Having attempted to understand the actualization of Anatta, i am at a complete loss. The more i endeavor to understand the meaning, the more confusing it seems.

I have read;

  1. What is the best translation of Anatta into English?
  2. What is the precise meaning of anatta?
  3. No-self Not self

My understanding to date is that it not-self is to detach from the 5 aggregates. So to use an example. If i express anger or sadness, i should look to detach or disassociate myself from such emotions. This may be through meditation or mindfulness.

  1. Is my understanding correct? If incorrect, please use lay person examples that will allow me to relate or understand.
  2. Are meditation and mindfulness the only methods of actualization?

5 Answers 5


i express anger or sadness, i should look to detach or disassociate myself from such emotions.

Not! Stop hypothesizing and simply observe the events/experience at their unsullied form. When you say "I express anger", it's already sullied. You have assumed the existence of an 'I'. Anger is anger. So simply notice it as anger. Not 'I'! Same with sadness and other emotions. Don't look to do anything with them. Just observe and see if they qualify as an 'I' or 'self'.

Are meditation and mindfulness the only methods of actualization?

There's no actualization required. Anatta is already actual. It's similar to saying "how do I make the world round?". It's already round, you just need to realize it. Satipattana meditation is the only way to purify the mind. Buddha called it the "Ekayano Maggo".The one and only way.

  • 1
    Thanks although i don't quite get it so forgive my naivety. In the moment be it anger, sadness, etc, how do you simply become the observer and not the actor? i.e. to observe the emotion rather than play it out. Secondly. What do you mean anatta is actual? Can you give me examples?
    – Motivated
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 17:29
  • Anger is anger and the observing of it is just observing. If you think observing is 'I', note the observing to see if it qualifies as an 'I'. Everything you see, hear, taste, smell, feel, think is Anatta. Pick one as an example! :) Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 17:33
  • 1
    Thanks. If everything is simply an observation, how can there be happiness? Is that not simply happiness and the association with the I?
    – Motivated
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 17:38
  • Everything is not observation. Observation is awareness. There are 4 more aggregates. Happiness is another emotion like anger. Just note it as happy. Don't sully it by assuming an 'I'. Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 17:41
  • Sorry i am confused. What is everything? Be it emotion, physical pain, mental models, the senses?
    – Motivated
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 17:45

"Having attempted to understand the actualization of Anatta, i am at a complete loss. The more i endeavor to understand the meaning, the more confusing it seems."

It is a tough characteristic to grapple :). I would urge you to read Mr. Piya Tan's translation and notes on the Buddha's Anatta-lakkhana Sutta (and all his other works). The link is below.


The full sutta with the repetitions is also useful as a daily guided meditation or daily subject of contemplation. If one routinely contemplates on this earnestly, it will help one realize that the five clinging aggregates cannot be considered as 'mine, I, myself.'

It is also essential to have a good understanding of five aggregates.

As you routinely contemplate thus, sharpen your understanding, there will eventually come a time when the old views of considering these five false friends to be mine, I, myself will disappear. It will be a profound moment.

Test the five aggregates as one would test a stone you are told is a diamond is truly a diamond. Subject it to various lights, look deep into it.

Now the breaking from the wrong views will help in the reduction of anger and sorrow. However, the complete cessation of anger and sorrow will take time. Most of such responses are habitual, reflexive. This is where having developed mindful awareness is beneficial, and the advice of experienced teachers like Ven Yuttadhammo are invaluable.

I find often contemplating the drawbacks of anger useful.

Sorrow often arises when we don't meet expectations, or if our expectations are dashed. I heard of a once promising cricketer who broke his arm and could never play properly again. He took to alcoholism since the view he had of himself, a national cricketer, could not be achieved. He constantly moped about it. Later, with the help of a friend he started regularly contemplating on the anatta nature of the body (rupa) and mental formations (mano sankhara), and was able to overcame his sorrow of not meeting expectation which are mental formations created by a 'mind apparatus' which was not created by I, mine of myself :)

  • Thanks however attempting to read literature that i have very little understanding makes it more complex to understand. I am attempting to understand these through basic examples that i can relate which will then allow me to progress further in my understanding.
    – Motivated
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 6:31
  • Then may I suggest reading the translation of the Anatta lakkhana Sutta available from the link below. Its very simple and straight forward to read and perhaps even understand. accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.059.nymo.html Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 11:36

I don't think we need to find ways to actualize Anatta. Rather, through contemplation on the teachings, mindfulness and insight meditation, we should eventually gain deep insight into the fact that the Three Marks of Existence are true.

With regards to insight meditation (vipassana), rather than detaching or disassociating oneself from one's emotions, my view is that we should passively observe how they arise and pass, in order to get a better understanding of how these work.

Actualizing anatta and detaching from emotions sound very active and forceful.

