What does the word 'dhamma' mean when the Buddha said 'sabbe dhamma annatta'.

I am being confused here. I looked through the translation. It reads 'all conditioned/unconditioned things are not-self'.

Isn't the word sankara used for conditioned things.

The word dhamma in my native language literally means 'religion'. Also I checked Wikipedia for the word dhamma. The Wiki gives similar meaning as 'religion' in context of Hinduism but not clear on Buddhist use of the word.

My question is whats translation of word 'dhamma' and in what context is it used in line 'sabbe dhamma annatta'?

  • 2
    Here there's an insightful discussion about the meaning of 'dhamma' in the context of "sabbe dhamma anatta'. Kind regards! Aug 10, 2020 at 18:55
  • For those (like me) who need to look these things up, this is from the Dhammapada, XX, 277-9 Aug 11, 2020 at 19:19

4 Answers 4


Dhamma encompasses sankhara[created] but it also encompases the cessation principle which is not included in sankhara as it is asankhata [not-created].

Both formerly & now, it is only stress that I describe, and the cessation of stress."sn22.86

There are these famous lines;

 Sabbe sankhara anicca
 Sabbe sankhara dukkha
 Sabbe dhamma anatta


 All formations are impermanent
 All formations are suffering
 All Dhamma [teachings] are not-self

Then reconciled with;

Both formerly & now, it is only stress that I describe, and the cessation of stress."

It makes sense because;

  1. Stress is part of the teaching [things that are taught]
  2. Cessation of stress is part of the teaching [things that are taught]

The semantic referent of #2 is the unconditioned; is neither impermanent[anicca] nor suffering[dukkha]; but it is likewise not-self[anatta].


Like sankhara, the term dhamma is very broad and means different things per different context. In the broadest sense, sankhara is a subset of dhamma, for dhamma includes not only conditioned phenomena/sankhara, but also unconditioned element/ASankhataDhatu, ie. Nibbana. See the Pali defitions for Dhamma and Sankhara further details.


In the context of your description:

  • sankhara means conditioned things / phenomena.
  • dhamma means all things / phenomena i.e. both conditioned and unconditioned things / phenomena

What is unconditioned? Only Nibbana - it is that which is experienced by the mind, when it is completely free of all fetters and defilements.

What is conditioned? Everything else, including mental and physical phenomena / things.

"sabbe sankhara dukkha" means "all conditioned things/ phenomena are suffering / unsatisfactoriness". This does not include Nibbana.

"sabbe sankhara anicca" means "all conditioned things/ phenomena are impermanent". This does not include Nibbana.

"sabbe dhamma anatta" means "all things/ phenomena are not self". This includes Nibbana.

From AccessToInsight's Glossary of Pali and Buddhist Terms:

dhamma [Skt. dharma]:
(1) Event; a phenomenon in and of itself; (2) mental quality; (3) doctrine, teaching; (4) nibbāna. Also, principles of behavior that human beings ought to follow so as to fit in with the right natural order of things; qualities of mind they should develop so as to realize the inherent quality of the mind in and of itself. By extension, "Dhamma" (usu. capitalized) is used also to denote any doctrine that teaches such things. Thus the Dhamma of the Buddha denotes both his teachings and the direct experience of nibbāna, the quality at which those teachings are aimed.

Formation, compound, fashioning, fabrication — the forces and factors that fashion things (physical or mental), the process of fashioning, and the fashioned things that result. Saṅkhāra can refer to anything formed or fashioned by conditions, or, more specifically, (as one of the five khandhas) thought-formations within the mind.

Please see this answer for details.


Sabbe Dhamma Anatta is difficult to understand.... Here is my understanding.Dhamma roughly translates to religion. More precisely all teachings about what is. Is there a God ? Is there a suffering ? Are there emotions ? Are there forms ? Are there choices ? Is there consciousness ? Is there Universe ?Whatever there is can not be said to be me , mine or myself ... That is the meaning of Sabbe Dhamma Anatta ...

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