' The self '...


The "self" in Buddhism

It's time to disentangle the Buddhist confusion regarding the soul or self. Most Buddhist masters and teachers, even the Dalai Lama stumble and stutter when asked about this topic.

The question is: "If there is no self-entity in Buddhism, then what reincarnates and can remember past incarnations?" The Buddha often spoke of his many past lives in perfect memory and detail.

The great Japanese Zen master Dogen Zenji, made very clear there is no soul or spiritual entity within our body or energy complex. But once when asked from a student what they should do after they die and are afraid in the after-death world, Dogen said at that time while in the after-life state, they should pray to the Buddha's for protection. What???

In Tibetan Buddhism there is a practice called "phowa" where one is trained on how one's "mental consciousness" (yid lus) should leave the body at death for a better after-death state and reincarnation. There are also full descriptions of what one needs to do before reincarnating in the next life. That indeed is a perfect description of a "soul". In In Tibetan Bon they are much less embarrassed by discussing such "soul" notions.

Dzogchen text translator and Dzogchen teacher Malcolm Smith wrote to me:

"...In fact, there is even a passage in Dzogchen RR ["Rigpa Rangshar" Tantra] that asserts it is ok to refer to vidya (rigpa) as a self...."

"...If we have to have a soul, it might as well be vidya (rigpa), it is after all, permanent, unconditioned, a knower, stainless, and free from the three realms. But If we don't have to have one, vidya (rigpa) still has these characteristics. It is our essenceless essence."

We need to understand that our consciousness has three simultaneous characteristics: emptiness like space, knowing clarity, and energetic formation. "Energetic formation" means we always have some level embodiment present. The energetic formation aspect is a "thigle" or sphere of pure awareness surrounded by various densities of life force or prana or chi. This is the "soul" or energetic self that reincarnates as a mental body (yid lus).

But here's the deal; Buddha pointed out that this "self" is empty. That means it is never a fixed, permanent entity of unchanging characteristics. In fact it is dependent upon upon memories, mind, perceptions, interdependent relationships and karmic energetic dynamics. So even though it survives death as consciousness, it's an ever changing identity and energetic continuum.

That is the only "who" that you are. Focus only on the energetic formation aspect, which includes its software of conceptualizing and reification of subjects("me") and objects, and you have localized karmic selfness. It is the energetic formation that gets entangled with a human brain and its brain chatter, at least until death or deep samadhi.

Focus on your empty knowing aspects of pure awareness and you experience vast and infinite Buddha Mind, the Mind of Clear Light, nirvana.
So, there is a "soul" in Buddhism, it's absurd to think otherwise. But the soul is empty, in constant flux, but an unending continuum of experiencing


-Jackson Peterson

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