Asmi

Renderings

asmi (verb): I am

asmi (noun): the notion “I am”

asmi (noun): “(in reality) what I am”

asmi (adjective): egocentric

asmī ti māna: self-centredness (equivalent to māna)

asmimāna: self-centredness (equivalent to māna)

asmī ti anusayo: the proclivity to self-centredness

Introduction

Potential meanings of asmi

Asmi means ‘I am’ (verb), but the Khemaka Sutta (S.3.126-132) shows four other renderings may occasionally be justified.

1) the notion “I am” (noun)

2) “(in reality) what I am” (noun)

3) ‘egocentric’ (adjective)

4) redundancy in the phrase asmī ti māno (=’self-centredness’), because māno is equivalent to asmī ti māno. This is covered sv Māno.

Asmi in the Khemaka Sutta: ‘the notion “I am”

In the Khemaka Sutta, Venerable Khemaka said the notion “I am”was still to be found in him in relation to the five grasped aggregates (pañcasupādānakkhandhesu asmī ti adhigataṃ). He said this was a vague sense, like perfume around a lotus, not located in any particular part of the flower. Here, therefore, asmī ti is rendered ‘the notion “I am.”’

Asmi in the Khemaka Sutta: “(in reality) what I am”

Venerable Khemaka said that although the notion “I am”was still found in him, nonetheless he did not regard any particular one of aggregates as “(in reality) what I am” (ayamahamasmī ti ca na samanupassāmī ti). Here, therefore, asmī ti is “(in reality) what I am.”

Asmi in the Khemaka Sutta: egocentric

The bhikkhus asked him: ‘Friend Khemaka, when you mention this notion “I am” (asmī ti vadesi) what do you say is “(in reality) what I am”? (kimetaṃ asmī ti vadesi?). Do you say that the five aggregates are “(in reality) what I am,” or do you say that “(in reality) what I am” is separate from the five aggregates?
Rūpaṃ asmī ti vadesi? Aññatra rūpā asmī ti vadesi?… Viññāṇaṃ asmī ti vadesi? Aññatra viññāṇā asmī ti vadesi?

Venerable Khemaka replied: ‘Friends, I do not say the five aggregates are “(in reality) what I am,” nor do I say that “(in reality) what I am” is separate from the five aggregates.’ Then he explained:

‘Friends, even though a noble disciple has abandoned the five ties to individual existence in the low plane of existence (pañcorambhāgiyāni saṃyojanāni) still, in regard to the five grasped aggregates (pañcasupādānakkhandhesu) there remains within him

• a residual self-centredness
☸ anusahagato asmī ti māno

• a residual egocentric desire
asmī ti chando

• a residual proclivity to self-centredness that have not yet been abolished
asmī ti anusayo asamūhato.

If he abides contemplating the arising and disappearance of the five grasped aggregates, these three residual phenomena are abolished.
pañcasupādānakkhandhesu udayabbayānupassino viharato.

Venerable Khemaka compared these three residual phenomena to the aroma of a cloth cleaned with cowdung, which even though clean, would retain an unpleasant aroma. If placed in a sweet-scented casket, the aroma would dissipate. Likewise, with proper practice, the dung-like aroma of self-centredness will fade away.

Thus, in the phrase asmī ti chando, asmī ti is adjectival and we call it ‘egocentric,’ which produces a comprehensible translation. In comparison, Bodhi persistently calls it “I am” as follows:

• ‘there lingers in him a residual conceit “I am” (asmī ti māno), a desire “I am” (asmī ti chando), an underlying tendency “I am” (asmī ti anusayo) that have not yet been abolished’ (CDB p.945).

Asmī ti māna and asmī ti anusayo in the quote just given

These have been rendered in the quotation as:

asmī ti māna: self-centredness

asmī ti anusayo: proclivity to self-centredness

We justify calling asmi ‘self-centredness’ as follows:

Other suttas show that māna equals the notion “I am” (asmī ti bhikkhave mānagatametaṃ: S.4.202-3). This suggests that asmimāno is a redundancy (i.e. a compound of two equivalent terms), and that asmimāno is a synonym of māno. Therefore all three terms (asmi, māna, and asmimāna) do or can mean ‘self-centredness.’ This is discussed further sv Māna.

