“Then Vacchagotta the Wanderer came to the Exalted One and greeted Him in friendly wise, and after the exchange of mutual courtesies sat down at one side.  So seated, he said to Gautama Buddha, the Exalted One:

‘Master Gotama, what have you to say about the existence of the Self?’

At these words, the Exalted One, Gautama Buddha, was silent.

‘How now, Master Gotama? Is there no such thing as the Self?’

At these words, Gautama Buddha, the Exalted One, was silent.

Then Vacchagotta the Wanderer (in disgust) rose up from his seat and went away.  Not long after he was gone Bhikshu Ananda said to the Exalted One, Gautama Buddha:

‘How is it, Lord, that the Exalted One made no reply to the question asked by Vacchagotta the Wanderer?’

‘If, Ananda, when asked ‘does the self exist?’ I had replied to him, ‘the self exists’. Then, Ananda, that would be to side with all those recluses and brahmins who are eternalists.

But if, Ananda, when asked the question, ‘Does the Self not exist, then?’, I had replied, ‘No! The Self does not exist,’ that would be to side with those recluses and brahmins who are annihilationists.

Again, Ananda, if when asked by Vacchagotta the Wanderer ‘Does the Self exist?’  I had replied, ‘The Self does exist,’ would that reply be consistent with My knowledge that all things are impermanent?

‘No, Lord, it would not.’

Again, Ananda, when asked: “Then does not the Self exist?”  If I had replied  ‘No, it does not exist,’ it would have added to the bewilderment of Vacchagotta the Wanderer, already bewildered. For he would have said, “Formerly, I had a self, but now I have one no more.”  

                                                                                                                                           [S.N. iv., 400].



“Some Sayings of the Buddha, According to the Pali Canon translated from the Pali by F.L.Woodward, Oxford University Press, London, Madras, 1925.