According to this answer:

However, there is another type of suffering that cannot be fixed with anatta! This type of suffering comes from attachment to forms other than oneself, forms that have nothing to do with "I". For example, consider the situation when your teenage son suddenly declares that he is a gay person (a homosexual). Because you are so attached to an idea that your son should be a proper man, there is a great mismatch in your mind between expectation and reality. Because of this mismatch you experience dukkha, suffering. This type of dukkha has nothing to do with your sense of "I", it is about your son. But because you have a fixed idea of how things are supposed to be, you suffer whenever there is a mismatch.

So (Theravada) anatta can't help with this type of suffering. But (Mahayana) shunyata can.

Now this is a question directed to Theravada practitioners.

Let's say, somebody suffers from aversion when they see any person practising the gay lifestyle, because they have preconceived ideas about what is right or wrong about sexual orientation. This kind of suffering seems to be unrelated to craving or the self (because this is related to other unrelated people). Here, I use the example of a random stranger, not "my son".

Sexual orientation is just an example of a non-self-related preconceived notion. It could easily be something else like Brexit or communism or news of a natural disaster taking lives in a distant country.

  1. According to Theravada and the Pali Canon, what is the cause of this suffering? Is it in any way related to the self, craving and dependent origination?

  2. According to Theravada and the Pali Canon, how can this suffering be eliminated? According to the third noble truth, to end suffering, one must end craving. How does ending craving end this suffering?

  3. Please provide references to the Pali Suttas, if possible.

  • 1
    Just to be clear are you open to answers entirely from the Pali Canon informed from a Madhaymaka viewpoint?
    – user13375
    Aug 18, 2018 at 17:28
  • @YesheTenley This question is directed to obtain a Theravada perspective. But I guess, you are not prevented to answering from the Pali Canon using the Madhyamaka viewpoint.
    – ruben2020
    Aug 18, 2018 at 17:29
  • 2
    I will refrain and let self-identified Theravada adherents respond, thank you.
    – user13375
    Aug 18, 2018 at 17:47
  • 1
    Clinging to any concept, sign and so on, might cause suffering. Clinging to concept of Good vs Evil makes people do atrocious things for the greater common good. Example: Bolshevik revolution, or whatever happens in Myanmar now.
    – user13383
    Aug 18, 2018 at 18:13
  • Related: Are all forms of Dukkha related to a sense of self?
    – ruben2020
    Apr 16, 2019 at 14:16

3 Answers 3


I tried to do some research on this, from the Pali Canon, so I will post an answer.

A person may have a preconceived notion like the homosexual lifestyle is wrong, only the heterosexual lifestyle is correct. Or, communism and socialism are wrong, only democracy with capitalism is correct. Or, the view that the government must improve public transportation instead of building more roads is correct, while the view that the government must build more roads instead of improving public transportation instead is wrong.

The Mahayana view in general is that these preconceived notions or views are unrelated to the self and cannot be solved using anatta. Instead, the Mahayana shunyata must be used. If one can see that the sexual orientation, or political ideology, or government policies are truly without inherent substance, then one can avoid clinging to them, and thus be free of suffering.

While this sounds logical at a first glance, if we analyze this from a Theravada perspective, it is actually analyzing the wrong root cause. In my opinion, all types of suffering must have something to do with the self, however obscure this connection is. Why would I feel aversion at a concept or idea if it doesn't have anything to do with ME? There is obviously a clinging and I am clinging to it. I suffer not because a political ideology is real or unreal. I suffer because I cling to it. It has something to do with ME. The problem is that all of a person's views are relative to one's self or associated for or against one's self.

The following quotes from Sutta Nipata 4.5:

When dwelling on views as "supreme," a person makes them the utmost thing in the world, &, from that, calls all others inferior and so he's not free from disputes. When he sees his advantage in what's seen, heard, sensed, or in precepts & practices, seizing it there he sees all else as inferior.

When one makes one view as correct, and all other views as incorrect, it's because he sees some advantage or something related to himself. There's a reason why he clings to it. For e.g. I may have other arguments why new roads should not be built, and instead public transportation must be improved. The real reason could be that I am afraid that if a new noisy highway is built next to my house, the property value of my house will drop. Hence, every argument that I have to support my view, has something to do with me.

For e.g. if I argue why Theravada is better than Mahayana, it may be because I associate myself with Theravada. If someone disparages Theravada, then I feel disparaged, because I assumed my self to be the mental fabrication.

