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.