Who exactly are "they"? #

Alexandra David-Néel in The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects:

In reality, although the well-read among them deny it, some of those who call themselves Buddhists—Mahayanists of the Northern countries as well as Theravadins of the South—have practically remained attached to the belief in a jiva,4 that is to say in an ego, an entity which transmigrates from life to life, forsaking its material body at the moment of death "as one throws away wornout clothing to put on new clothes".5

4 The equivalent of that which Westerners call the soul. Jīvātman is the principle which gives life to the body, and that which, according to the Hindus, is reincarnated. The Jīvātman is, according to the Vedanta, the Paramātman in its individualised form.
5 Bhagavad Gîta II, 22.

This belief is, however, formally and continually denied by the Doctrine of the Buddha, of which Doctrine the negation of the ego is the fundamental article and marks it off from the orthodox Hindu doctrines.

The Buddhist creed, as a matter of fact, consists of two short, incisive statements:

"All aggregates are impermanent"
"All things are devoid of self (atman: "ego" or "soul")".

This means that if we discard the component elements which form that which we call a man, a horse, a tree, a mountain, a star, or no matter what, if we abstract the qualities which make them perceptible to us, we discover nothing which is distinct from these constituent elements, from these qualities, we do not, in any way, find the man, the horse, the mountain in itself. These names apply only to a collection of elements.


[I]f from a man you take away the physical form, sensation, perception, mental activity and consciousness, what remains? Where will you find the man existing in himself outside the corporality and mentality?

In the Secret Teachings great importance is attached to propounding this negation of the ego as a fundamental doctrine. Those who lag behind in the belief in an ego, it is said, do not understand the meaning of the Teaching, they are in no way Buddhists, they cannot attain to liberation, to salvation, for without understanding (of a transcendent insight) of this absence of any ego, they will not perceive the means by which to go beyond being and non-being. [emphasis added]

Since, according to the author, there is no in-dwelling self/atman/ego/soul, who exactly are "those who lag behind", who "cannot attain to liberation, to salvation", who "will not perceive the means by which to go beyond being and non-being"?* Why, according to her, there are no such beings!—simply impermanent, arbitrary aggregates.

Note too the confusion and conflation of "soul" and "ego" for "atman", which is more accurately described as:

Ātman, sometimes spelled without a diacritic as atman in scholarly literature, means "real self" of the individual, "innermost essence", and soul. Atman, in Hinduism, is considered as eternal, imperishable, beyond time, "not the same as body or mind or consciousness, but... something beyond which permeates all these". In Advaita vedanta, it is "pure, undifferentiated, self-shining consciousness," the witness-consciousness which observes all phenomena yet is not touched by it.

The foregoing conflict results in such mental gymnastics as:

The tulku, on the contrary, is the incarnation of a lasting energy directed by an individual with the object of continuing a given kind of activity after his death. The tulku does not coexist with his ancestor.

and casual attempts to dismiss reincarnation out of hand:

An amusing point to note on this subject is that the person "reincarnated" generally boasts of having been, in his preceding lives, an important personality, or even several such in succession. No one seems to remember having been an obscure cobbler or a humble farm labourer. At least one does not hear of such.

In fact, such ordinary existences are just about all one does hear of in the research:

* Cf. this dialogue on HN.

/misc | Jun 05, 2021

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