Buddhism – Going Beyond the Soul Essay

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Buddhism – Going Beyond the Soul

Buddhism teaches that there is no soul because the concept of soul is not compatible with its teachings. Buddhism teaches impermanence yet soul is permanent. Buddhism teaches that everything is subject to death, yet the soul or Atman of traditional Hinduism is immortal. Buddhism does not allow the existence of an eternal, unchanging, universal soul that remains essentially the same throughout the course of many reincarnations. Even to wonder about the soul serves no purpose in Buddhism, for the goal of Nirvana is beyond soul.

Discussion of the soul begins with the discussion of its nature. Yet Buddhism believes it is useless to speculate on the nature of the soul because no such
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It is that which links one life to the next, which endures multiple deaths and rebirths. Yet when one attains to Nirvana, there are no more incarnations and the soul ceases to be of use. Thus Buddha says:

[The monk who has attained to Nirvana]…knows that rebirth is at an end, that his goal is reached, that he has accomplished what he set out to do, and that after this present world there is no other for him (Embree 104).

This statement implies that the defining characteristic of a “soul” is that it lives on after the death of the body. However, since the goal of Buddhism is to be free of life and death, all questions concerning such a soul are irrelevant.

Another defining characteristic of “soul” is its permanence and immortality. Yet Buddhism teaches that nothing is permanent or immortal, that all life is subject to death. Therefore the traditional notion of Atman in Hinduism is contrary to Buddhist thought. The Atman’s unchanging, eternal nature is at odds with Buddhism’s perception of the universe as ever changing. The world often appears to remain the same but the Buddhist knows it to be always in flux. This idea appears in Hesse’s Siddhartha, when the hero, contemplating the river, sees that it is always the same river, yet the water in it is never the same water.

It is similar with human lives. As demonstrated in the Milindapañha, when a human being reincarnates, “he neither remains the same nor

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