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May 30th
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Home Teachings Non-Self The Teaching of Non-Self - Attachment to Self

The Teaching of Non-Self - Attachment to Self

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Article Index
The Teaching of Non-Self
Material Body
Belief in Creation
Attachment to Self
Vipassana Meditation
Volitional Activities
True Dhamma
What Five Aggregates Are Like
Summary of Processes
All Pages

Attachment to Self

In general, people hold on to the belief that there is an individual soul or a living entity which lasts for the duration of the life span before one dies (This is the view held by annihilists who believe that there remains nothing after death). But the eternalists believe that the individual soul remains undestroyed after death, and lives on in other new bodies. According to the eternalists, the body of a being is made up of two parts: the gross body and the subtle body. At the end of each existence, when death ensues, the gross body gets destroyed but the subtle body departs from the old body and enter into the new body. Iit remains eternal and never perishes. This view of the eternalists, as described in their literature, has been reproduced in full in the sub-commentary of the Visuddhi Magga. We have given a detailed description of the various beliefs in self together with origination in order to present more clearly the concept of no soul and non-self.

Among the general mass who profess themselves to be Buddhists, there are many who normally believe in the existence of a soul or a living entity, even though they have not put down their beliefs in so many words in the form of literature. They hold to the view that when life ends, a being departs via one's nose or mouth. When conception takes place in the womb of a mother, life enters through her nose, her mouth, or pierce through her abdomen. And from birth to death, it remains steadfastly in the new body. All these views relate to a belief in the existence of a soul or a living entity.


In reality, death is meant just the cessation of psycho-physical process, the non-arising of new mind-and-body, after the termination of death consciousness at the moment of death. There is no such thing as the departing soul or living entity. The new becoming means the arising of new consciousness at a new site together with the physical base in which it finds its support. Just before death consciousness terminates at the moment of death, it holds on to one of the objects (i.e. kammic vision). Conditioned thus by the objects (held on to) at the last moment of consciousness, a new consciousness arises at a new existence. This is called rebirth or re-linking consciousness as it forms a link between the previous and the new existence. When the re-linking consciousness passes away, it is followed by Bhavanga consciousness, the life continuum, which goes on continuously throughout life as prescribed by one's previous kammic energy.

When sense-objects such as sight, sound, etc., appear at the sense-doors, the life contiuum consciousness is replaced for the respective moments by the eye consciousness, ear-consciousness, etc. The arising of the new consciousness in the new existence is conditioned by kamma of the past existence, and is conventionally called by common usage: migration from the old to the new existence. But in reality, there is no soul nor living entity which transmigrate from one existence to another.


There are people who cannot grasp the concept of non-self, because they do not know about the theory of self as explained in detail above. They think it is self-clinging if someone holds on to the shape and form of objects. For instance, to recognise a tree as a tree, a stone as a stone; a house as a house, and a monastery as a monastery, is according to them, clinging to self. In their view, the fact of non-self and soulessness, are clearly grasped only when the concept of shape and form are transcended and replaced by perception of ultimate truth. As a matter of fact, merely perceiving forms and shapes does not amount to self-clinging, neither does it mean that belief in non-self is established once shapes and forms are no longer perceived.

Recognising inanimate objects such as tree, stone, house, or monastery does not constitute a belief in non-self, and it does not amount to self-clinging. It is merely holding on to a conventional concept. It is only when sentient beings with life and consciousness such as men, deva, animals , etc., are assumed to have a soul, a living entity, or a self, it amounts to clinging to a belief in self. When one assumes oneself to be a living soul or others as living entitles, then one is holding the belief in self. Brahma of the immaterial realms (Arupa) has no material body, and they do not perceive themselves in the conventional shapes and forms, but the ordinary worldling Brahma are not free from the perverted view of self. They believe as they do, in the existence of self or a living entity. It is only when the belief in existence of self or a living entity is discarded, and one's own body and other's body are perceived as merely psycho-physical phenomena, that knowledge of non-self arises. It is essential to develop true knowledge of non-self.


There are four kinds of self-clinging arising out of belief in self or soul.

(1) Sami atta clinging: Believing that there is, inside one's body, a living entity, who governs and directs every wish and action. It is this living soul which goes, stands up, sits down, sleeps, and speaks whenever it wishes to.

"Sami atta clinging is belief in a living entity in one's body, controlling and directing as it wishes."

The Anattalakkhana Sutta was taught by the Blessed One particularly to remove this Sami atta clinging. Now, as this Sutta was first taught to the group of five Bhikkhus who had become by then Stream Enterers, may it not be asked whether a Stream Enterer is still encumbered with self-clinging?

"Stream Enterer has abandoned self- clinging, but still holds on to conceit."

At the stage of Sotapanna, Stream Enterer, the fetters of personality-belief (false view of individuality), doubts and uncertainty, and adherence to rites and rituals have been completely eradicated. But a Stream Enterer is not yet free from Asmi-mana, the I-conceit. To take pride in one's ability and status, "I can do; I am noble," is to hold on to the I-conceit. But a Stream Winner's conceit relates only to the genuine qualities and virtues he actually possesses and is not false pride based on non-existing qualities and virtues.

The Stream Enterer has, therefore, to continue on with the practice of Vipassana in order to remove the I-conceit clinging which is still a fetter for him. When Vipassana knowledge (i.e. insight-knowledge) is considerably developed, this I-conceit becomes attenuated and is partially removed by the Sakadagami stage. But it is not completely abolished yet. The Anagami stage further weakens it, but this stage also could effect only partial removal. It is only the final Arahatta magga that could completely eradicate the I-conceit. Thus it could be regarded that the Anattalakkhana Sutta was taught by the Blessed One in order to bring about total eradication of the I-conceit clinging which was still lingering in the persons of the group of five Bhikkhus, although they had attained the stage of Stream Enterer.

(2) Nivasi atta clinging: Believing that there is a living entity permanently residing in one's body.

"Nivasi atta clinging is belief in a living entity permanently residing in one's body."

It is the common belief of people that they exist permanently as a living being from the moment of birth to the time of death. This is the Nivasi atta clinging. Some hold that nothing remains after death; this is the wrong view of annihilism. Yet others believe in the wrong view of eternalism which holds that the living entity in the body remains undestroyed after death, and it continues to reside in a new body in a new existence. So long as one clings to the belief that there exists permanently a living entity or a soul, so long would one hold that one's body is amenable to one's control as one wishes. It is understood that the Anattalakkhana Sutta was delivered to remove not only the Sami atta clinging but also the Nivasi atta clinging. Once the Sami atta clinging is removed, other types of self-clinging and wrong views are simultaneously eradicated completely.

(3) Karaka atta clinging: Believing that it is the living entity, the soul that effects every physical, vocal, and mental action.

"Karaka atta clinging is belief in a living entity that is responsible for every physical, vocal and mental action."

This Karaka atta clinging is more concerned with the aggregate of formations. We shall deal more fully with it in the aggregate of formations.

(4) Vedaka atta clinging: Believing that all sensations whether pleasant or unpleasant are felt by a self.

"Vedaka atta clinging is belief in that all sensations whether pleasant or unpleasant are felt by the living entity or the self."

This Vedaka atta clinging is concerned with the aggregate of feelings which is explained fully in the Five Aggregates. The aggregate of material body is not self or a living entity, it is but non-self. It has been adequately expounded, but it still remains to explain how meditators engaged in Vipassana meditation come to perceive the nature of non-self. We shall proceed with an explanation of how it comes about.


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