SELF-DENIAL AND NO-SELF
Self-denial is necessary to overcome the hindrances of egoism,
pride, and selfish desires which obscure the true nature within. The
person who is always concerned with himself or herself, is trapped in
"the ego-cage of 'I', 'me' and 'mine.'" Consequently, he can neither
realize his own true self nor relate to Ultimate Reality. From a Hindu
perspective, denying "I," "me," and "mine" is in fact a way to find the
true "I" that is transcendent and one with Reality. In the Western per-
spective it is a way to recover the true self, which is loving and comp-
assionate, having been created in the image of God. Both perspectives
affirm the paradox that "he who loves his life loses it, and he who hates
his life will keep it." For more on this paradox, see Reversal and
Restoration, pp. 544-50.
Buddhism also teaches that the path to the religious goal requires
one to deny the self and all egoistic grasping. But it goes further,
grounding the practice of self-denial on the ontological statement that
any form of a self is unreal. Buddhism is most sensitive to the insight
that self-denial, when done for the purpose of seeking unity with an Abso-
lute Self or God, can become subtly perverted into a form of pride and
self-affirmation. Total self-denial should therefore dispense even with
the goal of a transcendent Self. There is no self, either on earth or in
heaven; all forms are transient, subject to birth and death. A number of
texts explaining this doctrine of No-self (anatta) are collected here:
more may be found under Formless, Emptiness, Mystery, pp. 85-92 and Orig-
inal Mind, No-mind, pp. 217-23.
He who has no thought of "I" and "mine" whatever towards his mind and
body, he who grieves not for that which he has not, he is, indeed, called
Buddhism. Dhammapada 367
They are forever free who renounce all selfish desires and break away
from the ego-cage of "I," "me," and "mine" to be united with the Lord.
Attain to this, and pass from death to immortality.
Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 2.71
Dhammapada 367: Cf. Madhyamakavatara 3, p. 412; Diamond Sutra 14, p. 888.
Bhagavad Gita 2.71: Cf. Bhagavad Gita 5.10-12, p 774; Maitri Upanishad
3.2, p. 412; Srimad Bhagavatam 11.4, p. 412; Katha Upanishad 3.13, p. 840.
If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross
and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever
loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.
Christianity. Mark 8.34-36
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth
and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who
loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep
it for eternal life.
Christianity. John 12.24-25
O Son of Man! If you love Me, turn away from yourself; and if you seek My
pleasure, regard not your own; that you may die in Me and I may eternally
live in you.
Baha'i Faith. Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah, Arabic 7
The Man of the Way wins no fame,
The highest virtue wins no gain,
The Great Man has no self.
Taoism. Chuang Tzu 17
Torah abides only with him who regards himself as nothing.
Judaism. Talmud, Sota 21b
Where egoism exists, Thou art not experienced,
Where Thou art, is not egoism.
You who are learned, expound in your mind
this inexpressible proposition.
Sikhism. Adi Granth, Maru-ki-Var, M.1, p. 1092
Yen Yan asked about perfect virtue. The Master said, "To subdue one's
self and return to propriety is perfect virtue. If a man can for one day
subdue himself and return to propriety, all under heaven will ascribe per-
fect virtue to him."
Confucianism. Analects 12.1.1
Mark 8.34-36: To bear the cross and sacrifice oneself for others, one must
first deny the self and its desires. Cf. Matthew 10.24-25, p. 821; 23.12, p.
545; Luke 14.26, p. 959; Philippians 2.6-11, p. 616; Romans 8.9-17, p. 576;
Acts 6.8-7.60, pp. 887f. John 12.24-25: Cf. Matthew 16.24-25, p. 875. Sota
21b: Cf. Abot 2.4, p. 771. Maru-ki-Var, M.1: Cf. Diamond Sutra 9, p. 933.
The pursuit of learning is to increase day after day.
The pursuit of Tao is to decrease day after day.
It is to decrease and further decrease until one reaches the point of
taking no action.
No action is undertaken, and yet nothing is left undone.
Taoism. Tao Te Ching 48
If you do not deny yourself completely, restoration through indemnity is
impossible. Indemnity conditions can be realized only by completely deny-
ing yourself. The standard of absolute denial should be established tow-
ard the individual, the family, the race, the world, the cosmos, and God.
Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, 4-3-83
Would one die while living, thus crossing the ocean of existence.
Sikhism. Adi Granth, Suhi Chhant, M.5, p. 777
In the evening do not expect [to live till] morning, and in the morning do
not expect evening. Prepare as long as you are in good health for sick-
ness, and so long as you are alive for death.
