On not-self, existence, and ontological strategies

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My English is not very good, so I want to make sure that I understand you correctly.

As I understand, your definition of “self” is a “permanent essense” (similar to atman - fixed, eternal, innermost essential and absolute something). Since you now introduce a new “real self”, so please explain to me what is this “real self”? Is it the same or different with the previous self?

As you said “The problem is the sense of self, the experience of a self”, I understand this statement as the sense of a “permanent essense” or the sense of “a fixed, eternal, innermost essential and absolute something”. Now the questions are:

  1. Have you ever think that you are a fixed, permanent essense? I never recall that I ever do so! So, am I free of delusion yet? Why do you think that you are a fixed, permanent essense while you can clearly see the changes in yourself and the impermanence of everything around you everyday?

  2. Do you think that all of us believe that we are a fixed, permanent essense and we never die or change? Why do we have people who do not believe there is next life or rebirth?

  3. Since the fixed, permanent essense is nowhere to be found, how can we experience that self? (As you said the problem is the experience of a self).

As you said “The purpose of the Buddhist path is not to eliminate a real self”, so am I that real self? What can that real self do? Is it permanent or impermanent? What is this real self for?

As you said “a selfless person” is not an arahant. You said the purpose of the Buddhist path is to correct a delusion of self (sense/experience of self). However, if a person is selfless how can he/she has delusion about self? How can he mistake something with something that do not exist in him?

Moreover, if I did not study Buddhism or religion, I do not even know what is atman, and never think about the so-called “permanent essence”. Do you?

Sorry for having a lot of silly questions. Thanks for your response and patient.


Regarding the difference between sakkāyadiṭṭhi and māna, it is interesting that, in connection with the famous phrase etaṃ mama eso 'ham asmi eso me attā ‘this is mine, I am this, this [is] my self’, the commentaries associate eso 'ham asmi ‘I am this’ with māna and eso me attā ‘this [is] my self’ with views (diṭṭhi).


The delusion of self has many tricks and traps. One can, for example, assume the view that “the self is not fixed. it lives and grows”. And then one get trapped in a circle of acquisition, grasping at growing. There are probably an infinite number of self-views. :see_no_evil:

Yet views fail us in trying circumstances. For example, if we are robbed at gun point by someone desperate for drugs, any action we take will be influenced by views about “self” or “not-self”. This is even more so if we have to take quick action without a chance to think, as when driving a car where we can turn the wheel left or right to avoid a telephone pole but only one of us will survive.

The interesting thing about practicing what the Buddha teaches is that practice does in fact help us in trying circumstances. The teachings work in the bad times, not just the good times.


Greetings freedom. I find that these types of questions are impossible to address on a forum like this. We know nothing about each other except for a few words on the screen, and for many english isn’t the first language, so even these few words can be imprecise. Perhaps discussing these things with a teacher face to face is the only way to get closer to reality :slight_smile:



If we affirm that the self is not fixed, it lives and grows then we imply that the self exists. When we simply affirm that the self exists then we excluded the non-existence of the self. Therefore, this is eternalism.

If we simply affirm the self does not exist then we excluded the existence of the self. This is annihilism.

Why do we keep going into extremes? To me, the self exists when there is condition for it to be so, and it does not exist when there is no condition for it.

With consciousness as condition, name and form come to be…
With the cessation of consciousness, cessation of name and form…

The self is simply the “I, me”.

That’s what I understand.


Ok, no problem. If you do not like these questions then I will not ask further. Since there is no way I can see face to face the teachers here, this is the only way that I can ask.

However, because the Venerable responded to me, so I simply tell what I think. The teachers are free to point out my mistakes and ignore my questions. I am happy to receive and correct any mistakes that I may have.

If there are any questions that are not appropriate, then please let me know, so I will correct them.


And which way will the driving self turn the steering wheel?
To save the driver or to save the passenger?


It depends on the character of the driving self. If that self is for himself then it will save itself. If it is more for others then it will save the passenger.


It’s based on his talks, which I have listened to for years now (he’s one of my favorite dharma teachers). I don’t have any particulars in mind however, so yes, take this with a grain of salt.

Also, I don’t mean to state that Thanissaro endorses all of James’ views, just that he has referenced him numerous times in his talks and that it seems to me his anatta as a strategy view is influenced by Jamesian pragmatism.

edit, here’s one talk where he cites James to elucidate Buddhist doctrine:



Looking after yourself, you look after others; and looking after others, you look after yourself.”


Well yes, the Buddha obviously uses the term self in a conventional everyday sense, so this is another reason he would reject the view which says there is no self absolutely, since we need to speak of “myself” to get around in the world and in a sense there is this “transactional self”.


Dear freedom, please feel free to ask :slight_smile: It is not about liking or disliking the questions, I simply meant that it is worth considering, realistically, what an online forum about Early Buddhist Texts can provide in terms of personal guidance. And I only mention it so that you are aware of expectations v/s reality.



OK, noted this. Thanks, However, I do not expect anything. If no one answers my questions, then I will move on and do not complain at all.

The only problem that I see is my English is not very good, so I may express myself improperly or do not know how to say things more polite. If this is the case, then I apologize for that. However, I may not know which one is appropriate, and which one is not since I may see them OK to me! Moreover, different cultures may also have different interpretation.


