This thread developed from many other threads where I tried to clarify for me the question that surprises me very much in this religion. On the one hand Buddha's teachings are aimed at attainment of everlasting bliss, Nirvana. On the other, he teaches that soul, that is subject of suffering does not exist, that human is nothing but a subtle compound. But this, if understand aright, devalues all teaching on salvation etc., actually that equals human with stone. So, I ask every one who knows much about the subject and is willing to enlighten me to post in this thread.
[SIZE="3"]I have written on this quite a bit here, but I'll see if I can put it at least a little
To begin, one has to understand what the Buddha was primarily
teaching, because his primary
teaching had little to do with anatman, the middle way, the four noble truths, or any other of what most people focus on when they talk about the Buddha (I know that sounds radically contrary, but let me explain). I say, most people today, especially casual observers, have no idea what the Buddha was teaching. Why? Because the Buddhist religion
is now standing in for what the Buddha taught.
Religion is what the vast majority relate to whether its Jesus or Mohammed, or the Buddha. Religion is not the living experience of such a teacher trying to "transfer" to students an inner experience. The external concepts such teachers rely on are merely meant discourage the mind from believing in, pursuing, or speculating about certain issues in order to prevent interference with the inner experience that can be had. These assisting concepts
are not meant to be an end in themselves, yet that is exactly what religion always becomes.
What the Buddha taught, which can never really be understood until one practices it, is samadhi meditation
. Period. (If you need proof that samadhi meditation is the primary teaching of the Buddha, just remember how he attained enlightenment through his determination to sit practicing meditation at the Bodhi tree until he realized.) And all his assisting concepts
on no self were specifically designed to address his primary audience, which were a large group of ascetics who for upwards of 200 years had been pursuing enlightenment by living in the forests and torturing their minds and bodies.
This was a very
serious group the Buddha chose to teach, and with whom he himself had been part of before his own enlightenment. He'd tried the extreme asceticism the group practiced, and found it in the end distracting. He also found the endless speculation about the soul and God etc. a distraction. Remember, India had been speculating on spiritual stuff for centuries, almost obsessively. Today it is still that way. So the Buddha had minds to teach that were filled with strong concepts about "true self" versus false self, and so on.
His strategy was to avoid the whole speculative quagmire by teaching that if you learned how to merge your individual mind with a deeper reality (i.e., samadhi meditation), you would discover for yourself if there is a God or soul . . . and all the rest. So why speculate? Practice samadhi, it will teach you everything.
That is why when questioned by the wanderer Potthapada whether the universe is permanent and infinite, if the soul and body are the same, and if the realized being exists after death the Buddha answered, "[I have not declared these things because] that is not conducive to the purpose, not the way to embark on the holy life, it does not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to higher knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nirvana. That is why I have not declared it."
So he did NOT say there is no soul or no God; he said not to speculate about them, and to practice samadhi instead as the way to discover the reality of those issues. Think about it, it's brilliant and pragmatic, and it shows just how much faith the Buddha had in samadhi to teach the Way.
The concept of "no self" (or alternatively acquired self
) was very specifically designed to appeal to the yogis who were torturing what they considered the false self . . . i.e., the aggregates. The no-self concept fit perfectly with the ascetics' own way, but the Buddha amended it to the "middle way," and then brought clarity to the idea.
The middle way was intended to moderate the ascetics' extreme self-denial; and no self was meant to provide a system of thought that differentiated what we relate to as "self" from what one experiences in samadhi. Only in samadhi do we find the permanent, unchanging thing we so long for (even if we don't know that's what we want).
Unlike what someone earlier said, the Buddha actually did teach that there is something permanent and unchanging, it's just not the acquired self:
"There is, monks, that plane where there is neither extension nor motion. . . there is no coming or going or remaining or deceasing or uprising. . . . There is, monks, an unborn, not become, not made, uncompounded . . . [and] because [that exists] . . . an escape can be shown for what is born, has become, is made, is compounded."
I myself have practiced samadhi daily for over three decades, and that is the only reason I understand something about the Buddha's discipline. If you try to look at his ideas apart from a serious and devoted samadhi practice, you will construe some weird interpretation every time.
After so many hours of practice, if someone were to ask me if I have a soul, or if I've found God, I would have to answer very carefully. If I were my typical conservative self I might say that I'd discovered something about myself that never changes, something that is always there keeping me alive and conscious. So maybe I'd say I could see how someone might call that a "soul." And at times, in the deeply merged experience, I've felt that I'd become a part of a vast plane, a plane of existence that seems conscious. So maybe I'd say that I could see how someone might call that "God."
On the other hand, if I were asked if one has to believe in soul or God to practice what's got me suspecting they exist, I'd have to say, "Heck no! Practice samadhi and it will show you what is and isn't."[/SIZE]