Anattā does not mean 'there is no self'

Filed under mystical • Tagged: Buddhism, Emptiness, Non self

Buddhism is well known for its idea of anattā, often translated as “no self.” As a result, you might often hear that the Buddha claimed “there is no self.”

However, the Buddha very rarely made such binary statements, and others familiar with his teachings point out that he never actually said “there is no self.” One at least one occassion, when asked about existence of the self, he remained silent.

When the Buddha gives meditation instruction itself, the pointer is to note that “this phenonema is not self”, not “there is no self.” It might sound subtle, but it makes a big difference.

All of this lead the well-known American monk, Thanissaro Bhikku, to decry “there is no self” as the “granddaddy of fake Buddhist quotes”, bearing only a pale resemblance to the more nuanced idea of anattā, which he identifies as a strategy, a way of seeing, that unbinds clinging.

Of course, not everyone agrees. Either way, it is worth taking the time to consider whether you are not attached to the idea of no-self, as a final resting ground or subtle escape.

—Dan Bartlett
8 Aug 2021

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