Sakkāya Diṭṭhi and Tilakkhana

June 14, 2019; revised October 23, 2019; May 25, 2022 

Sakkāya Diṭṭhi – Wrong Views of a “Self”

1. When one gets rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi (together with vicikicca and silabbata parāmāsa), one becomes a Sotāpanna and will never be reborn in the four lowest realms (apāyā).

  • It is a change in one’s worldview (dassanena pahātabbā) that leads to this enormous change.
  • It cannot be attained by just doing moral deeds. (In fact, silabbata parāmāsa is the wrong belief that living a righteous life by itself can liberate oneself).
  • Getting rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi requires a deep understanding of how nature works. Tilakkhana or the Three Characteristics of Nature encompasses those basic principles: anicca, dukkha, and anatta.
  • Here we will examine this relationship, which will help get rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi.
Definition of Sakkāya Diṭṭhi

2. Sakkāya diṭṭhi is defined in the Dhammasaṅgaṇī of the Abhidhamma Piṭaka: ­Dassa­ne­napa­hātab­baduka.

Katame dhammā dassanena pahātabbā? Tīṇi saññojanāni—sakkāyadiṭṭhi, vicikicchā, sīlab­bata­parāmāso.

  • Translation: “What are those dhamma removed via correct vision? Three saññojanā (samyojana as commonly called today) – sakkāyadiṭṭhi, vicikicchā, sīlab­bata­parāmāso.

Tattha katamā sakkāyadiṭṭhi? Idha assutavā puthujjano ariyānaṃ adassāvī ariyadhammassa akovido ariyadhamme avinīto sappurisānaṃ adassāvī sap­purisa­dhammassa akovido sap­purisa­dhamme avinīto rūpaṃ attato samanupassati, rūpavantaṃ vā attānaṃ, attani vā rūpaṃ, rūpasmiṃ vā attānaṃ. Vedanaṃ … pe … saññaṃ … pe … saṅkhāre … pe … viññāṇaṃ attato samanupassati, viññāṇavantaṃ vā attānaṃ, attani vā viññāṇaṃ, viññāṇasmiṃ vā attānaṃ. Yā evarūpā diṭṭhi diṭṭhigataṃ … pe … vipari­yāsag­gāho—ayaṃ vuccati sakkāyadiṭṭhi“.

  • Translation: “What is sakkāya diṭṭhi? A person uninstructed in Dhamma, who has not associated with Noble ones, who is not well-versed or disciplined, has the following wrong views. I am my body; my body is me; my body is in me; I am in my body.’ He perceives vedanā..sañña,..saṅkhāra,..viññāṇa in the same four ways (e.g., I am my viññāṇa, my viññāṇa is me, my viññāṇa is in me, I am in my viññāṇa) that is sakkāya diṭṭhi.

That is the same definition given in the “Cūḷa­ve­dalla Sutta (Majjima Nikāya 44)” that we discussed in the post, “Sakkāya Diṭṭhi is Personality (Me) View?“. This definition of sakkāya diṭṭhi is in many more suttā, including “Dutiya­isi­datta Sutta (SN 41.3)“.

Twenty Types of Sakkāya Diṭṭhi

3. The key is to understand the meaning of “rūpaṃ attato samanupassati, rūpavantaṃ vā attānaṃ, attani vā rūpaṃ, rūpasmiṃ vā attānaṃ, vedanāṃ attato samanupassati.” Similarly for vedanāsañña, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa. Thus, when one has sakkāya diṭṭhi, one has four wrong perceptions each for the five aggregates.

  • That is called the 20-types of sakkāya diṭṭhi (vīsativatthukā sakkāyadiṭṭhi).
  • In the Brahmajāla Sutta (DN 1), the Buddha discusses 60 more wrong views, but those are variations of the above two. Therefore, getting rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi leads to the removal of all wrong beliefs about this world.
  • Tipiṭaka description of uccheda diṭṭhi and sāssata diṭṭhi in “Sakkāya Diṭṭhi – Getting Rid of Deeper Wrong Views.”
Sakkāya Is Pañcu­pādā­nak­khan­dhā

4. A definition of sakkāya is in the “Sakkā­ya­pañhā Sutta (SN 38.15)“: “‘Sakkāyo, sakkāyo’ti, āvuso sāriputta, vuccati. Katamo nu kho, āvuso, sakkāyo” ti? “Pañcime, āvuso, upādā­nak­khan­dhā sakkāyo vutto bhagavatā, seyyathidaṃ—rūpupā­dā­nak­khan­dho, vedanupā­dā­nak­khan­dho, saññu­pādā­nak­khan­dho, saṅ­khā­ru­pādā­nak­khan­dho, viñ­ñāṇupā­dā­nak­khan­dho. Ime kho, āvuso, pañcu­pādā­nak­khan­dhā sakkāyo vutto bhagavatā” ti.”

