From Nagarjuna's Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom
Question: If the person who gives cannot be gotten at, how can there exist a bodhisattva who practices dana paramita?
Response: It is on account of the coming together of causes and conditions that a name exists. It is just as with a building or a cart wherein actual dharmas cannot be found.
Question: How is it that the self cannot be found?
Response: This is as discussed above in the explanation of " Thus I have heard at one time...". Now we shall discuss it further. In the Buddha's discussion of the six consciousnesses, he indicated that the eye consciousness as well as dharmas belonging to eye consciousness together condition form. They do not condition all sorts of names such as "building," "house," "city," and "outlying neighborhood." The consciousnesses of ear, nose tongue and body are the same in this respect. The mind consciousness and the dharmas associated with the mind consciousness are aware of the eye, aware of form, aware of eye consciousness, and so forth until we come to are aware of the mind, are aware of dharmas and are aware of the mind consciousness. Those dharmas which are conditioned by this consciousness are all empty on account of their being devoid of a self, on account of their being produced and destroyed, and on account of their not being inherently existent. Nor does one reckon the existence of a self among the unconditioned dharmas. This is because there is no experiencing therein of either suffering or bliss. If one insists on the existence of a self herein, it ought to be the case then that there is a seventh consciousness which is conscious of a self. But that is not now the case. For this reason we know that there is no self.
Question: How can one know that there is no self? Everyone gives rise to the idea of a self with respect to their own bodies. They do not give rise to such an idea with respect to the bodies of others. If there is no self associated with one's own body and yet one erroneously perceives that it constitutes a self, one ought to also erroneously perceive the existence of the self in other people's bodies where there is no self either.
Furthermore, if it is the case that subjectively there is no self, given that consciousness of forms is newly produced and destroyed in every thought-moment, how could one distinguish and know that these colors are blue, yellow, red or white?
Moreover, if it were the case that there were no self, since the human consciousnesses are now [constantly] being newly produced and destroyed, when the physical lifespan is cut off that would also put an end to the offenses and merits associated with one's actions. Who then would there be to follow along with and undergo [retribution for karmic deeds]? Who then would experience [subsequent] suffering or bliss? Who would obtain liberation? On account of all of these subject-related conditions, one knows that a self does exist.
Response: These ideas all have problems. If it were the case that one reckoned the existence of a self in the body of someone else, then we ought to next ask, "Why is it that one does not then reckon the existence of a self in one's own body?"
Moreover, because the five aggregates are produced from causes and conditions, they are empty and devoid of a self. The twenty views associated with the body are produce from the causes and conditions of ignorance. This view which perceives a self therein naturally arises through the continuity of the five aggregates. Because it is produced from the conditions associated with these very five aggregates, one straightaway reckons that these five aggregates are what constitute the self. This does not occur with respect to another person's body on account of the specificity of individual habituation.
Furthermore, if there did exist a spiritual soul (lit. "spirit" = aatman), it could be that one reckoned the existence of one's self in the body of another. You have not yet understood about the existence or nonexistence of your own spiritual soul and yet you inquire about reckoning the existence of one's self in the body of another person. This is like being asked by someone about the horns of a hare and then replying to him that they are like the horns of a horse based on the assumption that if the horns of a horse actually do exist, then they may be used as a basis for proving the existence of the horns of a hare. And so one proceeds in this manner, not yet having understood about the existence of the horns of a horse, yet still desiring to take them as proof for the existence of the horns of a hare.
Moreover, as for your idea that it is because one naturally generates the idea of a self with respect to one's own body that one then holds the opinion that a spiritual soul exists, since you claim that the spiritual soul is all-pervading, one ought indeed to reckon the existence of a self in another person's body. For this reason one should not say that one gives rise to the idea of a self with respect to one's own body but does not give rise to it in relation to another person's body and that therefore one knows that a spiritual soul exists.
Then again, there are people who do have the idea of a self arise in relation to other phenomena. For instance, certain non-buddhists who sit in dhyana absorption and who, when they employ the universal pervasion of the earth element to enter a contemplative state, develop the view that, "The earth is me and I am the earth." There are similar cases in relation to water, fire, wind and space. It may also be the case that, on account of inverted views, one reckons that one's self also inhabits another person's body.
Additionally, there are times where someone generates the idea of one's self inhabiting another person's body. Take for example the case of a man who had been given a mission whereby he was compelled to travel a great distance. He spent the night alone in a vacant dwelling. In the middle of the night a ghost carried in a man's corpse and laid it down in front of him. Then there was another ghost who chased along behind and angrily castigated the first ghost, yelling, "This corpse is mine! Why did you carry it in here?"
The first ghost said, "It belongs to me! I carried it in here myself!"
