On not-self, existence, and ontological strategies

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  • Note: this essay is an expanded version of an earlier comment; see the comment and subsequent discussion here.

It is rather curious that certain commentators, such as Ven Thanissaro, argue that anattā means “not self” rather than “no self”, for the distinction between “not-self” and “no-self” is not found in Pali. Anyway, no knowledgeable translator actually translates anattā as “no self”. Try translating sabbe dhammā anattā as “All things are no self”—it just doesn’t work.

It’s a straw man argument. The problem here, to be clear, is not whether or not some people have in fact made the arguments that Ven Thanissaro claims. It is that he repeatedly relies on this as a rhetorical device, framing his argument as that of an insightful truth-teller, an outsider able to shed the delusions that have transfixed the mainstream. Such rhetoric is a staple of conspiracy theorists, and is not worthy of a genuine Dhamma discussion.

It turns out this is just a part of a much wider set of beliefs. Ven Thanissaro, over many years, has repeatedly made the exact same argument about not-self: it is a strategy, not a metaphysical claim about what exists. In doing so, he relies heavily on a single passage, SN 44.10. In a 2014 article for Tricycle, he says:

When Vacchagotta the wanderer asked him point-blank whether or not there is a self, the Buddha remained silent

In his writings, he alleges that this is “usually” explained away by “some” who say that Vacchagotta is confused. But he doesn’t cite a single example of anyone doing so: this is another straw man. In any case, the sutta itself states outright:

“When Vacchagotta asked me whether the self does not exist, if I had answered that ‘the self does not exist’, Vacchagotta—who is already confused—would have got even more confused, thinking:
‘It seems that the self that I once had no longer exists.’”

Since the sutta says that Vacchagotta would have become confused, what’s wrong with modern commentators simply restating what the sutta says? Now I’m getting confused!

Ven Thanissaro alleges, again without citation, that other commentators ignore the other reasons given in the sutta for not answering. Insofar as this is an argument at all, it’s a weak one: why should people not emphasize the aspects of the sutta that appear most relevant to them? Why are others under an obligation to prioritize the things Ven Thanissaro thinks are important?

In any case, it is simply not true. The issue was discussed, for example, in 2000 by Ven Bodhi in his footnote to his translation of this sutta in his Connected Discourses, where he rejects Ven Thanissaro’s “strategy of perception” argument:

Probably this means that Vacchagotta would have interpreted the Buddha’s denial as a rejection of his empirical personality, which (on account of his inclination towards views of self) he would have been identifying as a self. We should carefully heed the two reasons the Buddha does not declare, “There is no self”: not because he recognizes a transcendent self of some kind (as some interpreters allege), or because he is concerned only with delineating “a strategy of perception” devoid of ontological implications (as others hold), but (i) because such a mode of expression was used by the annihilationists, and the Buddha wanted to avoid aligning his teaching with theirs; and (ii) because he wished to avoid causing confusion in those already attached to the idea of self. The Buddha declares that “all phenomena are nonself” (sabbe dhammā anattā), which means that if one seeks a self anywhere one will not find one. Since “all phenomena” includes both the conditioned and the unconditioned, this precludes an utterly transcendent, ineffable self.

Ven Thanissaro responded to this in a 2004 comment, where he denied it on the basis that nowhere in the canon are the annihilationists said to declare that there is no self. But Ven Bodhi was merely restating exactly what is said in the sutta itself:

When Vacchagotta asked me whether the self does not exist, if I had answered that ‘the self does not exist’ I would have been siding with the ascetics and brahmins who are annihilationists.

In The Not-Self Strategy and the Mind Like Fire Unbound, Ven Thanissaro bolsters his argument by a comparison of the Vacchagotta passage with a passage in the Sutta Nipāta (Snp 5.16). There, a certain Mogharāja asks how to regard the world so that one is not seen by the King of Death. The Buddha replies that one should see the world as empty, be mindful, and dispel the view of self. Thanissaro argues that the reason the Buddha answered Mogharaja but not Vacchagotta was because the question of one was asked as a strategy, but the other was asked as metaphysics.

