One of the concepts in Buddhism I approached first was the removal of the self/soul. This was a concept that, previous to Buddhism, I had already been becoming aware to, but Buddhism helped me put it into words. Now, look at yourself, both physically and mentally. Where are you? Where is our soul? Is there anything within you our outside of your body that you can say, “That is me?” If you’re like me, you won’t be able to find any particular thing that you can call, “you”. Okay, so you might say that you are your body, but let’s think about it a little bit. What about air? Surely your body is made up of air. You always need it, and where does it come from? If you’re constantly breathing in new air all the time, then all the air you are going to breath in the future is also you. What about water? Surely you wouldn’t say you’re a lake or a water well somewhere, but if you think about where the water comes from you’re probably part of a lake. If you really concentrate you’ll find that you are pretty much made up of everything, but yet nothing in that everything is you!
So, what does that mean? Well, it means that there is no you (hard to swallow, huh), and that the sense of self is simply an idea that helps you organize who you think you are. Your mind, for some reason, doesn’t want you to see who you truly are. We’re all a bit confused about who we are, and better yet what we are. There is also a concept in Buddhism called “Emptiness”, and no it doesn’t mean that everything is nothing or void. It means that simply, no matter how hard you look, there is no particular thing that you can say is “Me”. And, that goes for all things. Sure, a chair is a chair, but if you think about is deeply enough, it’s also a tree, it’s also going to be a fire when it gets old and doesn’t work anymore, or maybe a part of a tree-house one day. A simple chair can live many different lives, and as we’ve discussed before, if you look deeply at a chair you find out that there is no clear name you can give it because it’s made of so many different things and circumstances. “Emptiness” means the “chair” doesn’t exist, it’s really a “tree, chair, air, water, carpenter, soil, …exploded star dust…” and so on. That means the whole of existence is empty of a unique “chair”. It seems as if all of existence is coming together to be a chair.
You see, that’s the magnificent thing about the denial of the soul or self, is that you realize that who you are is not a finite set of parts, or a soul somewhere, or energy, etc. You are truly everything, and so is everything else. That everything is called “Emptiness”, because within it there is no identity, nothing that you can say, “These things here, that’s everything,” or, “These things here, that’s me.” You are in a constant, directly connected, relationship with everything because that is what you truly are.
For me, part of coming back to God, is realizing that I never left…