The No-Self Theory

Who are you? I mean who are you really? We as humans often believe there is a stable, autonomous identity at the center of ourselves, but is this truly the case?

According to Buddhist philosophy, our thoughts and feelings really do exist but there is no individual “person” or static soul behind them and if we stop to think about it, it makes sense. You are not the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, even a moment ago. We are constantly learning and evolving. Even on a cellular level, our bodies are continuously dying and renewing themselves.

And what happens when we examine our minds? If we are honest with ourselves, we simply find a collection of transient feelings, sensations, and impressions.

And this rejection of a fixed, cohesive identity is not just found in Buddhism. Enlightenment philosopher David Hume came to this very same conclusion with his famed Bundle Theory. Here the great Scotsman argues that what we call the self is merely a bundle of ephemeral perceptions. He boldly declares, “I always stumble on some particular perception - heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure, but I never catch myself.” Hume reasoned that the human mind with its penchant for patterns and meaning simply cobbled together these fleeting experiences into an illusionary sense of self.

Hume are you? Who, who, who?

Hume are you? Who, who, who?

Given the blunt, unvarnished nature of this idea, many of the Buddha’s early followers mistakenly assumed that he was espousing nihilism, and this could not be farther from the truth. In reality, he posited that our true identity is actually rather broad in meaning and scope.

To help us understand, let us imagine waves upon the ocean. We typically identify ourselves with the small, individual waves as they crest and fall, ebb and flow.  This pervasive sense of individuality, of me and mine, can often give rise to clinging, jealousy, fear, and other poisons of the mind.

However, once you begin to identify with the boundless, infinite ocean of consciousness, with all of creation, you no longer drown in petty emotions and hangups. You see them for what they are - plays of form, like briny swells as they splash and crash. You recognize that the boundary between “you” and all of existence is merely an illusion and a wave of peace washes over you. Yes, this is a lot to take in and consider, but it is according to Buddhists, it is liberation, nirvana, ultimate understanding.  

So, let me know what you think of this idea.  Does it resonate with you? How does this fit in with your own world view? Thank you so much. Bye for now!