During my religious days I took solace in feeling that I had, or was, a soul that would survive my bodily death. Now, I'm more attached to truth than to fond beliefs, even when they feel good.
So I enjoy many Buddhist writings (just not the ones that talk about reincarnation and other supernatural stuff).
Back in 2012 I resonated with Owen Flanagan's naturalistic take on Buddhism, as I wrote about in "Buddhism says I'm a soulless Heraclitean river. Cool!"
So everything is changing. Including me, you, beliefs, brains, selves, Mt. Everest, ants, galaxies, subatomic particles, who is ahead in the latest presidential poll. Heraclitus sure seems to have gotten that right.
If we hope to base our happiness, our well-being, our satisfaction, on something immutable, unchanging, and eternal -- that hope is going to be still unfulfilled on our death bed. Better to accept that we're all Heraclitean rivers in a Heraclitean universe.
By contrast, I heartily disagreed with an attempt by an author to misleadingly cram the soul into Buddhist teachings. His book published by Radha Soami Satsang Beas deserved the title of my blog post: "RSSB 'Buddhism' book distorts Buddhist reality."
I'm fine with books which accurately describe a religion or philosophy, and then attempt to show how its tenets relate to some other belief system. But it deeply irks me when an author distorts a religion or philosophy in order to cram it into the confines of his/her favored world view, like RSSB's Sant Mat.
After reading only one chapter, I can tell that this is what K.N. Upadhyaya is up to with his "Buddhism" book. It was difficult for me to recognize the Buddhism that I've come to know (and sort of love) in his discussion of how Buddhists look upon soul and God.
Over and over, Upadhyaya cited the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, Hindu holy books, in his effort to show that the Buddha's teachings basically are the same as Hinduism's central tenets of atman (soul) and Brahman (God).
Well, if the Buddha was so up with Hinduism, why did he head off in a different spiritual direction? I'm no expert on Buddhist lore, but I've always thought that the Buddha was critical of Hindu dogmatism and urged his followers to leave all of that supernatural theorizing behind.
I thought right. More evidence of this is coming from Stephen Bachelor's new book, "After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age."
Bachelor says that he's trying to recover the Buddha's original teachings before they became hidden under layers of dogma and confusion. After all, the Buddha, like Jesus, never wrote anything. So what we have in the Buddhist canon are oral traditions that must imperfectly represent what the Buddha originally taught.
The earliest Buddhist writings, Pali, seemingly would come closest to those teachings. Further, Bachelor tries to separate out influences from Brahmanic/Hindu philosophy -- which do posit a soul (jiva) that can unite with God, or Brahman.
I'm about halfway through After Buddhism. Here's some quotations I've come across so far on the subject of whether the Buddha taught about soul.
A topic upon which Gotama refused to comment was whether body (sarira) and soul (jiva) are identical or different. Sarira refers to the inanimate matter of which the body is composed rather than the living and breathing body (kaya). The term later came to denote the bones and material relics of deceased monks and saints.
Jiva (a cognate of the English "quick") is, by contrast, the animating principle that "quickens" dumb matter. While this kind of dualism is in keeping with the Brahmanic view that soul is essentially other than the material world, neither term has a central role in Gotama's lexicon.
He refused to get drawn into speculation about the relation between body and soul, nor did he consider such a dualistic distinction a useful starting point for understanding human experience.
Gotama likewise considers consciousness to be inseparable from the rest of the physical, emotional, perceptual, and intentional bundles of which it is an integral part. He makes the point emphatically: "Though someone might say: 'Apart from form, apart from feeling, apart from perception, apart from inclinations, I will make known the coming and going of consciousness, its passing away and rebirth, its growth, increase and expansion' -- that is impossible."
In contrast to widespread Buddhist beliefs to the contrary, he refuses to grant consciousness any separate or privileged status within experience.
...By implication, for Gotama there can be no such thing as "pure" consciousness, an unconditioned or pristine "knowing" that exists independently of the phenomenal world of discrete physical things and mental processes.
...To consider awakening in terms of the workings of the five bundles marks a departure from Brahmanic orthodoxy, where the goal of the path is to achieve union with a transcendent and unknowable consciousness or God. If nothing else, Gotama's emphasis on the five bundles points to a practice that from the outset is engaged with the specificity and diversity of the world of human experience rather than seeking an ultimate truth that lies hidden from view.