What is meant by existence (atthi)?

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What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby vinasp » Sat Apr 03, 2010 11:42 pm

Hi everyone,

What did the Buddha say about 'existence' (atthi) according to the five Nikaya's? Let us begin by noting that suffering 'exists', as stated in SN 12.17 [ PTS: S ii 18]:

"Well then, good Gotama, is suffering non-existent?"
"No Kassapa: suffering is not non-existent. Suffering exists."

Link: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .wlsh.html

Suffering 'exists', and yet, the whole purpose of the teachings is to explain to worldlings how to bring about the ending of this suffering. If suffering 'exists', how can it end? It can only end by going out of existence, by ceasing to exist.

This raises fundamental questions about what the Buddha means by 'existence', and how this word is used in the Nikaya's. I will argue that mentally-constructed things are said to 'exist', and that suffering is a by-product of these mind-made things. The general term for these mind-made things is 'formation' (sankhara). What the mind has made it can un-make, this is called 'the cessation of formations'. When formations have ceased suffering has ceased. The resultant state is called nibbana or the 'un-made'.

Clearly, this sort of existence is very different from, for example, the existence of a tree in your garden. If you are fortunate enough to become enlightened, we may suppose that this tree (and all other things in the external world) will continue to exist. This raises the question: What did the Buddha say about the existence of these things in the external world?

The answer seems to be: very little. There are a few references to a mountain existing, or the existence of an ocean. There is mention of laws existing, and rules of conduct for monks. Perhaps the most frequent use is in the phrase : "Monks, these four persons are found existing in the world. What four?" But one will search in vain for any kind of philosophical statements about what it means for things to exist in the external world.

In my estimation, about ninety-five percent of the uses of the terms 'exist' or 'existence' are about subjective experiences or psychological states of mind, or the view that something exists.

This emphasis on psychological states leads to a strange result. Almost everything which is said to 'exist' is also said to be impermanent and to cease, which means that it can be made to go out of existence. It seems that for the mind to create things, or bring them into existence, is easy and natural. But the opposite, making these things go out of existence, is very difficult.

Did you know that your mind has the power to make something exist?

Best wishes, Vincent.
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby bodom » Sun Apr 04, 2010 2:15 am

vinasp wrote:Did you know that your mind has the power to make something exist?


1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

2.Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow. - Dhp. 1-2

There would be no awareness of external sense objects if there were no internal sense bases and the corresponding conciousness of the meeting of the three. Everything is mind made without exception.

:anjali:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby Sobeh » Sun Apr 04, 2010 7:43 am

In these cases a better translation of the Pali word atthi might be "obtains" (as in Logic) as opposed to "exists" (as in Ontology).
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sun Apr 04, 2010 8:24 am

Careful about the differences between "atthi" and "bhavati".
And also between common sense usage and technical usage of words.
And it will also help a great deal to understand how both of these words were used in ancient India, especially the notion of "sat" (from the same root as "atthi", ie. "as").
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Apr 04, 2010 8:37 am

Greetings,

Paññāsikhara wrote:And it will also help a great deal to understand how both of these words were used in ancient India, especially the notion of "sat" (from the same root as "atthi", ie. "as").


SN 23.2: Satta Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Savatthi at Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's monastery. Then Ven. Radha went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One: "'A being,' lord. 'A being,' it's said. To what extent is one said to be 'a being'?"

"Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for form, Radha: when one is caught up1 there, tied up2 there, one is said to be 'a being.'3

"Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for feeling... perception... fabrications...

"Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for consciousness, Radha: when one is caught up there, tied up there, one is said to be 'a being.'

"Just as when boys or girls are playing with little sand castles:4 as long as they are not free from passion, desire, love, thirst, fever, & craving for those little sand castles, that's how long they have fun with those sand castles, enjoy them, treasure them, feel possessive of them. But when they become free from passion, desire, love, thirst, fever, & craving for those little sand castles, then they smash them, scatter them, demolish them with their hands or feet and make them unfit for play.

"In the same way, Radha, you too should smash, scatter, & demolish form, and make it unfit for play. Practice for the ending of craving for form.

"You should smash, scatter, & demolish feeling, and make it unfit for play. Practice for the ending of craving for feeling.

"You should smash, scatter, & demolish perception, and make it unfit for play. Practice for the ending of craving for perception.

"You should smash, scatter, & demolish fabrications, and make them unfit for play. Practice for the ending of craving for fabrications.

"You should smash, scatter, & demolish consciousness and make it unfit for play. Practice for the ending of craving for consciousness — for the ending of craving, Radha, is Unbinding."

Notes

1. Satta.
2. Visatta.
3. Satta.
4. Lit.: "dirt houses."


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: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby vinasp » Sun Apr 04, 2010 8:57 pm

Hi bodom,

Yes, the first verse of the Dhammapada. Very interesting, it begins with:

manopubbangamaa dhammaa manosetthaa manomayaa ...

