I had an exchange a while ago with a philosphy professor who is critical of Buddhism’s teaching of non-self.
When I mentioned that you get real insight in non-self after attaining the jhanas, his rebuttal was:
The gist of one of my main criticisms of this jhanas argument (one can attain trance states in which one experiences no self, ergo there is no self) is that the logic is pathetic. By analogy, I can go so far away from St. Patrick’s Cathedral that I don’t see it, ergo…
When I sleep there’s no reality, ergo… In dreamless sleep there’s no self, ergo… I take enough psychedelics & experience the dissolution of my sense of self, ergo… Ostrich buries head & cannot see, ergo… Peek-a-boo, ergo… No ergo’s here support the non-existence claim.
In a sense, one can see what he means in this argument. For example if you are under anaesthesia, you will not feel your body (your body disappears in a sense). But would this prove that the body is non-self, because temporarily you have lost all bodily feelings and bodily control?
Another problem: The ideology informing Buddhist practice prescribes attainment of the no-self state, biasing the expectations, experiences, & 1st-personal reports of practitioners, who are rewarded for attaining them as marks of spiritual advancement. Hindu ideology favors Self
And he also added
Another problem: All altered states are intrinsically dubious
I think that the argument against this last point is simply that because of the vipallasas all ‘normal’ states are dubious, and you need to abandon the hindrances to see things clearly. But what would the best arguments be for some of his other objections? I did not name the professor (who is also a meditator apparently, but nor a Buddhist obviously) but I can eventually ask him if it’s ok if I name him on this website, if anyone thinks this would useful.
PS All the statements I have quoted above were made publicly, so I am, of course, not reporting anything that was meant to remain private
Later edit. I contacted the professor and he does not mind at all being mentioned. So here’s a link to an article of his, in case you’re interested:
and he has a book on Buddhism too