I have seen many answers to similar questions, but they do not answer my question. The fact is that the Mahayana doctrine (which is popular in China and Japan) leads to Nihilism or Solipsism. I asked in one forum if Buddhists are solipsists, and I was told that they are not solipsists because their doctrine says that there is no "self" that exists. But my question is whether they believe in other minds, whether they believe that they are communicating with other minds. For some reason no one answered specifically. Are Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese Buddhist solipsists in the sense that they do not believe that they are communicating with other minds when talking to people? Have any surveys or studies been conducted?

My question: The fact is that soon I will have to go on a business trip to China and I will have to live and work with Buddhists, and then to Japan where I will also have to work with Buddhists, so I want to know when I meet and talk with Japanese and Chinese Buddhists, will they believe that i am not their imagination and that I have consciousness and thoughts, sensations, feelings, emotions and memories( mental experiences)? Or they will pretend to believe that I have consciousness, feeling, perception, sensation, thoughts.

Thank you.

  • 1
    Really do you think that you have to know if your interlocutor "believe in your existence" before speaking to him? Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 12:57
  • 3
    You're reading waaaay too much into it. I've been living in Japan for 2 decades now, and i can garantee you that at least 90% of japanese people have no idea of the advanced concepts of buddhism you are refering to, exactly the same way that most western christians never give a thought to the theology of Aquinas or Augustine. As for day to day communication with japanese people, there is absolutely no difference with what rapport you can have with any other people, save for the usual difference in cultural habits.
    – armand
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 14:59
  • Thank you. Let me ask: That is, when you communicate with Japanese Buddhists, do they believe that you have consciousness, experiences, sensations, emotions, feelings and thoughts?
    – Artemon
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 15:16
  • Well they sure behave like they do (including my wife and kids). I guess if i asked them they would surely reply that they do. So if they say they do, and they act like they do, why care at all ?
    – armand
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 15:22
  • Thanks, that's what I wanted to hear. I wanted to know: When Chinese and Japanese Buddhists see people, they believe that these people have sensations, emotions, feelings, consciousness and thoughts.
    – Artemon
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 15:46

2 Answers 2


It depends on what you mean by "mind". No "self" exists beyond the brain's illusion of self for its own purposes. It is important to understand that this doctrine of anatta (non-self) is neither nihilism nor solipsism. It does not deny experience or sentience, neither yours nor anybody else's; it respects other people as much as you.

Buddhists themselves can disagree about whether some kind of rebirth occurs. Some folk versions believe in reincarnation of your individuality. More sophisticated versions, such as Tibetan Buddhism, deny reincarnation of the self but accept a cycle of rebirth; exactly what it is that gets reborn can be hard to say, typically your "buddha nature" (for which the term dharma is sometimes borrowed) and your karma, the accumulated consequences of your actions to date. The Buddha described being able to recall all his past lives during his enlightenment. For example does one take the rather gentle and lovely Tibetan Book of the Dead as describing a literal journey to the next life or a metaphor for some greater mystery? Yet others, especially the stricter forms of Chinese Ch'an and Japanese Zen, regard the whole rebirth thing as a non-starter, a picturesque parable for those yet to experience enlightenment.

Yet you will find among Eastern philosophers a few proponents of nihilism or solipsism, just as in the West. The main thing is, if somebody declares vehemently, "No, that's wrong! What Buddhism says is this!", then they are probably a blind adherent of one narrow position or other. Just as sectarians bicker in the West.

  • Thank you, you explained it to me very well. Let me ask my question again: When Japanese and Chinese Buddhists see other people and communicate with this people, do they believe that these people have sensations, emotions, consciousness, feelings, thoughts and memories? And do they believe that people will have feelings, feelings, consciousness, emotions and thoughts even if they leave for another country?
    – Artemon
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 15:09
  • @Artemon Yes of course we all have these things. The only thing nobody has is a "self" to hang them on; not you, not me, not them, not anybody, ever. Commented May 1, 2021 at 10:08

Buddhist thought does not say there is no self. It says our conventional, intuitive understanding of the self, is incorrect and misleading. Specifically because, we intuit that we don't change, and that our minds are independent of our surroundings. Anatta means no persistent unchanging self, no essence, no permanent self. I would compare the ontology of Buddhist thought to the view of the self in physicalist-materialism: ultimately the self is not a substance with an unchanging centre, but a set of dynamic processes. See the metaphor of Indra's Net for how lack of essence or unchanging identify, relates to mutually-dependent arising, or interbeing.

China has a different emphasis than Indian thought about the individual, mainly because of Confucian thought. See Individualism in Classical Chinese Thought.

There are some indications that Chinese and Japanese people tend to think of the family or group ahead of the individual, described academically as difference in cultural orientation in locus of control. However, there is evidence of substantial variation eg Collectivism's individualism: Value preference, personal control, and the desire for freedom among Chinese in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Jonathan Haidt with his moral foundations theory identifies broad differences in culture between primarily pastoral and primarily agrarian communities, as tending to contribute to different moral tribes now: pastoralists like US cow herders, Afghan hill tribes, etc. as founded on protecting a herd that stores wealth through threat-posturing; vs agrarian cultures like the lentil growers, of Gobekli Tepe, river valleys of Mesopotemia and Egypt, and rice-growing regions, as shaped by the need to sow and harvest together above all. Individualist vs collectivist, left vs right.

It is notable that Tibet and Mongolia, cultures where they almost entirely relied on grazing animals, yet inherit Mahayana Buddhism, place different emphasis on the teachings. Tibetan Buddhism places a lot of emphasis on initiation into secret teachings. Mongolian Buddhism is full of violent threatening deities to enforce moral behaviour.

We discussed the accusation of solipsism in regard to Buddhism directly here: Different between Buddhism and Solipsism

In Japan my advice would be, pay close attention to manners, and the details of how people behave. Having extremely clean feet & socks is very important where people take shoes off indoors, and personal hygiene is about considering others more than reflecting on you. If people give you presents, find a way to give something of equal value back. Blowing your nose with any noise, is not ok. In China and Japan wearing a mask when you have a cold, to protect others, is considered essential care for others. Generally the cultural differences are not so great, particularly in cities. And just like here, most people aren't much impacted by the details of philosophical traditions.

  • This kind of argument ends up in dickering over what we mean by a "self". Many regard it as, by definition, an unchanging atomic entity. To traditional Buddhists, the effervescent perception is as much a part of the illusion as its apparent atomicity and permanence. "Anatta" literally means not-self, and one's baseline approach should be to accept that. It is not helpful to describe what else might be there, experiencing the flow of illusions, as "self"; it is "not-self". Commented May 1, 2021 at 10:18
  • @GuyInchbald: As a Buddhist, I absolutely disagree. It's like mischaracterising the theogeny for Christians, it involves the most powerful effects, and critiques of the practice, so the details are important.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented May 3, 2021 at 18:53
  • @CriclCragl The idea of some defining theo- anything for Christianity, beyond following what one imagines to be the the teachings of Christ, is absurd. Such things are mooted only by sectarians. The same applies to Buddhism; see my answer. For example when asked what experiences the illusion of self, the present Dalai Lama replied cheerfully, "I do not know". Lecturing him on theogeny seems unlikely to enlighten him. Commented May 3, 2021 at 20:22

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