Mind leads or precedes mental-states (dhamma), mind is foremost, [they are] mind-made.

So all dhammas are mind-made? Does that mean that all dhammas can be unmade?

Can someone explain the relationship between dhammas and sankharas? My guess would be that sankharas [mental constructive activities] are what makes dhammas. The sankharas are volitional, either present volition or past volition. Present volition is easy to see, but past volitions (habits of mind) are not.

So, "the stilling of all formations" means the 'stopping' of all mental constructive activities. Which would mean the ceasing of all dhammas. Or have I got it wrong?

Best wishes, Vincent.
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby vinasp » Sun Apr 04, 2010 9:33 pm

Hi Sobeh,

Sobeh wrote:In these cases a better translation of the Pali word atthi might be "obtains" (as in Logic) as opposed to "exists" (as in Ontology).


A very good observation. The trouble with 'exists' is the tendency to reification, if it exists then it will always exist. The Buddha did not use 'atthi' in that way, as is shown by his statements about the correct grammatical use of the word. He said that the present exists, the past did exist and the future will exist. So that which obtains in the present is said to exist.

Some non-buddhist thinkers at the time seem to use atthi to mean eternal.

Best wishes, Vincent.
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby vinasp » Sun Apr 04, 2010 9:59 pm

Greetings Venerable,

Paññāsikhara wrote:And it will also help a great deal to understand how both of these words were used in ancient India, especially the notion of "sat" (from the same root as "atthi", ie. "as").


That is most interesting! I did not realise that 'atthi' was from the same root as 'sat'. I thought that atthi meant impersonal existence, while 'satta' or 'bhava' meant personal existence. That explains why some thinkers at the time were using 'atthi' to mean personal existence. As in the talk about "the world exists" or "the world does not exist". The 'world' here seems to mean the self [ this might need further explanation ].

Best wishes, Vincent.
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby vinasp » Sun Apr 04, 2010 10:46 pm

Hi retro,

Yes, SN 23.2 the Satta Sutta is very interesting, how do you interpret it?

My understanding is that 'satta' means 'a being' or 'a creature'. In normal usage it meant a person or as we would say 'a human being' [ animals and plants also? ]. The Buddha seems to re-define it as 'the mentally-constructed person'. So in this sutta one is said to be 'a being' if one has craving. The implication is that one without craving is not 'a being', even though 'they' still have a body and a mind.

The example of the 'sand castles' is interesting. The children would only need to give up their craving for the sand castles. But they are said to destroy them. Why? I think the meaning is that the 'objects' of craving need to be destroyed in order for craving to end. The 'objects' of craving here are the five aggregates. So the five aggregates must be destroyed in order to end craving.

Best wishes, Vincent.
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Apr 05, 2010 3:39 am

vinasp wrote:Greetings Venerable,

Paññāsikhara wrote:And it will also help a great deal to understand how both of these words were used in ancient India, especially the notion of "sat" (from the same root as "atthi", ie. "as").


That is most interesting! I did not realise that 'atthi' was from the same root as 'sat'. I thought that atthi meant impersonal existence, while 'satta' or 'bhava' meant personal existence. That explains why some thinkers at the time were using 'atthi' to mean personal existence. As in the talk about "the world exists" or "the world does not exist". The 'world' here seems to mean the self [ this might need further explanation ].

Best wishes, Vincent.


The root is "as". asti, asmi, etc. are conjugations of the same verb. sat is a noun form, actually from the verbal, too. the suffix -ta (also -tva) is an abstract, hence "exist-ence". Just as sat is a more fixed form from as, so too words like bhuta (which though -ta, is a past participle, not an abstract) are very solidified forms from bhu (the root for bhavati, bhava, etc.)

When other thinkers asked about the existence of the world (loka), they are thinking of the external world. The buddha flips it around, and defines loka in terms of the aggregates. He's not playing by the same rules and definitions.

For asking more detailed questions about this sort of thing, I strongly recommend learning some Pali and Sanskrit, and reading the original texts. I've seen far too many go astray by relying on English translations, or having a superficial knowledge of Pali and Skt such that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing".
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Apr 05, 2010 3:49 am

vinasp wrote: What did the Buddha say about 'existence' (atthi) according to the five Nikaya's? Let us begin by noting that suffering 'exists', as stated in SN 12.17 [ PTS: S ii 18]:

"Well then, good Gotama, is suffering non-existent?"
"No Kassapa: suffering is not non-existent. Suffering exists."

Link: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .wlsh.html

Suffering 'exists', and yet, the whole purpose of the teachings is to explain to worldlings how to bring about the ending of this suffering. If suffering 'exists', how can it end? It can only end by going out of existence, by ceasing to exist.



