In the Sabbasava Sutta (MN2), the view that "I have no self" is listed as one of the six wrong views and one who holds this view will not be freed from suffering.


  1. Why is "I have no self" a wrong view?
  2. Why is this not a contradiction to anatta?

"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.

11 Answers 11


It is wrong view because of the "I" (bolded): "I have no self". This view still believes in self. It thinks: "myself has no self". This is the wrong view of the befuddled wanderer Vacchagotta in SN 44.10.

This wrong view is similar to the nihilistic view in MN 102, where it states:

Just as a dog bound by a leash tied to a post or pillar keeps running and circling around that same post or pillar; so too those through fear of identity & disgust with identity keep running and circling around that same identity.

Right view is: "The five aggregates have no self".

  • "The five aggregates have no self" but isn't it true that Self arises by the cooperation of five aggregates? Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 9:54
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    @dheeraj verma| Self never arise. Self is just an imagination as alike as a dream. It is not reality.
    – Bonn
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 12:07
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    Even the Buddha used personal pronouns like "I" and "me". Why is there anything wrong with this?
    – ruben2020
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 13:23
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    Personal pronouns are pronouns or grammar (rather than reality). Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 0:55
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    The Buddha never taught there is any kind of "self". What is considered a "self" the Buddha called a "disease" & "suffering". Self only arises when there is suffering. The suttas say: "the world calls a disease 'self' "; similar calling a certain disease 'cancer'. Regards Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 0:58

"1. Why is "I have no self" a wrong view?"

If the view "I have no self" arises as true & established, this view comes from the view "I have a self".

Why is that so?

In order for the view "I have no self" to arise as true & established, there must be a cognition of non existence of the self.

Thus, for non existence of the self to be cognized, a cognition of non existence of the self is needed, and what else is a cognition of non existence of a self then a kind of self itself?

Thus, in order for the self not to exist, there must be a kind of self with a cognition of non existence of the self.

That is why if you hold the view "I have no self" as true & established, you also hold the view "I have a self".

As long as you're holding onto the view "I have no self" as true & established and can't let go of it as untrue & not established, you have a self. Only when you let go of ALL the views, self ceases and does not arise, thus there is no self. This cessation of the self comes from wisdom.

If the view "I have no self" comes from wisdom, then it is not wrong view.

When does the view "I have no self" come from wisdom?

When you don't hold onto any views. When you know that "Neither there is self nor no self nor nothing nor something nor fabrications nor consciousness nor name&form nor six sense media nor contact nor feeling nor ... etc. ad infinutum". When it comes from this understanding:

"Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications. From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness. From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form. From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering."

(source: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.015.than.html)

Knowing the above, you know how self arises, what is its cause and how it ceases. Thus, when you state "I have no self" and it comes from wisdom "Neither there is self nor no self nor nothing nor something nor fabrications nor consciousness nor name&form nor six sense media nor contact nor feeling nor ... etc. ad infinutum", you're just using the wording "I have no self" to show the Path to somebody who clings to the self ("I have a self") so he can examine the other extreme "I have no self", and then after examination, to come in the middle "Neither there is self nor no self nor nothing nor something nor ... etc. ad infinitum".

This is exactly how the Buddha taught. He stated there was a self (5 aggregates, etc.) and he also stated there is no self, anatta. He didn't hold onto any of these two views. He just used them to show the middle.

"2. Why is this not a contradiction to anatta?"

Anatta states: there is no self to be found.

If your view "I have no self" comes from ignorance, it is a contradiction to anatta. If the view comes from ignorance, then you hold it as true & established, and by doing that there needs to be a self for that view to hold onto it, which is a contradiction to anatta.

If your view "I have no self" comes from wisdom, it is according to anatta. If the view comes from wisdom, then you have it as untrue & not established, and by doing that you're not holding onto it, thus no self is present. This is in accordance to anatta.

  • In the analogy something deeper is digged +1, but not reached. Madhyamaka Chapter 13 last karika by my transl: If one then instead by Emptiness taken in, all Buddhas none but helpless could regard him. Replace Emptiness with Anatta, the karika stands too. Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 16:52

Because having a view or position results in being limited by that view or position. Position is something Tathagata had abandoned. Instead, one relies on analytical wisdom and discernment of elements, causes and conditions. In other words, you see how things really work, without generalized concepts like "this exists" or "this does not exist".

In a more obvious sense, completely denying existence of self contradicts reality: there's something we call self, it's just that once you examine it closely it ends up being an illusion, but the mechanisms behind the illusion are not nonexistent.


Some suttas seem to define "views" as if they are type of stress.

The Avyakata Sutta (AN 7.51), for example, talks about the origin and cessation of views, in the same way that another sutta might talk about the origin and cessation of stress.

The Madhupindika Sutta (MN 18) seems to classify views as papanca and implies they should (like attachments and other obsessions) cease:

If, monk, with regard to the cause whereby the perceptions & categories of objectification assail a person, there is nothing there to relish, welcome, or remain fastened to, then that is the end of the obsessions of passion, the obsessions of resistance, the obsessions of views, the obsessions of uncertainty, the obsessions of conceit, the obsessions of passion for becoming, & the obsessions of ignorance. That is the end of taking up rods & bladed weapons, of arguments, quarrels, disputes, accusations, divisive tale-bearing, & false speech. That is where these evil, unskillful things cease without remainder.


This situation occurs: that when there is the manifestation of reasoning, one will recognise the manifestation of the assault of a number of obsessions and perceptions.

