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Self (Skt. ātmā; Tib. བདག་, dak, Wyl. bdag) —

The Dalai Lama says: “I was at an interfaith meeting in India where the question ‘What is the self?' was posed. Here we arrive at the real demarcation between Buddhist and non-Buddhist thought. Non-Buddhist Indian traditions all accept some type of soul theory, some notion of an independent self that owns the body and mind. The Buddha’s teaching emphasizes that there is no independent soul or independent self. That is, Buddhism rejects any notion of a self that is independent of the physical and mental elements of the individual. We accept a conventionally existent self that is designated in relation to the mind and the body. Of course, when it comes to identifying the exact nature of the self, there is a wide range of positions even within the Buddhist tradition.”[1]

And Ju Mipham says: “That which we label as the agent of our actions or the experiencer of happiness and suffering, and which we assume to be the self, the individual, the agent and so on, is actually nothing more than a presumption of selfhood, made on the basis of the five aggregates. When we examine this with wisdom, we do not find any intrinsic ‘individual self’ either as identical to, or distinct from, the aggregates.”[2]

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche says: “We assume that each of us is a self, that there is an entity called “me.” The self is just another misunderstanding, however. We generally manufacture a notion of self, which feels like a solid entity. We are conditioned to view this notion as consistent and real... But Siddhartha realized that there is no independent entity that qualifies as the self to be found anywhere, either inside or outside the body. Like the optical illusion of a fire ring, the self is illusory. It is a fallacy, fundamentally flawed and ultimately non-existent... The self is assembled, doesn’t exist independently, and is susceptible to change... At the moment that Siddhartha found no self, he also found no inherently existing evil—only ignorance. Specifically, he contemplated the ignorance of creating a label of “self,” pasting it on a totally baseless assembled phenomenon, imputing its importance, and agonizing to protect it... Probably the biggest discovery in human history was Siddhartha’s realization that the self does not exist independently, that it is a mere label, and therefore that clinging to it is ignorance.”[3]


  1. Dalai Lama, From Here to Enlightenment, Snow Lion 2012. ISBN : 978-1-55939-382-9
  2. Khenjuk
  3. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, What Makes You Not a Buddhist, Shambhala Publications, 2007.

Alternative Translations

  • ego

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