‘‘Kiṃ nu kho, bho gotama, ‘sayaṃkataṃ dukkha’nti? ‘Mā hevaṃ, kassapā’ti bhagavā avoca. ‘Kiṃ pana, bho gotama, paraṃkataṃ dukkha’nti? ‘Mā hevaṃ, kassapā’ti bhagavā avoca. ‘Kiṃ nu kho, bho gotama, sayaṃkatañca paraṃkatañca dukkha’nti? ‘Mā hevaṃ, kassapā’ti bhagavā avoca. ‘Kiṃ pana bho gotama, asayaṃkāraṃ aparaṃkāraṃ adhiccasamuppannaṃ dukkha’nti? ‘Mā hevaṃ, kassapā’ti bhagavā avoca. ‘Kiṃ nu kho, bho gotama, natthi dukkha’nti? ‘Na kho, kassapa, natthi dukkhaṃ. Atthi kho, kassapa, dukkha’nti. ‘Tena hi bhavaṃ gotamo dukkhaṃ na jānāti, na passatī’ti. ‘Na khvāhaṃ, kassapa, dukkhaṃ na jānāmi, na passāmi. Jānāmi khvāhaṃ, kassapa, dukkhaṃ; passāmi khvāhaṃ, kassapa, dukkha’’’nti.

May wish to also keep in mind the difference between sentence structure involving "atthi" as:
1. na [some noun] atthi
2. natthi [some noun]

Moreover, the Dharma is more about "bhava" and "nirodha" than "atthi" and "natthi". These are not necessarily cognates.
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Apr 05, 2010 5:37 am

Greetings,

Paññāsikhara wrote:Moreover, the Dharma is more about "bhava" and "nirodha" than "atthi" and "natthi". These are not necessarily cognates.


:twothumbsup:

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: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby chownah » Tue Apr 06, 2010 3:21 pm

All we have to actually experience are the six sense doors, their object, and their associated consciousnesses.....with these tools it is impossible to either prove or disprove the existence of an external world.....the external world is therefore a conjecture or construel on our part. If someone can show me a way that an external world can be proven or disproven using only the big six....then please post and let me know.
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Apr 06, 2010 11:03 pm

Greetings Chownah,

chownah wrote:If someone can show me a way that an external world can be proven or disproven using only the big six....then please post and let me know.


The fact we can both read these words is very suggestive of it, don't you think?

Nonetheless, I know where you're coming from. The Buddha defined the world by the six senses.

Yet, friend, without reaching the end of the world, I say, there is no ending of un Ý pleasantness. Yet friend, in this fathom long body, this perceptive form, I appoint the world, its arising, its ceasing and the path leading to its cessation.

"The end of the world cannot be reached by traveling.
Yet, without coming to the end of the world,
there's no release from unpleasantness.
Therefore be wise, know the nature of the world.
Lead the holy life to the end of the world.
The appeased, know the end of the world.
And do not wish for, this or the other world."


Source: http://tipitaka.wikia.com/wiki/Rohitassa_Sutta

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: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby chownah » Wed Apr 07, 2010 2:31 pm

Retrofuturist,
Of course many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many things suggest it.....just like many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many many things suggest that we all have selves....

I think you are correct in saying that the Buddha defined the world by the six senses but don't forget that it was me who said that the external world could not be proven nor disproven using those same six senses. I can see why for "practical" reasons people want to scoff at this but the fact remains that to believe in the existence of an "external" world is just a conjecture or construal. I believe that this is a fact.....even without deferring to what the Buddha is reported to have said it is a fact...using just science and logic one can see this......and......the Buddha seems to have known this way way before anyone else....so I guess that's why its ok for me to make such a big deal out of it....I guess.

But don't forget...if anyone can figure out a way to either prove or disprove the existence of an "external world" please post as I'd be very glad to see it.

If someone was to be "guarding the truth" as described by the Buddha what would one say about an "external world"? I don't think they would absolutely declare its existence.....but then guarding the truth is not a very popular pastime these days.

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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby vinasp » Wed Apr 07, 2010 7:58 pm

Hi chownah,

chownah wrote:All we have to actually experience are the six sense doors, their object, and their associated consciousnesses.....with these tools it is impossible to either prove or disprove the existence of an external world.....the external world is therefore a conjecture or construel on our part.


The six sense spheres, their objects, and their associated consciousnesses, are all said to cease. This is why I do not think that the actual senses are what is meant by these teachings. How does the actual eye cease when ignorance ceases?

I understand the philosophical point that you are making. With regard to the actual senses, we can not have absolute proof of an external world ( Descartes demon). However, most of us do not demand absolute proof.

