anattā (non-self, non-attatchment, impermanence)
In Buddhist philosophy, anatta is the concept of non-self and non-attachment. It is the idea that there is no permanent, unchanging, or independently existing self or soul within an individual.
Instead, anatta proposes that the self is an ever-changing construct. One that is impermanent and interdependent with various factors such as the body, sensations, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.
Anatta Deep Dive
Anatta is a foundational aspect of Buddhist teachings which challenge the idea of a fixed, enduring self. In understanding the concept of anatta, individuals can understand the nature of reality and work towards liberation from suffering and the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara).
Although anatta is fundamentally a Buddhist concept, Buddhism’s relationship with yoga means that yoga philosophy incorporates the concept of anatta in the context of spiritual growth and self-realization.
Within yoga philosophy, these concepts appear as:
Just as Buddhist practitioners engage in self-inquiry to realize the absence of a permanent, unchanging self, some yogic practices, particularly in the Jnana Yoga tradition, encourage self-inquiry to explore the nature of the self (atman) and realize that it is interconnected with the universal consciousness (brahman).
This realization can lead to the dissolution of the ego and a deeper understanding of one’s true nature.
In meditation practices, yoga practitioners may gain insights into the nature of the mind, thoughts, and emotions.
This introspective awareness can lead to the recognition that the self is not a fixed entity but a constantly changing phenomenon. This understanding aligns with the concept of anatta in Buddhism.
The concept of anatta encourages yogis to embrace the impermanence of all things, including the self. In yoga, this can lead to a greater focus on living in the present moment, letting go of attachments to the ego, and experiencing a sense of unity with the universe.
Some interpretations of yoga, particularly Advaita Vedanta, share similarities with the Buddhist concept of anatta in their emphasis on non-dualism. They argue that the ultimate reality is non-dual, meaning there is no separation between the individual self and the universal reality.
This realization is said to lead to a direct experience of anatta.
Anatta In Your Life
Yoga practitioners can integrate anatta’s concepts of non-attachment and impermanence into their daily lives through various yogic techniques. Below are 8 suggestions to do so:
1. Practicing Meditation and Mindfulness
By developing a regular meditation and mindfulness practice, you can begin to observe the ever-changing nature of thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Learn to recognize the rising and passing nature of thoughts without attachmentYou can also cultivate mindfulness within daily activities, such as eating, walking, and interacting with others. Observe the impermanence of these experiences.
One way to practice self-inquiry is by asking questions like “What is the nature of the self?” within varying circumstances and environments.
This can help you explore the concept of anatta and shift your perspective from a fixed self to an awareness of the constantly changing nature of identity.
Another way is to dedicate time for self-reflection through journaling to explore your understanding of self and ego.
3. Letting Go of Attachments
Buddhist teachings highlights how clinging to a fixed idea of self or ego can lead to suffering, and that we must learn to let go of these attachments in order to find liberation (moksha).
Take time to reflect on the attachments and identifications that cause suffering, such as how our job role or relationship status form our identities. Over time, work on cultivating non-attachment.
4. Compassion and Empathy
When we can fully accept and understand that all beings are interconnected and share the experience of impermanence, we can then relate to one anothers joys and sufferings.
When we are able to see from this perspective, we are able to develop a deep sense of compassion and empathy for others.
5. Yoga Asanas and The Breath
When you are engaged in your yoga asana practice, focus on the fluidity and impermanence of the physical sensations within the body. Reflect on how your body changes, from building strength, to enduring injuries or ill-health.
Practice gratitude for your bodies extraordinary capabilities and allow yourself to let go of the need to control or manipulate your body or the outcome of physical practice.
Allow your breath to act as a reminder of the ever-changing nature or our bodies and our lives.
6. Non-Dual Awareness
Build an understanding of non-dual awareness, a concept which aligns with anatta.
Non-dual awareness acknowledges the ego’s role in the confusion of self and not-self. It demonstrates that an absence of separation allows us freedom from suffering.
This will allow you to recognize the interconnectedness of all life and the dissolution of boundaries that separate the self from the universe.
7. Study and Contemplation
For dedicated yoga practitioners and teachers, it is recommended to study texts and teachings which explore the concept of anatta in both Buddhist and yogic philosophies.
Take time to reflect on these teachings, discuss them with fellow teachers and classmates, and contemplate their meaning in your daily life.
8. Seek Guidance
Even for long-term yoga teachers, there is always more to learn. Consider exploring new areas of yoga philosophy or yoga history in order to continue to expand your understanding.
Seek guidance from senior teachers to gain new perspectives on your practice. You may find that certain periods of time are suited to studying theory, and other periods can be dedicated to practical application.
Remember that the integration of anatta into daily life is a gradual process and may require ongoing self-awareness and practice. Understanding and applying to concept of anatta can be a powerful tool for reducing suffering and finding greater peace and freedom in daily living.
This can allow you to align your practice with the core teachings of both Buddhism and certain aspects of yoga philosophy.
To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.