Islam. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 40
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ
who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in
the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Christianity. Bible, Galatians 2.20
Tao Te Ching 48: Cf. Tao Te Ching 16, p. 840; 19, p. 294; 22, p. 549; Chuang
Tzu 6, p. 584. Sun Myung Moon, 4-3-83: Indemnity and Self-denial are necessary
because of the Fall; see Divine Principle I.3.2.1, p. 547n. Cf. Luke 14.26, p.
959. Galatians 2.20: Cf. Romans 8.9-17, p. 576; 12.1, p. 754; Ephesians
2.8-10, p. 756. Mumonkan 46: The issue is grasping and dependence upon the
body and sense experience, and fear of going beyond its limits. See Seng
Ts'an, p. 223.
Remember, those who fear death shall not escape it, and those who aspire
to immortality shall not achieve it.
Islam (Shiite). Nahjul Balagha, Khutba 43
Seek not for life on earth or in heaven. Thirst for life is delusion.
Knowing life to be transitory, wake up from this dream of ignorance and
strive to attain knowledge and freedom.
Hinduism. Srimad Bhagavatam 11.13
You, who sit on the top of a hundred-foot pole, although you have entered
the Way you are not yet genuine. Proceed on from the top of the pole, and
you will show your whole body in the ten directions.
Mumon's Comment: If you go on further and turn your body about, no place
is left where you are not the master. But even so, tell me, how will you
go on further from the top of a hundred-foot pole? Eh?
Buddhism. Mumonkan 46
A monk asked Baso, "What is the Buddha?" Baso answered, "No mind, no
Buddhism. Mumonkan 33
"All states are without self." When one sees this in wisdom, then he be-
comes dispassionate towards the painful. This is the path to purity.
Buddhism. Dhammapada 277-79
"The body, brethren, is not the self. If body were the self, this
body would not be subject to sickness, and one could say of body, 'Let my
body be thus; let my body not be thus.' But inasmuch as body is not the
self, that is why body is subject to sickness, and one cannot say of body,
'Let my body be thus; let my body not be thus.'
"Feeling is not the self. If feeling were the self, then feeling
would not be subject to sickness, and one could say of feeling, 'Let my
feeling be thus; let my feeling not be thus.'
"Likewise perception... the [volitional] activities... and consc-
iousness are not the self. If consciousness were the self, then con-
sciousness would not be subject to sickness, and one could say of
consciousness, 'Let my consciousness be thus; let my consciousness not be
thus'; but inasmuch as consciousness is not the self, that is why
consciousness is subject to sickness, and that is why one cannot say of
consciousness, 'Let my consciousness be thus; let my consciousness not be
"Now what do you think, brethren, is body permanent or impermanent?"
"And is the impermanent painful or pleasant?"
"Then what is impermanent, painful, and unstable by nature, is it
fitting to consider as, 'this is mine, this am I, this is my
"Surely not, Lord."
"So also is it with feeling, perception, the activities, and consc-
iousness. Therefore, brethren, every body whatever, be it past, future,
or present, be it inward or outward, gross or subtle, lowly or eminent,
far or near--every body should be thus regarded, as it really is, by right
insight--'this is not mine; this am not I; this is not my self.'
"Every feeling whatever, every perception whatever, all activities
whatsoever, every consciousness whatever [must likewise be so regarded].
"Thus perceiving, brethren, the well-taught noble disciple feels
disgust for body, feels disgust for feeling, for perception, for the acti-
vities, for consciousness. Feeling disgust he is repelled; being repell-
ed, he is freed; knowledge arises that in the freed is emancipation; so he
knows, 'destroyed is rebirth; lived is the religious life; done is my
task; for life in these conditions there is no hereafter.'"
Buddhism. Samyutta Nikaya iii.68
Mumonkan 33: Implicit in this koan is the instruction to deny not only the
self but also any object of attainment--even the Buddha himself; see Sutta
Nipata 1072-76, p. 532; 919-920, p. 553; Sutra of Hui Neng 2, p. 90. The
third of the Four Noble Truths speaks of the eradication of desire or
striving, even striving after enlightenment. Compare Mumonkan 30, p. 116,
which asserts the seeming opposite. Dhammapada 277-79: The self is right-
ly denied because it truly does not exist; this is the Buddhist teaching
on no-self (anatta). See Sutta Nipata 1072-76, p. 532; 919-920, p. 553.
Samyutta Nikaya iii.68: Matter (the body), sensation (feelings), cognition
(perception), volition (the activities), and the consciousness which de-
pends upon them are called the five aggregates (skandhas). The Buddha
taught that these aggregates, which are commonly thought to constitute the
self, are not the self. They are impermanent and unreal, and so is the
self which is thought to consist of them. Cf. Majjhima Nikaya i.142-45,
p. 929; Diamond Sutra 14, p. 888; Sutta Nipata 1072-76, p. 532.