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Is there Self in Buddhism?


By Prof. G.RMalalasekara, Phd, D.
Courtesy Vesak Lipi

There is one doctrine in Buddhism which separates if from all other religions, creeds and systems of philosophy, and which makes it unique in the world's history. All its other teachings, such as The doctrine of impermanence, the denial of a supreme, personal God, the law of Kamma, its system of ethics and its practice of meditation, all these are found, more or less in similar forms, in one or other of the schools of thought or religions which have attempted to guide men through life and explain to them the unsatisfactoriness of the world. But in its denial of any real permanent Soul or self, Buddhism stands alone. <
This teaching presents the utmost difficulty to many people and often provokes even violent antagonism towards.the whole religion. Yet, this doctrine of No-Soul or Anatta, as it is called, is the bedrock of Buddhism and all the other teachings of the Buddha are intimately connected with it. The Buddha is quite definite in its exposition and would have no compromise. In a famous passage he declares, "Whether Buddhas arise in this world or not, it always remains a fact that the constituent parts of a being are lacking in a Soul," The Pali word used for "Soul" being Atta.

DIVINE SOUL DENIED
Now, what is this Soul the existence of which the Buddha denied? Without it there can be no reward in heaven or punishment in hell no recompense for one's deeds.
Such, generally speaking, is the teaching of other religions, with a few minor differences in detail. Buddhism, on the contrary, denies all this and asserts that this belief in a permanent and a divine soul is the most dangerous and pernicious of all errors, the most deceitful of illusions, that it will inevitably mislead its victims into the deepest pit of sorrow and suffering. It is in fact, says the
Buddha, the rootcause of all suffering, because the belief in a separate self breeds egotism and selfishness. Selfishness produces craving for life and life's pleasures-tanha-which plunges beings into the ocean of samsara-continues existence.

ANALYTICAL KNOWLEDGE
This doctrine of the denial of the Soul the Buddha arrives at by analysis; ; Buddhism is, for this reason chiefly, called the Vibhajja vada, the Religion of Analytical Knowledge. Man, says the Buddha -for it is with man that we are mainly concerned- is composed of two chief parts, the physical body-rupa-and the mind-nama.


Let us analyse these two components and see if we can find anything permanent or divine in them. Let us begin with the body. At first sight, the body would seem to be our own and continuous from our first memory of childhood. But it is, really, not our own, because we cannot control it. It grows old and is subject to disease and finally it dies. Every instant parts of it are perishing ; the hair, nails and skin for instance quite noticeably, but the millions of cells within us not so palpably. The body is always decaying, some parts of us are dead already; our survival is merely as sort of balance between living and dead cells. Though we feel we are the same persons, that our body continues to be the same, it really is not so. The child becomes the youth, the youth changes into the old man. Anyone who has lived to be 70 years old has possessed several bodies completely different, no single atom of which was common to any two of them.
What of the mind? The mind is even less permanent, for while the body last for a bit, at least in appearance, the mind of what is called the mind-for it is a compound of all sorts of things thoughts, feelings, consciousness-the mind keeps perishing day and night, always changing. A man's mind, his character, aspirations, must change and they do, or there would be no possibility of his higher development, progress and improvement. We know that character, mind and emotions require the most constant care, diligence and energy to direct and develop them, to hold them to the path of righteousness and purity. It Is only by such constant care and vigilance that any progress at all is realized. The same can be said of all mental faculties :


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