There is no spoon!
We have all seen the movie by now, the kid tells the “chosen one” there is no spoon and it bends. But how might this pertain to Buddhism? Well if you are reading this you may already have some idea of where I am going. Like the Matrix, Buddhists believe everything we perceive is an illusion of the mind. Buddhism springs forth from Hinduism, and the rejection of the belief of the culture Buddha grew up. In Hinduism they believe that there is the divine called Brahman, which resides beneath the world we perceive, it is everywhere and makes up every thing. Hindus also have what is called Atman, or the true core self or soul. The Atman is said to be the self that is separate from the body separate from the chaos and emotions we feel in our daily lives. This was the world the Buddha grew up, it was also the world Buddha rejected.
Buddha taught us that there is no spoon, or no self, it is one of the three core teachings of Buddhism, but what does that mean? If the Atman is the idea of a separate eternal true self that exists past life then the rejection lies not in non existence but in the idea that it is separate, unchanging, and individual from the Body.
Lets look at the idea that the self (if it existed), is eternally unchanging. First this is a scary thought, if the soul really was something that never changed that means there would never be any room for improvement or growth. The negative ideas that bubble up would be something permanent, a terrifying thought indeed. One only needs to observe the world around you, free of judgement, it is plain to see that everything changes, plants grow, animals get old, even things of our own creation are ever changing. Something that is eternal would never change and it is obvious that everything changes.
Buddha also taught that the thought of the self was in fact not separate of the body, bur rather co-dependant, or (dependant arising) on the body itself. As we experience things it moulds us for better or worse, the trick to it is not to become too attached that it draws you away from the middle path (the way between all extremes).
Lastly on the idea that the self is separate from the divine, that it will one day rejoin the divine after passing on from this existence if one is good enough. The concept itself merit earning one’s way into heaven, is a selfish system in its entirety. Instead of outward focus that finds happiness in helping others, it breeds a mentality of “as long as I get mine, I am ok, I don’t really care about yours!” Perhaps a view of this in an extreme can illustrate it better. Let us picture two worlds, both identical, both full of life, both small in nature where there is only one person. In the first world, let us call this world “World A” the man who lives there builds and progresses, advances his way and eats his fill. Man A of World A, focuses only on his own desires and own needs, but then he wakes up to realize that his world has died, he has eaten every last animal and drank every last drop of water, he has done nothing for the world around him and suffers.
Now world B. In World B we see Man B not only taking care of his own needs but those of the needs around him, not because he wants to over produce what he needs to live, but because he feels the connection to the world that he lives. He takes what he needs and only what he needs and leaves more for others. Should something change that affects his environment he works to find solutions to benefit himself and all life he shares the world with. Man B suffers less.
Notice how I said suffers less, there is suffering in the world, getting hungry is a form of suffering, especially if you ignore it for long periods of time. With action, however, suffering can be reduced by reducing the suffering for others. In this way we are all connected not only to the world, but to the divine. There is no spoon!