The Connection Between Atta and Dukkha
Buddhist Analysis of Human Experience and the Ways to Transcend Unsatisfactoriness

Bhikkhuni Dhammanandā
(Ven. Pham T. Minh Hoa)

 A Thesis submitted to the Postgaduate Institute of Pāli & Buddhist Studies,
University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, in fulfillment for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
December 2007



Chapter I – Introduction

The “I” or the Ego
Khandhas and the Self

Chapter II – ‘Soul’ Theories

I. Ātman, parātman or Brahma in Indian philosophy and religions
II. Samaṇa Tradition
III. The Occidental Concept of Personality, Ego and Soul

Chapter III. On Dukkha

I. The Journey of Atta in Samsāra and Suffering Evolved
II. Dukkha
III. Categories of Dukkha
IV. Dukkha as viewed from the Paṭiccasamuppanna

Chapter IV – Khandha Doctrine

1. Rūpakkhandha
2. Vedanākkhandha
3. Saññākkhandha
4. Saṅkhārakkhandha
5. Viññāṇakkhandha

Chapter V – On ANATTA

I. The Etymology of the Term Anatta
II. Ontological Argument on Atta
III. Psychological Approach
IV. Ethical Value of the Anatta Doctrine
V. Social Application of Anattā Doctrine

Chapter VI – On Motivation

I. Terminology
II. Motivation is a Complex Psychological Force
III. Buddhist Ethical View on Motivation
IV. Buddhist Way to Transform Motivation

Chapter VII – Buddhist Ways to Transcend Dukkha

Right View (sammā diṭṭhi)
Right Thought or Right Intention – Sammāsaṅkappo

I. The Higher Training in Morality

Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood
Right Attitude Concerning Material Things

II. The Evolution of Consciousness

Right Exertion
Right Mindfulness, Sammā-sati
Kāyanupassanā, Contemplation on the Body
Vedanānupassanā, Contemplation on the Feelings
Cittānupassanā, Contemplation on the Mind
Dhammānupassanā or Contemplation of the Dhamma

Sammāsamādhi or Right Concentration
Jhāna or Mental Absorption
Iddhipāda, Supernormal powers

Abhiññā or the Higher Knowledge
Living in the Present
Vipassanā Ñāṇa or Insight Knowledge

Sammāñāṇa or Right Knowledge

Chapter VIII – Conclusion

I. Suññatā in Daily Living and in Relationships
II. The Role of Samatha and Vipassanā
III. The Integration of Wisdom and Compassion

Canonical sources.
Non-canonical sources.
Dictionaries and Encyclopedias


Breathing in with deep inspirations from the Buddha-Dhamma and breathing out with deep gratitude to many Dhamma teachers, I write this acknowledgement to all my helpers who directly or indirectly have encouraged and assisted me and who have guided me on the right path. My deep gratitude goes to my Preceptor, Ven. Vien Minh (Puṇṇavijja Mahāthera) who introduces a pristine form of Buddhism to me and who teaches me to go beyond sectarian prejudices.

My deep gratitude goes to my supervisors, Senior Professor Tilak Kariyawasam who guides and corrects me in Buddhist philosophy, and Senior Professor Daya Edirisingher who gives me many practical advices. Their kindness, concern and guidance make my works become easier and pleasurable.

This Thesis would not have a beginning if it was not encouraged at the initial state by Professor Asanga Tilakaratne the former Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Pāli and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya. Then, the inspiration I get from listening to the lectures of Professor G. Sumanapala, the present director has sustained my effort. I also feel thankful to Professor Toshiichi Endo and Professor N.A.Jayawickrama who have selflessly taught us Pāli and aroused in me an interest in Pāli commentaries. There are many other persons who have assisted and supported me in many ways during the period I do Postgraduate studying abroad. My deep gratitude goes to Ven. Bhikkhuni Dr. Kusuma who has assisted me in many fields, and Ven. Professor Dhamma Vihari with whom many interesting Dhamma discussions have nurtured my inquiry mind. I am also sincerely thankful for the accurate corrections and critics of my examiners.

Last but warmest grateful thanks go to my supporters, Mrs. Karen Kold Wagner and Mrs. Tu Anh Nguyen and her Dhamma friends, whose financial supports have enabled me to go through M.Phil and PhD years of research. I sincerely thank Dr. Angela Dietrich who has carefully read and corrected English style of my Thesis.

