I have been re-reading Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's book "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism." I believe this might be the most important book ever for western Buddhists.
That doesn't mean I entirely understand it. I still have a looong way to go to really getting what Buddhism is all about. I still have this mistaken tendency to transfer stuff from the old religion (Xianity) to the new one. But they really are entirely different in essence.
According to Chogyam Trungpa, the essence of Buddhism is "no- self." That is, no ego, no "I" actually exists. You are not a person like you think you are. This is rather frightening and freeing at the same time if you think about it. It goes hand in hand with impermanence and emptiness. There is no "soul" there is no "you" that is permanent and unchanging.
A few minutes thought about this strange subject of the "I" will bring to mind how much it has changed over the years. We are constantly adjusting it in accordance with what other people say, what society says, what we see and the information we take it.
I heard Robert Thurman (one of my favorite Buddhist teachers) say that Buddhism does NOT say there is no soul, but only that it is not permanent or unchanging.
Even this idea is rather disturbing. When you are doing mediation, you discover that your thinking process goes everywhere. Thoughts become more intangible and less powerful because you see how they come and go. That is the value of it. There is nothing substantially there. Yet nothing is everything!
In Trungpa's book, he goes through a section on how gratifying it can be to the ego to be engaged in the so-called spiritual path. "I" am special, "I" have an exotic religion! I can wear a prayer shawl, I can take vows, I can change my lifestyle to the approved pattern. Its in Christiainity too - "I" am favored and protected by God. "I" have adopted another disguise, another identity to protect myself from revealing too much to others of who I really am.
What a danger to fall into. The real spiritual path is a terribly difficult one. It is opening yourself to the world, to "what is." These trappings, these practices, are very likely to shut you into yet another disguise, a protective cocoon that walls you away from too much reality.