The concept of self is one of the foundational in almost any religious view of the world. People perceive faith through individual or collective experience in such a way that it always turns out to be associated with the human person. A person as a metaphysical unit is in different relationships with the unknowable and divine in different religions. It should be noted that any conceptions of oneself in relation to God can influence a variety of ethical decisions and the vision of oneself in society. Close attention is paid to the ascetic Mahayana Buddhism, which at first stood in opposition to other Buddhist branches but gained special fame. In the case of Hinduism, focusing on one of the two main directions, Shaivism and Vishnuism, is not so fundamental. The fact is that the basic parameters of belief are preserved, although the concentration is made on one specific God from the pantheon. It is interesting to consider this relationship between oneself and God in Eastern religions, where the concept of unity and plurality, in principle, is much more elastic than in the religions of the Western tradition.
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Self-image and the vision of oneself in Hinduism and Buddhism differ significantly from the traditional Christian paradigm. While in the Christian religious tradition, a person is initially imperfect and stigmatized in the form of original sin, in Eastern religion, an individual has another innate trait. A representative of the Hindu or Buddhist religion has the aspiration and opportunities for self-improvement. In Indian religions, the ability to progress belongs to the human soul ontologically; that is, it is an integral part of people’s existence. This approach forces one to rethink the whole concept of life path in the light of such a religious view of oneself. The journey of a person thus combines spiritual aspirations with a craving for self-improvement. The striving of the flesh is not a prerequisite, but it is obvious that perfection should be primarily of a moral character.
The specificity of the Buddhist concept of the human self lies in the acceptance of the distinction between self and general in a spiritual aspect. The soul of a person does not seem to be something individual and insular for a practitioner of the Buddhist faith. On the contrary, the soul is connected with a metaphysical space, in which a single human personality is not just unimportant but actually non-existent. Improving oneself in this way is a search for unification with the common space of spiritual consciousness.
Speaking about Hinduism, one should constantly take into account the extreme set of separate religious branches that it compilatively represents. Hinduism gathers various religions under its wing, which has historically been necessary to emphasize the difference between Muslim religions. Their idea of the unity of the multitude and the possibility of Hinduism including all Apocrypha and allegories without having a clearly defined canon makes it possible to apply this concept to ideas about the human soul. In Indian beliefs, the I is divided for each person into an eternal self, atman, and a temporary material body. The path of the human soul begins with temptation and charm with illusions, which are born due to the fact that the spirit of a person, intoxicated by ignorance, prefers matter to spirituality (Shin, 2017). Moreover, a person does not become isolated in his only life but experiences many reincarnations, falling into the circle of samskara. A person’s actions during his multiple incarnations constitute his karma, and every true believer should strive to break out of the circle of rebirths at the expense of their actions.
Hindu sacred texts also generally concentrate on philosophical, and religious literature on the theme of getting out of the circle of rebirth and the interaction of the individual soul with the universe and reality. The reality in Hinduism is called Brahman, and the believer should count on establishing harmony with it. The Upanishads, one of the key texts of Hinduism, are precisely focused on describing how Brahman, metaphysical reality, the very essence of life, interacts with human beings. This book shows the reader a cosmogony, a mythical description of the surrounding world. The Upanishads teach the attainment of ethical perfection, a state called jiva (Howard, 2017). The last and fundamental condition for moxa, that is, exclusion from the circle of samskara, is meditation, the practice of spiritual search for balance with God incarnate in the universe. It is especially interesting to consider the practice of meditation in connection with earlier Rigvedic ideas about Hinduism, where the universe is perceived as a mysterious, mystical consciousness (Shin, 2017). Thus, the consciousness of the universe is a kind of thinking object or space with which a person can actually find interaction by applying a sufficient amount of spiritual aspirations. Consciousness in all this does not imply dry logic or precise intellect since this mystical nature of reality can only be experienced through religious revelation like an epiphany.
The main contradiction between Hindu and Buddhist religious philosophy lies precisely in the idea of what the human self is. The Buddhist concept of the soul implies anatman or its ontological absence (Bauer, 2019). It is important that this phenomenon of absence and emptiness in Buddhism is a condition for ethical purification. Through the absence of an idea about the personal, about one’s own, even about the materiality of the surrounding being in a Buddhist practitioner.
According to the legend existing in the ancient oral tradition, the very life path of Buddha was in the search for the original cause of human suffering. The karmic accumulation of suffering in the Buddhist tradition is also present, as well as the idea of atman-self and the existence of vices and attachments that interfere with human enlightenment (Davis & Sahni, 2018). The solution to this dilemma of human existence in Buddhist teachings is the realization of the wisdom of the Void. Infinite nothing shining in the light of Buddhist enlightenment is a way to overcome any suffering, denying it as material and illusional (Dabral, 2019). All forms in Buddhist teaching are unreal, and therefore suffering, always clothed in some form, also in its final form may simply not exist. The structure of reality in Buddhism appears to be relative, and liberation from it as a misconception is at the heart of the living ideas of a Buddhist practitioner.
Thus, Buddha’s teachings are opposed to the Hindu pantheon of religious beliefs, primarily in terms of the personality-God relationship. In the Hindu tradition, a person is perfected in order to break out of the circle of isolation in the material world of suffering, doubt, and temptation. In Buddhist philosophy, there is an existential overcoming of the problem of human suffering at the expense of the nihilistic nullification of the world as such. The world is declared to be non-existent and illusory, and the mind turns out to be not just closed in it but also in its own way generating it. Thus, the consciousness of a Buddhist must be completely open to emptiness and dissolve in it in order to truly unite with the divine.
Bauer, R. (2019). The absence of self: An existential-phenomenological view of the anatman experience. The Quarterly Journal of Philosophical Investigations, 13(28), 171-179.
Dabral, P. (2019). The practice of emptiness (anatman): A Buddhist approach to inner and world peace. In Buddhist studies: Contemporary approaches. Religion Publisher.
Davis, G. F., & Sahni, P. (2018). Variations on anātman: Buddhist themes in deep ecology and in future-directed environmental ethics. Ethics without Self, Dharma without Atman, 253-273. Web.
Howard, V. R. (2017). Dharma: The Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh traditions of India. I.B.Tauris.
Shin, K. (2017). The concept of self in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity and its implication for interfaith relations. Pickwick Publications.