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What is meant by existence (atthi)? - Dhamma Wheel

What is meant by existence (atthi)?

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
vinasp
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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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bodom
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

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

To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo


With mindfulness immersed in the body
well established, restrained
with regard to the six media of contact,
always centered, the monk
can know Unbinding for himself.

- Ud 3.5


https://www.dhammatalks.org/index.html
http://www.ajahnchah.org/

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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").
My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: .

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retrofuturist
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

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

"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

vinasp
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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.

vinasp
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

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


vinasp
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

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


vinasp
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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

My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: .

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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

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

My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: .

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retrofuturist
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

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

"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

chownah
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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.
chownah

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retrofuturist
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

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

"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

chownah
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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.

chownah

vinasp
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

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


vinasp
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

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


vinasp
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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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retrofuturist
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

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

"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

chownah
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Re: What is meant by existence (atthi)?

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



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