Science and Buddhism Agree: There Is No “You” There

Neuroscience has long been interested in Buddhism since the late 1980s, when the Mind and Life Institute was created by HH Dalai Lama and a team of scientists.

Those studies showed what monks have known for thousands of years – if you train the mind, you can change the brain.

Now in a new research study, Evan Thompson of the University of British Columbia has verified the Buddhist belief of anatta, or not-self.

What does anatta mean?

Anatta is the teaching that there is no consistent self. It is a delusion to believe that we are the same moment to moment. According to Buddhist scripture, “there is in humans no permanent, underlying substance that can be called the soul.” This is one of the three characteristics of all existence, together with dukkha (suffering, unsatisfactoriness) and anicca (impermanence).

In a recent study, Thompson also found that the “the brain and body is constantly in flux. There is nothing that corresponds to the sense that there’s an unchanging self.”

What does this mean practically for us?

This is an incredibly liberating concept to embrace. If we are constantly changing, constantly evolving, then you don’ have to take everything so personally. Your thoughts don’t define you. You don’t have to have a set idea of who you are.

Through this concept, we can grow and change with the help of neuroplasticity. If you have bad habits, or something about your “self” you don’t like, you’re not stuck with them. Self-limiting beliefs aren’t real and can change.

Neuroscience and Buddhism: A match made in heaven?

Perhaps there will more eastern thoughts that are backed up by science in the future. But as the Dalai Lama says “Suppose that something is definitely proven through scientific investigation. … Suppose that that fact is incompatible with Buddhist theory. There is no doubt that we must accept the result of the scientific research.”

Hearing a pro-science stance from a religious leader is a relief to many. It seems Buddhism and neuroscience may have similar goals: To understand the mind better so that we can be less miserable and more happy. Now that’s a goal I think we can all get behind!


Since you're here...

... we have a small favor to ask. More people are reading Ideapod than ever before, but advertising revenues across the media landscape are falling fast. You see, it takes literally hundreds of hours (and thousands of dollars) per month to create our articles and maintain the spaces online where the community comes together to find inspiration.

If you find any value and inspiration in what we do, we would be so appreciative if you became a contributing member of Ideapod. It's $4 per month, with a free 30 day trial. Here's what you get for joining:

  • Access to our archive of webinars (e.g. the webinar on 3 powerful hacks to stop overthinking, and many more)
  • Experience Ideapod without advertisements
  • Join our private members-only Facebook group where you get direct access to the Ideapod team

For a limited time, if you sign up for the free 30 day trial you'll get immediate access to our brand new eBook The 7 Most Powerful Articles Published by Ideapod, with an Introduction by Justin Brown, Ideapod Co-Founder.

It takes only 1 minute to join, and you can cancel anytime. You'll be making a huge difference. Thank you.