Appendix 2, Anattanisamsa

(A Concise Description of the Advantages Arising Out of the Realisation of Anatta)

by The Venerable Mahathera Ledi Sayadaw, Agga Mahapandita D. Litt. (Being an extract from Anatta Dipani, translated by U Sein Nyo Tun, I.C.S. Retd.)

I shall now show the advantages arising out of the ability to attain a realisation of the characteristic of anatta. If one can clearly perceive the characteristic of anatta, one attains the stage of the knowledge of sotapatti magga (path of the streamwinner) wherein atta-ditthi (ego delusion) or sakkaya-ditthi[1] (personality belief) is totally eradicated.

Anatta Realisation and Past Kammas

All beings who drift and circulate in the long and beginningless round of rebirths called samsara rarely encounter a Buddha Sasana. They do not encounter a Buddha Sasana during the space of even a hundred thousand world-cycles. They do not get the opportunity of meeting a Buddha Sasana even once though an infinite number of world-cycles elapse. The number of existences and the number of world-cycles in which they have been afflicted by evils and errors predominate. Hence, in the mental make-up of a being, there are at all times an infinite number of kammas that can result in that being being cast in the Avici hell. In the same way, there are at all times an infinite number of kamma that can result in that being being cast in the Sanjiva and the rest of the other hells,[2] or in that being being reborn in the various kinds of peta, asurakaya, and animal existences.

Atta-ditthi is the head--the chief--of the old akusala kammas that thus accompany beings incessantly. As long as sakkaya-ditthi exists, these old akusala kammas are fiery and full of strength. Though beings may be enjoying happiness and prosperity as devas or as Sakka in the six deva loka, they are obliged to exist with their heads forever turned towards the four apaya loka. In the same way, though beings may be enjoying happiness and prosperity in the rupa-brahma-loka, they are obliged to exist with their heads forever turned towards the four apaya loka.

Palm fruits in a palm grove possess an ever existing tendency to fall to the ground even though they may be attached to the tops of the palm trees. So long as the stalks are firm they remain on the trees, but directly the stalks weaken they inevitably fall to the ground. In the same way, devas and Brahmas afflicted with atta-ditthi get the opportunity to exist in the deva and Brahma loka only as long as the 'stalks' of the vital life forces as devas and Brahmas remain intact. When these 'stalks' of vital life forces are severed, they inevitably descend to the lower loka, just like the palm fruits. This is indeed so because the sakkaya-ditthi that is ever present in the mental make-up of a being is a great burden that is more burdensome than even the great Mount Meru inasmuch as such sakkaya-ditthi gathers within its folds an infinite number of akusala kamma.

Thus, beings in whose mental make-up sakkaya-ditthi exists are continually obliged to descend or fall towards the apaya loka although they may be living in the highest of the Brahma loka. The cases of those beings living in the lower Brahma loka, or the deva loka, or the human world are much worse and need no further comment. Although such beings may be existing as Brahma kings, deva kings or Sakka king, their mental make-up contains, ready-made, the eight great hells. Similarly, their mental make-up contains, ready-made, the infinite numbers of lesser hells, the peta worlds, the asurakaya worlds and the animal worlds. It is because these beings do not know that the tendency towards these lower and misery-filled worlds is for ever present in their mental make-up that Brahma kings and deva kings can afford to derive pleasure and enjoyment from those existences as such.

All the old akusala kamma which have forever accompanied beings throughout the long and beginningless round of rebirths called samsara are completely extinguished as soon as sakkaya-ditthi, which is their head, disappears entirely.

Not to say of these old akusala kamma that have accompanied beings from previous existences and previous worlds, even in the case of the infinite numbers of akusala kamma committed in the present existence, kamma such as killing and stealing, their resultant tendencies entirely disappear as soon as sakkaya-ditthi is completely extinguished. There may remain occasions for such beings to fear the depredation of lice and bugs, but there no longer remains any occasion for them to fear the resultants of the infinite numbers of past akusala kamma.