Translated: “sakkāya is pañcu­pādā­nak­khan­dhā: rūpupā­dā­nak­khan­dha, vedanupā­dā­nak­khan­dha, saññu­pādā­nak­khan­dha, saṅ­khā­ru­pādā­nak­khan­dha, viñ­ñāṇupā­dā­nak­khan­dha”.

  • Therefore, we can deduce that sakkāya diṭṭhi is the wrong vision that the five aggregates (pañcakkhandha) are excellent and beneficial.
  • The word “sakkāya” comes from “sath” + “kāya,” which rhymes as “sakkāya.”Sath” means “good” and “kāya” means “a collection” or  “an aggregate” (it could also mean “physical body,” which is also a collection of parts). Thus “sakkāya” means those five aggregates (including one’s own body) are fruitful.
  • Our world consists of 12 types of kāya or “collections”: cakkhu kāya/rupa kāya, sota kāya/sadda kāya, etc. for the six sense faculties.
  • That vision or mindset — sakkāya diṭṭhi — is what leads to a craving for them (u­pādā­na).

5. When one has the wrong view of sakkāya diṭṭhi, some parts of pañcakkhandha become pañcu­pādā­nak­khan­dhā (panca u­pādā­na khandha). Those are the parts that one likes based on one’s gati,

Therefore, one needs to comprehend that one gets attached to things based on one’s gati AT THAT TIME. One’s gati keeps changing and can be very different, especially in one who is reborn. If one is reborn into a bad environment (conditions),  one is likely to develop “bad gati.”

  • Such bad kamma were done with bad gati AT THAT TIME. They can bring bad vipāka much later, even in future lives, when one may be living a moral life. The opposite is correct too. One’s good kamma in a previous life can bring good vipāka even while one lives an immoral life in this life.
  • That is why we experience both good and bad kamma vipāka.
  • That is also why we cannot speak about an “unchanging attā/soul/ātma.” A living being is a “lifestream” that encounters good/bad vipāka based on what had been done in the past based on one’s gati at that time. Under suitable conditions, both kinds (good/bad kamma) bring vipāka.
There Are Only Causes and Effects

6. What is discussed in #5 is succinctly stated in the “Catut­tha­abhab­baṭ­ṭhāna Sutta (AN 6.95)“.

Translation: “A Sotāpanna (or one with higher magga phala) accomplished in view (diṭṭhisampanno puggalo) is unable (abhabbo) to fall back on the idea that pleasure and pain are made by oneself (sayaṃkataṃ). Or that they are made by another (paraṃkataṃ). Or that they are made by both (sayaṃkatañca paraṃkatañca). Nor can they fall back on the idea that pleasure and pain arise by chance, not made by oneself, by another, or by both. (asayaṃkāraṃ adhiccasamuppannaṃ, aparaṅkāraṃ adhiccasamuppannaṃ, asayaṅkārañca aparaṅkārañca adhiccasamuppannaṃ).
– Why is that? It is because a person accomplished in view has seen that phenomena arise due to causes and conditions (according to Paṭicca Samuppāda). Those are the six things that a Sotāpanna (or one with higher magga phala) accomplished in view will not fall back to”.

  • There is no “attā” or a “soul” or a “ātma” doing those things that will lead to pleasure or pain (sooner or later).
  • Such kamma vipāka (pleasure or pain) materialize due to two factors. (i) Causes were created in the past based on the “gati” of the lifestream AT THAT TIME, and (ii) Corresponding vipāka materialize when suitable CONDITIONS become available (at a later time).
  • Paṭicca Samuppāda describes that process.
  • That is why understanding “gati” is so important. One may have had “bad gati” in the past, and those can bring “bad vipāka” now, EVEN IF one has “good gati” now.
  • That is why even the Buddha had to bear bad kamma vipāka. Even though he had “no gati left,” he had to endure the results of past kamma done when he had “bad gati.”
Deeper Aspects of Sakkāya Diṭṭhi

7. In the “Sakkā­ya­diṭṭhi ­Sutta (SN 22.155)“ it is stated how sakkāya diṭṭhi arises: 

Kismiṃ nu kho, bhikkhave, sati, kiṃ upādāya, kiṃ abhinivissa sakkāyadiṭṭhi uppajjatī” ti? “rūpe kho, bhikkhave, sati, rūpaṃ upādāya, rūpaṃ abhinivissa sakkāyadiṭṭhi uppajjāti. Vedanāya sati … saññāya sati … saṅkhāresu sati … viññāṇe sati, viññāṇaṃ upādāya, viññāṇaṃ abhinivissa sakkāyadiṭṭhi uppajjāti”.

