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“There is no self.”

“Nope, never said that, either.”—The BuddhaThanissaro Bhikkhu

The Buddha was careful to classify questions according to how they should be answered, based on how helpful they were to gaining awakening. Some questions deserved a categorical answer, that is, one that holds true across the board. Some he answered analytically, redefining or refining the terms before answering. Some required counter-questioning, to clarify the issue in the questioner’s mind. But if the question was an obstacle on the path, the Buddha put it aside.

When Vacchagotta the wanderer asked him point-blank whether or not there is a self, the Buddha remained silent, which means that the question has no helpful answer. As he later explained to Ananda, to respond either yes or no to this question would be to side with opposite extremes of wrong view (Samyutta Nikaya 44.10). Some have argued that the Buddha didn’t answer with “no” because Vacchagotta wouldn’t have understood the answer. But there’s another passage where the Buddha advises all the monks to avoid getting involved in questions such as “What am I?” “Do I exist?” “Do I not exist?” because they lead to answers like “I have a self” and “I have no self,” both of which are a “thicket of views, a writhing of views, a contortion of views” that get in the way of awakening (Majjhima Nikaya 2).

So how did we get the idea that the Buddha said that there is no self? The main culprit seems to be the debate culture of ancient India. Religious teachers often held public debates on the hot questions of the day, both to draw adherents and to angle for royal patronage. The Buddha warned his followers not to enter into these debates (Sutta Nipata 4.8), partly because once the sponsor of a debate had set a question, the debaters couldn’t follow the Buddha’s policy of putting useless questions aside.

Later generations of monks forgot the warning and soon found themselves in debates where they had to devise a Buddhist answer to the question of whether there is or isn’t a self. The Kathavatthu, an Abhidhamma text attributed to the time of King Ashoka, contains the earliest extant version of the answer “no.” Two popular literary works, the Buddhacharita and Milinda Panha, both from around the first century CE, place this “no” at the center of the Buddha’s message. Later texts, like the Abhidharmakosha Bhashya, provide analytical answers to the question of whether there is a self, saying that there’s no personal self but that each person has a “dharma-self” composed of five aggregates: material form, feelings, perceptions, mental fabrications, and consciousness. At present we have our own analytical answers to the question, such as the teaching that although we have no separate self, we do have a cosmic self—a teaching, by the way, that the Buddha singled out for special ridicule (MN 22).

“There is no self” is the granddaddy of fake Buddhist quotes. It has survived so long because of its superficial resemblance to the teaching on anatta, or not-self, which was one of the Buddha’s tools for putting an end to clinging. Even though he neither affirmed nor denied the existence of a self, he did talk of the process by which the mind creates many senses of self—what he called “I-making” and “my-making”—as it pursues its desires.

In other words, he focused on the karma of selfing. Because clinging lies at the heart of suffering, and because there’s clinging in each sense of self, he advised using the perception of not-self as a strategy to dismantle that clinging. Whenever you see yourself identifying with anything stressful and inconstant, you remind yourself that it’s not-self: not worth clinging to, not worth calling your self (SN 22.59). This helps you let go of it. When you do this thoroughly enough, it can lead to awakening. In this way, the not-self teaching is an answer—not to the question of whether there’s a self, but to the question that the Buddha said lies at the heart of discernment: “What, when I do it, will lead to my long-term welfare and happiness?” (MN 135). You find true happiness by letting go.

Some ways of selfing, the Buddha and his disciples found, are useful along the path, as when you develop a sense of self that’s heedful and responsible, confident that you can manage the practice (Anguttara Nikaya 4.159). While you’re on the path, you apply the perception of not-self to anything that would pull you astray. Only at the end do you apply that perception to the path itself. As for the goal, it’s possible to develop a sense of clinging around the experience of the deathless, so the Buddha advises that you regard even the deathless as not-self (AN 9.36). But when there’s no more clinging, you have no need for perceptions either of self or not-self. You see no point in answering the question of whether there is or isn’t a self because you’ve found the ultimate happiness.

