Then the wanderer Vacchagotta approached the Blessed One … and said to him:

“How is it now, Master Gotama, is there a self?”

When this was said, the Blessed One was silent.

“Then, Master Gotama, is there no self?”

A second time the Blessed One was silent.

Then the wanderer Vacchagotta rose from his seat and departed.

Then, not long after the wanderer Vacchagotta had left, the Venerable Ananda said to the Blessed One: “Why is it, venerable sir, that when the Blessed One was questioned by the wanderer Vacchagotta, he did not answer?”

“If, Ananda, when I was asked by the wanderer Vacchagotta, ‘Is there a self?’ I had answered, ‘There is no self,’ this would have been siding with those ascetics and Brahmins who are annihilationists. “If, Ananda, when I was asked by the wanderer Vacchagotta, ‘Is there a self?’ I had answered, ‘There is a self,’ would this have been consistent on my part with the arising of the knowledge that ‘all phenomena are nonself’?”

“No, venerable sir.”

“And if, when I was asked by him, ‘Is there no self?’ I had answered, ‘There is no self,’ the wanderer Vacchagotta, already confused, would have fallen into even greater confusion, thinking, ‘It seems that the self I formerly had does not exist now.’”

Excerpted from
The Connected Discourses of the Buddha, © 2003. Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Reprinted with permission of Wisdom Publications.

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