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I hear people saying this a lot regarding Annatta - "if something is impermanent then it cannot be self." But doesn't this only apply if you're coming from the view that a 'self' must be permanent? Why can't the self be impermanent? If I have the view that there is a self and it's impermanent then something impermanent can be self.

  • Because that would lead you to say that self is suffering. You have to see in your experience how impermanence is stressful, then you can decide if stress is self. – user4878 Sep 15 '17 at 7:22
  • That sounds like the Hindu perspective that there is a permanent self (Atma). This is not Buddhism. – ruben2020 Sep 15 '17 at 7:24
  • UrsulRosu - But my understanding is that Dukha does not arise from life or the object of our attention but from our response to it. So therefore I could have an impermanent self and be ok about that without suffering – Arturia Sep 15 '17 at 7:57
  • ruben2020 - I'm saying an impermanent self not permanent so it's not the Hindu perspective – Arturia Sep 15 '17 at 7:58
  • Well yeah, but the self comes from identificantion with phenomena so if you identify with something impermanent that will be stressful. Check for yourself. – user4878 Sep 15 '17 at 11:19
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A self should be something under your total control. Impermanence is merely one aspect that proves something is not a self. Suffering is another. But Anatta(non-self) aspect can stand on it's own without impermanence and suffering.

ex: Nibbana is permanent and peaceful, but it is still not a self. Why because you are unable to attain it at will. You have to cultivate the mind to attain it. It's the same with everything else. You cannot bring anything into existence, retain it, alter it or make it go away at will without being dependent on other conditions. Hence Anatta.

  • Why should a self be something under your total control? I mean, that's my understanding too but I am not quite clear on it – Lowbrow Sep 16 '17 at 18:43
  • Otherwise what's the point of calling something a self? :) – Sankha Kulathantille Sep 17 '17 at 2:39
  • Just for semantic reasons? Being able to tell another person about our own personal experience of self? – Lowbrow Sep 30 '17 at 13:03
  • You are mixing up conventions with ultimate reality. – Sankha Kulathantille Sep 30 '17 at 13:04
  • Yeah? So what? Don't we all do that? – Lowbrow Sep 30 '17 at 13:07
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I think it's the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta, which says e.g. that form is impermanent, therefore unsatisfactory (or painful) rather than pleasant, and therefore not fit to be regarded as "this is myself".

Bhikkhus, how do you conceive it: is form permanent or impermanent?" — "Impermanent, venerable Sir." — "Now is what is impermanent painful or pleasant?" — "Painful, venerable Sir." — "Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this is I, this is my self'"? — "No, venerable sir."

Ditto the other aggregates (feeling, perception, etc.).

See also the first noble truth, which equates suffering with the "clinging-aggregates".

There's also the Alagaddupama Sutta,

“Bhikkhus, you may well cling to that doctrine of self that would not arouse sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair in one who clings to it. But do you see any such doctrine of self, bhikkhus?”—“No, venerable sir.”—“Good, bhikkhus. 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.

So it's not exactly that "it cannot be self" -- it's that "it's not fit to be regarded as self", or that "viewing it as self arouses suffering in one who clings to it."

If I have the view that there is a self and it's impermanent then something impermanent can be self.

According to the second sutta quoted above, you may cling to that doctrine if it would not arouse suffering ... but the Buddha didn't see any doctrine of self that wouldn't arouse suffering.

Conversely perhaps Buddhists seek a view of Nirvana (which is timeless rather than impermanent).

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As per my understanding ,all phenomenon are nonself. Eventually any self identification which you have, will get discarded because it will pass away.

You think you are Arturia but Arturia will pass away. You will have no choice but to give up the identity of Arturia as an error,illusion or a dream and move on. You will adopt new identity which will again pass away...and so on. If we discard one identity as error , illusion or a dream then we must discard all identities as error,illusion or a dream. If there is no Self which can be considered as me, mine or myself then what should we conclude about yourself now? Now you are living an identity which will eventually pass away. This is not you. That realization is Wisdom. The Truth.

