There is a common misconception that Buddhism denies the existence of a self.
The key to this conundrum is to understand that there is a difference between Buddha and Buddhism, and a difference between the true ontological state of an individual and that individual’s mental state. There are many theories and systems for coming to terms with who we truly are and almost all of these culminate with a state called knowledge – knowledge of God, knowledge of self, knowledge of no-self, knowledge of essence, etc. In the Dzogchen practice of contemplation, there is a direct and instant presence of Being that not only can be known (in one’s mind), but that also intrinsically knows itself. This is like a mirror whose intrinsic quality of reflectivity can be correctly understood when the reflections themselves are understood to be reflections, and not taken to be something real. According to Dzogchen teachings we can be in a state of real knowledge because our real nature is self-knowing. The word, we, in the previous sentence refers to the holistic gestalt of manifestation that metaphorically constitutes that which is reflected in the mirror-like nature of our Being(ness).
Not at all as a game or diversionary brain-twister, but rather as a device for recognizing the precision that is necessary for the process of self-realization, consider the following situation.
Lilija lives in Dushanbe but is an expert on classic American cars because her dad collected them. One day, her friend Aarn contacted her and asked if she would meet him in Prague to evaluate a 1966 Chevelle that was being offered by a dealer there. She enthusiastically agreed and, after arriving there, helped Aarn negotiate a great deal on the car. Lilija remained in Prague for the next two days, socializing with Aarn and his friends and, of course, having a great time cruising around town in Aarn’s new Chevelle. After she returned home, Lilija didn’t have the opportunity to communicate with Aarn because of her work schedule. In that interim, however, Aarn (who tended to be somewhat impulsive) had traded-in the Chevelle for a 1964 Pontiac GTO that the same dealer had acquired after Lilija’s departure. Some weeks later a mutual friend asked Lilija about Aarn. Before relating the details about their great time together in Prague, Lilija informed the friend that Aarn was now the proud owner of a great American car. The mutual friend was very surprised and said, “Are you sure, Lilija? Aarn always preferred Italian cars.” With understandable certainty, Lilija then said, “Oh yes, I know for sure that he has an American car.”
So, the questions are: Although Aarn does indeed have an American car, does Lilija really know that? Furthermore, did Lilija ever have such knowledge? If she did have that knowledge at one time, did that knowledge simply vanish? If it vanished, when did it vanish — the moment she left Prague or the moment Aarn traded-in the Chevelle? There are more possible questions about Lilija’s knowledge of this situation but these would be a good start. Naturally, the point of all this is to stimulate interest to inquire into the details of one’s own knowledge or lack of knowledge.
Your comments about Lilija’s knowledge will be appreciated. Your comments about classic cars are also welcome but may not make print.