Views about self?

There are suttas which tell us not to regard the aggregates as self, which seems like a view.
But there are other suttas which tell us not to have a view about self at all.
Can anyone explain this contradiction?

1 Like

I have no views about what a Hippogriff is. But I know what it is not - for example, I do not regard this as a Hippogriff. Is that a view?

Of course, once (if ever) I see Fantastic Beasts and where to find them, it will be difficult to get the film maker’s view of what a Hippogriff is out of my head! . :upside_down_face:

Views about a self, refer, i belief, to a positive identification. You regard something as ‚Äėthis i am‚Äô.
That can be a formation, sankhata, arsing and ceasing or asankahata. For example; one might not identify with arising formations but still develop the view ; ‚Äėthis inner stilness, this emptiness that does not arise and cease, that i am‚Äô.

EBT says that whereever such a identification takes place, there is no end of suffering.

1 Like

My understanding is that there is a gradual development between the preliminary practice of seeing the aggregates as not-self and the abandonment of all self views.

Practising seeing the aggregates as not-self gives the mind the opportunity to detach from our attachment to whatever we take to be our self and therefore gain the necessary space to understand how our sense of identity simply arises in dependence on perception and grasping that perception. We construct our identity based on what we perceive, and then we grasp it as an ontological absolute:

‚ÄúUpńĀdńĀya asmńęti hoti, no anupńĀdńĀya.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe notion ‚ÄúI am‚ÄĚ occurs because of grasping, not by not grasping.‚ÄĚ (SN 22.83)

If you are a human, you perceive the 4 elements and construct your sense of identity based on the 4 elements, if you are a Brahma, you do the same based on what Brahmas perceive with their sense-bases, due to grasping, etc… (see MN 1).

When you truly see this in your experience you understand that any view of a self is a fallacious misconception, you understand the KaccńĀnagotta Sutta, you abandon identity view (sakkńĀya-diŠĻ≠ŠĻ≠hi) and you become a stream-enterer.


But the suttas say that all forms of self-view are inappropriate, presumably including the view of not-self. Do you see the contradiction here?

The realization of not-self is not merely a view (diŠĻ≠ŠĻ≠hi), it‚Äôs ‚Äúknowledge and vision in correspondence with reality‚ÄĚ (yathńĀbhŇęta√ĪńĀnadassana).

The difference is that mere views arise on the basis of the 5 epistemic grounds of:

  1. faith
  2. preference
  3. oral tradition
  4. reasoned contemplation
  5. intuitive acceptance of a view

These are just pointers to the truth but do not suffice to arrive at a realization of the truth (MN 95).
Any philosophy, science, religion, system of thought etc. that relies on these cannot go beyond mere views.

If there is improper attention (ayonisomanasikara) while employing any of these 5 epistemic grounds there is the emergence of wrong views (micchadiŠĻ≠ŠĻ≠hi), views that are not conducive to liberation, and in regards to the self they take one of the following 6 forms as ‚Äúmisconceptions‚ÄĚ:

  1. ‚ÄėMy self exists in an absolute sense.‚Äô
  2. ‚ÄėMy self does not exist in an absolute sense.‚Äô
  3. ‚ÄėI perceive the self with the self.‚Äô
  4. ‚ÄėI perceive what is not-self with the self.‚Äô
  5. 'I perceive the self with what is not-self.’
  6. ‚ÄėThis self of mine is he who speaks and feels and experiences the results of good and bad deeds in all the different realms. This self is permanent, everlasting, eternal, and imperishable, and will last forever and ever.‚Äô
    (MN 2)

If, instead, proper attention (yonisomanasikara) is employed, this gives rise to right view (sammńĀdiŠĻ≠ŠĻ≠hi), i.e. the aggregates are not-self, which, even though it is still only a view, it is conducive to liberation.

The only method that then goes beyond mere views is the pratice of satipaŠĻ≠ŠĻ≠hńĀna in the context of the Noble Eightfold Path, whereby you ‚Äúunderstand things by seeing them with wisdom‚ÄĚ (pa√Ī√ĪńĀya disvńĀ veditabbńĀ) (SN 35.153).
(see ‚ÄúExclusive reliance on reasoning as ‚Äėmere belief‚Äô‚ÄĚ by Bhikkhunńę DhammadinnńĀ)

So, as MN 95 referenced above points out, you start out by placing faith in the Buddha. He tells you to see the aggregates as not-self. You follow his instructions through ‚Äúreasoned contemplation‚ÄĚ of his teachings or ‚Äúintuitive acceptance of a view‚ÄĚ (i.e. it makes sense that things that are impermanent are not-self etc‚Ķ). Then you start practising this, and as your practice deepens there comes a time when you don‚Äôt need to ‚Äúforce‚ÄĚ yourself to see things as not-self:

But there comes a time when that mind is stilled internally; it settles, unifies, and becomes immersed in samńĀdhi.
That immersion is peaceful and sublime and tranquil and unified, not held in place by forceful suppression.
They become capable of realizing anything that can be realized by insight to which they extend the mind, in each and every case (AN 3.101).

