A Few Example Posts:

  • "The End of Faith: A Short Response to Sam Harris"
  • See also:
  • "A Long Response to Sam Harris' The End of Faith, by Neil Shenvi"

  • "Is John Piper the Best Answer to Emergence and Postmodernism?"

  • "Captured"

  • "The Storm is Over"

  • "If Golfing Were the Pursuit of Moral Perfection"

  • 11.15.2005

    My Sixth Look at Buddhism: The Last of the Three Marks: Not-Self

    The Three Marks that characterize life within the Buddhist philosophy are Impermanence, Suffering, and Not-Self. This post discusses Not-Self.

    Buddhism admits that this is the most challenging of the three marks to understand. It’s basic thought is that we do not have an essential self or personality that continues on without change. This is a tenet that distinguishes Buddhism from many other religious systems.

    Buddhism teaches that five factors comprise an individual:

    1. The body or material form.
    2. Feeling.
    3. Perception.
    4. Thought/Decisions
    5. Consciousness (Self-awareness)

    These five aspects of individuality do make a person unique--but not permanently so. The Buddha taught that when a disciple considers each one of these five “components” of personhood, he should say:

    This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.

    In this life, a person does not remain who he has been. The adult is not the child he once was, for example. Yet this belief extends even into other lives. (Buddhism, like Hinduism teaches reincarnation--the continuation of many lives. The two appear to have different views of the same basic belief.) The personality changes when it leaves this life and enters another life in the world. This puts a personality in a continual process of change. Therefore, all that I consider to be me is really not me. I am not myself.

    Not-Self is antithetical to Christianity.

    What would Christ say of Not-Self? Obviously, Christ did not deal with Buddhism per se. However, His life and words do speak to the issue of a person’s soul. Does a person remain who they are after death?

    One day, a group of Sadducees came to Christ to trap Him with a “discussion” of the resurrection. The Jews had a custom that if a man died without a son the next of kin would marry the widow and name the son from that marriage after his deceased brother. This kept inheritances and family names going. It was called Levirate Marriage.

    The Sadducees told Christ that a man married a woman then died. His brother married her, and he died. This sad turn of events kept going until seven brothers were laid in the earth. Finally, the poor woman keeled over herself. (How many marriages can one person stand?) The Sadducees, who didn’t believe in resurrection anyway, wanted a lesson from Christ about this story. One obvious lesson would be, “Don’t marry that lady!” but Jesus went right to the heart of the matter.

    He said, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.... But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine. (This story is in Matthew 22:23-33.)

    Abraham lived around 2000 years before Christ. Jesus points out that God did NOT say “I was the God of Abraham.” He said, “I am the God of Abraham.” This means that Abraham is alive in the presence of God. And he is still Abraham. Isaac is still Isaac. Jacob is still Jacob.

    When Christ was transfigured on the mountain, Moses and Elijah appeared with Him. They had not lost their personalities. They still bore their names and were known by the disciples through some intuitive means.

    God is in the business of loving, redeeming, and glorifying individuals.

    This does not mean that we don’t change or grow. One of the purposes in our salvation is to be conformed to the image of Christ. Yet the Scriptures show us that even in that process, we remain who we are.

    This is true in hell, as well. Dives was still Dives there. He is who he was.

    Buddhism has a solid view of reincarnation and karma. Karma dictates the good and the bad consequences a person experiences in the next life for the deeds done in this life.

    However--and this is an honest question--if the personality is Not-Self from life to life:

    How is it just that someone else (not myself) be punished for my “sins” in this life?

    How is it just that someone else (not myself) reap the benefits of my good actions done in this life?

    It sounds like the karmic record-keeping would be a horrible mess.


    At 6:34 AM, Blogger Joe said...

    I made a "C" in bookkeeping. Ergo: I am SO glad I am self and God can keep track of me eternally.

    At 10:52 AM, Blogger John Rush said...

    He's faithful, isn't He, Joe.


    At 12:03 PM, Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

    You have really identified an important difference between Christianity and Buddhism.

    At 1:19 PM, Blogger forgiven said...

    No one can give you what our Father has. And the only thing that is wants is to love him. cool John

    At 6:01 PM, Anonymous Allan said...

    The analogy I use to describe rebirth (not reincarnation) is this: imagine a candle that, as it's just about to burn out, lights another candle. While both flames are distinct and separate entities, they're not wholly independent of one another either.

    There is a discussion of rebirth and kamma at Access to Insight, a fine resource for Buddhist study. Regarding your question about how kamma transmits from one life to another:

    The channel for the transmission of kammic influence from life to life across the sequence of rebirths is the individual stream of consciousness. Consciousness embraces both phases of our being — that in which we generate fresh kamma and that in which we reap the fruits of old kamma — and thus in the process of rebirth, consciousness bridges the old and new existences. Consciousness is not a single transmigrating entity, a self or soul, but a stream of evanescent acts of consciousness, each of which arises, briefly subsists, and then passes away.

    The Wikipedia article on rebirth also has further information.

    Out of curiosity, John, what Buddhist resources are you using?

    At 9:51 PM, Blogger Rose~ said...

    Interesting. Others who are not us suffer for our sins in their future lives and it goes on and on ... The gospel is so much more hopeful. The sins were suffered once and for all by ONE person. Christ is the supreme SELF.

    Thanks for the education.

    At 10:43 AM, Blogger John Rush said...


    Thanks for the input. During these studies, I have wanted people to know that I do NOT present myself as an expert on Buddhism. In our area, we have a Buddhist peace pagoda going up, and I knew that questions about Buddhism were going to come my way (I pastor a small church in the Smoky Mountains...)

    So I went to About.com to get the basics on Buddhism. I know it is just a start.

    And I was blogging my initial responses to Buddhism as a Christian.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Hoping to Point People to Christ--JRush

    At 10:46 PM, Anonymous Allan said...

    No worries, John--keep up the good work!

    At 4:49 PM, Blogger Rose~ said...

    I Just wanted you to know I referenced this article in a post...or I "blogspotted" or whatever you call it. Thanks for the inspiration!


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