The thorny issue of anatta

ie SA34?

I don’t follow … is there a main verb missing from this sentence?


And thanks. (Aside to Self: So why this thread?) :wink: :rofl:
Paper downloaded before I myself posted but still not read.


How many times this has been discussed in the forum. Outcome is the same, endless debate and people come with their own view and go with the same, meanwhile try to convince others ones own view is correct. :slightly_smiling_face: Never turned out so well. :thinking:

What is anatta?
yaṃ dukkhaṃ tadanattā
What’s suffering is anattā. simple as that!

Rūpaṃ, bhikkhave, aniccaṃ. yadaniccaṃ taṃ dukkhaṃ; yaṃ dukkhaṃ tadanattā; yadanattā taṃ ‘Netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attāti.

Mendicants, form is impermanent. What’s impermanent is suffering. What’s suffering is not-self. And what’s not-self should be truly seen with right understanding like this: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’ (Ven. Sujato) (SN 22.12)

tadanattā :arrow_right:|taṃ + anattā|
taṃ - that
anattā - (n. and predicative adj.) not a soul , without a soul. Most freq. in combn. with dukkha & anicca
May also be noted as non-self, not-self, etc. (Read also, PTS dictionary, pp 28.)

"na meso attā" would rather be translated as - this is not my soul (skrt: ātman).
Notes: na meso attā > |na eso me attā|
Na - a negator
Eso has base *e; where it means “this”.
Etad (pron. adj.) [Vedic etad, of pron. base *e; see Walde, Lat. Wtb. under equidem] demonstr. pron. “this”, with on the whole the same meaning and function as tad, only more definite and emphatic. Declined like tad.
Me- to me; my; mine;
attā - Attan (m.) & atta (the latter is the form used in compn.) [Vedic ātman] The soul as postulated in the animistic theories held in N India in the 6th and 7th cent. B. C. (PTS Dictionary)


Sounds like what I said: :stuck_out_tongue:

Thank you! :pray:

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My apologies, I think I have not been sufficiently clear.

You are absolutely right when you say that the goal is to arrive at the perception “This is not mine, I am not this, This is not myself”. The ultimate aim is to become dispassionate towards all things, thereby transcending desire and achieving Nibbana.

What I have endeavored to describe is not the Buddha’s theory of Self… we all know he maintained silence on that front! Rather this is his tactic, the technique used by the Buddha (as recorded in the Suttas in allegedly his own words) to examine all objects of experience, as well as experience itself, so as to see it as it really is. In achieving that final Right View, one loses desire for all objects/ experience. At that point, one is freed from Samsara. The question of “Self” existing or not becomes a non issue at that point.

A good start point to use this technique of insight is the experience of Dukkha. In doing this, one proceeds inwards from the external world deeper and deeper within the mind till one reaches the very innermost level of experience. Sila and Samadhi assist in achieving the quiet mind that is a necessary pre requisite of such emotionally jarring investigation.

A short example: -

Let us say, I feel bad because my car got scratched. I realize, I am suffering (at this time my sense of Self is still strong… and that’s OK as we will see later). I examine this feeling and perception. Why do I feel this way about my car? Did I expect it to last forever, unsullied? Isn’t it rusting, falling apart as it stands, getting depreciated, soon to end up at the junkyard? Attachment to such an object is just going to cause me Suffering, so I should let it go. The car is not really mine, I am not the car, neither is it an extension of me, it’s not my Self, I can’t control or make it Be. I realize the Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta nature of the car. Realizing this, desire for the car fades.

