Logical Criticism of Buddhist Doctrines

A Thematic Compilation by Avi Sion

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12. Impermanence and soul


1.    Impermanence


Man is like a breath; his days are as a passing shadow. (Ps. 144)


The transience[1] of worldly existence is rightly emphasized by Buddhism; but it is wrongly formulated when it is stated as “everything is transient” (or some similar expression), because “everything” formally includes the statement itself, implying it to be transient too, whereas the statement is intended as a law not subject to change – so there is self-contradiction. The contradiction is avoidable if we just qualify the statement, saying: “everything in this world is transient”, implying that beyond the domain of material and mental phenomena there is some sort of stability.

The existence of an underlying or transcendental constancy is admitted by Buddhists when they speak of the “original ground of being” or of our having a “Buddha nature” – but they are at the same time doctrinally committed to the idea of universal transience. The latter is a dogma many refuse to budge from, although when pushed to the wall some will admit that there are “two truths” – the truth of transience in this world and the truth of permanence in the world beyond.

That is to say, whereas the world of matter and mind (known through sensory and mental perception) is indeed impermanent, the world of the spirit (known through intuitive consciousness) is free of change.

Consider for example a car. If we scratch the paintwork or change one of its wheels, is it another car or the same car? We would conventionally continue to regard it as “one and the same” car, but add that its paintwork was scratched or its wheel had changed. But if this is true, then if we successively changed all its parts, we would be calling a completely different car “the same” car, even though not one of its parts is still present at the end of the process!

Analysis of this sort shows that there is some absurdity in our naming material – or likewise, mental – objects as if they are constant – although they never are. The question then arises: where should we draw the line? How many changes are compatible with calling the car the “same” individual, and how many force us to call it a “different” individual? Any answer we might propose would obviously be quite arbitrary!

This insight was central to the Buddha’s doctrine that phenomenal objects are mere composites without an abiding essence. There is no “ghost” of a car underlying an apparent individual car, which stays on while the components of the car change (as they inevitably and invariably do). The same is true for any part of the car: e.g. a wheel is itself a mere composite of bits of metal and rubber. There is no concrete phenomenon we can point to and call “the car” or “the wheel”. The same can be said of mental objects, i.e. memories, imaginations, anticipations and dreams.

It follows that our naming of material and mental objects is a conventional act, which cannot sustain critical scrutiny. The individual object is apparently “the same” moment after moment, because we conceive a similarity between our perceptions at successive times. But such similarity is an abstract truth, made possible by our ability to compare perceptions and find some common measures between them. It is not a concrete truth – there is no phenomenal underlying unity. Thus, and in this sense, the appearance of sameness is an illusion and not a reality.

Note, however, that this argument is not entirely convincing. First, because in involves an extrapolation from an epistemological limitation (our inability to perceive an essence) to an ontological assumption (that there is no essence). This is presented as a deduction, whereas it is a mere hypothesis – and inductive logic still allows us to propose the counter-thesis that there is a unity of some sort, provided we adduce more favorable evidence and arguments in its support.

Second, we can point out that in the transition from one composition of the object to another (e.g. a car with an old wheel, then with a new wheel), there is some continuity in the way of overlap (i.e. some of the car parts seem unchanged). We could not change all the car parts at once and call the new construct “the same” car (i.e. the same individual car, even if the kind of car is the same); the past constituents would have to instantly disappear and be “replaced” by a new set of constituents – and even then (if we could prove this had indeed occurred) we would hesitate to call the two incarnations “the same” individual.

This is at least true for matter; that is to say, in our experience of matter we do not encounter complex things that instantly pop in or out of existence, or change into something completely different. This sort of wild behavior is, however, experienced in dreams or daydreams – and the reason why is that in the mental domain we are free to intend any one thing to be “identical with” any other thing. Even so, even though mental scenarios are arbitrary, it does not follow that what we thus intend is really equal.

The next question to ask would be: are there or not irreducible primaries, i.e. phenomena (whether material or mental) that are not themselves composed of other phenomena? Some Buddhist philosophers (of the Abhidharma school) have insisted that there must be some initial building blocks (said in Sanskrit to have svabhaha, “own-being” or “self-nature”[2]) from which all other things in the world are constructed; while others (mostly from the Mahayana school) have opted for the idea that there is no end to the subdivision of matter and mind into simpler constituents.

