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The Buddhist doctrine of Anatta (Pāli;) or Anātman (Sanskrit) specifies the absence of a permament and unchanging self (ātman;).

Anatta is one of the Three Seals of Buddhist doctrines and is recorded as having been one of the primary realizations attained by the Buddha during his enlightenment experience.

Table of contents
1 Summary
2 Interpretive problems
3 See also
4 External links


Buddhist teaching tells us that all in life is impermanent and in a constant state of flux, and that any entity that exists does so only in dependence on the conditions of its arising, which are non-eternal. Therefore, any sense one might have of an abiding self or a soul is regarded as a misapprehension.

Buddhists hold that the notion of an abiding self is one of the main causes of human conflict, and that by realizing the nonexistence of our perceived self, 'we' may go beyond 'our' mundane desires. (Reference to 'oneself' or 'I' or 'me' for Buddhists is used merely conventionally.)

Interpretive problems

Students of Buddhism often encounter an intellectual quandary with the teaching in that the concept of anatta and the doctrine of rebirth seem to be mutually exclusive. If there is no-self, no abiding essence of the person, it is unclear what it is that is reborn. The Buddha discussed this in a conversation with a Brahmin named Kutadanta.

There have been a number of attempts by various schools of Buddhism to make explicit how it is that rebirth occurs. The more orthodox schools claim that certain of the dispositions or psychological constituents have repercussions that extend beyond an individual life to the next. More innovative solutions include the introduction of a Pudgala, a "person", which functions comparably to the ātman; in the rebirth process and in karmic agency, but is regarded by its advocates as not falling prey to the metaphysical substantialism of the ātman.

Others seek a proxy not for the ātman but for Brahman, the Indian monistic ideal that functions as an ātman for the whole of creation, and is in itself thus rejected by anatta. Such a solution is the Consciousness-only teaching of the Yogacara school attempt to explain the seeming paradox: at death the body & mind disintegrates, but if the disintegrating mind contains any remaining traces of karma, it will cause the continuity of the consciousness to bounce back an arising mind to an awaiting being (i.e. a fetus developing the ability to harbor consciousness).

Some Buddhists take the position that the basic problem of explaining how "I" can die and be reborn is, philosophically speaking, no more problematic than how "I" can be the "same" person I was a few moments ago. There is no more or less ultimacy, for Buddhists, between the identity I have with my self of two minutes ago and the identity I have with the self of two lives ago.

See also

External links