The fundamental difference between this dialogue & the preceding one lies in the questions asked: In the first, Vacchagotta asks the Buddha to take a position on the metaphysical question of whether or not there is a self, and the Buddha remains silent. In the second, Mogharāja asks for a way to view the world so that one can go beyond death, and the Buddha speaks, teaching him to view the world without reference to the notion of self. This suggests that, instead of being a metaphysical assertion that there is no self, the teaching on not-self is more a strategy, a technique of perception aimed at leading beyond death to Unbinding. (MLFU)

But a glance at the context of Snp 5.16 is enough to dismiss this point. Remember, in SN 44.10, Vacchagotta asks his question once; not getting his answer, he leaves. In Snp 5.16, Mogharaja begins by saying,

Dvāhaṃ sakkaṃ apucchissaṃ, Na me byākāsi cakkhumā;
“I have asked the Sakyan this question twice already, but the Buddha did not answer me.”

The difference, again simply restating the suttas, is that Mogharāja stayed around and kept asking, while Vacchagotta didn’t. Why, one may wonder, was the Buddha reluctant to answer Mogharāja immediately, given that he was explicitly asking about a strategy, not metaphysics? The text does not tell us, but the commentary, reasonably enough, says Mogharāja was not ready to understand when he asked earlier.

This is not the only way in which Ven Thanissaro has omitted essential context. He criticizes anonymous “many commentators” who, it seems,

noting the Buddha’s desire not to bewilder Vacchagotta, assume somehow that their readers and listeners at present would not be bewildered by a doctrine that there is no self, and feel free to jump into the breach, stating baldly what they believe the Buddha was simply too reticent to say.

As already mentioned, the Buddha states explicitly in the sutta that Vacchagotta would have become confused. Vacchagotta is notorious for approaching the Buddha on many, many occasions, asking his questions, and being unconvinced or confused. In SN 44.9, for example, he expresses bewilderment at what happens when an arahant passes away. So for modern commentators—if, indeed, they exist—to assume a level of understanding greater than Vacchagotta’s is hardly unreasonable.

Now, so far the argument that not-self is “more of a strategy” is based on unconvincing exegesis. But let us leave that aside and focus on the main point: is it really true that the Buddha made a fundamental distinction between a strategy and an ontology? I don’t think so. The distinction between what “is” and what “should be done”, between a strategy and an ontology, is not a valid one. It is, I would posit, an unwanted intrusion from empirical Western philosophy, which has the fact/value distinction at its heart.

In the Buddha’s teaching, dhamma is both a fact and a value: it tells us both what is and what we should do about it. That’s the point. The nature of the world itself is what shapes our response. If we don’t have any idea about what is real and what is not, if we don’t have a theoretical grasp of the world that is accurate (sammādiṭṭhi), then how are we supposed to set out on our path?

Thus to sum up: Ven Thanissaro has:

  • repeatedly criticized views without citation;
  • dismissed arguments that restate what is said in the sutta;
  • misleadingly omitted essential context;
  • invoked a theoretical distinction that has no place in the Dhamma.

Let us move on, then, and consider: what exactly is going on in the dialogue with Vacchagotta? I have discussed some related issues in a previous note:

That article discusses the use of the verb atthi (“to be”) in a textually problematic passage of MN 90. It turns out that that the linguistic forms of the statements in SN 44.10 and MN 90 are virtually identical:

“Kiṃ pana, bhante, atthi devā”ti? (MN 90)
“Kiṃ pana, bho gotama, natthattā”ti? (SN 44.10)

(The last words in the line from SN 44.10 are joined, this is normal. It resolves to na atthi attā.)

In both cases, the text only really makes sense when atthi is read in a pregnant metaphysical sense: to exist eternally and absolutely. This way of looking at existence is fundamental to the Upaniṣadic philosophy, so it is not all surprising to find it when dealing with a non-Buddhist such as Vacchagotta.

As a bit of background, Pali has two words for the verb “to be”. The more common, bhavati, is typically used in a subordinate sense as a copula, eg., when saying that “that car is red”. Atthi, which is used here, has a stronger sense and is used as a “full verb” in asserting the existence of something. There is quite a nice discussion of the difference in Andries Breunis’ The Nominal Sentence in Sanskrit and Middle Indo-Aryan.

In reading the verb atthi with the sense of “absolute, eternal, essential existence”, we are not forcing anything on the text. Indeed, the Buddha explicitly says that he avoids saying atthattā in order to avoid siding with the “eternalists”, i.e. those who postulate an eternal existence, prominent among whom were the Upanishadic brahmins.

“Ānanda, when Vacchagotta asked me whether the self exists, if I had answered that ‘the self exists’ I would have been siding with the ascetics and brahmins who are eternalists.

