From time to time, Dharma and Advaita friends ask me where does the Buddha say in the Pali suttas; “Deeds are done but there is no doer of.”
There is nowhere that the Buddha makes such a statement. The statement appears on page 700 of The Path of Purification, (Visuddhimaggaa), a very influential sixth century commentary by the influential Theravada monk, Venerable Buddhaghosa of Sri Lanka. Venerable Buddhaghosa wrote:
“There is no doer of a deed
Or one who reaps the deed’s result
Phenomena alone flows on
No other view than this is right.”
The Buddha would not make express such a view. If there were deeds without a doer, then the doer would be absolved of all responsibility for what he or she has done, is doing or will be done. The individual could claim there is only the deed but no doer, only phenomena flowing on.
The Buddha challenged this view of no-self – as it would mean that there would also be no responsibility for the results of what we did. There is the doer, the doing and the done, namely the results. All three go together or none. The doer arises in accordance with the dependent arising of the doing and the done.
Various teachers in Advaita often quote the Buddha as the one who spoke this verse rather than a scholar monk 1000 years later.
You will notice that the scholar monk claims: “No other view than this is right.” Quite a claim. The Buddha expressed concern about those who claim “this is true, all else is false.”
It is important to remember that Acharya Buddhaghosa wrote as a postscript in the Sinhalese text of his classic Theravada commentary that he wants to be reborn at the time of Metteya, the next Buddha, so he can realise the highest fruit of the Dharma. The concept of desire for a future becoming is not the language of liberation. Some Theravada monks regard Buddhaghosa as a second Buddha or as an arahant (a fully liberated with all problematic issues resolved). It is not how the monk thinks of himself.