Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

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Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby Alex123 » Fri Apr 05, 2013 1:01 pm

Hello all,

Anatta does NOT have to mean "No self". Anatta = "not Atman" where Atman is a Hindu metaphysical being not a modern western concept of "self".

The earliest use of word "Ātman" in Indian texts is found in the Rig Veda (RV X. 97. 11). Yāska, commenting on this Rigvedic verse, accepts the following meanings of Ātman: the pervading principle, the organism in which other elements are united and the ultimate sentient principle.[3] Yajnavalkya (c. 9th century BCE), in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, uses the word to indicate that in which everything exists, which is of the highest value, which permeates everything, which is the essence of all, bliss and beyond description. link
Within Advaita Vedanta philosophy the Atman is the universal life-principle, the animator of all organisms.


In SN44.10 there is interesting passage:
If I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is [no atta, natthattā] — were to answer that there is [no atta, natthattā] , that would be conforming with those brahmans & contemplatives who are exponents of annihilationism


Since, as I understand it, Annihilationists do believe in empiric self that dies during death, I think this sutta quote suggests that atta means something more than mere empiric self.



When we examine some of Hindu Philosophical teachings on Atman, it doesn't really sound like what we, in English, call "self" in ordinary, non-philosophic usage. In the suttas the Buddha seems to perfectly well to refute Atman by showing anicca and dukkha of everything knowable.
I wonder If someone would ask the Buddha, "why can't self be anicca, and dukkha? what is wrong with that?"

Concept of self, as in empiric, and ordinary usage doesn't need to mean the metaphysical entity that never changes and is always happy. In Christianity, soul can suffer in hell, and yet it doesn't refute its existence. So even Christian idea of soul would not fit Atman as unchanging and always happy first principle. So it seems that Buddha was rejecting something else.

Word for self in pali is sayaṃ. Not-Self is asayaṃ (a+sayaṃ).
sayaṃkata= done by oneself
sayṃvara= self choice.
asayaṃvasī = not under one's control.

What is the difference between Atta, and sayaṃ?

Any comments?
Last edited by Alex123 on Fri Apr 05, 2013 3:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby frank k » Fri Apr 05, 2013 2:47 pm

Reading the new AN by B.Bodhi, recently in the chapter of 4's, I came across a passage where B.Bodhi used the word "soul", presumably as a translation for atta. I don't have time to look up the pali to confirm right now though...
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby Spiny Norman » Fri Apr 05, 2013 3:06 pm

frank k wrote:Reading the new AN by B.Bodhi, recently in the chapter of 4's, I came across a passage where B.Bodhi used the word "soul", presumably as a translation for atta. I don't have time to look up the pali to confirm right now though...


I'm still not really clear how atta should be translated - "self" and "soul" seem to have quite different connatations. In the suttas it seems the practical problem to be overcome is self-view in terms of identifying with the aggregates - so the first fetter is self-view ( sakkaya-ditthi ). I think Thanissaro has written about anatta as a non-self strategy, though I'm not sure this really answers the question. :juggling:
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby Alex123 » Fri Apr 05, 2013 3:43 pm

porpoise wrote:I'm still not really clear how atta should be translated - "self" and "soul" seem to have quite different connatations.


It seems to me that Atman can mean much more than mere self, or even the soul in Christian sense.

I do wonder the difference between:

Atta, jīva, sakkaya, sayaṃ.
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby pegembara » Fri Apr 05, 2013 4:40 pm

"why can't self be anicca, and dukkha? what is wrong with that?"


"This is how he attends inappropriately: 'Was I in the past? Was I not in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? Having been what, what was I in the past? Shall I be in the future? Shall I not be in the future? What shall I be in the future? How shall I be in the future? Having been what, what shall I be in the future?' Or else he is inwardly perplexed about the immediate present: 'Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? Where has this being come from? Where is it bound?'

