Do Buddhists believe in a soul? What is the illusion of the soul?

Among all the novel ideas brought forward by the Buddhist tradition, there’s a fundamental concept that guarantees the development towards enlightenment, this concept is Rebirth. It’s common to hear people saying reincarnation, but reincarnation is different from rebirth.

Reincarnation

As the word says, reincarnation means re-enter the flesh (from Latim: incarno – enter flesh). It can be described as something that was in the flesh, left the flesh and came back in another form. The main point here is that there’s something that remains, that holds the idea of permanence. This is normally understood as the soul or the spirit.

In reincarnation the soul inhabits the body until it perishes, and this represents the process of dying. This then means that there should be a life after this moment, where the soul comes back again to occupy another body. The understanding of the soul (spirit) is that of something eternal, on an earthly journey, seeking something greater. (The specifics depend on the religious faith and its ideology).

This is the key point. For Buddhists the idea of a permanent being (soul) is not acceptable because it would comply that there’s something eternal. Thus, there’s no soul. What inhabits the body is a group of nonmaterial components that get organized and are constantly changing. 

“Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream. It is not dying. Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void. It is shining, it is shining.” From the Bardo Thodol

Illusion of the soul

Buddhism did not discuss creation, because Buddhists see the universe as a Unity, everything is in every part and everywhere. It’s called the living being. And in every moment where something happens, that being changes.

The living being is a summation of matter (the body) and mind (consciousness, feelings, memories). According to Buddha’s view, the idea of the soul is an egoic idea, therefore feeding selfishness. It’s an illusion. There is no “Ego”, but we do believe that there is and because of that we suffer. The consequences of individuality are caused by a delusion that once overcame is a step forward in the direction of enlightenment.

Buddhism claims that there is no evidence for the existence of the soul, which means that it does not exist. Confirming the belief that rebirth is merely a matter of cause and effect. This is the link that exists between one life and another.

“The Buddhist perspective on rebirth is that it is not a pleasant affair, but that all unenlightened people are reborn whether they like it or not, and whether they believe in rebirth or not. The process of life and rebirth has no inherent purpose; for it was not designed and created by anyone.” (Peter Harvey – An Introduction to Buddhism: teachings, history and practices)