Not Self – If the Self doesn’t exist what would motive people to meditate?

A student writes:

If the self is non-existent, what motivates people to meditate and do things such as this training course?

Lama Shenpen responds:

Do I ever say that the self is non-existent? What the Buddha always taught was that what was impermanent, unsatisfactory and not as we wanted it, could not be the Self. The Self, in this context, is the one who wants happiness. None of the things we grasp at as ‘self’ provide that happiness so our whole idea of our ‘self’ causes us suffering.

Who is the us that discovers that? It is the ungrasped Self, the True Self, the Self that is not impermanent, not suffering, that is as we want it to be. It is the Buddha Nature.

When we discover that we realise that this is what we always wanted but we sought for it in the wrong place and in the wrong way. We found aspects of it that we tried to grasp at and own but they just became unsatisfactory as soon as we grasped them. In fact, we tried to grasp them only to find we had grasped at thin air, but instead of just ceasing to grasp we got terrified and grasped more and more.

Then we became more and more confused and still were left with just thin air. It is only when the fundamental awareness of our being turns towards that thin air and recognises its experience of itself for what it is and that it can relax the grasping reaction and let that truth be.

You could call that the end of ego grasping and the life of the True Self – or True Nature – the ultimate reality of what we are. It is not something we can know by the grasping mind. It is not something to believe in as a concept. It is reality that discovers itself! So, it itself is motivated to discover itself and do this course!


Christians put a lot of faith in the soul, which they believe is a separate unchanging entity. Surely, if there was nothing there, one of them would have noticed by now.

Lama Shenpen:

You get all kinds of Christians like you get all kinds of Buddhists. Some people have strong conceptual beliefs that they just trot out and say they believe in – they don’t want to think too much about whether their beliefs are true or not. They just want something to cling on to that confirms them in their idea of themselves. Some Buddhists are like that too.

Other Christians are connecting deeply to their hearts and discovering what is genuine and true in their experience – and they find what anyone finds who does that. So, they talk about their experience in much the same terms as we would.

As for ‘soul’ – well it just depends what one means by it doesn’t it?

Lama Shenpen Hookham

Related article: Five Uses of the Term Self in Buddhism

Become a student of Lama Shenpen – Join the Awakened Heart Sangha:

Lama Shenpen’s students are members of the Awakened Heart Sangha and are all engaging in the Living the Awakened Heart Training – the structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training that begins with Discovering the Heart of Buddhism and is open to all, brings the profound Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a Western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join the Awakened Heart Sangha and start your journey to discover the heart of Buddhism and meditation at