If delusion is the ground of being, how do we explain the existence of inanimate objects?

I was contemplating the question “Why are there Beings rather than nothing?” I believe buddhism gives the answer thay the ground of our existence is delusion, so that the meaning of life is to see things as they really are and be free from samsara by attaining nibbana and putting an end to rebirth and thus to our future existence(s).
However if we exist because of delusion how do we explain the existence of inanimate objects? Is there a cause in Buddhism for their existence? Will they exist anyway independently of consciousness as in philosophical realism in Western philosophy, or do they exist only as objects of consciousness as in philosophical idealism?
I know it’s a pretty abstract question quite irrelevant for liberation but it’s fun to discuss anyway😀


Your question is a thoughtful and penetrating one, and shows how important it is to have some understanding of the cultural background of Buddhism. The assumption was that matter (prakriti) is a given, and that it has an inherent tendency to evolve in the direction of ordered things, organisms and sentient beings. A Google search for Samkhya will give you information on this world view as it evolved into a coherent philosophy. My summary is a crude (over) simplification.

An understanding of how prakriti was viewed is essential not only to grasp the existence of material things, but to see how Buddhism can assume that thoughts and action are truly creative of new things and situations.

A fuller understanding of the philosophical and mythological background of Buddhism is a great help if one wishes to understand it in detail, and be able to understand its concepts as tools for understanding existence, not just as articles of faith.

From your referencing of philosophical realism and idealism, it seems that your have an real intellectual engagement with Buddhism, which is extremely praiseworthy.


With rebirth there is also the support for life, which includes the cosmos. All this is a result of level of consciousness. The basis of this is not just a Buddhist idea, it is now accepted by science:

I think it was not explained as delusion created beings just as an omnipotent God would. Rather, this being is already a given but wrong assumptions of its nature creates a delusion of permanence, satisfactoriness and existence.

From my understanding, Buddha did not explain how cosmos was created.

All right but from dependent cessation one sees that when delusion stops then there will not be any more rebirth so that delusion is the condition for the existence of conscious beings.

Although this Wikipedia article has considerable interest from a comparative point of view, it only touches directly on the Buddhist situation indirectly, by reference to late Mahayana ideas about Buddha nature.

Fundamental delusion - That phenomena actually exist, in the sense of being permanent and unchanging.

Does an Inanimate object eg “stone” actually exist, outside of Mind? What proof can be offered, which is independent of the six senses?

Even if the input of the senses is taken as factual, a stone is actually just a conglomeration of various elements, held together temporarily … subject to change and decay. The Ancients got that much, even guessing that it all eventually returns to Energy! We moderns know a bit more, we can trace it backwards, the matter in the stone can be seen to originate from the energy of the primordial Universe, coming into being through chemical processes within the hearts of stars and proto planets, tracing forward it will eventually fall apart thus revealing its true nature. Both in terms of Ancient as well as Modern knowledge, we are simply examining a momentary snapshot of a Process in motion, no matter how imperceptible it might be.

Where did the Energy come from and where does it go to? Some interesting theories in the realm of theoretical Physics posit that Everything comes from the apparent nothing of Emptiness … a True Nothing cannot be found - as it would have to exist outside of the bounds of the Universe. So, if everything was balanced out right now, we would get Empty Space-Time. No You, no Me, no Stone. Or in other words, the idea of actual, permanent, unchanging Existence is a Delusion.


Could you please point to any sutta in the Nikāya that explicitly says such thing? :sweat_smile:

Buddha explained it in DN 27 Aggaññasutta. But this is mundane teaching, no need to dwell in this for long.

There comes a time when, Vāseṭṭha, after a very long period has passed, this cosmos contracts. As the cosmos contracts, sentient beings are mostly headed for the realm of streaming radiance. There they are mind-made, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, moving through the sky, steadily glorious, and they remain like that for a very long time.

On Super mundane level,

Aneka-jati samsaram sandhavissam anibbisam,
Gahakarakam gavesanto dukkha-jati-punappunam.
Gahakaraka! Dithosi, puna geham na kahasi.
Sabba te phasuka bhagga, gahakutam visankhitam.
Visankhara-gatam cittam, tanhanam khayamajjhaga.