Next day, I sweep my house. I see bits of head and body hair and nail clippings mixed in with the dust. Just yesterday these bits were part of my body. Should I hold onto them as “Me”? I investigate all the 31 parts of the body in this way. I realize, my body is just like the car, falling apart, eventually to end up as an inanimate log being burnt in the pyre or rotting in the ground, attachment to it is Dukkha…I have no power to preserve it… this is not mine, I am not this, this is not my Self. Letting the attachment to the body go, not having desire for it to be this way or that, I experience Freedom. (Note, this doesn’t mean the body disappears or changes its nature- its just the perception of it and my attitude to it that changes)
And so it goes ever inwards, to the examination of feelings, one’s own perceptions, thoughts… deeper still to the very deepest layer of Awareness. Even the Jhana experiences betray themselves as Impermanent, not under control, longing after them brings Dukkha, they too are seen as Anatta and let go of. Yes, even within the 8th Jhana there is still that Perception and ultimately letting go.
Finally the stage is reached where one has examined all objects as well as Experience itself, realized their Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta nature and so let go of them all. In this penultimate stage is the final duality… whatever is left within me // /observing/// all of Samsara. At this point, I realize that the question of Self itself is meaningless, it was all a tactic anyways… now that the aim of release from desire has been achieved, that too can be let go of. In that final letting go lies Nibbana. At this point, “I” and “Samsara” go over the event horizon, into a place where there are no words or descriptions… #UNDEFINED, zero divided by infinity … Does the Self still exist at that point? Does it not exist? Does it both exist and not exist? Does it neither exist nor not exist?

Well, the Buddha refused to answer that question. And neither have any of the Arahants since, ever commented on the matter. Best to leave it sub-judice till we all become Arahants - and then we will know!!


Sorry for lack of clarity . The sentence was supposed to be directly following on from your sentence.

My (unimportant point) was that this doesn’t really work until after accepting the Buddhas training, because, as a matter of course, people are initially completely mired in the delusion of an enduring permanent Self, and thinking from the perspective of a Self. As such, the very idea of questioning it wouldn’t occur (it took the Buddha to understand the role of these things with regard to suffering). Looking for a self etc is a strategy once the training has been embarked upon.

Anyway, I’m sorry this is just muddying the waters :pray: It just happens that I’ve been working on this stuff and got drawn in to the discussion from a practice perspective.

I will leave it to the more learned to take it from here and present the words of the Buddha
:slightly_smiling_face: :thaibuddha: :dharmawheel:

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Yes, Gillian you are absolutely spot on!
The search for “Self” or "Atman/ Brahman" was the entire point of the holy life… the peak experience as described in the Hindu philosophy of that time being the realization of Self as being All and the blissful experience/ dissolution of the individual self (Atman) within the greater Self of the entire universe (Brahman).

Our very own Gautama Buddha gave this search a twist - the investigation of Suffering, with the aim of realizing the true nature of objects and experience, so as to give up desire for them, achieve equanimity, letting go, realizing Nibbana… and in doing so realizing the true nature of Atman, Brahman and everything else, not always to everyone’s delight!.

The formula he used to achieve this is repeated all over the suttas. If there is difficulty in seeing the true nature of any object/ experience, one can apply the concept of Dependent Origination.

“There is X. X is impermanent. Being impermanent, X causes me suffering. Is it wise to regard X, which is Anicca and Dukkha as me, mine or myself? Therefore, X is Anatta - Not Self. I should let it go.” Rewind, Repeat… for all objects and experiences…till you have seen all as it really is. Nothing whatsoever being seen as Self… yet that pesky smell of Self remains.:laughing:

And then suddenly :sunrise_over_mountains:… Nibbana.


My bad. The main verb is there: “That would be fine” (as a comment on what I said) … the rest is modifying that proposition … I don’t totally agree, but never mind.

I think the best angle to take this issue is from is a practice perspective. Don’t underrate the experiential. The Buddha didn’t. :slightly_smiling_face: :thaibuddha: :dharmawheel:

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Searching sounds to me to be a movement of mind. Come and see!, means for me to stop moving and see. Here and now is seeing and any move away from now must be not me, not mine, and not who I am. Here and now there is no landing for å self.


It would be nice if the philosophies and practices of liberation were as neat as their wikipedia articles. But actually atman and brahman are a conceptual mess if you take the time to look into the texts themselves. But in order to have our peace of mind, we project an ideal clarity onto them, so that we can say “This is what the Buddha rejected, of course”.

Again, it is not so clear at all what the Buddha rejected and I wish we would stop calling it ‘self’ because the Buddha surely didn’t time travel into the future, picked up a christianized 18th century discourse, or a 20th century philosophical discourse and reject that.

