I acknowledge that there is no-self. But now I don't know what to do. Previously I was driving a bus called life. Now I am no more the driver because according to anatta , I am not the driver. Since no one can replace me as a driver because each one of us is without self,I am seating on a bus without any driver.
I think discovery of anatta means that I should stop thinking about controlling life. Infact I should stop thinking at all because I am not the thinker or the thoughts.(In other words I would not like to associate with thoughts or the thinker)

My question is: How to live life after acknowledging anatta? And how can I change the direction of the bus called life?

  • I lack the Buddhist training to give a Buddhist answer, but for me, it was helpful to observe that, if there is no self, then that means all those around us who perceive themselves as drivers are, in fact, driver-less. And yet billions of us have managed to function not only without a driver, but with the (presumably) false belief that there is actually a driver. You never had a driver, never truly needed one, so what truly changed? Do you even need to know what changed? Does knowing it help?
    – Cort Ammon
    Oct 25, 2017 at 19:28

9 Answers 9


Let’s get this straight. This is the problem when your mind is active and you’re reading all this stuff and thinking about it. The mind can only be confused. Because “moving above your intellect” is enlightenment, nirvana and all that jazz. Right now you seem stuck with your intellect, which can only dissect stuff and make you operational in this world which is a level lower.

You have to play a role in this society with some element of identity. Otherwise I can’t be talking to you right now. If you keep telling yourself “there is no self, there is no self”, that is a wrong view, because you have a viewpoint. There is a bias in your mind telling you that what you read somewhere is correct.

You cannot “think up” no-self. It is a direct experience. Not a thought. You’ll only end up dissociating and creating personality disorders for yourself. Just going crazy. Your mind will split itself up into a guy who is the ego and a no-self perspective. You see this mechanism of the mind? It is not true in your experience. I cannot stress this point enough. Right now your mind is sitting there going, “oh I am not-self, then what else is there...”

Let’s clarify this chicken and egg story. You are thinking right now because you’re alive, not the other way round. If I take your breath away all your mental nonsense will cease. What do you then know about this life actually? Nobody knows anything. They just “think things up”. If you try to think it up, then all kinds of contortions and twists will start to brew inside your head. And it will only lead to mental disorders.

When the Buddha (and so many other Buddhas) talk about no-self, they come from a direct experience of unity with everything. That is the source of “no self”. Their perspective is abolished. There is only truth for them. Unlike our experience where we are this body and mind and everything else is separate. And we have opinions about everything from our perspective.

So how to live life, you ask? Respond to everything, you are very much there, there is no “no-self” or “all self” or whatever your mind is brewing. If you really experienced no-self you wouldn’t be here asking this question :)


Ignorance &, alternately, wisdom drive life. For example, when the hand is accidentally placed into burning fire, wisdom quickly withdraws the hand from the fire rather than any "self". When anatta is realised, wisdom drives life, as it has always done when life has been driven in the right direction.

Its like when women have children. The instinctual wisdom in the women know how to look after the children. 'Self' is not required here to draw the child to the breast for feeding.

In summary, whatever moral or social wisdom is developed prior to realising anatta remains. Also, after anatta is realised, more social wisdom can be developed however it is the mind rather than self that develops this wisdom of how to live skilfully in the world.


The concept of anatta is hard to get. But the concept of anatta is not same as experiencing anatta.

Seeing anatta is to see everything as being made up of constituent parts and lacking any inherent essence. Like seeing forest as nothing but a collection of trees, a chariot as nothing but assembly of related parts put together. And seeing what one thought of as self as made up of various aggregates.

If you have such an experience, nothing needs to be done by you. Just the very nature of experience will transform you, redefining the way you view yourself and the way you experience reality. The self/world division disappears as everything is seen as made up of processes/aggregates that are inherently impermanent and without any essence. You cannot do anything anyways as the experience itself will change everything.

Ok, what to do if you don't have the direct experience of anatta but know what it means ? Again nothing. The self arises not because you believe in a self, but because the conditions for its arising are present. So the self doesn't go away because you intellectually realise that there is no self, (that would be too easy :) ) it will continue to arise till you have a life changing experience, like experiencing No self, because only that changes the very conditions of its arising.

So your worry about changing the way you think is unnecessary. The very meaning of anatta is that you are not in control, just that you have thoughts that you are in control because of belief in self-view. To change the content of your thoughts is not going to make you drop your self-view. You can change it from one form to another, but that will only complicate things.

