It is very common for people to believe that Anatta means that there is “no self,” but the Buddha never said this. In fact, when asked whether the self existed or not, he refused to answer. Why? Because the question of whether a self exists or not is not directly related to freedom from suffering. The only reason the Buddha taught about Anatta was because it is directly linked to freedom from suffering.

Not Self (the correct translation of Anatta) is more of a description of the self than a negation of it. Everything is interconnected and everything is changing. Because of this, everything (every- thing) is unstable. Things come into and go out of existence in intimate relation to everything else, which is/are also coming into and going out of existence in relation to everything else. Nothing is separate and nothing stays the same for more than a mind moment. This is what Anatta or Not Self is referring to. Not that there isn’t anything here. It’s not denying there’s something here. It’s just saying what is here is very vulnerable to change and only lasts for a moment. That is, it’s ephemeral.

OK, that’s what Anatta is describing, but what does this have to do with freedom from suffering? The degree to which the ephemeral nature of all experience is known, is to the degree to which mind does not cling to experience. No clinging, no suffering. Freedom through non-clinging. The teaching of Anatta, in addition to simply describing how things are, is meant to help us not cling. That is all.


Touch your arm with your hand. Notice that there is definitely a body here. Now reflect: “Can I keep this body from aging?” Clearly not. Anatta doesn’t mean there isn’t a body present, it means the body must respond to the truth of change. It means this body is not yours.