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  • Writer's pictureTõnn Sarv

Characteristics of existence

If asking, how to be, one might ask, what is therefore asked. What it means, 'to be'? What it is, what is the question about, what is being, existence, at all?

Existence or being has three characteristics. Better to say, it has three features, which don't exist.

It has no permanence. It does not offer satisfaction. It has no self.

In other words, existence does not persist, it's not satisfying, and it is nobody.

No one can say anything about it. These three characteristics are the lack of characteristics. It has no characteristics.

By these characteristics, it can be recognized. If something has no attributes, apparently it's existence. The existence has not existing features. Therefore even non-existence should be not existing.

Nothing to do with it, nobody can be within it, and there is no need to be within it, too. It does not persist, and it changes and disappears. It does not offer permanent and final happiness or satisfaction. With it cannot relate, have a relationship, or take it anyhow. Existence or being cannot be an aim or target, and it has no meaning or purpose. It's empty.

Questions may arise, why to pay attention to something which doesn't exist, why to talk about nothingness at all?

There is a reason. We are related to it, we seek happiness in it, and we rely on its persistence. We, by ourselves, are the reason to pay attention and to talk about it. It's our way to see it, to understand and recognize it, assuming that it's permanent, satisfactory and complacent. These imaginary properties let us survive.

If looking at these characteristics of existence separately, and in the fixed state, they don't have much sense, these characteristics are no characteristics at all, and there is nothing to recognize, nothing to see. The real importance of these characteristics will appear only if all three are present, and in action, dynamically. That's the point to see it, that's the life to understand.

Only perceptions, feelings, senses, thoughts, opinions can be recognized and noticed. Only in actions, movable, with wantings, needs, and hatreds; with limitations, ignorance, and not-knowingness; with believing in oneself, keeping and grasping representations of oneself, there is something to do, to act, to live.

Only if all the life is taken seriously as real, recognizable, relevant; selfishly and personally, as if one's self stands apart, aside of everything else, there is something to see. Only if taking oneself as an extraordinary, new, unique, special, as if the whole world revolved around oneself, the most important person here; as if one's thoughts, deliberations and attitudes were significant or even the most important things that everyone else must take notice of - as if oneself is permanent, as if it cannot suffer, and as if it is somebody - then the characteristics will be discoverable and appear in reverse way. Then it seems, that all the world is permanent, enjoyable and self-centered. That is the way to find and discover an aim, purpose, meaning, and significance for all the life.

The world as Will and Representation.¹

In this world, something can grow up, stay alive and develop only by ignorance, greed, and aversion.

The existence simply can not offer us final and complete satisfaction, it's unable to give us ultimate happiness. It's not possible. It's not its obligation. It's not its property or characteristic anyway. Existence does not exist for us.

Happiness or satisfaction is like the horizon: we see it, but we can not reach to it. It is just a concept. When moving closer to it, just new horizons will open. Horizon and happiness are just conceptual things, always far away from us.

You cannot uproot crime by making punishments harsher, nor you cannot resolve traffic jams by widening highways. Crimes will become just more sophisticated, and more vehicles will just enter on the new highways. Just like you never can reach to the horizon.

These characteristics are not 'real' but rather 'virtual,' oscillating between being and non-being, appearing only under inspection and disappearing if nobody cares, like Schrödingen's cat, both alive and dead, like a sub-atomic phenomenon, fluctuating between particle and wave functions, being both matter and energy. These phenomena cannot be entirely separated from our perception, they are shifting under our gaze, interact with us, and the knowledge has to be interpreted by us.

To say that everything changes is the same to say that everything is permanent because they both are wrong and right simultaneously. So similarly we cannot say that there is no self, and also we cannot say that there is a self. Consequently, we cannot declare that there is dukkha, and we cannot declare that there is no dukkha.

It is a principle of tolerance, proposed by David Maurice².

To be free from the elaboration of characteristics, the ground, the expanse of dharmata is a spontaneously great bliss.³

There is, bhikkhus, that base where there is no earth, no water, no fire, no air; no base consisting of the infinity of space, no base consisting of the infinity of consciousness, no base consisting of nothingness, no base consisting of neither-perception-nor-non-perception; neither this world nor another world nor both; neither sun nor moon. Here, bhikkhus, I say there is no coming, no going, no staying, no deceasing, no uprising. Not fixed, not movable, it has no support. Just this is the end of suffering.


¹ A. Schopenhauer.

² What the Buddha Really Taught, 1980.

³ The Instructions of Gampopa: A Precious Garland of the Supreme Path, XXVIII:2. Translated and edited by Dr. Konchok Rigzen.

Ud 8.1 PTS: Ud 80 Nibbāna Sutta: Parinibbana (1). Translated from the Pali by John D. Ireland.

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