What do you think about Ven Thanissaro's view on Anatta?

Hi, good question.

Yes, as I take it, it only applies to personal experiences. Whether the external universe is eternal or is annihilated is not the question in SN12.15. It is a bit obscure because it uses the word “world”, but “world” here means the phenomenal world of the six senses, as defined in SN12.44 which talks about the cessation and origination of “the world” (as also mentioned in 12.15) but means by that the six senses. Similarly, in SN35.85 the Buddha says “the world is empty of a self”, referring to the six senses.

This somewhat awkward use of the word “world” I belief is the Buddha opposing his teachings to that of most other religions, which are interested in the origin of the cosmological world. But to the Buddha that was irrelevant. It is personal suffering in our “inner world” that concerned him.

Btw, The quote in MN2 does not say “there is no self”, but “there is no self for me” (or “*I *have no self”). The wrong view here is not the “no self” but the “me” or “I”. “There is no self” is never said to be a wrong view or perspective.

1 Like

Thanks for your patience and replies @Sunyo I think we can conclude that we just disagree about this matter.


1 Like

Yes, i see what you say.

I think the Dhamma is also about direction, going in the right direction. Like those sutta’s that teach that the water in the rivers ends in the sea. We must also find a direction which goes towards the sea, the weakening of passion because we understand that the stilling of formations, the relinquishment of all attachments is peace and we understand the noble truths, at least to some degree. We see the disadavantages and dangers in those obsessions we have, the fire, the passions, and attachments. We see the burden.

The Buddha talked about the (wrong or distorted) perceptions of permanence, happiness, beauty or attractiveness and seeing things as me, mine, my self (i think that covers in the end atta). It is all about valueing things. Passion arises when there is valueing things. If one sees a paper and does not know what it means it has almost no value. Then someone tells you it is currency and the paper gets another value. You get attached. The highest value is around seeing things as Me, mine, my self. So there is the strongest attachment.

I belief, if we want to move towards the sea (detachment) we have to see how these 4 perceptions, distorted ways of seeing things, are related to the arising of passion and attachment and not to dispassion and detachment.

To move towards dispassion and get a taste of Nibbana, we have to develop the opposite perceptions, i.e. anicca, dukkha, anatta and asubha. Those perceptions are connected with the goal of Nibbana and we will move towards the sea.

I came to a understanding now together with what I heard.

The point is that outside world comes out of self. Even what is inside is actually out of self. We are projecting out duality. That’s why in genesis of Buddhism. Duality happens after human. And identity happens after beings was just reckoned as beings. The point is that duality comes after mind made non duality beings.

I think Buddha had just meant at the end duality made identity. Male and female. Light and darkness. Ugly and beautiful.

That’s all things included in dualities. Even inside is not part of non duality. Non self probably means non duality. Just like self is replaced with mind is Buddha Dharma

Buddha used the Upanishads Mind school taught. They used Cosmic Mind etc

So higher mind=Cosmic Mind

What connect everything together. Brahma

Above that Upanishads already had the same nothingness as the end. The goal.

Patisambidhamagga explains that contemplation on voidness or emptiness is the same as contemplation on anatta. Anattanupassana=sunnatanupassana. (treatise on insight, patisambhidamagga)

What does it mean the world is empty or void? The eye and visable form, the nose and odours…the mind and mental objects…and also any feeling that arises due this 6 sense-contacts is empty of a self or anything belonging to self or empty of anything everlasting, permanent, eternal and not subject to change. (Psm, Treatise on Voidness, §1/3). It seems to say that the senses and all they sense is subject to change, there is nothing everlasting in it, not a self. I think some sutta’s also say, all reactions based on feelings due to sense-contact are empty.

According Treatise on Insight (§9)

Anatta contemplation

Contemplating Anatta means seeing (formations) as: alien, as empty, as void, as vain, as not-self.

It also mentions vain (fruitless, of no use).

Dukkha contemplation

Seeing conditioned phenomena as: giving no shelter, no refuge, no protection belong to dukkha nupassana. As also; seeing formations as painful, disease, boil, dart, calamity, affliction, plague, disaster, terror, menace, the root of calamity, danger, murderous, subject to cankers, Mara’s materialistic bait, connected with the idea of birth, aging and sickness, sorrow, lamentation, dispair, and as connected with the idea of defilement.

This is related to seeing that the cessation of the 5 aggregates (or 6 sense domains) is Nibbana and is described as pemanent. (ToI§8)

Anicca contemplation:

This means seeing conditioned phenomena as: impermanent, desintegrating, persishable, unenduring, subject to change, having no core, due to be annihilated, as formed, connected with the idea of death.

