The Intoxicating Dance Between Nihilism And Eternalism - The Shankara Experience

The Intoxicating Dance Between Nihilism And Eternalism

The Intoxicating Dance Between Nihilism And Eternalism

In the expanse of human thought and philosophy, few contrasts stir the soul as profoundly as the dance between nihilism and eternalism. These philosophical perspectives, especially as explored by the Buddha and his contemporaries, offer us a mirror to gaze into the very essence of our being and the cosmos. But within this reflection lies not just the sobering contemplation of existence but also a pathway illuminated by wisdom, punctuated with moments of light-hearted realization that perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.

Nihilism, with its roots tangled in the notion that life lacks intrinsic meaning, purpose, or value, presents a chilling void. It whispers that since everything is transient, nothing truly matters. Yet, here lies the first twist of levity; if nothing matters, then why not fill our void with laughter, kindness, and the pursuit of joy? It’s a curious liberation—a release from the chains of existential dread into the embrace of freedom, albeit a freedom tinged with the absurd.

Eternalism, on the other hand, posits that there exists an unchanging essence, an eternal aspect of our selves or the universe that stands firm against the relentless march of time. It’s a comforting thought, suggesting a steady harbor amidst the storm of change. Yet, as the Buddha taught, clinging too tightly to this notion breeds its own form of suffering. For in the relentless flow of life, what is there that truly remains the same?

Buddha’s Middle Way

This brings us to the core of the Buddha’s teachings, nestled between these two extremes: the Middle Way. It’s an invitation to see beyond the illusions of permanence and the abyss of nihilism. Our senses, emotions, thoughts, and even our identities are in a constant state of flux. The ‘I’ that you consider yourself today is not the same ‘I’ that went to sleep last night. 

Everything you associate with your ‘self’—your thoughts, your feelings, your senses—is like a river, ever-changing. In recognizing this impermanence, we confront the root of suffering. For it is our attachment to the ephemeral, our desire for the impermanent to be permanent, that leads us into turmoil.

But here lies the heart of our light-hearted wisdom: if all is subject to change, then so too is our suffering. It’s not a permanent state, nor is it an unavoidable pitfall of existence. We have the power to observe, understand, and ultimately transcend this suffering through mindfulness and compassion. This isn’t a journey of denying the joys and sorrows of life but embracing them with a clear-eyed view that sees them as part of the beautiful, ever-changing tapestry of existence.

The challenge, then, is to live fully within each moment, to embrace change as the only constant, and to find peace in the knowledge that our ‘self’ is as boundless and dynamic as the universe itself. It’s a call to action not just to navigate the sea of change but to dance upon its waves with a heart full of joy and a mind at peace.

The Big Questions

If an aspect of our experience includes suffering, can we consider it as ourselves? Here’s a playful thought: Imagine if every time you burned your tongue on hot tea, your identity shifted to “The One Who Suffers from Hot Tea Burns.” It sounds absurd, doesn’t it? That’s because we instinctively understand that our experiences, including suffering, do not define the entirety of our being. They are but waves upon the vast ocean that is ‘you.’ 

To identify solely with our suffering is to mistake a single wave for the entire sea. Yet, the ocean wouldn’t be what it is without its waves. Similarly, our suffering, while not the totality of our identity, plays a role in the complex choreography of our existence. It shapes us, teaches us, and is part of our narrative—but it is not the sole essence of our being.

Now, to the existential quandary: Do we exist, or is it likely that we do not exist? This question invites us to a cosmic masquerade ball where existence and non-existence are both dancing and neither is willing to unmask fully. On one hand, the very asking of the question confirms a presence—a consciousness that wonders, doubts, and seeks. 

“I think, therefore I am,” as Descartes might whisper from across the ballroom. Yet, what is this ‘I’ that thinks, feels, and exists? If everything we consider as ‘I’—our thoughts, feelings, perceptions—is in constant flux, then can we say that a fixed ‘I’ exists? Or is ‘existence’ itself a dance of transient phenomena, a playful exchange of masks at the ball of consciousness?