Translated:Bhikkhus, because of focusing on what, attaching to what, and clinging to what leads to the arising of sakkāya diṭṭhiIt arises due to focusing on rupa (forms: things and people), attaching to forms, and clinging to forms. It arises similarly due to vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāna“.

Buddha explains:Taṃ kiṃ maññatha, bhikkhave, rūpaṃ niccaṃ vā aniccaṃ vā” ti? “What do you think Bhikkhus, can rupa be maintained to one’s satisfaction?’.
Aniccaṃ, bhante”. “They cannot be, bhante“.
Yaṃ panāniccaṃ … pe … api nu taṃ anupādāya sakkāyadiṭṭhi uppajjeyyā”ti? “Understanding that if something cannot be maintained to ones’ satisfaction, if it undergoes unpredictable change and is destroyed, would one get attached to it and generate sakkāya diṭṭhi?
No hetaṃ, bhante”. “No reason for that, bhante“.
and the same for the other four aggregates:Vedanā … saññā … saṅkhārā … viññāṇaṃ niccaṃ vā aniccaṃ vā”ti?
“Aniccaṃ, bhante”. “Yaṃ panāniccaṃ … pe … api nu taṃ anupādāya sakkāyadiṭṭhi uppajjeyyā”ti? “No hetaṃ, bhante”. “Evaṃ passaṃ … pe … nāparaṃ itthattāyāti pajānātī”ti.”

8. Thus, one gets attached to the five aggregates and considers them to be one’s own, ONLY IF one does not see the anicca (and dukkha and anatta) nature of those entities. When one understands that such attachments invariably (without exception) lead to suffering (because none of them can be maintained to one’s satisfaction), one loses the craving for them.

  • That understanding by itself first leads to “loss of cravings” to the extent that one would NOT be able (abhabbo) do immoral kamma that makes one suitable for rebirth in the apāyā. When one loses such upādāna, one would also not grasp such thoughts at the cuti-patisandhi moment.
  • The word abhabbo is commonly mistranslated. It does not just mean “one would not do,” but one “is incapable of doing.” The enforcement is AUTOMATIC; one does not need to think about whether such an action is immoral. When certain types of gati are removed PERMANENTLY (with magga phala), one’s mind WOULD NOT be CAPABLE of doing such sinful actions.
  • When one cultivates such “bad gati,” one would upādāna (and be born) to bad births; that is what is meant by “needing suitable conditions to bring kamma vipāka in“, In the “Kukku­ra­vatika Sutta (MN 57)” (English translation there: “The Dog-Duty Ascetic (MN 57)“), the Buddha explains how those “dog gati” that Seniya was cultivating would lead to him to be born a dog.
  • On the reverse, when one permanently gets rid of such “bad gati,” one would NOT be born in such unfortunate realms. That is what is meant by the verse, “Catūhapāyehi ca vippamutto, Chac­cābhi­ṭhānāni abhabba kātuṃ” (“(an Ariya) is free from the four apāyas because he/she is incapable of doing six highly immoral acts”) in the “Ratana Sutta (Snp 2.1)“.
What is Attā?

9. Now, it is important to figure out what is meant by “attā” in the description of sakkāya diṭṭhi.

The “Paṭipadā Sutta (SN 22.44)” describes the way to get rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi: “Katamā ca, bhikkhave, sakkā­ya­nirodha­gāminī paṭipadā? Idha, bhikkhave, sutavā ariyasāvako ariyānaṃ dassāvī ariyadhammassa kovido ariyadhamme suvinīto, sappurisānaṃ dassāvī sap­purisa­dhammassa kovido sap­purisa­dhamme suvinīto, na rūpaṃ attato samanupassati, na rūpavantaṃ vā attānaṃ; na attani vā rūpaṃ, na rūpasmiṃ vā attānaṃ. Na vedanāṃ attato … na saññaṃ … na saṅkhāre … na viññāṇaṃ attato samanupassati, na viññāṇavantaṃ vā attānaṃ; na attani vā viññāṇaṃ, na viññāṇasmiṃ vā attānaṃ. .”.

