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Recently I got to know about 'Non-Self' or Anatta term but online material was not comprehendible. Below are my questions:
1) Can anyone explain it in simple terms with example?
2) If there's no permanent self or soul then how did Buddha HIMSELF saw his previous lives in various forms, which would be impossible without a permanent soul. In the case of temporary soul it would have been only limited to current life.
3) What were the cases/scenarios from which Buddha made the 'Non-Self' conclusion?
4) How can I cross verify this claim. I mean experience this (as Buddha said believe on your own experience & then follow & not because I said it.)

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1) Can anyone explain it in simple terms with example?

'Self' is a subjective ever-changing 'idea' or 'thought' created by the ignorant mind. For example, the 'self' the mind believed it was at 4 years old is different to the 'self' the mind believes it is at 35 years old. If the mind stops thinking, it can see the body & mind do not have any real self. For example, if an axe is used to cut off a finger, is there any 'self' in that detached finger? Is there any 'self' in an ear lobe or eye-ball or liver or kidney? Is there any 'self' in a feeling of pain, perception of 'green' or sight of object or hearing of a sound? 'Self' is only an idea, such as when a mind believes: "John is a nice person" but another mind believes: "John is a bad person".

2) If there's no permanent self or soul then how did Buddha HIMSELF saw his previous lives in various forms, which would be impossible without a permanent soul. In the case of temporary soul it would have been only limited to current life.

The Buddha did not see any previous lives. This is a mistranslation & misinterpretation of the original teachings (even though at a later time in Buddhism, scriptures such as Jataka Tales were created that depicted literal past lives). The Buddha recollected 'past abodes' or 'past adherences' ('pubbe nivasa'), which means viewing when in the past when the mind ignorantly attached to either one or all of the five aggregates as "self". This is clearly explained in the Khajjaniya Sutta. Please carefully read the entire Khajjaniya Sutta, very carefully, particularly the 2nd paragraph.

3) What were the cases/scenarios from which Buddha made the 'Non-Self' conclusion?

The first explanation is the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta. Here, the Buddha started by explaining if each of the five aggregates can be subject to sickness/disease & cannot ultimately be controlled, how can they be a 'self'? Then the Buddha explained how can any of the five aggregates, each being impermanent & unable to bring lasting happiness, be a permanent lasting self or belong to a permanent lasting self?

4) How can I cross verify this claim. I mean experience this (as Buddha said believe on your own experience & then follow & not because I said it.)

Meditation. Stop thinking and allow the mind to become exclusively observant. Although the sense of self will initially remain, as the mind becomes more pure & naturally 'concentrated', the sense of self, which is merely subtle thoughts, will dissolve. Then the mind (rather than "you") will realise it & everything else is not a self.

However, be warned: this runs against the nature of instinct. Nature creates the instinct in self in people. Only relatively few minds clearly realise not-self. For most Buddhists, non-self is just blind-faith or a logical deduction (philosophical theory), such as for the famous philosopher Nāgārjuna.

If needing to read more, this is the best explanation: Anatta & Rebirth by Buddhadasa.

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"1) Can anyone explain it in simple terms with example?"

Test 1:

open your eyes and look around you. You see trees of green, red roses too, you see them bloom and you think to yourself this is not me.

Why do you know "this is not me"?

You know because you see them.

If these things that you see were you, you wouldn't be able to see them.

Think about it ... if the thing you see was you, you would be inside this thing. If you were really inside this thing, how would you be able to see how this thing looks like? You wouldn't. It would be impossible to see how this thing looks like, if you were this thing.

You could argue "While being inside this thing, maybe I could create two little holes in this thing and look myself in the mirror?". Again, if you were to do that and you saw yourself in the mirror, you would know that what you saw in the mirror is not you! Why? Same as before: if the thing you see was you, you wouldn't be able to see it.

In the same way you throw a ball away from you and see it flying and know "this ball is not me", you see things already thrown away from you and know "these things are not me". Thus, you see trees of green, red roses too, you see them bloom and you know "this is not me".

Test 2:

Close your eyes and in your mind visualize a tree. In your mind you will see a tree and you will know this is not you.

Why do you know "this is not me"?

You know because you see it.

If what you visualize in your mind were you, you wouldn't be able to see your visualization. (read above in Test 1 as I already explained this)

In the same way you throw a ball away from you and see it flying and know "this ball is not me", you see visualized things thrown in your mind and know "these visualized things are not me". Thus, you see a visualization of a tree in your mind and know "this is not me".

Test 3:

Go to a haunted house in the middle of the night. Sit in a dark room and close your eyes. Sooner or later you'll become scared and you will know this is not you.

Why will you know "this is not me"?

You will know because you would perceive fear.

If the fear you perceive were you, you wouldn't be able to perceive the fear!

In the same way an "apple" is just an "apple" and is not "an apple and a mouse", "you" are just "you" and not "you and the perceived fear".

Think about it ... If an "apple" were the same as "an apple and a mouse", there wouldn't be any differences between the "apple" and "an apple and a mouse" ... they would be both completely the same, thus you wouldn't perceive the "mouse"! But you do perceive the "mouse", thus they are not the same: an "apple" is an "apple" and "an apple with a mouse" is different than the "apple" in the way that "an apple with a mouse" has a "mouse" near the apple. Thus, an "apple" is not "an apple and a mouse".

