'no-self', no-self, non-ego, no-ego, egolessness, impersonality, insubstantiality,
is the last of the three characteristics of existence (ti-lakkhana, q.v.)
The anattā doctrine teaches that neither within the bodily and mental
phenomena of existence, nor outside of them, can be found anything that in the
ultimate sense could be regarded as a self-existing real ego-entity, soul or any
other abiding substance.
This is the central doctrine of Buddhism, without
understanding which a real knowledge of Buddhism is altogether impossible. It is
the only really specific Buddhist doctrine, with which the entire Structure of
the Buddhist teaching stands or falls. All the remaining Buddhist doctrines may,
more or less, be found in other philosophic systems and religions, but the anattā-doctrine
has been clearly and unreservedly taught only by the Buddha, wherefore the
Buddha is known as the anattā-vādi, or 'Teacher of Impersonality'.
Whosoever has not penetrated this impersonality of all existence, and does not
comprehend that in reality there exists only this continually self-consuming
process of arising and passing bodily and mental phenomena, and that there is no
separate ego-entity within or without this process, he will not be able to
understand Buddhism, i.e. the teaching of the 4 Noble Truths (sacca,
q.v.), in the right light. He will think that it is his ego, his personality,
that experiences suffering, his personality that performs good and evil actions
and will be reborn according to these actions, his personality that will enter
into Nibbāna, his personality that walks on the Eightfold Path. Thus it is said
in Vis.M. XVI:
- "Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found;
- The deeds are, but no doer of the deeds is there;
- Nibbāna is, but not the man that enters it;
- The path is, but no traveler on it is seen."
"Whosoever is not clear with regard to the conditionally
arisen phenomena, and does not comprehend that all the actions are conditioned
through ignorance, etc., he thinks that it is an ego that understands or does
not understand, that acts or causes to act, that comes to existence at rebirth
.... that has the sense-contact, that feels, desires, becomes attached,
continues and at rebirth again enters a new existence" (Vis.M. XVII. 117).
While in the case of the first two characteristics it is
stated that all constructions (sabbe sankhārā) are impermanent and subject
to suffering, the corresponding text for the third characteristic states that
"all things are no-self" (sabbe dhammā anattā; M. 35, Dhp.
279). This is for emphasizing that the false view of an abiding self or
substance is neither applicable to any 'construction' or conditioned phenomenon,
nor to Nibbāna, the Unconditioned Element (asankhatā dhātu).
The Anattā-lakkhana Sutta, the 'Discourse on the
Characteristic of No-self', was the second discourse after Enlightenment,
preached by the Buddha to his first five disciples, who after hearing it
attained to perfect Holiness (arahatta).
The contemplation of no-self (anattānupassanā)
leads to the emptiness liberation (suññatā-vimokkha, s. vimokkha).
Herein the ability of wisdom (paññindriya) is outstanding, and one who
attains in that way the path of Stream-entry is called a Dhamma-devotee (dhammānusāri;
s. ariya-puggala); at the next two stages of sainthood he becomes a
vision-attainer (ditthippatta); and at the highest stage, i.e. Holiness,
he is called 'liberated by wisdom' (paññā-vimutta).
For further details, see
Literature: Anattā-lakkhana Sutta, Vinaya I, 13-14; S.22. 59; tr. in Three Cardinal Discourses of the Buddha (WHEEL 17). -
Another important text on Anattā is the Discourse on the Snake Simile (Alagaddūpama
Sutta, M. 22; tr. in WHEEL 48/49) .
Other texts in "Path". -
Further: Anattā and Nibbāna, by Nyanaponika Thera (WHEEL 11);
The Truth of
Anattā, by Dr. G. P. Malalasekera (WHEEL 94);
The Three Basic Facts of
Existence III: Egolessness (WHEEL 202/204)