Similarly, when discussing the negative form of the statement, it only really makes sense if “existence” is considered in an absolute sense:

When Vacchagotta asked me whether the self does not exist, if I had answered that ‘the self does not exist’ I would have been siding with the ascetics and brahmins who are annihilationists.

To be clear, the annihilationist view is that there is a self, but that self is destroyed (usually at the time of death). Clearly this is not what we mean when we say in English that “the self does not exist”.

Either the text is incoherent, or the notion of existence is quite different. Since we know that such notions of existence were, in fact, prevalent in ancient India, that must be the preferred reading.

In light of these reflections, it will be best to translate the passage with something like the following:

“Ānanda, when Vacchagotta asked me whether the self exists in an absolute sense, if I had answered that ‘the self exists in an absolute sense’ I would have been siding with the ascetics and brahmins who are eternalists.

When Vacchagotta asked me whether the self does not exist in an absolute sense, if I had answered that ‘the self does not exist in an absolute sense’ I would have been siding with the ascetics and brahmins who are annihilationists.

The idea that “existence” implies an absolute and eternal form of existence is not inferred or imposed on the text, but is stated explicitly:

“When Vacchagotta asked me whether the self does not exist in an absolute sense, if I had answered that ‘the self does not exist in an absolute sense’, Vacchagotta—who is already confused—would have got even more confused, thinking: ‘It seems that the self that I once had no longer exists.’”

So the text states that the meaning of “doesn’t exist”, as understood by Vacchagotta, is something that does exist, but only temporarily, so it will pass away. In our different philosophical and linguistic background, this is not at all what we mean when we say that something does not exist, so it must be translated in a way that brings out the contextual meaning.

Verbs around being and existence are some of the most fraught and subtle in all of philosophy. Modern western philosophy, with a whole movement devoted to “existentialism”, and many other takes on the matter, can overlap and illuminate aspects of the Dhamma, but it is informed by a distinctly different set of historical concerns than what is found in Indian philosophy. For those of us who are interested to understand what the Buddha meant when he was speaking with his contemporaries, it is important to study and understand what those philosophies were. And when doing so, we shouldn’t approach them in order to either bolster or refute our own takes on the Buddha’ teachings, but to understand them sympathetically as genuine human responses to life and its challenges.

The Buddha was not trapped by his historical context; he engaged with it, vigorously and intelligently. His teaching, as understood by all Buddhist traditions, pierced the veil of unknowing and revealed the world as it is. It was his profound insight into the nature of reality itself, of how reality is infused with suffering at every turn, that shaped his understanding of the path that leads to the ending of suffering. He saw that attachment to identity, the false and baseless clinging to a self that is just not there, is a fundamental drive that traps us in suffering. At every turn, he aimed to detach us from this delusion, to shed our mistaken belief in a self, and find freedom.


Thanks for this, Bhante. Your essays are clear and intense, and very much appreciated.


As so often with the EBTs I’d find it difficult to make a case about “Buddhism” or “the Buddha” based on one sutta only.

And - which is also not new - if we knew that indeed the Buddha spoke in SN 44.10, again no problem. Traditionalists will have no issue with that, but sorry, my innocence was taken a while ago, and I can’t help but finding the position that a sutta is a transcript of a conversation to be just naive.

In short, I would not make a case regarding pragmatism vs ontologism of Early Buddhsm based on individual suttas at all.

If we look for large numbers, a sutta based argument is: Where are the 100 suttas that categorically say “There is no self, there never was, the self is an illusion”? Is it difficult to say in Pali? Why not to make it very easy for dumdums like Vacchagotta, or me?

A further sutta-based argument: If we look at the context of the majority of ‘not-self-suttas’ what do we get?

  • The AN is overwhelmingly full of references to anattā-saññā, i.e. the perception or the meditative-practice-of-seeing as not-self**
  • The SN view on not-self is governed by the monstrous SN 22 and SN 35: Khandhas are not-self, Salayatana are not-self. Apart from the two (maybe including SN 12 for the DO) there is not much of a systematic stand of the SN regarding not-self
  • The stand of the MN again is mostly ‘this is not my self’ ***

The “Buddha as pragmatist”-position for me is not to sneak in a self through the back door. Rather, that to have dogmas or to make ontological claims is not good teaching. Just as suttas like Snp 4.13 describe: it creates people running around, campaigning “THIS IS TRUE” starting arguments, disagreeing, instead of watching their own mind.

With a dogma, or ontological claim, I can appropriate it, reject it, or be uninterested. If I get a task, a practice, I can say when asked “Well, this is what I do, I sit on my cushion and watch how whatever appears in my mind is not-me” - It’s hard to argue with that.

