The Power of Nonselfness

by | Apr 7, 2024 | Buddhism for All

Here is a short story that illustrates the sheer power of the realization of non-selfness.  Non-selfness is so powerful it can result even in full enlightenment.  This famously happened to a man called Bāhiya, who was not even a disciple of the Buddha at the time. 

Bāhiya was venerated in his community, so much so that he mistakenly thought of himself as being enlightened.  A god, who was a close friend of Bāhiya and fellow meditator in a past life, desiring his welfare, appeared to him to tell him that, no, he was really not enlightened, and advised him to seek out the Buddha.  To Bāhiya’s credit, he quickly understood and left immediately to see the Buddha.

When Bāhiya saw the Buddha, the Buddha was on his alms round collecting his breakfast.  Bāhiya rushed over to the Buddha to ask for teachings, and the Buddha said, “Now is not the right time, we have entered the town for alms.”  Bāhiya asked a second time and got the same answer.  And then Bāhiya asked again a third time, insisting with utter urgency, and out of compassion the Buddha acquiesced and taught him this:

Bāhiya, you should train yourself thus:
In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen.
In reference to the heard, only the heard.
In reference to the sensed, only the sensed.
In reference to the cognized, only the cognized.
That is how you should train yourself.
When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bāhiya, there is no you in connection with that.
When there is no you in connection with that, there is no you there.
When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two.
This, just this, is the end of suffering.[1]

When Bāhiya heard that, he immediately gained full enlightenment and became an arahant, right there on the spot!  If Guinness was keeping records at that time, Bāhiya would have held the world record as the fastest ever to gain full enlightenment.  Good thing Bāhiya gained full enlightenment there and then, because he was killed by a charging cow later that same morning.


  • Reflect on this post with Angela:
    • This is an extremely pith and powerful teaching from Buddha.  Contemplate it again, again, and again. What insights, learning, or reflection came up for you from your contemplation? 


[1] Udāna 1.10.

Artwork by Colin Goh.

Chade-Meng Tan

Meng is an award-winning engineer, international bestselling author, movie producer and philanthropist. His work has been nominated eight times for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Read Meng's story)

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