The Buddhist self or âtman is most generally used in contrast with the Five Aggregates (pañca-skandha) which are considered to be non-self. The self is to be thought of as spiritually separate and independent from the corruptness and influence of the Five Aggregates. The Buddha, in fact, teaches his monks to shed their identification with the aggregates thus affirming who they really are. The common refrain throughout the early discourses of the Buddha is always: This [aggregate] is not mine, I am not this [aggregate], this [aggregate] is not my self.
So why the necessity of a Buddhist âtman rather than no âtman? With these words, D.T. Suzuki masterfully sums up the case for the âtman and why, by implication, no âtman or non-self is almost evil.
“Mahayana Buddhists generally understand the essential characteristic of âtman to consist in freedom, and by freedom they mean eternality, absolute unity, and supreme authority. A being that is transitory is not free, as it is conditioned by other beings, and therefore it has no âtman. A being that is an aggregate of elemental matter or forms of energy is not absolute, for it is a state of mutual relationship, and therefore it has no âtman. Again, a being that has no authoritative command over itself and other beings, is not free, for it will be subjected to a power other than itself, and therefore it has no âtman. Now, take anything that we come across in this world of particulars; and does it not possess one or all of these three qualities: transitoriness, compositeness, and helplessness or dependence? Therefore, all concrete individual existences not excepting human beings have no âtman, have no ego, that is eternal, absolute, and supreme” (Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism, p. 144).
Compare this with the standard pop Buddhist belief that all is empty and insubstantial. Existence is impermanent and suffering and there is absolutely no self. Accepting this wholeheartedly is what the Buddha supposedly teaches! If this were true (and it is not) the Buddha would be teaching a religion, exclusively, of bondage with no liberation! Buddhism would then be fundamentally evil which it is not since what it actually teaches is liberation from dependence, impermanence, suffering, and liberation from the absence of authentic selfhood.