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 or even millions of years, at the moment of awakening it is perceived that the ego-self was never real to begin with.

What we erroneously identify with as our self can be broken down into five creative functions of the mind, which are called skandha. The first function is rupa, or form. The second, vedana, are feelings. The third, samjna, is knowledge of differences, or discrimination. The fourth, samskara, is expectations. These create all events in the phenomenal world. The fifth function, vijnana, means consciousness. There are five types of sensory consciousness—that which is seen, heard, felt, tasted and smelled—and the sixth consciousness is thoughts. It must be understood that all things, from the sun to mosquitoes, have no existence of their own: they are only your consciousness of sensory data. Your own mind produced the bites and the sunburn. Likewise, thoughts do not arise from a real foundation, but are simply patterns established over the ages.

In the first part of the sutra, the Buddha points out that although the mind produces form, feelings, discrimination, expectations and consciousness, it has no control over what it produces, and this gives rise to unhappiness. The Self, on the other hand, is all-powerful, and everything that happens, happens according to its wisdom, or divine Law.

Anatman, without self, is one of three attributes (lakkhana or laksana) of people and things. The other two attributes 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 one would be able to will 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 one is not able to will regarding form: May my 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 one would be able to will 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 one is not able to will regarding feeling: May my feeling be thus, may my feeling not be thus.

Discrimination (samjna), O monks, is not Self. If discrimination were Self, then discrimination would not lead to passions, and one would be able to will regarding discrimination: May my discrimination be thus, may my discrimination not be thus. And indeed, O monks, since discrimination is not Self, therefore discrimination leads to passions, and one is not able to will regarding discrimination: May my discrimination be thus, may my discrimination not be thus.

Expectations (samskara), O monks, are not Self. If expectations were Self, then expectations would not lead to passions, and one sould be able to will 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 one is not able to will 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 one would be able to will 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 one is not able to will 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 am I, 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 am I, this is my Self?

Indeed, not, O Lord.

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

Impermanent, O Lord.

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

Unsatisfactory, O Lord.

Now, discrimination being impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to view it thus: This is mine, this am I, 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 discrimination, past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all of that discrimination 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 those consciousnesses 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 discrimination, 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.

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