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It can be understood that the self is not some real permanent thing, but I wish to know whether we can find a real temporary self?

We can define a temporary self, which lasts for some small duration, and at a certain location. For example, we can identify this temporary self with the mind which is controlling the ideas I am presenting here as a question.

Is this definition of a temporary self in some sense real?

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    The self is just an idea of the mind, and as such, it is temporary.
    – ruben2020
    Oct 16, 2023 at 2:50
  • @ruben2020 I would argue it is real. I am the mind controlling my thoughts, at least for some duration of time. Oct 16, 2023 at 3:47
  • Sure you can define a temporary self, but does your definition match with reality? That's the question! If your definition matches reality and this definition purports to define something real, then we should be able to find it in reality. The Buddha encourages us to ask this question and to try and find that real self. The analysis I post below is one of the oldest and most venerated ways of conducting such an analysis, but it isn't the only one. See if you can poke holes with the analysis I post below.
    – user13375
    Oct 16, 2023 at 13:55

5 Answers 5

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If the self is real - even for a temporary duration - then you can find it. You can pin point it using analysis to locate this real thing in space and time for some definite duration. Just like a chariot. A chariot is a temporary thing, yes? Let's consider:

1) Is a chariot inherently the same as its parts?

If a chariot is the same as its parts, then those parts are themselves made up of other parts, yes? A huge multitude of parts. If the chariot is inherently the same as its parts there should be many chariots reflecting this multitude and not the experience of one, right? Even for a temporary time, do we think of a chariot as one or many?

Can the chariot be thought of as somehow the same as each part individually even for a temporary time? But again, this would imply numerous chariots not the experience of just one chariot. If it was equal to each part individually, then the destruction of one part would destroy the chariot, no? If it were all the parts individually then, the destruction or removal of even a single tiny part would destroy the chariot, right? But that is not what we experience of a chariot. So it can't be that the chariot is each part individually nor can it be that it is inherently the same as its parts even for a temporary time.

Further, when we own a chariot we don't mistake it for its parts. Even temporarily. Say we lose a wheel we don't immediately think, "My chariot is destroyed and I have no more chariot!" We don't mourn the loss of the chariot if it loses a single fleck of paint from its exterior as we drive down the road. We own a chariot not individual flecks of paint, right?

2) Is the chariot inherently other than its parts?

If it is other than its parts, then you wouldn't need the parts at all! The chariot would exist inherently without any parts, right? Even for a brief "temporary" time, if the chariot were real and somehow other than its parts in this temporary time, then it would not depend on the parts at all. You could have a chariot without any wheels, without any seat, without any paint, without any axels, you could own a real chariot for a temporary amount of time without any parts whatsoever, right? Name the person who owns such a chariot.

No, a chariot depends upon its parts. It can't be real - even for a temporary time - without depending on its parts. Just for the sake of argument, say a real chariot could exist without any parts. How would you know it existed? How would you experience such a real chariot that had no parts?

Think about it in deep mediation and try and imagine a really existing chariot without any parts even for a short temporary amount of time.

3) Is a chariot inherently in or dependent on its parts?

If the chariot is somehow in the parts, like a person is inside a house, then you could remove the person from the house and you'd have still have a person and a house, right? Can you remove the chariot from being inside the parts - even temporarily? No, because then you'd have a chariot with no parts, right? We've discussed that above. Worse, you could have a perfectly collected specimen of parts of a chariot with no chariot! Imagine coming across a collection of parts, perfectly arranged like a chariot, but not experiencing a chariot. Can you imagine such a thing even temporarily? No, the chariot can't be thought of as somehow inside the parts like a person can be inside a house.

Can the chariot then be thought of as somehow inherently dependent upon the parts for a short temporary time? If the chariot is dependent upon the parts, this implies the chariot is other than the parts. And we wind up in the same situation as #2 trying to imagine a chariot with no parts somehow existing and real - even temporarily. It just makes no sense to talk about "partless" chariots existing even for a temporary amount of time.

4) Are chariot parts in an inherently existing chariot?

Does an inherently existing chariot contain the parts like a bowl might contain cherries? If so, then we can empty that bowl and we are still left with an empty bowl and some cherries on the table, right? Can we think of an inherently existing real chariot empty of its parts even for a temporary amount of time? It is absurd right? Can we think of somehow removing all the parts of a chariot, one by one, and somehow experiencing a real chariot at the end? Even for a temporary time? No, right?

5) Does an inherently existing chariot possess or own its parts?

If an inherently existing chariot possesses its parts we should be able to find it without its parts like we can find the owner of a house absent the house, right? But again we're faced with a "partless" chariot. It simply makes no sense to talk of experiencing or finding a chariot absent its parts like we can experience and find the owner of a house absent the house. If a real chariot existed - even for a temporary time - as the owner of its parts we should be able to experience or find this owner absent its possessions, but we don't find any such thing. Even for a temporary time. How can any real chariot exist in such a way?

6) Is an inherently existing chariot just the collection of its parts?

If an inherently existing chariot is real - even for a temporary time - as just the collection of its parts, then it wouldn't matter the order or location of these parts. They could exist anywhere in any configuration and we'd say "chariot" and experience or find a chariot, right? But that isn't how we experience chariots. The order and placement of the parts is very important to us experiencing a chariot, right? So it can't be that the chariot is just the mere collection of its parts as this mere collection couldn't function as a chariot even for a temporary time.

7) Is a chariot inherently the specific order and placement of its parts in a given time and location?

