The self is defined as an essence of things that doesn’t depend on others; an intrinsic nature.
The self is similar to the Western concept of “soul”. It is a permanent unchanging thing.
The self is the gakja, or object denied in Buddhist thought.
Here is an exercise to “find the self”.
Gakja is a Tibetan term that refers to “the object we deny”. It is something that does not exist and could never exist (ultimately). It is critical to understand the gakja because this is the “thing” that everything is empty of.
If I see you in the hall, coming out of a room and I ask you, “Is the room empty?” how do you know what to answer? Perhaps you say “yes” but then I peek in and what I see makes me disagree. The room we are talking about has a carpet and furniture, but no people. You say it is empty because “your” gakja is people. “My” gakja is furniture and I see the room as full because it is full of furniture.
People talk a lot about emptiness in Buddhism and sometimes I think people start thinking that it means nothing. One cannot talk about emptiness unless they define what they are denying exists. This is the gakja. This is the thing that everything is empty of.
In each school of Buddhism the gakja is defined differently. Here is the breakdown of the different ancient Indian schools of Buddhism followed by a concise definition of their gakja.Functionalist Gakja: the self that has no causes
Independents Gakja: the self that exists independent of its parts
Consequence or Implication School Gakja: the self that exists independent of my thinking about it or naming it.
Je Tsongkapa (1357-1419) was born in Eastern Tibet. Tsongka means onion fields and refers to the place he is from. Je is an honorific meaning Lord.
At age three he received lay ordination as a Kagyu. At 24 he was ordained as Lobsang Drakpa in the Sakya tradition. He studied with all the greatest teachers of his day in many different traditions. He is the founder of the Gelupa School of Tibetan Buddhism (the school of the Dalai Lamas).
Je Tsongkapa had three famous disciples: Gyaltsab Je (1362-1432), First Dali Lama: Gyalwa Gendun Drup(1391-1475), and Kedrup Je (1385-1438)
The story of how Gyalstab Je and Kedrup Je became his students is a good on: Gyaltsab Je and Kedrup Je both went to challenge Je Tsongkapa. One of them got up on the throne as Je Tsongkapa was teaching to imply he could teach as well. Then after a few minutes of listening he stepped down, a while later he made prostrations, and then finally took off his hat and asked to by Je Tsongkapa’s student.
Geshe Michael Roach claimed in 1993 that Gyaltsab Je’s books were so deep that despite yearly study sessions for the last 22 years in the monastery (lasting 30 days straight and 16 hours a day) no one has reached the ending chapters. So if the student was so adept, imagine the teacher.
Je Tsongkapa wrote 10,000 pages of commentaries on Buddhism – with only 5 -10% translated. His holiness the 14th Dalai Lama commends the great and detailed work that Je Tsongkapa did. Like no one in the history of Buddhism, he took every difficult point and explained them clearly in an irrefutable manner. Indeed, in the gelupa tradition if Je Tsongkapa said it, then it is taken as truth – much like the word of a buddha.