The belief that there is no self can actually get in the way of awakening. As the Buddha noted, the contemplation of not-self can lead to an experience of nothingness (MN 106). If your purpose in practicing is to disprove the self—perhaps from wanting to escape the responsibilities of having a self—you can easily interpret the experience of nothingness as the proof you’re looking for: a sign you’ve reached the end of the path. Yet the Buddha warned that subtle clinging can persist in that experience. If you think you’ve reached awakening, you won’t look for the clinging. But if you learn to keep looking for clinging, even in the experience of nothingness, you’ll have a chance of finding it. Only when you find it can you then let it go.

So it’s important to remember which questions the not-self teaching was meant to answer and which ones it wasn’t. Getting clear on this point can mean the difference between a false awakening and the real thing.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu is the abbot of Metta Forest Monastery and the author and translator of numerous meditation guides. His latest book is Meditations 6.

Image: Alfredo de Stéfano, Tuareg Carpet-Sahara DeSert, Archival pigment print, 2012. From the Storm of Light Series, Robert Koch Gallery/San Francisco.

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deannies's picture

This articles renders the Buddha's philosophy to the arguing shelf of religion- none of us were there- we have no idea what his intentions were and can hopefully read, think and evaluate the true meaning of love, compassion, self, and dharma without resorting to "this way is right", "this is the only way to interpret" something, etc. Sometimes words can be taken literally (the Bible fiasco) and sometimes a thinking person extrapolates the best most kind meaning. Sorry but this article was a bomb for me.

DanAR's picture

Shunryu Suzuki discusses this idea of "self" in a chapter of his book Not Always So. His point seems to be that the "self" is an abstract concept that does not really help a person meditate. This is a very useful idea to me.

dangertrain8's picture

Just for clarity:

some questions aren't worth asking because their not useful according to the Buddha in order to achieve enlightenment.

according to the Buddha, the question of self is irrelevant, because it has no useful answer, any question of this nature will lead to conflicting views, or congested thinking.

the reason why we think Buddha said this is because back in the day they had public debates(they still do) and they pose questions. This is dangerous because there are some questions that aren't meant to be asked, or that are useless to ask and lead to thought traps.

the untrained self pursues things like I making and my making
so then what is self?
and what is not self?
and how are things conceived of by the self not of the self?
how can there not be a self?

he says developing a self that is confident can be helpful for attaining goals, but when things lead you astray you can use this rationale of “not self” to sort of steer yourself in a different direction, and keep yourself toward attaining this place where you've found infinite happiness and so these questions become irrelevant.

what are the responsibilities of the self?
the belief that there is no self can some how exonerate you from responsibility?
how can this “self”(which may or may not exist, or is just thrown into the vortex of N/A) have “responsibilities”?

My only real conclusion here is I must go through this absurd battle with my own mind and body the fruits of which will be the nothing I already have. Although i doesn't exist, so then there is nothing, what purpose is there to having thoughts? Or really doing anything except nothing?

This is probably naive and caustic, just trying to get answers.

learner's picture

Thank you. It seems to me so unusual that the Buddha should classify questions according to how they shoud be responded to. And questions seem so powerful - that to really analyse them seems so unusual in my experience. The whole self thing - I have been wondering about this. Sometimes our sense of self is fragile and so to call it into question may be harmful. Especially for young people I think, but then I am not young and I am still trying to work out what is skilfull. I experience an openness when I get out of my way - and I recognise the closedness when I am too much in my own way. But all this is so subtle. But I get selfing - so much! I have a way to go/ ;)

pmdmail@comcast.net's picture

What discerning perception. What a gift of truth. Remarkable insight. Thank you very much!

Danny's picture

My understanding of anatman : quite simply the Truth that there is nothing about me which is in any way transcendent, nothing which is not subject to change and dependent on causes and conditions for its existence. No soul, no transcendent consciousness or mind, no eternal “true self.” Everything we are arises because of causes that can be explained, and everything we are will eventually cease to exist.

sanghadass's picture

''Yet it is just within this fathom-long body, with its perception & intellect, that I declare that there is the cosmos, the origination of the cosmos, the cessation of the cosmos, and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the cosmos'' - the Buddha

