The human soul in the conception of Western religion possesses svabhava, or self-nature; each individual has an eternal self-nature which will exist after death. The you who is born is the you who will die and the you who will move into the afterlife. The you-soul can exist independently of everything else. In the philosophical climate of the Buddha’s time, this soul (self) was called Atman and was a microcosm of the Brahman.

Most Buddhists deny this type of self-nature. The concept of dependent origination means that each phenomenon is mutually dependent on all other phenomena. Seeing through these conventional realities leads to the realization of shunyata. By realizing the ultimate emptiness of all phenomena, one denounces svabhava. However, to the Abhidharmina, the dharmas constituting existence do possess self-nature.1

Much of the identity of Buddhist thought is tied to the concept of Self-Nature. Specifically, Buddhist thought’s juxtaposition to, and repudiation of, Self-Nature is where Buddhist philosophy achieves its insight. One can draw a straight line from Self-Nature all the way to far-flung Mahayana doctrine. From the starting point of Self-Nature, the Buddha asserts his original Non-Self doctrine. The Original Wisdom schools arose around this repudiation of self. From there, the concept of Non-Self was taken a step further: The emptiness of all things.

Pali:  Sabhāva
Sanskrit: Svabhāva

1Stanford, 2019