Beings whose mental make-up is entirely freed from sakkaya-ditthi have their heads turned towards the higher planes of the deva and Brahma loka even though they may be living in the human world. Although they may be living in the lower deva and Brahma planes, their heads are thence forever turned towards the higher deva and Brahma planes. They resemble the vapours that are continuously rising upwards from forests and mountains during the latter part of the rainy season.

This shows the greatness of the advantages arising out of the extinguishing of sakkaya-ditthi so far as they relate to past kamma.

Anatta Realisation and Future Kamma

Human beings, devas and Brahmas, who possess sakkaya-ditthi in their mental make-up may be good and virtuous beings today, but may commit an infinite number of the duccarita, such as the great panatipata kamma of matricide, patricide, or killing arahats, or the adinnadana kamma of stealing, etc., tomorrow, or the day after, or next month, or next year or in the next following existences. It may happen that today they live within the fold of the Buddha Sasana, but tomorrow, or the next day, etc., they may be beyond the pale of the Buddha Sasana, and may even become destroyers of the Sasana.

Human beings, devas, and Brahmas, however, who well perceive the characteristic of anatta, and who have thus extirpated sakkaya-ditthi entirely from their mental make-up cease to commit the duccarita and other akusala kamma even in their dreams from the moment they get rid of sakkaya-ditthi, although they may continue to circulate in samsara for many more existences and many more world-cycles to come. From the day they are free from sakkaya-ditthi and until the final existence when they attain Nibbana, they remain within the fold of the Buddha Sasana permanently and continuously during successive existences and successive world-cycles. For them there no longer exists any existence or any world where the Buddha Sasana has disappeared.

This shows the advantages arising out of the extinguishing of sakkaya-ditthi so far as they relate to future kamma.

How Past Kamma Become Inoperative

How the infinite numbers of past kamma become inoperative the moment sakkaya-ditthi is extinguished may be illustrated as follows.

In a string of beads, where an infinite number of beads are strung together by a strong silk thread, if one bead is pulled all the other beads follow or accompany the one that is pulled. But if the silk thread is removed, pulling one of the beads does not disturb the other beads because there is no longer any attachment between them.

A being who possesses sakkaya-ditthi harbours a strong attachment for the series of khandha during past existences and past world-cycles by transforming them into 'I'. Thinking 'In past existences and in past world-cycles I have been on many occasions a human being, a deva, or a Brahma' he acquires the thread that is sakkaya-ditthi. It is thus that the infinite number of past akusala kamma committed in past existences and past world-cycles, and which have not as yet produced resultants, accompany that being wherever he may be reborn. These past akusala kamma resemble beads that are strung and bound together by a strong thread.

Beings who clearly perceive the anatta characteristic, however, and who have rid themselves of sakkaya-ditthi, perceive that the rupa- and nama-kkhandha which arise and disappear even in the short course of one sitting as separate phenomena and not as a bonded continuum. The concept of 'my atta', which is like the thread, is no longer present. Their khandha appear to them like the string of beads from which the thread has been removed. They clearly perceive that the akusala kamma which they had committed in the past are not 'persons', or 'beings' or I or 'my kamma', and that they are that which arise and disappear in an instant. That is why these past akusala kamma disappear entirely as soon as sakkaya-ditthi disappears.

Here, it is to be observed that only the akusala kamma disappear. Past kusala kamma do not disappear through the mere disappearance of sakkaya-ditthi. It is only when the stage of the arahatta magga is reached, and when tanha is completely eradicated, do kusala kamma also totally disappear.

The Evil of Sakkaya-Ditthi

Sakkaya-ditthi as an evil is extremely deep and far-reaching. A person who commits the kamma of matricide, and who thus is extremely agitated and worried over the prospect of being certainly reborn in the Avici hell, transforms that kamma of matricide into 'atta' and becomes greatly distressed by such firmly attached thoughts as 'I have indeed committed wrong. I have indeed erred.' If such a being fully comprehends and realises the characteristic of anatta (anatta parinna) and can thereby relinquish attachment to such thoughts as 'I have indeed erred', that kamma of matricide can no longer have the power of producing resultants so far as that being is concerned. But, beings do not discard their attachment to such thoughts.

