Here’s a clip from the classic comedy series, Only Fools and Horses, in which Trigger talks about his old broom.
Yes, it’s funny, but it raises an important point. In what sense can a broom that has had seventeen new heads and fourteen new handles be said to be the same broom?
Well, there’s a kind of continuity. The head and handle were clearly not both replaced at the same time, so to the casual observer it was the same broom as it was before. The fact of the matter, though, is that all the parts of the broom have been replaced many times, so that there is no trace of the original broom left. Trigger may think of it as the same broom, but physically it is not. Trigger’s broom exists only as an ongoing narrative.
We are the same. The cells in our body constantly wear out, die and are replaced. Eventually, there comes a point where every cell has been replaced. How, then, can we possibly be the same person as before?
The entity that I call “I”, “me” or “myself” (the ego) does not actually exist as an unchanging, solid, objective thing. It is simply a narrative used to describe the ongoing similarity between the many different versions of “me” that have existed. So in a sense, I can be said to exist as an ongoing narrative, but my “self” has no objective reality.
Deep stuff, but as it turns out, this is nothing new to Buddhism. It’s amazing what you can find out with a little reading and reflection!