Through countless births in the cycle of existence
I have run, in vain
seeking the builder of this house; and again and again I faced the discomfort of new birth.

Oh housebuilder! Now you are seen.
You shall not build a house again for me.
All your beams are broken, the ridgepole is shattered.
The mind has become freed from conditioning; the end of craving has been reached.

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Yes, I’m aware that the process of cosmos expanding and contracting was described. However, the mechanism of how it came to be like this was not explained. For example, many cultures would ascribe it to omnipotent God, God of nature or a universal consciousness etc. Buddha merely stated the process as such, just as what he did with dependent origination. In any case, it is not crucial to the cessation of Dukkha.

From deluded contact, craving arises. From craving, deluded activity of clinging arises. From clinging, deluded sense of Self arises.

From my understanding, conscious being is required for deluded contact to arise, not the other way round. At the very least, they arise simultaneously. However, wrong assumptions of the nature of conscious being are conditioned by delusion.

I was just thinking of dependent origination. Delusion is the cause for your being reborn.

I agree. My understanding of dependent origination is that once delusion ends then you will not be reborn; in that sense I understand it as the basis or the ground or the fuel for existence.

Yes, when delusion ceases, existence ceases to be. When existence ceases, birth, old age, death and whole mass of suffering cease to be right there and then. Again, note that when existence ceases, birth ceases. Not the other way round.

There’s the two bundles of reads simile. Any help?

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Thank you I had forgotten about that. So it seems that it is closer, in terms of Western philosophy, to the philosophical idealism of e.g. Bishop Berkeley

I, for one, would prefer to leave physics/astrophysics/biology in the domain of physicists/astronomers/biologists, etc. These experts will always have the upper hand over me if I try to “hammer out with logic” theories about matter, when these experts have all the right tools and instruments to investigate this matter with far more precision.

For example, just look at all the wild and crazy physics equations that have been discovered, which 1000 years of meditation, or 1000 years of Abhidhamma study, would never reveal.

It’s my domain to try to attain Nibbana, regardless of how the stones and stumps, etc, around me came to be. I think it’s OK to delegate things to other fields of expertise, and my sense of emotional well-being can be unentangled and undamaged by that - not needing to be the expert of everything under the sun.


This is beautiful & thank you for sharing–I’m literally going to tuck this away in my brain as self-reminder. Thanks for this Bhante :pray:

I wholeheartedly agree that you don’t need to answer this question to attain liberation. I just think they are interesting questions to contemplate. I also believe that they are more in the domain of philosophy than science. Like Heidegger said you cannot put biology itself under a microscope.

For example, just look at all the wild and crazy physics equations that have been discovered, which 1000 years of meditation, or 1000 years of Abhidhamma study, would never reveal


I don’t think these are very crazy (or difficult) equations. Also, they are all interconnected so you don’t need to know all of them and it all comes down to pretty simple concepts For example most of the ones undet the heading modern physics I teach to my first year undergraduate students. They are just special relativity and the basic equation of quantum mechanics.

I noticed that Ajahn Brahm also speaks about physics, and about some philosophical implications of statements by physicists, ike Lord Kelvin’s idea that in order to control nature you have to be able to measure it. So again thinking about some intellectual subjects might even be beneficial for practice. Indeed the Buddha himself was a very intelligent person, and people like Gombrich have put the accent on his thinking.

When I first came to Buddhism I abandoned many of my intellectual passions and I really liked Ajan Chah’s saying that if you have a PhD then your defilements will have one too. I now think there is nothing wrong with intellectual subjecs, for me it’s not a question of feeling diminished if I don’t know about these things; it’s just that thinking about these questions is fun and is an expression of the wonder for the existence of the world; which for many people including Plato was the source of philosophy and thus of wisdom.

Well, the rocks and stumps that are in the world around us are just sort of the debris in Samsara which has become manifest/“come to be”, and we have temporarily come into contact with it, as we wander around from life to life (and delusion must be in that process, if we never managed to attain Nibbana as arahants). We have some influence on the things we come into contact with: we can condition it, participating in its changing nature, by, say, rolling a rock, or chopping out a problematic stump with an axe.