Excerpt from “What the Buddha Taught” by Venerable Dr. W. Rahula
Chapter VI The Doctrine of No-Soul: Anatta. (beg. at p.56)
“People become nervous at the idea that through the Buddha’s teaching of Anatta, the self they imagine they have is going to be destroyed. The Buddha was not unaware of this.
A bhikkhu once asked him: ‘Sir, is there a case where one is tormented when something permanent within oneself is not found?’
‘Yes, bhikkhu, there is, ‘ answered the Buddha. ‘A man has the following view: “The universe is that Atman, I shall be that after death, permanent, abiding, ever-lasting, unchanging, and I shall exist as such for eternity”. He hears the Tathagata or a disciple of his, preaching the doctrine aiming at the complete destruction of all speculative views … aiming at the extinction of “thirst”, aiming at detachment, cessation, Nirvana. Then that man thinks: “I will be annihilated, I will be destroyed, I will be no more.” So he mourns, worries himself, laments, weeps, beating his breast, and becomes bewildered. Thus, O bhikkhu, there is a case where one is tormented when something permanent within oneself is not found.” (M 1)
Those who want to find a ‘Self’ in Buddhism argue as follows: It is true that the Buddha analyses being into matter, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness, and says that none of these things is self. But he does not say that there is no self at all in man or anywhere else, apart from these aggregates.
This position is untenable for two reasons:
One is that, according to the Buddha’s teaching, a being is composed only of these Five Aggregates, and nothing more. Nowhere has he said that there was anything more than these Five Aggregates in a being.
The second reason is that the Buddha denied categorically, in unequivocal terms, in more than one place, the existence of Atman, Soul, Self, or Ego within man or without, or anywhere else in the universe. Let us take some examples.
In the Dhammapada there are three verses extremely important and essential in the Buddha’s teaching. There are nos. 5,6 and 7 of chapter XX (or verses 277, 278, 279).
The first two verses say:
‘All conditioned things are impermanent’ (Sabbe SA.MKHAARAA aniccaa), and ‘All conditioned things are dukkha’ (Sabbe SA.MKHAARAA dukkhaa).
The third verse says:
All dhammas are without self’ (Sabbe DHAMMAA anattaa).
Here it should be carefully observed that in the first two verses the word sa.mkhaaraa ‘conditioned things’ is used. But in its place in the third verse the word dhammaa is used.
Why didn’t the third verse use the work sa.mkhaaraa ‘conditioned things’ as the previous two verses, and why did it use the term dhammaa instead?
Here lies the crux of the whole matter.
The term sa.mkhaara denotes the Five Aggregates, all conditioned, interdependent, relative things and states, both physical and mental. If the third verse said: ‘All sa.mkhaaraa (conditioned things) are without self’, then one might think that, although conditioned things are without self, yet there may be a Self outside conditioned things, outside the Five Aggregates. It is in order to avoid misunderstanding that the term dhammaa is used in the third verse.
The term dhamma is much wider than sa.mkhaara. There is no term in Buddhist terminology wider than dhamma. It includes not only the conditioned things and states, but also the non-conditioned, the Absolute, Nirvaa.na. There is nothing in the universe or outside, good or bad, conditioned or non-conditioned, relative or absolute, which is not included in this term. Therefore it is quite clear that, according to this statement: ‘All dhammas are without Self’, there is no Self, no Atman, not only in the Five aggregates, but nowhere else too outside them or apart from them.
This means, according to the Theravada teaching, that there is no self either in the individual (puggala) or in the dhammas. The Mahayana Buddhist philosophy maintains exactly the same position, without the slightest difference, on this point, putting emphasis on dharma-nairaatmya as well as on pudgala-nairaatmya.
In the Alagadduupama-sutta of the Majjhima-nikaaya, addressing his disciples, the Buddha said: ‘O bhikkhus, accept a soul-theory (Attavaada) in the acceptance of which there would not arise grief, lamentation, suffering, distress and tribulation. But do you see, O bhikkhus, such a soul-theory in the acceptance of which there would not arise grief, lamentation, suffering, distress and tribulation?’
‘Certainly not, Sir.’
‘Good, O bhikkhus. I, too, O bhikkhus, do not see a soul-theory, in the acceptance of which there would not arise grief, lamentation, suffering, distress and tribulation.’
If there had been any soul-theory which the Buddha had accepted, he would certainly have explained it here, because he asked the bhikkhus to accept that soul-theory which did not produce suffering. But in the Buddha’s view, there is no such soul theory, and any soul-theory, whatever it may be, however subtle or sublime, is false and imaginary, creating all kinds of problems, producing in its train grief, lamentation, suffering, distress, tribulation and trouble.
Continuing the discourse the Buddha said in the same sutta:
‘O bhikkhus, when neither self nor anything pertaining to self can truly and really be found, this speculative view: “The universe is that Atman (Soul); I shall be that after death, permanent, abiding, ever-lasting, unchanging, and I shall exist as such for eternity” - is it not wholly and completely foolish?”
Here the Buddha explicitly states that an Atman, or Soul, or Self, is nowhere to be found in reality, and it is foolish to believe that there is such a thing.”
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---