A view is taking something to be true, whereas conceit falls in the category of a simple experience, which one may or may not hold to be valid. It is similar with greed; one may want something without believing it proper to want, and one may likewise feel conceit ("I am better", etc.) without actually believing in a self. This is seen when, after the arising of a conceited thought, one mentally discards it as being based on delusion rather than accepting it as valid.
Identity view, sakkāya-diṭṭhi, is the belief that the aggregates are self; it is this belief that gives rise to conceit, greed, anger, etc., but it is seperate from all of these. It is useful to remember that, while one without sakkāya-diṭṭhi can still give rise to defilement, such defilements are only remnants of past belief in self and are certain to disappear within seven lifetimes at most.
Mahasi Sayadaw discusses the difference and as always has interesting things to say:
At the stage of Sotāpanna, Stream Enterer, the fetters of Personality-belief (false view of individuality), doubts and uncertainty, and adherence to rites and rituals have been completely eradicated. But a Stream Enterer is not yet free from Asmi-māna, the I-conceit. To take pride in one's ability, one's status, "I can do; I am noble," is to hold on to the I-conceit. But a Stream Winner's conceit relates only to the genuine qualities and virtues, he actually possesses and is not false pride based on non-existing qualities and virtues.
-- Mahasi Sayadaw, Anatta-lakkhana Sutta
What he is referring to is that fact that of the nine types of conceit, only three can arise in a sotapanna. The factors are:
- thinking one is superior
- thinking one equal
- thinking one lesser
- one is superior
- one is equal
- one is lesser
and a Sotapanna can only give rise to true conceit, viz:
- thinking one is superior when one is superior
- thinking one is equal when one is equal
- thinking one is lesser when one is lesser
Mahasi Sayadaw also discusses the curious case of Khemaka, who was struggling with the difference himself (asmi means "I am", māna is conceit):
Asmi māna was once the subject of discussion between the sixty elder monks and Ashin Khemaka, an Anāgāmi, on the question of Arahatship. The latter told them through their intermediary, Dasaka, that he could not discover atta-self, or its attributes in any of the upādānakkhandhās, aggregates of clinging. The elders then concluded that he had become an Arahat and asked him if he was. This called for further elucidation and so he said, "I cannot as yet own myself an Arahat, but I have the notion that I am still in the realm of the five aggregates of clinging (asmīti adhigatam), although I would hesitate to say that this particular thing is 'I'. Then the elders again enquired, "Does I exist in feeling, or perception, or mental formations or consciousness?"
This drove Ashin Khemaka to the presence of the elders so that he could offer a personal explanation which runs as follows-
"Brothers! I cannot say I am matter; nor can I say I am feeling or perception or mental formation: or consciousness or any other beyond the five aggregates. But there still clings to me the notion that I am still in the realm of the five aggregates. But at the same time I cannot say, "This is I."
Ashin Khemaka did not consider any one of the upādānakkhandhās as asmī in the conventional sense. This term suggests that he thought, "I know. I can. I am great." This is self-conceit which grows out of the accomplishment of virtue that he had truly achieved. Consider the fragrance of a water-lily. Does it originate from its stem? From its petals? From its anothers? One can say only conventionally that it emanates from the lily, but one cannot find any rūpa matter that produces fragrance. The notion of asmī is there; but I cannot say, "This is I".
Ashin Khemaka then continued, "An Ariya (the Noble One) destroys the bonds of individuality, doubts, false religious practices, lust and animosity. But at this stage he cannot break away from asmī māna, asmī chanda and anusaya māna. They are subtle kinds of attachment to self, desire for self and inclination toward self. If, however the Ariyan disciple notes with mindfulness the arising and passing away of the five aggregates of clinging, such subtle passions will subside.
"Consider this metaphor of a washerwoman. She washes clothes with soap and water and they become clean-white. Still they smell of soap. Only when they are kept in a scented box they lose their odour. If one continually meditates on the five aggregates of clinging, all these subtle passions will be washed away clean and one can remain without any vestiges of such passions.
-- Mahasi Sayadaw, Silavanta Sutta