I confess, one of my deeply held opinions is that the bulk of today’s Buddhists—especially Buddhist clergy—are worldlings (P., puthujjanas) who don’t understand the essence of Buddhism. Especially, when it comes to understanding the Buddha’s doctrine of Anâtman/Anattâ, that is, the doctrine of No-self, they are completely in the dark. An example of what I mean can be found in the malarkey coming from the late Venerable Walpola Rhaula:
“The correct position with regard to the question of Anatta is not to take hold of any opinions or views, but to try to see things objectively as they are without mental projections, to see that what we call 'I', or 'being', is only a combination of physical and mental aggregates, which are working together interdependently in flux of momentary change within the law of cause and effect, and that there is nothing permanent, everlasting, unchanging and eternal in the whole of existence (What the Buddha Taught, p. 66).
Rahula is coming from a popular standpoint that the No-self doctrine of the Buddha teaches there is no enduring or underlying transcendent self or âtman which, by the canonical evidence, is precisely what the Buddha did not mean by the No-self!
From a review of the many discourses the Buddha gave in the Pali Nikayas (e.g., the 159 discourses found in the Khandhasamyutta of the Samyutta-Nikaya), it is evident what the true teaching of No-self is, which has been completely missed by modern Buddhists. It is as follows: My psychophysical body, consisting of material shape, feeling, perception, habitual tendencies, and consciousness, is not my self (na meso attâ). The Buddha, in other words said, “abandon desire for what is not the self" (S. iii. 78). Do not regard as your true self what is not your true self, namely, the psychophysical body.
The problem that the Buddha repeatedly addresses is not the self but, instead, the five psychophysical constituents (pañca-khandha/skandha) consisting of material shape, feeling, perception, habitual tendencies, and consciousness. Here is the source of the worldling’s confusion and the key to salvation if the worldling can transcend this evil pentad of impermanence and suffering. Unfortunately, the worldling either believes the five psychophysical constituents are where the self is or, ultimately, there is no self. But the Buddha rejected both positions because the true self is transcendent.
To reiterate, the meaning of the No-self doctrine is that our psychophysical body is not our true self. In fact, the Buddha says that the psychophysical body belongs to the demon Mara (S . iii. 189). The way to salvation takes place by recognizing that material shape, feeling, perception, habitual tendencies, and consciousness are not my self (na meso attâ).
If somebody asks you, “What is the Buddha’s No-self doctrine?” answer them by saying, “Our psychophysical body is not our true self.”