Differentiating the qualities of “I am”

“I am” is used by the ignorant Everyman but also by the arahant, who ‘makes use of conventional speech without grasping it’ (yañca loke vuttaṃ teneva voharati aparāmasanti) (S.1.14; M.1.500). But there seems no grammatical device to indicate the different quality of their “I am’s.” Although the Taṇhājālinī Sutta (A.2.212-3) says the thought ‘I am this way’ (evamasmī ti hoti) is imbued with taṇhā, this is obviously not true for arahants’ “I am’s.” The Buddha himself said:

• ‘I am a Brahman’
ahamasmi bhikkhave brāhmaṇo (It.101).

• ‘I have understood the All’
sabbavidu’hamasmi (Dh.v.353).

• ‘I am freed from inward distress’
sītibhūtosmi (Vin.1.8).

Translators might like to indicate the non-ignorant quality of such I am’s, but how could this be done? One cannot possibly have the arahant say:

• ‘I (conventionally speaking) am a Brahman’

• I (conventionally speaking) have understood the All etc.

Or have the common man say:

• ‘I (grasped as such) am this way’

The context, however, makes it clear which “I am’s” are likely imbued with taṇhā, and which are not.

Illustrations

Illustration: asmimānassa, self-centredness

The elimination of self-centredness is happiness supreme
asmimānassa vinayo etaṃ ve paramaṃ sukhan ti (Ud.10).

Illustration: asmī ti diṭṭhimānānusayaṃ, self-centredness

He uproots the proclivity to self-centredness
asmī ti diṭṭhimānānusayaṃ samūhanitvā
(M.1.47).

COMMENT:

Asmī ti diṭṭhimānānusayaṃ is similar to Venerable Khemaka’s asmī ti anusayo which we translated above as ‘a proclivity to self-centredness.’ We consider that the two phrases are equivalent because:

1) asmī ti and māno are synonyms meaning self-centredness, and

2) because self-centredness is essentially a view, the word diṭṭhi is redundant.

Bodhi translates it as ‘the underlying tendency to the view and conceit “I am,”’ and Horner ‘addiction to the latent view “I am.”’

Illustration: asmimāna, self-centredness

In one who perceives the voidness of personal qualities (in all things), self-centredness is uprooted. He realises the Untroubled in this very lifetime
anattasaññi asmimānasamugghātaṃ pāpuṇāti diṭṭheva dhamme nibbānaṃ ti (Ud.37).

Illustration: ahamasmi, I am

―If there were no sense impression in any way, would there be the thought “I am this”?
yattha panāvuso sabbaso vedayitaṃ natthi api nu kho tattha ayamahamasmī ti siyā ti

―No, bhante (D.2.67).

Illustration: ahamasmi, I am

When this Venerable regards himself thus: ‘I am at peace. I am inwardly at peace. I am free of grasping’ that is declared to be grasping on the part of this good ascetic or Brahmanist.
santo’hamasmi nibbuto’hamasmi anupādino’hamasmī ti samanupassati tadapi imassa bhoto samaṇassa brāhmaṇassa upādānamakkhāyati (M.2.237).

Illustration: ahamasmi, I am

I am a stream-enterer, no more liable to rebirth in the plane of damnation, assured of deliverance, with enlightenment as my destiny.
☸ sotāpanno’hamasmi avinipātadhammo niyato sambodhiparāyaṇo ti (D.2.93).

Illustration: ahamasmi, I am

Bhikkhus, there are these three modes (of self-centredness) (tisso vidhā). What three?

• ‘I am better’ mode (of self-centredness)
seyyo’hamasmī ti vidhā

• ‘I am equal’ mode (of self-centredness)
sadiso’hamasmī ti vidhā

• ‘I am worse’ mode (of self-centredness)
hīno’hamasmī ti vidhā (S.5.56).