Mindfulness is for calming the mind so that it becomes steady, calm and concentrated, which in turn can help vipassana.

By the way, the level of my practice is very much novice. So, my answer above is purely from a philosophical understanding.

In addition to meditation and mindfulness, contemplation on the teachings, practice of virtues (sila) and basically the whole Noble Eightfold Path contributes toward the goal.

  • Thanks ruben2020. I am confused by the passive observation of emotions. What about happiness? Do you simply observe? Do you not laugh? Smile? Take joy in the moment?
    – Motivated
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 6:37
  • Observe everything. Every little thing. But only when you are practising vipassana meditation.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 15:38

Is my understanding correct?

Yes, that sounds right to me.

Some preliminaries:

  • Anattā is one of the three marks of existence and I relate it to the other two, when I describe it.
  • There's a related term, suññatā translated as emptiness or voidness.

    Wikipedia says "In Theravada Buddhism, suññatā often refers to the not-self (anattā) nature"; and I don't think I usually make a meaningful distinction between suññatā and anattā, though other people might.

    I asked about it in this question and one of the comments was that it means "empty of disturbances".

  • The Dalai Lama writes that there's more than one kind of self or ego. There are for example unrealistic expectations or 'having a very high idea about ourselves' ... which is extreme, a false path, and leads to trouble. The other is a feeling of 'I can do it', 'I should do it', 'I should take on this responsibility' which he says is a basis of human determination and courage, the loss of which would provoke discouragement, self-doubt, self-hatred.

So to use an example. If i express anger ...

I rarely become angry these days. When I do, I think:

  • This (feeling or expression of anger) is unusual. It wasn't here (I wasn't expressing or feeling it) a minute ago. It it noticeable, transient, impermanent, not me. I needn't keep it.
  • This (feeling or expression of anger) is unpleasant for me and for anyone who is with me. I needn't continue it.

I think that Buddhism teaches (and you can verify for yourself) that thoughts and feelings come and go. I therefore don't see 'myself' as being some kind of solid/permanent thing, which reacts robustly and justifiably e.g. with anger to any adversity. Instead I see myself as a hollow, leaky boat. Sometimes anger will leak in and if it ever does then as far as I'm concerned it can go and leak out again.

I suspect that a view of anattā may be necessary or helpful, but not sufficient. For example the beginning of the Dhammapada says,

5. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

I think that teachings like that, i.e. about non-hatred (as well as teaching about non-self), help to deal with anger.

I should mention that "anger" (and "hatred") are extremes within a continuum. It can similarly take the form of dislike or aversion. I might congratulate myself on not manifesting much anger these days, but there's 'dislike'.

One more thing: if I get angry it's often when feeling thwarted or frustrated -- e.g. when I wanted to do something, had planned or hoped to do something, but someone else wants to do something else with me. Well I see that as an example of attachment (my being attached to preconceived plans); and I think that attachment is a form of self ("my" desires, "my" plans), and letting go of attachment is related to letting go of (false) views of self.

The view of the five aggregates themselves might contribute to a view of anattā and dispassion. Consider the difference between "I am hurt" and "I am feeling hurt": the latter implies perhaps just a transient feeling, whereas the former implies some perhaps-permanently damaged self. So for example this video is I think about "mindfulness" and involves the mind identifying the feeling ("hearing", "pain", or whatever the feeling is) ... which I guess might have the effect of helping to separate the feeling from the self, helping to see the feeling as being external/separate/non-self.

... or sadness,

That might be similar to 'anger', above. Depending on the sadness, maybe the sadness is caused by loss, caused by attachment, cause by a false sense of self (e.g. by seeing 'self' within something that was impermanent). And maybe the feeling of sadness too is not-self, and the idea which caused the feeling of sadness, etc.

  • Thanks ChrisW. It isn't very clear what you mean by empty of disturbances. For example, what is a disturbance? Emotions? Thoughts? Both? What if happiness is what you seek?
    – Motivated
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 6:35
  • That's not clear to me either. Shall I make wild guesses? Perhaps disturbance could mean klesha. I think suññatā comes from later, Mahayana Buddhism, which includes in its doctrine the concept of 'Buddha Nature', which might be what's the subject of this pair of poems. OTOH someone I talked with yesterday said that in her dhamma discussion, it had been said that 'empty' or 'spacious' is like a space into which you can welcome others, not a space to protect the self.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 8:17

What you have is a perception or nartion of self. With the cessation of perception your perception or notion of self disappears.

In the conventional sense we have the perception of self. Conventional wisdom is what can be perceived within the field of perception, out of which entity view is one such item.

At the ultimate level there is no self. That is the realisation after the cessation of perception or knowledge beyond the field of perception. Self view being a perception when perception ceases so does the identity view.

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