Blessings to all,

I have had a difficult time trying to understand what it means by "non-self". I am certainly no expert in Buddhism but I was wondering if this life we have is just some subset of this ginormous pool of energy. Let me try to be more clear with an example. Suppose there is a big lake. If I drink a glass of water from this lake, now living inside of me, this water is still water and it would not be wise for anyone to say 'no that water is me'. This water one day leaves the body and goes back to some big pool of water ( which may contain some different type energy/ vibrations by being inside of me) and may enter into an animal/ human someday. So my question again is do I think of this life that I identify myself with is also some common source of energy or element like water? Is this what non-self is? We are all part of one big source of energy? I apologize if this is a bad example but I hope I made myself somewhat clear.


5 Answers 5


What you have described with your water analogy is Hinduism, and not Buddhism.

Buddhism does not teach that there is no self, or that there is non-self, but rather, that all phenomena is not-self (sabbe dhammā anattā).

A very apt analogy for this can be found in the Vina Sutta:

"Suppose there were a king or king's minister who had never heard the sound of a lute before. He might hear the sound of a lute and say, 'What, my good men, is that sound — so delightful, so tantalizing, so intoxicating, so ravishing, so enthralling?' They would say, 'That, sire, is called a lute, whose sound is so delightful, so tantalizing, so intoxicating, so ravishing, so enthralling.' Then he would say, 'Go & fetch me that lute.' They would fetch the lute and say, 'Here, sire, is the lute whose sound is so delightful, so tantalizing, so intoxicating, so ravishing, so enthralling.' He would say, 'Enough of your lute. Fetch me just the sound.' Then they would say, 'This lute, sire, is made of numerous components, a great many components. It's through the activity of numerous components that it sounds: that is, in dependence on the body, the skin, the neck, the frame, the strings, the bridge, and the appropriate human effort. Thus it is that this lute — made of numerous components, a great many components — sounds through the activity of numerous components.'

"Then the king would split the lute into ten pieces, a hundred pieces. Having split the lute into ten pieces, a hundred pieces, he would shave it to splinters. Having shaved it to splinters, he would burn it in a fire. Having burned it in a fire, he would reduce it to ashes. Having reduced it to ashes, he would winnow it before a high wind or let it be washed away by a swift-flowing stream. He would then say, 'A sorry thing, this lute — whatever a lute may be — by which people have been so thoroughly tricked & deceived.'

"In the same way, a monk investigates form, however far form may go. He investigates feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness, however far consciousness may go. As he is investigating form... feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness, however far consciousness may go, any thoughts of 'me' or 'mine' or 'I am' do not occur to him."

The lute (vina) is a stringed musical instrument similar to a cello, that you can play by plucking. From it comes music. The different parts of the lute are like the five aggregates (form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness). Music is like the self (which is basically a mental idea). One might think that the music is located somewhere in the lute or pervades the lute.

Using a musical instrument you can play nice music. But if you break it down to its constituent parts, you cannot find music. Music cannot be isolated from the musical instrument. Similarly, the self, is a thought in the mind that arises from the inter-working of the five aggregates. You cannot isolate the self from the five aggregates.

Perhaps, you can look at it in this way: The musical instrument is the sentient being. The music coming out of the musical instrument is the self. The musical instrument is composed of various parts which are analogous to the five aggregates. When these parts work together, they make music. The way they work together is dependent origination.

And that is a very nice and simple way to think about not-self (anatta).


Great example! The example gives you cover only the Rupa aggregate. Buddha said we take five aggregate as self. (five clinging-aggregate) If you substitute the word self with the word ignorance it is easy to understand this. Ignorance is the on create rebirth. Even Buddha had the body created by his past ignorance which will end only at Parinibbana. We can't say we do not have a self (ignorance) because we have the self-view. Self-view is ignorance. What Buddha saying is taking dependently originated phenomena as I, me, and myself as ignorance.


This is one of the most difficult concepts if not the most difficult concept to understand. I am absolutely sure that %99.99 Buddhists don’t understand this. If you completely toppled the question without any doubt, you will have become Sothapanna ( stream entered). I will try to explain it.

Basically, we all have a thought that we are eternal beings ( or I am someone /a person / soul) which lies deep within ourselves. This is why we mainly feel “me”,”myself”.

Background info- As you may already know, according to Buddhism the life keeps rolling from one life to another from that to anther so on. For now you have to assume that this is a fact until you discover it through Jhana. Your intentions Keep fueling this never ending cycles as long as it takes. You know that the fate or karma/ kamma is created as a results of these intentions. However, intention is not the only ingredient to make this happen. “Thanha” (loosely translated craving / thirst) is plying a major role in making karma. This kamma is the breeding ground for the life.

Now, Buddha said everything I explained above is happening due to one single reason. That is feeling “me” “Myself” or feeling the “soul”. He has cracked opened this “soul” thing and found that we all everyone feels the “soul” due to our consciousness (which is made from sensing and recognition)constantly checking and confirming 5 parts of “self”. As an Analogy , you recognize a car as a “car” by rapidly moving your perception through wheels,body,windscreen,hood and etc. If you look at it independently, there is no car.

Similarly, you feel that there is someone but in fact you are a collection of cells, bones and etc. plus feelings, perceptions concepts and consciousness (sense+recognition).

Basically, in other words there is no difference between a robot and a sentient being. Only difference is how it functions and complexity. The knowledge to uncover this truth, method and further information is hidden within the Buddhism.

The only way to reach this reality is through Jhana meditation. The 8 fold path describes most required practice methods. I hope you have some idea about this non-self now.


The self concerns itself with small issues. Suppose the rain does not fall. Suppose that big lake shrinks. Suppose that big lake shrinks to just a cup of water between two thirsty people. At such times we often hear "MINE!" And in such harsh times, where did that "big lake of non-self" go? Why does "MINE!" keep getting reborn in life after life?

So even with a big lake and no thirsty people, there is still the underlying tendency to identity view, to self:

MN64:3.4: Yet the underlying tendency to identity view still lies within them.

It takes great strength and diligent practice to uproot that underlying tendency and realize non-self:

MN64:8.10: Then along comes a strong person, who thinks: ‘By swimming with my arms I’ll safely cross over to the far shore of the Ganges.’ And they are able to do so. In the same way, when the Dhamma is being taught for the cessation of identity view, someone whose mind is eager, confident, settled, and decided should be regarded as being like that strong person.

So although as infants we may not have a view of identity, a view of "mine", the underlying tendency to identify view must be uprooted, cast away, and relinquished.

MN64:3.3: For a little baby doesn’t even have a concept of ‘identity’, so how could identity view possibly arise in them? Yet the underlying tendency to identity view still lies within them.

Buddhist monks do not say, "mine." They offer gratitude for what is given. That is non-self.


I apologize if this is a bad example but I hope I made myself somewhat clear.

Interesting analogy but it does raise some valid point. If you look at some simple single-cell organism under the microscope, the material inside its cell wall versus what's outside are pretty similar, which's composed mostly of water. But since that "stuff" is inside the cell wall, we temporarily label the entity as a single-cell organism. Similarly, what seperates the material we consider to be our "self" is only separated from the external material by a thin layer of skin. There's not that much different between what's inside versus outside, the whole body mass is about 80% water, the rest of those seemingly solid stuff, when drilling down to the atomic level, turns out to be mostly empty space! So what distinguishes the difference between "you" and "me" is really and literally barely skin-deep. Hence no basis for any real "self".

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