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 answers to these questions. Buddhists believe in anattā, which is the doctrine of the “non-self” (The Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica “Anatta”). This does not mean that you don’t exist, but that there is no permanent, unchanging self. They do not ascribe to the belief in a static soul. Instead, Buddhists argue that what we call the self is a constantly evolving set of thoughts, impressions, and feelings and nirvana is the blissful state when someone lets go of the belief in a fixed 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 gets reincarnated? It is this changing set of thoughts and emotions, essentially consciousness or vijnana.

It is this ‘self’ they believe that passes from one life to the next. One way to think about it is like a football team. The individual 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 During that time hundreds of players have joined the team, left, and been replaced by other players.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.

References

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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