Anatta-lakkhana Sutta

The doctrine of Anatman, not-Self, is one of the central teachings of Bud­dhism. It says that the ego-self does not exist in the sense of a separate, unchanging, eternal entity. Though it exists over many lifetimes spanning thousands of years, at the moment of awakening it is perceived that the ego-self never existed.

What we erroneously identify with as our self can be broken down into five skandha, or functions, performed by the mind. The first skandha is rupa, or form. The second, vedana, are feelings or sensations. The third, samjna, means knowledge of characteristics or differences. The fourth, samskara, are one’s expectations; expectations produce all events in the phenomenal world. The fifth skandha, vijnana, means consciousness. There are six kinds of consciousness: the five sensory phenomena–that which is seen, that which is heard, that which is felt, etc.–and thoughts. It must be understood that all things, from sunshine to mosquitoes, have no existence whatsoever. They are only consciousness of forms (rupa), consciousness of sounds and sensations (vedana). Likewise, thoughts do not arise from a real entity but are no more than longstanding patterns established over lifetimes.

The five functions are in themselves miraculous, proof that what we are is infinitely greater than the ego that we believe that we are. In the first part of the sutra, the Buddha points out that although the ego-self produces form, feelings, knowledge of characteristics, expectations and phenomena, it has no control over what it produces. The Self, on the other hand, is the source of all that is, including the ego; and its power is unlimited.

Anatman, not Self, is one of three characteristics (laksana) of people and things. The other two characteristics are that they are impermanent (anicca) and that they produce dissatisfaction (duhka). This is the reason the Buddha asks his listeners whether each skandha is permanent or impermanent, satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

 

Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: Discourse on the Characteristics of That Which is Not Self

Translated from the Pali by N.K.G. Mendis © 2007

Thus it was heard by me. At one time the Blessed One was living in the deer park of Isipatana near Benares. There, indeed, the Blessed One addressed a group of monks regarding the five skandha.

Form (rupa), O monks, is not Self. If form were Self, then form would not lead to passions, and it should obtain regarding form: ‘May my form be thus, may my form not be thus.’ And indeed, O monks, since form is not Self, therefore form leads to passions and it does not obtain regarding form: “May my form be thus, may my form not be thus.”

Feeling (vedana), O monks, is not Self. If feeling were Self, then feeling would not lead to passions, and it should obtain regarding feeling: “May my feeling be thus, may my feeling not be thus.” And indeed, O monks, since feeling is not Self, therefore feeling leads to passions, and it does not obtain regarding feeling: “May my feeling be thus, may my feeling not be thus.”

Knowledge (samjna), O monks, is not Self. If knowledge were Self, then knowledge would not lead to passions and it should obtain regarding knowledge: “May my knowledge be thus, may my knowledge not be thus.” And indeed, O monks, since knowledge is not Self, therefore knowledge leads to passions, and it does not obtain regarding knowledge: “May my knowledge be thus, may my knowledge not be thus.”

Expectations (samskara), O monks, are not Self. If expectations were Self, then expectations would not lead to passions, and it should obtain regarding expectations: “May my expectations be thus, may my expectations not be thus.” And indeed, O monks, since expectations are not Self, therefore expectations lead to passions, and it does not obtain regarding expectations: “May my expectations be thus, may my expectations not be thus.”

Consciousness (vijnana), O monks, is not Self. If consciousness were Self, then consciousness would not lead to passions and it should obtain regarding consciousness: “May my consciousness be thus, may my consciousness not be thus.” And indeed, O monks, since consciousness is not Self, therefore, consciousness leads to passions, and it does not obtain regarding consciousness: “May my consciousness be thus, may my consciousness not be thus.”

What do you think, O monks? Is form permanent or impermanent?

Impermanent, O Lord.

Now, it being impermanent, is it unsatisfactory or satisfactory?

Unsatisfactory, O Lord.

Now, form being impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to view it thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my Self”?

Indeed, not, O Lord.

What do you think, O monks? Is feeling permanent or impermanent?

Impermanent, O Lord.

Now, it being impermanent, is it unsatisfactory or satisfactory?

Unsatisfactory, O Lord.

Now, feeling being impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to view it thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my Self”?

Indeed, not, O Lord.

What do you think, O monks? Is knowledge permanent or impermanent?

Impermanent, O Lord.

Now, it being impermanent, is it unsatisfactory or satisfactory?

Unsatisfactory, O Lord.

Now, knowledge being impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to view it thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my Self”?

Indeed, not, O Lord.

What do you think, O monks? Are expectations permanent or impermanent?

Impermanent, O Lord.

Now, they being impermanent, are they unsatisfactory or satisfactory?

Unsatisfactory, O Lord.

Now, expectations being impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to view them thus: ‘These are mine, these I am, these are my Self”?

Indeed, not, O Lord.

Now what do you think, O monks? Is consciousness permanent or impermanent?

Impermanent, O Lord.

Now, it being impermanent, is it unsatisfactory or satisfactory?

Unsatisfactory, O Lord.

Now, consciousness being impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to regard it thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my Self”?

Indeed, not, O Lord.

Therefore, surely, O monks, whatever forms, past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all those forms must be regarded with proper wisdom, according to the Dharma, thus: “These are not mine, this I am not, this is not my Self.”

Therefore, surely, O monks, whatever feelings, past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all those feelings must be regarded with proper wisdom, according to the Dharma, thus: “These are not mine, this I am not, this is not my Self.”

Therefore, surely, O monks, whatever knowledge, past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all of that knowledge must be regarded with proper wisdom, according to the Dharma, thus: “This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my Self.”

Therefore, surely, O monks, whatever expectations, past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all those expectations must be regarded with proper wisdom, according to the Dharma, thus: “These are not mine, this I am not, this is not my Self.”

Therefore, surely, O monks, whatever consciousness, past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all that consciousness must be regarded with proper wisdom, according to the Dharma, thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my Self.”

O monks, the well-instructed noble disciple, seeing thus, becomes wearied of form, becomes wearied of feeling, becomes wearied of knowledge, becomes wearied of expectations, becomes wearied of consciousness. Being wearied, he frees himself of passions. In his freedom from passions, he is emancipated. Being emancipated, there is the knowledge that he is emancipated. He knows: “Birth is no more, lived is the holy life, what had to be done is done, there is nothing more of this becoming.”

This the Blessed One said. Pleased, the monks were overjoyed with the discourse of the Blessed One; moreover, as this discourse was being spoken, the minds of the monks were freed of passions, without attachment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s