"Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

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"Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Annapurna » Sun Jun 13, 2010 11:15 am

When some spiritual dudes explained to me, in my beginner's days:

"Nothing exists."

--I thought: B$. :shock:
Obviously I exist, especially when my body is aching I know it for sure.

Back then, -and I still see it happening to others today, "nothing exists", is the ONE sentence that, tossed into the arena without an explanation, throws people off, before they even get a chance to get to know the teachings of the Buddha.

Therefore, I find it a dangerous sentence, which should be avoided when dealing with unprepared minds.

It makes absolutely no sense to them, and brings Buddhism into discredit.

(From another Forum) And where did you get the idea that nothing exists? I broke my little toe on the base of a bed once, how did that happen? Clearly things exist in that sense.
EDIT TO ADD: They just don't exist in an absolute sense. In fact, if my toe existed in an absolute sense it would be permanent and unchanging and thus would have been impossible to break.


Can we discuss and clarify "existence and non-existence" in a beginner friendly way here?

with metta,

Anna :anjali:
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Jun 13, 2010 11:22 am

Greetings Annapurna,

I think the best sutta you'll find on this subject is...

SN 12.15: Kaccayanagotta Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Stephen K » Sun Jun 13, 2010 11:38 am

http://www.pathandfruit.com/Books3/Ajah ... NATION.htm

What is Life?

One of the major difficulties that Buddhists find with the teaching of Anatta is that if there is no soul or self, then what is this? What is it that thinks, wills, feels or knows? What is it that is reading this? In summary, what is life?

In one of the most profound of all suttas in the Buddhist scriptures, the Kaccnagotta Sutta (SN 12, 15), which was to play a major role in later Buddhist history, The Buddha stated that, for the most part, people's views on the nature of life fall into one of two extremes. Either they maintain that there is a soul, or they hold that there is nothing at all. Unfortunately, too many Buddhists confuse the teaching of Anatta and side with the view that there is nothing at all.

The Buddha condemned both extremes with a devastating argument based on experience. It is untenable to maintain that there is a soul because anything that can be meaningfully considered as a soul or self the body, will, love, consciousness or mind - can all be seen as impermanent. As The Buddha put it "One cannot say that there is (a soul), because a cessation (of all that can be a soul) is seen". On the other hand, it is untenable to maintain that there is nothing at all, because it is obvious that life is! As The Buddha put it "One cannot say that there is nothing, because an arising (of all phenomena) is seen". Thus, as the Buddhist philosopher-monk Nagarjuna (2nd century CE) was to remind everyone, The Buddha clearly denied the doctrine of absolute emptiness.

Even today, most people fall into one of these two extremes. Either that there is nothing at all and the mind, love, life is complete illusion, or that there is an eternal soul with God as the corollary. Both are wrong.

The Kaccanagotta Sutta continues with The Buddha pointing out that there is a middle that has been excluded in this dichotomy of views. There is a third option that avoids both extremes. So what is this 'middle' between the extremes of a soul and nothingness? That middle, said The Buddha, is Paticca-samuppda.

When The Buddha stated that it is untenable to hold that there is a soul or self (or a God) because a cessation is seen, He explained what He meant as: "From the cessation of delusion, kamma formations cease; from the cessation of kamma formations consciousness ceases ... from the cessation of birth, dukkha5 ceases". He was referring to the passing away process called Dependent Cessation. This impersonal process is the very thing that we identify as life. Moreover, it includes all the 'usual suspects' that masquerade as a soul: the body (part of nmarpa), will (part of the kamma formations, sometimes tanha), love (part of the kamma formations and mostly part of updana, clinging), consciousness (vina) and mind (part of salyatana and often equivalent to vina). These usual suspects are clearly seen in the light of Dependent Cessation as transient, insubstantial, granular and fading away soon after they arise. They are all conditioned. They exist only as long as they are supported by their external causes, which are themselves unstable. When the external supporting causes disappear, so do each of the usual suspects. Because these things do not persist, since they do not continue in being, it is untenable to hold that there is a soul, a self or a God.

When The Buddha stated that it is also untenable to maintain that all is pure emptiness, void, nothing, because an arising is seen, He explained what He meant as: "From the arising of delusion, kamma formations arise, from kamma formations arises the stream of consciousness in the next life ... from birth arises dukkha!" He was referring to the arising process called Dependent Origination. Again, this impersonal process includes all that we can know as 'life'. Because this arising is seen, one cannot say they are not. It is not an illusion. These phenomena are real.