From this perspective, practically speaking, in applying the Dhamma, anicca, dukkha and anatta have not 1 fixed rigid meaning. It seems to me it is more about seeing the general picture, the idea.

A very strong and direct meaning of anatta is, i find, is the idea of alieness. This idea is very direct connected with the idea that for example, thoughts, or emotions, is not me and does not belong to me. Alien. Buddha uses in the sutta’s a nice example of people who see others accumulating wood for a fire. Do they think?: 'oh wee, now they are going to burn me!"…ofcourse not. You are not that wood. Likewise for the khandha’s. That idea of alien is, i feel very powerful.


Sorry: I responded to josephzizys before you, but your post was long and I wanted to read it all properly.

But, Mike, in my post on this in the other thread (couple years back) I wondered why Bhikkhu Bodhi spend so much time on arguing against this view… but now I’m wondering the same thing about myself! :smiley: So I’ll let this one slide. :slight_smile: Hope you don’t mind.

Just some quick final points, though, because I maybe oversimplified my suggested “translations”/interpretations. Even if we put it “because form is not fit to be regarded as self, it leads to affliction” it still doesn’t make sense to me. We might just as well say “because form is not fit to be regarded as a crocodile” it leads to suffering, and logically it would be just as valid the same. The way something is fit to be regarded is just not a logical precursor to suffering. It only makes sense if anatta meant something concrete, like it has no self agency.

Also, suffering is not a perception, surely. Otherwise, what exactly are we trying to overcome? It makes no sense that suffering would have been called a perception in the time of the Buddha (which the suttas never do, by the way) and only later it became regarded as a reality. Surely it was a reality from the get go. Same with anicca, and same with anatta.

Much metta and thanks for your thoughtful reply.

PS. On the featureless consciousness which you mentioned earlier, you may be interested in this: Viññāṇa anidassana: the state of boundless consciousness


I actually am bit confused here can we call nibbana as self ? I know Buddha want us to not regard nibbana as self but I think that because whatever we see as self/nibbana is always otherwise

furthermore the formula is whatever is impermanent is suffering and is not self thus whatever is permanent,unchangeable and bliss is self ,do you disagree with this ?

I am even more nervous about discussing this topic than the anatta one, but my understanding, and it’s a prosaic, this world, based on common sense and philosophy/philology understanding, not a profound meditative attainment understanding or anything, is that the basic buddhist position would be that it doesn’t make sense to try and put language and concepts like “selfhood” onto something like nibanna, nibbana is the cessation of all conditions, so there can’t really be any terms applied to it because the meaning of such terms is always conditioned, and therefore cannot be sustained when applied to nibbana. Nibbana is beyond the reach of language or conceptualisation. That is why I think that Therevadans are wrong to attribute to it metaphysical properties like having the “not-self” property, properties don’t apply. In the same way applying the concept of “self” wouldn’t apply, applying the concept of “both self and not self” wouldn’t apply, applying the concept of “neither self nor not-self” wouldn’t apply. Until I discovered Therevada as a school I had thought that this was basically universally accepted in Buddhism! Now I know better :slight_smile:

1 Like

it’s called the unborn, is not unborn a concept ?

I think nibbana simply is the opposite of conditioned phenomena if conditioned phenomena is born nibbana is the opposite of that if conditioned phenomena is not self then nibbana is the opposite of that, what do you think ?

1 Like

Yes! this is precisely why I don’t really like getting into this, basically even a word like nibbana or extinguishment is likely to be reified, and turned into something, but “extinguishment” is not the goal, the goal is what is left after we have achieved extinguishment, terms like “unconditioned” or “unborn” are meant to indicate the absence of things, the absence of birth, the absence of conditions, not meant to be taken as attributes in a positive sense, it’s the same with anatta, we are supposed to realise that an independant enduring self is not to be found in experience, not that an independant enduring not-self is to be found in existence, this is a subtle distinction, but I think it is very important for understanding lots of the EBT’s, especially where the “A”, “B”, “A and B”, “neither A nor B” sequence, the so called Catuṣkoṭi occurs.

So I disagree that the unconditioned is a simple opposite of the conditioned, I think that in Buddhism the conditioned more or less covers all phenomena, including pretty abstract phenomena like “nothingness” and “niether-perception-nor-non-perception” while the unconditioned is the cessation of all conditions, and is therefore beyond conceptualisation which in Buddhism is said to always depend on contact.


