Anātman

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Anātman (Skt., ‘not-self’; Pāli anatta). Fundamental perception in Buddhism that since there is no subsistent reality to be found in or underlying appearances, there cannot be a subsistent self or soul in the human appearance—in contrast to Hinduism, where the understanding of ātman and jīva is equally fundamental to its understanding of the human predicament and how to escape it. If all is subject to dukkha (transience and the grief that arises from trying to find the non-transient within it), then human appearance is no exception. The human is constituted by five aggregates (skandha) which flow together and give rise to the impression of identity and persistence through time. Thus even if there is ‘no soul’, there is at least that which has the nature of having that nature. There were major disputes about the best candidates for constituting this impression (see especially PUDGALA; ĀLAYA-VIJÑĀNA), but agreement was in general reached that there is no soul which, so to speak, sits inside the human body, like the driver of a bus, and gets out at the end of the journey. There is only the aggregation of components, which is caused by the previous moment and causes the next. Thus while there is momentarily some one person who is rightly identified as the Dalai Lama, there is no one person who the Dalai Lama always is (cf. Milindapañha). In Mahāyāna Buddhism, this term was extended to apply to all appearance which arises from Śūnyatā and is therefore devoid of substance, empty of self.

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