** AN 1.471, AN 1.476, AN 5.62, AN 5.72, AN 5.304, AN 5.305, AN 6.35, AN 6.104, AN 6.112, AN 6.142, AN 7.27, AN 7.48, AN 7.49, AN 7.616, AN 7.617, AN 9.1, AN 9.3, AN 9.16, AN 9.93, AN 10.56, AN 10.57, AN 10.59, AN 10.60, AN 10.237, AN 10.238
*** MN 1, MN 8, MN 22, MN 28, MN 35, MN 62, MN 109, MN 140, MN 144, MN 148


The way I understand Anatta is synonymous to Dependent Origination.
What we see in Dependent Origination is the Samudaya (arising) and Nirodha. (perishing)
People who see only Samudaya is attched to the eternalism or Atta. People who see only Nirodha is attached to nihilism or Anatta.
Empirical sense what we have is the Samudaya and in the ultimate sense, what we have is the Nirodha. Buddha spoke in both emprical and ultimate sense because we need to know both to end suffring.
Nibbana is the seen of Samudaya and Nirodha.
When you see, you do not take part in the process so that there is no more Samudaya.
Which is Nibbana

Anyway, this is how I see it at this moment.


Yes, I too have found this distinction odd. Ven. Thanissaro is right, of course, that the teaching on non-self is used as a strategy in the suttas. For instance, the Buddha teaches the development of the anattāsaññā (the perception of non-self) and dukkhe anattāsaññā (the perception of non-self in what is suffering). These might be called strategies that lead you onward on the path.

Yet an important reason why these strategies work is that they reflect reality. If there were a self and you used a teaching such as sabbe dhammā anattā (all things are non-self) to guide you, you would at some point by necessity get stuck. Eventually the strategy would fail and lead you astray. So sabbe dhammā anattā is counterproductive as a strategy unless it reflects the ontological reality. Ontology and strategy must go hand in hand.


One of the points of the OP is that the sutta itself, SN 44.10, answers this question.


This is all quite complicated. All I know is that when anattā comes to my door I offer food.


‘Strategy’ has connotations of the ‘ends justifying the means’, meaning that anatta is a sort of useful fiction, but it isn’t as phenomena don’t act like they are Self.

Right view arises from contemplating the Four noble truths (Sabbasava sutta) including the aggregates and senses, under dukkha, and their causal connection under the 2nd noble truth. Wise contemplation should lead to the idea that a Self isn’t needed for the causal pattern.


This topic was also discussed by Jayatilleke in his “Early Buddhist theory of knowledge” (pp 352-). He was responding to Mrs Rhys Davis and Vallée-Poussin both of whom had argued that the Buddha was a pragmatist somewhat similar to James (Thanissaro is strongly influenced by James as well, he commonly cites James or mentions him in his talks and thus his Jamesian style interpretation here).

But Jayatilleke disagrees with this view and points out that statements from the suttas also show that the Buddha’s view also has elements of correspondence theory and coherence/consistency theory regarding truth and thus he is not a Jamesian pragmatist per se.



To understand a text sympathetically, we don’t interrogate it, expecting it to give us the answers we want in the form we want it. We listen to what the text has to say, trying to understand what it is saying, and why it says things the way it does.

Interesting, I didn’t know that. Well, there are worse influences!

Thanks, interesting citation.

(For those unfamiliar, Jayatilleke was a student of Wittgenstein, and his work is, from a purely philosophical point of view, perhaps the most rigorous and detailed analysis of early Buddhist philosophy made in modern times, focusing on the questions of epistemology: what can we know and how can we know it?)


I personally do not like the word “Anatta as a strategy”
To me, which means that there is Atta (Sakkaya) but we will fake it that it is not there untill we make it. That means Nibbana is Atta.

Atta is another word for the ignorance.

What is there is the ignorance (Atta)
Yes, ignorance will continue until you develop wisdom.

I have discuss this point in Dhamma Wheel.


I don’t quite understand what you mean. One thing I read is “it’s wrong to project onto a text something that I want it to mean”. I appear to have done that, it seems? I actually do like to interrogate the texts, but in this case what I interrogate is the common interpretation of people about Early Buddhism.

Here’s a normal attitude or view about Early Buddhism: “One of the fundamental tenets of Early Buddhism is that there is no Self”. Isn’t it? But if that was so, why is it not a pericope, repeated 500 times like the jhana pericope? “There is no self”. Show me! (I’m addressing people with this view, not the texts)

If there is no pericope like this then something about that view on Early Buddhism is off.

