Front Page Forums Principles of Dharma No-Self/True-Self/Consciousness/Pure-Awareness

This topic contains 10 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Ivan Ganza 9 months, 3 weeks ago.

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    Hi there,
    i am new in this forum but not to TMI and Culadasa.
    Firtsly i would like to mention that English is not my first language and therefore i hope you excuse if i might make some mistakes.

    As you might have noticed from the Topic Title, my question revolves around “No-Self/True-Self/Consciousness/Pure-Awareness” and what the Buddha taught about that.

    I have looked into the Nature of (my) self and at least interlectually understood that:
    -We are just the five aggregates
    -Everything including the five aggregates is impermanent (arises and passes)
    -There is no seperation or seperate things in the entire Universe, everything is at least connected through causality
    -> Therefore there is no self/no doer (things don´t come into existence and than vanish) all that exists is just constat change.

    Understanding this i have a problem with the notion of the true-self that some religions and traditions define as pure-unchanching-awareness.
    I have often asked myself what is it that is aware of the emptiness i perceive when deconstructing myself, there is always something that is perceiving / something in which perception happens. -Is it my true self or just another illusion?
    Even some Buddhist traditons describe that, for example the concept of Rigpa (the ground of reality/utimate nature/pure untainted awareness) in Dzogchen.

    -Is the perceiver/ground of perception/rigpa who we really are or is it also impermanent?
    Or are many of the spiritual teachers (it seems especially in advaita) just stuck on another illusion, an illusion of a immortal self that is looking through all of us.

    I know that Culadasa says he is a non-dualist in the sense that mind and matter are just one stuff looked at from different perspectives, maybe some of you know if he means by that one stuff pure-awareness/conscioussnes/rigpa and what his opinions about advaita and some of it´s teachers like Ramana Maharshi are.

    Thank you very much!



    Hi Alex,

    As I understand it, the anatta doctrine is not quite the bald assertion that there is no real self (atman) at the basis of our consciousness. The point is that there is no Self, or basic reality which may be grasped, either by direct experience or by concepts. Apparently the Buddha felt that the doctrine of the atman in the Upanishads (which were widely available and studied during his lifetime), lent itself too easily to a fatal minsinterpretation. It became an object of belief, a goal to be reached, something to which mind could cling to as its final abode of safety in the flux of life. The Buddha’s view was that a Self so grasped was no longer the true Self, but only one more of the innumerable forms of maya (illusion). Thus annata may be expressed in the form, “The true Self is non-Self” since any attempt to conceive of the Self, believe in the Self, or seek for the Self immediately thrusts it away.

    The Upanishads distiguish between atman, the true, supra-individual Self, and the jivatman, or individual soul, and the Buddha’s anatman doctrine agrees with them in denying the reality of the latter. It is fundamental to every school of Buddhism that there is no ego, no enduring entity which is the constant subject of our changing experiences. For the ego exists in an abstract sense alone, being an abstraction from memory, like the illusory circle of fire made by a whirling torch. We can, for example, imagine the path of a bird through the sky as a distinct line which it has taken. But this line is as abstract as a line of latitude. In concrete reality, the bird left no line, and, similarly, the past from which our ego is abstracted has entirely disappeared. Thus any attempt to cling to the ego or make it an effective source of action is doomed to frustration.

    Then the second noble truth relates to the cause of frustration which is trishna, clinging or grasping, and the third truth is concerned with the ending of self-frustration, or grasping, and the whole viciously circular pattern of karma which generates the Round. The ending is called nirvana. Nirvana, according to its Sanskrit roots is related to the cessation (nir) of turnings (vritti) of the mind. These turnings are the thoughts by which the mind tries to grasp the world and itself. Nirvana is the way of life which ensues when clutching at life has come to an end. In so far as all definition is clutching, nirvana is necessarily undefinable. It is the natural “un-self-grasped” state of mind, and here of course, the mind has no specific meaning, for what is not grasped is not known in the conventional sense of knowledge. So, to attain nirvana, or awakening is not attainment in any ordinary sense, because no acquisition and no motivation are involved. It is impossible to desire nirvana, or to intend to reach it, for anything conceivable as an object of action is, by definition, not nirvana. Nirvana can only arise unintentionally, sponataneously, when the impossibiity of self-grasping has been thoroughly percieved. A Buddha is someone who has transcended all dualities, whatsoever.

