The Karma of Not-self (audio)

Here’s another skillful teaching from Thanissaro Bhikkhu on how to use the idea of “not-self” skillfully. The teaching on “not-self” is some esoteric, metaphysical idea that we think about. It’s an immensely practical teaching that helps us look at how our thoughts and actions create a sense of self that determines our happiness or our suffering.

As Thanissaro Bhikkhu says at the opening of this talk:

“It’s a question that often comes up, when people are discussing the Buddha’s teaching’s on karma, which is, if there is no self, who does the karma? Is there is no self who experiences the karma, or the results of the karma? This question is misguided in two ways. One, the Buddha never said there is no self. He never said there was a self, but he never said there was no self. And secondly, it’s got the context backwards.

People are trying to take the teaching on not self as the primary context, and they try to fit karma in that. And it should be the other way around. You start with the principle of karma, that people do act, but then try to fit the not-self teaching into that context.

In other words, given that there are actions, what kind of action is not-self? What kinds of actions is self? These are things that you do. So the question then is, given that they are forms of karma, when are they skillful and when are they not? The karma of self the Buddha call “I-making” and “my-making”—you create a sense of self. You make yourself around your desires.

We have a desire for happiness in one form or other. Then you create a sense of self around that in two way. One, you are the self who that’s going to achieve that desire, achieve that happiness. And you are also the self who has the power to bring that happiness about…”

Here’s the full talk, which is about 15 minutes long:


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

One Response to “The Karma of Not-self (audio)”

  1. “Institutionalized religions have all gone astray. Their biggest mistake is in mis-understanding the true teachings they received. In their misunderstanding, they each developed a belief that their own religion is different and better than others. Buddhism is not different to any other of these religions in that in time it strayed from the truth and succumbed to ignorance….”

    To see the rest of my argument see: BUDDHISM GONE BANKRUPT at

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