Dominic Gomez's picture

"As to the question of where exactly hell and the Buddha exist, one sutra states that hell exists underground; another that the Buddha is in the west. Closer examination, however, reveals that both exist in our five-foot body. This must be true because hell is in the heart of a person who inwardly despises his father and disregards his mother. It is like the lotus seed, which contains both blossom and fruit. In the same way, the Buddha dwells within our hearts."~Nichiren Daishonin

ljhaze72's picture

I found this article extremely helpful. This is my first article read on this site, I hope they're all this helpful! I also enjoyed reading the comments. I always felt the "no self" explanations varied and seemed misconstrued. This explanation of "not selfing" makes MUCH more sense. It seems as though it's not so much a matter of "is there a self or not?" but more "either way, it's not relevant to the point" - the point being that happiness is found in letting go of the clinging... and what do we cling to more than our sense of selves? Our preferences, our egos, how things affect US, what can someone do for ME? What's MY place in the world? All these ideas are self-centered and only add to our suffering and grasping. So putting ourselves aside makes more sense than pondering whether there is a self or not. You can put the illusion of self aside, you can put the reality of self aside, just put it aside and get on with happiness without distraction! That's my partial take-away at least. Wonderful article.

sanghadass's picture

I am astonished at the suggestion that it is arbitrary and misguided - in some way - to try an understand, as clearly as we can, just what the Buddha was 'talking about'. I don't have to accept what he was saying but if I am interested in giving him a fair hearing, I need to understand what he is attempting to communicate on his own terms. So we require good translations of the original wording in the texts. I need to have the best understanding available of the terms he is actually using. If I hear ''blessed are the cheesemakers'' instead of ''blessed are the peacemakers'' I have not understood what the sermon on the mount was trying to convey - simple! There are so many self illumined seers in these discussions that it is difficult to understand why they have an interest in the Buddha - and what he had to say! Why bother with the silly old suttas/sutras? There just archaic texts transmitted by flawed and fickle human beings with their own desires and agendas. They did not even write the stuff down for five hundred odd years. Who knows what they added and subtracted. Perhaps they just dreamed the Buddha into existence in the first place. So why bother having an interest in Buddhism? I will just compare notes with old buddha - assuming he existed at all - and anything that corrresponds to my own deep and meaningful insights will have my approval. The rest I will attribute to the stupidity of my well intentioned but hopelessly fraught Dharma ancestors!

softwear1's picture

yeah, i don't know who you are, but i will probably go and google you. but i'm with you.. i have read a lot of commentaries on these wisdom collection articles and have read the books they've written. i just took a class in
early buddhsit history last week-end with rita gross at the Buddha dharma center in barre, mass. and learned a lot of things i never knew about the linneage i have been studying. I am discovering all the time; maybe that's why there are endless books written, seminars and debates and phd's. etc. if i relate the question 'no self' to nisdargtta, balkezar and rarmana maharshi, ramana says...... not, WHO am i, but,What am I, is it more accurate.... was Buddha a self-realized being as was ramana maharshi... should they debate each other? is there 'a self' or 'no self'.... but then again doesn't emptiness imply that they both exist....can't see 'the one' without 'the other'. sincerely, softwear1/ elizabeth.... softwear1 at comcast dot net......

aldrisang's picture

"I don't know who you are... but I have a particular set of skills. I will Google you, and I will find you." (Liam Neeson)

sanghadass's picture

Hi, i look forward to talking with you. you are most welcome to contact me at: laurence.mather@outlook.com
be well and happy!

rosemary.franklin's picture

what a fascinating discussion. thanks to all for sharing their soul/mind. may all beings be free from suffering.

sanghadass's picture

The not-self totality formula18

17 (1) “Therefore, bhikshus, any kind of form whatsoever, whether past, future or present, internal
or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near19—all forms should be seen as they really are
with right wisdom thus:
‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’20

18 (2) Therefore, bhikshus, any kind of feeling whatsoever, whether past, future or present, internal
or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near—all feelings should be seen as they really are
with right wisdom thus:
‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’
19 (3) Therefore, bhikshus, any kind of perception whatsoever, whether past, future or present,
internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near—all perceptions should be seen as
they really are with right wisdom thus:
‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’
20 (4) Therefore, bhikshus, any kind of formations whatsoever, whether past, future or present,
internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near—all formations should be seen as they
really are with right wisdom thus:
‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’
21 (5) Therefore, bhikshus, any kind of consciousness whatsoever, whether past, future or present,
internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near—all consciousness should be seen as
they really are with right wisdom thus:
‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’