Here’s a twist: perhaps the question is not whether we exist or do not exist, but rather how we navigate the dance between being and becoming, essence and experience. Like a tree that both is (in its tree-ness) and is becoming (through its growth and changes), we are participants in the vibrant, dynamic process of existence. We are both the dancers and the dance, continuously emerging from the interplay of myriad conditions.

In this dance, suffering and joy, existence and non-existence, are partners leading us through an ever-unfolding journey of discovery. To engage with this dance mindfully and with compassion is to awaken to the full spectrum of our experience, recognizing that in every moment of suffering or joy, in every query about our existence, there lies an invitation to deeper understanding and connection.

So, do we exist? Absolutely—in as much as ‘existence’ can be a playful, profound, and perpetually changing expression of the universe experiencing itself. And in this grand, cosmic dance, even our deepest questions become part of the music that moves us toward awakening.

The Ultimate Crescendo

When we explore the concept of no-self (Anatta in Pali, Anatman in Sanskrit) from an Advaita Vedanta perspective, we are venturing into a fascinating interplay between two profound spiritual traditions that, on the surface, appear to offer contrasting views on the self. However, delving deeper reveals a nuanced conversation that enriches our understanding of the essence of existence.

In Buddhism, particularly within the context of the Anatta doctrine, the emphasis is on the non-existence of an unchanging, permanent self. The Buddha taught that what we consider as ‘self’ is merely a collection of five aggregates (form, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness), none of which are permanent or can independently be identified as ‘self.’ This realization is key to understanding suffering and the path to enlightenment, emphasizing impermanence, suffering, and the non-self as essential insights for liberation.

Advaita Vedanta, a school of Hindu philosophy, introduces the concept of Atman and Brahman, where Atman refers to the inner self or soul, and Brahman is the ultimate, unchanging reality, often equated with the universe or God. Advaita posits that Atman and Brahman are not separate but essentially one; the realization of this oneness (non-duality) is the path to moksha (liberation). 

The seeming duality between individual self (jiva) and the universal self (Brahman) is due to ignorance (avidya), and enlightenment is the dissolving of this false distinction, revealing the singular reality of non-duality.

At first glance, Buddhism’s no-self and Advaita Vedanta’s non-duality might seem like stark opposites: one denies the eternal self, while the other asserts that the individual self and the universal self are ultimately one. However, when viewed through a lens that seeks harmony rather than conflict, these perspectives can be seen as different expressions of a truth that transcends the limitations of language and conceptual thought.

From an Advaita Vedanta perspective, addressing the Buddhist concept of no-self (Anatta) can be understood as addressing the misidentification with the aggregates as the self. It’s not that there is no self at all, but that what we usually consider the self (our thoughts, feelings, body, and perception) is not the true Self. The true Self (Atman) is beyond these transient phenomena, identical with Brahman, the ultimate reality that is unchanging, infinite, and eternal. 

The journey, then, is one of realizing that our true nature is not the ephemeral components of our experience but the unbounded, undivided reality of Brahman. In this light, Anatta and the Advaita perspective on Atman-Brahman can be seen as complementary rather than contradictory; both guide us away from false identifications to a realization of a deeper truth.

Thus, from an Advaita Vedanta viewpoint, the doctrine of no-self in Buddhism can be appreciated as a skillful means to free individuals from attachment to a false sense of self, leading them towards the ultimate realization of non-duality. It’s an invitation to look beyond the surface of apparent duality and impermanence, to recognize that at the heart of being lies a singular essence that is eternal and indivisible. This realization is not the negation of the self but the discovery of the Self in its most profound, universal form.

In essence, both Anatta and Advaita Vedanta urge us to transcend our limited understanding of existence, guiding us towards a liberation that reveals the interconnectedness and unity of all life. It’s a journey from the illusion of separation to the wisdom of oneness, a path illuminated by the profound teachings of both Buddhist and Hindu sages.

