Buddhism: The Self and Reincarnation

Do you have a soul? What makes you who you are? We can look to the Buddhism for fascinating and complex ideas regarding these questions. Buddhists believe in anattā, or the doctrine of the “non-self” (“Anatta” 1). This does not mean that you don’t exist, but that there is no permanent, unchanging self. Buddhists do not ascribe to the belief in a static soul. Instead, they argue that what we call the “self” is a constantly evolving set of thoughts, impressions, and feelings. They also claim that nirvana is the blissful state attained after relinquishing a belief in a permanent soul.

Interestingly enough, Buddhists also believe in reincarnation. This may seem paradoxical at first. If one doesn’t believe in a permanent soul, then what exactly gets reincarnated? It is consciousness that gets transferred between lifetimes. One way to think about it is like a football team founded 50 years ago. During that time, hundreds of players have joined the team, left, and been replaced by other players. Even though not one of the original players is still in the team or even alive, it is still valid to say that ‘the team’ exists.


The Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica. “Anatta.” The Encyclopedia Britannica. 5 December 2007. 23 February 2017. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/anatta>



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