What does Buddha say about the question,"Who am I"? Our body and mind perishes with time. If so then who actually attains the Truth?

  • It it interesting that you say, "OUR body and mind". So the answer to your question is: "WE do".
    – user2341
    Jan 7 '15 at 13:03
  • This question is similar (although maybe not so similar as to need closing) to buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/1891/…
    – tkp
    Jan 7 '15 at 15:28

10 Answers 10


Buddhism says there is no core which is unchanging and nor an entity with absolute control over anything we call me or mine. Also, the practice is somewhat geared towards eliminating the notion of a permanent controlling self-identity view as this gives you a yard stick to measure yourself against others, which causes misery. So in conventional wisdom, it is you who attains the truth, although the notion of self will eventually be abandoned.


He sort of refuses to answer that question.

The Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta is an example of a Sutta in which he refuses to answer.

Your question is a variant of what's given in Wikipedia as The unanswered questions.

There are other questions on this site about why these questions are unanswered:

Views or beliefs about the self are called "identity views". Buddhism suggests that on the path towards enlightenment we need to "eradicate" identity views. I asked about what that means in this question: What are examples of identity-view? the answers to which seem relevant to your questions.

There are other articles here on that subject:

  • If Buddhism teaches non-self (anatta), then who meditates?

    But that thought is a bit like the idea primitive man may have felt, looking at nature. The wind blows, the leaves rustle, the rain falls. There must be “someone” making this all happen! And so they imagined a god or gods who were doing these things.

  • The difficulty of getting our heads around “non-self”

    The Buddha didn’t actually teach that there is no self. I, and other teachers, often say that there’s no self, but this is just shorthand for saying that the kind of self you think you have doesn’t exist. The self you don’t have — the illusory self — is usually thought of as a unitary entity that sits inside you, pulling all your disparate experiences and actions into a single whole. It’s also in charge. And it’s conscious. You don’t have this kind of self — or in short-hand, you don’t have a self. Therefore you don’t have a self to lose, and those problems of “how to live without a self” don’t arise. You already don’t have a self, and you already do just fine. What you do have is an illusion of having a self, and that illusion makes you do less fine than if you got rid of it. The trouble is that once you believe you have a self, and you recognize that your self isn’t happy a lot of the time, you have to start wondering what kind of self you have. It’s obviously lacking! Maybe it’s broken! Maybe it’s not as good as other people’s selves! The illusory self becomes a real burden and gets in the way of our being happy.


This is a tricky question, as the Sutras appear to contradict on this, and there are several interpretations. My take on this is that Buddhism doesn't tell us who we are, but rather tells us one of the following...

  1. Who we are not.
  2. Not to cling to specific conceptions of who we are.
  3. Not to cling to any conceptions of who we are.

(1) Simply denies that we are independently existing permanent entities. Some have translated this as "soul" but I disagree with this translation. Rather, I think a better one is that sense that "you" are somewhere inside your body, directing your mind and body, pulling the strings, independent of all that goes on around you.

(2) Is similar to (1), but rather than deny it, it simply says not to cling to this conception. This is neither an assertion nor a denial.

(3) Is similar to (2) but it admonishes against clinging to any conception of who we are. This is particularly important, because one could develop a self-conception that may appear congruent with Buddhism (I'm one with everything, I'm a good Buddhist, I'm enlightened, I'm the thing that will gain the future benefits from this Buddhist practice, etc...).

So which is it? I don't think there's a good answer, and I'm not even sure it matters.

If the issue with our pain is NOT who we are, but who we are NOT, then the problem becomes one of dissolving this "wrong view"; one need not install a "right view" in its place. If so, any of the above could work.

In fact, if you take the problem of the self as being the boundaries we draw, and the conflicts that arise at those boundaries, then the solution becomes dissolving those boundaries, and any of the above can do that. Even an interpretation of the self as identical with everything would do this (although whether it's taught in Buddhism may be debatable).

Having said that, my favored interpretation is (3). In fact, I regard (3) as a specific instance of a much more general principle -- not to cling to anything. This in turn could be seen as one interpretation of "emptiness" (we cling to illusory essences underlying phenomena, or clinging itself has this essence-view as its substrate). Now, since the self is the root of most of our problems, it deserves special attention, and exclusive attention on it may be enough. This in turn is part of a general framework for understanding Buddhism as a way to live rather than assertions to be believed.

So who attains The Truth? That question should be dropped, for to ask it may reinforce the self-conception that Buddhism tries to undermine. Simply live Buddhism, stop asking such questions and see how you fare :)


'Our' body & mind does not perish with time. Instead, the body & mind perish with time. To quote:

Then, friend Yamaka, how would you answer if you are thus asked: A monk, a worthy one, with no more mental effluents: what is he on the break-up of the body, after death?

