Identity and Selflessness in Buddhism

Identity and Selflessness in Buddhism: No Self or True Self?

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Examining Buddhist notions of identity and selflessness. Spiritual practice inevitably brings us face to face with the profound mystery of our own identity. We have taken birth in a human body. What is this force that gives us life, that brings us and the world into form? The world’s great spiritual teachings tell us over and over we are not who we think we are. But does that mean there is no self or a search for true self?

Persian mystics say we are sparks of the divine, and Christian mystics say we are filled with God. We are one with all things, say others. The world is all illusion, say others. Some teachings explain how consciousness creates life to express all possibilities, to be able to love, to know oneself. Others point out how consciousness gets lost in its patterns, loses its way, incarnates out of ignorance. Hindu yogas call the world a lila, or a dance of the divine, much like Dante’s phrase, “the divine comedy.”

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