So, this connection, may not be obvious. It may be obscure. But the connection of my view to my self definitely exists. And clinging of anything to the self, is related to one of the three types of craving.

Perhaps a person has strong views and scorn towards homosexuality, because he either feels it as challenging his own heterosexuality, or perhaps he is trying to hide his own closeted homosexuality. Or perhaps it conflicts with the teachings of the religion that he belongs to, or it conflicts with his father's teaching to him, which he clings to, because it comes from "my father". If it has nothing to do with him, then why would he be for or against it?

If news that trees in the Amazon rainforest got chopped down illegally in huge quantities reaches a person who stays in Russia, he might feel angry. Why? He may be a self-identified environmentalist who feels that nature and the environment belongs to him and his descendants, that his descendants are being deprived of their rightful inheritance. So, it has something to do with his self-interests.

A person disagrees with high taxation and good social welfare. Perhaps he works hard and makes a good income and does not want to share it with others. It's HIS income. Perhaps another person is poor and jobless, and would love to receive state help, so he publicly sides high taxation and good social welfare. It always has something to do with self-interests.

To be part of a religion or to be an environmentalist or to identify with a sexual orientation, sounds like craving of becoming. To enjoy sexual pleasures or state help in the form of food stamps, sounds like the craving of sensual pleasures. Craving leads to clinging. Clinging leads to becoming. These are part of dependent origination. Due to clinging, we may feel aversion when what we cling to is removed from us or is challenged.

That, too, say the skilled, is a binding knot: that in dependence on which you regard another as inferior. So a monk shouldn't be dependent on what's seen, heard, or sensed, or on precepts & practices; nor should he conjure a view in the world in connection with knowledge or precepts & practices; shouldn't take himself to be "equal"; shouldn't think himself inferior or superlative.

Abandoning what he had embraced, abandoning self, not clinging, he doesn't make himself dependent even in connection with knowledge; doesn't follow a faction among those who are split; doesn't fall back on any view whatsoever.

And so the Buddha tells that a monk should not become dependent on what is sensed, conjure a view in the world in connection with knowledge and compare himself or his interests against it.

The idea of comparing views and ideas against himself or his interests is continued in Sutta Nipata 4.9:

Whoever construes 'equal,' 'superior,' or 'inferior,' by that he'd dispute; whereas to one unaffected by these three, 'equal,' 'superior,' do not occur. Of what would the brahman say 'true' or 'false,' disputing with whom: he in whom 'equal,' 'unequal' are not.

From Sutta Nipata 4.13:

"Those who, dwelling on views, dispute, saying, 'Only this is true': do they all incur blame, or also earn praise there?"

"[The praise:] It's such a little thing, not at all appeasing. I speak of two fruits of dispute; and seeing this, you shouldn't dispute — seeing the state where there's no dispute as secure. One who knows doesn't get involved in whatever are commonplace conventional views. One who is uninvolved: when he's forming no preference for what's seen, for what's heard, why would he get involved?

Here, we see that one dwelling on views, saying "only this is true", is actually because he developed a preference to it. Preference indicates that he formed an association with himself i.e. he assumed his self to be a mental fabrication, that is related to his view, or aligned with his self-interests.

From MN 22:

"What do you think, monks: If a person were to gather or burn or do as he likes with the grass, twigs, branches & leaves here in Jeta's Grove, would the thought occur to you, 'It's us that this person is gathering, burning, or doing with as he likes'?"

"No, lord. Why is that? Because those things are not our self, nor do they belong to our self."

"Even so, monks, whatever isn't yours: Let go of it. Your letting go of it will be for your long-term welfare & happiness. And what isn't yours? Form isn't yours... Feeling isn't yours... Perception... Thought fabrications... Consciousness isn't yours: Let go of it. Your letting go of it will be for your long-term welfare & happiness.

If a view has nothing to do with ME, why would I suffer from it? If a person burns leaves in a garden, why would I suffer from it, if I did not feel like those leaves belonged to me some how?

So, we only suffer from thought fabrications, preconceived views and opinions, because we think they are our's, or because they support something that belongs to us, or is aligned to our self-interests. That they are associated with us. We have to let them go. We have to stop clinging to them. They are not associated with our self. That's the way to end suffering from them.

