Buddhism & No-self (including the role of Atman)

Essay by malleus_e_incusUniversity, Bachelor'sB+, August 2007

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Eastern enlightenment religions have been gaining popularity throughout the western world for the past few decades, with many people attracted to a “different” way of experiencing religion. As with many other enlightenment religions, Buddhism requires disciples to understand concepts that are not readily explainable: one such concept is that of no-self. In this essay I shall discuss the no-self from a number of modern perspectives; however, as no-self is difficult to describe I shall focus on both the self and no-self. Beginning with psychological aspects, and neurophysiological research on transcendental meditation, I shall discuss the impact of modern brain science on our understanding of the self and transcendence. Next I will outline the relationship between quantum physics and non-locality, as this gives a western scientific explanation for no-self. Returning to the original source of Buddhism, I will briefly outline the discussion between Siddhartha and Vaccha regarding atman, then discuss the mind and no-self and their relationship to liberation.

Finally I will summarize a few issues that the western mindset may face approaching this topic.

The Buddhist concept of “no-self” is an essential element on the path to spiritual freedom presented by the Buddha Gautama Siddhartha Sakyamuni. It is claimed by many Buddhists that at the age of thirty-five Siddhatta achieved samyaksambodhi, a state of supreme enlightenment, while meditating under a tree. He had been born into excess and protected from life, and then chose to live as an aesthetic. He found that the former stifled to spirit and the latter stifled the mind – the only answer was a middle path of moderation. Siddhatta then lived and taught his way for another forty-five years as a Buddha before dying, or attaining parinirvana, at the ripe age of eighty. (Hopfe & Woodward, 2007, p. 123-125)Modern psychology attempts to scientifically explain many...