P.Q- What is the Buddhist and Christian concept of the “Soul”? 304
For a Buddhist, the final goal in life is attaining Nirvana. The popular Buddhist definition of Nirvana is the “blowing out” which would mean extinction of the soul and the body, following the fact that Buddhism has strongly denied the idea of immortality as said by Melford E. Spiro in his book ‘Buddhism and Society’. However, there is a conflict in this and this has been made known by Edward J. Thomas in his book ‘The history of Buddhist thought’ when he writes about the explanation given by a Buddhist school of thought that Buddha is eternal and that Nirvana was just a device Buddha used to prevent the people from becoming careless. This puts the whole meaning of Nirvana into jeopardy. On the other hand, the Christians popular belief is that they would have eternal life, after death as said in the Bible in John3:16 (NLT). This belief of the resurrection of the body to the heavens have always been popular among the Christians. However, later in time, scholars have denied this notion on the ground that it is not biblical. In this research paper, an attempt will be made to give an unbiased presentation on the concept of ‘soul’ in the two religions- Buddhism and Christianity. We will be looking at the different theories propagated by the two religions about the ‘soul’ and ‘soul-less’-ness of their religion and in the end, compare and contrast the implication of the concept on the people following the religion in brief and formulate a Christian response to it.
Spiritual body in Christianity 468
Over simplified narration of what Christianity is would be- creation, fall of mankind and the redemption of the fall mankind through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This narration means to the Christian believers of a life after death. A life which would be “everlasting”, meaning that a person who believes in the whole cycle of fall and redemption would have an eternal life after life on earth because of the death of Jesus Christ. This belief in the after-life have been supported by the creation narration where God creates man by putting dust together and after which He says to His creation, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” Gen3:20(NLT). Since the mortal body is subjected to die and the Bible talks about an eternal life, Christians have put up a concept of soul or spirit which would go to the eternal place which has been promised to all believers. Lynn A. de Silva in his book ‘The problem of self in Buddhism and Christianity’ says that the various fields of studies have all agreed on the notion that there is an “immortal soul, distinct from the body, which survives death.” These various fields of studies have declared that nothing can surpass death. At this time, as history would have it, the idea of Spiritual body (soma pneumatikon) came into existence through St. Paul. St. Paul’s idea of Spiritual body stood in contrast with the “doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body” which stands in accordance with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lynn A. De Silva brings forth two theories about the Spiritual Body: the first is the resurrection idea wherein the idea of man being innately evil is abolished and thus, man, after death does not “escape from the body but (transforms) the body…for life on a spiritual plane.” The second is the ‘Replica’ theory where the earthly body does not go to eternity but is re-created by God. It propagates that the earthly body is completely destroyed when one dies. Julia Ching in her paper ‘Paradigms of the Self in Buddhism and Christianity’ talks about the Christian concept of soul in the lines that there is a soul which does not die even when a person in his or bodily form dies. She says that, “the soul is immortal because it is not material and therefore spiritual and imperishable.” Thus, there is a need for the existence of a soul which will live on after the earthly death.
Karma and Re-birth 843
Buddhism is a religion which believes in the Karmic cycle and the relieving of one from the whole cycle of re-birth results in one attaining Nirvana. As Kristin Johnston Largen in his book ‘What Christians can learn from Buddhism’ clearly puts it, that there is no clear-cut definition of what Nirvana means or is, and as such, every school of thought has their own way of interpreting Nirvana. And, likewise, there are various claims on how the Karmic cycle takes place. Bruce R. Reichenbach states that Karma is the “central motif in…Buddhist thought” and it “states that all actions have consequences which will affect the doer of the action at some future time.” In relation to this Karmic cycle, Buddhists believe in the re-birth cycle which is largely determined by Karma, after which Nirvana is attained by the person who perfects the practices of Buddha. Following this idea of Karma, there is a need for the existence of a soul for the cycle of rebirth to take place. Lynn A. De Silva agrees and thus states, “belief in karma and rebirth… in a sense affirms to the identity and continuity of the self (which) seems to amount to a doctrine of eternalism.” From these arguments, it seem to be so that, for the Karmic cycle to take place there is a need for a soul to exist which will not die even after the body dies. And this would take its form in re-birth. However, this idea is not popular among the Buddhist and this can be found in the Putakas. A.J Bahm in his book ‘Philosophy of the Buddha’ states, “the existence of an enduring soul is explicitly and repeatedly denied in the Putakas.” Further, Edward J. Thomas also says of Buddha as “eternal” and Nirvana being “a device” he used. It does not explicitly state that Buddha now exist in the form of a soul but it does not fully kill the idea of Buddha’s cessation.
