The Anatta Upanishad

Understanding the Three Phases of the Heart

and Penetrating the Five Sheaths of Illusion


Preface      I. Gautama's Gift      II. The Three Hearts

III.  The Kosha Epistemology of Self-Understanding


I. Gautama’s Gift


Ehvam: Thus I have heard.

The Pali Canon was written four centuries after the Buddha passed into Nirvana --in the first century before the Common Era --and is the principal record of Gautama Buddha and his enlightened teaching. In his teaching, humanity was given no myths and no beliefs, no objectified divinity nor dreams of heaven, but rather an awakened and rational approach to understanding the pain of self-limitation, dukkha, or ''suffering''. Instead of offering a pantheon for religious comprehension, the Awakened One (Buddha) ''set the wheel in motion'' for most profound self-understanding. Instead of magic, myth, or mentality, he called for maturity. Instead of salvation, he taught liberation.

Like the Hindu prescriptions and precepts that preceded Buddhism, much of Buddhist teaching (''Dhamma'' or "Dharma'') focused on a life that is moral, balancing, and harmonious. Gautama's Middle Way and Eightfold Path, like all systems of great growth, emphasize this kind of wholesome preparation: cleanliness is next to godliness. But let us not confuse the Middle Way or Eightfold Path with the unique gift of the Buddha's teaching.

Like the Upanishadic wisdom which preceded Gautama, the Buddha spoke of the impermanence of pleasures dependent upon passing forms. And like the Upanishads, the Buddha called for the end of dissatisfaction. But instead of idealizing any icon (founded in internal or external reality) as the solution to the problem of suffering, this Awakened Being called for the rational and radical understanding of desire. Unlike the Vedas and Upanishads, the Buddha did not trumpet a heaven or salvation, or even a transformation of soul into Oversoul (atman to Paratman). Instead, he offered the Four Noble Truths.

Buddhism has been called ''the aberration of India''. In Hinduism, India's dominant religion, the individual (jivatman) or self (Sanskrit, atman; Pali, atta) was presumed to evolve into the unchanging Self (or Atman or Brahma). Against such a backdrop, Gautama Buddha, the Sage of the Shakyas (Shakyamuni), unveiled the illusions inherent in the traditional paths leading from the little atman to Really Big Atman, soul to Oversoul. Instead, Buddha recommended that his follows develop an understanding of desire and soul. By such understanding, even spiritual desires and the deep personality are undressed and un-done. It was the Awakened Buddha that slew the very illusion of soul itself. By such razor discrimination, the unborn Reality and primal Ground stands aloud Bright when the self and its supports are understood and un-done. It can therefore be said that the most salient, noble, and sublime Teachings of Buddha are those of an-atman (Pali: an-atta), a term meaning ''no soul.'' Anatta played in loud contrast to Hinduism's atman and the soul's search for salvation.

Treatises and discussions on nirvana (''blown out'') and discussions of the Buddha and Buddhism do not focus for long on this core dharma of anatta, this distinguishing historical mark, except as a foundation of the principles of transitoriness and the void. (There are many brilliant exceptions.) Instead, there is an understandable tendency in Buddhism to over-focus on the preparatory teachings of right living, moderation, concentration, desires, attachments, and reincarnation. Too little is made of Gautama's night under the bodhi tree, or the teachings of anatta or even nirvana.

Siddhartha was still subject to the sleep of illusion when he sat down under the bodhi tree, and when he arose, he was Awake, the Buddha. To the Buddha, belief was not sufficient, nor was the knowledge and powers of ragged pleasurists or austere yogis. Even the soul in all its fullness, complexity, and depth was still restricting; once he realized this limitation to consciousness, the persona of Prince Siddhartha was blown out in nirvanic bliss. When the last sheath of soulfulness was uncovered, the Buddha opened his eyes.

At first he did not teach, feeling that enlightenment could not be communicated. When he did speak, it is reported that indeed he taught the Middle Way of avoiding extremes, refreshing the balancing and moral wisdom in religious traditions before him. But this balancing wisdom was grounded in the greater message of the Flower Sermon: a penetrating insight about the core of suffering, the root of desire and identity. To come to such clarity, one need not believe in the Gods, Goddesses, or even the One God, but rather understand the core of unhappiness. Rather than the idealism of Gods, Goddesses, or the One God, the Buddha offered a profound realism.

