If there is no self that survives death, what is there to be reborn?

Religious Beliefs Read more from
Chapter Buddhism

Buddhist tradition has devised various intricate ways of explaining the problem represented by the concept of nonself (anatta). One widely used image is that of a seal-ring. Take a pad of warm wax and press the seal-ring into it and you get a very clear impression, one that firms up as the wax cools. You’ve transferred “something” without actually leaving anything but an impression. The seal-ring is something like what remains when a human being dies still enslaved to inappropriate craving and desires. It represents the whole complex of psychic energies that make up a human “personality,” energies so potent that most people are perfectly convinced of their individuality and separate personhood. In the cycle of death and rebirth, what transfers from one existence across the chasm of death into the “wax” of a new embodiment is precisely that incredibly powerful ego impulse. As the Buddha saw it, no one can be finally free so long as he or she clings to the notions of “I, me, mine.”


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