All sorts of impulses and urges in human and other beings are invoked by nature in order to sustain life. In my way of thinking, it is a rational "I" who attempts to control reacting to these impulses and urges. If there is no "I", how am I supposed to see or think of my acting self? Is this "citta" or the "empirical self"?

As I understand it "I" am not an unchanging thing but merely an accumulation of conditioning resulting in habits; a point of view to which modern science would likely not oppose. However, I have or am, then, still a mind (citta)? Is it this mind that has accumulated karma in this and past lives? And how is that, then, not, in a way, "me"?

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    You might find it useful to read the answers to this topic: How is it wrong to believe that a self exists, or that it doesn't?
    – ChrisW
    Oct 16, 2016 at 23:41
  • Awareness ! Is always present but consciousness dictates certain I am mental phenonminon... So at a certain level the I am concept can dissipate and awareness would still be there another term for this is being awakeful.
    – user10244
    Oct 26, 2016 at 8:49

3 Answers 3


The "I" is a survival function of the (unenlightened) human mind & is actually created by the very impulses & urges it seeks to control. (Or otherwise this type of "I" is also created by social or religious conditioning).

For example, sexual urges arise due to hormones & other physical & psychological mechanisms and then, a short time later, the mind thinks: "I feel sexual". Thus, the urge occurs before the "I". The "I" is a product (result) of the urge rather than the producer (cause) of the urge.

A child (not conditioned by its parents or religion about right & wrong) does not attempt to control its impulses & urges. A child simply follows its impulses & urges. It is only later, when the child or adult learns through experience that some of its impulses & urges lead to harming itself or are dangerous that it tries to control its impulses & urges.

However, in reality, it is not the "I" that is trying to control the impulses & urges that have lead to hurt, pain & suffering. In fact, it was not really the "I" that experienced pain & hurt. Instead, it is simply the 'citta' (mind-heart) that experienced hurt & it is simply the wisdom of the citta through feeling hurt that seeks to control impulses & urges. That is why enlightened minds (cittas) do not need an "I". Such enlightened minds are guided by wisdom (i.e. neurological sensitivity) only.

It is like breaking a leg. First the pain of the broken leg arises and, a short time later, the mind thinks "I am hurt". The "I am" is not required for the mind to feel the hurt. The mind itself knows the hurt & the "I am" is extra or the commentary.

That said, this business of "I" is very deep. It is natural for the minds of people to develop the "I". Since months after child birth, most feelings, sensations, urges & impulses have been deemed by the mind to be "I am". This is all part of natural human development. Generally, a mind without a development of "I" (to give it personal & social boundaries) will have some kind of mental illness.

The best Buddhist explanation about the "I" is probably 'Anatta and Rebirth' by Buddhadasa.

The citta (mind) certainly accumulates 'kamma'. An example is a drug addict, which accumulates addiction or craving symptoms for a drug. The drug addict decides to break the addiction and successfully enters into 'cold-turkey'. This shows the person is not the accumulated kamma of drug-addiction since the drug addiction (accumulated kamma) can be broken & cleansed.

Similarly, the teachings (AN 6.63) state the Noble Eightfold Path is the path for the ending of accumulated kamma. Accumulated kamma is also something conditioned & subject to impermanence & change when the conditions that created it are removed.

This is why the teachings (AN 3.61) also state what we experience is not due to past lives but to how the mind responds to (internal & external) sense experience/stimuli in the here-&-now.

For example, a certain kamma in the past may have once hurt us (the mind-heart). But if there is a change in attitude or response towards that kamma, such as regarding that kamma as a "lesson" rather than "hurt", that kamma will stop hurting us.

That is why the teachings state "old kamma" ought to be viewed as the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body & mind (since "old kamma" is only sense stimuli arising in the present).

Therefore, accumulated kamma is not something fixed & static but something that people can learn from, i.e., a teacher.