Kapila's picture

Anatta means emptiness of soul or self and there're 3 ways to mean Anatta.
(1) There's "no fully self controlled person" and if there's such person, then he/she could keep himself/herself as his/her wish. But no one can exist upto the self wish. That's also emptiness of self meant by anatta. It's described clearly in 'antta lakhana sutta' and 'sachchaka sutta'.
(2) Although we call he/she/person to point out doers and sufferers, there's nothing a single independent substance to see as he/she or soul. Because we call he/she or self for a collection of few visible and invisible substances. That's also emptiness of self meant by anatta.
(3) The all substances including in self or soul are not permanent things. Impermanence of things leads to suffering & sorrows. So, would you wish to see that impermanent things which leads to suffering & sorrows as your soul or self.? NOT at all.! That's also emptiness of soul which meant by anatta.
* If you deeply aware of yourself then you'll get know that now you're deferent than before. That's the impermanence of existance. It brings you suffering & sorrows continually in existance. So it is only arising sorrows & sufferings as existance of you or self or soul...! Only those sorrows & sufferings will come to an end by cession of this existance. Having clearly known so without beliving is called as Right View (or sotapanna).

sanghadass's picture

Dear Kapila, thank you for your Dhamma offering above. I had no problem understanding what you had to say. Please speak your truth freely and openly. Your contribution is appreciated. Your kalyana mitta, sangha dassa.

softwear1's picture

there are some typographical errors and some words i'm not sure you mean to use. for instance, you used 'beliving' and i think you meant believing....

could you correct this writing with someone who might understand english better than you do? thanks it would help
otherwise it s unclear...

Kapila's picture

The Buddha said world is empty of soul/self or belongings of soul/self.

eror's picture

The writer is, i believe asserting the contention that as living beings we most certainly have a self, but he also seems to be saying that our 'self'' does not last beyond the body - or is the word 'subtle' meant to suggest that something does survive death by pointing out that the 'subtle self' does not? If someone could respond with the correct definition of the phrase 'subtle self' used in this article i'd really appreciate it. Thanks

Jayanatha's picture

Jimmy Leggat Interesting article. I've seen various discussions between Buddhists on this subject. I think what they are concerned with is the view that there isn't anything resembling form, feeling, thought etc that is particular to what some would call a self. In this article the author emphasises that the Buddha avoided definitive statements regarding the question of 'is there or isn't there a self'. According to the author, this was because he believed some would not understand the answer or would misinterpret it's meaning. If it were currently fashionable to say there is a self then I'm confident that the same author would be saying that the Buddha never said there was or is a self. So what does Buddhism say about this? The five aggregates referred to are sometimes described as heaps of habit. The habitual forming and reforming of form, feeling, patterns of thinking etc. The fact that we are recognisably similar to how we were last time we looked. The emphasis on anatma, no self, which is fundamental to the Buddhist teaching of dependent arising, could be seen as a challenge to the unhelpful view that everything originates in a self, a person or a God. As a consequence, traditional training for monks in the Mahassi Theravadin form of practice, for example, places considerable emphasis on no 'i'. During this training, which I've personally participated in during a short retreat, awareness is cultivated to see that breathing occurs, with no self doing breathing; thoughts arise, with no self doing thoughts arising; feelings occur with no self doing feeling; sensations of hot or cold arise, with no self doing sensations. What becomes clear is that there is no autonomous agency 'doing' these everyday occurrences. They are just happening. This doesn't mean that the notion of self as identity is meaningless. IMO, some people appear to go too far with the non existence views I've seen expressed. At the other extreme, the general view that individuals are the source of everything that happens to them strikes me as ridiculous and unhelpful. These views, both extremes, fail to allow any understanding of how actions arise in conditions and how those actions can be affected by changing the conditions that give rise to them. In general, I think the Buddhist view is a good basic description of interconnected conditions, affected by and affecting other conditions in a diverse flow of phenomena. It avoids the pitfall of offering explanations of 'why' or 'where does it all begin' and it neither asserts or denies anything in absolute terms. It's a metaphor attempting to point to a helpful way of looking and seeing for ones 'self'.

jswendt's picture

I find this article an immensely helpful clarification of the self/no self debate. From a neuroscience perspective believing that the essence of self is the collective workings of the nervous system and the mind-body connection, I've never been able to buy into the arguments insisting that there is no self. Not-selfing I feel is a much more useful approach, what I call the "The quest for non-identity."