A simile might help here. In mathematics a point is a concept drawn from the science of life. It describes aspects of real phenomena. Yet a point has no size. It is smaller than any measure that you can suggest, yet it is bigger than nothing. In a sense, one cannot say a point is, because it does not persist, it does not continue in space. Yet one cannot say it is not, as it is clearly different from nothing. The point is similar to the momentary nature of conscious experience. Nothing continues in being therefore it cannot be something. Something arises therefore it cannot be nothing. The solution to this paradox, the excluded middle, is the impersonal process.
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby acinteyyo » Sun Jun 13, 2010 11:58 am

Not long ago I thought about the phrase "nothing exists" on another viewpoint. It probably is sometimes just a very bad way of expressing the principle of anattā.
Usually one understands this phrase this way: "no thing exists" or "things do not exist" but it can be understood differently, that is to say for example this way: "nothing, meaning nothingness, meaning emptiness or voidness does exist". I mean it can be understood as the principle of suññatā ("Void is the world ... because it is void of a self and anything belonging to a self" SN35.85) In ways of anattā, i.e. the insubstantiality of all phenomena, that all phenomena lack substance or essence, which means that there isn't an independent self to be found in phenomena but nothing, voidness, emptiness.
Hopefully I was able to express myself clearly.

best wishes, acinteyyo
Pubbe cāhaṃ bhikkhave, etarahi ca dukkhañceva paññāpemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ. (M.22)
Both formerly, monks, and now, it is just suffering that I make known and the ending of suffering.
Pathabyā ekarajjena, saggassa gamanena vā sabbalokādhipaccena, sotāpattiphalaṃ varaṃ. (Dhp 178)
Sole dominion over the earth, going to heaven or lordship over all worlds: the fruit of stream-entry excels them.

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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Kare » Sun Jun 13, 2010 12:25 pm

Annapurna wrote:When some spiritual dudes explained to me, in my beginner's days:

"Nothing exists."



Just wait till those spiritual dudes get a toothache ... :jawdrop:
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby PeterB » Sun Jun 13, 2010 1:01 pm

:smile: :thumbsup:
My standard reply to the "nothing exists " people ( which was often accompanied by the assertion that we are " already Buddhas ") on E Sangha was to say that in that case they would not mind sending me their nexts months income..No one ever did.
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Kare » Sun Jun 13, 2010 2:06 pm

PeterB wrote::smile: :thumbsup:
My standard reply to the "nothing exists " people ( which was often accompanied by the assertion that we are " already Buddhas ") on E Sangha was to say that in that case they would not mind sending me their nexts months income..No one ever did.


Maybe they did. If their monthly income was "nothing", maybe that's just what they sent ... :cookoo: :rolleye:
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Shonin » Sun Jun 13, 2010 2:14 pm

(cross-posted on the other forum)

I do a little light programming (Flash Actionscript) as part of my job. In the old days, computer programs were just a series of instructions and those instructions themselves as well as what they acted upon were represented as standardised commands and symbols. In reality it was just information in the form of changing patterns of '1's and '0's moving around the computer. Later computer programmers worked out that 'object-oriented' programming languages were particularly easy to work with. These languages treat information as 'objects' which have properties that can change and which can act on or be acted upon by other objects or operations.

I think the human mind too is 'object orientated' in the sense that we conceive the world as consisting of lasting objects that possess properties which change over time. An agreed idea of identity applied to a part of the universe (eg. my wife) allows us to think about, make useful predictions about and refer to that particular sub-system of the universe over time - treating it (or her) not as limitless change without beginning or end but as if it (she) was a discreet entity which might have characteristics that change over time, but which nevertheless has an identity that continues over time and possesses those properties.

This way of perceiving, thinking and speaking of the world is hard-wired into our minds and is very difficult to transcend. We take it literally, not realising that it is a product of mental processes. We think that reality is really like that. Where it applies to ourselves this delusion is especially difficult to shake.

Having some insight into impermanence is not that hard, because we all know that 'things change'. We would struggle to cope if we didn't have some grasp of that. Everything is impermanent. But this only goes so far. The notion that 'everything changes' is still a view of the world that is 'object-orientated' (or affected by 'self views' in Buddhist language) because it sees the world as consisting of 'things' that come into existence (or gain the property of existence) and continue through time, acting upon and being acted on by other 'things' with properties that might change over time and then either stop existing, gain the property of non-existence or leave 'this world' and continue to exist in some invisible otherworld (depending on which particular knot of delusion we happen to be tying in an attempt to make sense of things).

