Two types of selflessness

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Two types of selflessness are identified in Mahayana philosophy. These are:

When both types of selfless are realized, this is referred to as the realization of the "two-fold emptiness of self and other."

These two types of selflessness are two aspects of not-self (nairātmya) that are identified in the Mahayana.[1] These two aspects counteract the two types of self-grasping.

Selflessness of individual refers to the absence of "self" among the five aggregates (skandhas).[1]

Selflessness of phenomena refers to the absence of "self" in all other types of phenomena.[1] This is a specific reference to the so-called "dharmas" that were defined as truly existent entities in the early Abhidharma treatises. The Mahayana scholars used this distinction to emphasize that there were no truly existing entities; that all entities are dependently arisen.

For example, early Abhidharma scholars believed in indivisible particles as the building blocks for material things. These particles are similar to the Western concept of the atom, which was also originally thought to be an indivisible particle. A key distinction of the Mahayana view (from early Abhidharma thought) is the Mahayana assertion that there are no truly existent particles.

The Mahayanist labelled the belief in such particles as belief in the "self of phenomena."

Realizing that all things (including the so-called "partless particles") are truly non-existent is called realizing "selflessness of phenomena" (dharmanairātmya).


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. pudgalanairātmya.


Further reading