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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. Aug 27 '18 at 2:25
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    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. Aug 27 '18 at 11:38
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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.

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  • 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. 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. :) 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. Aug 27 '18 at 13:36
  • No I didnt take it personally. Just pointing out that gross generalizations are usually inacurate Aug 27 '18 at 17:21
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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.

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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.

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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".

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  • Are you saying that SN 22.93 is not applicable to lay people?
    – ruben2020
    Aug 27 '18 at 2:53
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    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
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Let's see what the Buddha has to say :

Now at that moment this line of thinking appeared in the awareness of a certain monk: "So — form is not-self, feeling is not-self, perception is not-self, fabrications are not-self, consciousness is not-self. Then what self will be touched by the actions done by what is not-self?"

Then the Blessed One, realizing with his awareness the line of thinking in that monk's awareness, addressed the monks: "It's possible that a senseless person — immersed in ignorance, overcome with craving — might think that he could outsmart the Teacher's message in this way: 'So — form is not-self, feeling is not-self, perception is not-self, fabrications are not-self, consciousness is not-self. Then what self will be touched by the actions done by what is not-self?' Now, monks, haven't I trained you in counter-questioning with regard to this & that topic here & there? What do you think — Is form constant or inconstant?" "Inconstant, lord." "And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?" "Stressful, lord." "And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: 'This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am'?" "No, lord."

"... Is feeling constant or inconstant?" "Inconstant, lord"...

"... Is perception constant or inconstant?" "Inconstant, lord"...

"... Are fabrications constant or inconstant?" "Inconstant, lord"...

"What do you think, monks — Is consciousness constant or inconstant?" "Inconstant, lord." "And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?" "Stressful, lord." "And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: 'This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am'?" "No, lord."

"Thus, monks, any form whatsoever that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: Every form is to be seen with right discernment as it has come to be: 'This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.'

"Any feeling whatsoever...

"Any perception whatsoever...

"Any fabrications whatsoever...

"Any consciousness whatsoever that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: Every consciousness is to be seen with right discernment as it has come to be: 'This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.'

"Seeing thus, the instructed disciple of the noble ones grows disenchanted with form, disenchanted with feeling, disenchanted with perception, disenchanted with fabrications, disenchanted with consciousness. Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion, he is released. With release, there is the knowledge, 'Released.' He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'"

That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, the monks delighted in the Blessed One's words. And while this explanation was being given, the minds of sixty monks, through lack of clinging, were fully released from fermentations. - MN 109

Also, the predicament faced by Ven. Channa is quite similar to what several of us feel, hence Ven. Ananda gives him some advice :

Then the thought occurred to Ven. Channa, "I, too, think that form is inconstant, feeling is inconstant, perception is inconstant, fabrications are inconstant, consciousness is inconstant; form is not-self, feeling is not-self, perception is not-self, fabrications are not-self, consciousness is not-self; all fabrications are inconstant; all phenomena are not-self. But still my mind does not leap up, grow confident, steadfast, & released in the resolution of all fabrications, the relinquishing of all acquisitions, the ending of craving, dispassion, cessation, Unbinding. Instead, agitation & clinging arise, and my intellect pulls back, thinking, 'But who, then, is my self?' But this thought doesn't occur to one who sees the Dhamma. So who might teach me the Dhamma so that I might see the Dhamma?"

Then the thought occurred to Ven. Channa, "This Ven. Ananda is staying at Kosambi in Ghosita's Park. He has been praised by the Teacher and is esteemed by his knowledgeable fellows in the holy life. He is capable of teaching me the Dhamma so that I might see the Dhamma, and I have sudden trust in him. Why don't I go to Ven. Ananda?"

So, setting his lodgings in order and carrying his robes & bowl, Ven. Channa went to Kosambi to where Ven. Ananda was staying in Ghosita's Park. On arrival, he exchanged courteous greetings with the Ven. Ananda. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he [told Ven. Ananda what had happened and added], "May Ven. Ananda exhort me, may Ven. Ananda teach me, may Ven. Ananda give me a Dhamma talk so that I might see the Dhamma."

