At 4 min 30 sec in this video, Lama Shenpen Hookham Ph.D., clarifies the teaching of anatta (nonself) in Buddhism whilst teaching a meditation retreat:
And when we talk about nonself – what is not self – I think it’s a big problem in the way Buddhists talk about “no self” to be honest. I think it’s a load of nonsense – “Buddhism says I have no self” – no it doesn’t! That’s ridiculous!
I mean the Buddha said:
If you look at what’s impermanent and changing and things we cling to – if you look at the 5 skandhas and clinging to those – you find that none of them are the self, really. They’re all interpretation – they’re not really in essence what you are in yourself – they’re interpretation.
And then he [the Buddha] describes:
The reason why they’re not the self is because they are suffering, because they’re impermanent.
In other words, if they were the self, they’d be permanent – they wouldn’t be suffering.
That’s what’s implied by that, isn’t it?
- They are not the self because they are suffering and they’re impermanent.
- Which implies a self would be permanent and not suffering.
And what is not changing, not conditioned, not suffering? What’s described like that and is described as bliss? What does the Buddha describe like that? Nirvana.
So it’s like – the skandhas are not the self because they are not Nirvana.
In other words, when I find Nirvana, I find my true self. My true self IS Nirvana!
In English, it’s very natural to say, “What am I, in myself?” And if you look it up in the dictionary, it means the true nature of something – the self of something is the true nature of something.
So what is impermanent and changing and suffering is not what we are in ourselves – because if that’s what we are in ourselves, we wouldn’t be complaining would we?
So when we sense that there is something – something true and some reality about our experience, I think.. you do point to your own heart, to something that’s more you than anything else, any interpretation you can put on it – it’s something quite profound.
And then you notice that most of the time, we’re not thinking of that as ourselves – in fact, we tend to not even go there. We’re trying to create something that’s kind of a parody of that – kind of hold onto it as somehow I’ve got to protect this “idea I have of myself” – and that’s the self that’s the problem. You need to kind of notice that this is a problem and let it go.
Lama Shenpen Hookham, Ph.D.