The third characteristic of existence described by the Buddha is anatta, or “nonself.” The doctrine of anatta links craving to the false idea of a separate ego or a self apart from the body. The Buddha rejects the idea of a “self” that can have independent reality, and instead sees the self as a pattern of interactions between impermanent elements (the skandhas). The self exists only as a configuration that cannot be by itself, independently of the skandhas. Freud regards the ego, in a way, as a homunculus, a little man inside the head, while the Buddha sees it as an impermanent, flowing process. The two theories, one a primary element of Western philosophy and the other a primary component of Eastern thought, seem to oppose each other. Try to objectively assess where you stand between these two poles. Write down all of the things that are important to you as a person: your ethics and values, your sources of joy, and your sources of distress. After creating a comprehensive list, make two columns— one for ego and the other for anatta. Then start placing each item on your list in one of the two columns. If you feel that a source of joy is better served by the belief in a separate ego, put it in the “ego” column. If it’s better served by the belief in anatta, put it in that column. After assigning the items in your list to one column or the other, examine both columns. Do your personal philosophical beliefs position you closer to the Eastern or to the Western philosophical pole?
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