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Neuroscience Learns What Buddhism Has Always Known: “The Self” Isn’t Constant, But Always Changing

Have you ever felt that mysticism and esoteric thought often contain universal truths that science catches up with centuries later?

One idea that has recently been proven by neuroscience is the following:

Change is the only constant in the universe, which means there is no such thing as a stable self.

Mind bending stuff! There’s more:

Neuroscience also says that the brain and body is said to be constantly in action or progressively flowing, which proves that there isn’t any stable self.

Our brain is malleable and able to change

Neuroplasticity, a concept coined by neuroscientists, states that our brain is malleable and able to change. This means you can change your brain in many aspects, opening up your possibilities for growth.


This concept can be incredibly liberating. Why? Because you’re not defined by your thoughts or your idea of who you are. The possibilities to change yourself are endless.

Buddhist Monks have long said that the universe and our selves are constantly changing. By training our mind, they say we can elevate our awareness and control.

This is also why they talk about the practice of non-attachment. If we attach ourselves to something, we are desiring for it to be stable, which directly goes against the forces of the universe.

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What does the research say?

One neuroscience paper, published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, links the Buddhist belief that our self is ever-changing to physical parts of the brain.

The authors suggest there is scientific evidence that “self-processing in the brain is not instantiated in a particular region or network, but rather extends to a broad range of fluctuating neural processes that do not appear to be self specific,” write the authors.

Evan Thomson, a researcher from the University of British Colombia, has also confirmed that the Buddhist teaching of a constantly changing self is accurate.

Thompson, whose work includes studies of cognitive science, phenomenology and Buddhist philosophy, says this is not the only area where neuroscience and Buddhism converge.

For example, some neuroscientists now believe that cognitive faculties are not fixed but can be trained through meditation. And there may be scientific backing to the Buddhist belief that consciousness extends into deep sleep.

What about consciousness?

Neuroscience has long been baffled by consciousness. They can’t explain why it exists or how it exists.

Buddhists however define consciousness into three different areas:

  • consciousness is conditioned by mental fabrications (saṅkhāra);
  • consciousness and the mind-body (nāmarūpa) are interdependent; and,
  • consciousness acts as a “life force” by which there is a continuity across rebirths

As neuroscience advances, perhaps Buddhism will be proven right in regards to consciousnesses.


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