The concept of Anatta


The contribution from Ven. Bhante Dhammika clarified matters to a great extent. So also the contents of a letter from Mr. Bodhi Dhanapala. Though an old timer I did not go West, to Cambridge but to Australia for higher studies as a C Plan scholar. True I dabbled in figures in accounts and finance later to obtain a doctorate. The question remains as to why the Buddha included this abstruse metaphysical concept in a trilogy of ideas the first two of which are self evident while the third, anatta goes against the grain of immediate"reality". At the end this concept of no- self, no ego converges towards the concept of anicca or impermanence.

I thought it best to quote short extracts from the writings of two scholars. One from Dr. Ananda Guruge, a Pundit and Sanskrit scholar. In his book "Buddhism The Religion and its Culture"This discussion on the most important doctrine of Buddhism may be concluded with the interpretation given by a modern Buddhist scholar of Sri Lanka Ven Walpola Rahula:

"According to the Buddha’s teaching it is wrong to hold the opinion "I have no self"(which is the annihilationist theory) as to hold the opinion "I have self"(which is the eternalist theory), because both are fetters ,both arising from the false idea "I AM". The correct position with regard to the idea of Anatta is not to take hold of any opinions or views but to try to see things objectively as they are without mental projections, to see what we call "I" or "being" is only a combination of physical and mental Aggregates which are working together interdependently in a flux of momentary change within the law of cause and effect and that there is nothing permanent, everlasting, unchanging, eternal in the whole existence." page 24, 2nd Edition.

The second extract is taken from the book "Buddhism and Christianity, their inner affinity" by Dr Anthony Fernando, a former Roman Catholic priest and a former Lecturer in the Dept of (Christian) and Classical Studies at the University of Kelaniya. On page 60 of his book the author states "…Secondly the Buddha is speaking of a self that is a hindrance to the liberation of a human being because he is constantly occupied, preoccupied y ……..A second application of words such as soul, self, or I is found in the common man’s day to day language. In that second sense it is a reference to an individuals individuality. In his daily activities the ordinary man needs to distinguish one individual from another…. That is why he speaks of an "I", "you" or myself". Whether we believe in immortal souls or not we have to believe that distinct and separate individuals exist in our society…. An individual is one who is endowed with consciousness……Individuals and individuality are an objective reality and not an illusion…………(page 61) He spoke of reward and punishment. So it is not individuality or responsibility that he wanted denied by his doctrine of "no self".It is "self" in a third sense that the Buddha was concerned with…..This self paradoxical as it may sound is a self created self.. It has no objective reality… It is the ego behind egoism, It is this "self" behind the feeling of "self importance"…..

Later on Dr. Fernando states that the Buddha categorized the concept for further elaboration under "Right Understanding"

Sri Lankan Buddhists are proud to have the best of Theravada Buddhism as its legacy from India. But considering the un-Buddhistic practices like caste discrimination among the Nikayas , contravening the Constitution, prominence given to rituals, visits to Devalas to pay pooja and panduru to Hindu deities, relics of Hinduism left over from the South Indian Chola dynasties that reigned and ruined the ancient Buddhist culture that flourished. ,.not forgetting the amplitude of corruption prevailing among politicians of all parties, one wonders whether these unwholesome practices are a travesty of Theravada Buddhism.

My aim is to better understand the philosophy and the precepts of this great religion. As the Buddha himself had advised his followers I am only trying to understand by questioning certain concepts which are not easy to comprehend.

Leo Fernando,


animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...