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Buddhism and the Self - revisited

The soul/spirit (purusha), for Samkhya and yoga, while pure and intangible, nevertheless

needs association with an instrument created by prakrti - intelligence, in order to be "de-

livered". The question has always been: if the soul is pure, how can it 'consent' to a rela-

tionship with what is impure - matter?  In order to avoid the problem of a Self, having

no relationship with Nature, yet, in spite of itself, :), drawn into one, Buddhism totally eliminated  the Self as an irreducible unit, and replaced it with "states of consciousness".  (see 'Patanjali on the Non-Self'; and 'Tibetan Buddhism on the Non-Self') During his periods of study and asceticism, the Buddha had learned Samkhya doctrines as well as yogic practices.  While rejecting both, he did not repudiate Indian ascetic and contemplative traditions as a whole, but it can be said he went beyond them. 


The central problem of Buddhism, suffering and the release from suffering, is the tradi-

tional problem of Indian philosophy.  Buddha did appropriate the Samkhya/yoga analysis

of the mistaken identity between the person and his psychomental life.  Samkhya and

yoga say the purusha and the prakrti, the self and the personality, are two distinct realities, connected by ignorance and illusion: The Self has no relation to psychomental life.  The Buddha said the Self had nothing to do with the 'soul', and went even further.  He rejected the idea that there was a purusha or atman.  He denied the possibility of having even an approximate experience of the true Self as long as man remained 'unawakened'.  He re-

jected, as well, Brahma - pure spirit, absolute, eternal and identical with the atman.  He

did not, however, reject an ultimate, unconditioned reality, like the above, that was beyond cosmic and psychomental reality.  Nirvana is the height of the Absolute, it is irreducible, transcendant, and beyond human experience.  To Buddha, one could find salvation

only by attaining nirvana - transcending the cosmos and rejoining the unconditioned, and

salvation could only be gained, as with all forms of yoga, at the end of a great personal effort, and an understanding of the truth.   However, Nirvana could only be 'seen' with eyes that had transcended the world.  The probem for Buddhism, then, was to show the way and to create the means of obtaining the 'sight' that could reveal the unconditioned.  He attacked Samkhya and yoga, and Vedanta, because they professed too loudly on the inexpressible, and professed to be able to define the Self (atman).  To Buddha, the argument that the atman exists is a false view, and the argument that it does not exist is a false view.


Finally, in terms of the self, the more one meditates upon what the self has in common

with other selves, the more one discovers the impersonal self common to all selves.  If

one and the same factor is the core of each individual's selfhood, no individual, in its true essence, has individuality.  Buddhists say, it is only by losing oneself that one finds oneself.  "It is by impersonalizing the personality by self-extinction, by realizing the voidness of every objective appearance throughout the Universe, that the disciple reaches an understanding of the self"  (Eliade).  Ascetically speaking, recognizing the self through attachment to worldly activities must end.  There is nothing to which the person opposes himself. This is acheived by identification with all things as they come along, and as they are.  The self relaxes and becomes empty. 








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