A Mindful Bypassing: Mindfulness, Trauma and the Buddhist Theory of No-Self

Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies 23 (1):149-174 (2024)
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Abstract

This article examines the Buddhist idea of anātman, ‘no- self ’ and pudgala, ‘the person’ in relation to the notion of ‘self ’ emerging from contemporary cognitive science. The Buddhist no-self doctrine is enriched by the cognitive scientist’s understanding of the multiple facets of selfhood, or structures of experience, and the causative action of a functional self in the world. A proper understanding of the Buddhist concepts of anātman and pudgala proves critical to mindfulness-based therapeutic interventions: this is as the ‘person’, as constituted by various structures of selfhood, including—the ecological, interpersonal, extended, private, narrative, relational and conceptual selves—which may be disrupted by traumatic events which disorder one’s experience of time, defence, relationality, memory, resource and agency. In the absence of this understanding, the no-self doctrine might encourage a sort of bypass, in which traumatic facets of selfhood are overlooked in the quest for spiritual liberation. With a proper understanding of the function served by the Buddhist concepts of no-self and ‘person’, psychotherapeutic work may be situated as a necessary ‘preliminary practice’ for meditative exploration of deeper transpersonal domains and soteriological goals.

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