From all the questions and confusions the topic of anatta created, starting millenia ago, we should also be able to simply state: The entirety of anatta is bad teaching. If you confuse students and practitioners for millenia then something about the teaching is off - Steve Jobs on the iPhone 4: “You’re holding it wrong!”. And just like Jobs the best that we seem to be able to do is to say “Just avoid holding it (anatta) in that way”.

Since probably the Buddha was not confused in that matter, we rather deal with a problem of transmission and lost contexts - which makes good understanding really painful.

Regardless, I think we can find agreement about early Buddhism generally promoting dispassion and dis-identification.

A somewhat open question is only: If and under which circumstances the teachings need us to dis-identify from the teachings. Because as Buddhists, I would argue, we are necessarily quite attached to the teachings. When someone writes (what we think is) wrong about the Dhamma we feel personally attacked and pained - whether we politely hide it or not. Eventually we have to give up this attachment as well, but I’m sure there was originally a proper timing both for this announcement and for the execution of it.


I could never figure out why the word ‘dhamma’ tends to be translated as ‘thing’ or, God forbid, ‘phenomenon’. Yes, it is a difficult word and trying to find a single word that would satisfactorily describe as many nuances of its meaning as possible is no easy task.

I think that thinking of dhammā in terms of ‘things’ or ‘phenomena’ is misleading. The concept of dharma as used in Hinduism means ‘the right way of living, order, law’. Ashoka translated ‘dhamma’ in the meaning of Buddha’s teaching as eusebia in Greek and Qsyt ‘truth’ in Aramaic.

The meaning of dhammā as elements of existence was likely developed in a meditative context where a meditator would observe their experience and try to figure out or ‘penetrate with wisdom’ the underlying principles of phenomena, not quite phenomena in and of themselves, which I believe becomes especially clear if you look at the list of dhammā in the Theravadan Abhidhammic tradition: nutrient, lightness, malleability, masculinity of femininity are not something coming to my mind when I think of phenomena of things. In that sense, gravity is a dhamma since it is an underlying principle of many phenomena observed by us. Dhammā are a set of laws and principles, on which the Universe and our experience of it run on. Learning these principles as presented by the Buddha, becoming aware of them, penetrating them with our meditatively developed wisdom will help us achieve our goal of freeing ourselves from suffering. If we keep in mind this element of our spiritual path, our living having a goal, Dhamma as taught by the Buddha starts meaning ‘true/correct principles’, and dhammā as listed by the Abhidhamma can be classified as skilful or unskilful.

I think that if we choose to translate dhamma as ‘principle’ it would actually be more helpful for our practice. Thus, if we choose to use this translation, it becomes abundantly clear that nibbana is a dhamma: we can infer from our meditative experience that suffering can stop, can be principally extinguished. This principle of extinguishment is than called Nibbana.


I think that many of the Buddhas contemporaries would have accepted the premise of the aggregates not being Self. The pivotal difference is that they assumed something “beneath” the aggregates, which the Buddha did not.
This led to a different approach to practice, basically looking for an absence, as opposed to looking for a presence. In my experience neither method is problem-free.

You could say that the Buddha took the Vedic negation of Neti-neti to its logical conclusion, not allowing for exceptions… Well, apart from Nibbana. :yum:

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I think nothing wrong to translate dhammā as ‘phenomena/things’, e.g. if according to the major part of the SN/SA suttas. In some cases, it could mean ‘teachings’ (of the Buddha) ‘the path of practices’, ‘things contributing to enlightenment’.

Using the word ‘phenomena/things’ for dhammā shown in the suttas also indicates clearly the characteristic teachings of the Buddha.

Only the word ‘principle’ for the term ‘dhamma’ is not clear in meaning presented in the context of the suttas. Principle of ‘what’ is shown in the suttas?

Also, in the Theravada Abhidhammic tradition, the word ‘principle’ for the term ‘dhamma’ could mean ‘ultimate reality’ (paramattha) (See Bhikkhu Bodhi, Abhidhammattha Sangaha, p. 25). Such an idea of ‘ultimate reality’ is simply not found in the suttas.