Grasping is reduced, the awakening factors are active and if you extend the mind towards understanding the construction of the sense of self you clearly see that it is dependently originated.
Seeing this in correspondence with reality (yathńĀbhŇętaŠĻÉ) you grow disillusioned with any kind of ‚ÄúI-making‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúmy-making‚ÄĚ because you see its dependently arisen nature, no absolute ontological status.

That’s how to know and see so that the mind is rid of ego, possessiveness, and conceit for this conscious body and all external stimuli; and going beyond discrimination, it’s peaceful and well freed (SN 22.72)

These may also help:
SakkńĀyadiŠĻ≠ŠĻ≠hi by AnńĀlayo
SammńĀdiŠĻ≠ŠĻ≠hi by AnńĀlayo


I like another approach Martin. That works with me, appeals to me, resonates within me. I find all these ideas about self and not-self are quit philosophical and that does not work well for me.

But i immediately understand or can connect to the Dhamma that is about becoming more and more oneself. Just wholeheartedly, undivided, and boundless present in the world. Empty, with a mind that has taken nothing in possession. No ideas, views, no conceit, no ideas about self or not self, no ideas about attainments, peace, wisdom, love, whatever. Because all that is only conceited mind. Only being lost in conceivings. I do not doubt a moment about this. It is all unreal. All what one imagines to be or imagines to possess, be it wisdom, be it love, be it compassion, it is all just fake news. Because those are only qualities of a mind who does not possess anything and is empty.

1 Like

The distinction between a view and a realisation is an interesting one. So ‚Äúthe aggregates are not-self‚ÄĚ starts as a view, and becomes a realisation?

I didn’t really understand your Hippograph thing. Do you mean that it’s not possible to have a view about a self if we don’t know what a self is?

1 Like

As far as I understand, yes.
As a direct answer to your question above, the view of not-self is not inappropriate, it is right view as it is in line with the Four Noble Truths (grasping any of the five aggregates leads to suffering).
Through the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path, this right view (sammńĀdiŠĻ≠ŠĻ≠hi) ripens in right knowledge (sammńĀ√ĪńĀŠĻáa) that allows one to let go of all grasping, including grasping at views (diŠĻ≠ŠĻ≠hupadńĀnńĀ).

1 Like

This is how I see it…

A Self is as imaginary a thing as a Hippogriff. It is not Real. But that doesn’t stop us from creating it in our own minds. We can develop various views (DN1) about what it should or should not be, what properties it should have etc. Our individual attachments to our particular views of what the Self is leads us into contentions and disagreements with each other, ruminations and discontent. We search fruitlessly for what can never be found… because it is not Real in the first place! Consequently, we Suffer (MN102).

The Suffering that occurs because of our views of Self is Real.

But what is the escape?

What we need to do is to give up our views. We need to realize that no Self exists in the first place, we create it for ourselves because of not properly understanding the process of Consciousness.

The fetter of ‚ÄėI am‚Äô is the very final fetter to break. The fetter of ‚ÄėIdentity view‚Äô is however the very first fetter which must be broken.

The method taught by the Buddha is to properly scrutinize each aspect of our experience, realizing it for what it actually is.

When we properly attend to Rupa and understand it fully, we know Rupa for what it actually is…just Rupa, and we know it is not a Self. Whatever a Self might be.

Just as if we were to attend properly to a Chicken, we would know it to be in fact a Chicken, not a Hippogriff. Once we know that, we certainly do not regard it as a Hippogriff. Whatever a Hippograff might be. We don’t need to know that at all. We just need to know what a Chicken is. Having any sort of preconceived view about a Hippogriff (such as might happen because of having seen the film previously) will actually hinder our ability to know the chicken for what it is… we would be caught up in doubt.

So the view ‚ÄėThis is not - Self‚Äô is not a view about Self. It is complete knowledge and understanding about ‚ÄėThis‚Äô ie. Each of the 5 aggregates, which taken together form the totality of Experience.

Having pre existing views about Self only hinders our investigation and final understanding of the aggregates. Thus it is better to start with not having (or at least not holding on to) views about Self.

Having gone through and understood every aspect of Experience when we find no trace of Self, we will know for sure it doesn’t exist (DN9).