The former opinion may be compared to the atomism[3] of antiquity and early modern science, and the latter to more recent approaches in modern science, which keep going deeper in matter and finding no end to it.

I would like to state that contrary to common claims by its opponents so-called Aristotelian logic does not depend on belief in “essences” for its validity. The term is for a start ambiguous: does it refer to concrete particulars (i.e. irreducible primary phenomena), or to abstractions (i.e. conceived commensurability)? If by essences we mean abstractions, it is clear that logic would be unnecessary and impossible without them. But if we mean concrete prime constituents, the laws of thought are equally applicable whether they are affirmed or denied. They do not prejudice the result of infinite subdivision, but they do clarify some potentially absurd lines of thought.

For one, the infinite subdivision view seems nihilistic if taken to an extreme, and indeed some have taken it that far, inferring that literally nothing (or “emptiness”) is at the root of all being. But such an inference is not only paradoxical – it is not justified from the premises. For even if we forever keep finding smaller or simpler constituents, it does not follow that the constituents ever become non-existents. It is a fallacy, like the assumption that infinite divisibility of space ultimately implies subdivisions without extension, or that an infinity of zeros can add up to anything more than zero.

Also, those who claim that you can keep subdividing things, i.e. each phenomenon can be reduced to still finer phenomena ad infinitum, do not realize that this “you can” claim is fantasy and generalization. For, in truth, they do the subdivision mentally, and not physically; and they do it a small number of times, and not infinitely (which would surely take forever). Emptiness in this sense is not an experience, but at best a rational truth; and it is not even a deductive certainty, but a mere generalization. Thus, emptiness is at best an inductive truth.

To claim emptiness as a sure fact, one would have to be literally and demonstrably omniscient, knowing all of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology and everything else in advance of any empirical efforts. One cannot subdivide something if one does not know what to subdivide it into; for instance, to say that white light is a mix of various colors of light, one would need to have experimented with a prism.

Furthermore, emptiness cannot be claimed a one-off experience, because it is defined by negation as the absence of “essence” (or “self-nature”). Negation is a basic act of reason; it is not something ever directly experienced, not a positive phenomenon. Thus, to claim that what the Buddha experienced is precisely emptiness, it would be necessary to claim a positive character to emptiness; otherwise, it must be admitted his rational faculty was involved.

Another fallacy involved in this view is the idea that “relationships” are somehow more real than the things (or non-things) they are considered as relating. It is claimed that nothing exists on its own, but everything exists dependently on other things or on everything else (codependence or interdependence theory) – but the relations of causal dependence here referred to seem to be implied to have independent existence! Superficially, due to use of ‘solid’ words, the dependences of all things on each other seem to provide a support for their alleged emptiness – but if the same analysis is also applied to those relational suppositions, everything is left hanging up without support.

Those who adopt this view do not realize that they are using the word “things” in a way that does not subsume “dependencies” – i.e. in a way not as wide-ranging as it seems. If we examine their outlook closely, we realize that by “things” they mean the concrete objects of experience, i.e. phenomena, while by the “relations” between things they mean abstractions introduced by conception. So ultimately their thesis is that concepts are more “real” than percepts! This is the very opposite of inductive logic, for which phenomenal data precedes and justifies any rational ordering and organization.

A more credible viewpoint, which reconciles the two said theses, is to assume some sort of monism – i.e. that all things are expressions of the same one thing. We need not regard that ultimate matrix of being as literally substantial, as did the alchemists of yore when they spoke of a prima materia. On a material level, the idea of an ‘ether’ (a cosmic fluid of some sort) has been shown untenable by the constancy of the speed of light; and the idea of ‘fields’ that replaced it is still rather abstract and needing of ontological clarification.

