So why do I enjoy pondering the notion that we not only aren't an enduring separate Self (a central tenet of Buddhism), we also don't possess free will (a central tenet of neuroscience)?
Though I haven't heard anyone asking me this question, I heard the voice that speaks inside my head asking it, so I'm pleased to answer myself.
Note that the "self" in that second sentence isn't capitalized as the "Self" in the first sentence was. That's to distinguish between the metaphysical idea of Self -- often expressed as soul -- that somehow exists separate from the physical body/mind, and the common sense idea of self as being that physical body/mind.
In other words, there's no doubt that each of us is a distinct self. But there's a lot of doubt that residing within that self is a separate and distinct Self that enters the bodily self at birth, leaves it at death, and isn't affected by anything, being eternal.
I used to believe in such a Self during the 35 years I was an active member of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), a dualistic religion based in India and led by a guru who taught that our true nature is Soul, not body, and that the purpose of life is for the Soul to journey through higher regions of reality back to God.
This grandiose task involved many complications, because extricating the Soul from the grip of mind and matter supposedly wasn't easy, requiring arduous spiritual practice that included 2 1/2 hours of daily meditation that might extend over four lifetimes. (RSSB believed in reincarnation.)
RSSB initiates also vowed to be strict vegetarians, not drink alcohol or ingest recreational drugs, abstain from sex outside of marriage, and lead a "clean and moral" life -- whatever that means.
Thus there were many things you had to do to save your Soul. These were different things, in large part, than believers in Christianity, Judaism, or Islam are expected to do.
But the common denominator between all dualistic religions that I'm familiar with is how difficult and complex it is to please God by doing what supposedly is required to break the bonds of this earthly life and return to "heaven," which goes by a variety of names but is considered to be much different from this world.
What a relief its been to leave all that supernatural superstition behind. I'm not saying that I'm completely cleansed of the religious beliefs that I used to embrace, but since 2005 I've become steadily more spiritually independent.
That has led me to an increasingly simple world view. Well, more than a world view, for I actually experience things differently now. For quite a few years I've read, and thought, and felt, and meditated in accord with the assumption that I am not a Self, nor do I possess free will.
Those two assumptions are closely related, because the only way to possess a will that is free of the deterministic causes and effects that control everything other than, perhaps, the quantum realm where randomness appears prevalent, is to believe that an immaterial Self or Soul resides within us, or as us, that can act without being affected by those causes and effects.
Life is so much simpler and more satisfying without a Self or free will. Sure, problems still have to be dealt with. That comes with life. However, I feel like a large metaphysical load has been lifted from me now that I no longer believe that I have to make of life something larger than it naturally is.
Enlightenment. Satori. God-realization. Whatever we want to call it, that thing used to gnaw on me like an itch that wouldn't go away no matter how much I scratched it. In fact, the scratching, the quest for a supernatural transformation that would make me more than human, was producing the itch.
Now, lacking a Self, there's no Self to be saved, no Self needing God's or Guru's grace, no Self requiring assistance in being freed from the karmic wheel of reincarnation, no Self standing apart from the natural world.
I still meditate. I still enjoy exploring ways to be happier, calmer, more energetic, loving, calm, and at peace with myself and other people. I was a vegetarian before I joined RSSB and I've continued to be a vegetarian after I left RSSB.
So I still consider myself a spiritual seeker. I'm just seeking what is attainable and real, rather what is fantasy and illusion. And that feels oh-so-good.