In the same way, if "you" were the same as "you and the perceived fear", there wouldn't be any differences between "you" and "you and the perceived fear" ... they would be both completely the same, thus you wouldn't perceive the "fear"! But you do perceive the "fear", thus "you" and "fear" are not the same: "you" is "you" and "you perceiving fear" is different than "you" in the way that "you perceiving fear" has "fear" near "you". Thus, "you" is not "perceived fear".

Test 4:

Close your eyes and think about anything you wish. A sound, an idea, a feeling, a thought, a sensation, ... No matter what you will think about, you will know this is not you.

Why will you know "this is not me"?

For the same reasons you know that fear is not you. (read above: Test 3)

Test 5:

Close your eyes and think about "you". You will know this is not you.

Why will you know "this is not me"?

For the same reasons you know that fear is not you. (read above: Test 3)


There you have it. Play with the above exercises in whatever way you wish and try to find something that is "you". No matter what you do, no matter where you look or how clever you are, you will not find this "you". Not being able to find this "you" no matter where you search is anatta: no self.

"2) If there's no permanent self or soul then how did Buddha HIMSELF saw his previous lives in various forms, which would be impossible without a permanent soul. In the case of temporary soul it would have been only limited to current life"

I think he didn't literally see his previous lives, but gained knowledge of their existence by realizing what is birth, what is the cause of birth and what is the end to birth. Knowing birth in this way, he knew that the cause of birth was ignorance. Then, seeing how this ignorance arose in the first place and knowing how hard it was to gain knowledge to eradicate this ignorance and seeing how the entire world is permeated with suffering due to ignorance, he concluded that innumerable rebirths were needed for the eradication of his ignorance. That's how he "saw" himself struggling in his previous lives. I think he didn't saw, but knew. He knew.

"3) What were the cases/scenarios from which Buddha made the 'Non-Self' conclusion?"

He searched for self in every corner of the universe and the mind, but he couldn't find a self. But this was not enough. He then looked very precisely how "self" is born. He understood what is self, what is its cause, and what is its cessation. By knowing self in this way, he removed its cause and self completely ceased to exist. What happened next was this:

In the same way "Buddha" was just "Buddha" and was not "Buddha and his self", "Buddha" became just "Buddha" and not "Buddha and his self". By not becoming "Buddha and his self", Buddha became "Buddha". This is how he knew that self is just a fabrication and that there is really no self. He knew.

"4) How can I cross verify this claim. I mean experience this (as Buddha said believe on your own experience & then follow & not because I said it.)"

You need to calm your mind. Then you need to meditate and calm your mind even more. Then you need to do the above steps. Then you need to do some other steps. Etc. ... until you realize the truth yourself. Realization comes through meditation.

The calmer your mind is, the easier it will be.

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This pali is completely define anattā. If you deeply understand pali language.

sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā, sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā, sabbe dhammā anattāti.

Everything, saṅkhata, that is arose by any causes is impermanent (unstable, even a god can die), so all of it is suffering because of impermanent-characterizes.

But Everything, saṅkhata & nibbāna & paññnatti, that is arose or not by causes, is uncontrollable (no man power), because the arising thing, saṅkhata, never arises by just one cause, or by itself. It must arises by multi causes that each other also arises by multi causes, too. And because the non-arising thing, nibbāna (asaṅkhata), is no arising of anything, so it is no self arise there, too. Also because the non-arising thing, paññatii, is just an imagination : in the other hands, nothing is real in a dream.

Anattalakkaṇasutta is non-self conclusion. But I recommend the meditation in advance, because after you meditated samatha & vipassanā, you will understand abhidhamma, so then anattā will appear very clearly.

I never find the easier more than tipitaka-reciting & tipitaka-memorizing & tipitaka-meditation, to access anattā-insight. I had searched for the commentary of anattā, before I recited & memorized & meditated tipitaka. After I do, no need commentary of anattā anymore. I can clearly understand anatta by logic myself because of tipitaka-reciting & tipitaka-memorizing & tipitaka-meditation (but I still not enlighten nibbāna because I not meditate the meditation enough).

**tipitaka-meditation = meditation follow tipitaka.

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1) Can anyone explain it in simple terms with example?>

Camp fire becomes a grassfire. Grass fire becomes bushfire. Bushfire becomes a house fire. These events happened due to various type of fuel available to the fire. Consciousness is like a fire.

2) If there's no permanent self or soul then how did Buddha HIMSELF saw his previous lives in various forms, which would be impossible without a permanent soul. In the case of temporary soul it would have been only limited to current life.>

Samsara is there it is like the raging fire.

3) What were the cases/scenarios from which Buddha made the 'Non-Self' conclusion?>

He experienced Nibbana. You can't experience Nibbana if there is a self.

4) How can I cross verify this claim. I mean to experience this (as Buddha said to believe on your own experience & then follow & not because I said it.)>

Through investigation and meditation.

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