The Construction of Self Vs Constructed phenomena as Not Self

Fascinating read but is self really constructed? I thought all constructed things were not self.

I think Buddha taught that teaching that self is impermanent sided with annihilationists who teach annihilation of an existent being.

I have been erroneously, vainly, falsely, unfactually misrepresented by some brahmans and contemplatives [who say], ‘Gotama the contemplative is one who misleads. He declares the annihilation, destruction, extermination of the existing being.’ But as I am not that, as I do not say that, so I have been erroneously, vainly, falsely, unfactually misrepresented by those venerable brahmans and contemplatives [who say], ‘Gotama the contemplative is one who misleads. He declares the annihilation, destruction, extermination of the existing being.’ Mn22

Perhaps there should be a new topic, don’t want to derail this one, so we can hear more about these ideas and i certainly don’t want to silence anybody.

I think based on this sentence

maybe you meant that the constructed things which are mistaken as self are unstable and are impermanent and not that ‘self is constructed and is impermanent’.

I think the expression is confusing.

Hmmm… this really got me thinking.

As I see it…

‘Constructing a Self’ implies an active process, rooted in ignorance with the inherent assumption that there is actually no Self.

Taking ‘Constructed phenomena as Not Self’ implies an active process, rooted in ignorance with the inherent assumption that there is a Self, only its not the phenomena which is being examined.

Personally, I’d rather just put the question aside and focus on 'With this as condition, this comes to be…"

But I’m sure many interesting opinions will show up on this thread!!

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Yes. It is really interesting isn’t it? In context, Bhante @Akaliko made perfect sense to me.

Personally I think both statements:


have their flaws when taken out of context.

In suttas such as sn22.59 we get this idea of a progression.

What do you think, mendicants? 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.”

So you have this idea that the five aggregates are not fit to be regarded as self due to their nature as impermanent and hence dukkha, and of course, for the arahant there is no possessiveness or constructing at all.

So maybe they are both right? Or maybe they are both wrong? :slight_smile: :woman_shrugging:

I remember a time when we used to use (capital S) Self (for permanent soul type concept) and (lowercase s) self (for identity type concept) as two separate concepts, but that seems to have gone out of fashion.


Dear Brother in the he Dhamma

How can Buddha suggest the “annihilate” of something that has never existed at the start? Indeed the idea that bings are bings in ontological terms is what the Buddha indicated as avijjā. So that was why the Buddha said that about those Brahmins: you cannot eradicate something that has never been.

Self is a cognitive product of avijjā (ignorance caused by wrong view). There is a conventional self, and its function calls identity.

Even from a neuroscientific viewpoint (see the studies of Damasio), the self is nothing else that a process even not located in any part of the brain is a function of memory and other protocols.

Hence Bhante is very much correct. Any self is constructed and expressed through identities that are nothing more than a machinery of our imagination.

You cannot have self without identity, and your identity is imaginated. Self is just a process. The process is indeed very much subjected to aniccia
Hence I think you deeply confused the denial of the Brahmin position for an endorsement by the Buddha about an ontological self that cannot be sustained even within neuroscientific studies.

I hope this may help


He didn’t but it appears that Ven. Akaliko did.

There is a lot of focus on eternalist interpretations of the Dhamma but we are often overlooking the fact that many people are annihilationists.

I have an eye for these things and encourage everyone to beware of adhamma.

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To be honest, I do not think you get his point as he wanted to express it. Maybe I do not understand what you mean with annihilationists. To be one, according to the Sutta, you need 1) first to believe that a soul and self exist 2) suggest that that will be annihilated at death or at the time of Nibbana.
Yet if a soul and a self never existed from the start and were all an illusion, the Buddha said how could be eradicated? Of course, they cannot.
However, there is something called conventional self and identities, which are a product of our brain functions called imagination. Those do exist, and people become, of course, attached to them. Those are the ones to be abandoned (not annihilated because you cannot annihilated an imagination or mental formation) to reach liberation.
I do not see what the Venerable says against this point. I think it pretty much reaffirms this with the fact that respect of identities in the samsaric world is an act of kindness.
Maybe I have read it wrong?


Well, my two bits are as follows…

A permanent, unchanging Self doesn’t exist - this is very true, and getting over this View is part of Stream entry.