I also feel thankful to the staffs of library of the Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya who are very helpful. My thanks to all Dhamma Brothers and Sisters who’s mentally supports make me feel warm and connected in the Dhamma Way!



This thesis is an attempt to discover the early Buddhist knowledge of human experience in different dimensions such the analysis of Khandha, Āyatana and Dhātu. What is considered as self or soul or ego-consciousness (attā or ātman) in different traditions are also presented in order to understand the Buddhist doctrine of Anatta more clearly. From a Buddhist perspective Khandhas or aggregates are the layers that cover different dimensions of human experiences: clinging, grasping at them causes pain, conflict and distress (dukkha). Relevant doctrinal points are being examined from a psychological perspective.

Buddhist Ways to Transcend Unsatisfactory Experiencesare based on the knowledge of the human motivation which is governed by cognitive and emotive processes that intertwine in the human experience. The methods applied to solve human predicaments are many and various. The Anatta doctrine is a device to educate people to get out of the boundary of self-delusion. A similar expression concerning the non-validity of the world as conceived via our senses is term

ed suññatā or sūnyatā in Sanskrit. Besides, a systematic training called the Noble Eightfold Path or Threefold Trains is a gradual course to reach right knowledge (see things as they have come to be) and right deliverance (no longer grasping at experiences). Other ways intended for transcending ordinary experiences are also discussed, such as jhāna attainment, the art of deduction to unburden the mind of mental activities, and a rational way to transform emotions termed the miracle of the noble ones (ariya iddhi).

Finally, Buddhist Path is not to build up, but to deconstruct the unnecessary burden that one involuntarily carries with oneself as a misapprehension of ‘self’ and ‘the world’. This right understanding is termed anāsava sammā diṭṭhi which turns one’s course of action to transcend all self-motive and be at peace with whatever comes one’s way.



A. : Aṅguttara Nikāya
AA. : Aṅguttara Nikāya Atṭṭhakathā (i.e, Manorathapūraṇī)
BPS. : Buddhist Publication Society
Br. : Brāhmaṇa [1]
Bṛh. : Bṛahadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad
Chand. : Chāndogya Upaniṣad
D. : Dīgha Nikāya (DN)
DA. : Dīgha Nikāya Aṭṭhakathā (i.e., Sumangala Vilāsinī).
Dhp. : Dhammapāda,
DhpA : Dhammapāda Aṭṭhakathā.
Dhs. : Dhammasangani (1st book of Theravada : Abhidhamma).
DhsA. : Dhammasangani Aṭṭhakathā.
ITBMU. : International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University.
Khd. : Khuddaka Nikāya
KhdA. : Khuddaka Nikāya Aṭṭhakathā
Kaṭha. : Kaṭha Upaniṣad
M. : Majjhima Nikāya (MN)
MA : Majjhima Nikāya Aṭṭhakathā (Papañcasūndanī)
MLS : Middle Length Sayings
MilP. : MilindaPañhā
NdA. : Mahanidāna Aṭṭhakathā
Mhv. : Mahāvaggapāli (Vin. III)
Muṇḍ. : Muṇdaka Upaniṣad.
MS. : Mīmāṃsā Śūtra
NB. : Nyāya Bhāṣya
NM. : Nyāyamañjarī of Jayantā Bhatta
NS. : Nyāya Sūtra (Principle of Nyāya by Gautama, not the Buddha)
NSB. : Nyāya Sūtra of Gautama with Bhāsya of Vātsyāyana
NV. : Nyāyavārtika of Uddyotakara
Praśna. : Praśna Upaniṣad.
PTS. : Pāḷi Text Society.
PGIPBS. : Postgraduate Institute of Pāli and Buddhist Studies.
S. : Samyutta Nikāya.
SA. : Samyutta Nikāya Aṭṭhakathā (i.e., Sārathappakāsinī)
SDS. : Sarvadarśana saṅgraha
SK. : Sāṅkhya Kārikā
Prab. : Prabodha candrodaya.
Tait. : Taittirīya Upaniṣad
Tait.Br. : Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa.
Vin. : Vinaya Pitaka
Vism. : Visuddhimagga
VS. : Vaiṥeṥika Sūtra of Kanāda

Table of Charts

  1. Dhamma classification
  2. The interaction between senses and their objects
  3. The interaction within microcosmic
  4. Motives, actions and results
  5. Knowledge of Liberation


[1] Brāhmaṇa is one of the classified Vedic Books with a different spirit from Upaniṣad


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