Humanities Courses / Course / Chapter

Eastern Philosophy of Self

Kayla Corley, Natalie Boyd
  • Author
    Kayla Corley

    Kayla has 6 years of experience creating college-level surveys and lessons in the subjects of psychology and human development. They have a B.A. of Psychology with a minor in Human Development and Family Sciences from University of North Texas. They will graduate from Texas Woman’s University with a Master’s degree in Counseling and Development in December of 2022. Kayla currently works with adolescents in a mental health outpatient facility, where she creates and provides lessons based in Cognitive Behavioral and Dialectical Behavioral theories.

  • Instructor
    Natalie Boyd

    Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Explore the Eastern philosophy of self. Learn about the self in Eastern thought, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, and how the concept differs from Western philosophy. Updated: 08/24/2022

Table of Contents


What is The Self?

The concept of "the self" generally refers to the personal identity, core philosophies, self-consciousness, and overall consciousness that define one's nature and how one connects to the world. Though many theories and beliefs exist about "the self", there has never been a universal consensus on its meaning or what it represents. Views on "the self" differ depending on where one is in the world, as Eastern and Western conceptions of self are, in many ways, contradictory.

Differences in Eastern and Western Philosophies of Self

While Western ideologies posit that a human self exists separate from all other individuals, Eastern ideologies deny the existence of a fixed human self. In Oriental thought, "the self" is an illusion. Eastern religions ascribe to the idea that we are all influenced by, and connected to, a greater entity or power outside of ourselves.

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: The Self According to Rene Descartes

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:03 The Nature of the Self
  • 1:20 Hinduism
  • 3:39 Buddhism
  • 5:51 Lesson Summary
Save Timeline
Speed Speed

Eastern Ideas of Self Western Ideas of Self
Collectivistic: Prioritize the group as a whole rather than a single individual. Individualistic: Prioritizes the value and independence of the individual over the group as a whole.
"The self" is an illusion. "The self" is a unique, personal identity separate from that of others.
Interconnection with the universe. No inherent connection with the universe.

Eastern Philosophy of Self

Though Eastern concepts of the self are based on many of the same principles, individual religions and belief systems each have their own unique explanations of "the self". Hinduism and Buddhism are two prominent Eastern religions that have different beliefs about the human self.

Hinduism Philosophy of Self

Hindus ring a bell before prayer to welcome the divine spirit and discourage evil from the place of worship.

Mounted and tarnished bell with various colored fabric strips tied around its chains

Hinduism is an ancient collection of traditions and beliefs that have existed and evolved over the course of human history. There are many Hindu beliefs and teachings, but the two most common views of self in Hinduism are composed of Brahman and Atman. Brahman is the divine spiritual truth, or the soul of god, that encompasses all beings in the universe. In Hinduism, Brahman is understood to be responsible for all creation, maintenance of all creation, and its destruction. Brahman is also responsible for Atman, the eternal human soul that carries on after one's body dies and is destined to be reincarnated into another body. Brahman creates and contains the essence of all things, including Atman, meaning each human soul is part of Brahman.

To better understand the connection between Brahman and Atman, imagine three rivers that connect to a lake. If asked, each river would individually say "My source is the lake". If asked what their sources are as a collection of rivers, they would say "Our source is the lake". Ultimately, there is no difference between each river's source and its collective source. The answer is the same: the lake. If each Atman is a river, they are still composed of and derived from Brahman, the lake. This idea of "the self" being a small part of a greater whole is described in ancient Hindu text as "That art Thou".

The ultimate goal of Hindus is to become their truest selves, or self-realize, in order to merge their Atman into the divine Brahman consciousness, granting one liberation through this deeply spiritual process.

Western philosophy differs significantly from the principles of Hinduism, as Atman, or "the self", is considered as an individual entity that exists separately and independently from Brahman.

Buddhism Philosophy of Self

The Great Buddha in Japan is one of the most popular historical landmarks in the country.

Close-up of tarnished fountain sculpted to look like Buddha statue

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main differences between Western and Eastern philosophies of the self?

The main difference between Western and Eastern philosophies of the self is Western philosophies of the self view it as a separate, individual entity. On the other hand, Eastern philosophies view the self as an illusion.

What are examples of Eastern philosophy?

Generally, Eastern philosophy views "the self" as an illusion. Eastern religions believe that we are all interconnected and part of a greater universal whole. Hindus believe that the Atman, or human soul, is a part of Brahman, the soul of god. Atman is part of Brahman, and therefore cannot be a completely separate entity or "self." Buddhists believe that we are all so interconnected that there can be no distinctions of "self" made between us, and "the self" is ultimately an illusion.

What are the characteristics of Eastern philosophy?

Eastern philosophy believes that "the self," composed of each person's personal identity, consciousness, and core philosophies, is an illusion. They deny the existence of the independent entity of self that Westerners posit does exist.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Resources created by teachers for teachers

Over 30,000 video lessons & teaching resources‐all in one place.
Video lessons
Quizzes & Worksheets
Classroom Integration
Lesson Plans

I would definitely recommend to my colleagues. It’s like a teacher waved a magic wand and did the work for me. I feel like it’s a lifeline.

Jennifer B.
Jennifer B.
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account