But Wait, The I, Me, Myself? Help Me Out Here!

In the quest to understand the “I,” the “me,” the “myself,” we embark on a journey through layers of consciousness, perception, and existential inquiry that have fascinated philosophers, mystics, and seekers across cultures and millennia. This exploration takes us to the heart of what it means to be conscious beings, navigating the intricate dance of existence.

From the perspectives we’ve discussed — the Buddhist notion of Anatta (no-self) and the Advaita Vedanta view of Atman-Brahman (inner self as one with the universal reality) — the “I” that most people identify with in everyday life is seen as a provisional, even illusory construct. This construct is formed through our physical experiences, thoughts, emotions, and the narratives we build around our place in the world. However, both traditions invite us to look beyond this conventional sense of self.

In Buddhism, the inquiry into the “I” leads to the realization that what we consider to be the self — our bodies, sensations, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness — are impermanent and constantly changing. They cannot be the true self because they are subject to suffering and transformation. The “I” is more like a process than an entity; it’s a flux of experiences without an inherent, unchanging essence. This understanding helps to loosen the grip of ego-attachment, leading to greater compassion, freedom from suffering, and ultimately, enlightenment.

In Advaita Vedanta, the question of “who am I?” directs the seeker inward to discover the Atman, the inner self that is not different from Brahman, the ultimate reality. Here, the “I” is not the individual ego or personality, but the pure consciousness that underlies and permeates everything. This realization of non-duality — that the individual soul and the universal spirit are one — dissolves the illusion of separation, bringing about liberation (moksha) and a profound sense of unity with all existence.

So, “who is the I?” In one light, it’s a construct, a play of the mind and senses, ever-changing and without permanent essence. In another light, it’s the eternal witness, the unchanging consciousness that experiences the dance of creation from a place of serene detachment and unity.

This quest for understanding the “I” is not merely an intellectual exercise; it’s a transformative journey that changes how we relate to ourselves, to others, and to the world. It invites a shift from identifying with the transient aspects of our existence to recognizing our connection with a deeper, more universal reality.

The “I,” then, can be seen as a bridge between the finite and the infinite, the personal and the universal, the temporal and the eternal. It is both the seeker and the sought, the question and the answer. In the paradox and mystery of existence, the “I” invites us to embrace the fullness of our being, to live with compassion, wisdom, and a sense of wonder at the profound interconnectedness of all life.


As we contemplate these profound ideas, let us also visualize a wide image that can help us feel centered within ourselves. Imagine standing at the edge of a serene lake at dawn, the sky painted with the soft hues of sunrise. The water reflects this majestic tapestry, reminding us of the stillness within, even as the world changes around us. This image, a symbol of harmony and balance, invites us to find our center, to anchor ourselves not in the fleeting, but in the calm awareness that underlies all things.

In this dance between nihilism and eternalism, we find not just the depths of philosophical inquiry but a vibrant celebration of life itself. It’s a journey that invites laughter in the face of the absurd, joy in the presence of change, and an unwavering compassion for all beings caught in the dance of existence. So, as we navigate this ever-changing world, let us do so with a light heart and a spirit buoyed by the wisdom of the Middle Way, finding in each moment a reason to smile, a cause for kindness, and an opportunity for enlightenment.

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Shri Krishna Kalesh
Author: Shri Krishna Kalesh

Shri Krishna Kalesh is a mystic who guides people as a Spiritual Guide, Intuitive Reader, Dharma Teacher, and Coach. He has served thousands of people toward their healing and expansion - through personal sessions, mystical readings, courses, and retreats. His mission is to help others source their own boundless creative genius and joy, embody virtue, find clarity, and master their lives. Shri Krishna Kalesh created The Shankara Oracle as a divine portal to The Unlimited, All-Knowing, All-Conscious Universe.

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