The Self of Nothingness

A philosophical trip to the centre of existence

Buddhism, whose name derives from the Sanskrit word budh, which means “to know” or “to awaken,” emphasises spiritual awakening, and its mantra is “I AM.” But there is no ego, which is a central tenet of Buddhism. This was allegedly a significant way in which the Buddha distinguished his teachings from other Indic ones of the time. It is frequently taken literally in the Thervad tradition, in which I was ordained: “There is no self at all.” The Mahyna, the greatest branch of Buddhism, asserts that a self exists. So, whose perspective is correct? What did the Buddha mean in actuality? Two Incorrect Views There are basically two ways to misunderstand selfhood in Buddhist thought.

  1. It exists a self.
  2. I am not my own self.

The lack of a self and why it exists

The Buddha asserts in his Discourse on the Non-Self Characteristic that a self is not comprised of forms, feelings, perceptions, decisions, or states of consciousness. (These five groups of occurrences are thought to be all-inclusive. ‘Determinations’ should include ‘thoughts’. He gives three justifications:

  1. No ownership or control – The first is that none of our forms, emotions, perceptions, judgments, or mental states are under our control. Our bodily form is not something we can merely modify at will. Our emotions are indecisive. What we see is beyond our control. Although we occasionally make conscious choices, we are not in control of the unconscious processes that give rise to the possibilities we really see. The final point is that we are not in control of our state of consciousness.
  2. Brings about suffering – His second justification is a little more esoteric. According to him, a self cannot be made up of form, feelings, perceptions, decisions, or states of awareness because they don’t produce pleasure. He claims that because they cause pain, they are not themselves. According to this frame of thinking, one should enjoy oneself.
  3. Everything is transient – He emphasises that because all phenomena fall under one of the five categories, they all result in misery. This argument is more compelling. It cannot be you if something enters your consciousness and then vanishes. Right?

Are you the body?

We can see how strange our bodies are in our own experiences. Half of what happens within my body I don’t even know. Most of it also doesn’t appeal to me. I refer to “my body” as if it were something unique that “I” owned. Nails, hair, blood, dung, mucus, spit, urine, bones, flesh, phlegm, and other such things don’t identify me. But all of these things are simply a collection of the body. It also continues to change. Nowhere on my body does a baby me look. So, did the baby me actually exist?

Do you have a mind?

Going beyond the broad categories of emotions, perceptions, and conclusions, we may see that our attitudes, preferences, and personality traits change with time by taking a closer look into our thoughts. Because they are transient, they are not us. Some characteristics and beliefs remain with us throughout our lives. However, the opinions are probably cultural whereas the qualities are probably inherited. Our genes and the culture in which we were born are neither things we chose nor are their effects something we can control. They don’t really define a self at all. We can understand that nothing we ordinarily refer to as ourselves is either a substantial (lasting) or proper (inherent) self because both body and mind are either outside of our control or transient.

How or Why a Self Exists

All of the aforementioned, in my opinion, is rather uncontroversial on its own. Only the claim that “there isn’t a self” sounds absurd. Because if there is no self, then who is reading this at this very moment? Undoubtedly, a being exists. The self is not the same as being, which is a crucial distinction made in nonself Buddhism. Existing is just being. Individuality is the self. Can you therefore exist without having an identity? Can a being exist without also existing as one? The response is indeed. Nothing entails that you must have an identity in order to live.
We can deduce a significant truth from this, which is: Life and you are one. You are one with all existence.

There is nothing separating you from all of existence if you exist, if all of existence exists, and if you don’t have an identity. This is where things start to become really intriguing. We can start to understand that identification serves as a kind of barrier. And the awakening to the illusion of separation is the precise awakening to which the word budh, or Buddha, alludes in Buddhism. And we also understand that this awakening is both a realisation that there is only self and, contrary to what you may think, a realisation that there is no self. The latter view completes the circle by stating that Brahman, also known as the Supreme Self, is the ultimate reality. “The immovable reality within and beyond the world.” Tathgatagarbha, or “Buddha-nature,” is the name Mahyna Buddhism gives to this greatest self.

Self of No Self

I hope that I have provided solid arguments for both sides that there is a self and that there isn’t. However, because they are both conceptual, both are mistaken. Being convinced that there is no such thing as a self can make us feel as though we are apart from everything. On the other hand, the genuine awakening of the nonself entails complete union with everything. Because we believe there is a self and that we are merely this tiny identity, we may feel cut off from everything. However, real Buddha-nature awakening denotes complete unity with everything. Finally, what is being said? Typically, people misunderstand both the self and the nonself. Peace (non-separation meaning no conflict) and love are the only viable options. (non-separation means complete intimacy). You are at home, thus this is the message.