1 Like

absence of not self ?

yes! I would say that there is the absence of any of the “self” “not-self” “self and not-self” “neither self nor not-self” concepts, of course because of the way langage works we could always just say Aha! so you are saying Nibbana DOES have the quality of “none of (self not self self and not self neither self nor not not self)” and I would again be forced to deny that by expanding my list, so that any interlocuter can more or less willfully insist that any denied descriptor or list of denied descriptors constitutes a descriptor in itself and that therefore positive statements are being made about nibbana. I guess at a certain point I have to decide that my questioner is acting in bad faith, willfully misconstruing what i am trying to say, or that there really is a turn of mind such that there are people who just cannot conceive of the non-assertion of a property except as entailing the assertion of the non-property in which case I can’t help the person understand so I should desist from answering in either case.


1 Like

when you said absence of birth/born do you agree that nibbana is absence of unborn too ?

again, I think this is getting onto the slippery slope, I explained why I thought un-born was appropriate as a descriptor, un-unborn and un-un-unborn and un-un-unborn are all true too, but they 1. lead to infinite regress, 2. confuse people who take the negation of unborn to mean we are back to born and 3. because this is becoming pretty unedifying.

I am not going to comment on this particular aspect of the subject any further unless there is something of interest beyond the reification of prefixes.

Conditioned things exist in the mind - there is no actual “cloud” out there in nature. It’s just a perception of your mind - we have a shared cultural understanding of “cloud”, but look at a cloud in nature - where does it begin and end? These are concepts and perceptions - they have no defined substance or essential nature in nature itself.

it’s possible to regard fire as cold even though fire is hot, so Buddha instructing us to regard nibbana as not self doesn’t mean it’s not self except if Buddha said explicitly nibbana is not self but I never see that statement from him, do you know such a statement ?

Sorry, you’ve lost me.

There are different context i belief. There are many sutta’s that teach we must see all conditioned phenomena (all khandha’s, external and internal, past, future etc) as void, vain, empty, not-self, alien (ie. as anatta). As affliction, a dart, a calamity, a boil, suffering (i.e. as dukkha). And as impermanent, formed, desintegrating, subject to change (i.e.as anicca). Sometimes also asubha is mentioned.

Seeing phenomena this way one sees things the way they really are, the correct way and not the distorted way (as nicca, sukha, atta and subha).

In the context of contemplation ofcourse dukkha, anatta, and anicca refer to how you perceive something at a certain moment. If i perceive an icecream as sukha, i see it as happiness at that moment. As inviting, welcoming, according Dhamma. A distorted perception because the pleasant feeling it gives is not the happiness we seek in the Buddha-Dhamma. Nibbana, detachment, dispassion is the kind of ‘happiness’ we seek, the letting go of the burden. Moreover, because longing for sense-pleasures binds the mind to kama-loka, the lowest realms with most coarse suffering, this welcoming of sense-pleasures, it is a cause for future suffering too and not happiness. So, seeing happiness and a Path to happiness in that icecream is seeing things wrongly on different levels. Nobles see it as suffering and a Path to suffering.

Seeing conditioned phenomena as vain, fruitless, is also a kind of anatta contemplation too according Psm. As empty, hollow etc.

The principle behind all this is: seeing things in the correct way (anicca, dukkha, anatta, asubha) one does not highly value things (sees it not as escape of suffering, not as very important, not as me, not as path to happiness etc) does not get emotionally bonded, passion does not arise. The mind does not get attached. So thesefour perceptions are connected with the goal of becoming dispassionate, Nibbana.

I do not belief this IndyJ. I belief there must be material structures outside of the body, such as trees, clouds, other beings. Sunlight reflects on these structures, enters the eye, causes all kinds of chemical and neurological and mental processes, and i see something, for example a tree. If there would not be material structures outside the body, how can light enter the eyes? If there is nothing to reflect then there is nothing to see too.

I feel this prooves there must be materials structures outside the body, external rupa, independ of my khandha’s,. They have arisen, exist and cease upon their own conditions. I do not hallucinate a world.
There is external rupa too.

How i perceive those rupa structures depends on my senses and disposotion but perceiving a tree is, i belief, not the same as hallucinating a tree.

I am quit certain that outside the body, and independ of it, there are other material structures too which we perceive as clouds, trees, houses, etc. It is not all our creation.

Avoiding this issue of self and not-self i belief Buddha still teaches that the essence of who or what we are is the pure heart, Nibbana. I belief, there does not really change anything. What changes is that defilements are purified and your heart will become unburdened. But is it not like, i belief, you loose yourself. I belief there will always remain as sense of self. An aspect that does not change. But one must not see anything as: this is me, mine, myself, also not peace, stillness, emptiness.

1 Like