Q: Thank you for this wonderful website! Do you know what the Buddhists think about the self? What is the self for them? Is there a self for them? How can gratefulness lead us to God, to know and understand God? Does every religion have gratefulness in their teachings? Thank you for answering my questions. — Thunder, Epworth, Iowa
A: Good questions! And very complicated ones too. When you say “Buddhism” already you are in trouble. In fact there are many Buddhisms, just as there are many Christianities and Islams, and they have different things to say about the self. In general though you could say this: Buddhism resists the idea of a self that is fixed, settled, hard and fast. It sees the self as fluid and always in motion, a set of endlessly forming and dissolving relationships. So one response might be “Buddhists acknowledge a self that is constantly joined with everything, having no substance of its own.”
If that’s so, then gratefulness would go to the heart of what the self is – for without everything that is not the self there would be no self! Gratefulness seems to be at the heart of the religious experience, no matter what the tradition (though the word gratefulness may not be used by all traditions). That is, to love God or to find True Enlightenment (or True Self, as the Zen Masters might say) is to recognize the interconnected nature of all that is and so naturally to be grateful for whatever life brings, even when it is not what we thought we wanted.
Yours, Zoketsu Norman Fischer
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