Just as having examined all the animals in the farmyard, I know them for what they actually are - Horse, Chicken, Duck… and if someone comes along and asks about a Hippogriff, I can very honestly answer that there is certainly no Hippogriff to be found! :grin:

1 Like

If you ask me ‚Äúself‚ÄĚ is the same as what we call ‚Äúego‚ÄĚ. An erroneous conception of a ‚Äúself‚ÄĚ that we believe to exist as some independent entity. In reality it is just a mental construct that allows us to navigate a body in a world interlocked by time and space.

If we want to explain a sentient being‚Äôs person/personality we could identify with one of the aggregates : ‚ÄúI am‚ÄĚ a body, ‚ÄúI am‚ÄĚ feelings, ‚ÄúI am‚ÄĚ perceptions, ‚ÄúI am‚ÄĚ thoughts, ‚ÄúI am‚ÄĚ consciousness. When we identify with or cling to one of these aggregates, suffering arises.

The moment we realize there is no permanent ‚Äúself‚ÄĚ and everything is in a constant state of flux, everything is awareness experiencing manifestations of the mind, the self construct is not needed anymore.

Because of old views (memory) the mind may however reconsider a ‚Äúme‚ÄĚ to be existent (we can still consider each other to be separate entities, with different bodies, separate feelings etc.), but we shouldn‚Äôt, ultimately that‚Äôs a wrong view and creates all kinds of suffering. Instead meditate and just be awareness beyond concepts.

All is seeing colors, hearing sounds, smelling odors, tasting flavors, touching tangible objects, thinking thoughts, there is no ‚Äúself‚ÄĚ.

The Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter IV: Perfect knowledge or Knowledge of Reality helped me a lot:

The‚Äč ‚Äčfive‚Äč ‚ÄčDharmas‚Äč ‚Äčare:‚Äč ‚Äčappearance,‚Äč ‚Äčname,
discrimination,‚Äč ‚Äčright-knowledge,‚Äč ‚Äčand‚Äč ‚ÄčReality.‚Äč ‚Äč‚Äč ‚ÄčBy‚Äč ‚Äčappearance‚Äč ‚Äčis‚Äč ‚Äčmeant‚Äč ‚Äčthat
which‚Äč ‚Äčreveals‚Äč ‚Äčitself‚Äč ‚Äčto‚Äč ‚Äčthe‚Äč ‚Äčsenses‚Äč ‚Äčand‚Äč ‚Äčto‚Äč ‚Äčthe‚Äč ‚Äčdiscriminating-mind‚Äč ‚Äčand‚Äč ‚Äčis‚Äč ‚Äčperceived
as‚Äč ‚Äčform,‚Äč ‚Äčsound,‚Äč ‚Äčodor,‚Äč ‚Äčtaste,‚Äč ‚Äčand‚Äč ‚Äčtouch.‚Äč ‚Äč‚Äč ‚ÄčOut‚Äč ‚Äčof‚Äč ‚Äčthese‚Äč ‚Äčappearances‚Äč ‚Äčideas‚Äč ‚Äčare
formed,‚Äč ‚Äčsuch‚Äč ‚Äčas‚Äč ‚Äčclay,‚Äč ‚Äčwater,‚Äč ‚Äčjar,‚Äč ‚Äčetc.,‚Äč ‚Äčby‚Äč ‚Äčwhich‚Äč ‚Äčone‚Äč ‚Äčsays:‚Äč ‚Äčthis‚Äč ‚Äčis‚Äč ‚Äčsuch‚Äč ‚Äčand‚Äč ‚Äčsuch‚Äč ‚Äča
thing‚Äč ‚Äčand‚Äč ‚Äčno‚Äč ‚Äčother,‚Äč ‚Äčthis‚Äč ‚Äčis‚Äč ‚Äčname.‚Äč ‚Äč‚Äč ‚ÄčWhen‚Äč ‚Äčappearances‚Äč ‚Äčare‚Äč ‚Äčcontrasted‚Äč ‚Äčand‚Äč ‚Äčnames
compared,‚Äč ‚Äčas‚Äč ‚Äčwhen‚Äč ‚Äčwe‚Äč ‚Äčsay:‚Äč ‚Äčthis‚Äč ‚Äčis‚Äč ‚Äčan‚Äč ‚Äčelephant,‚Äč ‚Äčthis‚Äč ‚Äčis‚Äč ‚Äčhorse,‚Äč ‚Äča‚Äč ‚Äčcart,‚Äč ‚Äča‚Äč ‚Äčpedestrian,
a‚Äč ‚Äčman,‚Äč ‚Äča‚Äč ‚Äčwoman,‚Äč ‚Äčor,‚Äč ‚Äčthis‚Äč ‚Äčis‚Äč ‚Äčmind‚Äč ‚Äčand‚Äč ‚Äčwhat‚Äč ‚Äčbelongs‚Äč ‚Äčto‚Äč ‚Äčit,‚Äč ‚Äčthe‚Äč ‚Äčthings‚Äč ‚Äčthus‚Äč ‚Äčnamed
are‚Äč ‚Äčsaid‚Äč ‚Äčto‚Äč ‚Äčbe‚Äč ‚Äčdiscriminated.‚Äč ‚Äč‚Äč ‚ÄčAs‚Äč ‚Äčthese‚Äč ‚Äčdiscriminations‚Äč ‚Äčcome‚Äč ‚Äčto‚Äč ‚Äčbe‚Äč ‚Äčseen‚Äč ‚Äčas
mutually‚Äč ‚Äčconditioning,‚Äč ‚Äčas‚Äč ‚Äčempty‚Äč ‚Äčof‚Äč ‚Äčself-substance,‚Äč ‚Äčas‚Äč ‚Äčun-born,‚Äč ‚Äčand‚Äč ‚Äčthus‚Äč ‚Äčcome‚Äč ‚Äčto
be‚Äč ‚Äčseen‚Äč ‚Äčas‚Äč ‚Äčthey‚Äč ‚Äčtruly‚Äč ‚Äčare,‚Äč ‚Äčthat‚Äč ‚Äčis,‚Äč ‚Äčas‚Äč ‚Äčmanifestations‚Äč ‚Äčof‚Äč ‚Äčthe‚Äč ‚Äčmind‚Äč ‚Äčitself,‚Äč ‚Äčthis‚Äč ‚Äčis
right-knowledge.‚Äč ‚Äč‚Äč ‚ÄčBy‚Äč ‚Äčit‚Äč ‚Äčthe‚Äč ‚Äčwise‚Äč ‚Äčcease‚Äč ‚Äčto‚Äč ‚Äčregard‚Äč ‚Äčappearances‚Äč ‚Äčand‚Äč ‚Äčnames‚Äč ‚Äčas