"As he attends inappropriately in this way, one of six kinds of view arises in him: The view I have a self arises in him as true & established, or the view I have no self... or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive self... or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive not-self... or the view It is precisely by means of not-self that I perceive self arises in him as true & established, or else he has a view like this: This very self of mine — the knower that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & bad actions — is the self of mine that is constant, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and will stay just as it is for eternity. This is called a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. Bound by a fetter of views, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person is not freed from birth, aging, & death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. He is not freed, I tell you, from suffering & stress.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


If I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self — were to answer that there is a self, would that be in keeping with the arising of knowledge that all phenomena are not-self?"


Ear contact (internal + external base) causes ear consciousness (phenomenon of sound). No person is hearing. Just sounds arising and passing.
Or thoughts arising and passing but no one doing the thinking. Thoughts without the thinker.


Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found.
The deeds are, but no doer of the deeds is there,
Nirvana is, but not the man that enters it.
The path is, but no traveler on it is seen.
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby manas » Fri Apr 05, 2013 9:19 pm

"As he attends inappropriately in this way, one of six kinds of view arises in him: The view I have a self arises in him as true & established, or the view I have no self... or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive self... or the view It is precisely by means of self that I perceive not-self... or the view It is precisely by means of not-self that I perceive self arises in him as true & established, or else he has a view like this: This very self of mine — the knower that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & bad actions — is the self of mine that is constant, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and will stay just as it is for eternity. This is called a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. Bound by a fetter of views, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person is not freed from birth, aging, & death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. He is not freed, I tell you, from suffering & stress.


I am always suprised at how despite both of these

The view I have a self arises in him as true & established, or the view I have no self...


being included under the umbrella of

This is called a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views.


That nevertheless, in Buddhist circles, when someone makes the statement 'I have no self' that it tends to be tolerated more than it's opposite 'I have a self' - despite both viewpoints being a symptom of inappropriate attention.

kind regards :anjali:
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby Samma » Fri Apr 05, 2013 11:04 pm

Well pali suttas never really define atta or anatta it seems. Buddha never really says if you have a self or no self. It seems this is a question he put aside.

Interesting about sayaṃ, can't find much on it. Not sure what the difference is.

I think this sutta quote suggests that atta means something more than mere empiric self.

Like what -- these?
ever-evolving consciousness (Pali: samvattanika viññana),[5][6] stream of consciousness (Pali: viññana sotam;[7] Sanskrit: vijñana srotām), or mind-continuity (Sanskrit: citta-saṃtāna) which, upon the death or dissolution of the aggregates (skandhas), becomes one of the contributing causes for the arising of a new group of skandhas. (wikipedia)

"why can't self be anicca, and dukkha? what is wrong with that?"

"And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: 'This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am'?"
"No, lord."
"Thus, monks, any form whatsoever that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: every form is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: 'This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.'
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

For example, with the first misinterpretation — that the Buddha is denying the cosmic self found in the Upanishads — it turns out that the Upanishads contain many different views of the self, and the Buddha himself gives an analysis of those different kinds [§11]. He finds four main varieties. One is that the self has a form and is finite — for example, that your self is your conscious body and will end when the body dies. The second type is that the self has a form and is infinite — for example, the view that the self is equal to the cosmos. The third type is that the self is formless and finite. This is similar to the Christian idea of the soul: It doesn't have a shape, and its range is limited. The fourth view is that the self is formless and infinite — for example, the belief that the self is the infinite spirit or energy that animates the cosmos.

The Buddha says that each of these four varieties of self-theory comes in three different modes as to when and how the self is that way. One is that the self already is that way. Another is that the self naturally changes to be that way — for example, when you fall asleep or when you die. The third is that the self is changeable through the will. In other words, through meditation and other practices you can change the nature of your self — for example, from being finite to being infinite.

Multiply the four varieties of self by their three modes, and you have twelve types of theories about the self. All of these theories the Buddha rejects. He doesn't agree with any of them, because they all involve clinging, which is something you have to comprehend and let go. This means that his not-self teaching is not just negating specific types of self — such as a cosmic self, a permanent self, or an ordinary individual self. It negates every imaginable way of defining the self.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... tself.html
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby Alex123 » Sat Apr 06, 2013 12:48 am

Samma wrote:Well pali suttas never really define atta or anatta it seems.


1st) Maybe concept of Atta was too well known for ancient Hindus so he didn't need to define it. We do not live in Ancient India, and we are not familiar with all its traditions and beliefs.

