Buddhist Studies Review, Vol 30, No 1 (2013)

Consciousness as Presence: An Exploration of the Illusion of Self

Charles Kedric Fink
Issued Date: 7 Oct 2013


Buddhism teaches that ‘self’ as a substantial, enduring entity is an illusion. But for self to be an illusion there must be something in our experience that is misinterpreted as self. What is this? The notion of an experiential self plays an important role in phenomenological investigations of conscious experience. Does the illusion of self consist in mistaking a purely experiential self for a substantial self? I argue against this and locate the source of the illusion in time-consciousness. It is the essence of consciousness to flow, but the flow of consciousness presupposes an experiential present. The experiential present — an abiding sense of ‘now’ — is the dimension through which experiences are experienced as streaming. It is this, I argue, that is misinterpreted as an enduring self. I support my account by arguing that the synchronic and diachronic unity of consciousness can be accounted for in terms of impersonal, temporal experience, and that conceiving of consciousness as the presence-dimension rather than as the I-dimension affords a solution to the brain-bisection puzzle.

Download Media


DOI: 10.1558/bsrv.v30i1.113


Bayne, Tim. 2008. ‘The Unity of Consciousness and the Split-Brain Syndrome’. The Journal of Philosophy 105(6): 277–300.
Bayne, Tim. and David Chalmers. 2003. ‘What is the Unity of Consciousness?’ In The Unity of Consciousness: Binding, Integration and Dissociation, edited by Axel Cleeremans, 23–58.Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198508571.003.0002
Bodhi, Bhikkhu, trans. 2000. The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Saṃyutta Nikāya. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications.
Bodhi, Bhikkhu,, trans. 2012. The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Aṅguttara Nikāya. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications.
Darling, David. 1996. Zen Physics: The Science of Death, the Logic of Reincarnation. New York: HarperCollins.
Fasching, Wolfgang. 2009. ‘The Mineness of Experience’. Continental Philosophy Review 42: 131-148. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11007-009-9107-z
Fink, Charles K. 2012. ‘The “Scent” of a Self: Buddhism and the First-Person Perspective’. Asian Philosophy 22(3): 289–306. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09552367.2012.709736
Gallagher, Shaun and Dan Zahavi. 2012. The Phenomenological Mind (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
Gunaratana, Henepola. 1992. Mindfulness in Plain English. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications.
Gyamtso, K. T. and R. Fuchs. 2000. Buddha Nature: The Mahāyana Uttaratantra Śāstra with Commentary. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications.
Klawonn, Erich. 2009. Mind and Death: A Metaphysical Investigation. Odense, Denmark: University Press of Southern Denmark.
Krueger, Joel. 2011. ‘The Who and the How of Experience’. In Self, No Self? Perspectives from Analytical, Phenomenological, and Indian Traditions, edited by MarkSiderits, Evan Thompson and Dan Zahavi, 27–55. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nagel, Thomas. 1971. ‘Brain Bisection and the Unity of Consciousness’. Synthese 22: 396–413. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF00413435
Ñāṇamoli, Bhikkhu and Bhikkhu Bodhi, trans. 2009. The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya (4th ed.). Boston: Wisdom Publications.
Parfit, Derek. 1971. ‘Personal Identity’. The Philosophical Review 80(1): 3–27. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2184309
Parfit, Derek. 1987. Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Rinpoche, Sogyal. 2002. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. New York: HarperCollins.
Searle, John. 2004. Mind: A Brief Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Siderits, Mark, Evan Thompson and Dan Zahavi. 2011. ‘Introduction’. In Self, No Self? Perspectives from Analytical, Phenomenological, and Indian Traditions, edited by MarkSiderits, Evan Thompson and Dan Zahavi, 1–26. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Story, Francis. 2000. Rebirth as Doctrine and Experience: Essays and Case Studies (2nd ed.). Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society.
Zahavi, Dan. 2005. Subjectivity and Selfhood: Investigating the First-Person Perspective. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email: info@equinoxpub.com

Privacy Policy