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Ānanda Suttaṃ

(S.iv.400)

A Discourse to Ānanda on the Self

419. On one occasion the wanderer Vacchagotta approached the Blessed One, and having approached he exchanged friendly greetings. Having engaged in polite conversation he sat down at one side. Sitting at one said, the wanderer Vacchagotta said to the Blessed One: “Friend Gotama, is there a self?”

When this was said, the Blessed One remained silent.

“Then, friend Gotama, is there no self?”

A second time the Blessed One was silent. Then the wanderer Vacchagotta got up from his seat and left.

Then the Venerable Ānanda, not long after the wanderer Vacchagotta had left, said to the Blessed One: “Why, venerable sir, did you no answer the questions asked by the wanderer Vacchagotta?”

“If, Ānanda, when asked by the wanderer Vacchagotta: ‘Is there a self?’ I had replied, ‘There is a self,’ then, Ānanda, I would have been agreeing with those recluses and priests who are eternalists. If, Ānanda, when asked by the wanderer Vacchagotta: ‘Is there no self?’ I had relied, ‘There is no self,’ [401] then I would have been agreeing with those recluses and priests who are annihilationists.

“If, Ānanda, when asked by the wanderer Vacchagotta: ‘Is there a self?’ If I had replied, ‘There is a self,’ would this have been in accordance with the arising of knowledge: ‘All phenomena are not-self?’”

“Indeed not, venerable sir!”

“If, Ānanda, when asked by the wanderer Vacchagotta: ‘Is there no self?’ If I had replied, ‘There is no self,’ then, Ānanda, Vacchagotta who is already confused would have fallen into even greater confusion thinking: ‘Formerly I had a self, but now I do not’!”¹

Notes:

1. This discourse makes it clear that there is no room for any kind of soul in the Buddha’s teachings. The only self in Buddhism is the conventional way of speech that we use to understand one another. There is an entire verse in the Dhammapada, the Attavagga, but it only ever uses “self” in the conventional sense: “By oneself is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself is one purified. Purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one purifies another.”(Dhammapada verse 165) for example.