In both the cases of Buddhism and Christianity, there seem to be legitimate reasons to believe why the concept of soul exists and why it should exist in these two religions. Findings from the research done above can be summarised as follows: First, Christians have the concept of soul which will live in Heaven or the new heaven on earth or hell after a person dies. Secondly, on the other hand, Buddhism also has a faint concept of soul. It is argued that soul exist on the basis that a soul is necessary for the functioning of the cycle of re-birth since the body is subject to death and decay.
NO SOUL THEORY
No-Soul theory in Buddhism 486
Rupert Gethin in his book ‘The foundations of Buddhism’ explains the Buddhist trail of thought. In the Buddhist belief system, the concept of self is critiqued. It is believed that there is no self or soul, or the ‘atman’. The critique is against certain notions of the self that are described by the early Brahmanical texts and the Upanishads. These texts explore some of the questions about the self, such as ‘what is the ultimate nature of the self?’, or ‘to what do experiences belong to?’ In these texts, the nature of the self is that which is ungraspable, indestructible and that which does not suffer. It is identified with the ultimate reality ‘Bhraman.’ This historical understanding provides a context for the Buddhist understanding of the self. It is against this that the Buddhist belief system offers its critique of the self. In everyday linguistic terms, we understand the concept of the self or the soul as an ‘I’, an unchanging constant behind all the various experiences. Since the ‘I’ is constant, the Buddhist tries to make sense of the various experiences or the nature of experience. The nature of experience is described in terms of ‘groups’ or aggregates’. First, we have the form or the ‘rupa’ which explains the physical world in which there is a sense of smell, taste, touch, etc. that we experience or which enable us to experience. Next, there is the mental world, known as ‘vedana’, in which we experience feelings like happiness or grief or indifference. We also, then try to classify or sort out these experiences that enable us to recognize them. It is known as ‘samjna’. After we recognize them, we desire certain things. For example, we see an apple, we think that it might taste good, thus recognizing it and then we desire it. Then there is the experience of being aware of all of these experiences. This is known as ‘vignana.’ In the Buddhist belief system, these aggregates are recognized as those which explain the experiences of the self. But the question arises as to which of these truly describe the self. The Buddhist believes that none of them do, that none of the five aggregates truly describe the self. The first argument for a denial of the self is that we, or the ‘I’ (self) has no control over any of these aggregates. For example, the body can become sick regardless of whether we want it or not. The second argument is that these aggregates are viewed as impermanent. Since the self is unchanging, it has the quality of being permanent and so none of the aggregates are the self. The third argument is that the self cannot be understood apart from these aggregates. Therefore, the Buddhist denies that there is a concept of the self or the soul.
Biblical view of man 400
Page -33 paradigm
Contradictory to the popular Christian belief of a soul after life which would go to eternity, Lynn A. De Silva write about the modern scholars who claim that the concept of ‘soul’ is not biblical. He says that mankind is- “a creature…(and) bears the image of God” taking the Bible verse which says “God created human beings in His own image” Gen1:27(NLT). Now, therefore, since man has been ‘created’ or ‘made’, man can also be destroyed into nothingness just the same. Silva states, “The doctrine of creation is the biblical ‘no’ to eternalism.” Now, when the question is asked why ‘creation’ denotes ‘no-soul’, the answer given by Silva is that, “creatureliness implies non-being, with the natural necessity of death and the possibility of ultimate negation.” John Macquarrie in his book ‘Principles of Christian Theology’ talks about how people as creation are in between “nothing and being” and the consciousness of this fact of his “existence” turning to “nothingness” is what he calls “universal characteristic of creaturely being.” In response to this idea of John Macquarrie, Lynn A. De Silva states that the “Recognition of this ‘universal characteristic of creaturely being’ corroborates the truth expressed by the doctrine of anatta and leaves no room at all for a notion of eternalism in the biblical view of man.” According to Lynn A. De Silva, the concept of ‘dualism’ is not stated in the Bible. Furthermore, for the ‘Hebrews’, man is fundamentally thought of as “a unity.” This is supported by Ryder Smith in his book ‘The Bible doctrine of the hereafter” which says of the “Platonic belief in the ‘the immortality of the soul’ when it is once rid of the encumbrances of the body (as) quite alien to the Hebrew mind.” H. Wheeler Robinson in his book ‘The religious idea of the Old Testament’ talks about the idea that the Old Testament seem to promote in regards to the concept of immortal soul. He says:
“The idea of human nature implies a unity, not a dualism. There is not contrast between body and soul, such as the words instinctively suggest to us. The shades of the dead in Sheol… are not called ‘souls’ or ‘spirits’ in the Old Testament; nor does the Old Testament contain any distinctive word for body, as it surely would have done, has this idea been sharply differentiated from that of the soul. Man’s nature is a product of two factors- breath – soul, which is the principle of life, and the complex of physical organs which this animates. Nothing but a ‘shade’ remains which is neither body nor soul… The Hebrew idea of personality is an animated body, not an incarnated soul.”