Self beyond self

Buddha, resisting the demons of Mara, Description. Welcome Trust Creative Commons.
Buddha, resisting the demons of Mara, Welcome Trust Creative Commons.

In the image above we see Buddha resisting the demons of Mara. The demons are said to represent those forces which prevent him us attaining enlightenment. In the image the angels watch from above.

In the Samyutta Nikaya, there is a story of a Buddhist contemplative named Vajira who has an encounter with Mara. In the story Mara, Evil, is vanquished through Vajira’s insights into the nature of enlightenment. The story is as follows:

“Early in the morning, Vajira the nun put on her robes and, taking her bowl & outer robe, went into Savatthi for alms. When she had gone for alms in Savatthi and had returned from her alms round, after her meal she went to the Grove of the Blind to spend the day. Having gone deep into the Grove of the Blind, she sat down at the foot of a tree for the day’s abiding.

Then Mara the Evil One, wanting to arouse fear, horripilation, & terror in her, wanting to make her fall away from concentration, approached her & addressed her in verse: By whom was this living being created? Where is the living being’s maker? Where has the living being originated? Where does the living being cease?

Then the thought occurred to Vajira: “Now who has recited this verse — a human being or a non-human one?” Then it occurred to her: “This is Mara the Evil One, who has recited this verse wanting to arouse fear, horripilation, & terror in me, wanting to make me fall away from concentration.”

Then, having understood that “This is Mara the Evil One,” she replied to him in verses: What? Do you assume a ‘living being,’ Mara? Do you take a position? This is purely a pile of fabrications. Here no living being can be pinned down. Just as when, with an assemblage of parts, there’s the word, chariot, even so when aggregates are present, there’s the convention of living being. For only stress is what comes to be; stress, what remains & falls away. Nothing but stress comes to be. Nothing ceases but stress.

Then Mara the Evil One — sad & dejected at realizing, “Vajira the nun knows me” — vanished right there.” (Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, 2010)

Buddha taught that there is an assemblage of parts (skandhas) that constitute the human being, but that none of these parts make up the Self. In this story, Vajira says “Just as when, with an assemblage of parts, there’s the word, chariot, even so when aggregates are present, there’s the convention of living being.”

The chariot is constructed of an assemblage of parts (wheels, axles etc.), but none of these parts make up the chariot. In a similar way the assemblage of parts of self do not make up a substantial self. In Buddhist Phenomenology, Dan Lusthaus explains:

“Denying the existence of any permanent, invariant, unchanging, substantial self or I (anatman, P. anatta), Buddha analyzed what we perceive to be a self as a collection or concatenation of five aggregates (skandha; P. Khandha). When these five aggregate, there is a person; when they are disband, there is no longer a person.” p.46

According to Theravada Buddhism suffering arises when one identifies with or clings to the aggregates. Suffering is extinguished by relinquishing attachments to aggregates.

Carl Jung came to a similar, but slightly different realization. From a Jungian perspective we can see this assemblage of aggregates as representing the parts our Ego identity. Our Ego, like the chariot, is an assemblage of aggregates of self, but not the true ‘Self’.

Carl Jung said “the ego is the subject of all successful attempts at adaptation.” (CW 9ii, para 11) For Carl Jung, the Ego serves an adaptive function in service of the will. The will is like the charioteer who drives the chariot. When the will becomes a divine will, it aligns the Ego with the sacred task of discovering the nature of the Self.



1. “Vajira Sutta: Sister Vajira” (SN 5.10), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 16 June 2010, . Retrieved on 7 December 2012.

2. Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogācāra Buddhism …  By Dan Lusthaus



2 thoughts on “Self beyond self

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