The characteristics of things devoid of self-nature

Anatman: non-self, non-essentiality; one of the three qualities (laksana) of every­thing existing. The Anatman doctrine is one of the central teachings of Bud­dhism; it says that no self exists in the sense of an unchanging, eternal, integral, and independent substance. Thus in Buddhism the ego is no more than a transito­ry personality, consisting of the five aggregates (skandha). (Wisdom Library)

The five skandha are the functions of the mind, which we mistake for our self. Samjna means ‘knowledge of characteristics’, or the knowledge of good and ill, which is why it leads to passions–if we didn’t perceive anything as bad, we wouldn’t feel fear or anger. Samskara are like commands formed by the will. They are formed by karmic thoughts and are the seeds of karmic effects. The samskara join past and future, like a story, holding the self together from one moment to the next. Vijnana are more than awareness of the five sensory phenomena: they are the phenomena. The sixth vijnana is thoughts, which are no more than another type of phenomenon. When the Lankavatara says, “There is no more rising of the vijnanas,” it means that there is no more rising of thoughts and phenomena are seen as nonexistent.

 

Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: Discourse on the Characteristics of 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 (klesa), 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.’

“Volitional seeds (samskara), O monks, are not Self. If volitional seeds were Self, then volitional seeds would not lead to passions, and it should obtain regarding volitional seeds: ‘May my volitional seeds be thus, may my volitional seeds not be thus.’ And indeed, O monks, since volitional seeds are not Self, therefore, volitional seeds lead to passions, and it does not obtain regarding volitional seeds: ‘May my volitional seeds be thus, may my volitional seeds 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 volitional seeds permanent or impermanent?”

“Impermanent, O Lord.”

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

“Unsatisfactory, O Lord.”

“Now, volitional seeds 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: ‘These are not mine, this I am not, this is not my Self.’

“Therefore, surely, O monks, whatever volitional seeds, past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, low or lofty, far or near, all those volitional seedss 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 volitional seeds, becomes wearied of consciousness. Being wearied, he becomes free of passions. In his freedom from passions, he is emancipated. Being emancipated, there is the knowledge that he is emancipated. He knows: ‘Birth is exhausted, 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 delighted with the exposition of the Blessed One; moreover, as this exposition was being spoken, the minds of the monks were freed of passions, without attachment.

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