nrose619 wrote:What is the meaning of no-self in Buddhism? Is it the idea that instead of independent beings, there is a collaborative "we" in all life forms? or is it a more nihilistic view that the self is not real and that nothing is real?
Neither. It is one of the "Three Characteristics" that are said to apply to all phenomena. Everything you experience is said to beanicca
- impermanent, unstabledukkha
- unsatisfactory, stressfulanatta
- not self, not mine
These are not really metaphysical propositions as much as they are strategies of perception to be adopted, tested, experimented with. You analyze the objects of your experience and ask: are they permanent or not? Inherently satisfactory or not? Do they constitute a self or not? Are there certain sensations that I tend to regard as belonging to or constituting myself? Does the activity of labeling things 'self' lead to happiness or to suffering? What happens if I regard the sensations I experience as 'not I, not mine'?
The claim is that if you perform this experiment, you will find that it is the habituated patterns of identifying various phenomena as 'self' that lead to suffering. This leads to suffering because of the other two characteristics: these same phenomena are inconstant, constantly changing, and thus there is no permanent abiding sense of self. As such the mind is constantly having to contort itself to grasp onto a sense of a fixed identity, an activity which is inherently stressful and unsatisfactory. Abandoning these patterns leads to freedom from suffering.
It's interesting to note that the Buddha never categorically declares "there is no self". For a deeper look at anatta
, you may want to check out the following articles by Thanissaro Bhikku:No self or Not-self
? (a short article)The Not-Self Strategy
(medium length essay with long extracts from the Pali Canon)Selves & Not-Self: The Buddhist Teaching of Anatta
(long series of essays, including the above two)