However, as our practice deepens we can observe that identity is an observable mental process and that under some conditions we make identifications ('things') and associated graspings ('my thing') and under other conditions we don't. Identification is a mental process not a metaphysical reality.

If such identities really existed in the world in a literal way they would have to be permanent and unchanging, unable to act on the world or be affected by it. This is perhaps part of the reason why we have such difficulty making sense of human mortality, explaining that a dead person has 'gone to a better place' and so forth.

In reality there are no truly discreet objects, just a vast, ineffable, inconceivable mass of conditions, conditioned by conditions, conditioned by other conditions. And even the conditions don't have a real identity outside of thought and language. But even conceiving of that and talking about it I have to chop up reality into discreet concepts. The trick is to realise that the entities of thought and language are provisional and are real in their own provisional terms ('I am married to my wife' is a true statement in that sense), it's just that this truth is not an objective, absolute or metaphysical reality.

So, things do not exist ultimately (ie. independently and permanently) but they do exist conventionally or provisionally. Another way to say this is that things do not have a self. But not having a self or not existing ultimately is not the same as 'nonexistence' in the normal provisional or conventional sense, meaning that there is only empty space there or something similar. It is really beyond the logic of language (because language works with things - including 'nothing').

I don't know if that was 'beginner friendly' enough but I tried.
Last edited by Shonin on Sun Jun 13, 2010 2:45 pm, edited 8 times in total.
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby acinteyyo » Sun Jun 13, 2010 2:19 pm

:goodpost:
Pubbe cāhaṃ bhikkhave, etarahi ca dukkhañceva paññāpemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ. (M.22)
Both formerly, monks, and now, it is just suffering that I make known and the ending of suffering.
Pathabyā ekarajjena, saggassa gamanena vā sabbalokādhipaccena, sotāpattiphalaṃ varaṃ. (Dhp 178)
Sole dominion over the earth, going to heaven or lordship over all worlds: the fruit of stream-entry excels them.

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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby PeterB » Sun Jun 13, 2010 3:28 pm

Kare wrote:
PeterB wrote::smile: :thumbsup:
My standard reply to the "nothing exists " people ( which was often accompanied by the assertion that we are " already Buddhas ") on E Sangha was to say that in that case they would not mind sending me their nexts months income..No one ever did.


Maybe they did. If their monthly income was "nothing", maybe that's just what they sent ... :cookoo: :rolleye:



Perhaps so...I wonder if they sent a bonus at Christmas..nothing plus 10% of the annual nothing. :smile:
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby EricJ » Sun Jun 13, 2010 6:06 pm

I looked at the definition of "reality" on Wikipedia, which may or may not be authoritative. The article defines reality this way: "In its widest definition, reality includes everything that is and has being." That is, an innate property within a phenomenon which expresses that phenomenon's ability to "be," to exist, in and of itself. Clearly, no aspect of experience/phenomenon possesses this innate characteristic, since all aspects of experience are upheld by causes and conditions, which are held up by other causes and conditions ad infinitum, and all aspects of experience are anatta and anicca. At the same time, "we" clearly experience "something," so how can we claim that nothing exists? (a point others have made in this post)

My [possibly arbitrary ] interpretation is that what we take as reality, in totality (including ourselves), is an interdependent, causal relationship which cannot be ontologically isolated in to component realities. Component parts can be experientially and conventionally isolated by the mind for whatever reason (I think of Abhidhamma in its practical function as a tool for understanding the nama-rupa relationships we experience), but this is all we can hope to understand by direct experience until awakening occurs, because we have to cognize within the boundaries of nama-rupa. And indeed, this is enough for practical purposes.

Figuring out the mechanism of this relationship is a job for physicists.

Any disagreements?
I do not want my house to be walled in on sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.- Gandhi

With persistence aroused for the highest goal's attainment, with mind unsmeared, not lazy in action, firm in effort, with steadfastness & strength arisen, wander alone like a rhinoceros.

Not neglecting seclusion, absorption, constantly living the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma, comprehending the danger in states of becoming, wander alone like a rhinoceros.
- Snp. 1.3
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Prasadachitta » Mon Jun 14, 2010 12:19 am

EricJ wrote: I looked at the definition of "reality" on Wikipedia, which may or may not be authoritative. The article defines reality this way: "In its widest definition, reality includes everything that is and has being." That is, an innate property within a phenomenon which expresses that phenomenon's ability to "be," to exist, in and of itself. Clearly, no aspect of experience/phenomenon possesses this innate characteristic, since all aspects of experience are upheld by causes and conditions, which are held up by other causes and conditions ad infinitum, and all aspects of experience are anatta and anicca.
Any disagreements?


