Many of us have been trying hard to understand the Dhamma which essentially teaches impermanence,unsatisfactoriness & nonself. Buddha famously did not give answer to Vacchagotta's direct question "Is there a self ?" However Buddha definitely said that "all phenomenon are nonself".

Suppose I ask you : Do you experience presence of self now?

What would be the honest reply?

  • All of these questions are like saying, "If I open my hand and stop clutching at something to feel safe, then what is my hand holding on to then? What do I practice non-clinging with in order to feel safe?" Stop feeling that you are in any danger. Repeat as needed.
    – user2341
    Sep 11, 2017 at 12:37
  • Nothing. I have recently started learning about Buddhism so if there are any errors then please correct it. I am new to Buddhism. Sep 11, 2017 at 12:46
  • You seem to be doing fine. Press on!
    – user2341
    Sep 11, 2017 at 13:08

5 Answers 5


I think that a Buddhist answer is "There's nothing that should be viewed as self".

For example I experience (or "there is a perception/recognition of") "looking at the computer screen", however "looking at the computer screen" shouldn't be viewed as "self" ... it's not permanent.

The "Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic (SN 22.59)" is maybe the most famous sutta about "anatta", but my favourite is the "Alagaddupama Sutta -- The Discourse on the Snake Simile (MN 22)" which I mentioned in this answer, i.e.:

there was no view of self that would not lead to suffering

Or in more detail:

Bhikshus, you may well cling to the self-doctrine that would not cause sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair to arise in one who clings to it. But do you see any such possession, bhikshus?”

“No, bhante.”

“Good, bhikshus. I, too, do not see any doctrine of self that would not arouse sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair in one who clings to it.

See also the topic How are 'conceit' and 'identity-view' not the same?: where people talk about the difference between a fixed/permanent "view", and a temporary/transient "thought, feeling or emotion".

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    I guess ,if you are finding that there is nothing that can be viewed as your self then essentially you are experiencing nonself. Sep 10, 2017 at 12:16

"Do you experience presence of self now?"

While thinking how to answer your question, I experience presence of self, which I know is no self ... a fabrication ... not truth.

When I completely stopped thinking, there was no experience of presence of self.

  • You waver between self and nonself. Initially you experienced self ,then you reflected over it and then you experienced nonself. Sep 10, 2017 at 11:48
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    No, not exactly as you described it. It was like this: Initially I experienced self, then, in the absence of reflection over it (without any reflection, without any thought/fabrication), no experience of self was present.
    – beginner
    Sep 10, 2017 at 12:03
  • @beginner And how did you "stop thinking" ? May I know?
    – esh
    Sep 10, 2017 at 12:38
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    Just stop. Let go of everything. I mean really everything/all. The path to letting go is a calm mind. The path to a calm mind is a simple life, without worries, stress, etc. ... a life with food, water, shelter and time to do what you genuinely and spontaneously wish to do. From such life mind is calm. When mind is calm, it can let go of everything. It can stop.
    – beginner
    Sep 10, 2017 at 13:06
  • The ocean beach works for me. Music and earphones, sunglasses, hat, naps in the car... Does it get any better than that? Can't live there though, portapotty smells too bad. Cant drink the ocean, or eat sand.
    – user2341
    Sep 11, 2017 at 12:41

Nobody here essentially has an experience of "non self" unless they have reached high states of enlightenment. It is very very brief otherwise. Just a few seconds, for example when you were at a very intense state of physical activity or totally involved in your work. Which isn't much is it?

Our normal state right now is that our minds are convoluted. So when you are experiencing thoughts and seeing everything as just projections of how you see "yourself", where is there a question of this "non self" you keep mentioning. Is it true in your experience?

This is what I answered even to your previous question. We are all an aggregation of thoughts and karma. Without a sense of self, (that is our mental and physical formations), we can't experience anything here. You only truly know non self, when it is true in your experience that you can be free from your physical and mental afflictions.

  • I sometimes experience nonself. When I truly follow word by word the meaning of Dhamma I feel totally repelled by form, feelings,perception, discrimination and consciousness. However while interacting now with you my self is present. I get caught into the illusion of self most of the time because of my cravings and desires. This is my understanding. Sep 10, 2017 at 13:01
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    I feel totally repelled by form, feelings,perception, discrimination and consciousness. Repelled? Aversion isn't the correct route anyway, my friend. And repelled by consciousness? What are you then, unconscious? True Consciousness is the very ultimate nature we are chasing. Yet we remain distracted forever.
    – esh
    Sep 10, 2017 at 13:11
  • I feel dispassionate when I follow dhamma. Consciousness is impermanent. Consciousness is the cause of suffering. Consciousness is nonself. Sep 10, 2017 at 13:32

The teaching of Buddha's Anatman/無我/Anatta is the most potent medicine, yet grasping it wrongly is the most potent poison. I see so many in the communities wriggling in poisoning, esp. those who don't have the access to the original teaching but feeding on interpretation by 2nd hand toothless academic certified; still some holding onto part of the teaching exclaiming + urshering all to believe, that's the total.

