Dr. Shenpen Hookham is the holder of an Oxford University doctorate in Buddhist studies (specialising in the Tathagatagarbha teachings) and a Tibetan lama of the Nyingma and Kagyu schools. She has her own Sangha and freely gives out teachings on the Dharma to all who are interested. You can sign up for her very insightful and wise answers to her students' questions here: Buddhism Connect http://buddhism-connect.org/what-we-offer/teachings-by-email/
Dr. Shenpen Hookham writes affirmatively on the reality of a True Self within Buddhism. In the book, Buddhism and Animals by Dr. Tony Page (UKAVIS, London, 1999, p. 4), she comments on how various traditions of Tibetan Buddhism have upheld this notion of a real, eternal Self, saying:
'Many venerable saints and scholars have argued for the Self in the past and do so in the present. Great teachers of the Tibetan Nyingma, Kagyu and Sakya schools have and do argue that such a view [i.e. the reality of an essential True Self] is fundamental to the practice of the Buddhist path and the attainment of Enlightenment.'
In her answers to two different students of the Dharma who ask her about non-Self and Self, Dr. Hookham comments (in 2008) on how she has never denied the existence of the Self:
'Do I actually say that the self is non-existent? I didnít mean to. What the Buddha always taught was that what was impermanent, unsatisfactory and not as we wanted it could not be the self. The self, in this context, is the one who wants happiness. None of the things we grasp at as self provide that happiness so our whole idea of our self causes us suffering.
'Who is the us that discovers that? It is the ungrasped self, the true self, the self that is not impermanent, not suffering, that is as we want it to be. It is the Buddha Nature. When we discover that we realise that this is what we always wanted but we sought for it in the wrong place and in the wrong way. We found aspects of it that we tried to grasp at and own but they just became unsatisfactory as soon as we grasped them. In fact we tried to grasp them only to find we had grasped at thin air, but instead of just ceasing to grasp we got terrified and grasped more and more. Then we became more and more confused and still were left with just thin air. It is only when the fundamental awareness of our being turns towards that thin air and recognises its experience of itself for what it is that it can relax the grasping reaction and let that truth be.
'You could call that the end of ego grasping and the life of the true self - or true nature - the ultimate reality of what we are. It is not something we can know by the grasping mind. It is not something to believe in as a concept. It is reality that discovers itself!
'So it itself is motivated to discover itself ...! '
Dr. Hookham later (on 3 May 2009) has this to say on the Self:
'... the Buddha pointed out that everything conditioned and impermanent in our experience is not our true nature or self. Our true nature or self is something that is not impermanent, not conditioned, and is ungraspable as either self or not self.
'... It would be what the Dzogchen tradition would call the Indestructible Heart Essence. It is the self or true nature that is not graspable as either self or not self. It is not bound by time and space.'
Shenpen's student asks:
'Re change and not-change: We start to awaken (change) and yet our basic Buddha nature is there all the time (no change). Again, could it not be "both/and" rather than "either/or"?'
Lama Shenpen replies:
'More precision is needed beyond simply saying it is both changing and not changing. In what sense can one say that something that is not graspable as being there in the first place can change into something else. There is a huge flaw in the whole idea of change. What cannot be grasped as being there in the first place cannot be said to change.
Yet, as you say, the world manifests, we awaken, there certainly seems to be change. The question has to be approached meditatively with precision and care..................resting in that mysterious place that is aware and yet not grasping anything. '
So the real Self is that Awareness which does not grasp but which dwells in a mysterious realm of Knowing. It is the opposite of the non-Self, which is ignorance itself. - Dr. Tony Page.
In a later question and answer session, Dr Hookham speaks more on the true nature or true Self of us all: