T 1670B Nāgasena Bhikṣu Sūtra

Part 2: Dialogues

2.28. Is there a Soul?

The king further asked Nāgasena saying, “Is there a soul in an ordinary person?” Nāgasena replied, “By analysis and examination, there is no soul in an ordinary person. What can we call a soul?”

“Is the life or living principle in the body of a person called a soul?” asked the king. Then Nāgasena asked the king, “Can the living principle in a person see the material forms through eyes, hear sounds through the ears, smell odors through nose, taste flavors through tongue, feel smoothness and softness through body, and think over some objects with mind?”

“Yes it could.”

Then Nāgasena said, “Now you and I are sitting in this palace with windows open to the four directions. Is it possible for us to see what we want to see through any window we like?”

“Yes, we can.”

Nāgasena said, (a) “Suppose, the living principle in the body of a person can see through any orifice of the body freely, can it see the material forms through the eyes? Can it see the material forms through the ears? Can it see the material forms through the nose? Can it see the material forms through the mouth? Can it see the material forms through the body? Can it see the material forms through the mind?”

“No, it cannot.”

(b) “Suppose, the living principle is in the ear, then can it hear sounds through the ears? Can it see material forms through the ears? Can it smell odors both good and bad through the ears? Can it taste flavors with the ears? Can it feel softness and smoothness with the ears? Can it think over something using the ears?”

(c) “Suppose, the living principle is in the nose, then can it smell both good and bad odors through the nose? Can it see material forms through the nose? Can it hear sounds through the nose? Can it taste flavors with the nose? Can it feel smoothness and softness with the nose? Can it think over something with the nose?”

(d) “Suppose, the living principle is in the mouth, then can it taste flavors through the mouth? Can it see the material forms through the mouth? Can it hear sounds with the mouth? Can it smell good and bad odors with the mouth? Can it feel smoothness and softness through the mouth? Can it think over something with the mouth?”

(e) “Suppose, the living principle is in the body, then can it feel smoothness and softness through the body? Can it see the material forms through the body? Can it hear sounds through the body? Can it smell both good and bad odors through the body? Can it taste flavors through the body? Can it think over something with the body?”

(f) “Suppose the living principle is in the mind, then can it think over something with the mind? Can it see material forms through the mind? Can it hear sounds with the mind? Can it smell good and bad odors with the mind? Can it taste flavors with the mind? Can it feel smoothness and softness with the mind?”

“No, it cannot,” replied the king.

Then Nāgasena said, “What you, great king, have said now and previous do not agree. Now, great king, you and I are sitting here in the palace. If the windows of the four directions are to be removed, then can our eyesight reach far and wide?”

“Yes, it can reach far and wide.”

“Suppose, the living principle is in the body, can it see far and wide when the doors (dvara) of eye are removed? Can it hear distant sounds when the doors of ear are cut off and enlarged?

Can it smell distant odors when the nose is cut off and enlarged? Can it taste more flavors when the mouth is removed and enlarged? Can it feel softness and smoothness when the skin of the body is cut off? Is it able to (know the Dharma) more extensively when the mind is removed?”

“No, it cannot.” replied the king.

“What you, great king, have said now and previous do not agree.”

Then Nāgasena asked the king, “If your treasurer or storekeeper comes and stands in front of you, can you know that he stands in front of you?”

“Yes, I know.”

“If the treasurer comes into the king’s palace, does he know that he has entered the king’s palace?”

“Yes, of course, he knows.”

“Then, suppose, the living principle is in the body of a person, can it know sweetness, or sourness, or acidity, or saltiness, or pungency, or astringency when anything possessing flavor is laid upon the tongue?”

“Yes, it would know it.”

“What you, great king, have said now and previous do not agree.”

Then Nāgasena gave a simile, “It is like a man drinking wine, if the man were to be put upside down into a big jar full of wine to taste the flavor of the wine, could the man know the flavor of the wine?”

“No, he could not.”

“But why does he not know the flavor?”

“Because the wine could not get into his mouth, to the tongue, so he could not know the flavor of the wine.”

“What you, great king, have said now and previous do not agree.”

Then the king said, “I am not capable of discussing such reasoning. Please, explain to me how the matter stands.”

Nāgasena said, “When a person sees the material forms with his own eyes, then the eye-consciousness arises. Due to the arising of eye-consciousness, there arise painful or pleasant feelings. Then the mind and thoughts come into contact. It is the same with regard to ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. When the mind comes in contact with mind-objects, then mind-consciousness arises; then due to the arising of mind-consciousness, there arise painful and pleasant feelings. From painful and pleasant feelings, there arise thoughts; from thoughts, there arises mindfulness. Thus it continues without a soul.”

“Excellent, Nāgasena.”