I think, anatta or nibbana is a dhamma ‘phenomenon’, according to the major part of the SN/SA suttas. This conclusion is mainly according to the findings of the following book:

The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism: A Comparative Study Based on the Sutra-anga portion of the Pali Samyutta-Nikaya and the Chinese Samyukta-agama (Series: Beitrage zur Indologie Band 32; Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2000), by Choong Mun-keat.

Friends, I found this great Sutta while reading around this discussion:


Mendicants, when what exists, because of grasping what and insisting on what, does the view arise: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self’?”

“Our teachings are rooted in the Buddha. …”

“When form exists, because of grasping form and insisting on form, the view arises: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self.’

When feeling … perception … choices … consciousness exists, because of grasping consciousness and insisting on consciousness, the view arises: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self.’

followed by

That which is seen, heard, thought, known, sought, and explored by the mind: is that permanent or impermanent?”

“Impermanent, sir.”

“But if it’s impermanent, is it suffering or happiness?”

“Suffering, sir.”

“But by not grasping what’s impermanent, suffering, and perishable, would the view arise:

‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self’?”

“No, sir.”

… from which I understand that Self is something that we make on our own, by grasping to any object / experience. Everything is actually Anatta - not Self, but by attaching to any particular Dhamma, the perception of Self gets created.

The experience of Nibbana, is by definition, one without craving. Hence it cannot be construed as Self by the Arahant, and must therefore be Anatta.

As for how there can be Experience, without an Experiencer, I’ll refer y’all to all those Bot conversations I’ve posted earlier. :laughing:

P.S Just my two bits… this is only a view expressed with the aim of furthering the discussion. I’m not lecturing or anything… please do tell me if you feel that the logic is flawed.


And the ‘we’ (that I’ve highlighted in bold above in your quote ) doesn’t exist - rather we could write it Self is something that results from the process of the aggregates and causes and conditions

It is such a tricky perspective, I haven’t found a way to say it in simple words

Because it’s like only the perception (result of the process of the aggregates interacting and causes and conditions) of self exists - there actually being no self to see or be seen/perceived - but the ‘seeing/perceiving’ alone occurs.

So for me NIbbana is really removing all the conditioning from the process - seeing only what is seen, hearing only what is heard etc - without any of the ‘formations and constructions and conditioning’ - ie no constructed suffering. Yet there still exist all the impingements but they are JUST impingements. Pari-Nibbana is the removal of the entire means of perceiving anything, and complete disagregation… no process. Like the flame burning using fuel is just a process, when the fuel ends the flame ceases.

Absolutely, at least this is where I’m coming from. :smiley: So very happy to see your thoughts on this… You may want to read the article I’ve cited above and see what you think after digesting it. It has the doctrinal arguments beautifully set out :slight_smile:

Added: This also is only my 2 bits worth and not meant to be lecturing or judgemental… and am completely open to having any misunderstandings pointed out :pray: *
**Just happ
y :smiley::dharmawheel:*


Self as a bundle of cravings that tangle and stick together: when the cravings disentangle themselves there’s nothing left. Just another 2c tho.


Personally I come from advaita vedanta, so I have even more trouble with anatta. :joy:

It’s a really hard truth to grasp.


What is again the Buddhist argument against this materialism?

  • bodies have evolved in evolution
  • the material body and brain have consciousness as an emergent quality
  • the consciousness is self-validating and believes itself to be real
  • when the body dies the show is over

I know an educated Buddhist who considers that consciousness does not emerge from the body but that it is one of the first principles (in an ontology that is not monistic physicalism but tripartite - energy, information, consciousness). He identifies it with the dharmakaya. Physicalism (or modern materialism) poses philosophical problems.

So if I understand you correctly, the Buddha didn’t make ontological statements but phenomenological analyses? That is to say that he did not try to tell us the nature of things-in-themselves but rather the laws that govern our experience, by talking about phenomena, that is to say the way that things appear to us? The problem is that I find it hard to imagine a phenomenology without an observer (hence the Kantian transcendental subject, although some might argue that it is not substantial).