Yes, a self is defined as a “permanent essence”. Then we need to decide whether people actually have such an essence. If they do, the self is real. If they don’t, then any feeling we have that there is a self is an illusion/delusion. This is the difference between a real self and a delusion of a self.

Yes, it is possible to see that large parts of our experience is changing, but it is difficult to see this fully, to see that it includes every aspect of our experience. For instance, most people identify with being the agent in their life. You do things, you create, you go places, you achieve. A deep-seated aspect of the self illusion is that we are the permanent agent behind all this activity. The vast majority of people will take such agency to be an aspect of who they are, as something permanently and reliably there.

But the most profound sense of self comes from our identification with knowing. Here knowing just means our ability to experience anything. Even in a deep state of meditation where the mind is absolutely still you still have experience, such as a feeling of bliss. This ability to know or to be conscious will often seem like a permanent aspect to our existence, and we then take it to be our real self, our permanent essence.

It is very hard to see that such aspects of our psychology are non-self. If you truly saw this, you would not be afraid of having your will or consciousness turned off. You would understand them as natural phenomena that are always linked to suffering. You would see that their ending is happiness. If you don’t see this, it means you still identify with these things to some extent.

It is not so much a matter of belief, but more a matter of felt experience. It feels like you exist in permanent way. Of course we change and die. But if we had a permanent self, there would be an aspect to us that did not. Those people who do not believe in rebirth tend to have one of two different views of the world: (1) their self continues eternally after death, or (2) their self is annihilated when they die.

The Buddha says it’s an illusion. We feel that something is there, when in fact it does not relate to anything real.

You are getting quite confused here. I would suggest you think about this a bit before you ask any further questions.

The Buddha does not say how this delusion arises; he just acknowledges that it exists. He then points out that it is a problem and shows us how to overcome it.

The point is that the sense of a self is something we carry with us, whether we are aware of it or not. The point of study is just to make us more aware.

I hope this helps. Good luck with all of this!


Buddha very clealy said that there is no even a changing self let alone a permananent self.
I can’t locate the sutta right now.


Dear Bhante Sujato, thank you for answering my question so fully. It certainly affirms my initial hypothesis regarding the meaning of atthi. And now, having understood the ontological implications of atthi, I can see that this sutta is structurally similar to SN 12, which states:

Kaccāna, this world mostly relies on the dual notions of existence and non-existence.

Reading the Pali, I can see that atthi is used here again. So, in both cases the Buddha names the two wrong views of absolute existence and absolute non-existence. In SN 44.10 the question is about the ontological status of the self, while in SN 12, he is talking about ontology in general. As an aside, it is SN 12 that is mentioned by Nagarjuna in the MMK.

In fact, there are many suttas of the form:

Questioner: Is metaphysical view A correct?
Buddha: I have not declared view A
Questioner: In that case [by the law of the excluded middle], not-A must be the case?
Buddha: I have not declared not-A
Questioner: What about metaphysical view B?
Buddha: Nope
Questioner: Then not-B must be the case
Buddha: Nope
[optionally] Questioner: Then what do you teach?
[optionally} Buddha: I teach [a more or less elaborate description of] dependent origination, the middle way between A and not-A.

Another example is SN 12, which is one of my favourites because the Buddha is asked whether “All is plurality” or “All is unity [i.e. not-plurality]”. I like this because, prior to reading it, I thought that the Buddha taught that “Everything is One”. I was quite shocked to find that this is not the case and it made me wonder, as the Buddha’s various questioners do, what then does he teach.

Thankfully, this questioning lead me to an appreciation of dependent origination and it’s centrality in the Dhamma and, like Chandrakirti, it makes my hair stand on end (in a good way) when I read and contemplate it.


Hi @freedom even if all this doesn’t make sense right away it’s good to know that this is the word of the Buddha:

“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!’

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.” “Is feeling permanent or impermanent?” … “Is perception permanent or impermanent?” … “Are choices permanent or impermanent?” … “Is consciousness 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.” SuttaCentral

Please feel free to clarify and doubts on this forum. This might help- Atma- analysis of Self


Thanks for your detail response, Venerable. Since my view and yours are quite different, I think it is better for me to refrain questioning you further since I realized that it is not good to question the Venerable ones unless my English is good enough to do so.

Even though I do not agree with your view, you can question my view anytime. It will be a great benefit for me if you could point out my mistakes.

Moreover, English is not my language, so, sometimes, I can unintentionally express myself improperly. If so, please forgive me. Wish you well.


I am not sure what are you trying to show me? Please be more specific since my English is not very good.

I never say that self exists nor I say that self does not exist, so I am not sure what are you pointing to? I guess that you may point me to anatta? If so, our understanding of anatta may be different, so it is better if you could tell me how do you understand this concept. I will show you how I understand it later. (If you want to know how I understand this anatta, please split this to a new topic since it is not appropriate to do that here - Sorry, I do not know how to split. If not, you can simply ignore this).


Only sometimes this view is critiqued as well, if the middle is implied to mean “a little but of a, a little bit of non-a”. I will find the sutta in a few hours when I’m off work, if indeed I am correctly remembering.