No-self and Identity

In today’s episode, we respond to a listener question about the possibility, in Shin Buddhism, of reconciling the concept of no-self (anatman) and personal identity (especially in regards to race). To do that, we need to break down the concept of no-self and argue that it’s not necessarily a rejection or negation of any type of self but rather, first, part of a pedagogical strategy of the Buddha and, second, related to a whole mass of complex Buddhist concepts that have very little to do with modern understandings of personality, subjectivity, or identity. A key part of this is the idea that self-ness is defined by our interconnection with the world, and on the social level, this absolutely includes social and cultural ideas about race, ethnicity, gender, and so on; and merely saying, “Hey, there is no self!” doesn’t make all of that go away.

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