Definition - What does Anatta mean?

Anatta is a Buddhist concept that explains that there exists no permanent self or soul. The term comes from the Pali language and translates as “non-self” or “without substance.”

Anatta is one of the three essential doctrines in Buddhism, the other two being anicca (impermanence of all existence) and dukka (suffering). Buddhists refer to the recognition of these three doctrines as “right understanding.” Anatta is in contrast to the philosophy of Hinduism and many yogic traditions, which assert that a permanent soul (atta or atman) survives physical death to be reincarnated.

The corresponding Sanskrit term for anatta is anatman.

Yogapedia explains Anatta

The Buddha taught that the individual is actually a collection of five ever-changing attributes known as the “aggregates,” or skandhas in Sanskrit. The skandhas do not constitute the self, and attachment to them causes unhappiness and suffering (dukka). The five skandhas are:

  • Form or the physical body (rupa)
  • Sensations and feelings (vedana)
  • Perceptions (samjna)
  • Experiences (samskara)
  • Consciousness (vijnana)

Mindful meditation is practiced as a tool to understand this changing essence of existence and to accept it, thereby ending suffering. In Buddhism, meditation is a step on the path to nirvana (enlightenment), which is realization of anatta.

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