With deep gratitude. JW

Dominic Gomez's picture

"arguments insisting that there is no self" are resolved by looking into your bathroom mirror.

softwear1's picture

what you just wrote about covincing yourself " by just llooking into your bathroom mirror," is the MOST SIMPLISTIC ARGUMENT I HAVE EVER READ THAT YOU HAVE WRITTEN IN ALL THE ITMES YOU'VE COMMENTED IN THE TIRICYLCE NEWSLETTER. I'M ASHAMED OF YOU. ARE YOU JOKING? E'VERYTHING IN YOUR COMMENTARIES OF THE ARTICLE S IN TRICYLE ,HAVE BEEN GOOD AND INTELLIGENT. WHERE DID YOU EVER DECIDE TO " LOOK INTO THE MIRROR AND SEE YOUR 'SELFL\', YOU DON'T MIRROR YOUR SELF, IF THERE IS A SELF, BY LOOKING INTO THE MIRROR... BUT YOU LOOK INTO YOUR MIND TO ARGUE ONE WAY OR THE OTHER E.E. ANSWER ?.

softwear1's picture

what you just wrote about covincing yourself " by just llooking into your bathroom mirror," is the MOST SIMPLISTIC ARGUMENT I HAVE EVER READ THAT YOU HAVE WRITTEN IN ALL THE ITMES YOU'VE COMMENTED IN THE TIRICYLCE NEWSLETTER. I'M ASHAMED OF YOU. ARE YOU JOKING? E'VERYTHING IN YOUR COMMENTARIES OF THE ARTICLE S IN TRICYLE ,HAVE BEEN GOOD AND INTELLIGENT. WHERE DID YOU EVER DECIDE TO " LOOK INTO THE MIRROR AND SEE YOUR 'SELFL\', YOU DON'T MIRROR YOUR SELF, IF THERE IS A SELF, BY LOOKING INTO THE MIRROR... BUT YOU LOOK INTO YOUR MIND TO ARGUE ONE WAY OR THE OTHER E.E. ANSWER ?.

softwear1's picture

i've heard this from other people. for instance, when i told someone that i was studying buddhism, and we are taught that there is 'no self', my friend grabbed my arm with his hand and squeezed it, that was the end of our 'argument'?... so i knew he was coming more from a scientific persepctive, the "facts ma'am, the facts"....
what do you think now? don't the hindus , where buddhism came from, believe in no self, don't the indian self -realized masters believe there is no self?
ramana marharshi, nisdargatta, balthezar, ! ! !
i've read many of your commentaries before mr.gomez and I was shocked that you gave this answer on this one.

Dominic Gomez's picture

During the final 8 years of his teaching career Shakyamuni shocks his closest associates with these words "In the past I sat upright in the place of meditation for six years under the bodhi tree and was able to gain supreme perfect enlightenment. With the Buddha eye I observed all phenomena and knew that this enlightenment could not be explained or described. Why? Because I knew that living beings are not alike in their natures and their desires. And because their natures and desires are not alike, I preached the Law in various different ways. Preaching the Law in various different ways, I made use of the power of expedient means. But in these more than forty years, I have not yet revealed the truth."
He then proceeds to teach what's now known as the Lotus Sutra. And one of its prime points is that the ultimate reality (or truth) is your life, exactly as it is. A mirror or a squeeze on the arm are simply reminders.

aldrisang's picture

v

aldrisang's picture

All of the confusion comes down to how "self" is being defined and used. If people take it to mean both a conventional sense of a set of aggregates acting as a unit (a "person" that retains the same name even as it changes), and also in an absolute sense as an independent unchanging essence, then nothing can be said about "self" without being a paradox or contradiction. That is why the Buddha didn't make such statements as "there is no self", because of how that would only lead to confusion for the common man. He used a different tactic instead, that of dismantling the illusion of permanence and independence that people associated with aspects of the mind/body. Thus the idea of a conventional self can remain, while the mind disassociates those delusional properties from said concept.