Thus asked, I would answer, 'Form is impermanent... Feeling... Perception... Fabrications... Consciousness is impermanent. That which is impermanent is unsatisfactory. That which is unsatisfactory has ceased and gone to its end.'

Very good, my friend Yamaka.

SN 22.85

It is the mind (citta) that attains the truth & is liberated.

That is why liberation in Buddhism is called 'ceto-vimutti' or 'citta-vimutti' ('liberation of mind') rather than 'atta-vimutti' (liberation of self).

That is why meditation is called 'citta-bhāvanaṃ' (development of mind) rather than 'atta-bhāvanaṃ' (development of self).

akuppā cetovimutti, etadatthamidaṃ brāhmaṇa brahmacariyaṃ, etaṃ sāraṃ, etaṃ pariyosānanti

The unshakable freedom of mind: That is the purpose of this holy life, that is its heartwood, that is its final culmination.

MN 30


Visaṅkhāragataṃ cittaṃ taṇhānaṃ khayamajjhagā

The mind has reached the Unconditioned; attained the destruction of craving.

Dhp XI

The question of "who" is explained in the Phagguna Sutta, about how the body, mind, sense experience, feelings, craving & clinging are not a "who"; about how the idea or sense of "who" arises later at 'becoming'.

"Who, O Lord, has a sense-impression?"

"The question is not correct," said the Exalted One. "I do not say that 'he has a sense-impression'...the correct way to ask the question will be 'What is the condition of sense-impression?' And to that the correct reply is: 'The sixfold sense-base is a condition of sense-impression, and sense-impression is the condition of feeling.'"

"Who, O Lord, feels?"

"The question is not correct," said the Exalted One. "I do not say that 'he feels.'...the correct way to ask the question will be 'What is the condition of feeling?' And to that the correct reply is: 'sense-impression is the condition of feeling; and feeling is the condition of craving.'"

"Who, O Lord, craves?"

"The question is not correct," said the Exalted One. "I do not say that 'he craves.'...the correct way to ask the question will be 'What is the condition of craving?' And to that the correct reply is: 'Feeling is the condition of craving, and craving is the condition of clinging.'"

"Who, O Lord, clings?"

"The question is not correct," said the Exalted One, "I do not say that 'he clings.'...the correct way to ask the question will be 'What is the condition of clinging?' And to that the correct reply is: 'Craving is the condition of clinging; and clinging is the condition of the process of becoming.' Such is the origin of this entire mass of suffering


You are Buddha!

This is what Siddhartha teaches. "That to which I have attained, you may also attain"

You may not realise it, in which case you need to wake up. And Siddhartha has left behind a set of teachings to help.

Your perception may be clouded by a sense of self. Siddhartha was faced with this obstacle, and created a science to transcend this illusion.

Buddhism at its core (if you care to examine the teachings of Siddhartha) is a science, not a religion. A science of the inner. A religion has formed around it, but the core is scientific.


Who indeed. Maybe there are not truth to be attained. Maybe you already have the truth. Then again who are you?

The concept of self is a very interesting topic in Buddhism. Lot of issues come with the lack of works to properly translate the original Sanskrit words in the sutras.

Personally from my understanding, Buddha teaches that self is empty. Empty in the sense that its a concept, a view of ourselves much like your reflection in the mirror. It changes, it goes away. Thus empty.

Buddha then says that this emptiness is not different from form as we know it, as form too are just concepts.

An example I always like to draw from is a phone. Start picking apart your phone, till what extend does it stop being a phone? In the same train of thoughts, if you start removing parts of yourself, when do you stop being you? When you split yourself, which part stop being you, or are both parts still you?


There is no "who" that attains the truth, there is simply the attainment of the truth.


This question "who am i?" is a koan. Koans are devices meant for you to attain Truth not actually have an answer to...

I hope you don't put your faith in any solid answer (and lose probably the best koan that exists) because the real answer to this koan is beyond words... this is why the Buddha does a great job by always answering this question negatively, saying we are not ____ (e.g. form, sensation, conception, volition, consciousness) but never that we are ____. This is the classical vedantic negation (neti neti) that all true sages do to their students to encourage them to turn back their consciousness and answer the question "who am i" with their true inner eye.

It's a great meditative practice to ask yourself "who am I"... totally gets you away from sensory perception and is a great route to samadhi and awakening. The most direct, Zen question that exists.


Impossible is to answer your question.

The answer must be experienced.

And what is it that which is experienced?

There is neither I nor no I.

So, who am I?

The answer must be experienced.


None of the above posts answer the original question! Perhaps the question cannot be answered. Through meditation emptiness may be experienced but not explained. There was a time when scientists believed the vacuum of space was empty. Now we know that it is far from empty. Full of "Dark energy", " Dark matter", photons of light gravity, ect. The emptiness experienced during meditation isn't empty either. It is full of is ness, and am ness. Void of all else.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.