Below I quote from accesstoinsight.org:

There are three types of teachers, the first one teaches that the ego or the self is real now as well as in the future (here and hereafter); the second one teaches that the ego is real only in this life, not in the future; the third one teaches that the concept of an ego is an illusion: it is not real either in this life or in the hereafter.

The first one is the eternalist (sassatavaadi); the second one is the annihilationist (ucchedavaadi); the third one is the Buddha who teaches the middle way of avoiding the extremes of eternalism and annihilationism. (Here the middle way is the doctrine of dependent arising, or causal conditioning — Paticca Samuppaada).

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I asked Bhante Yutthaddhammo this question. I think he got frustrated with the question or maybe all questions.

Bhante was probably frustrated as a teacher because students often are thinking about Buddhism more than actually practicing Buddhism not that pondering things has no place in the practice.

All things are no self means whatever we experience, that experience is not a self, it's no self or soul. Just because we can't find something doesn't always mean it's not there. For all we know there is a self or a not a self or the self is imperminant or not imperminant or maybe it's just a giant hot dog floating somewhere in space. All we can know is what comes in through the eyes, ears, mind and body in the present moment.

Regarding a not so permanent self, you find impermanence in every moment... the Buddha's no-self teaching goes something like this:

A soul is not to be found in any practice the Buddha teaches but he didn't necessarily say that there was no soul at all and it is important not to ponder it too much but instead try to understand you and what's the center of you by practicing some kind of meditation that will give you insights into yourself like Zazen or Satipatthana Vipassana.

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When one assumes that self exists, it is assumed to be permanent, otherwise self that is present in two events continuous in time are not the same! Say some action is committed upon expectation of a reward, the self that performs action doesn't get anything in return as the self that experiences the consequences is something else! This leads to lot of suffering as the self that acts doesn't get anything in return and hence any action by it is unsatisfactory.

That is not to say that concept of self that one assumes to exist is permanent. It is assumed to be permanent, otherwise we will have a problem accommodating causality or accepting that self can act in pursuit of rewards, as noted above. There are stages in insight practice (starting from bhanga nana or knowledge of dissolution) where one gets direct insight into the impermanent nature of self. No wonder these stages are grouped under dukkha nanas (knowledges of suffering/unsatisfactoriness).

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" "if something is impermanent then it cannot be self." But doesn't this only apply if you're coming from the view that a 'self' must be permanent?"

The view "if something is impermanent then it cannot be self" can come from wisdom or from ignorance.

If it comes from ignorance, it comes from the view "self is permanent". Those who hold the view "self is permanent" have not yet realized anatta. They think that there is a permanent self, which is in contradiction to anatta which states that there is no self that can be found.

If it comes from wisdom, it comes from observing reality as it really is. Reality as it really is is that there is no self to be found anywhere. Reality is anatta. Somebody who realized anatta clearly sees and knows that "if something is impermanent then it cannot be self".

Why does he think like that?

Because he deeply and extensively meditated on the subject of anatta and came to the following observations:


If I were my body, then I wouldn't age. If I were my body, I would be my body, thus I would have complete control of my body. If I would have complete control of my body, I wouldn't let it age.

If the body were truly mine, I wouldn't age. How could I age, if I'm the essence of "aging"? If I'm the essence of "aging", I can't age, because I'm the definition of "aging". Just like a line drawn on a piece of paper is a line and nothing more, in the same way I would be the definition of "aging" and nothing more, thus I wouldn't age. How could I age if I'm "aging" itself? That would be impossible. I could only age if there would be some other "aging" acting upon me, but since I'm the definition of "aging", no other "aging" could act upon me, thus I would not age.

