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Tibetan Buddhism and the Non-Self

What marks off Buddhism from the legacy arising from the Vedas is this: "All things are

devoid of self."  This self has been given the western equivalent soul or ego, but in

Sanskrit is called the jiva, or the atman - and is the 'self' to which reincarnation is ap-

plied.  This belief, in self, is thoroughly rejected in Buddhism.


The classic example given in Buddhist texts is that of the wagon which consists of wheels

and their spokes, a pole and so forth - or the house which consists of a frame made of

beams, rafters, a roof -, but the wagon in itself, the house in itself, where are they?  In

the same way, if you take away the physical  form, sensation, perception, mental activi-

ty, consciousness from a human, what remains?


The negation of the ego is given great importance in "The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibet-

an Buddhist Sects", as a fundamental doctrine.  Without an understanding of the absence 

of any ego, Buddhists will not perceive the means to go beyond being and non-being.  Ti-

betans go further, in terms of the above-stated doctrine, to state "There is no ego in the

individual, there is no ego in anything."  (The first part of the doctrine is:  "All aggregates

{or sometimes, all compounded things} are impermanent."  The last words addressed by

the Buddha to his disciples, it is said, were: "All that is produced, composed, is perish-



Just as the idea of an "ego", existing apart from the elements which constitute it, and in-

dependent, homogenous and permanent, is rejected, the Secret Teachings deny the idea

of a mind existing apart from the moods, or from the forms of activity which manifest it.

In order to enable their pupils to perceive the diversity, and momentary nature of what

we call 'mind', countless different moods are outlined: impressionable, or insensitive to

exterior impressions; inclined towards discrimination, or unaware of differences...


This 'mind' to which moods and forms of activity are attributed, while not identifying the

mind with them, is what the Teachings say most men take for their real and lasting 'ego'.

According to the Samyutta Nikaya scriptures, attributed to the Buddha, he said:

    " It would be better to consider the body as an 'ego' than to consider the mind as

      such, for the body seems to last for a year, two years or a hundred years, but 

      that which is called mind, thought or knowlege, appears and disappears in a 

      perpetual state of change."


Alexandra David-Neel states: "Now according to the Secret Teachings, what must be un-

derstood, seen, felt, is that there does not exist any current which is my mind, and there

fore, it follows that there is not a plurality of currents which are the minds of other in-

dividuals, but only a single current, the sum of all mental activity at work without a cog-

nizeable beginning.  It is in this totality that what we call 'our' mind is immersed, our

mind which we try so very hard to separate and define.  Furthermore, this effort is use-

less.  Whether we are aware of it or not, the thoughts, the desires, the needs which we

feel for life, nothing of all this is completely ours, for all of it is collective, it is the

flowing river of incalculable moments of consciousness having its source in the impenet-

rable depths of eternity."


In Buddhism, salvation is not of a self, it is dependent on what the Buddha declared to be

the deliverance of the mind from ignorance (avidya) - believing that appearances are real, and that there are individualized, immortal souls. 









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