It was a practical realism, grounded in practice and understanding. He loudly reiterated traditional wisdom: Don't confine yourself to impermanent pleasures or to belief and myth. Instead, balance the life, and turn your attention to what is not-limited. But instead of personalities or any other icons of divinity, the Buddha recommended that we contemplate desire's tension, and understand the (resultant) self that is always seeking something. Upon this great foundation (maha-stupa) of self-understanding, we may relax in and into the non-mythic, trans-rational, a priori, unborn, formless Mystery and inherent joy that is the Condition of all conditions, experienced easily in the immanence of beauty and love and realized as Consciousness itself.

Persistence in this penetrating understanding and practice causes knowledge, mind, and at last, self to be clarified and released into nirvanic mystery. This mature and sentient approach to the nature of suffering penetrated the mythic mind of childish belief and the adolescent mind of clever self-sufficiency.

Instead of myths and knowledge, the Enlightened One, beyond self and mind, Void and Unborn, naturally One with all and All's Radiance, gave the Dharma of anatta: no soul; just the absolute, transcendental consciousness understanding the fabric of identities and the fabrics of their desires. Buddha's silence about the soul and God was a shout into the egoic chatter of Hinduism. No soul! No confinement to any identity, not to the body, not to the feelings, not to the mind, not even to the soul, or the inward consciousness of the essential person.

The Sermon on the No-Self, the Anattalakkhana Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya XXII, 59) clearly conveys the new Dhamma of Anatta. (Note that the translation below uses the word ''consciousness'' in its limiting inner sense, closer to meaning the soul's awareness, not in its transcendental implications. Throughout this essay, I use the word ''consciousness'' in a much different sense -- to refer to that Brightness of Reality, that pure awareness that transcends as it includes everyone and everything like water filling the contours of every inlet.)

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Varanasi in the Game Refuge at Isipatana. There he addressed the group of five monks:

The body, monks, is not self. If the body were the self, this body would not lend itself to disease. It would be possible to say with regard to the body,

''Let my body be thus. Let my body not be thus.'' But precisely because the body is not self, the body lends itself to disease. And it is not possible to say with regard to the body. ''Let my body be thus. Let my body not be thus.''

Feeling is not self...

Perception is not self...

Mental processes are not self...

[Ordinary] Consciousness is not self. If consciousness were the self, this consciousness would not lend itself to disease. It would be possible to say with regard to consciousness, ''Let my consciousness be thus. Let my consciousness not be thus'' But precisely because consciousness is not self, consciousness lends itself to disease. And it is not possible to say with regard to consciousness. ''Let my consciousness be thus. Let my consciousness not be thus.''

How do you construe thus, monks -- Is the body constant or inconstant?

'Inconstant, Lord.'

And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?'

'Stressful, Lord.'

And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: "This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am"?

'No, Lord.'

Is feeling constant or inconstant? ...

Is perception constant or inconstant? ...

Are mental processes constant or inconstant? ...

Is [ordinary] consciousness constant or inconstant?

'Inconstant, Lord.'

And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?

'Stressful, Lord.'

And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: "This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am"?

'No, Lord.'

Thus, monks, any body whatsoever -- past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle, common or sublime, far or near: every body -- is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: ''This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.''

Any feeling whatsoever....

Any perception whatsoever....

Any mental processes whatsoever....

Any consciousness whatsoever -- past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle, common or sublime, far or near: every

Consciousness -- is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: ''This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.''

Seeing thus, the instructed Noble disciple grows disenchanted with the body, disenchanted with feeling, disenchanted with perception, disenchanted with mental processes, and disenchanted with consciousness. Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion, he is released. With release, there is the knowledge, ''Released.'' He discerns that, ''Birth is depleted, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.''

By such clarity, the Awakened One disallowed belief in the illusion of personality or divinities. He demonstrated paradoxically -- through the vehicle of an apparent individual -- the unborn radiance and uncaused happiness of inherent being, and how the One shines beautifully when we understand ourselves profoundly. This radical roar in the face of Hinduism's atman, myth, and egoity was practically incomprehensible yet undeniable.