  • Translated: “And what, bhikkhus, is the way leading to the cessation of identity with the five aggregates (sakkāya diṭṭhi)? Here, bhikkhus, the instructed noble disciple … does not regard form as attā … nor vedanā as attā … nor saññā as attā … nor saṅkhāra as attā … nor viññāṇa as attā … nor attā as in viññāṇa..”.
  • See #2 above for the full translation of the verse.
Anatta­lak­kha­ṇa Sutta (SN 22.59)

10. Let us compare the above definition to the following verse in the “Anatta­lak­kha­ṇa Sutta (SN 22.59)“: “Rūpaṃ, bhikkhave, anattā. Rūpañca hidaṃ, bhikkhave, attā abhavissa, nayidaṃ rūpaṃ ābādhāya saṃvatteyya, labbhetha ca rūpe: ‘evaṃ me rūpaṃ hotu, evaṃ me rūpaṃ mā ahosī’ti. Yasmā ca kho, bhikkhave, rūpaṃ anattā, tasmā rūpaṃ ābādhāya saṃvattati, na ca labbhati rūpe: ‘evaṃ me rūpaṃ hotu, evaṃ me rūpaṃ mā ahosī’ti.

  • Translated: “Bhikkhus, form (physical body) is anattā (or not attā). For if, bhikkhus, if one’s body is attā, one would have full control over it, and it would be possible to say: ‘Let my body be like this; let my body not be like this.’ But because the body is anattā, it is subjected to decay and disease. And it is not possible to have it the way one desires: ‘Let my body be this way; let my body not be this way”.
  • The recent post,Anattā in Anattalakkahana Sutta – No Soul or a Ātmaexplained the reality. That there is no attā or a “soul” or a “ātma” that can be associated with either one’s physical body or its four mental aggregates.

11. Again, from the “Anatta­lak­kha­ṇa Sutta (SN 22.59)“: “Taṃ kiṃ maññatha, bhikkhave, rūpaṃ niccaṃ vā aniccaṃ vā” ti? “Aniccaṃ, bhante.”Yaṃ panāniccaṃ dukkhaṃ vā taṃ sukhaṃ vā” ti? “Dukkhaṃ, bhante.”Yaṃ panāniccaṃ dukkhaṃ vipari­ṇāma­dhammaṃ, kallaṃ nu taṃ samanupassituṃ: ‘etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’” ti? “No, hetaṃ, bhante..”.

Translated: “What do you think, bhikkhus, can form be maintained to one’s satisfaction?”—“No, bhante”—“Would something of such nature lead to suffering or happiness?”—“Suffering, venerable sir.”—“Is it prudent to regard such a thing thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self’?”—“No, bhante.”


Tasmātiha, bhikkhave, yaṃ kiñci rūpaṃ atītā­nāgata­pac­cup­pan­naṃ ajjhattaṃ vā bahiddhā vā oḷārikaṃ vā sukhumaṃ vā hīnaṃ vā paṇītaṃ vā yaṃ dūre santike vā, sabbaṃ rūpaṃ: ‘netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ”.

Translated: “Therefore, bhikkhus, any form (rupa) whatsoever, whether past, future or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, all form (these are 11 types of rupa in rupakkhandha) should be seen as it really is, with correct wisdom. Thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’

  • The same argument would hold for the other four mental aggregates as well.
Sakkāya Diṭṭhi and Anatta Nature

12. Therefore, sakkāya diṭṭhi permanently disappears when one comprehends the real nature of this world. That is the anicca nature (inability to maintain rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāna in the way one likes to). Much suffering (including in the apāyā) will result because of not realizing the anicca nature. That is when one becomes helpless (anatta); see “Anicca – True Meaning.”

  • Therefore, one is truly helpless in this rebirth process (anatta); see “Anatta – No Refuge in This World.” That is the same as not having full control (“na” + “attā” or anattā); see, Anattā in Anattalakkahana Sutta – No Soul or a Ātma.“ 
  • The existence (bhava) in this world and corresponding births (jāti) filled with suffering arise because one tries to go against the true nature and generates saṅkhāra (due to avijjā). That is Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • When one comprehends that, one would stop generating saṅkhāra, starting with the worst kind: apuñña abhisaṅkhāra (leading to immoral deeds). That is how a Sōtapanna starts on the Noble Path.
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