Anatta and Sakkāya Diṭṭhi – Two Different Concepts

February 13, 2021

Anatta is Not Sakkāya Diṭṭhi

1. As we discussed in the previous two posts, sakkāya diṭṭhi is the WRONG VIEW of “me” and “mine.” See, “Sakkāya Diṭṭhi and Paṭicca Samuppāda.”

  • New existences (bhava) arise due to specific kamma done with different types of abhisaṅkhāra (vaci abhisaṅkhāra and kāya abhisaṅkhāra.) That is a process dictated by Paṭicca Samuppāda. Those saṅkhārā arise with having that wrong view (part of avijjā.) That is why the PS process starts with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā.”
  • When one understands the Paṭicca Samuppāda process, one will see that it is such saṅkhārā (thoughts) arise because one believes that experiences in this world can bring happiness. Such experiences come through the body and mind, and one takes those as “me.” Those external things that be likes, one takes them to be “mine.” (To emphasize again, saññā and citta vipallāsa of “me” and “mine” will be removed only at Anāgāmi and Arahant stages. Removal of sakkāya diṭṭhi only removes the wrong view. See, “Vipallāsa (Diṭṭhi, Saññā, Citta) Affect Sankhāra.”)
  • Those wrong views of a “me” and ‘mine” keep one bound to the rebirth process. There is a living-being (satta) AS LONG AS there is the wrong of a “me” and “mine” associated with that lifestream. We will discuss this in detail in upcoming posts.
  • That wrong view is sakkāya diṭṭhi. As long as the sakkāya diṭṭhi is there, one will not overcome the “satta” state and become one of the 8 Ariya puggalā, as discussed in those previous two posts. Furthermore, a “me” will exist (in the rebirth process) until that wrong view is removed.
  • That wrong view will be removed ONLY WHEN one sees nothing in this world TO BE CONSIDERED “me” or “mine.” Therefore, sakkāya diṭṭhi (the wrong view) is RELATED TO anatta (a characteristic of nature.)
  • But anatta is NOT that wrong associated with a “me” or a “self.” Anatta means EVERYTHING in this world is devoid of value.
Anatta is Not “No-Self”!

2. Many people translate the word “anatta” as “no-self.” But the Buddha advised us to stay away from the following two extremes to describe a living-being (satta.)

  • It is NOT correct to say that a satta (with the wrong view of a “self”) does not exist. That satta will live in one of the 31 realms as long as having that incorrect view. Most importantly, life is real, and so is the suffering (together with infrequent happiness). Here, I am referring to the long rebirth process.
  • On the other hand, in ultimate reality, there is no “self” or a “soul” or an “ātman” traveling the rebirth process (saṃsāra.) When that is understood, that satta will cease to exist IN THIS WORLD, i.e., that lifestream will merge with Nibbāna.
  • Instead of having endless debates about whether a “self” exists or not, it pays to focus on how the Buddha explained the existence of a satta suffering much in the rebirth process.
  • To repeat: abhisaṅkhāra ARISE in a mind BECAUSE a satta (living-being) acts with that wrong view. But if one understands this process, one can be mindful and stop such saṅkhārā from CONTINUING TO grow and LEAD TO new existences (bhava.) That is the basis of Satipaṭṭhāna.
  • When one understands Paṭicca Samuppāda, one will see no need to follow either of those two extremes of whether there is a “self” or not.
What is Anatta?

3. The concept of anatta is intrinsically related to the other two: anicca and dukkha. Those three are the “three characteristics of nature.”

  • None of those are DIRECTLY about a “person” (or a “puthujjano”) or a “satta” in general.
  • Anicca, dukkha, anatta are related by “yadaniccam tam dukkham, yam dukkham tadanattā” (expanded: “yad aniccam taṃ dukkham, yaṃ dukkham tad anattā.) That means, “everything in this world” is of anicca nature; (craving for them) leads to dukkha; therefore, it is unfruitful to crave for anything in this world (anatta).” 
  • There are 12 suttas in the Aniccavagga of the Saṃyutta Nikāya 35 (SN 35.1 through SN 35.12), stating that anicca (and dukkha and anatta) nature is associated with everything in this world.  
  • There are 6 suttas in the Aniccavagga of the Saṃyutta Nikāya 2 (SN 22.12 through SN 22.17) stating the same and the above relationship among the three entities.
Inert Things Are of Anatta Nature Too!

4. The “Yadanattā Sutta (SN 22. 17)” states: “Rūpaṃ, bhikkhave, anattā. Yadanattā taṃ ‘netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṃVedanā anattā …saññā anattā …saṅkhārā anattā …viññāṇaṃ anattā.”

Translated: “Bhikkhus, rupa is of anatta nature. It has no essence and is of no value. Any rupa (including external rupa) should be seen as it really is — with correct wisdom — thus: ‘This rupa is not mine, this I am not, this should not be taken as “me.” Then the same is stated for the four mental components.