As for the stuff of mind, it might be assumed some kind of rarified matter, or vice versa, but that issue yet needs to be resolved. One problem in proposing this sort of equation is that we commonly believe that “mind” (i.e. the substance of mental objects, like memories, dreams, imaginations and anticipations) is more dependent on consciousness and its Subject than “matter” is.[4]

In any case, some sort of ultimate unity of all phenomena has to be assumed. In this monist model (as against the pluralist and nihilist hypotheses), the apparent variety and variability of the phenomenal is but an “expression” of the ultimate One[5]. The phenomenal is the surface of being, while the One is its depth. Whatever the mode of existence of that One (be it conceived as spiritual or energetic), it remains constant even as it generates variegated phenomena.

If “all is indeed One”, then “all names are falsely divisive” and “all phenomena are interdependent” (or at least all depend on the same common source). Thus, monism ought to be acceptable to the Buddhist philosophers who have the views described above. It is also acceptable to their critics – since we can say that at the level of the One, names are falsely divisive and phenomena are co- or inter-dependent; but at the pluralist level of common phenomena, names are valuable and extreme dependence is misleading.[6]

Be it said in passing, the spiritual expression of belief in monism is equanimity.


2.    Buddhist denial of the soul

The same analysis as above can be applied to humans, but only to some extent. If we identify ourselves with our bodily and mental experiences, we come to the conclusion that we are likewise composites empty of essence! Most Buddhists stop there and declare that therefore we have no self. But here they are committing an error, for it is wrong to limit our experience of humans to their material and mental manifestations[7]; we are evidently aware of more than that. Our spiritual experiences must also be taken into consideration – and in that case we must admit that we can become (by a mode of experience we may call apperception or intuition) aware of our “self” (or spirit or soul).

In truth, Buddhists agree with this viewpoint when they admit that we are potentially or ultimately all Buddhas[8] – this is effectively an admission of soul, although most would dogmatically refuse that inference. Some say pointblank that there is no soul; but others, prefer to be more cryptic, and say: “there is and is not; and there neither is nor is not”[9]. But logically, these two (or more) postures must be considered equivalent, as their intent is simply that it is wrong to claim that soul exists.

But let us insist – our bodies and minds are composites and impermanent, like cars or dreams, but we differ in that we have a relatively abiding self. (I say “relatively abiding” to stress that the individual soul need not be considered absolutely eternal, although the common source of all spiritual substance – which many of us identify with God[10] – is necessarily absolutely eternal.)

By self (or spirit or soul), we mean the Subject of consciousness (i.e. the “person” experiencing, cognizing, perceiving, conceiving, knowing, etc.) and the Agent of volition and valuation (i.e. the “person” who wishes, wills, values, etc.). Note well this definition, which is often ignored by those who deny the self’s existence.

A machine, computer or robot has no self – we (humans, and at least higher animals) evidently do: we all well know that we do. This self that we know is not our ego (a collection of aspects of our body and mind), though most of us do tend to confuse our self with our ego.

The self we know is manifest in our every act of cognition, volition or valuation, as the one engaged in that act. Although it is non-phenomenal, we are quite able to be aware of it. Although non-phenomenal, the self relates to phenomena (to those of its own body and mind, as well as to those further afield) either as their witness (i.e. through cognition), or by being affected by them or (when cognizing them) influenced by them, or by affecting them (through volition). But, though thus related to phenomena to various degrees, it is not identical with them and not to be identified with them.

The Buddhist denial of self is presented as empirical: one’s own bodily and mental experience is carefully examined, and nothing but passing phenomena are observed in it. But my contention is that such analysis is based on incomplete data – it does not take into account the intuitive self-awareness of the Subject and Agent. The self is willfully ignored in the way of a prejudice, rather than denied as a result of dispassionate observation. The non-self is not here a conclusion, but a premise – a dogma, an ideology.

Moreover, it must be stressed that the negation of any term (whether the term ‘self’ or any other) cannot logically be purely empirical. We never perceive a negative, we only search for and fail to perceive the corresponding positive, and thence inductively ‘infer’ that the thing negated is absent. This conclusion is not necessarily final – it is a hypothesis that may be later overturned if new data is encountered that belies it, or even if an alternative hypothesis is found more frequently supported by the evidence.

