The self

What does mindfulness meditation reveal about it?

Authored by: Karsten J. Struhl

Routledge Handbook on the Philosophy of Meditation

Print publication date:  May  2022
Online publication date:  May  2022

Print ISBN: 9780367647469
eBook ISBN: 9781003127253
Adobe ISBN:


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Buddhism claims that no-self is one of the three marks of existence. This chapter argues that early Buddhist arguments for the no-self conclusion appear insufficient, and that they rely on the corroboration of mindfulness meditation (vipassanā) experiences in a way that appears circular. The problem concerns the conception of vipassanā as bare attention, assumed to be a present-moment, pre-conceptual awareness that enables practitioners to see phenomena as they really are, just as an electronic microscope enables seeing what is not otherwise visible. However, vipassanā practice already embodies an interpretation of experience that presupposes the arguments for no-self – impermanence, the absence of a singular executive will, and dependent origination – together with the assumption that all phenomena lack self. Thus, vipassanā cannot non-circularly verify these assumptions, and thus is unfalsifiable (pace Karl Popper). This chapter argues, however, that we may nonetheless assess Buddhism as a research program (in Imre Lakatos’s sense), as progressive/degenerate if it moves practitioners, respectively, toward/away from Buddhism’s soteriological goal: ending suffering. Vipassanā can be judged by its capacity to develop insight that, together with other components of the Buddha’s eight-fold path, transforms practitioners’ self-cherishing, self-grasping affective/cognitive habits.

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