When‚Äč ‚Äčappearances‚Äč ‚Äčand‚Äč ‚Äčnames‚Äč ‚Äčare‚Äč ‚Äčput‚Äč ‚Äčaway‚Äč ‚Äčand‚Äč ‚Äčall‚Äč ‚Äčdiscrimination‚Äč ‚Äčceases,‚Äč ‚Äčthat
which‚Äč ‚Äčremains‚Äč ‚Äčis‚Äč ‚Äčthe‚Äč ‚Äčtrue‚Äč ‚Äčand‚Äč ‚Äčessential‚Äč ‚Äčnature‚Äč ‚Äčof‚Äč ‚Äčthings‚Äč ‚Äčand,‚Äč ‚Äčas‚Äč ‚Äčnothing‚Äč ‚Äčcan‚Äč ‚Äčbe
predicated‚Äč ‚Äčas‚Äč ‚Äčto‚Äč ‚Äčthe‚Äč ‚Äčnature‚Äč ‚Äčof‚Äč ‚Äčessence,‚Äč ‚Äčit‚Äč ‚Äčis‚Äč ‚Äčcalled‚Äč ‚Äčthe‚Äč ‚Äč‚ÄúSuchness‚ÄĚ‚Äč ‚Äčof‚Äč ‚ÄčReality.‚Äč ‚Äč‚Äč ‚ÄčThis
universal,‚Äč ‚Äčundifferentiated,‚Äč ‚Äčinscrutable,‚Äč ‚Äč‚ÄúSuchness‚ÄĚ‚Äč ‚Äčis‚Äč ‚Äčthe‚Äč ‚Äčonly‚Äč ‚ÄčReality,‚Äč ‚Äčbut‚Äč ‚Äčit‚Äč ‚Äčis
variously‚Äč ‚Äčcharacterized‚Äč ‚Äčas‚Äč ‚ÄčTruth,‚Äč ‚ÄčMind-essence,‚Äč ‚ÄčTranscendental‚Äč ‚ÄčIntelligence,
Noble‚Äč ‚ÄčWisdom,‚Äč ‚Äčetc.‚Äč ‚Äč‚Äč ‚ÄčThis‚Äč ‚ÄčDharma‚Äč ‚Äčof‚Äč ‚Äčthe‚Äč ‚Äčimageless-ness‚Äč ‚Äčof‚Äč ‚Äčthe‚Äč ‚ÄčEssence-nature‚Äč ‚Äčof
Ultimate‚Äč ‚ÄčReality‚Äč ‚Äčis‚Äč ‚Äčthe‚Äč ‚ÄčDharma,‚Äč ‚Äčwhich‚Äč ‚Äčhas‚Äč ‚Äčbeen‚Äč ‚Äčproclaimed‚Äč ‚Äčby‚Äč ‚Äčall‚Äč ‚Äčthe‚Äč ‚ÄčBuddhas,
and‚Äč ‚Äčwhen‚Äč ‚Äčall‚Äč ‚Äčthings‚Äč ‚Äčare‚Äč ‚Äčunderstood‚Äč ‚Äčin‚Äč ‚Äčfull‚Äč ‚Äčagreement‚Äč ‚Äčwith‚Äč ‚Äčit,‚Äč ‚Äčone‚Äč ‚Äčis‚Äč ‚Äčin‚Äč ‚Äčpossession
of‚Äč ‚ÄčPerfect‚Äč ‚ÄčKnowledge,‚Äč ‚Äčand‚Äč ‚Äčis‚Äč ‚Äčon‚Äč ‚Äčhis‚Äč ‚Äčway‚Äč ‚Äčto‚Äč ‚Äčthe‚Äč ‚Äčattainment‚Äč ‚Äčof‚Äč ‚Äčthe‚Äč ‚ÄčTranscendental
Intelligence‚Äč ‚Äčof‚Äč ‚Äčthe‚Äč ‚ÄčTath√°gatas.

