The experience of "Anatta"


In Buddhism, there is an “X” state where the “I” is experienced as a momentary continuum. For me, the issue here is that even in that particular state of impermanence, there is still that “witness” inside of us, which witnesses the impermanence of “I”. So, how is this compatible with the idea that “I” is just a conception, an umbrella word for the sum of constituents (skandhas)?

Thank you!

Consciousness isn’t static. It arises and ceases.

1 Like

I think the short answer is that there is no atman to experience, so you can’t be experiencing it as a momentary continuum. As for whether Buddha asserted that I is an umbrella word for the sum of constituents, you would have to look into the debates over mereology. I think the view is that Buddhist philosophy rejects composite wholes, but it’s a relatively new area of exploration so there are disputes in that area with new research coming out all the time.

1 Like

@Farid It is a linguistic and philosophical misinterpretation (a sort of widely-believed flat earth theory if you will) in modern Buddhism to consider the ātmā/attā as illusory. As a result much of Buddhism is distorted. However I am not saying this to invite debate. It is just to put it on the record. I’ve already said much about this already so if you see my posts last week you will see what I mean.

Hi @Farid ,
Welcome to Discover and Discuss (D&D) forum. We hope you find the discussions here beneficial and enjoyable. Please make use of the various resources, FAQs, and previous threads; you can use the search function for topics and keywords you are interested in. Forum guidelines are here: Forum Guidelines

If you have any questions or need further clarification regarding anything, feel free to contact the moderators by including @moderators in your post or a PM.
With Metta,
On Behalf of the Moderators


What I am trying to say is that if you describe something as being such and such that already points to an observer. So, if I say that: I meditated and reached a point, where I observed impermanence of “self”, there is still the “observer” who observes the impermanence of some “self”. Witnessing that it is impermenent.

1 Like

Thanks! Can you provide me with sources that talk about this topic in detail. How it is misrepresented and what did Buddha really mean?

It’s not modern in Buddhism to think the atta is illusionary. The very first early schools thought the same. This is a misrepresentation. The idea that there really is an atta did crop up in Buddhism, but much later in its history. You can think early Buddhism got it wrong (I think said arguments are ridiculous, but here we are), but to say it’s a modern exegesis is false.

1 Like

In my understanding, the body and mind experience sensations and perceptions, so we can say that the body and mind are therefore experiencers, but we can’t say that the experiencer is an “I”, a “Self”.
To understand this, we can note that the phrase “this is an experiencer body and this is an experiencer mind” usually has a different meaning than the phrase “I am this experiencer body and I am this experiencer mind”. That is to say, the first sentence simply describes the existence of experiencers body and mind, whereas the second sentence goes further, because in this sentence, the mind begins to egotically and greedily identify itself with the “experiencers body and mind”.

And when we diminish this tendency of the mind to identify itself egotically and greedily, we see more clearly how the notion of “I” is superfluous, even when we say that the body and mind are experiencers. In other words, we simply see the body and mind objectively as natural processes.

SN22.83 teaches that the notion “I am” (asmi mana) is because of grasping. This notion is not just an umbrella word for the sum of the khandha’s.

Everyone always starts here

And have this. It’s not the total story, because this debate went on for years and there’s other literature, but if you want an idea about substrate, substance … etc. It will help.

You can see the discussions in these two threads below where I’ve spoken about the misinterpretation - if you have any follow-up queries about it I am happy to clarify but I don’t want to invite any of the same arguments all over again.

Srkris is a he, not a she. But please feel free to ignore my interpretations if you dont like them.

There are places in the canon that describe the experience of anatta/liberation a different way.

In other words, there is no observer separate from the observed. There is no experience of subject-object dualism.


There are so many ‘intellectual’ debates about this… not really very helpful :slightly_smiling_face: I’d suggest you ponder about whether ‘the observer’ itself arises and ceases (with attention and contact…) or is it permanent? Is it always aware of everything?

This goes to what @ceisiwr was saying about consciousness (es) being dependently arisen and as such being impermanent. I say ‘consciousnesses’ as there are 6, one for each sense, eg eye conciousness … mind consciousness. Consciousness is 'that which is ‘aware’ and ‘knows’.

Don’t sweat it. Dont feel like you need to develop a view and grasp onto it… Just hold it lightly or it can get in the way (especially if it is wrong view) and actually ‘manufacture’ experience… it is like you put on a particular view as a framework or lens, through which to perceive experience. It is a difficult thing to just see the seen in the seen … and the cognized in the cognized.
Just follow the Path, observe and contemplate… be patient and see for yourself :slightly_smiling_face::pray:t2::sunflower:

Added. When I say follow the Path, i mean specifically the Noble 8 fold Path as the Buddha taught it. Each factor builds on the next to condition your perception in a very specific way. It is a necessary condition to know and see what the Buddha is pointing at. Good luck :slightly_smiling_face:


Yes. One wouldn’t say that there is a permanent entity that is the eye/eye consciousness and the process of seeing. Same goes for the stream of consciousness, there isn’t a permanent entity behind it.

1 Like

This idea is common in modern Buddhism, and probably stems from Milindapanha, a relatively late text. The idea is an incomplete understanding of I-making.

The Buddha said that “I am” is a fabrication. It’s a fabrication based on form etc. It’s common to early Buddhism, as you allude too.

1 Like

It’s not a direct reply, but I happened to drop down a few thoughts about the idea of non-self recently on my own website… If you have an interest, you can have a look.