The Buddha on Self and Non-Self

| February 12, 2018 | 6 Comments

The Buddha’s teachings on the self and on non-self are some of his most subtle, interesting, and unique. We’ll take a look at them in this video. We’ll also compare the Buddha’s view of the self with that of western philosophers David Hume and Derek Parfit.

Suttas mentioned in this video:

Sabbāsava Sutta (MN 2.8)
Ānanda, is there a self? (SN 44.10)
Authorities (AN 3.40)
Dhammapada “The Self” (Dhp. 157-166)
Udāna 5.1
The All (SN 35.23)
The Characteristic of Nonself (SN 22.59)
The Snake Simile (MN 22.23-25)

HERE is a very good video with Derek Parfit discussing his notion of personal identity and that of the Buddha.

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Doug Smith

About the Author ()

Doug is Study Director of the Secular Buddhist Association. He has a PhD in Philosophy, with a minor in Buddhist philosophy and Sanskrit. In 2013 he completed the year-long Integrated Study and Practice Program with the BCBS and NYIMC. A long time scientific skeptic, he pursues a naturalized approach to practice. He is also interested in scholarship about the Tipiṭaka, and the theoretical and historical origins of the dhamma. He posts videos at Doug's Secular Dharma on YouTube. Some of his writing can be found at

Comments (6)

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  1. rhk0322 says:

    Doug, I am new to Buddhist thinking and this idea of the non-self is tricky to me. I am wondering how what you discussed in the video squares with the idea of a Buddha Nature, which seems like a self that is identified with the universe. How is the Buddha nature different from the Hindu understanding of atman?

    • Doug Smith Doug Smith says:

      Hi rhk and thanks for the question. I agree that the notion of Buddha Nature seems to go against the Buddha’s teaching of non-self, and seems very similar to the Brahminic teaching of atman (In that time period, Hinduism is an anachronism; Hinduism is a much later development). However as with all thorny concepts like these, it depends on how it’s understood. If it’s just understood as a kind of “potential to awaken” then it might not really be anything much like the atman. But this is a matter of some real controversy and dispute in Buddhism, as different schools and different teachers see it different ways.

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