Hi Eric,

All phenomena possess the innate characteristic of being supported by causes and conditions. This is the way in which "things" are "real". It avoids the idea that things do not exist and it avoids the idea that they persist in any other way. :bow:

Gabe
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Shonin » Mon Jun 14, 2010 5:44 am

gabrielbranbury wrote:
EricJ wrote: I looked at the definition of "reality" on Wikipedia, which may or may not be authoritative. The article defines reality this way: "In its widest definition, reality includes everything that is and has being." That is, an innate property within a phenomenon which expresses that phenomenon's ability to "be," to exist, in and of itself. Clearly, no aspect of experience/phenomenon possesses this innate characteristic, since all aspects of experience are upheld by causes and conditions, which are held up by other causes and conditions ad infinitum, and all aspects of experience are anatta and anicca.
Any disagreements?


All phenomena possess the innate characteristic of being supported by causes and conditions. This is the way in which "things" are "real". It avoids the idea that things do not exist and it avoids the idea that they persist in any other way. :bow:


Unfortunately it implies that phenomena have a self. It is interesting that the three characteristics are negative and can be seen not as three inherent characteristics but as the absence in reality of three characteristics that we mistakenly attribute to them ie.

Not permanent
Not satisfactory
Not self

It doesn't imply non-existence (in any conventional sense of the word), we just mistakenly sometimes think it does. So that's an imagined 'problem' not a real one. There is no need to try to give phenomena a self in order to stop them from non-existing.
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby EricJ » Mon Jun 14, 2010 6:56 am

gabrielbrandbury,

I agree with Shonin.

It doesn't seem necessary to justify the reality of "things," (as you seem to be doing by way of claiming that all "things" possess an innate characteristic which makes them real) because that would be an extreme view which strays from the middle way, just as saying that nothing exists would stray from the middle way.

Kaccayanagotta Sutta, SN 12.15 wrote:"'Everything exists': That is one extreme. 'Everything doesn't exist': That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle...


Additionally, saying that "things" possess an innate characteristic of being upheld by causes and conditions implies that there are isolated "things" which are capable of possessing an innate characteristic. This is a contradiction precisely because the totality of experience (nama-rupa) is an interdependent web of cause and effect, which negates the idea that there are ultimately (as opposed to conventionally and experientially, as in the Abhidhamma) isolatable parts capable of possessing innate qualities. I think of knitting patterns. If you cut one knot, the rest of it unravels.

Assutava Sutta, SN 12.61 wrote:"The instructed disciple of the noble ones, attends carefully & appropriately right there at the dependent co-arising: "'When this is, that is. From the arising of this comes the arising of that. When this isn't, that isn't. From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that."
I do not want my house to be walled in on sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.- Gandhi

With persistence aroused for the highest goal's attainment, with mind unsmeared, not lazy in action, firm in effort, with steadfastness & strength arisen, wander alone like a rhinoceros.

Not neglecting seclusion, absorption, constantly living the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma, comprehending the danger in states of becoming, wander alone like a rhinoceros.
- Snp. 1.3
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Prasadachitta » Mon Jun 14, 2010 1:40 pm

EricJ wrote:It doesn't seem necessary to justify the reality of "things," (as you seem to be doing by way of claiming that all "things" possess an innate characteristic which makes them real) because that would be an extreme view which strays from the middle way, just as saying that nothing exists would stray from the middle way.


Hi Eric,

Its not a justification. Its the way things are. It is the middle way.

Additionally, saying that "things" possess an innate characteristic of being upheld by causes and conditions implies that there are isolated "things" which are capable of possessing an innate characteristic. This is a contradiction precisely because the totality of experience (nama-rupa) is an interdependent web of cause and effect, which negates the idea that there are ultimately (as opposed to conventionally and experientially, as in the Abhidhamma) isolatable parts capable of possessing innate qualities. I think of knitting patterns. If you cut one knot, the rest of it unravels.


I dont think that it necessarily implies that there are isolated "things". One might read that meaning into it but that is one of the problems with communication.