Yet there are potential problems in directly adhering to this particular view of ‘No Self exists - all is an illusion based on natural processes’. One big potential problem is Nihilism. Another is the source for the motivation required to overcome one’s defilements. If a person simply believes intellectually that there is really no Self - then there is nothing that one can do given that every thing is conditioned - so why not just take the easy path and take whatever pleasure one can in the moment? Why bother with being kind to others… if they are suffering, its just the result of natural conditions and not even really real, is it? We can see the consequences of such thinking in the actions of many of our modern elite Corporate and Political leaders.

This is where the genius of the Buddha is evident. The antidote for Nihilism in the Teachings is awareness of the laws of kamma and rebirth.

But therein arises a new issue - how to simultaneously teach a doctrine of ‘No Self’ alongside kamma and rebirth so as to escape the trap of Nihilism without tending towards Annihiliationism or Eternalism, while still moving towards Enlightenment?

I believe this may be one of the reasons why the Buddha did not directly confirm or deny the existence of Self to any of his interlocutors. Rather he focussed on the process of examining Suffering, seeing one’s attachment and craving for constructed phenomena as the cause of Suffering, realizing that constructed phenomena are ‘Not Self’ and not worth craving for - and thereby he demonstrated the path to gradually realizing the Anatta of all aggregates, the final end of Craving and the overcoming of all Suffering.

Self is a construction - this is the Truth.
Constructed phenomena are Not Self - this is the path to experentially realizing the Truth for oneself.


I think you are spotted on here. Yet

I also think he did give an answer to that point. Yet that Dhamma’s answer is so disingenuously complex (see Ananda Thinking such explanation being simplistic and the Buddha’s quite harsh compassionate rebuke) that most will not see it: that answer is dependent origination and indeed in the Pañcaverabhayasutta it is mentioned that even stream-entry need experiential (love here @sujato selection of words!) confidence in it

And what is the noble cycle that they have clearly seen and comprehended with wisdom?
Katamo cassa ariyo ñāyo paññāya sudiṭṭho hoti suppaṭividdho?
A noble disciple carefully and properly attends to dependent origination itself:
Idha, gahapati, ariyasāvako paṭiccasamuppādaññeva sādhukaṁ yoniso manasi karoti

So the Buddha did indicate that the mental construction function Self is totally an imagination (a process). As such indeed exist through not ontological existence. It is what in one of my books I called a tautology of expression of existence. It exists by existing through the process of imagining our existence and expressing it through identity which is our operational program acting in the samsaric world.
My position about all gender issues (and it may not be suitable for everybody) is to acknowledge gender as an identity personal process linked to sexuality (not to sex, the two are different) as such a samsaric mental formation deeply rooted in the tautological process I was speaking above.
Most people are so attached to their gender identification because it is linked (often unconsciously) to the deepest samsaric process: survival, and consequently competition for resources.

That is where compassion and kindness towards our own gender imagination and those of others are so important. We do not want to make people suffer even more than what already we ought to as samsaric beings by imposing and restricting freedom and choices on our collective delusion that we are gendered, that we are imagined labels.
If we understand how it is, if we make an effort to approach even the smallest of right views, we will let people be free to express their gender/sexuality identity and do not put a barrier to them because of it.
That does not require you to adhere to any of those.
The language is important and one of my criticism towards some academic environments is the continued creation of labels for those we do not feel part of. The labels inevitably become swords and weapons in the fight for survival and power to impose our delusions on others with the arrogance of thinking we know the best or we are “more just” than the others.
It is such a process that poison first our hearts than societies and creates colonialisms of a different kind.
The sense of “be right” inevitably becomes the duty to teach which soon develop into the right to impose. I called it the “civiliser syndrome” and it is the root of lots of social pain and conflicts.
By renouncing civilising “crusades” and instead by expanding our compassion and kindness (which does not mean not to reject unskilful actions or stay silent) we can make space for communities of acceptance.
The presence of difference does not threaten ever your personal development in the Dhamma because that process is indeed deeply yours, not affected by others (you may learn things from others). So why not make room for every identity since, in the end, the room expand automatically if compassion and kindness is the norm?