Hi, I’m Garima and I write about life experiences. I have several books available on Amazon. Check them out today! Any purchases or KDP reads will be greatly appreciated. If you like my books, do leave a review. Here’s my author page on Amazon –


13 Comments Add yours

  1. sicetnon3 says:

    Excellent post! 🙏🏼For many, the mystery of the self can be the final stumbling block in the path to the Summit. You may have spent your entire life climbing the mountain only to trip on this stone just steps from the top. And you find yourself sliding down and backwards, trying to stop your descent only to find a cold and slippery surface in your grasp. As you glance up at the Summit it is enveloped in white and wind swept storm clouds and the feelings of disillusionment, disappointment and even anger envelop you as you see your dream receding.

    “No Self, No Problem” now sounds like the call of the barker at a carnival sideshow who has enticed you to give your money to him to see a glance of the bearded lady. Turns out he was selling her misfortune at having a specific genetic disorder that made it appear to her he was the only one who cared.

    So too, a final glance at the self reveals the storm at the Summit is Fear. The Fear of falling; the fear of losing your dream; the fear of losing your life as you disappear into a crevice of doubt and hopelessness. If there is no “self” reading this, then who/what is it?

    Who is now falling into the crevice? Who is now doubting and losing hope?

    Another barker says, “The Observer”. Another said, “And the observer is being observed.” And yes, the observer in all cases is still the self.
    So the more modern adman says, “It is what it is.” It is a hopeless situation you are in so just accept it for what it is. That’s life. Period

    Still, a hopeless life belongs. A hopeless life is forgiven. And that is when you realize you are falling upward! Through forgiveness The fall is transformed into an illusion! The stone that seemed an obstacle was the rock you grasped to stop your fall.
    You are now free to get up, walk the rest of the way to the Summit and enjoy the incredible view.

    “There are basically two ways to misunderstand selfhood in Buddhist thought.” Both/and. “However, because they are both conceptual, both are mistaken.” Both belong, both are correct (depending on perspective) and both are forgiven.(even the mistaken) It is forgiveness that reconciles/unites opposites and transforms them into a life experience (like falling and grasping a stone to prevent you from sliding downhill).

    Yes, this transformation through forgiveness is not done by us. We are not in control. Any control we do have we must freely give up. That is the fearful part. We want our belief and doctrine and way of life to have control.
    Because to not have control is to suffer.
    Still, don’t believe these words. They are only forms on a dark field. However, Like stars, we might find a pattern that resembles something we encounter in life itself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. GS says:

      Wow so informative. Thank you for sharing


      1. sicetnon3 says:

        If it’s informative, disregard in its entirety, please (except for the 🙏🏼)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. GS says:

        Oh…why though

        Liked by 1 person

      3. sicetnon3 says:

        “Why” seems to indicate a thirst for knowledge. I am a dry well in that regard. 🤣 Still, Even that is informative.
        Any suggestions?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. GS says:

        Knowledge requires more than just books and instruction. It requires experience. It needs the interplay–the back and forth feedback loop–between theory and practice, hypothesis and results, ideas and action. Reading case studies and listening to the latest social media gurus isn’t going to get you very far unless you have something practice the lessons on. Education without experience is masturbation. As the saying goes, non scholae, sed vitae discimus—not for school but for life we learn. And you Sir have experience.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. sicetnon3 says:

        Life is the experience. I understand how some people might refer to it as knowledge. It’s like, “If I knew then what I know now.” Experience “knowledge” is wisdom. Pure gift.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. sicetnon3 says:

        Knowledge is transformed into wisdom through experience and wisdom is transformed into….through?

        Liked by 1 person

      7. GS says:

        Wisdom is transformed into love and service through doing.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. sicetnon3 says:

        Love requires no doing on our part. Being who we are is the joy of Love. So yes, wisdom is transformed into love through Love itself. And yes, the “doing” of love might manifest itself in service, and…

        Liked by 1 person

      9. GS says:

        We keep aloof from the outside world when we are ritually impure. We must regard any day on which we fail to do any service to others as a day of impurity. Paramesvara is the father of all creatures. By serving our fellow men we serve the Lord. This is the message of Tirumular in his Tirumantiram;

        Nadamada-k-koyil nambar-k-konriyil

        Padamada-k-koyil Bhagavarkadame

        It means: Serving people is worshipping the Lord.


  2. sicetnon3 says:

    Does a mother still love her son even if he has rejected her?

    Liked by 1 person

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