  • There are other suttas explicitly stating that the external world is also of anatta nature. For example, the “Bāhirāyatana anatta Sutta (SN 35.227)” says: “Rūpā, bhikkhave, anattā. Saddā … gandhā … rasā … phoṭṭhabbā … dhammā anattā. Evaṃ passaṃ … pe … nāparaṃ itthattāyāti pajānātī” ti.

Translated: “Bhikkhus, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, and dhammā are of anatta nature. Seeing this … (a Noble Person) understands: ‘There is no value in any of those… (for them) there is no return to any state of existence in this world (i.e., they will attain Nibbāna).’”

  • Does it make sense to say, “sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, and thoughts are not-self”? Is having a “self” a possibility for sights, sounds, etc.? But that is the exact English translation of this sutta at Sutta Central!
  • Thus, it should be clear that ALL INERT THINGS in this world are also of anatta nature!
  • It is unfruitful AND dangerous to value them and to attach (taṇhā) to them. However, that attachment CANNOT be stopped by sheer willpower. It will gradually fade away as one starts to understand the Paṭicca Samuppāda process.
  • We will get to discuss this in detail in the future. But I just wanted to make the distinction between sakkāya diṭṭhi and anatta.
Sakkāya Diṭṭhi Is Related to Anatta

5. Of course, getting rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi and starting to comprehend Tilakkhana (including anatta nature) happens simultaneously at the Sotapanna stage. Those two concepts are related.

  • This relationship is described in the “Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta (SN 22.59),” the second sutta delivered by the Buddha to the five ascetics.
  • 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.” OR “Bhikkhus, form no value and should not be considered one’s own. If rupa (meaning one’s body in this case) belonged to oneself, one should be able to control it (without leading to sicknesses and injuries; one should be able to say: ‘Let my body be thus without affliction)”
  • Yasmā ca kho, bhikkhave, rūpaṃ anattā, tasmā rūpaṃ ābādhāya saṃvattati, na ca labbhati rūpe: ‘evaṃ me rūpaṃ hotu, evaṃ me rūpaṃ mā ahosī’ti. OR “But this body has the anatta nature, it leads to affliction, and it is not possible to have it thus: ‘Let my body be this way; let my body not be the other way.'” Therefore, “this body should not be considered as mine” is ONE ASPECT of the anatta nature.
  • In other words, one’s body is just like any other rupa in this world. It is subject to the anatta nature dictated by Paṭicca Samuppāda. That is also why sakkāya diṭṭhi is wrong.
  • The sutta explains that the same is true for the other four mental aggregates: vedanā anattā, saññā anattā, saṅkhārā anattā, viññāṇaṃ anattā.
Anattā AsārakaṭṭhenātiAnatta Means Anything in this World is Void of Value

6. Finally, the following verse is in the “3.1. Mahāpaññākathā” (towards the end) of Paṭisambhidāmagga in the Tipiṭaka: “Rūpaṃ atītānāgatapaccuppannaṃ aniccaṃ khayaṭṭhena dukkhaṃ bhayaṭṭhena anattā asārakaṭṭhenāti..”

  • Translated: “any rupa belonging to the past, present, or future is of  anicca nature and (attaching to them) will lead to one’s downfall (khaya); it is of dukkha nature because it is dangerous (bhaya); it is of anatta nature because it is useless (asāra.)
  • Thus it is evident that anatta CANNOT be translated as “no-self.”

The next verse there is; “Rūpaṃ atītānāgatapaccuppannaṃ aniccaṃ saṅkhataṃ paṭiccasamuppannaṃ khayadhammaṃ vayadhammaṃ virāgadhammaṃ nirodhadhammanti tulayitvā tīrayitvā vibhāvayitvā vibhūtaṃ katvā rūpanirodhe nibbāne khippaṃ javatīti—javanapaññā. Vedanā … pe … saññāsaṅkhārāviññāṇaṃcakkhupe… jarāmaraṇaṃ atītānāgatapaccuppannaṃ aniccaṃ saṅkhataṃ paṭiccasamuppannaṃ khayadhammaṃ vayadhammaṃ virāgadhammaṃ nirodhadhammanti tulayitvā tīrayitvā vibhāvayitvā vibhūtaṃ katvā jarāmaraṇanirodhe nibbāne khippaṃ javatīti—javanapaññā. Javanapaññatāya saṃvattantīti—ayaṃ javanapaññā. (14)”

  • Here it is emphasized that EVERYTHING in this world, including all rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhārā, viññāṇa,cakkhu … through … jarāmaraṇa, are all of anicca nature and arise via Paṭicca SamuppādaThey ALL lead to eventual suffering (dukkha). They ALL are of no real value (anatta.) See #3 above “yad aniccam taṃ dukkham, yaṃ dukkham tad anattā.
  • That is why we first need to understand the Paṭicca Samuppāda process.
  • This post has many Pāli verses. But I wanted to quote directly from the Tipiṭaka to make things absolutely clear. It is critical to understand these fundamental concepts.
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