2) Atta is indirectly defined. Apparently atta has to be unchanging (nicca) and happy (sukha). This doesn't even apply to wrong Christian idea of a soul, much less empiric self.


Samma wrote:
Alex wrote:I think this sutta quote suggests that atta means something more than mere empiric self.

Like what -- these?


Like some metaphysical principle that is constant and happy and is beyond perception.

I have an opinion that Buddha wanted to avoid metaphysics and by rejecting atta He didn't want to replace it with another metaphysics.
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby daverupa » Sat Apr 06, 2013 1:07 am

The Brahmajala Sutta describes how various wrong views arise with contact as condition; much of the prevailing discussion among bahmins and samanas revolved around their ritual and/or meditative experiences, filtered through various textual lineages (I hope these broad strokes are not too abrasive to those more informed). Ideation about atta seems to be most relevant in this respect, and it is perhaps why we are told sabbe dhamma anatta.

Descriptions of experience in the Nikayas describe the pervasive stench of asmimana, however, so it may be relevant to address that term with respect to practical investigations. It does not seem to be mere metaphysics, at any rate.

On that note, I wonder if sakkaya-ditthi is more easily indicated to the average inquirer... a working definition, if you will.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby sunyavadin » Sat Apr 06, 2013 1:46 am

In order to really get a grasp of the way the idea of 'anatta' is developed, some reading is necessary. I would recommend the following:

What the Buddha Thought Richard Gombrich

Early Buddhism: A New Approach - the I of the Beholder Sue Hamilton-Blythe

The Central Philosophy of Buddhism: A Study of the Madhyamika System T R V Murti


There is a lot in these texts, but that is about what it takes to get a grounding in this topic.

Others might have other suggestions.
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby SamKR » Sat Apr 06, 2013 2:39 am

As I understand it in the Buddha's teachings:
Atta = I
Anatta = Not I

But in Hinduism Atman is used to mean both "permanent I" as well as "permanent soul". In one of the Hindu literature (Bhagavad Gita) Lord Krishna says:

nainam chindanti sastrani
nainam dahati pavakah
na cainam kledayanty apo
na sosayati marutah
The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.

acchedyo 'yam adahyo 'yam
akledyo 'sosya eva ca
nityah sarva-gatah sthanur
acalo 'yam sanatanah
This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.

avyakto 'yam acintyo 'yam
avikaryo 'yam ucyate
tasmad evam viditvainam
nanusocitum arhasi
It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and unchangeable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.
http://www.asitis.com/2/23.html

So, the very idea of Atman consists of the attribute of permanency.
The last line in above quote is rather interesting. It speaks in contrast to the Buddha's teachings: the soul is permanent, so don't grieve.

I wonder If someone would ask the Buddha, "why can't self be anicca, and dukkha? what is wrong with that?"

Even without any reference to Hinduism or Buddha's teachings, we can say that it is not possible for self (if there is any) to be anicca. Anicca means origination and destruction, and if anything originates and instantly vanishes then it is not self.
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby BlackBird » Sat Apr 06, 2013 2:47 am

Anatta is something to be realized. Conceptual pondering that culminates in one forming a view of what they think anatta is might actually hinder ones progress, since one comes to assume they understand what they in truth do not.
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby SamKR » Sat Apr 06, 2013 3:03 am

BlackBird wrote:Anatta is something to be realized. Conceptual pondering that culminates in one forming a view of what they think anatta is might actually hinder omes progress, since one comes to assume they understand what they in truth do not.

By reading the suttas it appears to me that anatta is not only an objective -- something to be realized fully, but understanding, contemplating, and seeing anatta itself in phenomena is also a tool towards its full realization.
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby BlackBird » Sat Apr 06, 2013 3:18 am

SamKR wrote:
BlackBird wrote:Anatta is something to be realized. Conceptual pondering that culminates in one forming a view of what they think anatta is might actually hinder omes progress, since one comes to assume they understand what they in truth do not.

By reading the suttas it appears to me that anatta is not only an objective -- something to be realized fully, but understanding, contemplating, and seeing anatta itself in phenomena is also a tool towards its full realization.