The second ghost retorted, "The fact of the matter is, I am the one who carried this corpse in here!" Then each of the ghosts grabbed one of the hands of the corpse and tried to pull it away from the other. Thereupon the first ghost said, "There's a man here. We can ask him to settle this."
The ghost who had come in later then asked the traveler, "Well, who was it that carried this corpse in here?"
The traveler thought to himself, "Both of these ghosts are very strong. If I report the facts, I'm bound to die. If I lie, I'm also bound to die. So, since I can't avoid being killed in either case, what's the point in lying about it?" And so he replied, "It was the first ghost who carried in the corpse."
The second ghost flew into a rage, tore off one of the traveler's hands and then threw it down on the ground. At this, the first ghost pulled off one of the arms from the corpse and attached it as a replacement. They then proceeded in this fashion with both arms, both feet, the head, the two sides, and so forth until the traveler's entire body had been switched. The two ghosts then proceeded to devour the body which they had gotten from the exchange. When they had finished, they wiped off their mouths and departed.
At that point the traveler thought to himself, "With my very own eyes I saw those two ghosts entirely devour the body born of my mother! This body which I now have here is composed entirely of someone else's flesh! Do I really still have a body now? Or is it the case that I have no body at all? If I hold the view that I do indeed have a body,--that body is actually somebody else's entirely. If I hold that I don't have one,--still, there is a body here right now! He continued to ponder like this until his mind became so confused and distressed that he became like a man gone mad.
The next morning, he went off down the road. When he reached the neighboring country he saw that there was a Buddha stupa and a group of monks. He couldn't talk about anything else. He could only keep asking whether his body was existent or nonexistent. The bhikshus asked him, "Just who are you, anyway?"
The traveler replied, "Well, as for me, I don't know myself whether I'm a person or a non-person." He then described in detail the events which had transpired.
The bhikshus remarked, "This man has a natural understanding of the nonexistence of a self. He could easily gain deliverance." And so they offered an explanation, saying, "From its origin on up until the present, your body has always naturally been devoid of a self. It's not something that just happened now. It is merely on account of an aggregation of the four great elements that one conceives of it as 'my' body. In this respect, your original body and this one you now have are no different." Thus the bhikshus succeeded in bring about the traveler's deliverance to the Way, whereupon he cut off all afflictions and immediately realized arhatship. This is a case of there being times when one reckons the existence of oneself in the body of another person.
One cannot hold the view that a self exists based on its being there or here. Moreover, the actual nature of the "self" most definitely cannot be gotten at. And whether it be the characteristic of permanency, the characteristic of being impermanent, the characteristic of being inherently existent, the characteristic of not being inherently existent, the characteristic of being compounded, the characteristic of not being compounded, the characteristic of being form or the characteristic of being formless, all such characteristics as these cannot be gotten at.
If a characteristic exists then a dharma exists. If there is no characteristic then there is no dharma. Because it is now the case that this "self" is devoid of any characteristics, one knows consequently that there is no self. If the self were permanent, then there should be no such thing as the offense of killing. Why is this so? The body can be killed because it is impermanent. The self could not be killed on account of its being permanent.
Question: Although one could not kill the self on account of its being permanent, even if one only killed the body one would thereby incur the offense of killing.
Response: As for incurring the offense of killing from the killing of the body, it says in the vinaya that if one commits suicide there is no killing offense per se. Offense on the one hand or merit on the other derives from either afflicting someone else or alternately, from extending someone else's life. It is not the case that if one makes offerings to one's own body or kills one's own body one will have either offense or merit.. It is for this reason that it says in the Vinaya that in the event that one kills one's own body there is no offense of killing per se. However, the faults of stupidity, greed and hatred are present in such a case.
If the spiritual soul were eternal, then one should not be born and should not die. Why is this the case? According to the dharma of those such as yourself, the spiritual soul is eternal. It pervades everywhere filling up the five paths of rebirth. How could there be death or birth? Death is defined by disappearing from this place. Birth is defined by coming forth in another place. For this reason one cannot say that the spiritual soul is eternal.
If it were the case that the spiritual soul were eternal, it should also be the case that one does not experience either suffering or bliss. How is this the case? If suffering comes, then one is distressed. If bliss comes, then one is delighted. If it is the case that it is changed by distress or delight then it is impermanent. If it were permanent then it should be like empty space which cannot be moistened by rain nor dried by heat.
Nor would there be either present or future lifetimes. If it were the case that the spiritual soul were eternal, then it is manifestly the case that one should not have either birth into a later existence or a dying in the present existence.
If it were the case that the spiritual soul were eternal then one would constantly have a view of a self and one should not then be able to realize nirvana. If the spiritual soul were eternal then there would be no arisal and no destruction. There should then be no forgetting and no errors. On account of there being no consciousness on the part of this spiritual soul and on account of its being impermanent, there is forgetting and there is also error. Therefore it is not the case that the spiritual soul is eternal. On account of all sorts of reasons such as these one can know that the spiritual soul is not characterized by permanence.