From MN 1:

“Here, bhikkhus, an untaught ordinary person, who has no regard for noble ones and is unskilled and undisciplined in their Dhamma, who has no regard for true men and is unskilled and undisciplined in their Dhamma, perceives earth as earth. Having perceived earth as earth, he conceives himself as earth, he conceives himself in earth, he conceives himself apart from earth, he conceives earth to be ‘mine,’ he delights in earth. Why is that? Because he has not fully understood it, I say.

“Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu who is an arahant with taints destroyed, who has lived the holy life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, reached his own goal, destroyed the fetters of being, and is completely liberated through final knowledge, he too directly knows earth as earth. Having directly known earth as earth, he does not conceive himself as earth, he does not conceive himself in earth, he does not conceive himself apart from earth, he does not conceive earth to be ‘mine,’ he does not delight in earth. Why is that? Because he has fully understood it, I say.

Here, earth is just an example. It can be any theme. Any theme is a mental fabrication. The sutta has many more such themes including unity and disunity, and things which are heard or seen or cognized. One should see the theme as-it-is. He should not form associations between his self and the theme.

In AN 10.96, Ananda knew this very well, when he said to another:

"'The cosmos is eternal. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless,' is a viewpoint. 'The cosmos is not eternal... The cosmos is finite... The cosmos is infinite... The soul & the body are the same... The soul is one thing and the body another... After death a Tathagata exists... After death a Tathagata does not exist... After death a Tathagata both does & does not exist... After death a Tathagata neither does nor does not exist. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless,' is a viewpoint. The extent to which there are viewpoints, view-stances, the taking up of views, obsessions of views, the cause of views, & the uprooting of views: that's what I know. That's what I see. Knowing that, I say 'I know.' Seeing that, I say 'I see.' Why should I say 'I don't know, I don't see'? I do know. I do see."

Ananda did take up any of those viewpoints. Instead he knows how one can become obsessed with them and how to remove those obsessions. He does not cling to those views. He does not associate his self with those views.


From Sutta Nipata 4.14:

"I ask the kinsman of the Sun, the great seer,
about seclusion & the state of peace.
Seeing in what way is a monk unbound,
clinging to nothing in the world?"
"He should put an entire stop
to the root of objectification-classifications (papañca):
'I am the thinker.'

Commentary (Thanissaro):
On objectification-classifications and their role in leading to conflict, see Sn 4.11 and the introduction to MN 18. The perception, "I am the thinker" lies at the root of these classifications in that it reads into the immediate present a set of distinctions — I/not-I; being/not-being; thinker/thought; identity/non-identity — that then can proliferate into mental and physical conflict. The conceit inherent in this perception thus forms a fetter on the mind. To become unbound, one must learn to examine these distinctions — which we all take for granted — to see that they are simply assumptions that are not inherent in experience, and that we would be better off to be able to drop them.

  • Yes there are suttas which associate doctrinal arguments (of the form "only this is true", especially those intended to "wound with weapons of the mouth") with "conceit" (which might include trying to make yourself look good by showing off a superior knowledge). And I agree with your examples of selfish views (self-identifying and becoming). Only, when you mention MN 22 your answer might imply that all fixed views are selfish self-views; I think in context MN 22 was talking about (specifically) views-of-self -- I'm not sure that's also true of right views, for example.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 19, 2018 at 10:41
  • @ChrisW Yes, you are right. Ditthinissaya refers to one of the wrong views from DN 1 according to this commentary. So I have removed that part of the answer.
    – ruben2020
    Aug 19, 2018 at 11:13
  • 3
    +1, very good analysis @ruben2020. And, of course, this is correct: all our clingings have something to do with our Self. However, in order to let go of such clinging, how can the teaching of anatta be helpful? Let's say you have a clinging to democrats and strong aversion to Trump. You suffer greatly every time you hear or think about politics. You know you should let go. How can the teaching about the five aggregates help letting go?
    – Andriy Volkov
    Aug 19, 2018 at 12:30
  • I was going to pipe in and object that 'general' Mahayana doesn't say that those ideas have nothing to do with the self. I was thinking about this a lot with Andrei's answer as well and concluded that no, a definite sense of self comes along with, "how dare they violate my preconceived notions of how the world ought to be!" But it seems the two of you got there faster :)
    – user13375
    Aug 20, 2018 at 18:15
  • Was going to add that of course Andrei's position still stands... that to see other objects as inherently existing in opposition to the non-true existence of the self is untenable. Why? Because you are seeing a dualistic separate and true existence that is other than you. And if you do that, the mind can't help but posit if the other is true and real, then what it is other to must also be true and real.
    – user13375
    Aug 20, 2018 at 18:18

I think I shouldn't pretend to be Theravada but the doctrine I know is mostly from the Pali suttas.

