Saturday, 10 October 2009

Inherent Existence in Buddhist Philosophy




When Buddhists speak of a thing or person being empty' they really mean empty of inherent existence'.

So what is this`inherent existence' that it is so important to refute?
I've been trying to get my empty head around what an inherently existing object would be like. Here's a few ideas:

(1) An inherently existing entity exists in splendid isolation without the need to reference any other entity. It is completely defined by its own nature.

(2) An inherently existing entity is uncaused.

(3) It is indestructible.

(4) It is eternal.

(5) It is unchanging when viewed externally.

(6) It cannot undergo any internal changes of state.

(7) It either has no constituent parts, or if it has parts those parts are inseparable.

(8) Consequently, nothing can be ejected or removed from it.

(9) Nothing can be added to it (this would change its definition).

(10) No change in external conditions (up to and including the destruction of the entire universe) can affect it.

Inherent existence of mathematics
I used to think that mathematics might be inherently existent, but from my limited knowledge of Goedel's theorem, I understand that no system of mathematics can be completely self-defined, and must always reference something external to itself.

Inherent existence of God
God might be another candidate for an inherently existing entity, but if he were truly inherently-existent he could never undergo a change of state in response to external conditions (eg become angry at sinners/infidels and send plagues, pestilences etc to destroy them). Neither would it matter to him whether he was worshipped or not, for no external factor could in the slightest degree affect him.

Also, if God is omnipotent, he has the power to destroy everything, including himself. So even God must be empty of inherent existence because his continued existence is contingent on his not committing suicide.

Invisibility of an inherently existent object
Returning to point (5), a physical, inherently existing object probably couldn't be viewed because the physics of viewing requires the electrons in the object to interact with the photons of light, which would require a rearrangement of the 'parts' of the object. Hence the object would be altered by external conditions.

Also, all physical objects are composed of particles of various sorts, and all particles are changed by being known (Heisenberg, dual wave/particle nature, entanglement etc.) So no physical object could ever be inherently existent, as it is composed entirely of parts which are dependently-related to the knower ( and some very weird things happen when you try to find the 'true nature' of fundamental particles.)

Possibly a more abstract object could be known without viewing, in the same way that a mathematical entity such as 'Pi' can be known without being physically viewed.

Not that Pi or any other mathematical function is inherently existent. Pi depends upon the circumference and diameter of a circle. All mathematical entities are imperfect, incomplete and make Goedelian 'external references'.

- Sean Robsville


RELATED ARTICLES:

Sunyata - the emptiness of all things

Existence, Impermanence and Emptiness in Buddhism

Essentialism in Physics, Chemistry and Biology

Rational Buddhism

The Four Seals of Dharma

Quantum Buddhism - Buddhist Particle Physics


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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

when we try to meditate on emptiness are we therefore trying to imagine oneself as a iherent exsiting object?...dawn

Sean said...

We are trying to find the inherently existing self and eventually, after exhausting all possibilities, we come to the conclusion that the inherently-existing 'self', 'ego' or 'I' does not truly exist.

Like all apparently 'inherently-existing' objects, it dissappears upon analysis.

Anonymous said...

This smacks of bullshit.

Anonymous said...

"Inherent Existence" as a concept does not inherently exist. So when you try to pin down the definition of the *concept* of inherent existence, you can't come up with a "clean, clear" definition.

Garfield's translation of Nagarjuna's Mulamadyhamakakarika (Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way) posits the equivalence of "empty of inherent existence", "dependently originated" and "conceptually designated".

I like the shorthand of "no essence" for "empty of inherent existence". That helps me understand, when I perceive at any phenomenon, hing, that there is in no way any particle, energy, quality or category that exists as an essence, a standalone existent in that phenomenon. That then leads to "dependently originated", meaning that the phenomenon appears before my perceptions due to an endlessly divisible network of elements and causes. And that principle among those elements and causes is my being here to cast a(perhaps sub or unconscious) conceptual designation onto that "thing", delineating it in space and time as "separate and distinct" in the network. This puts me on the doorstep of "what is producing the conceptual designation", which points to the concept of a self. That becomes the next target of analysis, as in "no essence to this self", "this self is dependently originated", "this self is conceptually designated", which points to the "conceptual designator" in the self, the "model of self" in the self and the "observing awareness" in the self. These become the next targets of the three-part "emptiness analysis" described above. This can be repeated again, and again, and again, until the neuro-pschological nexus of model of self conceptualizing engine, and observing awareness is sufficiently weakened that there's a break in the conceptualizing, and a glimpse of non-conceptual awareness. I find that this gets more effective the more it is practiced.

Jim said...

Let's try it again without so many typos....

"Inherent Existence" as a concept does not inherently exist. So when you try to pin down the definition of the *concept* of inherent existence, you can't come up with a "clean, clear" definition.

Garfield's translation of Nagarjuna's Mulamadyhamakakarika (Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way) posits the equivalence of "empty of inherent existence", "dependently originated" and "conceptually designated".

I like the shorthand of "no essence" for "empty of inherent existence". That helps me understand, when I perceive at any phenomenon that there is in no way any particle, energy, quality or category exists as an essence, a standalone existent in that phenomenon. That then leads to "dependently originated", meaning that the phenomenon appears before my perceptions due to an endlessly divisible network of elements and causes. Then "conceptually designated" tells me that principle among those elements and causes is my being here to cast a (perhaps sub or unconscious) conceptual designation onto that "thing", delineating it in space and time as "separate and distinct" in the network. This puts me on the doorstep of "what is producing the conceptual designation", which points to the concept of a self. That becomes the next target of analysis, as in "no essence to this self", "this self is dependently originated", "this self is conceptually designated". These taken together point to to the "conceptual designator" in the self, the "model of self" in the self and the "observing awareness" in the self. These become the next targets of the three-part "emptiness analysis" described above. This can be repeated again, and again, and again, until the neuro-pschological nexus of model of self, conceptualizing engine, and observing awareness is sufficiently weakened that there's a break in the conceptualizing, and a glimpse of non-conceptual awareness. I find that this gets more effective the more it is practiced.