ANATMAN or anatmavada (Sanskrit—the doctrine that the atman or “I” does not exist; Pali—anatta)—in Buddhism the view that there is no substantial soul or enduring “I” as the ground of man’s psychological acts.
The concept of anatman did not appear in the teachings of the Buddha. He regarded the non-phenomenal soul as an absolute mystery. Nagasena in his commentaries on Buddha’s teaching explained that the human “I” is an uninterrupted train of ideas and states without an existing subject who would experience them (atman), and that individual immortality is a groundless abstraction. All the arising and transitory factors of existence depend on each other only functionally (dharma). They are processes without any ground upon which they would occur; the only reason for their existence is a so-called causal braid which is the stream of conscious life.
In the interpretation of hinayana, the “I” (pudgala) has no distinct existence in relation to the five real psychic elements (shape, feeling, perception, disposition, and intelligence) which constitute personal life. The alleged unity of the individual that appears in the awareness of one’s own “I” is an illusion that results from the continuity of momentary and changing states of consciousness. In the mahayana interpretation, the world is an illusion and the changing states of consciousness are not real. There are different views within this school of the subject of internal experience: the Yogacara (idealist) school thinks that the stream of consciousness is the constantly growing and changing “I”, but it is merely the background and store of an infinite variety of psychological experiences that have no beginning or end; the Madhyamika school thinks that the “I” is only a simple series of passing states of consciousness. The doctrines of later Buddhist schools clearly depart from primitive Buddhism which stated only that the skandhas do not constitute the real “I” and the made no explicit statement regarding the soul substantially or insubstantially.
S. Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, Lo 1951; C. Regamey, Der Buddhismus Indiens, in: Christus und die Religionen der Erde. Handbuch der Religionsgeschichte, W 1951, 19613, III 266–271; H. von Glasenapp, Die nichtchristlichen Religionen, F 1957, 69–74; F. Tokarz, Nauka samego Buddy czy późnieczy jej rozwój" [The teaching of the Buddha himself or its later development?], RF 16 (1968), n. 1, 37–42; M. Mejer, Buddyzm [Buddhism], Wwa 1980; Buddyzm. Wybór tekstów i opracowanie [Buddhism. Selection of texts and elaboration], Kr 1987; S. Chayer, O filozofowaniu Hindusów [On the philosophical thought of the Hindus], Wwa 1988.