Thus, the non-self cannot be – as Buddhism presents it – a purely empirical product of deep meditation; according to logic, its negativity makes it necessarily a rational construct. It is therefore not an absolute truth of any sort – but a mere generalization from “I diligently searched, but did not so far find a self” to “no self was there to be found”. It is not perceptual, but conceptual – it is a thesis like any other open to doubt and debate, and requiring proof (in the inductive sense, at least). If no inconsistency is found in its counter-thesis, the idea of a self may also legitimately be upheld.

Thus, even though we may admit that the body and mind are devoid of essence(s), we can still claim that there is a soul. The soul is not meant to be the essence of the phenomena of body and mind, but a distinct non-phenomenal entity housed in, intersecting or housing[11] these phenomena in some way. Body and mind merely constitute the soul’s mundane playground, i.e. a particular domain of the world over which that individual soul[12] has special powers of consciousness and volition.

This view agrees with the proponents of emptiness at least in the insight that the self is not to be confused with body and mind. Also, the fact that the soul is non-phenomenal, i.e. neither a material nor a mental entity, does not logically exclude that it too be “empty” of essence, of course. But, whereas they go on to claim that the self does not exist, we would insist that even if (or even though) the individual soul is empty, it evidently exists – just as body and mind evidently exist whatever we say about them.[13]

It is in any case patently absurd to say or imply, as the Buddhists do, that a non-existent can think that it exists and (upon enlightenment) realize that it does not exist! A non-existent cannot think or realize anything; it is not an entity or a thing – it is nothing at all, it is not. An existent, on the other hand, can well (as these existing Buddhists do) think that it does not exist and other such nonsense! There is no logic in the no-self viewpoint.

The non-self idea may be viewed as supportive of materialism (in a large sense of the term, which includes mental phenomena as within the domain of matter). That is why many people today find it appealing: eager to reject the demands and constraints of the ethics of monotheistic religion, yet wishing to retain or introduce some spirituality in their lives, they embrace soul denial.

All this is not intended to deny the crucial importance of self-effacement in meditation and more broadly in the course of spiritual development. I would certainly agree with Buddhist teaching that the self at some stage becomes an impediment to enlightenment and must be effectively forgotten to contemplate things as they are.[14]

But to my mind, the non-self thesis need not be taken literally. I think Buddhists formulated it as an upaya, a skillful means[15], to facilitate forgetting the self. It is easier to forget what one believes does not exist, than to forget what one believes does exist. As far as I see (at my present stage of development), though disbelief in the self has some practical advantages, there is insufficient theoretical justification for such a doctrine.

We colloquially say that our mind is “empty” when our mind-space is for a while without feelings or thoughts, as occasionally happens quite naturally. In that state of mind, we are generally less distracted, and can observe whatever presents itself to us without interfering in the presentation. Sometimes, that commonplace empty-mindedness is experienced rather as a sort of momentary detachment or even alienation from the world around us, as when our eyes become unfocused and just stare out without seeing anything.

The Buddhist sense of the word emptiness is of course much more complex than that, though not totally unrelated. When applied objectively, to things beyond or within the mind, it signifies that they are viewed without recourse to superimposed categories or hypotheses. Applied subjectively, the implication of the term is that the self is an illusion of consciousness, i.e. that our apperception of a cognizing soul is likewise a merely superimposed idea.

But is this Buddhist claim to be taken on faith, or do they manage to prove it incontrovertibly in any way? The mere fact that this doctrine was once proclaimed, and is claimed again by many authorities throughout the centuries, does not in itself make it a certain truth. We must be permitted to doubt it, and ask questions about it, and raise objections to it – without being accused of being heretics or morons.


3.    The laws of thought in meditation

The three laws of thought are commonly considered by many current commentators[16] to be (at best) only relevant to rational discourse, and not relevant at all or even antithetical to meditation and all the more so to its finale of enlightenment. Nothing could be further from the truth, as will now be explicated.

