Considering the five aggregates and the sense in which they are all not-self. Thoughts (samskāra) are one of the five aggregates so they too are 'not me' or 'not mine'. In one sense this is a statement which accords with my own experience while on and off the meditation cushion. They display an impermanence and often they arising unbidden (or as part of a web of causal relationships that I don't control). In another sense however this doesn't accord with my experience. My thoughts don't happen to anyone else. They are thoughts in my head happening to me.

I know (well I think I know) the second statement is a wrong view. So why are thoughts not mine if they never happen to other people.

  • 5
    If that's the case, if there's a tapeworm in your intestines, it's your tape worm. Other people might have them too, but they are not the same. This one is only bothering me. Therefore it should be mine :) Jun 12, 2015 at 0:45
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    It's not that the thoughts are or are not yours; rather, the question is what is this "me" to which the thought belongs. Asking about how something can't be yours presupposes there's a "you" that can own anything.
    – R. Barzell
    Jun 12, 2015 at 15:01
  • The idea that the thoughts belong to something itself is an assumption. If it rains and you get wet, the rainwater does not belong to you just because it's on your head. One cannot claim ownership over something just because it happened to him. Jun 13, 2015 at 5:07
  • Is this the same notion that our thoughts are not reality?
    – Shon
    Jun 14, 2015 at 6:36

6 Answers 6


When speaking in conventional terms, i.e. "my, mine, they, others, people etc." we are dealing with conventional reality. Here concepts such as "a man, woman, an animal, a Self" etc. exist.

When instead we turn to ultimate reality we realize that there is no such thing as concepts. They are not findable in ultimate reality. They have no real point of reference. We realize that the question arose out of having wrong view, as you also mention.

The reason why "your" thoughts do not happen to "other people" is because they are concepts.

If we instead construct the sentence in another way it might make more sense. The new sentence could be:

Thoughts arise and cease. Mental formations arise and cease. They do not belong to anyone or anything. That is a mental formation itself and it itself is impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self. There is no thinker behind the thought. There is no "owner" of phenomena. There is no experiencing entity. There are just physical and mental phenomena arising and ceasing.

I hope this shed some light onto it. If i may give an advice from personal practice, then do not think too much about these things. Instead keep doing insight meditation as you also mention you do. The experiental knowledge you gain will cast away all illusions and concepts and lay bare the true nature of reality.

Lastly, i would like to point you to this dhamma talk by Ajahn Punnadhammo. Its called "Anatta". Very good talk.

I have attached a picture to illustrate what happens when we are "trapped" in conventional reality. The bottom of the picture is when one is without insight knowledge into the 3 signs of existence and thereby thinking one has a Self. When one begins practicing the path and gains insights then the breaking away of illusions and concepts happen like in the top of the picture. We become free from wrong view and gain right view.

enter image description here

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    Upvoted, also while realizing that this may be suitable for more experienced practitioners or Dhamma scholars. Jun 12, 2015 at 6:05

They are the thoughts that happen to you in particular, so indeed you have "your thoughts", but they are not "yours" in that you have no real ownership of them nor do they reflect your true self.

  • Welcome! Very succinct! +1
    – user382
    Jun 12, 2015 at 1:15

Wikipedia says (although these statements are unreferenced),

There are three ways in which self views could be conceived and all three are said to be wrong views.

All these views types of identity view fetter one to samsāra, and it is for this reason that they are wrong views.

No-self or Not-self? by Thanissaro Bhikkhu ends with,

In this sense, the anatta teaching is not a doctrine of no-self, but a not-self strategy for shedding suffering by letting go of its cause, leading to the highest, undying happiness. At that point, questions of self, no-self, and not-self fall aside. Once there's the experience of such total freedom, where would there be any concern about what's experiencing it, or whether or not it's a self?

Similarly this Ananda Sutta says,

"'What do you think, friend Ananda — Is consciousness constant or inconstant?'

"'Inconstant, friend.'

"'And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?'

"'Stressful, friend.'

"'And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: "This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am"?'

"'No, friend.'

"'Thus, friend Ananda, any form whatsoever that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: every form is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: "This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am."

"'Any feeling whatsoever...

"'Any perception whatsoever...

"'Any fabrications whatsoever...

"'Any consciousness whatsoever that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: every consciousness is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: "This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am."

"'Seeing thus, the instructed disciple of the noble ones grows disenchanted with form, disenchanted with feeling, disenchanted with perception, disenchanted with fabrications, disenchanted with consciousness. Through disenchantment, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion, he is fully released. With full release, there is the knowledge, "Fully released." He discerns that "Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world."'

In summary perhaps they're 'not mine' because (or if) you choose to disown or not identify with them.

Also, perhaps such thoughts do happen to other people? The Dalai Lama for example says that he likes to see himself as being the same (composed of 5 aggregates) as every one else.


I'm not sure if this will help, but here goes. The reason the thought or anything isn't yours or mine, is because you can't control it, you can't keep hold of it. Trying to hold on to anything is like trying to grasp smoke in your hands, but, you can see the smoke- recognise the thought- but you can't hold or control it, so... can it or anything really be yours? Everything is just a sensation that will arise and cease out of your control.



"Thought" indeed arises and falls but where does "your" arise? "Your" only arises in conceptual reality. Your thoughts are not other people's and they aren't yours ultimately. Nothing is the possession of all beings and if we could all see that, we would all have everything. METTA


Suppose you have a big iron ball on which a bird comes and rests, stays some time and then goes away.

Is that bird yours?

  • True. But the bird could go rest on another iron ball. My thoughts can only rest in one mind? I think?!? Jun 12, 2015 at 13:48
  • How do you know people don't think your thoughts?
    – Lowbrow
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:54

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