If the body were truly mine, nobody could take it away from me or cast me away from it. Because if somebody took it, he would not took the body and leave me behind, but he would take me with it. Or, if somebody took it, he would not be able to take it and cast me away from it, but I would stay with it. Thus, when I would die, the body would go with me or I would stay with the body. But it doesn't go with me, nor I stay with the body ... it stays on the spot where I died and rots until it turns into dust.

If I truly were my body, nobody could touch it. Because even if somebody touched it, for me it would be like nothing touched me. How could I feel touch, if I am the essence of "touch"? It would be like being "touch" and feeling touch. How could you feel touch, if you're the essence of "touch"? It would be impossible. It would be like being the color red and changing into the color red. That would be impossible because you're already red. In the same way, it would be like being "touch" and changing into "touch". That would be impossible because you're already "touch".

If I truly were my body, I wouldn't feel hot and cold. Because even if I were in a hot or cold place, for me it would be like temperature is non existent. How could I feel hot or cold, if I am the essence of hot and cold? It would be like being "hot and cold" and feeling hot or cold. How could you feel hot or cold, if you're the essence of "hot and cold"? It would be impossible. It would be like being the color red and changing into the color red. That would be impossible because you're already red, thus I wouldn't detect any change in color, which means that I wouldn't detect any change in me. In the same way, it would be like being "hot and cold" and changing into "hot and cold". That would be impossible because you're already "hot and cold", thus if I were "hot and cold" I wouldn't detect any change in me, thus I would feel no differences in temperature.

If I truly were my thoughts, feelings, sensations and all other "things" that I feel in my mind and/or body, I would have complete control over them. How could I not have complete control over them, if I'm the essence of them? If I'm the essence of something, I have complete control over that thing. I am that thing! Thus, I would have complete control over that thing as I AM that thing.

If I'm truly something, nobody could touch me. How could I be touched, if I AM that thing? If I AM that thing, I have complete control over that thing. Thus, I have complete control over the arising of sensation of touch in that thing. Thus, if I AM that thing, I could just erase the sensation of touch, and no touch would be felt.

If I'm truly something, nobody could take it away from me. Taking it away from me would be impossible. How could that thing be taken away from me, if I'm that thing? That would be impossible. Whoever takes it away, cannot take it away from me, but is taking me with it.

If I'm truly something, nobody could change it into something else, but me. Somebody else or something else changing me into something else, without my approval, would be impossible. How could somebody or something change me, if I AM that thing? Nothing could change me without my approval for change to happen, because If I AM that thing I have total control over that thing that I AM.

If I truly were my thoughts, feelings, sensations and all other "things" that I feel in my mind and/or body, I wouldn't experience any of them. How could I experience something if I'm the essence of that thing? It would be like experiencing something that you're already being. It would be like being the color red and changing into the color red. That would be impossible because you're already red, thus I would detect no change in color, thus no change in me, thus no feeling in me could arise because nothing changed in me to make me react to that change. No feeling of that thing that I'm being could arise. If I were sadness, I wouldn't feel sad. If I were fear, I wouldn't feel afraid. If I were a thought, I wouldn't detect the thought. In the same way, it would be like being "thoughts, feelings, sensations" and changing into these same things. That would be impossible because you're already "thoughts, feelings, sensations", thus no change would be detected in ME ("thoughts, feelings, sensations"), thus I would feel no differences in these thoughts that I AM, feelings that I AM, sensations that I AM ... if I truly were these things.

If I truly were some object that I see, hear, touch, smell or taste, I would have complete control over that object. How could I not have complete control over it, if I'm the essence of that object? If I'm the essence of that object, I have complete control over that object. I am that object! Thus, I would have complete control over that object as I AM that object.

