In the arahat's reflexion what appears reflexively is only pañcakkhandhā, which he calls 'myself' simply for want of any other term. But in the puthujjana's reflexion what appears reflexively is pañc'upādānakkhandhā, or sakkāya; and sakkāya (q.v.), when it appears reflexively, appears (in one way or another) as being and belonging to an extra-temporal changeless 'self' (i.e. a soul). The puthujjana confuses (as the arahat does not) the self-identity of simple reflexion—as with a mirror, where the same thing is seen from two points of view at once ('the thing itself', 'the selfsame thing')—with the 'self' as the subject that appears in reflexion—'my self' (i.e. 'I itself', i.e. 'the I that appears when I reflect'). For the puthujjana the word self is necessarily ambiguous, since he cannot conceive of any reflexion not involving reflexive experience of the subject—i.e. not involving manifestation of a soul. Since the self of self-identity is involved in the structure of the subject appearing in reflexion ('my self' = 'I itself'), it is sometimes taken (when recourse is not had to a supposed Transcendental Being) as the basic principle of all subjectivity. The subject is then conceived as a hypostasized play of reflexions of one kind or another, the hypostasis itself somehow deriving from (or being motivated by) the play of reflexions. The puthujjana, however, does not see that attainment of arahattā removes all trace of the desire or conceit '(I) am', leaving the entire reflexive structure intact—in other words, that subjectivity is a parasite on experience. Indeed, it is by his very failure to see this that he remains a puthujjana.

  The question of self-identity arises either when a thing is seen from two points of view at once (as in reflexion,[a] for example; or when it is at the same time the object of two different senses—I am now both looking at my pen and touching it with my fingers, and I might wonder if it is the same pen in the two simultaneous experiences [see RŪPA]), or when a thing is seen to endure in time, when the question may be asked if it continues to be the same thing (the answer being, that a thing at any one given level of generality is the invariant of a transformation—see ANICCA [a] & FUNDAMENTAL STRUCTURE—, and that 'to remain the same' means just this).[b] With the question of a thing's self-identity (which presents no particular difficulty) the Buddha's Teaching of anattā has nothing whatsoever to do: anattā is purely concerned with 'self' as subject. (See PATICCASAMUPPĀDA [c].)

  'Self' as subject can be briefly discussed as follows. As pointed out in PHASSA [b], the puthujjana thinks 'things are mine (i.e. are my concern) because I am, because I exist'. He takes the subject ('I') for granted; and if things are appropriated, that is because he, the subject, exists. The ditthisampanna (or sotāpanna) sees, however, that this is the wrong way round. He sees that the notion 'I am' arises because things (so long as there is any trace of avijjā) present themselves as 'mine'. This significance (or intention, or determination), 'mine' or 'for me'—see A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA [e]—, is, in a sense, a void, a negative aspect of the present thing (or existing phenomenon), since it simply points to a subject; and the puthujjana, not seeing impermanence (or more specifically, not seeing the impermanence of this ubiquitous determination), deceives himself into supposing that there actually exists a subject—'self'—independent of the object (which latter, as the ditthisampanna well understands, is merely the positive aspect of the phenomenon—that which is 'for me'). In this way it may be seen that the puthujjana's experience, pañc'upādānakkhandhā, has a negative aspect (the subject) and a positive aspect (the object). But care is needed; for, in fact, the division subject/object is not a simple negative/positive division. If it were, only the positive would be present (as an existing phenomenon) and the negative (the subject) would not be present at all—it would simply not exist. But the subject is, in a sense, phenomenal: it (or he) is an existing phenomenal negative, a negative that appears; for the puthujjana asserts the present reality of his 'self' ('the irreplaceable being that I am'). The fact is, that the intention or determination 'mine', pointing to a subject, is a complex structure involving avijjā. The subject is not simply a negative in relation to the positive object: it (or he) is master over the object, and is thus a kind of positive negative, a master who does not appear explicitly but who, somehow or other, nevertheless exists.[c] It is this master whom the puthujjana, when he engages in reflexion, is seeking to identify—in vain![d] This delusive mastery of subject over object must be rigorously distinguished from the reflexive power of control or choice that is exercised in voluntary action by puthujjana and arahat alike.

  For a discussion of sabbe dhammā anattā see DHAMMA.


[a] In immediate experience the thing is present; in reflexive experience the thing is again present, but as implicit in a more general thing. Thus in reflexion the thing is twice present, once immediately and once reflexively. This is true of reflexion both in the loose sense (as reflection or discursive thinking) and a fortiori in the stricter sense (for the reason that reflection involves reflexion, though not vice versa). See MANO and also VIÑÑĀNA [d]. [Back to text]

[b] 'It takes two to make the same, and the least we can have is some change of event in a self-same thing, or the return to that thing from some suggested difference.'—F. H. Bradley, The Principles of Logic, Oxford (1883) 1958, I,v,§1. [Back to text]

 [c] With the exception of consciousness (which cannot be directly qualified—see VIÑÑĀNA [c]—every determination has a positive as well as a negative aspect: it is positive in so far as it is in itself something, and negative in so far as it is not what it determines. This is evident enough in the case of a thing's potentialities, which are given as images (or absents) together with the real (or present) thing. But the positive negativity of the subject, which is what concerns us here, is by no means such a simple affair: the subject presents itself (or himself), at the same time, as certainly more elusive, and yet as no less real, than the object.

   Images are present as absent (or negative) reality, but as images (or images of images) they are present, or real. Also, being plural, they are more elusive, individually, than reality, which is singular (see NĀMA). The imaginary, therefore, in any given part of it, combines reality with elusiveness; and it is thus easily supposed that what is imaginary is subjective and what is real is objective. But imagination survives the disappearance of subjectivity (asmimāna, asmī ti chanda): Samvijjati kho āvuso Bhagavato mano, vijānāti Bhagavā manasā dhammam, chandarāgo Bhagavato n'atthi, suvimuttacitto Bhagavā. ('The Auspicious One, friend, possesses a mind (mano); the Auspicious One cognizes images (ideas) with the mind; desire-&-lust for the Auspicious One there is not; the Auspicious One is wholly freed in heart (citta). (Cf. Salāyatana Samy. xviii,5, quoted at PHASSA [d].)') Salāyatana Samy. xviii,5 <S.iv.164> The elusiveness of images is not at all the same as the elusiveness of the subject. (It is in this sense that science, in claiming to deal only with reality, calls itself objective.) [Back to text]

[d] 'I urge the following dilemma. If your Ego has no content, it is nothing, and it therefore is not experienced; but if on the other hand it is anything, it is a phenomenon in time.'—F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, Oxford (1893) 1962, Ch. XXIII. [Back to text]