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Re: Origin of Sense of Self

Oct 12, 1995 04:05 PM
by Richtay

Jerry writes:

> etc. etc. etc. Buddhists simply refuse to believe in the
> existence of an atma (or atman)and teach the doctrine
> of anatman (selflessness). They also refuse to accept
> manas or any of the 7 principles as "real." They are,
> in fact, maya.
> Jerry S.

WIth respect, I would like to carefully suggest that you have entered into a
very complicated, finely-tuned debate and you are attempting to bash your way
through solely on the use of one term, atman.

There is a long background to the debate. In short, at the time of the
Buddha, atman was seen as actually an "object" by many, a permanently
existing "essence" which dwelled in the heart, and which was of a very small
but measureable size. The heterodox group called "Jains" still teach that
the self is the size of a thumb. (?!?!?)

Shankaracharya came only later, re-popularizing the notion that
Atman=Brahman, the Absolute, omnipresent, etc.

So the Buddha, reacting again such materialistic notions, aught "an-atman,"
no-atman. This is NOT the word for "self" plain and simple, usually that
word is "ahankara" or the feeling of "I."

When disciples would ask the Buddha, "Is the universal eternal? Is it not
eternal? Is there a permanent self? Is there not a permanent self?" He
refused to answer.

Later Mahayana teachings included Madhyamika (Middle-Way) School, which used
logical means somewhat akin to modern "deconstructionism" to produce
"reductio ad absurdum" for all propositions put forward by disputants. They
were opposed by the Yogacara (mind-Only) School, which taught that behind the
voidness of ALL phenomena was still CONSCIOUSNESS. The debate rages for
centuries among educated Buddhists in India, and continued into Tibet.

The doctrine is also taught in most, if not all Mahayana Schools,
tathagatagarbha or "Buddha-embryo" in all beings. Each being has the nature
of the Buddha within them, which at some point in the future will awaken,
flower, and produce full-blown Buddha hood.

Just last year I had an entire class called "Exploring the Buddha Within"
where we examined various Buddhist authors who taught this indwelling reality
as pure (shuddha) luminous (prabhasvara) permanent (nitya) not empty
(ashunya) immaculate (amala) and yet, paradoxically, non-objectifiable.

As I said previously, this is the Theosophical Monad with a vengeance.

To simplistically and categorically state that "Buddhists simply refuse to
believe in the existence of an atma" is to trivialize the subtlety and
complexity of the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism in the 2,000+ years of its

So, while Buddhists will vehemently deny that they teach a self (mostly for
rhetorical purposes) many, many schools of Mahayana Buddhism teach a
permanent, pure consciousness, which contains the seeds of Buddhahood, and
remains intact life after life. This is a "self" in Theosophical terms,
though no good Buddhist will call it "atman."

As for the Buddhist equivalent of Brahman, or the Absolute, we find
Vairocana, or the Adi-Buddha, THE ABSOLUTE.

Theosophy, Mahayana Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta can match each other nearly
term for term, concept for concept, teaching for teaching.


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