Understanding Anatta

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Understanding Anatta

Postby Lowell » Sun Jun 10, 2012 9:46 am

I realize that the concept of anatta is something that many people new to Buddhism have a difficult time understanding. It was just recently that I became aware of such a doctrine, as previously I was under the impression that Buddhist teachings were in harmony with the Hindu concept of atman and reincarnation. Since being introduced to the idea of anatta, I've been studying it in-depth, attempting to come to an intellectual understanding of it.

Despite the fact that I've heard many say that trying to understand anatta from a purely intellectual basis is pointless, I've been utterly determined to do so. Fortunately, I believe I've finally come to a fairly good understanding of this originally elusive teaching. I'd like to share my understanding of anatta on this forum so that others more educated on the subject will be able to confirm the correctness of my understanding, or otherwise correct me in my folly.

As I have come to understand anatta, nothing is permanent. Everything begins, changes, and ends. We as individuals are no different in this matter, as we also are impermanent. Nevertheless, before it can be said that I am impermanent, it must first be established what "I" am. Essentially, all I consist of are feelings, perceptions, thoughts, mental processes, etc. Seeing as how these things comprise "me," and also seeing as how these things are always changing and ending, being replaced by new thoughts, new feelings, and new perceptions, then essentially, I am impermanent. Nevertheless, all these thoughts, perceptions, and feelings are connected, as it is from the old thoughts, feelings, and perceptions that the new thoughts, feelings, and perceptions are born.

This is what I believe the Buddha was attempting to communicate when he used the illustration of a single candle lighting other candles. Each flame is connected, as they can all be traced back to the same origin, yet they are nonetheless new and different flames. Therefore, anatta is the doctrine which acknowledges the fact that, seeing as how the things that make us "us" are always changing and ending, we ourselves are therefore always changing and ending, becoming new "selves."

In short, if "the self," or "me" consists of nothing more than thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and mental processes, and these things are continually being replaced by new thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and mental processes, then essentially it is me who is becoming something new, becoming a new "self" over and over again, and therefore, there is no permanence in the "self." Is this view of anatta correct, or am I mistaken?

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Re: Understanding Anatta

Postby polarbear101 » Sun Jun 10, 2012 4:41 pm


My middle name is Lowell, comes from my grandma's last name on my father's side. Anyway, you may want to read this book, I'm reading it right now and it's quite illuminating...

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... stions.pdf

another link to the same book but with options in the layout of the book...

http://www.dhammatalks.org/skill_in_que ... index.html
"I don't envision a single thing that, when developed & cultivated, leads to such great benefit as the mind. The mind, when developed & cultivated, leads to great benefit."

"I don't envision a single thing that, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about such suffering & stress as the mind. The mind, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about suffering & stress."

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Re: Understanding Anatta

Postby cooran » Sun Jun 10, 2012 9:57 pm

Hello Lowell,

Some resources by respected Theras to read:

Anatta or soul-lessness – Narada Thera

The 'notself' nature of "Myself" by Bhikkhu Bodhi

with metta
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Re: Understanding Anatta

Postby SamKR » Mon Jun 11, 2012 12:33 am

Last edited by SamKR on Mon Jun 11, 2012 4:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Understanding Anatta

Postby manas » Mon Jun 11, 2012 2:30 am

Hi Lowell,

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's writings on this issue have helped me so much that even just for that alone, he would have my deep gratitude; I recommend these:

No-self or Not-self?: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... self2.html

The Not-self Strategy: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... tself.html

kind regards,

manas. _/I\_
Then the Blessed One, picking up a tiny bit of dust with the tip of his fingernail, said to the monk, "There isn't even this much form...feeling...
perception...fabrications...consciousness that is constant, lasting, eternal, not subject to change, that will stay just as it is as long as eternity."

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Re: Understanding Anatta

Postby Lowell » Mon Jun 11, 2012 5:46 am

Thank you for the responses, everyone! The advise and links provided have certainly proved to be great educational resources. Through all this I've come to the realization that my understanding of anatta possessed one serious flaw, which was the fact that it asserted the five aggregates to have something to do with the self, when in all actuality they don't. Whether or not a self actually exists, that appears to be a question that the Buddha was unwilling to answer directly. Ultimately, there seems to be some speculation over whether or not anatta is an ontological statement of existential truth, or simply a helpful way of looking at things as a strategy for achieving liberation. I suppose the only way to gain a complete understanding of the concept is through the same way the Buddha did.

Thank you again for your help, everyone!
Last edited by Lowell on Mon Jun 11, 2012 8:15 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Understanding Anatta

Postby Dmytro » Mon Jun 11, 2012 5:47 am

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