “Source” as eternal, unchanging, benevolent, etc and thus that Godhead becomes a source of clinging and therefore suffering.

That “Source” that such people identify — the brilliant light at the center of being which opens the door to future existences — is exactly the ignorance at the root of dependant origination which an Arahant destroys.

As the Buddha said: what most people think of as delightful, the wise know is suffering.


Excuse the pun, but what explicit sources do you have for this? (I’m not challenging you, I ask only because I find your statement enlightening: well not literally of course only metaphorically.)


Cutting off from the Source of beginingless past Goodness for many Bodhisattvas who have always been such is an impossible task of misconduct they wouldn’t do, for others just nonsense. I like to think of Manjushri in this example who is Perfect in His Conduct.

With regards to the Soul, it is not a Self, but nothing you can eliminate. One’s experience can Transcend far beyond Soul and even Nibbana, up to Buddhahood, but both are still there. Even in nothingness which you should not feel threatened by, even in non-existence which the Tathagata has Transcended.

Funny, in the Tibetan Buddhism we say that the “Source” of our Clear Light and Buddha Nature is the Adi-Buddha, I don’t think eliminating One of the Most important Three Jewels will make you an Arhat, nor is it possible to eliminate the Adi-Buddha.

Anyway, all good tidings, don’t take my words too harshly, I mean all well. But to eliminate the Skandhas there is a way of dispelling ignorance, and it does not come by eliminating the Life-Force but by following all of Buddha’s Teachings. Thank you. Namo Buddhaya! You will reach your Goal soon.

Indeed! There is always the danger that people take such talk on the ultimate in either an eternalist or an annihilationist direction. I hope people reading this can heed your wise warning and stick to the Middle Way :blush:

Luangta Mahabua’s Arahattamagga-Arahattaphala is the best. The whole path described from the first-hand perspective. Really helps things click into place… at least it did for me! :slight_smile:


I agree with everything you said btw Bhante, but I want to point out that…unless the Pali implies differently, it sounds like the Buddha is just saying “I don’t see any belief in a self/selfhood that doesn’t cause suffering in a person who believes in it” and not “There’s no created consciousness” unless it’s an implied “because I don’t see a doctrine of self that doesn’t lead to pain, ergo it doesn’t exist.”

I’m just looking for something explicit here!

Re: Avijja, I do think I remember an arahant Thai monk talking about the clear mind and how he was fooled for a bit because it was so beautiful, and later on he said it was ignorance/Avijja!

Oh yeah, I should have been more clear, I’m not referring to “Source” as eternal, unchanging, or benevolent? More along the ideas (not the…stranger ones) of the “Reincarnation Soul Trap Matrix” which posits that there is a “Source” but that this source is only pretending to be benevolent, that it benefits from the suffering of beings and fools all the “consciousnesses” into rebirth/reincarnation through ideas of “Love” or “Attachment” or “Guilt” etc.

Essentially positing that there could be a “Source” but really it just recycles consciousness it emanates over and over again since it benefits somehow from the pain of existence and uses all these attachments to coerce beings to choose existence over and over again.

I guess to summarize:

  1. I really believe in what the Venerable is saying, but is there a more explicit quote from the suttas;
  2. I’m thinking more of “Source” as a not-benevolent force that is inherently conditioned and relies on dukkha/suffering of beings to exist on its own?
  3. They are two separate ideas for sure–one is an explicit quote, the other is the more critical view in New Age discourse around “Source”

No, cause existence is something we do to ourselves.

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Oh! So are you saying that the view that something else causes us to exist, whether or not that “something” is benevolent or not, eternal or conditioned, is wrong view and not true according to the Buddha (and to those who have seen it for themselves I assume!), therefore this view of a “Source” will ultimately not stand.

Like…if existence is what we do to ourselves then even an assumed “Source” has to do something to itself to exist, which makes it not a Source at all? Thanks for your patience Bhante. :slight_smile:


Yep! That’s exactly it! :partying_face: :grin:


Thank you! Yes I understand it now.