    The non-duality of the mind, in which it is no longer divided against itself is samadhi, and because of the dispappearance of that fruitless threshing around of the mind to grasp itself, samadhi is a state of profound peace… it should be noted that this is not the stillness of total inactivity, for once the mind returns to its natural state, samadhi persists at all times, in “walking, standing, sitting and lying”.

    Hope that helps…peace…Arthur

    • This reply was modified 10 months, 2 weeks ago by  bluelotus9.
    • This reply was modified 10 months, 2 weeks ago by  bluelotus9.
    • This reply was modified 10 months, 2 weeks ago by  bluelotus9.


    I had similar questions about Advaita Vedanta’s teachings. Just to take one little portion of your question and to give my homemade explanation that I tell myself is this. The Everpresent Awareness that Vedanta refers to might not be so ever-present when the mind gets fine-tuned down to observing arising and passing away. Perhaps Awareness will also be arising and passing away, and not be so permanent and continuous after all.



    That you very much Alex for bringing this interesting and profound subject up in such a clear way. I agree with you that early Buddhism seems at odds with Vedic and Mahayana concepts of True Self, Universal Consciousness, the Ground of Being, etc. Early Buddhism stand on the subject is perhaps most explicit in the Bahiya Sutta, where the Buddha instructs Bahiya thus:
    “Herein, Bahiya, you should train yourself thus: ‘In the seen will be merely what is seen; in the heard will be merely what is heard; in the sensed will be merely what is sensed; in the cognized will be merely what is cognized.’
    “When, Bahiya, for you in the seen is merely what is seen… in the cognized is merely what is cognized, then, Bahiya, you will not be ‘with that.’ When, Bahiya, you are not ‘with that,’ then, Bahiya, you will not be ‘in that.’ When, Bahiya, you are not ‘in that,’ then, Bahiya, you will be neither here nor beyond nor in between the two. Just this is the end of suffering.”
    Now contrast this with the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 3.7.23
    “This immutable, O Gargi, is never seen but is the Witness; It is never heard, but is the Hearer; It is never thought, but is the Thinker; It is never known, but is the Knower.”
    The Buddha of the Bahiya sutta could not be any clearer in stating that it is crucial to understand that in the seen there is only the seen, that there isn’t a “Hearer”. Since the True Self of Advaita Vedenta, and the Ground of Being in Dzochen, seem to be just such a Hearer, I agree that they seem to be in direct contradiction.
    On the other hand, there are many awakened people who hold each of these views. From this fact I take two lessons:
    1 – It does not matter which you believe. You can even decide to leave the nature of Awareness remain a beautiful mystery.
    2 – You will not get any more clarity on this subject once you awaken. Whatever belief you start with on the subject is likely to be the belief that you end up with afterwards.
    Bottom line, the important point is not to grasp at whatever view you may prefer. As the Buddha stated: “nothing in the world is worth grasping to”. Including the view on the nature of Awareness I might add.



    Hello to you all. 🙂 And thank you Alex for bringing up such an interesting and central topic!

    I agree with Pierre that the question of No-Self versus True Self is subtle enough that it might not be the most relevant distinction in terms of your practice and the progress of your insight. However, overly robust views on Self might reinforce clinging to some extent. I’ll therefore add a few comments on the matter, in case they turn out elucidating or otherwise helpful.

