The Real Mystery of Buddhism

There was a question I always wanted to make to a serious practitioner of Buddhism. What do you really believe about the doctrine of transmigration? Once I knew a Tibetan monk, he was a recognized reincarnation of a great monk from a previous generation. I took him aside one day and said: “Well, there is nobody else listening, nobody will overhear our conversation, tell me what it was like to be a monk in Eastern Tibet in your previous incarnation.”

He just left. He smiled at me and said: “I can’t even remember what I have for breakfast, let alone what I did in my previous life”. I took from that not just a sneaky way of avoiding the question, but also a rather subtle and effective reminder of something important about Buddhism. There is nothing more mysterious about the passing from one life to another than there is in our passing from one moment to another. Read that last sentence again if you need.

Everything Changes

We constantly change and the person who is here today is different from the person who was here yesterday. To grasp the reality of ourselves we have to come to terms with that changeable aspect of our experience. Even in this moment, everything that we experience is flowing through us, constantly changing. So, the person who started a minute ago to read this article now has become something completely different.

The concept of no-self helps us understand why Buddhists do not consider the doctrine of suffering particularly pessimistic. From a Buddhist point of view, it’s simply realistic. It’s simply a fact of the nature of reality. We have to accept that the human personality and everything around it is constantly changing.

Living With Suffering

The cause of suffering is not the change itself, but the human desire to hold on to things and prevent them from changing. Buddhists that look at the world through the lenses of no-self, do not approach it in a pessimistic way. They understand that if everything changes, it’s possible for everything to become new. It’s possible to approach even the most difficult situations in life with a sense of lightness, buoyancy and freedom.

When we live or encounter with Buddhist cultures we encounter people who are not oppressed by a depressive or sad vision of the world, but we find a sense of lightness. People are quick to laugh, and quick to let go of things that are painful. Why? Because everything changes, everything is impermanent. In the end, there is nothing to hold on to.

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