Ego, Self and Anatta

Posted: 27/05/2018 by zandtao in Insight, ONE planet
Tags: ,


These three words have multiple definitions and because of this there is confusion. In such cases it is always important to understand where your own “definitions” lie. In ascribing “definitions” to these words I have no wish to obviate other definitions and ways of thinking, just a simple effort to clarify where I am coming from.

I have to take as “assumed” what I wrote in the Ch22 on addiction, by assumed I mean that I don’t want to keep repeating myself – that would make these blogs more tedious than they already are. This meme taken from Buddhadasa’s teachings brings some clarity:-

Here we have three levels but they do not correspond to Ego Self and Anatta. Anatta and sunatta are similar, and could be seen as no-self, so this meme has effectively two levels self and not-self. Within the two tiers of self (self, body and psyche) are the ego and self.

This train of thought started when I was trying to explain about clashes of male ego to a Thai person. She did not understand ego but did understand atma or atta. In other words in Thai there was no distinction between ego and self. This makes sense to me because the ego and self are both formed by attachment to the khandhas – represented in the meme by body and psyche.

The situation of description concerning clashes of male ego also helped me come to an understanding as to an arbitrary distinction between ego and self, and that distinction is relating to society. An ego is something like a façade that we put out as a defence against society – hence male ego. This ego still comprises of the 5 khandhas but is more concerned with how we appear to society. Hence there are similarities to egotist and arrogant, and of course clashes of male ego are concerned with “handbags at 10 paces” ie superficial ego in society.

There is a tendency based on Hindu thinking amongst others to have a two-tiered approach ie just ego and self. This fits in with certain aspects of western thinking such as self-realisation. In other words, in this two-tier system the self is seen as the true you that has to be realised or actualised. As far as it goes this is fine, it is a way of thinking I worked with for years. For this approach people are searching for their true selves by trying to eliminate ego and finding something that is true underneath any conditioning that they unravel.

When bell hooks talks of self-esteem I would suggest that she is talking of this true self, and how this true self should be valued – self-esteem.

It would be reasonable to leave this consideration at ego and true self (not bringing in anatta). When people are seeking self-realisation and get close to their true self, then there is great understanding. But the problem is that there is still conditioning left – illustrated by the fact that people are calling it self. There is still some separation.

Buddhadasa makes this clear by talking about “removing I and mine from the 5 khandhas”; self is still I and mine, no matter how true, soul or “essence” it is. In Hinduism this “self” confusion comes from needing something to transmigrate when there is reincarnation. But if there is oneness, no separation – just oneness, then there is nothing that is unique.

Some would argue that a self needs to exist to give volition etc. But examine the 5 khandhas (body – rupa, feeling – vedana, memory and perception – sanna, mental operations – sankhara, and consciousness – vinnana). What else is there in self? If each of these 5 khandhas carry out their function, what action is there that is not covered by these 5? In other words, why is there a need for a separate entity of self. As explained in Ch22 we build up self by attaching to 5 khandhas through instinct, and then as adults we cling to this self – our instincts – instead of just letting them go. The final step of this letting go is to let go of the self and just accepting sunnata.

Following the path can be seen as recognising the ego letting it go, seeing that self is also attachment to the 5 khandhas and transcending this self, just being sunnata.

“Native yin/yang” <– Previous Post “Venezuela” Next Post –>

Books:- Treatise, Wai Zandtao Scifi, Matriellez Education.

Blogs:- Ginsukapaapdee, Mandtao, Matriellez.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.