Illustration: asmi, notion “I am”; I am

The Taṇhājālinī Sutta (A.2.212-3)lists 36 assertions of personal identity which arise with the notion “I am.” The sutta says when there is the notion “I am” (asmī ti bhikkhave sati) there come the thoughts

• I am here itthasmī ti hoti

• I am this way evamasmī ti hoti

• I am otherwise aññathasmī ti hoti

and other similar thoughts.

The sutta continues: when there is the thought

‘Because of this, I am’ (iminā asmī ti bhikkhave sati) there come the thoughts:

• Because of this, I am here iminā itthasmī ti hoti

• Because of this, I am this way iminā evamasmī ti hoti

Because of this, I am otherwise iminā aññathasmī ti hoti

and other such thoughts (A.2.212-3).

Illustration: asmi, notion “I am”

A wise person should completely destroy the origin of entrenched conception, the notion “I am.”
mūlaṃ papañcasaṅkhāya mantā asmī ti sabbamuparundhe (Sn.v.916).

Illustration: asmi, the notion “I am”; I am

The notion “I am” is a matter of thinking in personal terms.
asmī ti maññitametaṃ

‘I am this’ is a matter of thinking in personal terms.
ayamahamasmī ti maññitametaṃ

Thinking in personal terms is an illness, a carbuncle, a (piercing) arrow. Therefore train yourselves with the thought, ‘We will live with minds free of thinking in personal terms.’
maññitaṃ bhikkhave rogo maññitaṃ gaṇḍo maññitaṃ sallaṃ tasmātiha bhikkhave amaññamānena cetasā viharissāmāti evaṃ hi vo bhikkhave sikkhitabbaṃ

The notion “I am” is
Asmī ti bhikkhave

a matter of spiritual instability
iñjitametaṃ

a matter of mental turmoil
phanditametaṃ

a matter of entrenched perception
papañcitametaṃ

an acquiescence in self-centredness
mānagatametaṃ (S.4.202-3).

Illustration: asmi, notion “I am”

So, too, the notion “I am” occurs with the grasping of (the five aggregates), not without grasping.
Evameva kho āvuso ānanda rūpaṃ upādāya asmī ti hoti no anupādāyaviññāṇaṃ upādāya asmī ti hoti no anupādāya (S.3.105).

Illustration: asmi, notion “I am”; ahamasmi, “(in reality) what I am”

If the notion “I am” has vanished, and one does not regard anything as “(in reality) what I am,”’ it is impossible, out of the question, that the arrow of doubt and uncertainty (about the excellence of the teaching) would plague your mind.
☸ aṭṭhānametaṃ āvuso anavakāso yaṃ asmī ti vigate ayamahamasmī ti asamanupassato atha ca panassa vicikicchākathaṅkathāsallaṃ cittaṃ pariyādāya ṭhassatī ti (D.3.250).

Illustration: ahamasmi, “(in reality) what I am”

―That which is unlasting, intrinsically unsatisfactory, destined to change, is it fitting to regard it as “(in reality) mine,” or “(in reality) what I am,” or “my (absolute) Selfhood”?
Yaṃ panāniccaṃ dukkhaṃ vipariṇāmadhammaṃ kallannu taṃ samanupassituṃ etaṃ mama eso’hamasmi eso me attā ti

―No, Master Gotama (M.1.232-3).

Illustration: asmi, “(in reality) what I am”

So when even in the external Solidness Phenomenon with all its vastness, unlastingness is discernable, destruction is discernable, disappearance is discernable, changeableness is discernable, then what to say of this short-lasting body evolved from craving? There can be no considering that as “(in reality) me,” or as “(in reality) mine,” or as “(in reality) what I am.”
☸ Kiṃ panimassa mattaṭṭhakassa kāyassa taṇhūpādinnassa. Ahan ti vā maman ti vā asmī ti va atha khvāssa notevettha hoti (M.1.185-9).