Chapter 14. Self & Non-Self (Atta & Anatta)

ATTA (self) & ANATTA (non-self)

Referring to our diagram of 3D Anatta, we can clarify the concept of Anatta or Non-Self in three dimensions namely the Mental Sphere (per Trilakshana), Physical Sphere (per the Law of Conservation of Mass), and Spiritual Sphere (per the Law of Conservation of Energy) as follows:

(1)  Mentally, Anatta means the arising and cessation of mental experiences including perception, memory, thought, and cognition.

(2) Physically, Anatta means the formation and deformation of materials & immaterial compositions including solid, liquid, combustion, heat, and air which comply to the Law of Conservation of Mass & Energy.

(3)  Spiritually, Anatta means the progressing and regressing of spirits according to the Law of Conservation of Energy in the form of Astral Body within the cycle of birth with an exception to the Nirvana.

Thus, we can conclude that the concept of Anatta or Non-Self varies from context to context, and the concept remains ‘true’ as long as we interpret Anatta as ‘Non-Self,’ not ‘Nothingness.’  However, 'Nothingness' in Buddhism can be regarded as the insignificance of being mundane that should not be taken as a big concern that distracts the Dhamma practice when aiming towards the supramundane nobility.  

(By Pittaya Wong / 26 January 2019 /


The issue of atta (selfhood) and anatta (non-selfhood) in Buddhist teachings has led to many arguments among Buddhist academics and scholars.  To comprehend this problem, we focus on the translation and interpretation of the pali cannon or doctrine which has been rendered differently by academics and scholars.

Some academics and scholars claim that the Dhamma is anatta or non-self which eventually leads to the conclusion that supports the idea that our existence is ‘emptiness’ or sunnata with no exception to the Nirvana which is the ultimate goal of Buddhism.  In this case, the Dhamma is accounted as ‘everything.’  Simply speaking, in this case, it is believed that ‘everything’ is ‘nothing.’

However, some other academics and scholars take it differently that the Dhamma can mean either Samgata Dhamma (the conditioned existence) or Asamgata Dhamma (the unconditioned existence).  As the term Dhamma can mean so many things in Buddhism, we cannot conclude that all of what Dhamma can mean is non-self.  Thus only the Samgata Dhamma (the conditioned existence) is anatta (non-self) whereas Asamgata Dhamma (the unconditioned existence) is atta (self).

In addition, there is also a concern regarding selfhood and non-selfhood of Dhamma that if Dhamma were to mean everything as non-self; therefore, the Anatta Dhamma or the non-selfhood itself, as one of the Dhamma, is also non-self.  And this will eventually lead to the breaking even of the doctrine which does not comply to each other logically.

With the tools in Dhammonomics, we prove the idea with sets of equation and diagram to help students understanding the issue better as follows:

[1]  The equation showing relationship between Samgata DhammaAsamgata Dhamma, and Selfhood.

Samgata Dhamma = Anatta

A(Samgata Dhamma) = A(Anatta)

Asamgata Dhamma = Atta

[2] The equation testifying claim on non-selfhood of all Dhamma

Dhamma = Anatta

Anatta Dhamma = Anatta x Anatta

Anatta Dhamma = Atta2

Non-Selfhood = Selfhood2

Thus, this equation is invalid

(By Pittaya Wong / 1 September 2018 /