The Theory of No-Soul According to the Buddha Philosophy

The Theory of No-Soul According to the Buddha Philosophy!

The Buddha does not believe in any permanent soul. Consciousness is an eternal process resulting from the relation of antecedent and subsequent between different movements.

But there is no unchanging, immutable soul behind-this process.

Hence logically there is no place for rebirth in Buddhist philosophy. After death the predispositions of the Jiva remain. These predispositions are according to his karmas and it is due to these that a link between one birth and another is maintained.


This predisposition is expressed in the last thought of a dying person. Along with this power of karma, attachment or clinging (Upadan) is also required. This clinging is the power which is the cause of the new birth according to old karmas. Without it the karmas themselves have no power.

After the attainment of liberation, the attachment is destroyed and clinging annihilated, resulting in the negation of rebirth. There is no similarity between the past and the present individual except that the new is according to the karmas of the old.

Sometimes even consciousness has been admitted as remaining after death. “Whatever we are or whatever we think is the result of it. Consciousness has been rightly conceived as the essence of our soul.” In fact, this proves the close relation between conscious­ness, action, thought and will. After the attainment of nirvana, one is liberated both from consciousness and from actions.

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The theory of non-soul also follows from the doctrine of dependent origination. There is no invisible, permanent substance besides the flow of consciousness. As the body is destroyed, the five skandhas disappear into five elements (Pancha Bhutas) and nothing remains besides the Upadan or Karma. This principle is known as the theory of no-soul in the Buddha’s philosophy.

Like the view of William James, the Buddha also admits self as being the flow of consciousness. In the consciousness, the present moment is the result of the past moment and the future the result of the present. Thus, one moment succeeds another and the actions and the memory of the past moments are transferred to the next moment. The cause of the present mental state is the past mental state. The Buddha has explained the continuity of life with the example of the flame of a lamp.

There is cause and effect relation between antecedent and subsequent states of life. Life is a systematic and continuous process through different states. In this process every state depends on the state preceding it and the subsequent state is the result of present state. Hence life is homogeneous.

Like the flame of a lamp, it is changing every moment. The flame of a lamp at every moment depends on the state preceding it and the subsequent state is the result of the present state. Hence life is homogeneous. The flame of a lamp at every moment depends on the conditions prevailing at that time, but in spite of the difference in different flames, they appear to be the same due to continuity.


The Buddha believes in rebirth and the principle of Karma. He, however, does not believe in rebirth in the sense that a soul enters in a different body after leaving one body, but rebirth means that another birth follows every birth, or another birth is caused due to one birth. Just as a lamp can be lighted by another lamp and yet the lights of both cannot be identified, similarly in spite of cause and effect relation between the two, the two births are different and not identical.

As a matter of fact, the Buddha has always asked his disciples not to indulge in useless discussions regarding the soul. If the soul is taken as eternal, one gets attached to it and suffers in the efforts to make it happy. According to the Buddha, love of the invisible and unproved soul is as much ludicrous as the love of some invisible and imaginary beautiful woman. Attachment to this soul is like reappear­ing a ladder to mount on a place which has not been seen by anyone.

According to the Buddha, man is a name for a conglomeration. Just as the wheel and other parts of a chariot are together called a chariot, similarly the body with the external form, mental states and colourless consciousness is together called a human being. This conglomeration (Sanghat) is the man. Besides this, there is no soul. So long as this conglomeration remains, the life of man also remains; death is the name of its destruction.

At another place, the Buddha has called man as the sum total of five skandhas. These five skandhas are changing elements and man is more or less a collection of them. As man dies, this collection is scattered. Of the five skandhas, the first is the ‘Rup’ which includes the form, complex and size, etc., of the human body. The second skandha is vedana which includes the feelings like pleasure, pain, aversion, etc. The third skandha is consciousness and samjna. It includes different types of conglomerations and knowledge. The fourth skandha is the samskara which includes the tendencies due to the actions of the past birth. The fifth skandha is the Vijnan or consciousness.

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