English translation of Anatta

I saw people in Dhammawheel forum always debate about this (I was one of them haha)

What is the proper way to translate Anatta?

I have seen “no Self”, “not Self”, “empty of self”, “void of self”

Which English translation is the most proper one?

Personally, I prefer “No self”. But people of EBT keep nagging this, accusing it as nihilism and said Buddha said it is wrong to say “there is no self”. What is the best way to translate it?

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For me I choose “no self” translation. Here is my understanding about Anatta:

Rupa, Vedana, Saññā, Sankhara, and Viññāṇa, be it past, present or future, internal or external, coarse or delicate, low or great, near or far, all are impermanent, suffering and not to be regarded as “self”. The “self” concept is not to be found in five aggregates or out of five aggregates, or combination of both inside and outside of five aggregates. The “self” concept is a delusion, a deception occured due to not understanding the Tilakkhana.

Hence there is no “self” to be found at ultimate sense.

The word “myself”, “yourself”, “themselves”, “tathagata”, “attabhava”, “me”, “te”, “mayham”, “tesam” etc., are used as merely communication purpose.

It is not eternalism since this understanding denied the permanence of five aggregates or any Sankhata Dhammas. It is not nihilism, as it does not deny the fact the reappearance (punabbhavo) will happen accordingly, as long as the Lobha, Dosa and Moha are not abandoned.

It adopts a middle way as taught by dependent origination. When certain conditions are met, there arises Sankhata Dhammas. And again when certain conditions are fulfilled, there ceases Sankhata Dhammas. Once Lobha, Dosa and Moha fully abandoned, Asankhata Dhamma (Nibbāna) is the final result.

There is no real “self” or “individual” that practice the teachings. Lord Buddha’s teaching is all about the existence of Sufferings and the cessation of Sufferings.

Any comment?


I’ve always taken the “not self” interpretation. As in, there is nothing in experience you can point to that is a self. “This” is not self, “that” is not self.

This deliberately avoids saying, “There is no self,” which I’ve heard is explained as a subtle form of self-making somewhere in the suttas, but I’m not sure where.

Great post. It’s an interesting question.

“Sabbe dhamma anatta” all dhammas are not (an) self (atta). So I’m fine with “not self.” Considering it is a refutation of Brahminism, which taught that beings have souls/immortal selves (atta), I can see where some might feel “soul/immortal being” works as a translation for “atta”, but since the Buddha refuted all self views, including ones that assign self hood to individual parts of being, like the body, as well as, and in addition to refuting mystical notions of self, like souls, I prefer “not self,” since it covers a wider range of ideas than “soul.” Even people who are atheist and don’t believe in souls can still believe they have a self, so anatta includes everyone, all atta concepts, not just atta as in a mystical meaning.

The Buddha declares that “all phenomena are nonself” (sabbe dhammā anattā), which means that if one seeks a self anywhere one will not find one. Since “all phenomena” includes both the conditioned and the unconditioned, this precludes an utterly transcendent, ineffable self."
-Bhikkhi Bodhi’s footnote to the Ānanda Sutta (SN.44.10)

Not self. “All phenomena are no self”, “form is no self” “perception is no self” etc. doesnt really make sense. There’s not that many cases where translating a phrase in context with anatta as “no self” really makes sense. Whether or not you believe the ultimate meaning of the Buddha’s teachings on anatta means “no self” that is another question. But in terms of translation. Not self/non-self are clearly the better translations.

Many accuse most explanations of parinibbāna as nihilism. The truth is, those that do have Externalist views. and don’t believe in knowledge of past lives and kamma are needed for enlightenment. You can see ven Sayadaw Kumarabhivamsas video. I forget, I think we disabled comments on it because they were so rude. I think that was how the “mistakes-of-Pa-Auk-person” came about. They are so righteous, and feel they are setting things correctly. Back to no-self… I think they criticize many things and it does not surprise me.

I choose nonself as my preferred translation, and it is one word to match anatta as one word, but I don’t believe all words need to be single-worded as translations… However, my spellchecker doesn’t like it. So maybe non-self is better?

Ajahn Punnadhammo’s talk on Anatta (no self).

Could be.

I never had a problem with no self because I don’t confuse with five aggregates. Or should I said, the absence of Self concept is the correct understanding of Anatta.

The way I understand is five aggregates are not self, and will not travel from one life to another life. There it dispels Sassataditthi.

Then the five aggregates don’t just be eliminated and that’s the end, as long as there are defilements, then rebirth is bound to happen. So, YOLO concept is definitely wrong. That dispels Ucchedaditthi.

When seeing the five aggregates, not being Self, merely occurred again and again across multiple birth and death due to Paticca-samuppada. And it can be stopped by working the reverse way. By means of Noble Eightfold Path.

This is my understanding.