So only thing to do is practice seeing things the way they are, i.e., practice mindfulness and in time things will change of its own accord.


Dheeraj Verma,

Esh gave some useful points of the situation.

The only drive of a mother (normal being) that leads to her holding on to her child is (self) identification, and such is not bad per se, but a good even required to gain release.

If one acknowledges that there is no Self, no driver, yet is still driven by the drives of wrong view, he could be good, following Mara, be on the highway to hell.

Believing that there is no Self, no drive, is strong wrong view, and naturally followed by extreme dukkha, such as "depression".

"There is no Self" is no realisation of Dhamma at all, like "There is a self". The driver is conditioned, yet in a person not finally liberated, still present, become and decay, moment for moment.

If having realised the spotless eye of Dhamma, having entered the stream, meaning that gained release, first of all, joy and bliss are its indicators and second, such a person would not ask what to do:

Just as a clean piece of cloth, free from grime, would properly take dye, in the same way the dustless, stainless eye of Dhamma arose for the money-lender as he was sitting right there—

“Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation.”

Then the money-lender, having seen the Dhamma, having attained the Dhamma, having known the Dhamma, having fathomed the Dhamma, having crossed over and beyond uncertainty, having no more perplexity, having gained fearlessness, independence of others with regard to the Teacher’s message, said to the Blessed One,

The Discussion of Going-forth

So in short, in regard of your personal problem in this question: seek for admirable friends and assosiate with them and avoid enemies in disguise like fire. Serve and make merits in this area which will bring about fruits exclusively, and have joy knowing following and doing the right.

Usually, if one of the seven noble disciples, if not indebted strongly, seeks for outwardly going forth as well. In cases of having changed lineage, one either leads a very modest lay-life, withdrawn from association with people of no integrity, or asks for going forth and walk there on.

Once again, such person has made the Dhamma to his island and would not ask (even worldlings) what to do with life. And again, such a person is safe from low states of existence, which includes also things like strong depression and other animal-like (virtueless and primitive), hellish (strong suffering), hungry ghost (not able to find even slight satisfaction, joy) states.

Be careful and attentive. No one can actually help you if not taking on the right for yourself, might it be available and given endless times.

If already a faith-follower, seeking the right bus, this guide will be a good friend: Into the Stream - A Study Guide on the First Stage of Awakening

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial purpose and other low wordily gains by means of trade and exchange]

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Oct 25, 2017 at 11:46

How to live life after acknowledging anatta?

If one is not yet enlightened, one should continue to practice until Nibbana is realized.

And how can I change the direction of the bus called life?

Practicing the Noble Eightfold Path, will change and steer the direction towards Nibbana.

  • This seems to be a very practical advice. Oct 26, 2017 at 0:02

Let me remind you the wrong view of Makkhali Gosala:

The attainment of any given condition or character does not depend either on one's own acts, nor on the acts of another, nor on human effort. There is no such thing as power or energy or human strength or human vigour. All beings (sattā), all lives (pānā), all existent things (bhūtā), all living substances (jīvā), are bent this way and that by their fate, by the necessary conditions of the class to which they belong, by their individual nature; it is according to their position in one or other of the six classes (abhijāti) that they experience ease or pain.

So Makkhali basically held the view of rigid determinism leading to fatalism, and therefore to helpless surrender to the forces at play in Samsara.

To which Buddha said:

Makkhali is like a fishing net set at a river mouth, existing for the distress and destruction of many beings.

Why did Buddha bother to mention the river mouth? River mouth is a place that all fish and all river creatures go through on their way to the ocean. A fishing net at the river mouth is a strong weapon of mass destruction that the fish is helpless against.

Just like a fish, who gets very close to the freedom of the ocean, gets caught in a net like this, a student of Dharma who gets very close to liberation, through understanding of This-That Conditionality, The Second and Third Noble Truths, and the right application of Anatta for liberation from Birth, Death, and Dukkha - can get caught into a wrong view of fatalism. Fatalism is a powerful trap for the very reason that it sits very close to the right application of Anatta and the ultimate freedom of Unbinding.

Instead of succumbing to fatalism, we must realize that despite corelessness, emptiness, and determinism (the principle behind karma) -- actually not even despite but exactly due to them -- the will power still matters. Making the right choice still matters. Performing the right action still matters. Most importantly, we use our will, choice, and action - to control our minds, in such a way as to eliminate Dukkha arising due to mismatch between "is" and "should". In this light, application of Anatta for liberation is an ultimate act of free will! Makes sense?