1 Like

Sure, I understand the arguments for not-self, my question was why all views on this question are discouraged in the EBT.
The answer seems to be that all views are a distraction to investigation and insight. Perhaps it’s analogous to trying to design a scientific experiment with strong preconceptions about the outcome. People finding what they expect to find?

1 Like

Hi Martin,

I think the view of self is discouraged because the moment we believe in an illusory self, the mind will create all kinds of desires for this illusory ‚Äúself‚ÄĚ. It‚Äôs a form of deceit, a defilement of the mind that opens a way to more impurity. Chasing desires for oneself indeed distracts us from gaining insight in what‚Äôs real.

I get that, but some suttas discourage all views about self, including not-self.

When we are born, we don‚Äôt know about the concept of ‚Äúself‚ÄĚ. When you don‚Äôt know self, how do you know about a not-self? Self is just a concept made up by the mind, not-self can only exist when you have a notion about self.

Can I ask where your understanding of this comes from?

Perhaps in MN2: SuttaCentral
Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation:

‚ÄúWhen he attends unwisely in this way, one of six views arises in him. The view ‚Äėself exists for me‚Äô arises in him as true and established; or the view ‚Äėno self exists for me‚Äô arises in him as true and established; or the view ‚ÄėI perceive self with self‚Äô arises in him as true and established; or the view ‚ÄėI perceive not-self with self‚Äô arises in him as true and established; or the view ‚ÄėI perceive self with not-self‚Äô arises in him as true and established;

Bhikkhu Sujato’s translation:

When they attend improperly in this way, one of the following six views arises in them and is taken as a genuine fact. The view: ‚ÄėMy self exists in an absolute sense.‚Äô The view: ‚ÄėMy self does not exist in an absolute sense.‚Äô The view: ‚ÄėI perceive the self with the self.‚Äô The view: ‚ÄėI perceive what is not-self with the self.‚Äô The view: ‚ÄėI perceive the self with what is not-self.‚Äô

I see, but none of these imply that the idea of not-self is to be rejected.
I believe there are lengthy discussions about this subtle point around and there’s no need to start another here.

In brief, all these views still revolve around the idea of a self in some way, and especially they are prone to misunderstanding by people who don’t think in terms of dependent origination (see SN 44.10).

The idea of anattńĀ is not that ‚ÄúYour self does not exist‚ÄĚ, it‚Äôs that ‚ÄúAll aspects of existence are not a self‚ÄĚ.
It‚Äôs a subtle point but there‚Äôs a huge difference between the two. The idea is to stop thinking in terms of either affirming or negating the ontological status of things and instead simply seeing them for what they are (i.e. dependently arisen processes) which constitutes right view (again KaccńĀnagotta Sutta).


I don‚Äôt see a practical difference between ‚ÄúEverything we experience is not self‚ÄĚ ( ie, sabbe dhamma anatta) and the statement ‚ÄúThere is no self‚ÄĚ.
You could make the technical argument that there might be a self we can never find, similar to the argument that theists sometimes use: ‚ÄúAbsence of evidence isn‚Äôt evidence of absence‚ÄĚ. But to me this seems more like a theoretical distinction than a practical one.

1 Like