The laws of thought are principally ‘moral’ imperatives to the thinker, enjoining him or her to have certain cognitive attitudes in all processes of thought. They call upon the thinker to make an effort, so as to guarantee maximum efficiency and accuracy of his or her thoughts. The ‘metaphysical’ aspect of the laws of thought is a substratum and outcome of this practical aspect.[17]

  1. The law of identity is a general stance of ‘realism’.

In discursive thought, this means: to face facts; to observe and think about them; to admit the factuality of appearances as such and that of logical arguments relating to them; to accept the way things are (or at least the way they seem to be for now), that things are as they are, i.e. whatever they happen to be; and so on.

Clearly, these same cognitive virtues are equally applicable to meditation practice, which requires awareness, receptivity and lucidity. The antitheses of these attitudes are evasiveness, prejudice and obscurantism, resulting in “sloth and torpor”[18].

At the apogee of meditation, in the enlightenment experience, this is expressed as (reportedly) consciousness of the “thus-ness” (or “such-ness”) of “ultimate reality”.

  1. The law of non-contradiction is a general stance of ‘coherence’ (which is an aspect of ‘realism’).

In discursive thought, this means: while giving initial credence to all appearances taken singly, not to accept two conflicting appearances as both true (or real), but to place one or both of them in the category of falsehood (or illusion); to seek to resolve or transcend all apparent contradictions; to pursue consistency in one’s concepts and theories; to reject inconsistent ideas as absurd and self-contradictions as untenable nonsense; and so on.

Clearly, these same cognitive virtues are equally applicable to meditation practice, which requires harmony, balance and peace of mind. The antitheses of these attitudes are conflict, confusion and neurosis (or madness), resulting in “restlessness and anxiety”[19].

At the peak of meditation, in the enlightenment experience, this is expressed as (reportedly) the “one-ness” (monism or monotheism) of “ultimate reality”.

  1. The law of the excluded middle is a general stance of ‘curiosity’ (which is also an aspect of ‘realism’).

In discursive thought, this means: engaging in research and study, so as to fill gaps in one’s knowledge and extend its frontier; engaging in speculation and theorizing, but always under the supervision and guidance of rationality; avoiding fanciful escapes from reality, distorting facts and lying to oneself and/or others; accepting the need to eventually make definite choices and firm decisions; and so on.

Clearly, these same cognitive virtues are equally applicable to meditation practice, which requires clarity, judgment and understanding. The antitheses of these attitudes are ignorance, uncertainty and delusion, resulting in “doubt and indecision”[20].

At the pinnacle of meditation, in the enlightenment experience, this is expressed as (reportedly) the “omniscience” of “ultimate reality”.

Thus, I submit, rather than abandon the laws of thought when we step up from ordinary thinking to meditation, and from that to enlightenment, we should stick to them, while allowing that they are expressed somewhat differently at each spiritual stage. Whereas in discursive thought awareness is expressed by intellectual activity, in meditation the approach is gentler and subtler, and in enlightenment we attain pure contemplation.

When such final realization is reached[21], the laws of thought are not breached, but made most evident. “Thus-ness” is the essence of existence; it is the deepest stratum of identity, not an absence of all identity. “One-ness” is not coexistence or merging of opposites, but where all oppositions are dissolved or transcended. “Omniscience” is not in denial of ordinary experience and knowledge, but their fullest expression and understanding. What in lower planes of being and knowing seems obscure, divergent and uncertain, becomes perfect at the highest level.[22]

Those teachers or commentators who claim that the laws of thought are abrogated once we transcend ordinary discourse are simply misinterpreting their experiences. Either their experience is not true “realization”, or their particular interpretation of their realization experience is just an erroneous afterthought that should not be viewed as part of the experience itself.

Instead of the laws of identity, non-contradiction and exclusion of any middle, they propose a law of non-identity, a law of contradiction, and a law of the included middles! According to them, the ultimate reality is that nothing has an identity, all contradictories coexist quite harmoniously, and there may be other alternatives besides a thing and its negation!

They adduce as proofs the Buddhist principles of non-selfhood, impermanence and interdependence.

But they cannot claim that something has no “nature” whatsoever, for then what is that “something” that they are talking about? If it is truly non-existent, why and how are we at all discussing it and who are we? Surely these same people admit the existence of an “ultimate reality” of some sort – if only a single, infinite, universal substratum[23]. They call it “void” or “empty”, but surely such a negation is not logically tenable without the admission that something positive is being negated; a negation can never be a primary given.

