Okay, that headline is unfair because “Buddhism” is not a discrete entity but has many forms. However, that is part of my point. Read on, please.
I saw a video address using a Hollywood celebrity to promote a particular school of Buddhism. “I realized all my thoughts are illusions,” said the celebrity with a smirk, apparently unaware of the contradiction inherent in his statement. Reject your thoughts, reject your self, all is illusion was the message from the video. Even a small amount of thinking about these claims show their absurdity. So I will insert some philosophy into them, setting aside the legitimate question of why someone would want to convince others not to think for themselves.
Buddhism IS wrong when it says there is no self. I am not being Cartesian here. See, Buddhism imagines we have no self because it imagines that our thoughts are illusions. That’s nonsense. Our thoughts are not only real, they ARE us.
That’s why Buddhism makes the mistake about the self. If thoughts are illusions then we are illusions. Yes. Although, if thoughts are illusions then the thought that thoughts are illusions is an illusion, which creates a contradiction. “Si fallor, sum,” said Augustine, thinking clearly.
Those Buddhist thoughts about thoughts and self are not illusions, but they are wrong beliefs. The reality is that our thoughts are not only real, they are the most real things, and yet they are only as real as we make them be.
We have free will, and the most powerful force of our will is on our thoughts. A thought comes, a feeling, a rational idea, what have you, and it is present to our consciousness. And then we decide what to do with it. We could ignore the thought. We could consider it then cast it aside. We could take the thought seriously and build on it. All actions begin with a thought.
That’s what Buddhism, and to be fair many philosophies, are ignoring. Not all thoughts are fleeting. Thoughts have a life and can become a part of who we are. Yes, we are our thoughts. As much as we allow them to be and choose to keep them. We are dynamic ever-changing beings, continually constituting our self with our thoughts and actions. Our thoughts are not the entirety of who we are, but they are us, and we experience those thoughts and make choices about them. Our thoughts and what we do with them are the entirety of who we are.
Thoughts like “I believe in myself” and ” I doubt myself” are ideas that linger and become a part of who we are and affect everything we perceive and do. Many thoughts do come and go, but Buddhism often mistakenly assumes this means all thoughts do and thus are illusions.
We each have many thoughts, and often we disagree with our own thoughts, just as Buddhism has many schools of thought that disagree with each other. That’s why dialogue about thoughts, both internal dialogue and dialogue with others, is so important, because thoughts are real and they make us real and our thoughts make things real. Listening to and thinking about the many diverse thoughts that religions and philosophies have are building blocks for becoming more real.
Here’s a thought: ask why someone would want you to believe that you and your thoughts are nothing.