How would one intimately describe anatta, elucidating both its feeling and understanding? How is a negation delineated? (Gautama's teaching on anatta is brightly illuminated when we study the esoteric Vedic tradition he inherited, and so Part Three of this treatise is devoted to understanding the layered koshas of self in the Upanishads.) I have heard many philosophical descriptions attempting to elucidate Shakyamuni's core dharma but, for me, Avatara Adi Da, the Bright living and breathing present-day Buddha, explained it best. He said: Make a fist. See how there seems to be a center? From this center a complex of relations can be discerned, and the core seems to be a point inside. That illusory point is the target of all experience, forming one dyadic pole of all co-arising, and the tensive cause of every desire. Desire's promise of release is created by the stress of closure and self-orientation. By understanding desire, we understand our most unconscious act, self-creation.

If you open your hand, there is nothing inside, and the point that seemed to be there is seen to be unreal. No search is needed, for no tension supports it. In the profundity of natural openness, the self is perfectly understood, and one is relieved of the burden of fulfillment or annihilation.

Our sense of being a self inside our head or heart, of being a capsule of energy or a separate soul of any kind, is the logic of the presumption of the differentiating self, atta, jivatman. The common persuasion is that the ''me'' that is created by tension and identity can be fulfilled, that my soul will be free, my goal will be attained, and my river will flow into the ocean someday. This is the atta's dream, and is to be noticed as only a dream. Dreams are the hope of the soul. Dreams are for those who are asleep, not noticing the mechanics of dreaming or the dreamer or self.

Ehvam: Thus I have heard.

There is a Radiance, uncaused and unborn, that is always the substructure and true substance of everything and all, lighting all formed realities, places and beings. Knowledge itself is lighted by This. Every thought and sensation are lighted by This. Even the soul itself, deep in the heart, is lighted by This. Consciousness and Being are One in This. This unborn unthing is radiant without cause and naturally everywhere; this bright void is Happy without reason, and is ecstatic and conscious without form. Or as my Initiator, Avatara Adi Da, says in The Paradox of Instruction, ''Truth is a formless presumption.'' Formless anatta is not just the philosophical explanation for transitoriness; anatta describes the selfless doorway to nirvana.

So what is the transition from the lie of the suffering soul to the truth of ecstasy (Greek: ''standing out'' from self)? How do we open the hand and end our sense of separation?

Adi Da, the Bright Living Buddha, gives His Dharma:

''What is it that you mean, that you are signifying and pointing to, when you say or feel you are suffering, unhappy, not at ease? You are pointing to your own action and finding it is the experience of separation, contraction, pain. But it is the compulsive and presently not-conscious avoidance of relationship, relative to the Divine Presence, and relative to all arising conditions. When this action becomes your responsibility, then these experiences and concerns will become obsolete by degrees in the action of God-Communion, and then in the intuition of your true Condition.''

         -- Breath and Name, 1977

I -- the soul, atta, atman, jiva, ego -- is the illusion created by my avoidance of relationship, my painful self-contraction, like unconsciously making a fist. My sense of being ''inside'' is really the reflection of my lack of loving. My dreams are the sign that I am asleep. But as I open my hand -- as I listen to the voice that is already awake, as I yield to self-transcending understanding, as I waste not in dreams, desires, and promises, as I keep to the Middle Way, as I become response-able to not turn away and grow in my persistence to love -- the eternal Presence that Is always and already (the Awake Condition, Supreme Being, the Heart of Reality) shines and enlightens. Sleep's unreal worlds fall away as eyes open in the paradoxical Company of the Enlightened One. The dreamer or soul is simply the sensation short of infinity, less than awake in bright relatedness (Sanskrit: Satsang). Where love becomes worship and openness is absolute, when there is not even any self or soul drinking the deep, there is the ecstatic doorway, anatta, to the Void and Divine Reality. No dreams and no dreamer: all tension and attention are joyously recognized in perfect self-understanding, heart-open and heart-possessed, awake with vision, Loving without end.

This I have heard, seen, and felt in the Company of the Awakened One, my Beloved Adi Da:

Avatara Adi Da, three renunciates, Frank Marrero, September 9, 1982