Similarly, we might argue, “impermanence” means the impermanence of something and “interdependence” means the interdependence of two or more things. They cannot claim infinite impermanence, without admitting the extended existence in time of something however temporary; and they cannot claim a universal interdependence, without admitting causal connections between actual facts.

There is an unfortunate tendency here to use words without paying attention to their relational implications. Another example of this practice is to speak of “consciousness” (or perception or thought or some such cognitive act), without admitting that this implies consciousness of something (called an object) by something (called the Subject).

This is done deliberately, to conform with the ideological prejudice that there is no cognizing self and nothing to cognize. Similarly, so as not to have to mention the Agent willing an action, volition is concealed and the action is made to appear spontaneous or mechanical. They refuse to admit that someone is suffering, thinking, meditating or becoming enlightened.

Another claim often made is that our common experience of the world is like a dream compared to ultimate reality. The implication being that the laws of thought are not obeyed in a dream. But in truth, even in a dream, though images and sound come and go and seem to intertwine, actually there is no contradiction if we observe carefully. As for the difference between dream and awake experience, it is not strictly a contradiction since they are experienced as distinct domains of being.

Contradiction is not even thinkable, except in words (or intentions). We cannot even actually imagine a contradiction, in the sense defined by Aristotle (is and is not at once in every respect). We can only say (or vaguely believe) there is one. We of course commonly encounter apparent contradiction, but that does not prove that contradiction exists in fact. It is an illusion, a conflict between verbal interpretations or their non-verbal equivalents.

We formulate theories; they yield contradictions; we correct the theories so that they no longer yield these contradictions. We tailor our rational constructs to experience. We do not infer contradiction to exist from contradictions in our knowledge. We question and fix our knowledge, rather than impose our beliefs on reality. That is sanity, mental health. That is the way knowledge progresses, through this dialectic of thesis-antithesis-synthesis.


Drawn from Logical and Spiritual Reflections (2008-9), book 3, chapters 15-16, 20.



[1]              Anitya in Sanskrit.

[2]              I find enervating the way many people keep piously repeating the expression “self-nature” as if it has some clear established meaning. It is far from clear-cut, and so cannot even be used as a logical yardstick the way some Buddhists use it.

[3]              ‘Atom’ literally means ‘cannot be cut up further’; the word is here being used in a generic sense, not in the specifically material sense intended by Democritus or Dalton. The idea of atomism is that there are irreducible constituents of matter (and eventually, we could add, of mind), whose movements and combinations can be traced to explain all entities and states of the material (and analogously, the mental) world. If atoms had a beginning, they all came into being together; and if they ever have an end, they will all go together; so that, as of when and so long as the world exists, they are effectively unborn, unconditioned and indestructible. This is postulated in support of the hypothesis that atoms, though possibly of different varieties, do not change qualitatively, or increase or decrease quantitatively, but merely move around.

[4]              Material objects seem more independent of their observers than do mental objects, since two or more persons may see the same material object (it is in the public domain) and when one leaves off watching it the other(s) continue to see it; whereas, a mental object is seen by only one person (it is in a private domain) and fails to exist if unseen by that person. While a material object is not apparently a product of any observer or nervous system, a mental object is considered as voluntarily produced by its observer or at least produced by the brain associated with that observer. Note however that in the case of mind, it is not accurate to say that consciousness affects its content – rather, the mental content is produced just prior to its being observed (although such production may necessitate earlier acts of deliberative consciousness). So the “subjectivity” involved is not extreme – there is a mental object somewhat apart from the Subject and his/her consciousness of it.

[5]              Such monism is perhaps intended by the Buddhists in their concept of the dharmakaya, although if pressed they would likely insist on equating this original ground of being with sunyata (emptiness).

[6]              This is more or less the Buddhist doctrine of Two Truths, anyway.

[7]              As previously pointed out: in Phenomenology, chapter V, and in Meditations, chapter 12, the terms “self”, “consciousness” and “mind” are in Buddhism sometimes treated as equivalent, and yet sometimes used with slightly different senses. As a result of such vagueness, wrong theories are proposed and many inconsistencies remain invisible.