Although, as it were, that kamma does not desire to accompany that being, and does not desire to produce resultants, it is forced or coerced to do so by the fact that that being takes possession of it through the habouring of such thoughts as 'It is kamma I have committed. It is my kamma'. Because of this forcible possessive act that kamma is obliged to produce its resultants. To this extent are worldlings possessing sakkaya-ditthi deluded and erring in their ways.

It is the same in the case of the remaining akusala kamma. It is because of the forcible possessive act of sakkaya-ditthi that akusala kamma accompany beings throughout samsara, wherever they may be reborn, and produce resultants. Beings find that they cannot discard their akusala kamma even while they are being oppressed by their resultants and are thereby in the process of suffering great privations. These beings regard such akusala kamma as 'akusala kamma I have committed', and thus take possession of them even though they may be in the process of suffering in hell through the resultants produced by the kamma. Because beings cannot discard or relinquish such akusala kamma, these kamma cannot help but produce resultants. These kamma continue to produce resultants such that these beings are unable to achieve their release from the hell existences. To this extent is sakkaya-ditthi profoundly evil and erroneous.

In the same way, beings extremely dread the dangers of disease, old age, and death. But, even though they harbour such dread, they become attached to the past incidents of disease, old age, and death through such thoughts as 'I have for many times in the past suffered disease, suffered old age, and suffered death.' Thus, they find themselves unable to relinquish and discard even such fearsome phenomena. And because they are unable to relinquish and discard them, the phenomena of disease, old age, and death accompany them, as it were, against their own will, and continue thus to cause oppression. It is thus that the phenomena of disease, old age, and death, are obliged to appear. To this extent is sakkaya-ditthi profoundly evil and erroneous.

In this present existence also, when external and internal dangers are encountered, and beings become greatly oppressed by diseases and ailments, they develop an attachment for these diseases and ailments through such thoughts as 'I feel pain. I feel hurt. I am oppressed by burning sensations', and thus take possession of them. This act of taking possession is an act of bondage that later prevents the riddance of themselves from diseases and ailments. It is because this act of bondage of sakkaya-ditthi is strong that in the lengthy beginningless samsara beings have found these diseases and ailments to be their inseparable companions right up to the present day. It is thus that sakkaya-ditthi develops an attachment and takes possession of even those diseases and ailments that greatly oppress beings at the present moment.

Even though those great dangers and sufferings do not, as it were, desire to accompany those beings they are unable to remain so, but are obliged to accompany them continuously from existence to existence because of the pull exerted by sakkaya-ditthi.

In future existences also, the attachments engendered by such thoughts as 'We shall encounter old age. We shall encounter death', are acts of sakkaya-ditthi that take possession of the future eventualities of disease, old age and death from the present moment and binds them to beings. So long as this act of bondage is not destroyed, therefore, it becomes certain that beings will in future encounter those eventualities. To this extent is sakkaya-ditthi profoundly evil and erroneous.

This a brief description of how sakkaya-ditthi is profoundly evil and erroneous.

Superficial and Deep Attachment

The attachments of tanha and mana are not attachments of ditthi. Tanha develops an attachment for all the phenomena in the three spheres of existence in the form 'It is my property'. Mana develops an attachment, for them in the form 'It is I'. In the case of beings possessing sakkaya-ditthi, tanha and mana follow the lead given by sakkaya-ditthi. In the case of stream-winners, once-returners and non-returners who have rid themselves of sakkaya-ditthi, tanha and mana follow sanna-vipallasa (hallucinations of perception) and citta-vipallasa (hallucinations of consciousness). The attachments produced by sanna and citta-vipallasa are superficial. Attachments produced by sakkaya-ditthi are deep.

This ends the description of how akusala kamma totally cease with the disappearance of sakkaya-ditthi.


  1. Known in the West as 'self-identity"
  2. 1. Sanjiva, 2. Kalasutta, 3. Sanghara 4. Roruva, 5. Maharoruva, 6. Tapana, 7. Mahatapana, 8. Avici.

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