Best wishes, Vincent.
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby vinasp » Wed Apr 07, 2010 8:24 pm

Hi Retro,

retrofuturist wrote:The Buddha defined the world by the six senses.


And yet the sutta which you quote, and provide a link to, does not actually mention the six senses. Did you mean to refer to S.N. IV. 95 [ SN 35. 116] or S.N. IV. 39-40 [ SN 35. 65] ?

Best wishes, Vincent.
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby vinasp » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:27 am

Hi everyone,

The Samiddhi Sutta (1) at SN 35.65 is interesting. So are the following three suttas SN 35.66, 35.67, and 35.68 which use the same template.

In the first sutta the question is asked "... how is there Mara ...", and the answer is given - "When there are the six sense spheres, their objects, and the respective consciousnesses, there Mara exists ..." But where there are not these things, there Mara does not exist ..." [ I have tried to compress it without changing the meaning].

The next sutta SN 35.66 says exactly the same thing, but with 'a being' replacing Mara.
The next SN 35.67 is the same, but 'suffering' replaces Mara. In the last of the four SN 35.68 'the world' replaces Mara.

So, where there are the six spheres, objects, and consciousnesses, there exists Mara, a being, suffering and the world.
But where there is not the six spheres, objects, and consciousnesses, there does not exist Mara, a being, suffering and the world.

Does this mean that 'Mara', 'a being', 'suffering' and 'the world', are all just different ways of speaking about the same thing?

Also, the first noble truth ends by saying: "... in short, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering". But these are also called 'sakaya', so can we add that to the list?

So Mara, a being, suffering, sakaya and the world, are all the same thing?

What do you think?

Best wishes, Vincent.
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:38 am

Greetings Vincent,

I think it's a good demonstration of how and why dependent origination should be understood as a non-time-delineated process.

Think about the following quotation we sometimes make reference to...

(Extract from) SN 12.15: Kaccayanagotta Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Ven. Kaccayana Gotta approached the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One: "Lord, 'Right view, right view,' it is said. To what extent is there right view?"

"By & large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by (takes as its object) a polarity, that of existence & non-existence. But when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'non-existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one.

"By & large, Kaccayana, this world is in bondage to attachments, clingings (sustenances), & biases. But one such as this does not get involved with or cling to these attachments, clingings, fixations of awareness, biases, or obsessions; nor is he resolved on 'my self.' He has no uncertainty or doubt that just stress, when arising, is arising; stress, when passing away, is passing away. In this, his knowledge is independent of others. It's to this extent, Kaccayana, that there is right view.

"'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: From ignorance as a requisite condition come......


In moments where there is ignorance (wrong view), there is the experience of those things you list above. They are perceived to exist.

In moments where perception is not based on ignorance (i.e. there is wisdom - right view), there is no "existence" of anything conditioned by ignorance.

Eventually...

"Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications. From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness. From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form. From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering."

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: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Postby chownah » Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:15 pm

vinasp wrote:Hi chownah,

chownah wrote:All we have to actually experience are the six sense doors, their object, and their associated consciousnesses.....with these tools it is impossible to either prove or disprove the existence of an external world.....the external world is therefore a conjecture or construel on our part.


The six sense spheres, their objects, and their associated consciousnesses, are all said to cease. This is why I do not think that the actual senses are what is meant by these teachings. How does the actual eye cease when ignorance ceases?

I understand the philosophical point that you are making. With regard to the actual senses, we can not have absolute proof of an external world ( Descartes demon). However, most of us do not demand absolute proof.

Best wishes, Vincent.

Sounds to me like the "acutal eye" is part of some external world....and from the point of view I have been providing this means that it is something that is construed. The Buddha advises against construing I think...after all the Thatagata does not construe...I think. From this point of view, when construing stops the eye no longer exists...I think. Afterall, the eye has no self so the eye as we conceive of it does not really exist and if it has any existence at all of its own it is something that we are not able to experience with our limited ability...I think...but not sure.

Maybe I am making a philosophical point or maybe not. To me it is incontrovertible fact that the existence of an external world can not be proven nor disproven with our experience..... which is derived solely through the six sense doors...and...once again if anyone can even in theory show a way that the existence of the external world can be proven or disproven then PLEASE post it as I would be very interested in seeing it. I don't think anyone will post this because frankly it can't be done....the external world is strictly a conjecture or construal.......I guess. And just to hedge my bet a bit; if there is something out there its real existence will have very little to do with the myopic and distorted view of the universe that we have....modern physics hints at this already.

You are absolutely correct in saying that most of us do not demand absolute proof.....in my view this is because most of us do not bother to guard the truth...we gladly accept our construal as absolute fact...this is called ignorance I think. Most people don't want to accept that the way they see the world is a fabrication...merely a self made story shared with friends and foes alike!!!!

chownah
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