Anatta or soul-lessness
This Buddhist doctrine of rebirth should be distinguished from the theory of reincarnation which implies the transmigration of a soul and its invariable material rebirth. Buddhism denies the existence of an unchanging or eternal soul created by a God or emanating from a Divine Essence (Paramatma).
If the immortal
soul, which is supposed to be the essence of man, is eternal, there
cannot be either a rise or a fall. Besides one cannot understand why
"different souls are so variously constituted at the outset."
To prove the existence
of endless felicity in an eternal heaven and unending torments in
an eternal hell, an immortal soul is absolutely necessary. Otherwise,
what is it that is punished in hell or rewarded in heaven?
be said," writes Bertrand Russell, "that the old distinction
between soul and body has evaporated quite as much because 'matter'
has lost its solidity as mind has lost its spirituality. Psychology
is just beginning to be scientific. In the present state of psychology
belief in immortality can at any rate claim no support from science."
Buddhists do agree
with Russell when he says "there is obviously some reason in
which I am the same person as I was yesterday, and, to take an even
more obvious example if I simultaneously see a man and hear him speaking,
there is some sense in which the 'I' that sees is the same as the
'I' that hears."
scientists believed in an indivisible and indestructible atom. "For
sufficient reasons physicists have reduced this atom to a series of
events. For equally good reasons psychologists find that mind has
not the identity of a single continuing thing but is a series of occurrences
bound together by certain intimate relations. The question of immortality,
therefore, has become the question whether these intimate relations
exist between occurrences connected with a living body and other occurrence
which take place after that body is dead."
As C.E.M. Joad
says in "The Meaning of Life," matter has since disintegrated
under our very eyes. It is no longer solid; it is no longer enduring;
it is no longer determined by compulsive causal laws; and more important
than all, it is no longer known.
atoms, it seems, are both "divisible and destructible."
The electrons and protons that compose atoms "can meet and annihilate
one another while their persistence, such as it is, is rather that
of a wave lacking fixed boundaries, and in process of continual change
both as regards shape and position than that of a thing."
who showed that this so-called atom is a metaphysical fiction held
that there exists a spiritual substance called the soul.
Hume, for instance,
looked into consciousness and perceived that there was nothing except
fleeting mental states and concluded that the supposed "permanent
ego" is non-existent.
some philosophers," he says, "who imagine we are every moment
conscious of what we call 'ourself,' that we feel its existence and
its continuance in existence and so we are certain, both of its perfect
identity and simplicity. For my part, when I enter most intimately
into what I call 'myself' I always stumble on some particular perception
or other -- of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain
or pleasure. I never catch myself... and never can observe anything
but the perception... nor do I conceive what is further requisite
to make me a perfect non-entity."
"All consciousness is time existence; and a conscious state is
not a state that endures without changing. It is a change without
ceasing, when change ceases it ceases; it is itself nothing but change."
Dealing with this
question of soul Prof. James says -- "The soul-theory is a complete
superfluity, so far as accounting for the actually verified facts
of conscious experience goes. So far no one can be compelled to subscribe
to it for definite scientific reasons." In concluding his interesting
chapter on the soul he says: "And in this book the provisional
solution which we have reached must be the final word: the thoughts
themselves are the thinkers."
Watson, a distinguished
psychologist, states: "No one has ever touched a soul or has
seen one in a test tube or has in any way come into relationship with
it as he has with the other objects of his daily experience. Nevertheless
to doubt its existence is to become a heretic and once might possibly
even had led to the loss of one's head. Even today a man holding a
public position dare not question it."
The Buddha anticipated
these facts some 2500 years ago.
According to Buddhism
mind is nothing but a complex compound of fleeting mental states.
One unit of consciousness consists of three phases -- arising or genesis
(uppada) static or development (thiti), and cessation
or dissolution (bhanga). Immediately after the cessation stage
of a thought moment there occurs the genesis stage of the subsequent
thought-moment. Each momentary consciousness of this ever-changing
life-process, on passing away, transmits its whole energy, all the
indelibly recorded impressions to its successor. Every fresh consciousness
consists of the potentialities of its predecessors together with something
more. There is therefore, a continuous flow of consciousness like
a stream without any interruption. The subsequent thought moment is
neither absolutely the same as its predecessor -- since that which
goes to make it up is not identical -- nor entirely another -- being
the same continuity of kamma energy. Here there is no identical being
but there is an identity in process.
Every moment there
is birth, every moment there is death. The arising of one thought-moment
means the passing away of another thought-moment and vice versa. In
the course of one life-time there is momentary rebirth without a soul.
It must not be
understood that a consciousness is chopped up in bits and joined together
like a train or a chain. But, on the contrary, "it persistently
flows on like a river receiving from the tributary streams of sense
constant accretions to its flood, and ever dispensing to the world
without the thought-stuff it has gathered by the way."
It has birth for its source and death for its mouth. The rapidity
of the flow is such that hardly is there any standard whereby it can
be measured even approximately. However, it pleases the commentators
to say that the time duration of one thought-moment is even less than
one-billionth part of the time occupied by a flash of lightning.
Here we find a
juxtaposition of such fleeting mental states of consciousness opposed
to a superposition of such states as some appear to believe. No state
once gone ever recurs nor is identical with what goes before. But
we worldlings, veiled by the web of illusion, mistake this apparent
continuity to be something eternal and go to the extent of introducing
an unchanging soul, an atta, the supposed doer and receptacle of all
actions to this ever-changing consciousness.
being is like a flash of lightning that is resolved into a succession
of sparks that follow upon one another with such rapidity that the
human retina cannot perceive them separately, nor can the uninstructed
conceive of such succession of separate sparks."
As the wheel of a cart rests on the ground at one point, so does the
being live only for one thought-moment. It is always in the present,
and is ever slipping into the irrevocable past. What we shall become
is determined by this present thought-moment.
If there is no soul, what is it that is reborn, one might ask.
Well, there is nothing to be reborn.
When life ceases
the kammic energy re-materializes itself in another form. As Bhikkhu
Silacara says: "Unseen it passes whithersoever the conditions
appropriate to its visible manifestation are present. Here showing
itself as a tiny gnat or worm, there making its presence known in
the dazzling magnificence of a Deva or an Archangel's existence. When
one mode of its manifestation ceases it merely passes on, and where
suitable circumstances offer, reveals itself afresh in another name
Birth is the arising
of the psycho-physical phenomena. Death is merely the temporary end
of a temporary phenomenon.
Just as the arising
of a physical state is conditioned by a preceding state as its cause,
so the appearance of psycho-physical phenomena is conditioned by cause
anterior to its birth. As the process of one life-span is possible
without a permanent entity passing from one thought-moment to another,
so a series of life-processes is possible without an immortal soul
to transmigrate from one existence to another.
not totally deny the existence of a personality in an empirical sense.
It only attempts to show that it does not exist in an ultimate sense.
The Buddhist philosophical term for an individual is santana,
i.e., a flux or a continuity. It includes the mental and physical
elements as well. The kammic force of each individual binds the elements
together. This uninterrupted flux or continuity of psycho-physical
phenomenon, which is conditioned by kamma, and not limited only to
the present life, but having its source in the beginningless past
and its continuation in the future is the Buddhist substitute
for the permanent ego or the immortal soul of other religions.