Dalai Lama and Nagarjuna: No-self

Here is the Dalai Lama discussing the doctrine of “no-self” during his teachings on Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland at UCLA in 1997.

When we talk about ignorance, we must know that, to a large extent, it is something that is natural and innate within us and sometimes this naturally flawed way of viewing life can be reinforced by philosophical speculation. So when the Buddhist teaching of anatman (no-self) is taught often it can create a sense of unease within us. Because the grasping for self-existence is so deeply rooted in us, reflection on the fundamental Buddhist teaching of anatman can create some discomfort. Especially for those in whom this inherent self-grasping is further reinforced by metaphysical speculation – for them the sense of discomfort or unease can be even greater.

I can tell you a story about an Indian from Behar, who later became a Buddhist and part of the monastic order. One day I was teaching to him the doctrine of anatman, no-self, and when I mentioned to him that Buddhism rejects the concept of a soul, the person was literally shaking. So this shows how a genuine reflection on this most basic Buddhist teaching of no-self can go against the deeply embedded ways of viewing the world that we posses.

This is what is meant by verse 26 [of the “Precious Garland”], where it reads, “the teaching of selflessness terrifies the childish./For the wise, it puts an end to fear.”

For the wise, the teaching of selflessness really shows that there is an opening to getting out of this condition of being in an unenlightened state of existence.

In verse 27, it reads that:

All ‘beings’ arise from fixation of self
Such that they (thereby) are fixated on ‘mine’;
This is what has been stated
By the one who speaks solely for the sake of beings.

Given that it is this grasping at the concept of self-existence which gives rise to the unenlightened forms of existence, the Buddha has taught, out of compassion for all sentient beings, the path which would liberate all out of the bondage. The path here refers to the path of no-self.


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