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What are the Suttas which discuss self and nonself and under which contexts and angles?

To break it down:

  • What Suttas discuss no self as an extreme view?
  • What Suttas discuss what is not pleasent cannot be taken as not / non self? What Suttas discuss sensations and not / non self?
  • What Suttas discuss external controller as not / non self?
  • What Suttas discuss internal controller as not / non self?
  • What Sutas discuss the doer as not / non self?
  • What Suttas discuss action is not / non self?
  • What Suttas discuss body as not / non self?
  • what Suttas discuss consciousness as the last aggregate to realise as not / non self?
  • what Suttas discuss the aggregates as not self?
  • what Suttas discuss the 6 sense bases as not self?
  • What Suttas discuss the world is non / not self?
  • What Suttas discuss the contemporary notion of Atta?
  • What are the angles the non / not self is discussed? What angles and contexts that might be missing above? If so what are the Suttas in these contexts?

Above is just for guidance but it will be helpful if the Sutas can be grouped by context / angle, perhaps under a title or section. It is helpful if the relevant section can be quoted.

I will be accepting the answer with most of the mentioned / unmentioned categories covered followed by number of references. But if you have at least 1 reference not already in another answer this will be appreciated and upvoted.

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In Sallatha Sutta: The Arrow gets you to see that the 6 sense bases as not self IMHO… There’s a simile where a man is suffering from pain. He gets tied up in anxiety and misery around the pain. And the Buddha says it’s like being shot with an arrow and then shooting yourself with a second arrow. The physical pain is the first arrow; the mental pain is the second one. And it’s the mental one that’s important. As the Buddha says, the enlightened person, the awakened person, may still get shot with those first arrows but doesn’t shoot him or herself with the second. It is because an Arahant has gone beyond the last of the four kinds of clingings – the Attavada Upadana (attachment or upadana is “firmly grasping”.) Attavada is the last of the attachments which is in other words a hindrance to the realization of Nibbana. So this tells us how not to shoot ourselves with that second arrow. The question is: How do we learn not to do that? If a person who has gained very exalted states in meditation and responds by saying, “I am at peace. I am released”, the “I am” in those statements is what’s causing the problem. It shows that this person still has some connection, still has some clinging. After all, craving combined with clinging is what causes the suffering. You impose that idea of who you are on all kinds of experiences.

In the discourse of the snake simile Alagaddupama Sutta points to the contemporary notion of Atta IMHO… In this Buddha explained the doctrine of soullessness in another way, comparing Dhamma to a raft, for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of holding onto. Sabbe Dhamma anatta—all dhammas are not‐self—applies here, where you might see nibbana as a dhamma, as an object of the mind. As long as you perceive it in that way, there’s going to be attachment, there’s going to be a dhamma to hold on to. At Nibbana, these dhammas have done their work, so an Arahant put them aside. A person who uses the Dhamma to criticise, to find fault, or for other reasons than for its intended purpose is like a person who has got hold of a snake by the tail or the coil. The wrongly held ‘pseudo’ doctrine will destroy him / her.

In the Khemaka Sutta: About Khemaka, SN 22.89 it discusses the doer as not / non self IMHO:

Friends, even though a noble disciple has abandoned the five lower fetters, still, in relation to the five aggregates subject to clinging, there lingers in him a residual conceit ‘I am,’ a desire ‘I am,’ an underlying tendency ‘I am’ that has not yet been uprooted. Sometime later he dwells contemplating rise and fall in the five aggregates subject to clinging: ‘Such is form, such its origin, such its passing away; such is feeling … such is perception … such are volitional formations … such is consciousness, such its origin, such its passing away.’ As he dwells thus contemplating rise and fall in the five aggregates subject to clinging, the residual conceit ‘I am,’ the desire ‘I am,’ the underlying tendency ‘I am’ that had not yet been uprooted—this comes to be uprooted.

