Objective Reality in EBTs

I recently found a forum post where one venerable teaching Objective Reality using the evidences in EBTs. What do you think about his explanation?

1.18. The idea of considering paramatthadhammas as existents can be verified with evidence from the canon itself. In number of suttas the Buddha mentions rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra and viññāṇa to be dukkha (natures that bring suffering). When it is mentioned in suttas as “Rupaṃ dukkhaṃ” and “Vedanā dukkhā” usage of similar nominal case endings in rūpa and dukkha and vedanā and dukkha suggests that the terms are in apposition. It means what is referred by the term rūpa is the same that is referred by the word dukkha. The same should be understood with regard to the other two terms, vedanā and dukkha.

Then in the Acelakassapa Sutta, when being questioned by Acelakassapa whether there is no dukkha “Kiṃ nu kho, bho Gotama, natthi dukkhaṃ (Venerable Gotama, isn’t there dukkha)?”, the Buddha gave the direct answer, “Na kho, Kassapa, natthi dukkhaṃ. Atthi kho, Kassapa, dukkhaṃ (Kassapa, it is not that there is no dukkha. There is, indeed, dukkha)”.

Therefore, as for the teachings of the Buddha, if dukkha exists, rūpa and vedanā (and the remaining aggregates of clinging - upādānakkhandha) also should exist, because dukkha is the five aggregates (rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra and viññāṇa).

It is very evident that the Buddha advocated the existence of dukkha and, also, propounded that what he considered as dukkha is the five aggregates, which in turn leads to the inference that five aggregates do exist according to him. Five aggregates are the citta, cetasika and rūpa which were explained above.

In the Puppha Sutta of Saṃyutta Nikāya, the Buddha clearly advocates that he accepts the idea that five aggregates i.e., rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra and viññāṇa, that are impermanent, subject to change and which bring forth suffering do exist.

Moreover, in number of suttas the Buddha has clearly advocated the existence of spiritual qualities such as eight-fold noble path (ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo), seven factors of enlightenment (satta bojjhaṅgā), four-fold-mindfulness (cattāro satipaṭṭhānā), three types of feeling (tividhā vedanā) and so forth. These are also concrete evidences to prove that according to the Theravāda canon the Buddha himself has propounded the existence of paramatthadhammas.

Venerable Maggavihari at IIT

Some Therevadan practitionersv believe that the aggregates really exist and the self really doesn’t exist.

They contort the EBT’s to fit this view.

The early Buddhist texts mount a sustained critique of “exists” vs “does not exist” talk as exemplified in:

“‘Kaccāna, this world mostly relies on the dual notions of existence and non-existence.

dvayanissito khvāyaṁ, kaccāna, loko yebhuyyena atthitañceva natthitañca.

But when you truly see the origin of the world with right understanding, you won’t have the notion of non-existence regarding the world.

Lokasamudayaṁ kho, kaccāna, yathābhūtaṁ sammappaññāya passato yā loke natthitā, sā na hoti.

And when you truly see the cessation of the world with right understanding, you won’t have the notion of existence regarding the world.

Lokanirodhaṁ kho, kaccāna, yathābhūtaṁ sammappaññāya passato yā loke atthitā, sā na hoti.”

This is just one example amongst dozens.

However whenever you present these suttas, some Therevadan’s will find reasons, often grammatical ones, to show that the Buddha wasn’t saying what he appears to be saying, but something else, that reaffirms that, for example, aggregates are real and the self is unreal.

After a while you get used to it.


Nice response! I’m curious what sutta that conversation comes from? I’m a tad bit confused what you mean when people say the “aggregates really exist” is this some debate about them being illusory?

That’s from SN22.90

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And yes, the position that I argue is clear from the EBT’s is that even things like the aggregates and the path are in some sense conditional on concepts which in term are conditional on percepts which are conditional on subjects which are conditional… they are therefore not ultimately “real” in the sense of having independent substance or existing regardless of our attitudes towards towards them.


The Aggregates are Empty and without the substance of a Self. Therefore they are illusory by their Nature.

Hmm that’s really interesting. Conditioned dhammas are in a sense not fully “real” as in a self existent reality but not fully “not real” in that they still arise. How magnificent of gotama to teach the middle way between these two extreme views of existence!

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Magnificent but tricky, the dhamma is usually found inbetween two almost universally held wrong views that make it hard to imagine the middle way. I’m not surprised so many questioners in the suttas are exasperated by the answer they get!

The nominative cases above seem to simply indicate, in the context, that rupam “is” dukkham.

The word “atthi” (“exists”) does not necessarily always imply a permanent or inherent existence. The “dukkha” referred to in SN 12.17 is not inherent or permanent (unlike the dukkha referred to in AN 3.136, which is permanent).

In the 1st noble truth (SN 56.11), the Buddha explained the five aggregates subject to attachment are dukkha. The dukkha here is the attachment.

In SN 22.59, the Buddha explained the aggregates (regardless of attachment to them) are dukkha or unable to bring real pleasure. Here, the Buddha did not say dukkha is the aggregates. That is why the Pali previously mentions is “rupa is dukkha” rathe than “dukkha is rupa”.

My opinion is the explanation is not soundly & convincingly argued. :dizzy:

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Are you teasing me @CurlyCarl :slight_smile:

How can this be @CurlyCarl , didn’t the Buddha say that phenomena where impermanent? How can a permanent dukkha be made of impermanent parts?

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You seem to be saying the impermanence of conditioned things is impermanent. Did you recently commence a topic that seemed to argue not-self was not real? AN 3.136 says that conditioned things are dukkha is ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatā dhammaniyāmatā. :melting_face:

Dukkha, being not real, arises by causal condition (nidana); having arisen it ceases completely by causal condition. It is a result of previous action, but there is no doer (anatta ‘not-self’).

The ‘dukkha’ referred to in SN 22.59 does not arise by causal condition (nidana). AN 3.136 says the ‘dukkha’ referred to in SN 22.59 is ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatā dhammaniyāmatā. Only the ‘dukkha’ referred to in SN 56.11 & SN 12.2 arises by causal condition of death, birth, becoming, attachment… ignorance.

But if suffering isn’t conditional then suffering is unconditional? Are you saying dukkha = nibanna?

Your question is non-sequitur. Since you seem to believe AN 3.136 is fake, it seems you cannot comprehend what I posted about two different meanings of the word ‘dukkha’.

Although not literally, yes. Continuous experience of one type of dukkha results in the concurrent cessation of another type of dukkha. But you seem to believe Dhp 279, prior to Dhammapada 278, which says this, is fake.

“Sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā”ti, yadā paññāya passati; Atha nibbindati dukkhe, esa maggo visuddhiyā.

“All conditioned things are unsatisfactory”—when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.


Why anicca is dukkha?

Anicca is not dukkha. Where is the teaching “anicca dukkha” found in the suttas? :saluting_face:

You may just check SN/SA suttas on the connection between anicca, dukkha, anatta.

Beyond the intra-textual Buddhist criticism you can make about discussions of “does exist” and “does not exist”, I’m always highly skeptical of people using phrases like “objective reality” when they don’t seem to have any background in the Western philosophical tradition that such phrases are coming out of. Like in western ontology realism and idealism have pretty much collapsed into a soup of “whatever works” at this point. I have a feeling that people talking about objective reality on a Buddhist forum are probably thinking about ontology in a way that no contemporary western ontologist or epistemologist would take seriously anymore.