Parmenides, a presocratic philosopher, said:

The only roads of inquiry there are to think of: one, that it is and that it is not possible for it not to be, this is the path of persuasion (for truth is its companion); the other, that it is not and that it must not be — this I say to you is a path wholly unknowable.

In short, we should bar our thought from an inquiry of what is not. Of course, we can say that "the apple is not red" there is nothing wrong with that, but unless a thing called an apple exist we can't say that "a thing is not an apple".

In the same way, when we say " the aggregate is not self" unless there is a self our statement is a wrong inquiry because as Parmenides says "we can only speak about what is: what is not cannot be thought of, and what cannot be thought of cannot be."


3 Answers 3


When saying that the aggregate is not-self are we not predicting the existence of a thing called self?

I think that perhaps "we" are not predicting nor denying the existence of a thing called self: for details see for example How is it wrong to believe that a self exists, or that it doesn't?

Parmenides, a presocratic philosopher, said ...

I don't know him but it sounds like he's being a sophist. :-) I guess he's saying we should (or can) only talk truthfully about things that exist, because the non-existant is unknowable.

I think that Buddhism asks a slightly different question: i.e. is a belief beneficial, is it a skilful view?

unless a thing called an apple exist we can't say that "a thing is not an apple"

Can't we say that "a thing is not a unicorn"?

More importantly people generally do view the aggregates as self (at least more-or-less depending on what you mean by "self"): for example, "this is my body, it is mine, my body is me", and so on.

So if that's a common but an unskillful view (from which arises suffering and so on), perhaps it's worth contradicting.

  • Well, you can say: "a thing is not a unicorn" but that will only count as making a random noise because a unicorn doesn't exist.
    – user13252
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 22:21
  • What if people think it's a unicorn, though? That's an idle question but not just an idle question, because I think that people sometimes understand or understood "self" to mean "soul" -- something immortal and permanent. So far as I know the statement is also stating that "the aggregates are not soul".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 22:36
  • I found this (Of Emptiness and Being: A Comparative Analysis of Parmenides and Naagaarjuna) which compare Parmenides and Nagarjuna, I think to say something "is" is in itself one extream view.
    – user13252
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 7:40
  • Your response is somewhat the same as what Nagarjuna said as quoted below..still beyond my feeble mind.............. .............. Impurity cannot exist without depending on purity so that we explain purity by impurity. Therefore purity by itself cannot be attained. Purity cannot exist without depending on impurity, so that we explain impurity by purity. Therefore impurity cannot exist by itself. (Nakamura 61)
    – user13252
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 7:43

OP: unless a thing called an apple exist we can't say that "a thing is not an apple"

There is such a thing as a self, but it is not independent and standalone.

Please see this answer for details.

The Buddha used the analogy of a lute. There is such a thing as music, but if you break down the lute into its constituent components, you will not be able to find music. Music only arises out of the inter-working of the different parts of the lute, when it is assembled, constructed and tuned correctly.

There is music, but it does not exist standalone or independently of other things. The self similarly arises virtually from the interplay of other phenomena. To say that the music or the self do not exist at all, is incorrect. "Sabbe dhamma anatta" means in all phenomena, there is no self, just as in all constituent parts of the lute, you cannot find something called music.

  • the analogy of the self as a music / Harmonia will not qualify easily in the West because it is disproved in Phaedo by Plato. If you follow the thought of self as music, a music that follows the lute but not leads you will end in a mechanistic view which denies the conditioned freedom of humans.
    – user13252
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 8:08

When saying that the aggregate is not-Self are we not predicting the existence of a thing called Self?

No, we are not predicting existence of Self. You are aware of what is Self. You identify Self as your body and/or You identify Self as feeling and/or You identify Self as consciousness and/or You identify Self as perception and/or You identify Self as mental fabrications. Self is already known to you.(If you do not identify your self with body, feelings,perception,consciousness,mental fabrications then you are already in the state of Anatta.) What we are saying is that your identification of Self with body , feeling , consciousness, perception , mental fabrications are wrong. Self is not body , feeling , consciousness , perception , mental fabrications. Now the question is what is Self? That you will have to find out by yourself by doing meditation. You will ultimately find that Sabbe Dhamma Anatta. There is nothing worth identifying as Self not even Nirvana. Therefore Self must have been like an illusion or error or a dream. Self is like a misconception. A false understanding of Self arises and we cure that misunderstanding by practicing Anatta.

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