In the Dīghā¬vu ¬U¬pāsa¬ka¬ Sutta, SN55.5 internal controller as not / non self IMHO… ie., perception of impermanence (anicca,saññā), the perception of suffering in what is impermanent (anicce dukkha,saññā), the perception of not-self in what is suffering (dukkhe anatta,saññā), the perception of abandonment [letting go of defilements] (pahāna,saññā), the perception of fading away [dispassion] (virāga,saññā), the perception of cessation (of suffering) (nirodha,saññā).:

"Therefore, Dighavu, when you are established in these four factors of stream entry, you should further develop six qualities conducive to clear knowing. Remain focused on inconstancy in all fabrications, percipient of stress in what is inconstant, percipient of not-self in what is stressful, percipient of abandoning, percipient of dispassion, percipient of cessation. That's how you should train yourself." ….. Dīgh’āvu later passes away and arises spontaneously in the Suddh’āvāsa as a non-returner.

Upasena Sutta: Upasena, SN 35.69 discuss the body as not / non self IMHO:

Records the incident of the death of Upasena Vangantaputta from a snake-bite. Summoned by him, Sāriputta looked at him and said that he noticed no change at all in Upasena, either in his body or in his faculties. Upasena answered that that was because he had long before quelled all lurking tendencies of "I" and "mine."

In the Maha Satipatthana Sutta of the Digha Nikaya - discuss the world is non / not self IMHO… We grasp the world as if it is our own. Seeing through eye, we grasp things as if they are our own. Hearing through the ear ,we grasp sounds, likewise by smelling, tasting and touching we grasp things as they are real and our own. Through all these, either we practice attachment or revulsion.

The Buddha said "'This is the only way Bhikkhus, for the purification of beings (ekayano ayam bhikkhave maggo sattanam visuddhiya). Buddha has clearly pointed out that both attachment or revulsion should be avoided by the wise. In this Sutta, emphasizing the four contemplation, namely, contemplation on the body, feeling, consciousness and Dhamma, the Buddha instructed one to contemplate the body in the body, feeling in the feeling, consciousness in consciousness and mental objects (Dhamma) in mental objects. That is in ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome in this world, covetousness and grief (atapisampajano satima vineyyaloke abhijjhadomanassam). Here, in this context the term abhijjhadomanassa is very important because abhijja is covetousness or attachment, its counter part is domanassa or revulsion. So the Buddha's advice here is to overcome both, attachment and revulsion. That is the path prescribed by the Buddhas for emancipation. It is the only way.

At the very outset Buddha preached on soullessness in the Anattalakkhana Sutta of the Samyutta Nikaya for the five disciples. Here Buddha discuss consciousness as the last aggregate to realise as not / non self IMHO… In this sutta the Buddha takes up each of the five aggregates namely, form (rupa), feeling (vedana), perception (sanna), mental formations (sankhara) and consciousness (vinnana) shows that none of these should be viewed as ‘this is mine’, ‘this I am’ or ‘this is my soul’. The belief in the soul is a vain attempt to keep within one’s control things which are dependently arisen and therefore not capable of bringing within the range of one’s supervision and control. The Buddha clearly demonstrates that one cannot demand any of the aggregates to behave in the way one wishes it to be.

Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta: Instructions to Rahula at Mango Stone discuss no self as an extreme view IMHO.. in seeing ‘self’ as view the four physical elements (dhatu) of nature: Earth, Water, Fire and Wind (pathavi, apo, tejo, and vayo) as Elements of solidity, fluidity, heat and motion.
(1) Earth element (pathavi-dhatu) has the property of hardness, strength, thickness, immobility, security and supporting. - they represent the solidity property of forms.
(2) Water element (apo-dhatu) has the property of oozing, humidity, fluidity, trickling, permeation and cohesion. - they represent the fluidity or cohesiveness property of forms.
(3) Fire element (tejo-dhatu) has the property of heating, warmth, consuming and grasping. - they represent the heat or cold temperature property of forms.
(4) Air element (vayo-dhatu) has the property of motion, supporting, coldness, ingress and egress, easy movement and grasping. - they represent the distended-ness property of forms.

The Mahahatthipadopama Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya discusses the aggregates and as not self The sutta shows that this so called man is nothing but “five aggregates affected by clinging” and are dependently arisen. The desire, indulgence, inclination, and holding based on these five aggregates affected by clinging is the origin of suffering (chando alayo anunayo ajjhosanam, so dukkha samudayo). Once the Buddha said in short, the five aggregates affected by clinging are suffering (sankhittena pancupadanakkhandha dukkha). If one does not grasp things as one’s own and eradicate “I” concept (upadana) completely one can achieve the Enlightenment (Anupadana).