It's better to not start learning then learning the wrong Dharma; wrong understanding propelled wrong view: secular Buddhism? Karma? Rebirth, no self? I don't exist, I'm an aggregation pie, the feelings are not me/mine... Believing in God perhaps is better off, or buying into none of any belief/religion.

Anatman can only be realized in very very high Dhyana, or sudden enlightenment endorsed by Ch'an practice. A very good disposition personnel with perfect mind may grasp a fragment in intellectual contemplating.

The easiest way to examine is, ask, you realized no-Self? Can you then make yourself disappeared - since there, no-Self...?

  • I am a beginner. I am bound to make some mistakes but if you think I wrongly understood Dhamma then what is correct interpretation. I had asked this question here ... I feel dispassionate when I follow Dhamma as written in english translation of Samyutta Nikaya...I wonder whether you are saying that Buddha disappeared after realizing no-self? I don't think he disappeared. In fact he suffered during his last days. Sep 10, 2017 at 14:17
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    @DheerajVerma I wonder whether Mishu's doctrine comes from (or represents) a school of Buddhism that relies on "doubt" -- see for example The role of doubt in Zen Buddhist practice? Conversely I think that the Pali canon wouldn't say "it's better to not start learning" and does (instead) include suttas addressed to beginners -- see for example Where is the Buddha quoted as saying do not believe anything I say until you can prove it by yourself?
    – ChrisW
    Sep 10, 2017 at 14:56
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    @Dheeraj Buddha can appear or disappear at his liking; he can stop feeling pain in Samadhi; all Buddhas are always abiding in Samadhi... My advice to you is, study the - in your case - Suttas, so far good translation is by Thanissaro, and understand the teaching by yourself, don't believe in any intepretators, they don't have the real experiences, except parroting terms digging etymologies and/or something learnt/borrow from somewhere else. Sep 10, 2017 at 15:28
  • @ChrisW I don't have doctrines, nor am from/representing any school; neither rely on any doubt method/methods etc., most of the reading on others/scholars/book-writers essays are waste of time, all pupils of Buddha Dharma should stop reading those uselessness, those except wasting more papers chopping more trees, or creating more pollutants by consuming electricity to go online and publish. What one should study is only and only the Sutras, directly; and excel in Dhyana, so that your developed mind can discern what is true Dharma. Sep 10, 2017 at 15:39
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    It would be good to study how to get others to agree, so we need to study what to 'advertise' so that they can decide to seek it and learn it. Because more people are always being born, and because their understanding is inevitably incorrect, we must be teaching forever.
    – user2341
    Sep 11, 2017 at 12:50

You experience the presence of the self now, because you hold the view of the self.

For e.g. you experience the feeling of love towards your mother, because you hold the view that, that woman, is your mother.

And your mother holds the view that you are her son, and due to that, experience feelings of love towards you. If she were to suffer from dementia, she might not recognize who you are, and then she would not hold the view that you are her son, and thus would not experience feelings of love when she sees you.

There are some people who have extended their view of their self to include the car that they own and drive, so much so, that when their car gets hit by another car, they express feelings of pain and ask the other driver, "why did you hit me?" rather than, "why did you hit my car?".

Please take a look at the research of Prof. Vilayanur S. Ramachandran in this TED Talk YouTube video. From here, you can see that people have deep rooted views of their body that it's possible to experience the feeling of phantom limbs (and pains in them) in patients who have had one of their limbs amputated, and phantom menstrual cramps in some women who have had their uterus removed. Ramachandran has devised some therapies to rid the patients of their phantom limb pains.

Similarly, the Buddha too has given us his "therapy" to remove our wrong self views, but this may take time, because it's very deep-rooted.

But you must understand that both the views of that "I have a self" and "I have no self" are wrong according to the Sabbasava Sutta:

"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.

There are these wrong views of the self in the Nakulapita Sutta:

"He assumes feeling to be the self, or the self as possessing feeling, or feeling as in the self, or the self as in feeling. He is seized with the idea that 'I am feeling' or 'Feeling is mine.' As he is seized with these ideas, his feeling changes & alters, and he falls into sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair over its change & alteration.

Also applies to the other aggregates.

The Buddha clearly states that in the Ananda Sutta that:

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?"

But at the same time, in the Attakari Sutta, the Buddha also says that the view of "there is no self-doer and there is no other-doer" is also wrong.

So, it's not easy for someone to get precisely the right view of the self.

  • Yes it is true that I have a self and I have no self are both wrong interpretation of the teaching of nonself. I have a self is obviously wrong as Buddha says all phenomenon are nonself. I have no self is also wrong because I can not say I have no self while clinging to 'I'. Sep 10, 2017 at 16:35
  • I don't think that's the reason why the Buddha said that "I have no self"is a wrong view. But I created a question on that, so let's see how it would be answered.
    – ruben2020
    Sep 10, 2017 at 18:42

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