8/4/2013 – Anatta/No-Self: other perspectives

Margaret guided our further investigation of the crucial concept of No-Self today, drawing on a number of sources.  The most ancient of these sources is the brief Anatta Lakkhana Sutta (The Discourse on the Not-Self Characteristic), from the Samyutta Nikaya, available at

The concept was further clarified in excerpts from a recent talk by Joseph Goldstein

Quotations from Ajahn Thanissaro’s book Self, No-Self, offered below also helped bring further perspective:

Some quotes from Thanissaro bhikkhu (Self, no-self) to frame the discussion:

“Usually when we hear the teaching on not-self, we think that it’s an answer to questions like these:  “Do I have a self?  What am I?  Do I exist?” However the Budhha listed all of these as unskillful questions. Once when he was asked point blank “Is there a self? Is there no self?” he refused to answer.  He said that these questions would get in the way of finding true happiness.  So obviously the teaching on not-self was not meant to answer those questions.  To understand it, we have to find out what questions it was meant to answer.”

“As the Buddha said, he taught two teachings, that were true across the board and without exception.  These two teachings form the framework for everything else he taught.  One was the difference between skillful and unskillful action: actions that lead to long term happiness, and those that lead to long-term suffering.”   ( The other was the four noble truths.)

“So the issue is not “what is my true self ?” , but “what kind of perception of self is skillful, and when is it skillful, what kind of perception of not-self is skilful, and when is it skillful?”

A YouTube 9-minute guided meditation on the Not-Self  by Joseph Goldstein– not used today due to time constraints — is also a real help in meeting this tricky but fruitful topic.