All forms of Buddhism teach that all dharma or phenomena have 3 universal characteristics :
All phenomena are Impermanent
The teaching of ANICCA
All phenomena are Unsatisfactory
The teaching of DUKKHA
All phenomena are Not-Self
The teaching of ANATTA
The teachings of Anicca and Dukkha are common to all religious or philosopHical traditions, but the teaching of Anatta is unique to Buddhism.
According to Anatta there is nothing that can be identified as 'self', all the things that we take to be ourself, to be I and mine, are really 'not-self'.
Buddhism holds that these notions are deceptive delusions that lead us into conflicts and suffering. To stop this suffering we have to realize the nature of all phenomena. This is achieved by intellectual understanding and through insight.
Because almost all of our thoughts and activities are centred around the idea of "I", "mine" and "myself" Anatta is the deepest and the most difficult of the 3 characteristics to realize. To grasp its exact meaning we have to clarify what it actually does and does not deny. 'Anatta' meaning literally 'not-self', what really is this 'self' denied by it ?
The word "self" can be used in three senses :
- (a) A reflexive sense, as when when we speak of "myself", "yourself", "oneself". (French “moi-meme”, “toi-meme”, “soi-meme”). Buddhism accepts such use of the word "Self". You have to train yourself, one must purify oneself, you have to make the effort yourself and so on.
- (b) "Self” as one's own person, the compound of body and mind or psycho-physical personality. Here the word 'self' is used to refer easily and economically to what really is a complex process. Buddhism accepts such use of the word "Self".
- (c) A substantial and lasting ego entity, core of the compound of body and mind. This idea of a "Self" is categorically rejected by the teaching of Anatta, for it is this assumption that draws us into suffering.