“You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.” – C.S. Lewis
Well, at least that was C.S. Lewis’s assertion and most people’s unquestioned assumption. But it is one of the basic tenets of Buddhism that there is no independent, continuous and unbroken ātman (self). Even our body is only a collection of aggregates. If this is the case, who goes to heaven or hell, or is reborn into another life, assuming there are such things?
Yogācāra Buddhism posits anātman (no self) but admits the existence of a part of consciousness called the ālaya-vijñāna (all encompassing foundation consciousness) that is uninterrupted and that firmly records and stores the aftereffects of all our thoughts and deeds. The ālaya-vijñāna flawlessly retains all our experiences, recognises and contextualises things as we cognise them. Our experiences, according to their depth and significance upon our lives, are difficult to remove.
As noted, Yogācāra posits no self, nonetheless the part of our mind that reconciles our identity is called the manas, a deluded awareness that secretly, ceaselessly attaches itself to the notion of a continuous and unbroken self. The manas transforms objects of cognition by a deep attachment to the self, and by the resulting tendencies to protect and further that self. This is the part of you that says, “This looks so good to me and I like it!”
This ālaya-vijñāna and the manas together form our deep consciousness. They are followed by the six surface levels including the visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and mental consciousness, each is aware only of their own objects. It is only our ālaya-vijñāna, an incorporeal but ever ceasing and arising part of our deep consciousness that carries on from one life to another, not our soul, which in other religions and philosophies is the distinct, immaterial, but permanent entity of a human being which C. S. Lewis called “You”.
Written by Ven. Sakya Longyen
Huayen on Indra’s Net