What does it mean when we say “we are free to do anything we want”?
It means we are deluded into thinking we are isolated individuals outside of an interconnect world. Everything I do affects everything else around me, so long as I related to it in some way.
So the question is is there any thing, space or time from which we are not related to all else? Experience tells me no. Some may argue that freedom is in the mind. But if the mind is located in the body, in the brain, then it is itself a relational operation. There is no thing which operates outside of things, space and time. Every action has real consequences. To think that even your thoughts do not have consequences is to be sorely mistaken. For although they do not have immediate “outer” consequences they have “inner” ones. They affect the body that thinks. To think is in itself an action.
There is no intrinsic nature (svabhava) to conditioned phenomena. All conditioned (samskara) and unconditioned (dharma) phenomena are without self (anatman) and are empty (shunyata). All conditioned phenomena are impermanent (anitya) and unsatisfactory (duhkha).
With this as base Buddhism teaches enlightenment (or release) (nirvana) that ends all rebirth (samsara, reincarnation).
“So if there is no self, non-self, non-soul or no- soul what is it that gets reborn or reincarnated?”
This is question I often get from Westerners new to Buddhism. How can there be no soul? Who or what is doing these good and bad things?
The Buddha always starts with the idea of impermanence. All real things are impermanent. Real things do no stay the same. This much most people can understand and agree with. Then the Buddha moves on to the idea of unsatisfactoriness. All real things are unsatisfactory. This too most people can agree upon also. But then most people get tripped up by the last statement of the truth of reality. All real and unreal things have no inherent self. Real things are seen to have no coherent core, just as unreal things (ideas and concepts of the of the imagination) do not have any core.
What makes a rock a rock is not anything. There is no “rock-ness” of things. If there is a rock-ness then would that not entail a permanent “something”?
There is also another suggestion here with this formulation – that there is something permanent but without a self. Real things are impermanent and unsatisfactory. But Unreal things are “permanent” and “satisfactory” in some way even though they are without a self. But what can be permanent if it is unreal?
This kind of formulation is not dissimilar to that of God or soul. Since God and soul are permanent and satisfactory. This is the conundrum. So, does God and souls exist or not? According to Buddha they must be unreal but unreal things have no self. But real things have no self either.
The only way forward, I feel, is to deal with these issues separately. Understand the nature of real things before we deal with understanding what the nature of unreal things are.
*Remember that book? Sorry. Clickbait title.
There are six realms in Buddhism (mostly Tibetan Buddhism) into which one may be reborn. These are the realms of
- gods (through pride)
- demi-gods (through jealousy)
- humans (through lust)
- animals (through ignorance)
- hungry ghosts (through greed)
- hell-denizens (through hatred)
As you can see, rebirth is not a good thing. Westerners often mistake rebirth to be a positive notion. This partly has to do with shared terminology with Hinduism and Jainism (religions existent at the same time and place as Buddhism), and partly to the lack of any concept that is similar to it in Western cultures.
To be clear,
- the goal of Buddhism is to end rebirth (reincarnation) and
- enlightenment is the state in which all future rebirths have been extinguished.
saṅkhārā aniccā — “all saṅkhāras (conditioned concepts) are impermanent”
sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā — “all saṅkhāras (conditioned concepts) are unsatisfactory”
sabbe dhammā anattā — “all dharmas (conditioned or unconditioned concepts) are not self”
I have had a tough time translating sanskara (conditioned) and dharma (unconditioned) in this passage. The question is the what is conditioned and what is unconditioned.
Perhaps it is better to translate sanskara as subjective concepts and dharma as objective concepts. As the fourth category of the skandha (personality) sanskara comes after feelings (vedana, pleasant, unpleasant and neutral) perception (samjna, identification of differences).
So this could be summed up as all subjective concepts are temporary and unsatisfactory. And all concepts – subjective and objective – are without substance.
But what does that say about objective concepts? That they are permanent and satisfactory? But since both subject and objective concepts are without substantiality we are left to wonder what we should be placing our trust in.
So, being equally insubstantial, the objective concept (as a concept) can only be a temporary solution as well. Here lies the paradox.
Got some questions about Buddhism? Check my Buddhism FAQ out first.
Sensation and perception is a limited view and also the only point of access to reality we have. This said, then, we should think it is important. No sensation and perception necessarily means no understanding of and no interaction with reality.
This is, of course, if there is another reality that is unknown. But why complicate things when one reality is already complicated enough. Reality has no cause for being more complex than need be.
The onus is on others to explain why the metaphysical is needed.
I am happy with a mechanistic explanation of us. That the illusion of a self or rationality should be no less plausible than phenomena or representation. To react against the physical reality is really an unnecessary fear that brings about more grief than relief.
As a Buddhist correct understand brings about relief. The explanation is not that different to a philosophically material monist one. The self is not what it seems. A soul is as plausible as a non-soul. To discount non-self is not scientific, not open-minded. It is foreign. It is The Other.