(On an academic/proof standpoint though, I really hope someone comes up with a definitive sutta quote because that would make explaining these sort of things easier)

Isn’t the Adi-Buddha equivalent to a “Source” but for Buddhas/Tathagatas?

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Wait, how would you translate “anatta” then, isn’t that not-self?

And when the Buddha says the 5 aggregates are anatta (form, feeling, perception, mental formations/volitions, consciousness) he’s directly saying it’s anatta or not self. I guess then knowing your and mutually agreed upon definitions of anatta would clarify what you mean.

I’m not sure if an10.58 helps?

‘Reverends, all things are rooted in desire. Attention produces them. Contact is their origin. Feeling is their meeting place. Immersion is their chief. Mindfulness is their ruler. Wisdom is their overseer. Freedom is their core. They culminate in the deathless. And extinguishment is their final end.’

Anatta/not-self is not really a theory, but just a reality of life (body-and-mind). Understanding of anatta is in fact very useful for overcoming distress, depression, or dukkha in daily life.

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I can see how it could be helpful if one extrapolates it towards the idea that desire is the root of existence–then saying that if there is a ‘Source’ that needs beings to be reborn for its own need, then it’s conditioned, rooted in desire and becoming, therefore not a true ‘Source’.

If one applies it to the benevolent idea of a “Source” then it becomes different I guess, since the person who believes in a Source must first see for themselves how existence is conditioned upon desiring and becoming (if I’m understanding it right).

But so far this makes more good sense to me! Anything more explicit would definitely be welcome. I’m not quite sure where to begin looking myself.

Yeah. I guess it applies to all things. So this computer I’m sitting at is a thing, a ‘Source’ is a thing, ‘consciousness-es’ are things - whatever is contacted through the 6 sense bases - i.e. everything that we can possibly know are things :wink:

Mind grabs 5 aggregates because of ignorance one thinks it’s useful or will bring satisfaction to one life while it constantly creates suffering as you can not have things the way you want, this got nothing to do with “no-self” or “not-self” when you attain Nibbana you are in Nibbana not in 5 aggregates, so there is “you” and “self” but right now your self-feeling is based on 5 aggregates and not Nibbana, there is even different sense of self in jhana which is related to jhana-aggregate, so a sense of self will stay always in Nibbana but one will be free forever from grasping of anything in the world, otherwise if you will lose yourself or stop existing in Nibbana it would be annihilation obviously there is no other logical conclusion. This “not self” or “no self” needs to stop in Dhamma community. Even Buddha explained to not translate his meanings into Sanskrit so here you go. Original meaning is lost almost everywhere so people are unable to make Nibbana and cope with the ideas of “no self” to explain their fails in the spiritual Path

People are just religious about concepts they do not understand/experience

Yes, it has. I have seen this for myself. For example, when formations in the mind still or cease, fear can arise, because you are identified with those formations. This is no theory or philosophy.

The ignorance is there in that one does not really see and understand that those formations, for example ceasing bodily formations or thoughts, are not really me, not mine, not my self.
If one really knows ones existence is not at stake with cessation, then one knows only suffering arises and ceases. But with avijja ones existences (i am) is still seemingly always at stake.
If one does not meditate one cannot understand this.

Intellectually one might understand that one is not rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara, vinnana but when all cease one might become in total panic because the intellect is of no use in this case. One has to see it with the eye of wisdom not with the eye of thinking and reasoning.

Mind grasps aggregates especially because it has a long standing history (habit) of regarding the aggregates as ‘this I am, this is mine, this is my self’. That is very much about identity, self-view, self-knowledge, self-experience.

It is not that one grasps aggregates because one thinks that is useful to do, or creates satisfaction. For example, one grasps pain with aversion not because one things that is useful or gives satisfaction but because there is a long standing habit to see this pain as me, mine and my self. The same with any formation.

Thank you for this resource :pray:

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