Anattā means not-self. Why did the Buddha emphasize the idea and importance of not-self? To answer this question, let us begin with what we traditionally think of as ‘I’ - the self. There is a two components to the ‘self’, one physical and one mental. The physical component of the self is the body. The mental component of the self is the mind.
Consider the statement,
If my mind is mine, I must control my mind as I wish by myself.
Likewise for the body, consider,
If my body is mine, I must control my body as I wish by myself.
In your experience, do you find this to be the case?
We do not have complete control of either our bodies or our minds. We cannot always adjust our emotions, physical wellbeing, or thoughts. We do not posses magical prowess over our physical and mental experience. Can you really ‘have’ that which you cannot control? Can that which you cannot control really be ‘you’, the ‘self’?
My body is not me.
My body is not mine.
My mind is not me.
My mind is not mine.
You may ask, if the body and mind is not-self, then how can we talk, think, and or do anything? The Buddha says that our mental and physical state from which our actions derive is dependent on its conditions which stem from past and present kamma.
The Five Aggregates
We described the self as having physical and mental components. The physical component, the body, combined with the mental component, the mind, broken down into its constituent parts comprise the five aggregates (五蘊).
Form (rūpa, 色)
Feelings (vedanā, 受)
Perceptions (saññā, 想)
Mental action (sankhāras , 行)
Consciousness (viññāṇa, 識)
The Buddha used first person pronouns - ‘my’, ‘I’, et cetera - to tell his story. This is a practical necessity to create an understanding of the dhamma and to mitigate confusion. We have to use ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘mine’ to communicate in a practical manner.
We will continue our discussion of anatta and its interconnectedness to the ti-lakkhana (anatta, dukkha, and anicca) in subsequent Dhamma Letters.
May you be free from any bondages!
May you be developed the wisdom and understood anatta in your practice!
May you be happy and well!
Ayyā Kosallā & Mahāpajāpatī Bhikkhunī Sangha
Edited by Max Montgomery
If you have any questions related to dhamma, please feel free to ask. You can reach Ayya Kosalla directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will answer your questions and include them in future Dhamma Letters.
Bhikkuni Kosalla Vipassini is the Abbess of Mahapajapati Monastery in Pioneertown, California. For monastery updates, please see Mahapajapati’s Facebook. Donations are gratefully accepted, whether you volunteer your time, offer funds, or provide needed requisites for the monastics. If you are inspired to donate, you may do so here.
Buddha Sāsanaṁ Ciraṁ Tiṭṭhatu!
May the Buddha’s teachings last a long time!
Bhavatu Sabba Sotiṁ ca Maṅgalaṁ ca!!
May everyone be led on the path of peace and blessing!!
Sādhu Sādhu Sādhu !