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What is Anatta?

Anatta

Anatta along with Dukkha, and Anicca are The Three Universal Truths.

Anatta is a Pali word (Anatman in Sanskrit) that is translated into English as “No-self” or “not self”. The concept of Anatta is uniquely that of Buddhism. Other teachings at the time of the Buddha believed in an Atman which is defined as a permanently existing self, or soul.





This atman is what transfers from one lifetime to the next lifetime through reincarnation. The Buddha who believed in the impermanence of everything discarded the dogma of a permanent self.

Buddha questioned the idea of a permanent self, and would ask…

“Where is this permanent self within my body?”

“Can this permanent self that is me prevent my body from getting sick or dying?”

Buddha believed that instead of having a permanent self we are all composed of Five Aggregates which are…

  • Physical Form (Rupa)
  • Feelings (Vedana)
  • Perception (Samjna)
  • Mental Formation (Sankhara)
  • Consciousness (Vijnana)




These five aggregates like all things are constantly changing.

The belief in a permanent self leads to our creation of an ego. This ideology leads to our thinking of me and mine. We allow ourselves to become attached to what we believe are our possessions, and to our desires as well.

This wrong view of self, or self-illusion (Sakkaya-ditthi) is the cause of all of our Dukkha (suffering). Our attachment to our possessions and desires will eventually lead to discontentedness when we discover that they are all impermanent, and we inevitably lose everything that we cherished and clung to.

We must accept that all things are impermanent including ourselves. Self-illusion is one of The Ten Fetters, that must be severed on the path of enlightenment to nirvana (Sanskrit), or nibbāna, which is Pāli for "blowing out", which is the extinguishing of the three fires of greed, hatred, and delusion.

Along with severing the chain of self-illusion, one must also sever the chain of doubt in the reality of Buddha’s teachings, and sever the chain of our attachment to rules and rituals in order to enter the stream of enlightenment as a Sotapanna.




While reaching enlightenment while meditating underneath a Bodhi tree Buddha was awakened to the wisdom of the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path. This wisdom was to become the basics of his teachings.

He first took on five students to share his wisdom with. In a sermon known as the Anatta-lakkhaṇa Sutta, he taught his followers, “Form, monks, is not the self. If form were indeed the self, this form would not lend itself to disease.

It would be possible to say with regard to our form, ‘Let my form be this. Let my form not be that. But because form is not the self, this form lends itself to disease. And it is not possible for us to say with regard to our form, ‘Let my form be this. Let my form not be that.

Feeling is not self...
Perception is not self...
Mental Formations are not self...
Consciousness is not self...

If our consciousness were the self, this consciousness would not lend itself to disease. It would be possible to say with regard to our consciousness, Let my consciousness be this. Let my consciousness not be that.

Because our consciousness is not self, consciousness lends itself to disease, and it is not possible to say with regard to our consciousness, Let my consciousness be this. Let my consciousness not be that.”

We are not any one of these singularly, but a combination of all five of them in conjunction with each other in an ever changing enigmatic life experience.

If all things are impermanent, than how can our self be any different?

Thich Nhat Hanh gave the analogy of peanut butter cookies. Each peanut butter cookie appears to be unique and different, but in reality they are all from the same batch.

Do we have an Atman as some teachings would suggest, or does Anatta more accurately describe us, and our objective is to let go of our individuality, enter the stream of enlightenment and rejoin the “batch” in nirvana?





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