Metta

Gabe
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Prasadachitta » Mon Jun 14, 2010 1:54 pm

Shonin wrote:All phenomena possess the innate characteristic of being supported by causes and conditions. This is the way in which "things" are "real". It avoids the idea that things do not exist and it avoids the idea that they persist in any other way. :bow:

Unfortunately it implies that phenomena have a self. It is interesting that the three characteristics are negative and can be seen not as three inherent characteristics but as the absence in reality of three characteristics that we mistakenly attribute to them ie.

Not permanent
Not satisfactory
Not self

It doesn't imply non-existence (in any conventional sense of the word), we just mistakenly sometimes think it does. So that's an imagined 'problem' not a real one. There is no need to try to give phenomena a self in order to stop them from non-existing.


Hi Shonin,

I am not giving phenomena anything that isnt there. There is no implication of self in stating that a phenomena is what it is due to causes and conditions. When those causes and conditions change so to the phenomena change.

This is what the Buddha relied upon. It is what the Buddha revered. When there was no person to be devoted to he was devoted to the direct experience of this truth.
As he states in the Garava Sutta...

"What if I were to dwell in dependence on this very Dhamma to which I have fully awakened, honoring and respecting it?"

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn06/sn06.002.than.html

One might ask: "What is it that is being honored and respected?"


Metta

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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Shonin » Mon Jun 14, 2010 2:38 pm

gabrielbranbury wrote:There is no implication of self in stating that a phenomena is what it is due to causes and conditions. When those causes and conditions change so to the phenomena change.


True, but there is an implication of self in using language like: "All phenomena possess the innate characteristic of being supported by causes and conditions." since it not only suggests that phenomena are 'things' which possess another kind of thing (a 'characteristic') but that they possess it innately. In reality there is just a web of ever-changing conditions. And nothing else. And for phenomena to exist conditionally means that they are not innately anything whatsoever. The don't possess anything at all because they are non-self. Their total lack of innate characteristics and their non-self nature and their conditional nature are one and the same thing.

One might ask: "What is it that is being honored and respected?"


My answer to your question is that provisional existence is not the same as non-existence. Dhamma is being honored and respected.
Last edited by Shonin on Mon Jun 14, 2010 3:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Aloka » Mon Jun 14, 2010 3:01 pm

retrofuturist wrote:
I think the best sutta you'll find on this subject is...

SN 12.15: Kaccayanagotta Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Metta,
Retro. :)


Just as a matter of interest, Ch 15 of Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika relates to this sutta . "Katyayana" is another word for Kaccayana.



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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Prasadachitta » Mon Jun 14, 2010 4:09 pm

Shonin wrote:
True, but there is an implication of self in using language like: "All phenomena possess the innate characteristic of being supported by causes and conditions." since it not only suggests that phenomena are 'things' which possess another kind of thing (a 'characteristic') but that they possess it innately. In reality there is just a web of ever-changing conditions.



Hi Shonin,

I think there are always implications of this sort in our communication even when we use the language of negation(I.E. The Three Marks). Even "a web of ever changing conditions" has this implication.

""One might ask: "What is it that is being honored and respected?" ""



My answer to your question is that provisional existence is not the same as non-existence. Dhamma is being honored and respected.


This is a statement which does not address the question.

For the Buddha there is an object deserving of honor and respect. Now I understand that this will not be an ordinary object in the sense that you and I understand objects. None the less it is not a negation. The Buddha honors and respects the universally applicable doctrine. The doctrine is not separate from the universal quality it describes. I have no problem with the language which you prefer. Im just pointing out that all language will lean towards either existence or non existence so thats just what we are stuck with. It is my opinion that the misunderstanding which accompanies non existence causes a relatively greater degree of difficulty than that of existence.

Metta

Gabe
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Shonin » Mon Jun 14, 2010 4:44 pm

gabrielbranbury wrote:For the Buddha there is an object deserving of honor and respect. Now I understand that this will not be an ordinary object in the sense that you and I understand objects. None the less it is not a negation. The Buddha honors and respects the universally applicable doctrine. The doctrine is not separate from the universal quality it describes. I have no problem with the language which you prefer. Im just pointing out that all language will lean towards either existence or non existence so thats just what we are stuck with. It is my opinion that the misunderstanding which accompanies non existence causes a relatively greater degree of difficulty than that of existence.


An object doesn't need to have a self in order to be deserving of honour and respect. Even the Dhamma has no self.

I thought that it was probably just a semantic matter as you say and not a misunderstanding.
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