If a chariot were inherently the specific order and placement of its parts in a given time and location, then at another time, location and specific order we'd have a different inherently existing chariot, right? The instant that any of those parts moved in time or space, the inherently existing chariot would be destroyed, right? We could have no inherently existing chariot existing for any duration. We'd be left with chariots that can not move! How can we think of a chariot as real that can not move? Isn't the function of a chariot to move?? What use would we have for a "real" chariot utterly incapable of moving? Utterly incapable of existing for any duration.


So, like that. Really consider a chariot and see if you can find one that really exists - even for a temporary amount of time - in one of the seven ways above. I challenge you to try.

If you can't - which I suspect you'll find - then try and think of some other way that a chariot could exist and be thought of as "real" - even for a temporary time. Can you think of another way it might exist that isn't included above ^^^?

Really analyze the chariot case. Try and poke holes in the arguments above. Try and find a real chariot existing for even a small temporary duration. If you can find one let me know.

If you can't find one - even after an exhaustive search - then consider the self in the same way. Good luck!

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  • NOTE: I'm using a definition of "real" here as synonymous with inherently existing. In my tradition, the word "real" is actually less stringent than "inherently existing", but the analysis above would still be correct. If you use the word "real" to just mean that something exists exactly as it appears, then it is still clear that a temporary self is not real in that it appears solid, existing, stable through some power of its own and not as a merely a label designated in dependence upon a myriad of things.
    – user13375
    Oct 16, 2023 at 16:00
  • I’ll bite. I think I can find one, although I am not sure if the comment section is an appropriate place for this type of discussion.
    – Jbag1212
    Oct 16, 2023 at 17:45
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There is no temporary self in Buddhism because self is described in the suttas as:

  • a delusion (moha)
  • a disease (roga)
  • only arising of suffering (dukkhameva uppajjamānaṁ uppajjati)
  • a conceiving (maññita)
  • a formation (sankhara)
  • a view (ditthi)
  • a theory (vada)

There is only a temporary delusion or temporary insanity.

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Is there a possibility of a temporary self?

No there is not.

The "view of a temporary self" is actually 1 of the 62 kinds of wrong view taught by the Buddha in the Brahmajala Sutta (Digha Nikaya Sutta 1).

  1. Partial-Eternalism (Ekaccasassatavāda): Views 5–8

"... There are, bhikkhus, some recluses and brahmins who are eternalists in regard to some things and non-eternalists in regard to other things, and who on four grounds proclaim the self and the world to be partly eternal and partly non-eternal ..."

"... He is permanent, stable, eternal, not subject to change, and he will remain the same just like eternity itself. But we, who have been created by him and have come to this world, are impermanent, unstable, short-lived, doomed to perish. This, bhikkhus, is the first case ..."

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What is your definition of a self?

You could conceivably define “self” in such a way that a temporary self is possible or impossible.

One of the points the Buddha made was that such activity is not conducive to liberation. It might be a fun philosophical activity, but it leads to a “thicket of views.”

Also note that semantic discussions of what the term “self” means are distinct from the felt sense or psychological activity of “I-making and my-making.

That is, I can convince myself of a consistent definition of self in which my body is not a self - but then look in the mirror and within a fraction of a second have the “gut sense” that I am that body.

The teachings of not self are designed to get you to set aside the philosophical speculations about whether you have a self or not, or how to define the self, and simply focus on attempting to cease the more basic activity of I-making and my-making.

My views expressed in this post are influenced by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. He explains these more in length if you wish to learn more. However, other authors disagree with him.

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  • Yes . Sometimes advice is the answer. But I am not asking a Buddha. :-)) Oct 15, 2023 at 22:53
  • @YesheTenley To proceed with this analysis we need a definition of self. I am curious, what definition do you propose?
    – Jbag1212
    Oct 16, 2023 at 16:54
  • Yes, I would be willing to sidestep that question and focus on the chariot. I am still not sure if this forum is the appropriate place to do so, however. I would hope to have an interesting discussion!
    – Jbag1212
    Oct 16, 2023 at 18:04
  • The question you have proposed presupposes that your analysis is "correct," so I would not phrase it like that. At present though, I am not inclined to pursue the issue further with you. Your response to a disagreement in textual interpretation seems to be to downvote those you disagree with, so I doubt we would have a fruitful discussion.
    – Jbag1212
    Oct 16, 2023 at 19:44
  • I would change my vote to and upvote if I was allowed to, but it doesn't let me change it now since it was recorded more than 7 hrs ago. What I suggested wasn't to presuppose that my answer was correct rather it was just suggesting we do things the way the site asks us to rather than have extended discussions in comments.
    – user13375
    Oct 16, 2023 at 21:17
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Today I found some enlightening understanding of Self which led me to answer my own question. The example of chariot was a good one to understand that in a chariot, the definition of chariot i.e. self can not be found. I had said in my question that I am defining Self as someone controlling my reasoning and thoughts to write these sentences or questions or answers. I am the controller. Here the analogy of chariot doesn’t seem to apply because I am not claiming to be the chariot but I am the one who is controlling the chariot.

I will claim that even then no temporary self can be found. I will claim that in order to form sentences different parts of the brain, body and the mind are utilized. Mental Control shifts from place to place in the body and in the consciousness.

Therefore no temporary self is possible. Metta.

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  • This is what the fifth prong in the seven-fold reasoning was trying to make clear. The chariot is not the owner or controller of the parts. If that were so, then the "chariot" itself would not itself be made of parts it would just be the owner or controller. In that case, we're back to discussing partless chariots which makes no sense. Very good that you arrived at this through your own reasoning and analysis.
    – user13375
    Oct 17, 2023 at 13:29

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