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Buddhism and No Self

Jean Frederic Martin

RELI 226
Shital Sharma
February 15th 2013

It is estimated that in the 6
century BCE, Gautama Siddhartha became the new
Buddha by taping into nirvana. Despite the ultimate knowledge he found, he stayed in
this world to teach what he had found to many followers who organized themselves as a
group called the Sanga. Over the century the teaching of the Buddha spread across the
Asian land. Originating from India, Buddhism expanded far across Asia with different
particular understandings. The first yana, the Theravada tradition, started from India and
received great the patronage of king Ashoka. It became very important in Sri Lanka and
South East Asia. Monk who focused a lot on the scriptures transmitted the knowledge to
the young monk or lay people. The teaching of the Buddha went through different
transformations after it entered what we call the Common Era (CE). In the new millennia
Buddhism crosses over to China and East Asia, probably by merchants/traders coming
from India using the Silk Road and appeals to some of the population. With the change
of land, comes a change of culture and so the new followers have adapted Buddhism in
part by denying certain doctrines or expending some. This gave rise to a shift to the
Chinese Mahayana tradition, which expanded, to Korea and Japan with their particular
focus on meditation and emptiness. On the other hand Vajarayana tradition is more
oriented with the tantric and physical means. Nevertheless the common elements such as
the principle of no-self of three marks of existence, the five aggregates and the
depending arising In this paper I will present how no-self is interpreted in these three
The Budha teaches about the three marks of existence; Suffering (Dukha),
Impermanence and no self. The great trouble with suffering is that it has many forms and
causes. One could be suffering of suffering which is generated by desire, craving and
attachment. Gethin explains it as Unfulfulled craving and frustrated attachement become
the condition for acersion, anger, depression, hatred, and cruelty and violence which are
in themselves quite manifestly unpleasant (duhkha as pain) and in turn it brings further
suffering ( Gethin 1998: 73).
The second is the suffering of change because nothing last for ever. Thirdly the
suffering of conditioned existence, which connects to the second, mark of existence that
is Impermanence, because nothing last forever or has intrinsic properties and changes to
something new, it goes for humans.
Leading us to the third mark no self. The word existence at its core means
permanence, unchanging, independently existent, it was always there and will always
remain. But since everything is impermanent and always changing, the notion of self is
voided. Voided because there is no substantial, independent self, there are only the
skhandas, also know as the 5 aggregates. The first aggregate is the one of form, or the
bodily matters that one experience daily. The feeling is the second aggregate and
refers to the sensations one my have, good, bad, or neutral. The third is about perception
and interpretation, how we or other people perceive their judgments forming a bit of who
we are. The fourth aggregate is back to the topic of desire and craving for it has to do
with the mental formations, which could be about lustful desire or simply binding out
mind to a state. Last of the aggregates is Consciousness of one self. If the self arise
through depenedts of origination and the self is made of 5 elements that can be changed
and altered at any moment it is then impossible to keep the concept of sefl, and we have
to replace it by no self. The atman brought by the Vedic Upanishad is broken by the
Buddhis Theravada tradition.
Now lets go back to dukkha, since life is impermanent, so should be suffering.
The 4 truths reason reason in that sense. The Buddha teaches that if there is suffering, so
suffering has a cause, if there is a cause there is a cessation and to this cessation there is a
path (the noble eightfold path)
The Therevada schools focus more on the practice of the Buddhas teaching, the
Abhidharma (one of the 3 baskets). They acknowledged the two truth (satyas) of reality
as one bein the conventional reality of duality and logic and the ultimate truth where one
overcomes the faade of the world and see emptiness or sunyata. The Abhidharma on the
other hand talks of the dharma as the building block of reality made of intrinsic reality.
Their practice centers on confidence (pasda) and faith (sraddha). Focusing more on
practice, monk who gets to high rank when they obtain nirvana they becomes Arhats.
Which means one that have complete (to a certain extend) the Buddhas teaching. A
The Mahayana, the second yanas of Buddhist tradition has evolved bit differently.
It fisrt started developing around the 1
century and divided in many school where as
Chan (zen in japan), Amitabahs Pure Land, but had also philosophical schools such has
Madhyamaka and Yogacara. Mahayana emphasized on meditation and the bodhisattva
path who, unlike the Arath, even after seeing the infinite of nirvana, decides to stay on
earth for the good of all sentient beings. They are, like the Buddha, the embodiment of
compassion and selflessness. Yagarjuna, founder of the Madhyamaka philosophy,
transcends the 2 truth coming back to the idea of Middle way. He brought the emptiness
of emptiness. He did so when he realized that monks who had obtained the second thruth
(ultimate reality) became dualistic with the people who were stuck conventional reality.
He sought to transcend that concept of permanence all way down to Abhidharmas
teaching about dharma; emptiness of one is emptiness for all, including the dharma.
Anything is changing
I think what the Buddha was teaching is detachment of all useless things. The
selflessness of one and not just abandonment. Nagarjunas is probably my most inspiring
Buddhist thinker, whether or not if he went back to Gautamas original concept of middle
path, or if it was imply the most logical thing to do. The way he argues against the
fundamentality of the dharma or rigid mind of the 2 truths while making it cohesive is
very impressive.
In conclusion, Buddhism as a lot of history and but nothing of it is permanent.
They even proclaimed that their teaching will be lost and the new Buddha will come.
How will Maitreya deals with this overly attached to consumerism world.

Gethin, Rupert. 1998. The Foundations of Buddhism. New York: Oxford University