Buddhism & the Soul
29 SEP 2017
Buddhism does not address the existence of the soul in the way many other religions such as Christianity and Judaism do. However, that does not mean that Buddhism is a strictly materialist philosophy that believes the individual perishes after death. Instead, Buddhism preaches the existence of a human consciousness that has many existences and experiences rebirth many times.
Buddha shared the doctrine of Annatta, to specifically address the issue of the soul. According to this doctrine, nothing in the world, including the soul, has any real essence and the belief in the eternal essence of our souls causes our imprisonment in the material. The closest thing to a soul in Buddhism, is an individual's consciousness, but once an individual realizes how empty that concept is, they will be freed from the suffering of the material world and the endless cycle of rebirth and attain a state of enlightenment called nirvana.
One of the reasons that Buddhists dispute the notion of an eternal soul is that it contradicts the notion of the rise and fall of an individual through rebirth. If a soul is eternal, that suggests a continuity and stability which cannot exist if individuals are repeatedly being reborn. Buddha instead argued that what we believe as a mind is actually just a series of fleeting mental states. Many Buddhists believe that the idea of an eternal soul necessitates the idea of a creator God which is contrary to their faith.
Instead of disappearing after death one's consciousness is reborn into a new being. Buddhism teaches that one's actions dictate his next rebirth and one should strive to live a moral life in line with Buddhist teachings if he wants a favorable life after this one. Buddhism also teaches that there are several planes of existence, some of which are similar to the ideas of Heaven and Hell in other religions. However, that does not mean that these are places of eternal rest, rather they are just another stage in the journey of one's consciousness.
The nature of human consciousness reflects the Buddhist idea of continuity. Buddhists argue a consciousness should not be viewed as a discrete and self-contained object, but rather a constantly flowing river that moves so fast that it cannot be measured. When a new life starts, it dispenses all the knowledge it gained, but continues to move forward. In this way one's consciousness flows from one life to the next and stops only when he escapes the cycle of rebirth.