[8]              I give you one example (though I have come across many). S. Suzuki writes: “So it is absolutely necessary for everyone to believe in nothing. But I do not mean voidness… This is called Buddha nature, or Buddha himself” (p. 117.)

[9]              To be fair, see Mu Soeng p. 125. According to that (excellent) commentator, the anatman doctrine was never intended as “a metaphysical statement” but as “a therapeutic device”. As he tells it: “The Buddha responded to the Brahmanical formulation of a permanent entity, the self or atman, with silence, without taking a position either for or against.” Logically, this would imply Buddhism to consider the issue of self to be merely problematic, neither affirming nor denying such a thing. However, in my own readings of Buddhist texts, I have more often than not read an assertoric denial of self, or a “both yes and no, and/or neither yes nor no” salad, rather than merely an avoidance of the issue of self. Another comment worth my making here: the idea of a self ought not to be identified with the Brahmanical idea of a permanent self; the latter is a more specific idea than the former, and denial of the latter does not logically entail denial of the former. I support the idea of an impermanent individual self, assigning permanence only to the universal self (i.e. the transcendent, or God). These (and many other) nuances should not be glossed over.

[10]            See reasons for this in my Meditations, chapter 8.

[11]            We tend to view the soul as a small thing, something somewhere in the body or at best coextensive with it. But we should at least conceive the possibility of the opposite idea – viz. that the soul is enormous in comparison with the body, i.e. that the body is a small mark within the soul or a minor appendage to it. Our view of their relative size is, in truth, a function of the relative importance we attach to them, i.e. how frequently we focus our interest on the one or the other.

[12]            Or individuated soul. I say this to stress that the individual soul may be considered as artificial subdivision of the universal soul (or God, in Judaic terms).

[13]            In my view, whatever even just but appears to exist does indeed exist (if only in the way of appearance). Is it real or illusory, though? Those characterizations are open to discussion, and depend on a great many logical factors.

[14]            Judaism agrees with this epistemological and ethical posture, as evidenced for instance by this statement of the Baal Shem Tov: “Before you can find God, you must lose yourself”. (From A Treasury of Jewish Quotations.)

[15]            Ultimately, Buddhism is not interested in descriptive philosophy; what concerns it is to liberate us spiritually. If an idea is effective as a means to that end, it is taught.

[16]            Judging by Internet postings and debate on this topic.

[17]            It could also be said that the two aspects are ‘co-emergent’, mutually significant and equally important. But here I wish to stress the psychological side of the issue.

[18]            See Kamalashila, p. 253.

[19]            See Kamalashila, p. 249.

[20]            See Kamalashila, p. 258.

[21]            I submit, on the basis of my own limited experience, but also out of logical expectation of consistency between all levels of being. I think many people more knowledgeable than me would agree with the descriptions here given of the higher realms.

[22]            Buddhist, and especially Mahayana, philosophers often stress that nirvana (the common ground of all being) and samsara (the multiplicity of changing appearances) are ultimately one and the same. Even while admitting this, we must remain aware of their apparent difference. The whole point of the philosophical idea of monism (“nirvana”) is of course to resolve the contradictions and gaps inherent in the experience of plurality (“samsara”). At the same time, the one-ness of nirvana is in a sort of conflict with the multiplicity of samsara. We must somehow both admit and ignore this tension. In truth, all this remains an unsolved problem at some level.

[23]            The “great self” or “ocean of permanence”, to use the words of Dogen (p. 267). Note that Dogen is not here saying there is no such thing, but is stressing that we do not – as some people claim – automatically all return there after death, but rather are subject to various rebirths according to our respective karmas; he is implying that to get there is hard-won realization, not something given gratis to all comers). Some identify this underlying ultimate reality with the “Deus sive Natura” of Baruch Spinoza (Holland, 1632-77). But I hasten to add that I do not subscribe to Spinoza’s equation of God and Nature, which implies that God is like Nature subject to determinism. For me, as in normative Judaism, God is the free, volitional creator of Nature. He underlies and includes it. It is a mere product His and but a tiny part or aspect of Him.

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