My view on Buddha's discourse on the 'Self'

The Buddha makes the claim, which may draw some support from modern psychology, that the Self does not exist. I deep dived into this in the beginningen of my spiritual journey during a course on Buddhism and Modern Psychology. Here's my view on this particular perspective on the Self in Buddhism.


In his discourse on the Not-Self, the Buddha goes through the five aggregates: form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. There are basically two properties that the Buddha says you will find in all of these aggregates: Impermanence and having no control. The Buddha seems to be stating that these properties are not compatible with the properties we associate with the 'Self'. Meaning the Self would be in some permanent state, and in control. The Self is about a persistence through time like some sort of solid core that persists. And these things are lacking within the aggregates, according to the Buddha.


To me, it almost seems like, in his discourse, the Buddha means for his questions with regards to the aggregates to be rhetorical, in order to teach the monks we cannot associate the properties of these five aggregates with the Self.

In my view, the Self does exist, but I agree with the Buddha that they do not necessarily exist throughout these aggregates. I will explain this view below.


First of all, I believe the Buddha doesn't deny the existence of the Self either, but he makes it clear we should not identify ourselves with Self through form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. In his discourse, by denying the existence of Self within these aggregates, to me, he does not deny the existence of Self in general. These aggregates are indeed impermanent and clinging to either one of those in whatever context can leave us unsatisfied. It could be rather easy to agree these five aggregates are not permanent.


The non control part is a bit more complex, however I still do agree with the Buddha that we have not much control over these five aggregates and we can therefor not fully identify out Self with these aggregates. For example, we cannot control how we are being born in this world (form). The same goes for feelings, we cannot just easily choose to be sad or choose to be in a state of bliss, we usually let it depend on circumstances. Perception, mental formations and consciousness seem to be aggregates we should have control over and one might argue they could therefor be identified as 'Self'. However, I do not agree, because in my view these are aggregates formed in our brain, formed and framed by external factors and situations. They are therefor, again, not in control even though we think we control these aggregates by our 'Self’. I believe that, through meditation for example, we become still and get closer to our 'Self’ by turning all these aggregates off. This is leading me to explain my second argument to support my view below:


By thinking of the Self as being impermanent and in control, I strongly believe we have to point towards something that is ‘above’ these 5 aggregates, call it our souls, the universe, the subconscious, or energy for example. It is a power above us that is not bound by time and is always in control. And this 'Self’ finds its’ place here on earth through form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. But these five aggregates essentially are not our Self. It's just a manifestation of Self into a human life, like an avatar.


So even if the human being, with its’ five aggregates, is gone, the Self still persists. And in my view, the Buddha is pointing towards this persistance of Self. Even though it is difficult to explain, and even I don't fully grasp this, I do believe accepting this eventually could lead to peace of mind. This could have led to enlightment in the monks, as accepting this fact, to the core, could lead accepting our impermance and therefore to detachment from these aggregates, ultimately leading to being truly one with the 'Self’.

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