Seeking for the Self

These days, you will often see people say, “The Buddha said that there’s no self” (he didn’t) and how “You’ve got to reach the state of no self to be able to understand the deeper Buddhist teachings”.

So “No self” has been made out to be like the highest attainment in Buddhism – even though the Buddha himself said quite clearly in the Vacchagotta Sutta that the view that “There is no self” is the view of annihilation – it’s a nihilistic teaching where the highest attainment is extinction of the self – nothing!  If that were so, then when you die, you’d also become extinct – so you don’t really need to study Buddhism to get the same result.

Originally, anatta (not-self) was used as a tool to help people see through and let go of things rather than a doctrinal statement about the highest state of existence.

If we look at what the Buddha actually said, in the Book of Discipline, Mahavagga, the Buddha not only does not say that there is no self, but he tells people to “Seek for the Self”!

Then the Lord, having stayed at Benares for as long as he 
found suiting, set out on tour for Uruvela. Then the Lord, 
turning off from the road, approached a certain woodland 
grove^ ; having approached, having plunged into that woodland 
grove, he sat down at the root of a certain tree. At that time 
a group of as many as thirty friends of high standing, ^ with 
their wives, were amusing themselves in that same woodland 
grove. One had no wife, (so) a woman of low standing^ was 
brought along for him. Then while they were heedlessly 
amusing themselves that woman of low standing, taking 
(their) belongings, ran away. || i || 

Then these friends, doing their friend a service and seeking 
for that woman, roaming about that woodland grove, saw 
the Lord sitting at the root of a certain tree ; seeing him, 
they approached the Lord, having approached, they spoke 
thus to the Lord : " Lord, has the Lord not seen a woman ? " 

" But what have you, young men, to do with a woman ? " 

" We, Lord, a group of as many as thirty friends of high 
standing, with our wives, were amusing ourselves in this 
woodland grove ; one had no wife, (so) a woman of low standing 
was brought along for him. Then, Lord, as we were heedlessly 
amusing ourselves, that woman of low standing, taking our 
belongings, ran away. Consequently, Lord, we friends, doing 
our friend a service and seeking for that woman, are roaming 
about this woodland grove." || 2 || 

" What do you think of this, young men ? Which is better 
for you, that you should seek for a woman or that you should 
seek for the self ? " 

" Truly this were better for us. Lord, that we should seek 
for the self." 

" Well then, young men, you sit down, I will teach you 
dhamma." Source:  Mahavagga I 31-32
THE BOOK OF THE DISCIPLINE (VINAYA-PITAKA) 
VOLUME IV (MAHAVAGGA) 
Translated by I. B. HORNER, M.A. 
http://archive.org/stream/bookofdiscipline14hornuoft/bookofdiscipline14hornuoft_djvu.txt
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