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Buddhism was born out of Hinduism. Buddhism unlike Hinduism had a specific founder. Buddhism has as its beginning round 500 bc. The founder or Buddha was Siddhartha Guatama. Guatama was born into a wealthy family in India. His father was a King in northern east India. One day a priest prophesied over Siddhartha that he could be a great savior to the world if he left the palace. But if he remained in the palace he would only be a great king. This troubled his father who saw that his son would think of greater things by leaving the palace and ultimately giving away his kingly succession to the throne. Impressed by the priests prophecy Siddhartha left the palace to embark on a journey of ‘enlightenment’ (McDowell,1992: 304-305).
On his journey, he saw “four passing sites.” He came across a feeble man, a sick man, a funeral procession and finally a man who begged for food on the street. He went back to the palace to leave for his journey of enlightenment. On his journey, he was meditating under a fig tree. While meditating he reached what Buddhist call Nirvana. Nirvana is the highest state of consciousness. McDowell calls it “God-consciousness.” At this point, he was no longer called Siddhartha but the Buddha, the Enlightened One. After his vision, he gathered five monks who had been with him on his journey and taught them what he had learned from his enlightened experience. He taught them that there were two extremes that should not be practiced in life. The first extreme is a life of wealth and self-gain. He told them to forswear wealth, the riches of the material world because these would only lead to pain. The other extreme that Buddha told his monks to avoid was one that was “conjoined with self-torture, which is painful, ignoble, and useless.” >From these two extremes Buddha was teaching a life of simplicity. Buddha told the monks that there is a middle path. The middle path included eight ways or teachings; “right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.” Buddha also told them that pain or “dukkha” is a noble truth. The noble truth of pain is; “birth is painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful, death is painful, sorrow, lamentation, dejection, and despair are all painful.” Buddha also taught them that the noble truth of pain is “the craving, which tends to rebirth, combined with pleasure and lust, finding pleasure here and there, namely the craving for passion, the craving for existence, the craving for non-existence.” Buddha then told them that the goal in life was to live without pain. He said that “the noble truth of the path that leads to the cessation of pain, the cessation without a remainder of craving, the abandonment, forsaking, release, non-attachment.” By the end of his death at age 80, Buddha had spread his teaching throughout India (McDowell 306.) This truth is the key teaching of Buddhism. The idea is that man to gain true enlightenment must gain nothing that is not key to sustaining him. Simplicity for lack of a better western term would fit here (McDowell,1992: 305-307).
In Theravada Buddhism says that the image or reality of the self is a source of “bondage” Gotama Buddha through an enlightenment experience made his self a “gone-out no self” He had reached nibbana. This meant that he had become or gained complete control of his life…”in terms of responsiveness to others, the penetrating perception of their natures, his won expanded mental and spiritual powers, and total inward control, Gotama had become a type of ‘superperson’ Also in Theravada Buddhism the belief in the self or idea of a fixed self can lead not only to bondage and suffering, but the idea of the self can lead to being reborn into the same bondage and pain. (Ingrham 166.) According to Access to Insight; Readings in Theravada Buddhism, Buddha when presented with the question about the existence or non-existence of the self, Buddha responded that it was a question best left alone. Left alone not for another revelation in time or rumination of enlightenment, but to hold to the question about a self or no-self, would ultimately lead to a stressful life of unease and unrest. In this sense, the anatta teaching is not a doctrine of no-self, but a not-self strategy for shedding suffering by letting go of its cause, leading to the highest, undying happiness (Bhikkhu.)
Described in the Mahayana view of self-hood “Fatsang’s Hall of Mirrors.” “In the ceiling and floor, on all four walls, and even in the four corners of the room were fixed huge mirrors- all facing one another.” This view of Buddhist self-hood places the Buddhist likeness or image in the middle. “In each and every reflection of any [one] mirror you will find all the reflections of all the other mirrors, together with the specific Buddha image in each, without omission or misplacement”(Ingram.158) In other words no self fixed can be found in the middle, only the reflection of the surrounding universe. “All is Mind” and this mind is but a nexus, a center point with out affixation. This I found to be one of the most explanatory examples of what Buddhists believe about the self. The idea is that which is giving the reflection and that which is receiving the reflection merges into one entity. This fusion is described in the phrase, “all is Mind.” The idea is that “no self or entity has any self-inclosed, independent reality of its own”(Ingram, 1986: 158).
But what about the body? If we don’t have a self then what about all of our emotions? What’s to be said about the empirical reality? Buddha offers that we are five skandhas. Skandha roughly translated means “heap, aggregate, or component of individuality.” In other words, we are as a being made up of five different components. The Five Skandhas are; “First, form: Solidity, earth element, shape. Second, feelings: Sensations. Not just emotional feelings, but also physical sensations and so on. Whatever we feel. The third skandha is perceptions: Experiences, like thoughts, sights, sounds, and so on. In the second and third skandhas, in feelings and perceptions, liking and not liking arise. That’s when the whole problem, the whole duality, the whole push and shove starts. The entire, exhausting treadmill or roller coaster of ups and downs. The fourth is will or volition: Intending to do things. That’s where karma comes in. Liking and not liking arise, then from that devolves reactions. Reactions rather than freedom and proactivity. Our form feels things, perceives things this way or that way, liking or not liking. Then actions or intentions push or pull, trying to get more, get less, ignore it, or get away from it. Avoidance, denial, greed, demandingness, attachment, and so on, equals dissatisfaction and misery. And fifth is consciousness, or as Buddhism says, consciousness: States of mind” (www.dzogchen.org.)
So in Buddhism, the goal is not denying the lusts of the self, but to deny the self or the idea of the self altogether. For to desire anything for the self is to become attached. And to become attached we place ourselves in bondage. To obtain Nirvana the atman has to be exorcised completely. Buddha taught that there is no soul. For to say there is a soul, you would have to say that something in life is permanent. That you carry something from life to life. (Murti.) “The goal of all these negative statements—no-soul, no-mind emptiness—is the liberation of the individual selfhood from the trammels of narrow, static formulations and experiences of self-identity into the larger selfhood of self’s denial” (Ingram, 1986 165).
Bhikkhu, Thanissaro. No-self or Not-self?
Prof. T. R. V. Murti
McDowell, Josh and Don Stewart. Handbook of Todays Religions. California: Here’s Life Publishers, INC. 1992
Ingram, Paul O., ed. Buddhist-Christian Dialogue. Honolulu: Hawaii Press, 1986