To reach a deeper understanding of anattā we simplify our perspective on life’s events by observing our experiences as bodily sensations, feelings, perceptions, mental constructs, sensory phenomena. In other words we observe the changing nature of the khandhas.
If this objective perspective is missing we easily get caught up with the narrative or story line that each life situation generates. For instance, not only is there a feeling of annoyance because of some disturbance in our lives, but there are also all the thoughts, stories, justifications, past resentments and guilt trips that proliferate from that energy of annoyance. All of this will have a strong smell of self and other. This is full-blown attachment.
If we are practising non-attachment we observe the physical sensations that are conditional upon annoyance. We observe the thoughts that are conditional upon annoyance. Most importantly we observe the craving that is conditional upon annoyance. This might be the craving that manifests as a desire to hurt someone else through cruel speech or the feelings of guilt and harsh self-judgments.
By indulging in these story lines, the annoyance would become a personal problem. However, when emotions such as annoyance are observed as objects of mind rather than ultimately true realities, then we are inclining to right understanding and non-attachment.
The khandhas are the changing conditions that come and go, are born and die. This is not the whole story, however: there is the uncreated, the unoriginated, the unformed, Nibbana, the deathless. The realisation of the deathless or nibbana is the goal of Buddhism. The way to realize that goal is through non-attachment to the five khandhas.
Non-attachment thus has depths of meaning that become apparent as we develop the path. A novice’s understanding of letting go changes and becomes both more subtle and more accurate over the years.
This reflection by Ajahn Viradhammo is from the book, The Stillness of Being, (pdf) pp. 34-35.