Why did the Buddha advise lay people and monks to think, "I am the owner of my kamma, the heir of my kamma; I have kamma as my origin, kamma as my relative, kamma as my resort; I will be the heir of whatever kamma, good or bad, that I do" when this seems to contradict anatta?

Isn't thinking "I am X" contradicting the teaching of anatta?

There are suttas where the Buddha advised not to associate the five aggregates with the self e.g. SN 22.93. Aren't these two teachings contradictory? Isn't "owner of kamma, heir of kamma" a mental fabrication (sankhara) that we shouldn't associate our self with?

Why didn't the Buddha advise lay people and monks to think, "there's no self in this body and mind doing anything"? What's the consequence of this view?

From AN 5.57:

“And for the sake of what benefit should a woman or a man, a householder or one gone forth, often reflect thus: ‘I am the owner of my kamma, the heir of my kamma; I have kamma as my origin, kamma as my relative, kamma as my resort; I will be the heir of whatever kamma, good or bad, that I do’? People engage in misconduct by body, speech, and mind. But when one often reflects upon this theme, such misconduct is either completely abandoned or diminished.

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    appears contradictory to me too. – Dheeraj Verma Aug 27 '18 at 2:25
  • Anatta = 'Not-Selt', Anatta != 'No-Self', – user13135 Aug 27 '18 at 4:33
  • Yes. So "owner of kamma, heir of kamma" is not self, isn't it? – ruben2020 Aug 27 '18 at 4:43
  • You can see how the word “anatta” got translated incorrectly as “no-self”by carefully examining the different usages of the word “atta“. There is “atta” which is different from “attā” (with a “long a at the end). Anatta is the opposite of “atta” not of “attā“. Anātma (which is a Sanskrit word not used by the Buddha and could be translated as “no-self”), has been misinterpreted as anatta. – Saptha Visuddhi Aug 27 '18 at 11:38

This is how you practice equanimity (upekkha). It's the one of the four divine abodes. Just like in Metta(loving-kindness) meditation where you say "may I/my parents/relatives/friends be happy, well, free from suffering etc.", Upekkha meditation is also practiced at a conceptual level.

The purpose of Upekkha meditation is to cultivate equanimity in the mind. It does not lead to realization of Anatta nor enlightenment unless you turn it into Vipassana at some point.

Anatta is at the level of ultimate reality. That is for advanced practitioners of Buddhism. Trying to teach Anatta to everyone regardless of their mental maturity will not be productive as many will endup being more confused than they already are. That's why there are teachings in Buddhism that help you develop the mind at a conceptual level where you are familiar and comfortable. It is important not to mix up these teachings with the teachings of ultimate reality.

  • What is 'Vipassana' to you? I can say without any doubt that such kind of “vipassana” as practiced by almost everyone of you cannot lead to Nibbana. – Saptha Visuddhi Aug 27 '18 at 11:53
  • @SapthaVisuddhi who are you referring to when you say "almost everyone of you"? I wouldn't make such gross generalizations. :) – Sankha Kulathantille Aug 27 '18 at 13:13
  • Please do not take it in a personal way Sankha. I said it in the light of "Nakhasikha Sutta: The Tip of the Fingernail" (SN 13.1). If you and I have got things right, we must be very much in this Noble Eightfold Path. Once in this Path, one knows exactly where one is (eg. a non-returner or not). We are nowhere close to any of the stages b'cos we have got things very wrong. – Saptha Visuddhi Aug 27 '18 at 13:36
  • No I didnt take it personally. Just pointing out that gross generalizations are usually inacurate – Sankha Kulathantille Aug 27 '18 at 17:21

On one hand I feel it is a way to make it easier to be represented and understood by laypeople or beginners.

On the other hand, the concept of Anatta can be interpreted as "no permanent nature of self". This concept needs to be fully understood as part of reaching enlightenment, but at the same time, this doesn't contradict to an individual being an owner of respective Kamma, if Kamma was created.


Because we unenlightened worldlings act, say, and think anything and everything in terms of "I", "mine", and "myself" anyway; regardless of whether He teaches AN 5.57 or not. So He might as well teach and speak in the language that we worldlings can parse while still not attaining enlightenment just yet. And just for kicks, imagine if AN 5.57 said the opposite, how the worldlings would interpret, and the potential consequences? "a householder or one gone forth, often refelct thus: 'I am NOT the owner of my kamma, NOT the heir of my kamma; NOT kamma as my orgin, etc." Now, SN 22.93 is different in that its' strictly for monks, there's no "householders", nor "any man or woman" mentioned like in AN 5.57. Another important point worth noticing is that the 2 statements of the 2 suttas are not contradicting each other: "I am the owner of my kamma" vs. "The Five Aggregates are not the self". It's only contradicting if one automatically equates the "I" in AN 5.57 to be the same as the "self".

  • Are you saying that SN 22.93 is not applicable to lay people? – ruben2020 Aug 27 '18 at 2:53
  • Not necessary, because there'll always be lay folks who're way more advanced than monks. But the overrall message should be clear and you know that. – santa100 Aug 27 '18 at 3:14

It is atta-anuditthi as well for the ordinary people.

But for the noble one it is anatta-anuditthi.

Because it depends on their understood of atta/anatta. It is not depends on words "my/mine/me/I". therefore, in tipitaka, Buddha and the other noble ones still say those words after enlightened.


As you yourself have said many times Ruben anatta does not mean no self exists. The self exists and so does karma. There is no contradiction whatsoever with anatta or shunyata. Moreover, it is silly to think the Buddha said we should not believe that we exist or the self does not exist.

The problem, as always, is when we say the self exists or karma exists we fall to the extreme of inherent existence. And when we hear anatta we think, “Oh, the Buddha said we don’t inherently exist so we must not exist at all!” Why? Because we have been fooled by our own ignorance since beginningless time thinking that the options are inherent existence or nihilism.

There is no problem or contradiction with “I am the owner of my karma” as long as we don’t fall to the extremes. Of course, since we are lowly sentient beings we inevitably do.

So what is the truth? As Shantideva said it is like an illusory being owning illusory karma.

See the third example in this question: Looking for mentions of karma related to actions taken while dreaming

I think the questions are closely related.

  • I put that in another question, but maybe it's better placed here: youtube.com/watch?v=rbbz6D75ZTU A video describing the Theravada view of mine, me, myself; explaining the no-self. – Medhiṇī Sep 10 '18 at 10:40
  • Hi @Medhini, I'm watching. About half way through. Thanks! – Yeshe Tenley Sep 10 '18 at 15:12
  • Hi @Medhiṇī, just finished. Thank you very much for sharing it :) – Yeshe Tenley Sep 10 '18 at 16:42

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