To have the position “But this is what the texts essentially say, how else would you interpret xyz?” means “The Buddha didn’t quite have the clarity to put it that simply. What we say with clarity, namely ‘There is no self’ is what the Buddha meant to say, but didn’t. He wanted us to read between the lines”…

So, actually I use the same argument (not to project onto a text). I start from reading the texts as they are. And in contrast to “There is no self” - which, again, we don’t find as a pericope - we find “Practice not-self”

For me, exactly because I’m language sensitive, there is a difference. Others will say “Ah, whatever, it’s all the same to me. I’ll continue to say that Early Buddhism teaches “There is no self””

Obviously I’m not arguing to change any fixed opinions. But for someone who is undecided I think it might be important to describe this alternative understanding, which could make a difference for them in practice.


Look at it this way. A teenager gets home let at night, only to find—shock, horror!—their parents waiting up for them. “Well, what have you been up to!!” Then there’s a long dressing down and telling off, how important it is to do homework, how they shouldn’t be out late again, and so on. They cap it off by saying: “We never want to see you out late again. Is that understood???” “Yes, it’s understood”, says the humbled and contrite youth.

The next day, their friends call and say, “Hey, let’s go out!” The reply, “Sure. After all, my parents never said, ‘you’re forbidden from staying out late’. They just asked if I understood that they want me back early. And I do!”

Well, they’re not wrong. But it’s not a sympathetic reading of what their parents said. They’re not listening in order to understand; they’re listening in order to get out of something. It’s the kind of response that may be effective in a courtroom, but is not very useful in a family, or in textual exegesis for that matter.

The whole argument that Thanissaro constructs is based on the assumption that we should be able to find a statement about not-self in the form that he wants. And he cites the Vacchagotta exchange as the only example of that. “The Buddha didn’t use a particular kind of phrasing, and in the one case where it came up, he avoided affirming it” is an actual textual argument; not a great one, but an argument nonetheless.

But as I show above, a closer look at the text and its philosophical implications reveals that there are good reasons why the Buddha did not phrase things in that way. Once this invalid argument has been swept away, what are we left with? “The Buddha didn’t use a particular kind of phrasing, and I find that odd”?

However, since the ontological implications of “there is no self” are quite different in modern English than in Pali, there is no reason why we should not say this. The form of words that we use today doesn’t have to be the same as that used in the Pali.

The proper question, then, is “How did the Buddha phrase it, and why?” When he said sabbe dhammā anattā, what exactly was he trying to convey? Is this the kind of statement that allows for wiggle-room? Clearly not! It means that there is no such thing as a self to be found anywhere in the realm of phenomena. And obviously, the Buddha did not acknowledge the existence of any other realm. Sabbe dhammā anattā is the Buddha’s way of putting things. He denied the ātman of the Upanishads, the jīva of the Jains, and any other self theory that came his way. How can there possibly be room for any other reading, when attachment to views of self is one of the fundamental defilements to be relinquished?

What the Buddha did say, and what is found constantly through the texts, is that he saw the truth, the reality of how the world works, and his teaching is a description of that truth. There’s no reason to think that sabbe dhammā anattā is any exception. It’s a statement about reality, not just a strategy.


Nowadays people understand that the body-mind is not self due to various reasons. They can be through subtle states in meditation, seeing the automaticity in walking meditation, and even during strokes. My understanding came through by contemplating the biology of the body. Atoms won’t constitute a lasting soul. The Buddha looked at this process and analysed his experiences about it:

This is how they attend improperly: ‘Did I exist in the past? Did I not exist in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? After being what, what did I become in the past? Will I exist in the future? Will I not exist in the future? What will I be in the future? How will I be in the future? After being what, what will I become in the future?’ Or they are undecided about the present thus: ‘Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? This sentient being—where did it come from? And where will it go?..

They properly attend: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the origin of suffering’ … ‘This is the cessation of suffering’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering’. And as they do so, they give up three fetters: identity view, doubt, and misapprehension of precepts and observances. These are called the defilements that should be given up by seeing.

We see that the five aggregates are dukkha and their causally arisen manner via the DO is the cause of suffering. Removing the causes removes the effects as in the third noble truth. The Path is the Noble eightfold Path. This is the Path to The Cessation of dukkha.