You say 'in phenomena' could you clarify what you mean by phenomena SamKR?

I happen to think anatta is only important in the context of the existential self. In terms of thwarting attavada, which is entirely subjective and not at all an objective phenomena. But it may be that we are on the same page and I am merely barking up the wrong tree, hence the need for clarification :)

Then again perhaps I am falling into the trap of doing the very same thing which I am criticizing others of :rofl:

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'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby SamKR » Sat Apr 06, 2013 3:51 am

No problem, Blackbird. By phenomena I mean all that constitute five khandhas -- that appear and disappear.
To me the dichotomy of subjective and objective is an illusion: no position can be taken about subjectivity or objectivity of phenomena.
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby Spiny Norman » Sat Apr 06, 2013 8:59 am

BlackBird wrote:Anatta is something to be realized. Conceptual pondering that culminates in one forming a view of what they think anatta is might actually hinder ones progress, since one comes to assume they understand what they in truth do not.


But if one doesn't clearly understand what anatta means, then how does one know that one has realised it?
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby Spiny Norman » Sat Apr 06, 2013 9:08 am

Alex123 wrote:2) Atta is indirectly defined. Apparently atta has to be unchanging (nicca) and happy (sukha).


In the suttas the usual formula is that the aggregates are impermanent, therefore unsatisfactory and therefore not fit to be regarded as self. The general view seems to be that this is a strategy for not identifying with / grasping at the aggregates, rather than implying the existence of a self which is permanent and satisfactory.
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby reflection » Sat Apr 06, 2013 10:56 am

Anatta means the aggregates are just processes, without owner or controller. And because there is nothing aside from the aggregates, it's ok to say there is no self anywhere. There is this sutta quote that says if there is a self anywhere, the Buddhist path would not exist. So, that says if there was an entity with control or ownership, the path would not exist. Because if there was control over the aggregates, we would just turn them as we like. Which obviously, we can't or we wouldn't ever have suffered.

So that's not meant as a strategy. Yes, anatta can be used like a strategy, but it's not just a strategy. Just like suffering and impermanence are not mere strategies, but realities of existence, so is anatta the Buddha's answer to the big questions in life. Dukkha, anicca and anatta are the same thing. As far as I've seen the discourses, they are treated identically. Not one as a technique and others as a reality.

I know this is in the pali forum. If you expect an answer based on pali literature, I'm sure many things can be found - but don't ask me. ;)
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby Alex123 » Sat Apr 06, 2013 5:04 pm

SamKR wrote:As I understand it in the Buddha's teachings:
Atta = I
Anatta = Not I
But in Hinduism Atman is used to mean both "permanent I" as well as "permanent soul". In one of the Hindu literature (Bhagavad Gita) Lord Krishna says:

The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.


This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.

It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and unchangeable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.
http://www.asitis.com/2/23.html



Here is the thing. How many people believe that I cannot be cut, burned, etc? Not every person believes in a soul.

So Atman is something more than mere empirical "I" which can be cut, burned, age and die.


SamKR wrote:
Alex wrote:I wonder If someone would ask the Buddha, "why can't self be anicca, and dukkha? what is wrong with that?"

Even without any reference to Hinduism or Buddha's teachings, we can say that it is not possible for self (if there is any) to be anicca. Anicca means origination and destruction, and if anything originates and instantly vanishes then it is not self.


Why can't a person (most likely a atheist, physicalist) believe in a self that is born, ages, and dies?
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Re: Anatta = not Atman or No-Self

Postby Alex123 » Sat Apr 06, 2013 5:07 pm

porpoise wrote:In the suttas the usual formula is that the aggregates are impermanent, therefore unsatisfactory and therefore not fit to be regarded as Atman. The general view seems to be that this is a strategy for not identifying with / grasping at the aggregates, rather than implying the existence of a self which is permanent and satisfactory.


In place of self it says atta (Atman). Buddha has NEVER spoken in English. It is questionable what Atman precisely means. Lets remember that Buddha spoke in different Culture and in different time (5th BC India).

I do agree about treating every phenomenon as "Not I, Not me, Not mine".
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