He used the same tactic when asked whether an enlightened being would continue to exist after death. The question is itself loaded with false assumptions and can not be given a definitive answer -- the assumptions need to be challenged, and then the answer arises naturally. It's unfortunate that humans don't do well with uncertainty and are such slaves to our desires; in the absence of concrete answers, we make stuff up (hence the thousands of religions). But hey, that's life for ya!

Dominic Gomez's picture

One comment is that the notion of "self" was different 3,000 years ago in the Indian sub-continent than in the present globalized economy. As well, self was understood differently in cultures around the eastern Mediterranean, as well as in northern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and the as yet unknown regions of what's now North, Central and South America. A major component of self is how each individual is viewed by and participates in their respective families and societies, where "self-hood" is formed.

aldrisang's picture

Yeah, even more reasons why it's not so simple to tell people there either is or isn't a self. ;) I think the Buddha probably did the best he could, given the circumstances and his exposure to different philosophies/teachings/practices, and it's up to each of us to walk the path and go beyond the limitations of the teachings. Buddhists will always be debating these things. It's kinda like the Christian/Atheist debates we have in America where some don't even agree on what "God" means. If we don't all agree on what "self" means, then we have to do something else... like talk about the inherent properties of all phenomena, and whether they are independent, permanent, a source of happiness, et cetera. That will translate back into an understanding of the emptiness of self, given time and practice.

wackini_1's picture

Is it really that the teachings are "limited," aldrisang? More likely what's limited is the seeker's understanding. The teachings are perfect in and of themselves but our ignorance prevents us from grasping the highest truth in one shot. Hence what's required is the teacher's or the tradition's skillful means.

In the West, knowledge generally begins with the basics taught us in kindergarten and elementary school, becoming progressively more complex as we move up the ladder through middle school, high school and finally college. Hinduism most skillfully takes the opposite road in revealing the Truth, using a top down approach.

For instance a swami might impart a Great Utterance, such as Aham Brahmasmi, I Am That Am I. If the student's capacity to receive the full impact of revelation isn't there, the teachings drop things down into broader upayas or views with more practices, tales of deities and demons and rituals to name a few. One day the penny will drop and the student will become enlightened, whether in this or some future incarnation.

aldrisang's picture

Yes.

D. Anderson's picture

This subject always generates many opinions so it is with trepidation that I offer mine: when we are born we come into the world with a "self" given to us by our parents and their respective gene pools. From birth forward it is our environment that further develops our "self" and our sense of "self". In contrast to this "self" we should not lose sight of our "non-self" ie., that which we have in common with all other sentient beings independent of heritage and environment. So no matter how dominant our sense of "self" it does not exist without the fact of our "non-self".

leigh's picture

Thank you, Thanissaro Bhikkhu. This was a very helpful clarification. With gratitude,

sanghadass's picture

i think i am hearing you more clearly now. i certainly don't believe the buddha was infallible and i know he was not a god who had descended from on high etc. thanks for the discussion. xxoo

softwear1's picture

I've read many of your 'comments' and would like to know if you are self-taught by reading buddhism on your own.or are you in a lineage of buddhism...or practice guru-yoga, or practiced, guru-yoga and you are now free...engaging in your own guru-yoga...within, testing information and teachings of buddhism... helping you toward an inner understanding!

aldrisang's picture

Any time. In fact you can email me (this username @gmail.com) if you wanna talk about anything Buddhism-related in the future.

janetmartha's picture

I've read many of the venerable Thanissaro Bhikkhu´s writings and discourses on meditation and the Buddha's teachings. My practice has deepened a lot with his guidance and I hope he receives my heart felt gratitude here for bringing the teachings to life.

Sometimes the differences of perspective between the Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana and Zen seem very serious, as if my allegiance to one or the other will determine what kind of landscape I live in. (No disrespect to Pure Land practitioners, that's just not a landscape that calls me.) Other times, considering all these theoretical distinctions seems to morph into the debates the Buddha warned against getting lost in. So how do we keep discernment from falling into debate?