Anatta is a choice that we make, not a burden.

  • Choices are given before me but I am not the choice maker(I am not the one who has free will.) Will power is impermanent, cause of suffering and changeable. Oct 25, 2017 at 17:24
  • 1
    Sounds like you are firmly caught in the Makkhali trap my friend :) Even though you are not the choice maker, the choice is made by the mind, so I beg your mind to please keep making right decisions. And no, LOL, will power is not a cause of suffering! :))))
    – Andriy Volkov
    Oct 25, 2017 at 18:01

No self does not mean disappearances. Acknowledging Anatta means we are mindful of others more than self. If I'm driving a bus, I'm mindful of the safety of all my passengers, not just myself. I don't disappear and let the bus drive by itself because it is reckless to the passengers. Disappearing is not Anatta.

  • Sabbe Dhamma Anatta. Meaning you , me everyone is without any permanent self. In fact any recognition of ego in me or anyone is due to illusion.Only ignorant persons recognize their own Self or anyone else's Self as True. So now tell me who should I be mindful of when there is no self? Oct 25, 2017 at 15:53
  • You should be mindful of the Buddha. Or the 3 jewels.
    – tutu
    Oct 26, 2017 at 14:58
  • What are the 3 jewels? Oct 26, 2017 at 15:36
  • 1
    To begin from the foundation.... a buddhist takes refuge in the 3 jewels. The 3 jewels are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
    – tutu
    Oct 27, 2017 at 0:59

My answer for you is as follows.

You say "No one can replace me as a driver." How can something which doesn't exist be replaced? What would be replaced? How can something non-existent be replaced?

You also mention you should "stop thinking about controlling life, stop thinking at all." If no thinker exists, what are you fearing to associate to?

Your language implies you recognize selves exist. In Buddhism, the absence of self is usually not seen as the non-existence of a self, but its relativity.

So, you might ask yourself: what's the difference between you, and this bus called life? What is the difference between you, and these people who could replace you?

If no one exists, who is living non-self? I would advise that another interesting contemplation you could engage in is to ask: what is the self? Who is the self? Before claiming the self doesn't exist, try to examine what a self is. Is it you? Is it the bus of life? Is it the thoughts?

At some point, maybe, I'll suspect the questioning of self and the questioning of non-self might seem similar. At this point, whether the idea of something or not-something arises, whatever it will be, it will arise as what it actually is.


I am afraid you have acquired a common misconception of the Buddhist concept of anatta. At the time, the Buddha was objecting to a concept of self based upon an experience of self while in a state of full samadhi. In this illusory state, the self seems to exist all by itself without being caused in any way. The Buddha taught a concept of self that is the same as the modern scientific and philosophical concept of self. From this modern point of view, a self-concept is the product of our efforts to make sense of our common-sense experience of ourselves. The concept of self to which the Buddha objected is now extremely rare. What you have acknowledged is the confusion that comes from talking about the causes of action in two different ways. In our common-sense understanding of the causality of action, we can refer to object-causality or to process-causality. An example of object-causality would consist of talking about a baseball breaking a window or talking about a person trying to solve a puzzle. In this case, a person is viewed as an agent of his or her actions. An example of process-causality would consist of talking about the process of energy being transferred from the baseball to the pane of glass, causing it to shatter or talking about a person formulating a plan of action that may solve a puzzle. Both explanations are talking about the same thing. Both are correct, although the process-approach allows for more scientific detail.

Concerning your question about changing the direction of the bus called life, I suggest you look into the process of learning explained by the Buddhist concept of sankhara and how mindfulness meditation helps you unlearned confusing sankhara. You can read my book on the subject if you like.

  • I do not think that following is true :"The Buddha taught a concept of self that is the same as the modern scientific and philosophical concept of self." If you try to asking the question "Who are you ?" in a philosophy sister site , you will get negative answers(the thread might even get closed for subject being too broad) :-) I know that because I tried asking the same question on a philosophy forum and it was closed and deleted. :-( So much for modern understanding of self. Oct 28, 2017 at 14:41
  • 1
    I respect your view about the Buddhist concept of self because there are many views. I borrowed the concepts of object-causality and process-causality from Alvin Goldman in his book, A Theory of Human Action, published back in 1970 when it was a textbook for a course on the philosophy of mind that I took when I was an undergraduate. Oct 28, 2017 at 19:47

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