Am I a Soul?
Am I the combination of physical substances? Or am I the soul? How can we understand the self? With the profound teaching of emptiness in Buddhism, we are able to scrutinize this essential question layer by layer, which uncovers the truth that neither does the self exist as the physical substance of the body nor does it exist as the mind or the soul. In other words, the so-called “I” does not truly exist and even all phenomena in this world are devoid of true existence. Once we realize this ultimate truth in person, we would become enlightened.
As for my understanding, it has been mentioned that, “I” am not a hand, a leg or any of my body parts, neither am I the combination of all of them. So can we say that “I” am a soul? Is “soul” an appropriate word for that?
Even without a detailed analysis we can know that the physical substance of the body cannot be called the self. Temporarily, we may say there is a soul that reincarnates in the cyclic existence. For instance, I am a human this life, but may be reborn as an animal next life, and then a human again after that. But if we analyze with the Buddhist philosophy of emptiness, we can find that the soul which continually reincarnates actually doesn’t exist. This is a viewpoint of an advanced teaching in Buddhism.
From the perspective of appearance, external substances and the self are existent. Yet, with further observation, only mind or soul can be admitted as existence. When going deeper, we can find that the true reality of all phenomena is that nothing is inherently existent. This is a very good way of analysis.
Once we gain the realization that the nature of mind does not truly exist, an individual realization instead of a mere theoretical understanding, then we attain the enlightened state of an arhat, a bodhisattva, or a buddha. So if one realizes the ultimate truth of the mind, he or she will never reincarnate again.