Uppādāsutta - The Discourse on the Orderliness of the Dhamma AN 3.136 shows us that action is not / non self. that is … “Subbe dhamma anatta… All compounds are devoid of self.” Or as this sutta shows:

all conditioned phenomea are impermanent (sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā'ti)
all conditioned phenomena are suffering (sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā'ti)
all phenomena are non-self (sabbe dhammā anattā'ti.)

which means: All states are not self...

This body is neither yours, nor anybody else's...
These feelings are neither yours, nor anybody else's.
These perceptions are neither yours, nor anybody else's.
These mental constructions are neither yours, nor anybody else's.
These verbal constructions are neither yours, nor anybody else's.
These bodily constructions are neither yours, nor anybody else's.
This consciousness is neither yours, nor anybody else's.
They are results of old kamma, prior actions, something to be seen as generated and shaped by accumulations of past intention, emerging as effects to be sensed now...

  • +1 Many thanks for this. Is it possible to put this under section headings perhaps corresponding to the sub question I asked for easy understanding. Awaiting the continuation. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Feb 2 '17 at 3:25
  • Waiting for the continuation. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Feb 8 '17 at 5:29
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    I will look into it @Suminda... is it the Vacchagotta Sutta? Buddha kept silent in response to Vacchagotta’s question because answering it in either way, it would have been misunderstood. This nature of the self is beyond the level of understanding of Vacchagotta. He is not yet at that stage in his spiritual development. Buddha never denies the existence of the self. Buddha said that trying to explain to Vacchagotta would have lead Vacchagotta to misinterpret the answer in a way that would bring him further attachment. – Saptha Visuddhi Feb 12 '17 at 4:26
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    That’s great….. Many have interpreted the doctrine of anatta, or ‘not-self’ as no-self or emptiness, but this is a mistaken interpretation. Buddha rejects annihilationism. As stated In the Alagaddupama Sutta, those foolish people who think that they “know” the Dhamma, who think that they have “understood” the Dhamma, and in giving erroneous interpretations like that of ‘sunyata’ / “emptiness” are holding the venomous snake by the tail. That is why I am not too keen on getting too involved in this group. But I appreciate your contributions to this site. – Saptha Visuddhi Feb 12 '17 at 5:11
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    Regarding Suññata the following may be valuable reference: The Greater Discourse on Voidness, Maha Sunnata Sutta, Cula Sunnata Sutta – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Feb 12 '17 at 5:25
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Parileyya Sutta

The 4 self-identity views

The Parileyya Sutta relates how an untutored ordinary person tends to regard any of the 5 aggregates (form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness) in these ways:

  1. as the self, or
  2. the self as possessing the aggregate, or
  3. the aggregate as in the self, or
  4. the self as in the aggregate.

In addition it mentions the following:

Eternalist view

He might not consider form as the self;
he might not consider feeling as the self;
he might not consider perception as the self;
he might not consider volitional formations as the self;
he might not consider consciousness as the self.
But he holds such a view as:
‘The self is the world. Having passed away, I shall be permanent, stable, eternal, not subject to change.’
That eternalist view, bhikshus, is a formation

Source: Parileyya Sutta

Annihilationist view

He might not consider form as the self;
he might not consider feeling as the self;
he might not consider perception as the self;
he might not consider volitional formations as the self;
he might not consider consciousness as the self;
he might not hold such a view, ‘The self is the world; having passed away, I shall be permanent,
stable, eternal, not subject to change.’
But he holds such a view as this:
‘I might not be, and there might not mine; I will not be, and there will not be mine.’
That annihilationist view, bhikshus, is a formation

Source: Parileyya Sutta

Ananda Sutta (SN 44.10)

Ananda, if I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self — were to answer that there is a self, that would be conforming with those brahmans & contemplatives who are exponents of eternalism [the view that there is an eternal, unchanging soul]

If I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self — were to answer that there is no self, that would be conforming with those brahmans & contemplatives who are exponents of annihilationism [the view that death is the annihilation of consciousness]

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?

Ananda Sutta

Sampasadanīya Sutta

And going further, he reviews bones covered with skin, flesh and blood, and he knows the unbroken stream of consciousness as established in this world and established in the next.

...

Sampasadanīya Sutta (Quoted from Piya Tan's Translation of DN 28)

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