I am often asked about the intent and meaning of the teaching of anatman (i.e. that there is no enduring ‘self’ or ‘Soul’).
While it is often said that the Dharma teaches that there is no enduring self or ‘Soul’, if we actually examine the issue, we will learn that this is a partial truth.
The Dharma was not designed to set up doctrinal principles, but rather to encourage direct experience of reality. In the Diamond Sutra (Prajnaparamita Vajracchedika Sutra) it is written:
… do not say that The Realized One entertains this thought: ‘I should preach some doctrine.’ Do not entertain this thought. Why? If any say that The Realized One preaches any doctrine, they are slandering the Buddha, because they cannot understand what I say … the explanation of the teaching is that there is no doctrine to preach—that is called teaching.
Therefore, all theoretical formulations of the Dharma must be looked upon as examples of the skillful use of expedient means intended to facilitate direct realization such that one moves from representation and conceptualization to presentation and experience.
So, with regard to the conception of a discrete and enduring self, it is best to adopt an attitude whereby we contemplate this self as simultaneously empty of substantial, discrete and independent existence and yet having conventional existence; in doing so we avoid the extreme of reifying either ‘form’ or ’emptiness’.