Thanks, Bhante, for sharing! As it often happens when I read these sorts of essays—and I’ve read many from Bhikkhu Bodhi, Ven. Thanissaro and others—I wonder: what does this mean for my practice?

When I take on the position that there is no self, then I sometimes think, “Oh so what is all this here? It’s all a fabrication? My fabrication? But did I fabricate that? Where is this ‘I’?” Basically I sometimes get lost in the “thicket of views,” which eventually goes away when I just put the questions aside. (And then there’s the question like, well, if there’s no self then what really matters?) I don’t think these questions have much weight to them, but they do pop up.

I have seen some teachers, like Thich Nhat Hanh, for example, say that the Buddha doesn’t mean that there’s no self, but rather there’s no self in the way we usually conceive it. Instead, there’s no separate self—leading into the teachings on interconnectedness that are common in Mahayana, such as in absolute/ultimate reality, we are all one. (Which I’ve seen Ven Thanissaro criticize.)

There are just so many positions to take and often when I feel like I’ve comprehended one viewpoint, another pops up and contradicts that. And so on.


Thank you for your clarity Bhante. I don’t want to take issue with anything you are saying since I agree that the Buddha’s view of nonself is not simply a kind of strategy but is also an ontology. That said, I do think one has to be careful not to imply that the Buddha said anything like “there is absolutely no self”, since e.g. we have the Buddha denying:

MN 2 The view ‘my self doesn’t exist absolutely’ arises and is taken as a genuine fact.

I don’t think this is what you are claiming Bhante, I just wanted to help clarify further, hopefully in a way that sheds light on the nuanced character of the Buddha’s view of self. :anjal:


Hi Doug, I hope you and Bhante won’t mind me taking a shot at this myself.

If you look at the preceding paragraph in that sutta, its pretty clear that the views listed there, including the view “there is absolutely no self” have arisen due to improper attention (ayoniso manasikara). So one can extrapolate from that that this refers to those who have this view due to ignorance and cling to it. All this shows is that one can have a kind of not self view, but still not be a noble one or truly understand it. It does not prove that the Buddha did not hold a not self view, however, for him, it came out of true understanding.

I think one of the most clear verses regarding the Buddha’s position is:

“Bhikkhus, those ascetics and brahmins who regard [anything as] self in various ways all regard [as self] the five aggregates subject to clinging, or a certain one among them. SN 22 47 (5)

This basically clinches the deal for me. Any view of a self arises due to clinging to the five aggregates, which is a no-no.


I think the Buddha’s position here is similar to that of the Kaccānagotta Sutta:

‘All doesn’t exist’: this is the second extreme.’

There are many suttas in which the Buddha extols a modest notion of the self, e.g., that we should take refuge in ourselves and the dhamma. Of course when saying such things he does not mean to reify a Brahminic or Jain eternal self. One is to avoid both absolutist extremes. They both involve ‘theories of the self’ that are not skillful.

At least this is how I understand it. :anjal:


I never think about me in an absolute sense, and I am not worry about what is me in the absolute sense . Moreover, I am not clear what do we really mean “self”. All I know is this “I, me” that is here and now. I know what is “me” when someone called me.

I know that this “I” can talk, think and do many things. I know the “I” who was suffer or happy. I know this I is getting old. I know the “I” who wrote this. I know that I want to know about this “I” that I know here and now (not the so-called absolute “self” that I never worry about).

I never worry if this “I” is permanent or imperpanent, changeable or unchangeable, everlasting or not. That is irrelevant to me.

Therefore, let me ask these questions instead:

Does this “I” exist? Does this “I” not exist?

Does this “me” exist? Does this “me” not exist?

Does this “my” exist or not exist? Can I have “my car”?

If these questions are invalid, then why?


Possibly a middle ground position here is to regard the self as a psychological construct. Like anything constructed, it can be deconstructed. And like other constructed entities, such as social institutions, it occupies a vague intermediate position between hard substantial reality and pure fiction. And in this case the entity doing the construction is the same thing as the entity being constructed.

By examining the nature of the phenomena which are organizing and constructing themselves into a self, and creating the illusion of a hard substantial self - a mysterious invisible something-else that is the unitary doer of the doings and the unitary cognizer of the phenomena that are cognized - one gradually comes to detach these phenomena from the sense of being one with that mysterious invisible something. Eventually, almost all of the phenomena of consciousness are detached from the sense of self, and placed on the side of being Other or Not-Self. But there still remains the haunting sense of a inner I that is none of the things cognized, but is still there somehow searching for itself. But then finally that sense evaporates.