The Anatta-lakkhana Sutta says that if aggregates were self then they would be obedient, e.g.:

Bhikkhus, form is not-self. Were form self, then this form would not lead to affliction, and one could have it of form: 'Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.' And since form is not-self, so it leads to affliction, and none can have it of form: 'Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.

I think that implies two things:

  • You get used to what-you-perceive not being what-you-want-it-to-be, train yourself to beware of that mismatch, blame yourself when a craving for things to be other than as they are occurs, so perhaps become immune to it, maybe analgous to what Andrei might say about "suchness".

  • Any residual "aversion" that arises in a new situation can (IMO) be blamed on I-making and grasping, and perhaps dispelled with the view "that (other person) is not me and not mine".

    Doing this isn't other than anatta, IMO, though perhaps Mahayana might say "no, I'd call that (more generally) sunyata and not (very narrowly) anatta".

After you remove your own, personal prejudices or attachment, other (Theravada) doctrines remain:

  • Sila -- a lay-person's having a[ny] sexual orientation isn't necessarily wrong, sinful, or abnormal; though people rightly consider the third precept (which protects children, and prior established relationships), and the moral character of any specific person chosen as a partner (e.g. here)

  • The four brahmaviharas

  • Specific social duties -- e.g., for a parent, to protect and/or instruct

  • Just the four noble truths -- "I want my son to up grow to marry a princess!" -- with due respect that's kind of a childish fantasy, isn't it? A fantasy you might even reject yourself, a little nibidda? Instead you're doing well if he (or she) grows up to be good.

I suppose people's views on sexuality and gender are influenced by their social/family upbringing, and their personal experience (e.g. the people they've met); and that ...

somebody suffers from aversion when they see any person practising the gay lifestyle, because they have preconceived ideas about what is right or wrong about sexual orientation

... doesn't apply to me very strongly (so my upbringing on this topic may or may not be typical). I know that some people make doctrinal arguments for and against what I'd call sexism -- but I think that What is the attitude toward homosexuality in Buddhism? says the doctrine permits me a laissez-faire (or "live and let live") attitude towards other people's sex-lives (may they be safe from emnity), i.e.:

we can only assume that it is meant to be evaluated in the same way that heterosexuality is

  • Sexual orientation is just an example of a non-self-related preconceived notion. It could easily be something else like Brexit or communism or news of a natural disaster taking lives in a distant country.
    – ruben2020
    Aug 18, 2018 at 20:07
  • @ChrisW, oh? I thought you self-identified as Theravada... what should you pretend to be? :)
    – user13375
    Aug 18, 2018 at 20:11
  • @YesheTenley "Pretend", meaning like "pretender" -- i.e. claiming to be something that I'm not, or falsely representing that I am. I led with that here as a caveat, partly because of your comment about this topic being exclusively for people who "self-identify as", ...
    – ChrisW
    Aug 19, 2018 at 9:57
  • 1
    ... and partly because this comment distinguishes between the ("pragmatic") Pali Canon versus (the "speculative analysis and obsessive nitpicking" of) the Theravada as well as Mahayana schools; nevertheless I allow myself to post in topics tagged theravada.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 19, 2018 at 9:57
  • I see, you don't self-identify as a theravada adherent, but your practice involves Pali Canon as primary source. Many people equate Theravada and Pali Canon, but I do not.
    – user13375
    Aug 19, 2018 at 12:58

Take an uneducated ordinary person with a non-self-related preconceived notion. It's simply a thought. From MN1, we have delight in thought as one root of suffering.

They perceive the thought as the thought. But then they conceive the thought, they conceive regarding the thought, they conceive as the thought, they conceive that ‘the thought is mine’, they take pleasure in the thought.

Why is that?

Because they haven’t completely understood it, I say.

For those on the path, the cure is to relinquish the delight and directly know the thought as the thought.

But they don’t conceive the thought, they don’t conceive regarding the thought, they don’t conceive as the thought, they don’t conceive that ‘the thought is mine’, they don’t take pleasure in the thought.

If we have a thought "only good people are blue and I am blue", delight in that thought, attach to that thought, rejoicing in blue, then we suffer when we see red people. They are not blue. How bad.

With direct knowledge that "only good people are blue" is just a thought, we let go and happily welcome good red people, and good green people, etc.

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