The Kaccayanagotta Sutta (SN 12.15) describes right view:

"By & large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by (takes as its object) a polarity, that of existence & non-existence. But when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'non-existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one.

"By & large, Kaccayana, this world is in bondage to attachments, clingings (sustenances), & biases. But one such as this does not get involved with or cling to these attachments, clingings, fixations of awareness, biases, or obsessions; nor is he resolved on 'my self.' He has no uncertainty or doubt that just stress, when arising, is arising; stress, when passing away, is passing away. In this, his knowledge is independent of others. It's to this extent, Kaccayana, that there is right view.

"'Everything exists': That is one extreme. 'Everything doesn't exist': That is a second extreme.

The "polarity" of existence versus non-existence takes several forms -- all the undeclared questions moe-or-less belong to that category: Does the Tathagata exist after death? Is the cosmos eternal, is it infinite? Are body and soul the same?

So far as I know perhaps the only "right view" is defined by the four noble truths, concerning the origin and cessation of stress, consequently every other view is wrong view. You might argue that anicca and anatta are right views too, but maybe anicca and anatta are better seen as further examples of wrong view, i.e. the view that things are permanent is "wrong", and views about self are also "wrong".

Having a thicket of views isn't the same thing as cessation of stress; and when you're supposed to be concentrating on some other activity, holding views like "I exist" or "I don't exist" are examples of attending inappropriately.

The sutta you quoted (MN 2) is about "fermentations" or asavas. See also the answers to "What is effluent?" -- I think that views in general are categorized as a type (one of four types) of asava.

I think the topic is related to the Vajira Sutta (SN 5.10):

Translator's note: This discourse dramatizes a problem that often arises in meditation practice — a speculative question arises that, if followed, pulls one out of concentration.


What? Do you assume a 'living being,' Mara?
Do you take a position?
This is purely a pile of fabrications.


For only stress is what comes to be;
stress, what remains & falls away.
Nothing but stress comes to be.
Nothing ceases but stress.

If "nothing arises but stress" then views (including the speculative views about existence and non-existence which arise from attending inappropriately) are stress and thus "wrong".

Why is this not a contradiction to anatta?

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote a footnote to say that this second of six view (i.e. "I have no self") represents a annihilationist/materialist view and is not "anatta".

He doesn't justify/reference that statement/footnote, but having written the answer above I think it's justifiable: i.e. the six views represent eternalism, nihilism, and various other views in between these two extremes.

This answer implies that the doctrine of anatta means "not having a view of self" (it does not mean, "holding a view about non-existence of self") -- and I think that's precisely what's said in MN 22 which is quoted at the top of this answer to What is the precise meaning of anatta?

Perhaps, I don't know, Ven. Bodhi's noting that "I don't exist" is a "materialist" view was also supported or informed by the Visuddhimagga, as it was quoted in Ven. Yuttadhammo's answer.


Our present existence is the result of our past belief in a self. We have this wrong view until we attain Nibbana.


You do not say I have no self. You say all phenomenon have no self.

  • Right, anatta is described as: "all things are empty of self."
    – user2341
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 0:15

The notion of "self" in Buddhist literature is not defined in a way that would meet the standards of modern psychology and philosophy. A modern concept of self is usually defined in terms of agency or the causes of human action and is a subject of prolonged debate with no end in sight. Be wary of anyone who talks about self as if they know what it is. Ask anyone the differences between self, ego, self-esteem, social self, self compassion, agency, person, self concept, or the notion of "me" and you will soon find a confused mind or an arrogant one.


Upon stream entry you stop thinking about whether there is a self or not. The question simply ceases to arise. Keep meditating.


The statement I have no self is a clear paradox which results in cognitive dissonance. The moment one says 'I have' one has established the existence of the self - an objective ontological entity(I). Then anything which follows after 'I have' loses significance, rather it empowers the very idea of I as it associates some property (no self) with the self (I). That's why the idea 'I have no self' seems unsatisfactory.

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    What I was trying to say, but you said it better :)
    – user13375
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 15:22
  • really interesting answer thanks
    – user2512
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 4:44

As Ruben2020 points out

Even the Buddha used personal pronouns like "I" and "me"

Seems obvious -- to me -- then that the mistake is with the 'have': the idea that the skandhas include something called "no self".

There is nothing in addition to the skandhas, including some "not self" quality.

Mind you I can't read Pali.

  1. Because from the statement 'i have no self' it infers that 'i am otherwise', there being 'i am" it follows that an "I" element exists and refers to some a true element like a color seen by the eye or an idea seen by intellect ie of speed or of motion, that a true discernable element is talked about in this way. This can't be established as a true element.

Neither apart from nor included in what is past, present or future; neither one thing nor a class of things; not apart from elements; not a 'neither an element nor not an element'; the characteristic of "being personal for this or that person " is not a true idea or quality. It is only included in 'the all' as a class of wrong views & ideas, it's like santa clause in that fictional product of imagination.

One can talk about false things like 'santa clause' much like we can say 'i am'. If we know that this is a statement which is not founded on a true idea we might still choose to use the expression even tho meaning of a word happens to be an unreal element it might still effectively communicate some meaning. This is what happens when we use personal pronouns, they are just useful conventions.

Another way to think about it is as piece of something old and broken retaining a unique & useful function which makes it still viable and kept around just for that one function rather than it's primary past function. Ie a broken flashlight might be used for some other purpose.

It's like physicists switching between context of quantum and classical mechanics in language. There needs to be a norm to have a paradox and the norm is not meant to explain the paradox.

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