One of the clinical applications of the Buddhist nonself approach (annata) is to encourage patients to put into words their body and mental experiences but avoiding the use of personal pronouns ‘I’, ‘mine’, ‘me’ or ‘my’. But annata is a Spiritual matter. It is Scientific and ethical to engage and encourage patients from non-Buddhist religions background to practice of nonself language? My answer is: yes!
The Buddhist mindfulness approach to meditation and yoga contemplates “the practice of inner silence”, but also the practice of putting our inner bodily and mental experiences into words1 . The Yogachara scriptures teaches that “wisdom produced by thinking is also based on words2” and through purity of speech. Like the Patanjali-Upanishada’s yoga tradition the Buddhist Tibetan yoga suggests that speech that one choices “affect specific organs and chakras of the body” 3.
Earliest Buddhist suttas suggest that the sensation of things, persons as though they are permanent self-entities is associated with linguistic clinging or attachment to certain words, expressions and meanings. For instance, the Milindapañha sutta points out to the eradication of believe in any substantial, discrete and unchanging entities (such as ‘I’, ‘soul’, ‘atta’). The lapidary statement ‘Nāgasena’ is a mere empty sound suggests that there is not an ontological subject ‘I’ that corresponds to a grammatical subject ‘I’. It implies the cultivation of freedom from this metaphysical assumption.
The Potthapada Sutta testifies that the Buddha defies the meditators whose assume having experience of the own true self: physical or-astral body, mental body and formless entity. This process of self identifications or acquisitions of a self means the invocation of experiences in terms of ‘this is mine’
(etam mama), ‘this I am’ (eso ham asmi), or ‘this is my self’ (eso me atta). The Buda summarises his reluctance attitude to theses
forms of self-identifications by saying: “Citta, these are the world’s designations, the world’s expressions, the world’s ways of speaking, the world’s descriptions, with which the Tathagata expresses himself but without grasping to them”. It points up that the use of ‘I’ does not suppose the ontological ‘I’.
The Chachakka Sutta presents the path of practice leading to the cessation of self-identification by suggesting to say neither ‘I see’, ‘my eyes see’, ‘I see with my eyes’nor ‘the eye consciousness sees’. On the contrary, the middle approach implies to say: ‘depending on the eye and the eye-object, eye-consciousness arises. It is about the use of language but without metaphysical presumptions.
The Anathapindikovada sutta portraits the householder Anathapindika is facing terminal death. Sariputta asked him: “You should train yourself in this way: ‘I won’t cling to…”. It is the stopping of describing the body and mental experiences in terms of ‘I who fells’. The householder died and reappeared in the Tusita heaven (the blissful state). This sutta shows how the nonself practice looks like in the context of Spiritual assistance.
The nonself state (nibbana) reported in the Buddhist suttas transcend psychology but “has consequences in the psychological domain”4 . It is a normal state of no sense of ‘I’ who fells ‘one’ 5. In the West it has been strongly advocate for the integration of Buddhist Spiritual teaching concerning ‘nonself’ (annata or anatma) in therapies.
1Jude Frank B (2004) Mindfulness yoga. The awakened union of breath, body and mind. Wisdom publications. Boston, USA, p. 37.
5Engler J, Fulton PR (2014) Self and no-self in psychotherapy. In: Germer C, Sieger RD (Eds.), Wisdom and Compassion in Psychotherapy. Deepening Mindfulness in Clinical Practice. The Guilford Press, New York, London, pp. 176-188, p. 78.
In the West there is a great consensus that language
conditions the experiences even at neurologic-encephalic level.
For instance, the recurrent use the word ‘angry’ decreases
the amygdale response and increase the experience of angel.
Researches of the Wellspring Institute for Neurosciences and
Contemplative Wisdom suggest the influence of language in the
brain-neuro plasticity. The field of Mindfulness-Based Therapies
(MBTs) works with mentioned premises in order to promote an
impersonal and non-judgmental awareness of present mental
It has been demonstrated that undesirable mental states
used to be associated with the use of personal pronouns I, me,
my or mine. These terms reflect the personal ownership and the
sense of ‘I’ or ego. ” . The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
(MBSR) takes the experience of a kind of Zen meditation where
the meditator repeatedly asks himself questions such as “What
is this?” “Who is there?” “Who is hearing?” “Who is feeling?”
“Who is thinking?”, etc. In order to stop the process of personal
identification with experiences, the meditator has to say to
himself: “I am not my cancer” or “it is not me,” or, to verbalize the
mental states in impersonal terms, for instance: ‘It is anger’, ‘It is
a sadness’ ‘It is a pain’, ‘It feels’, etc. It is a challenge for promoting
awareness, sense of empathy, acceptance and compassion6.
The practices with impersonal pronouns are prescribed. It is
recommendable also the use of sentences which evoke positive,
dynamic and constructive experiences. The compulsive and
exaggerate self critical language and imperative (‘if I’, ‘I cannot’)
is associated with psychological rigidity.
There is a great consensus that Spiritual belief influences in
therapeutic relationship and process. But we have to be sure that
we practice this in a competent manner. The Buddhist nonself
teaching is a Spiritual matter. It is scientifically and ethically
to engage and encourage patients from non-Buddhist religions
background (for instance, theist) to practice of nonself language?
My answer is yes!
First, the Buddhist dependent arising doctrine as a middle
doctrine means do not clinging to extreme views about
the world (neither eternalism nor annihilationism; neither
materialism nor spiritualism; neither monism nor dualism,
neither determinism nor indeterminism; neither subjectivism
nor objectivism; neither nihilism nor scepticism). It further
excludes all extreme attitudes with respect to liberation from
suffering: neither clinging to sensual pleasure (self-indulgence
or hedonism; nor clinging to self-mortification; neither clinging
to the past nor clinging to the future). In the Alagaddupama
sutta the non-self assumption excludes as well all extreme views
about language and common parlance (neither strict adherence
nor transgression; neither clinging nor rejection; neither
commitment nor transgressions. Therefore, there is not seat for
absolutism in the Buddhist annata perspective.
Secondly, I call attention the following statement in
Alagaddupama sutta: «Monks, I will teach you the Dhamma
compared to a raft, for the purpose of crossing over, not for the
purpose of holding onto … you should let go even of Dhammas,
to say nothing of non-Dhammas». A view-dependency (ditthinissaya)
leads to sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair.
It should not be forgotten that in Atthattha sutta the Buddha
remains silent faced the Vacchagotta’ question: ‘there is self’
or ‘there is no self’? It is to keep distance from eternalism and
annihilationism as well.
Third, Buddhist nonself approaches could be refrained in
terms of the getting rig of selfish pattern (obsession, narcissism,
egoism…) and the virtue cultivation: Love or Loving-kindness
(metta); Compassion (karuna); Sympathetic Joy (mudita);
Equanimity (upekkha). These virtues (sublime states, Brahma
vihara) are promoted not only in Buddhism 7.
The Buddhist Dharma postulates that there is interconditional
relationship between verbal clinging, and belief in
self and non-self. Buddhism-based clinic can work with nonself
approach and nonself language but not dogmatically. The nonself
therapeutic strategy has not disappeared but it develops way
of working with language of cultivation of selfless and virtues.
I believe that it is the best argument against the suppositions
that nonself clinic intervention could not be applied to people
from the other spiritual affiliation (for instance, theist). That
is precisely an important framework of fruitful collaborations
between Buddhism-inspired clinics and other religion-inspired