    Firstly, like Pierre said (with wonderful quotations, thank you!), the classical Buddhist stance on Self, as well as the stance of TMI, is that there is no kind of Self, not only to be grasped epistemically, but metaphysically as well. There is nothing there – there is no such thing.

    Explaining this with the TMI Mind-System Model, consciousness is just a space in which things appear, without there being any monolithic observer or Witness to observe them. The only entities that hear, observe or witness what takes place in consciousness are whatever subminds are tuned into it at any particular moment, and none of those is the Witness or the True Self. In addition to the subminds, there is no one listening. Just like a physical space like a room does not observe or listen to what takes place in the room, but is simply a space where things happen and which various visitors can temporarily enter and observe and listen to while they are there; just so the consciousness is also only a space which does not observe or listen to anything that takes place in it, but is purely and simply the space where things happen, and in which various subminds are temporarily tuned in to project information for other tuned in subminds to receive and react to, and to receive such information themselves.

    No one is listening except for the subminds. They come and go, and none of them is the Self. The space does not witness anything; walls have no ears. There is nothing and no one there. It’s empty.

    I hope this short description is of some help and interest. 🙂

    • This reply was modified 10 months, 2 weeks ago by  Santtu.
    • This reply was modified 10 months, 2 weeks ago by  Santtu.
    • This reply was modified 10 months, 2 weeks ago by  Santtu.


    The knower and the known are One/Zero.
    True Self = No Self / No Self = True Self


    Ivan Ganza


    This has been a nice thread.

    I think we need to slightly correct the definition of “Consciousness” posted by Santtu above;

    Let me type the text from the TMI Glossary (pg. 417):

    “The Moments of Consciousness and Mind-System models conceptualize consciousness as a “place” within the mind where information exchange happens. Although thinking of consciousness as a locus or place is useful in simpler theoretical models of the mind, the idea is, in the end, problematic. Therefore, as such models evolve, the final conception of consciousness is not as a place, but simply as the process of information exchange…..”

    Consciousness (as we define it in TMI domain) is not a place, but simply the process of information exchange.

    All we have is process….

    Can we go beyond and define what that is?

    Very difficult. Impossible to define with words.

    We arrive at the place of not knowing.

    Of not needing to know.

    The place of wonder.

    (DT Teacher)

    • This reply was modified 10 months, 2 weeks ago by  Ivan Ganza.


    My practical answer to the question is: Of course there is a Self; but I’m not It.



    Wow, it is amazing to see how many of you guys have replied, thank you very much for that!

    I wanted to reply much sooner to you and keep the Discussion going on, but as i got more and more involved into the topic i didn’t know what to reply..
    I must admit this is not an easy Topic.
    Knowing that what i perceive to be myself are the five Skhandas should be enough for the moment.

    Something Culadasa said on SoundCloud at the end of “What the Buddha taught, Part 3” confused me alot.
    He said that there aren’t multiple Consciousnesse’s but only one and it only seems to be divided by the Object it perceives.
    This confuses me in the sense that i thought Consciousness to be the act of information exchange inside my brain as Ivan stated it.

    I hope this Thread is not dead yet and that we can keep on sharing our thoughts on that Topic.
    Thanks, Alex 🙂



    Something else.. later on in Part 5 he mentioned that he believes that “Ultimate Reality” has a Mind and that it knows itself, does anyone know what he meant by that?


    Ivan Ganza

    Hi Alex,

    I think it is a matter of perspective.

    For example — If I take the highest possible view and look out — I might say there is a single process of information exchange. And that might be a good way to look at it from that perspective.

    If I dig into this process on a finer level — within that process — would it not inevitability start to look like there were multiple instances within the greater process?

    Seems to me it depends on how and where we take our stand, how we want to look at it.

    Ultimately though, none of these concepts can fully capture, and it is like grabbing handfuls of sand. Good to a point, however when pushed to far…

    • This reply was modified 9 months, 3 weeks ago by  Ivan Ganza.
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