If on the other hand the spiritual soul were characterized by impermanence there would be neither offenses nor merits. If the body were impermanent then the spiritual soul too would be impermanent. If the two phenomena were both destroyed then one would fall into the extreme view known as annihilationism. If one falls into this annihilationism, then that carries as a consequence that there would be no arriving at a later lifetime wherein one would undergo retribution for offenses or merits. If annihilation were the case then in gaining nirvana it would not be necessary to cut off the fetters nor would there be any function in later lives for the causes and conditions of offense and merit. On account of all sorts of reasons such as these one can know that it is not the case that the spiritual soul is impermanent either.
If it were the case that the spiritual soul were characterized by being sovereignly independent or characterized by having that which it does, then it ought to be the case that no matter what it desired it would gain it in every case. Now however, there are cases where one desires something but, on the contrary, one does not gain it while in other cases where there is something which one does not desire but, contrary to one's wishes, one gains precisely that. If the spiritual soul were sovereignly independent then it should not be the case either that one has the creation of evil conduct and the falling into the wretched destiny of birth among the animals. Moreover, it is the case that all beings are displeased by suffering. Who then would take pleasure in bliss and yet, contrary to those inclinations, deliberately procure suffering? On account of these factors one knows that the spiritual soul is not sovereignly independent. Nor does it involve itself in actions.
Again, take for instance when people force themselves to practice goodness out of fear of punishments. If it were the case that [the spiritual soul] is sovereignly independent, why would they force themselves to cultivate merit out of fear of punishments?
Furthermore, beings do not succeed in having things happen in accordance with their intentions. They are constantly dragged about by the bonds of afflictions and affection. For all sorts of reasons such as these one should know that the spiritual soul is not sovereignly independent nor does it involve itself in actions. If it is the case that the spiritual soul is not sovereignly independent and does not involve itself in actions, this constitutes the mark of there being no spiritual soul. When one speaks of a self, this is just the six consciousness. Beyond that there are no additional factors.
Then again, if [the spiritual soul] does not involve itself in actions, why is it that when King Yama asks the person with [karmic] offenses, "Who ordered you to commit these offenses?" that the person with the offenses replies by saying, "They were done by me myself."? On account of this one knows that it is not the case [either] that it does not involve itself in actions.
As for the spiritual soul being characterized by form, this case is not so either. Why? Because all forms are impermanent.
Question: Why do people say that the self is characterized by a form?
Response: There are those who say that the spiritual soul resides in the heart, is as tiny as a mustard seed, is pure and is referred to as the pure form body. There are other people who say that it is the size of a grain of wheat. There are those who say it is in size like a bean. There are those who say that it is a half inch in size. There are those who say it is an inch in size and that in the beginning, when one takes on a body, it is taken on as the very first thing. It is supposed to be [in shape] like the skeleton of an elephant and when one's body matures it becomes like an elephant which has already grown. There are those who say its size corresponds to that of the given person's body and that when one undergoes destruction at death it is the first to go then as well. All cases such as these do not correspond to the truth. Why? All forms are created from the four great elements. On account of their being produced from causes and conditions, they are impermanent. If it were the case that the spiritual soul were form, because form is impermanent, the spiritual soul too would be impermanent. If it is the case that it is impermanent, then [the inherent fallacies] are such as have already been discussed previously.
Question: There are two kinds of bodies, the gross body and the minute body. The gross body is impermanent. The minute body is the spiritual soul. In life after life it constantly goes along entering into the five paths of rebirth.
Response: This minute body cannot be found. If a minute body does exist then there ought to be a location in which it can be found such as in the five organs or the four limbs. However, one can look for it in every single place but it still cannot be found.
Question: This minute body is extremely minute. When one first dies, it has already gone. When one is alive, one cannot search for and find it. How could you be able to view it? Additionally, this minute body is not such as the five sense faculties would be able to perceive or would be able to be aware of. Only if one were a sage possessed of the superknowledges would one then be able to succeed in seeing it.
Response: If that were the case then it would be no different from being nonexistent. And as for when a person dies, relinquishing the aggregates of this life and entering the intermediary aggregates, at this time, when the body of the present life dies and one receives the body of the intermediary aggregates, this has no earlier and later. When one dies one is immediately born. This is analogous to using a seal made of wax to stamp an impression in the mud. When the impression is received in the mud the seal is immediately ruined. The creation and destruction occur at a single moment in which there is no prior and later. At this time one takes on the intermediary existence in the intermediary aggregates. When one relinquishes these intermediary aggregates one takes on existence in the aggregates of the next life.