The Negation of Self in Indian Buddhist PhilosophySkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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The not-self teaching is one of the defining doctrines of Buddhist philosophical thought. It states that no phenomenon is an abiding self. The not-self doctrine is central to discussions in contemporary Buddhist philosophy and to how Buddhism understood itself in relation to its Brahmanical opponents in classical Indian philosophy. In the Pāli suttas, the Buddha is presented as making statements that seem to entail that there is no self. At the same time, in these texts, the Buddha is never presented as saying explicitly that there is no self. Indeed, in the one discourse in which he is asked point blank whether there is a self, he refuses to answer (SN IV, 400). Thus, the suttas present us with a fundamental philosophical and interpretive problem: if the Buddha denies the existence of the self, why does he not state this denial explicitly? This paper resolves the problem by explaining why and how the Buddha can argue in a way that entails metaphysical anti-realism about the self while also refusing to state explicitly that there is no self.