"Even this much makes me feel gratified & satisfied with Ven. Channa, that he opens up & breaks down his stubbornness. So lend ear, friend Channa. You are capable of understanding the Dhamma."

Then a sudden great rapture & joy welled up in Ven. Channa at the thought, "So I am capable of understanding the Dhamma!"

"Face-to-face with the Blessed One have I heard this, friend Channa. Face-to-face with him have I learned the exhortation he gave to the bhikkhu Kaccayanagotta:[2] 'By & large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by[3] a polarity, that of existence & non-existence. But when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, "non-existence" with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, "existence" with reference to the world does not occur to one.

"'By & large, Kaccayana, this world is in bondage to attachments, clingings (sustenances), & biases. But one such as this does not get involved with or cling to these attachments, clingings, fixations of awareness, biases, or obsessions; nor is he resolved on "my self." He has no uncertainty or doubt that, when there is arising, only stress is arising; and that when there is passing away, stress is passing away. In this, one's knowledge is independent of others. It is to this extent, Kaccayana, that there is right view.

"'"Everything exists": That is one extreme. "Everything doesn't exist": That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle: From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications. From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness. From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form. From name-&-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media. From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.

"'Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications. From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness. From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form. From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering.'

"That's how it is, friend Ananda, for those who have friends in the holy life like Ven. Ananda — sympathetic, helpful, exhorting, & teaching. Just now, for me, listening to Ven. Ananda's Dhamma-teaching, has the Dhamma been penetrated."

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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?

MN 117 says there are two types of teachings, where kamma is a mundane teaching and the noble eightfold path, per AN 6.63, is a supramundane teaching that ends kamma

so the reflection on 'heir to kamma' is mundane however is also useful for all non-arahants to remind themselves of kamma because all non-arahants can have lapses in mindfulness that can result in doing unpeaceful kamma, such as scolding puthujjana

when a noble non-arahant uses the kamma reflection and is mindful of not-self, the "I" in the kamma reflection is merely a convention. however it remains effective to remind them to maintain good kamma

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  • what exactly is meant by a convention? ideas are objects of conceptuality whereas the existing i arises with the aggregates specifically the bhavanga, is the object of nonconceptual awareness, and is the basis for ascertaining the absence of self.
    – bw tho
    Jul 8 at 18:14
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OP: "Isn't thinking "I am X" contradicting the teaching of anatta?"

No! The Buddha used such words many times. He spoke the words 'I' and 'mine' many times and would say to Ananda, "Let's go such and such for a pleasant days abiding." The Buddha was not at all at fault for this speech and it did not contradict anatta. The contradiction only arrives if you misunderstand anatta.

While he was staying by himself, the Buddha thought, “When I was previously surrounded by people, I was not at ease because of those monks at Kosambī who were quarreling, arguing, and creating legal issues in the Sangha. But now that I’m alone, without a companion, I’m happy and at ease because I’m apart from those monks at Kosambī.”

pli-tv-kd10

The above was taken from the Theravada Vinyaya so it is directed at monks and nuns.


OP: "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?"

No! They are not contradictory. They are skillful and the truth. You are the owner of your karma and you are the heir of your karma. Saying otherwise would be unskillful and false. The Buddha was neither. Understanding anatta to mean that people don't exist or that karma doesn't exist is to misapprehend the Buddha's teachings to disastrous effect and can lead to hellish rebirths. Best to fix those misapprehensions now while you have a good human intellect :)

What you shouldn't think is that you (or anyone else or anything for that matter) are a real and genuine fact. Alas, that is what we've been doing since beginningless time so don't be too hard on yourself for continuing to do it. We're stubborn creatures who don't give up bad habits easily. Emphatically though, not being a real and genuine fact DOES NOT MEAN not existing like the son of a barren woman.

As you yourself have said many times anatta does not mean no self exists like the son of a barren woman. The self exists and so does karma. There is no contradiction whatsoever with anatta or shunyata.

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.

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  • 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.
    – user13579
    Sep 10 '18 at 10:40
  • Hi @Medhini, I'm watching. About half way through. Thanks! Sep 10 '18 at 15:12
  • Hi @Medhiṇī, just finished. Thank you very much for sharing it :) Sep 10 '18 at 16:42

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