At some point you just have to trust what pulls you. Yes, the conditioned mind is full of delusion and unskillful goals and yes, it can cunningly disguise its strategies as truth. But there are moments when your body and soul, (please just let me use the word without arguing about what it means) your body and soul actually come together in the presence of the truth. That's what you need to follow, I think. For me, not-self, self is like corn starch and water. You mix them and one minute the mixture is liquid, the next minute it's solid. Form, formless. Both, neither. You play with whatever shape it's in.

Finally, I'd really appreciate it if the venerable Thanissaro Bhikkhu would be so kind as to post some quotes or the citations for the Buddha ridiculing the idea of a cosmic self. I'm rather partial to that idea myself. There's always something new to let go of, isn't there...

rohiller's picture
janetmartha's picture

Thank you, rohiller! I'm going through the canons slowly, but this from T. Bhikku bears repeating:

Even in his most thoroughgoing teachings about not-self, the Buddha never recommends replacing the assumption that there is a self with the assumption that there is no self. Instead, he only goes so far as to point out the drawbacks of various ways of conceiving the self and then to recommend dropping them.

softwear1's picture

I am reading comments from you for the first time. you seem remarkably astute in the teachings of buddhism. Are you a nun//, teacher? enlightened one?
or just a regular buddhist lay person. I am much taken with the commentaries of the wisdom articles. I am looking for dialogue, or those in the boston area..... who study and meditate/ reflect,.discourse.....
where are you, who are you? ooops 'no-self 'your lineage? books,
are you an author, journal?

reply to: softwear1 at comcast dot net.....thank you softwear 1

softwear1's picture

I am reading comments from you for the first time. you seem remarkably astute in the teachings of buddhism. Are you a nun//, teacher? enlightened one?
or just a regular buddhist lay person. I am much taken with the commentaries of the wisdom articles. I am looking for dialogue, or those in the boston area..... who study and meditate/ reflect,.discourse.....
where are you, who are you? ooops 'no-self 'your lineage? books,
are you an author, journal?

reply to: softwear1 at comcast dot net.....thank you softwear 1

softwear1's picture

I am reading comments from you for the first time. you seem remarkably astute in the teachings of buddhism. Are you a nun//, teacher? enlightened one?
or just a regular buddhist lay person. I am much taken with the commentaries of the wisdom articles. I am looking for dialogue, or those in the boston area..... who study and meditate/ reflect,.discourse.....
where are you, who are you? ooops 'no-self 'your lineage? books,
are you an author, journal?

reply to: softwear1 at comcast dot net.....thank you softwear 1

softwear1's picture

HI

alalaho's picture

Wonderful article. Thank you Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Very appropriate for April Fool's Day. :)
It also reminds me of the wonderful Mu-koan.

Cheers!

sanghadass's picture

my apologies. i think the pali word for 'no' is 'nai'. so 'no soul' in pali would be 'naiatta' or, 'naiatma' in sanskrit. I have been told that the term 'naiatta' is no where to be found in the early strata of the teaching. Perhaps it was rendered this way in some chinese - and possibly tibetan - translations and reworkings of the early teachings.

sanghadass's picture

the author of the article is a theravada bhikku. it might be of some use to look at the etymology of the word 'anatta' which is found in the pali sutta's. the buddhist texts of the theravada tradition. anatta is a compound word. The first part 'an' means 'not' and the second part of the word is 'atta' which means 'soul'. in sanskrit the word is rendered as 'anatman'. the pali and sanskrit term for 'no' is simply 'a'. Therefore, if the Buddha had taught 'no self' he would not have used the term 'anatta or anatma. At least this is what i have been led to believe. so anatta or anatman actually means 'not soul'. I have seen in zen teachings this word being rendered as 'no self'. it is not clear that the Buddha ever said ther is no self. Plain and simple. no self seems to be an affirmative statement about the nonexistence of a self. Anatta or anatman is not a positive statement about the absence of a self. It is an investigative tool for inquiring into what we may take to be 'ourselves' i.e. the five aggregates. This is the theravadin perspective as i have come to understand it.

aldrisang's picture

I'd say that in America, "soul" is the closest thing to what "self" means in Buddhism. We just don't use self in that same way, but we do think of soul as the unchanging permanent essence of who we are.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Then Buddhism teaches there is no soul. Or that a soul is a construct.