Nonetheless, when I observe my body as it really is, I see aging, death, differences in hot and cold. I see thoughts, feelings, sensations and all other "things" that I feel in my mind and/or body. I see, hear, touch, smell and taste objects that I have no control over them ... All of this is constantly changing and I can't do anything to change that. All of this is impermanent. Thus, I'm not my body. If I were my body, I would not age, I would not die, nor would I feel hot nor cold. Thus, I'm not my thoughts, feelings, sensations and all other "things" that I feel in my mind and/or body. If I were them, I would not experience them and I would have complete control over them. Nor I'm some object that I see, hear, touch, smell or taste. If I were, I would have complete control over that object. If I were truly these things, I would stop changing, I would erase suffering from me and I would become permanent.

Whatever I would be, I would be permanent. Deathless. Immortal.


Read the above.

The above observations can be applied to any object you desire. No matter which object you choose, you will come to the same conclusion: "if I were that object, the object wouldn't be subject to change. It would be permanent. Deathless. Immortal.". From this it follow: "if something is impermanent then it cannot be self"

"Why can't the self be impermanent? If I have the view that there is a self and it's impermanent then something impermanent can be self."

Do you think that you are impermanent?

If you answered "yes", you're holding onto the view "self is impermanent".

When you fully realize anatta, you would never hold onto the view "self is impermanent", because you would know that you are not "that" which is impermanent.

If you answered "no", then do you think you are permanent?

No, you don't think you are permanent, because you don't believe in rebirth, thus if you answered "no", there would only be two options remaining: 1. either you achieved Nirvana or 2. you haven't fully realized anatta thus you're still searching for a self

You haven't achieved Nirvana yet, because you're still suffering, so the only option that remains is 2.

Thus, you should work either on one of these two things:

  • stop clinging on the view "self is impermanent" or
  • realize anatta in its entirety.

Clinging or no clinging, it doesn't really matter, as it will stop when anatta will be realized in its entirety. Thus, work on the realization of anatta. For that you need a clear and calm mind. Once that is achieved, anatta can be easily realized in its entirety.

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Anicca, dukkha =whole 5 aggregates, both lokiya and lokuttara aggregates. Because they depend on many causes to arise.

Object of insight meditation=just 5 lokiya aggregate, except tanha. Because lokuttara aggregates can't not be attached by tanha, so practitioner must doesn't make vipassana on lokuttara. Another, tanha is samudayasacca, so practitioner must make tanha finish at all, not just make vipassana on tanha.

Anatta=everything and every objects=whole 5 aggregates, nibbana, and paññatti.

Paññatti=imagination (it is not reality, like a dream, never arise, no cause). Aatta (self) is one kind of paññatti, too.

See: abhidhammatthasangaha in 1st and 8th chapter.

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Some people perceive impermanent as self, some perceive permanent as self. Both permanence and impermanence are self. The idea here is when the self perceives a permanent "impermanent" or permanent "permanent" then there is suffering when permanent "impermanent" becomes impermanent "impermanent". To be free from suffering, one must realize everything is impermanent - even have to realize that "impermanent" is impermanent.

  • If one must realize that "impermanent" is impermanent, then can you answer the question "Is 'impermanence' skillful means?" – ChrisW Sep 16 '17 at 11:38
  • I can hardly understand what you wrote. May be you can explain in more detail. You say "Both permanent and impermanent are self". What is permanent ? Then you say "realize that "impermanent" is impermanent". What is the meaning of that ? – Dheeraj Verma Sep 16 '17 at 13:33
  • ChrisW - "impermanence" refers to sufferings in this context. – tutu Sep 16 '17 at 15:17
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"Why can't the self be impermanent?"

The notion (ārammaṇaṃ) of "self" is impermanent. Therefore it is 'not real' (anicca). Not real 'does not make sense' (anattha) . What ever is not real, does not make sense, is brudensome, makes stress (dukkha). It's just the process of becoming and decay, which is seeming to be real (nicca), till stopping to build again and "take a grasp", giving it a sense (atta).

For now, you are real and act with effect.

(Atma/my person, "likes" the word 'Paññatti', 'taking for real', but more 'paññāvimutti')

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma and not meant for trade for wordily gain]

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