Anantmavad/Nairatmavada – Buddha’s Philosophy – Philosophy Optional


This is the logical consequence of Doctrine of Dependent Organization.

Psp -> Anityavada (Contrary to Nityavada of Vedantins) -> Kshanivada -> Nairatmyavada

According to PsP, everything in both the physical and mental world is conditional, dependent on something else for their existence. Its logical consequence is nothing is permanent and eternal. Everything is momentary either physical or non-physical element. The law of change is universal, hence here the existence of permanent soul is denied.

But Buddha says, whenever we look towards what we call “self”, we see stream of ideas of thoughts (Sanantavada, Theory of Stream). Thoughts, feelings, desires arise at one moment and vanish at the next. No mental idea lasts for more than an instant. The self is nothing but the series of successive mental and bodily processes which are impermanent.

Buddha takes soul in the sense of individual ego complex. However, he never denied pure conciousness, true aatma or pure self i.e Boddhi or Prajnana.

Based on Kshanivada : The soul of this doctrine is a bundle of five skandhas or continuously changing aggregates, and explained by Milind-Panho :

(Doctrine of Panch Skandhas)
  • a) Rupa (Form) : Material factors of body
  • b) Vedana (Feeling) : The feelings of pleasure, pain etc.
  • c) Sanjna (Perceptions) : The concepts, intellect, ideas etc.
  • d) Samskar (Impressions) : These are the predispositions, instincts, remnants of previous birth etc.
  • e) Vijnana (Conciousness) : It is a continuous flow of awareness.

First is Material (Rupa) and the last four are psychical (Nama). Hence, psychologically, man is a collection of five groups (Pancha Skandha). Each part of the group is only a momentary existence. Man is only a conventional name for a collection of different constituents, just as a chariot is a collection of wheels, axles, shafts etc.

There is a common misunderstanding concerning the Doctrine of anatta, saying that through this doctrine Buddha denies the existence of soul. But it is not so, as Buddha denies just the existence of an eternal, unchanging soul, but accepts self/soul as a collection of skandhas, which is not permanent but keeps on changing. He accepts a changing self as an individual ego

There is a debate between Buddhism and Upanishad. Upanishadic aatma is actually Buddhist bodhi and Upanishadic Jiva is Buddhist aatma. Buddha’s concept of soul i.e flow of consciousness can be compared with the western Philosopher’s David Hume’s theory of self.

The doctrine of Anatmyavada also denies the permanent existence of material objects.

Buddha believes in re-birth, however without considering the transmigration of soul. In the absence of permanent soul, he explains rebirth on the basis of PsP and Theory of Karma, i.e Rebirth is the causation of next birth by the preceeding moment. He uses the example of candle to explain re-birth. According to Buddha, the end state of one life casually is responsible for the beginning of the other, just as a candle flame can light another when it itself is dying out. Both the lives are connected in a continuous stream.

Arguments of Anantmavada :

  • We can’t get knowledge of a permanent soul by perception.
  • Permanent or eternal soul cannot produce non permanent, consequential actions (Karma). Thus this doctrine is against the law of Karma.
  • Bondage cannot be explained by permanent soul as a permanent soul should never fall into bondage if it is pure, and if it is impure, it will never attain liberation.
  • Rebirth cannot be explained as eternal soul can neither take birth nor can die.
  • Moroever, a man is responsible for his actions because his past, present and future are all bound together by casual changes.
  • Regulator of Body : An eternal, permanent soul cannot regulate the functions of the body, as it is passive. It can only be possible if the body, consciousness etc i,e all the skandhas are linked together to form the soul.

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