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    Thank you. I have four more questions: 1) The Buddhadhasa text says there is no rebirth or reincarnation in Buddhism; then why does Goenkaji talk about "good fortune from a past life"? And is the Dalai Lama not believed to be the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama? 2) If everything about us acts in and of itself, there is not really any such thing as free will the way we understand it?
    – AlexiaL
    Oct 15, 2016 at 17:35
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    3) If everything about us is anatta and there is no rebirth, then if we commit suicide it will not be our consciousness which will witness the further suffering in the universe, and we will not in fact be reborn and suffer more because we killed ourselves? 4) If death were not an end to my consciousness, I could see how me killing myself would be of no consequence. But if my consciousness dies with my body, then does that not imply suicide would be an independent act out of free will?
    – AlexiaL
    Oct 15, 2016 at 17:35
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    @AlexiaL This site is designed as a question-and-answer site (with one question at the top of each page, which defines the page's topic), and not as a discussion forum. People can't easily answer your four new questions, if you post your question using comments, for many reasons including because there's a limit (600 characters) on the length of people's comments (i.e. comments are necessarily short). What I'm saying is, unless you're only asking for a minor clarification to an existing answer, please post new or follow-on questions as new questions on one more new pages.
    – ChrisW
    Oct 15, 2016 at 18:21
  • I picked up on some truth ...when questioner said is there no free will ? Think of an enormous chess board there are unlimited moves on the square board made for all levels if players ...although it's only a board game it lead me to think that I'm using ulimeted free will on a fixed sqare science would say parameter or quadrant nevertheless I'm leaning towards there is limited free will .
    – user10244
    Oct 26, 2016 at 9:02

Anything part of a being or if you take the the being as a whole this is not self. If you take your eyes this is not self as there are people without eyes. Likewise even the mind cannot be taken as self as you cannot control your mental feelings / emotions and thoughts. So you cannot take this as self.

Even if you take something as an action is it really done by yourself. If so was the volition the self or your body which was instrumental in doing is the self or is the result of the action the self. In each case none of it you can call self.

Sum total of your past Sankhara give result to the arising of the aggregates. The Sankhara of this moment along with what is there not creates the next. So Karma of Sankhara is not self and you cannot control it as if you own it.

Likewise if you analyse there is nothing worthy of call yourself.


Looking at the many aspects of mind and wondering whether they are self or not self at a metaphysical level can lead to a trap of continuous doubt about anatta. It can be better/more skillful to ask if it fits with criteria which the Buddha described for not-self.

One criteria given in the anatta-lakkhana sutta is that something which is not controllable is not-self.

"Form, O monks, is not-self; if form were self, then form would not lead to affliction and it should obtain regarding form: 'May my form be thus, may my form not be thus'; and indeed, O monks, since form is not-self, therefore form leads to affliction and it does not obtain regarding form: 'May my form be thus, may my form not be thus.'

Ask yourself "Is the controller or animalistic urges controllable?", if not then it is not-self.

The second criteria in this passage is that a self would not lead to affliction (dukkha). Instead of asking "Is X a self?" ask yourself "Does self-view of X lead to dukkha?".

  • The sutta does not state "lead to dukkha". The Pali is "ābādhāya" which means "illness, sickness, affliction, disease", which is different to "dukkha" (suffering). Also, the sutta does not state that animalistic urges are uncontrollable. This would be contrary to the teachings about sense-control, etc. The sutta only states the illness & sickness of the five aggregates are uncontrollable, similar to the Buddha who died from physical sickness or the reputed arahant monk Ajahn Chah who spent his final years with a neurological brain/mind disease. The sutta at the end states craving can be ended. Oct 15, 2016 at 16:05
  • Thanks for correcting about ābādhāya/dukkha. I don't see why this teaching about why the aggregates are not self can't be used as a reason for why other things are not self. Also, it's clear that we don't have full control over our urges, I cannot say "May my urges be thus, may my urges not be thus"
    – Hugh
    Oct 15, 2016 at 19:00
  • All that is clear is that you personally do not have full control over your personal urges. It is best to not speak for others. A Buddha has no urges. What you proposed in your post may certainly be a skillful means to detach/not-get-involved with urges but it is not necessarily true or the best method. Regards Oct 16, 2016 at 0:07
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    @Dhammadhatu I appreciate comments like this where you identify the merits and problems of an answer. When you only point out what is wrong it can lead people to think that there's nothing of value in an answer.
    – Hugh
    Oct 16, 2016 at 9:57
  • Is it not the purpose of Buddhist dharma to see the I am concept Ego as an illusion or not permanent ...so I'm not sure. What the question is about. As noted poster sees I am in analysis and is depending on the ego to understand non ego or parts of Buddhist teachings
    – user10244
    Oct 26, 2016 at 8:56

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