[This week I am reprinting a short article I wrote on the basics of Buddhism. It was quick, short and blunt; without (at least I tried) a large amount of language that would be unfamiliar to readers with no experience in the Dharma. Enjoy and feel free to comment]
“Talking about food will not get rid of hunger.”—Hui-Neng
Easily the most misunderstood of the Buddhist concepts is the idea of egolessness or anatman. In Hindu as well as Judeo-Christian tradition there is a steady belief in the persistent nature of an individual’s soul. Throughout the impermanence of the human body, the fleeting nature of the mind as well as the mutable character of the consciousness; the soul continues to exist in some form in either an afterlife or reborn in a new body. Buddhism pushes the envelope a step further by supposing that the soul itself is a creation of our delusions—a fiction.
The existence of an immortal self is a comforting thought but ultimately unrealistic and does little toward alleviating the suffering of the human condition. It serves to scratch only the most superficial surface of our suffering by displacing a portion of the human concern over old age, sickness and death. Even the hope of an immortal self is a craving as well. This craving causes clinging which, in turn, leads to suffering.
The sense of “self” is really just the causal process that leads from one form to another. Just as when the illusion of movement in a movie is shattered when looking at the reel, image by image; the illusion of a self is destroyed when states are linked together causally. These states can be combinations of feelings, perceptions, dispositions, consciousness and body sensations. These are the five skandhas described next ~ the movie of our life. Again, it may seem nihilistic, but the Buddha taught that once these skandhas were understood to be empty and the illusion of “self” dissipated we experience something that is not subject to life and death, something that is free of samsara—The cycle of birth and death. That is what the Buddha realized through his introspection.