SN 5.10 revisited. Do beings really exist?

I would use the term core function

I don’t see how this works in the case of a squirrel for example. A squirrel is being a squirrel without fabricating concepts about its own identity, it’s not a squirrel because it’s confused about philosophy, it’s a squirrel because of all the nuts it eats and it eats those nuts because it’s really attached to but eating.

Animals still fabricate a being in their mind, out of habituation (underlying tendencies). Conceit is deeply rooted conditioning, not merely a conceptualization.

Maybe DO is not applicable to squirrels. This relates to our other discussion about “sentient beings”, where I was speculating that sentience is indicated by the ability to regard oneself as a being, or as a self.

I think it’s only higher mammals which have the ability to be aware of themselves as an individual.

The Buddha talks about babies who don’t have a sense of identity but still have the underlying tendencies of the 3 poisons, and the poison of delusion refers to conceit.

SN23.2 does not state that a being is a fabrication, but focuses on clinging and craving to the aggregates of which formations/fabrications is only one. SN 22.121 states that the aggregates (including fabrications) are clingable phenomena. Any desire-passion related to them, is clinging related to them.

What is the source of this quote?

Thinking about how to better communicate the idea: It’s not about things existing or not existing because if that were the case we could say that nothing ultimately exists since the car is composed of metal and the metal is composed of atoms which is composed of quarks which is composed of some primordial energy. So if we think in this way we are over reaching into extremes.

Instead the Buddha instructs us to see things as they are, and I take this to mean, to see their fundamental structure, what really is something to the core, and not the conceptual fluff that surrounds it. Thus a car isn’t merely its various forms and materials and atoms, it is a self-propelled land vehicle, and an airplane is a self-propelled air vehicle, and a chair is a seat and not its legs and backrest, and a being is craving, and not the aggregates.

In the end, instead of seeing everything merely composed of atoms and quarks the primordial essence of matter, one sees everything as suffering, which is the primordial fundamental structure of everything.

Why now do you assume ‘a being’?
Mara, have you grasped a view?
This is a heap of sheer constructions:
Here no being is found.

Just as, with an assemblage of parts,
The word ‘chariot’ is used,
So, when the aggregates are present,
There’s the convention ‘a being.’

It’s only suffering that comes to be,
Suffering that stands and falls away.
Nothing but suffering comes to be,
Nothing but suffering ceases.

  • vajira sutta

I’m not sure that this is the quote @Thito had in mind, but a passage from MN64 does seem relevant (though talking about the 5 lower fetters rather than the 3 poisons):

“I remember the lower fetters taught by the Buddha as follows: identity view, doubt, misapprehension of precepts and observances, sensual desire, and ill will. That’s how I remember the five lower fetters taught by the Buddha.”

“Who on earth do you remember being taught the five lower fetters in that way? Wouldn’t the wanderers who follow other paths fault you using the simile of the infant? For a little baby doesn’t even have a concept of ‘identity’, so how could identity view possibly arise in them? Yet the underlying tendency to identity view still lies within them. A little baby doesn’t even have a concept of ‘teachings’, so how could doubt about the teachings possibly arise in them? Yet the underlying tendency to doubt still lies within them. A little baby doesn’t even have a concept of ‘precepts’, so how could misapprehension of precepts and observances possibly arise in them? Yet the underlying tendency to misapprehension of precepts and observances still lies within them. A little baby doesn’t even have a concept of ‘sensual pleasures’, so how could desire for sensual pleasures possibly arise in them? Yet the underlying tendency to sensual desire still lies within them. A little baby doesn’t even have a concept of ‘sentient beings’, so how could ill will for sentient beings possibly arise in them? Yet the underlying tendency to ill will still lies within them. Wouldn’t the wanderers who follow other paths fault you using the simile of the infant?”

1 Like

I’m still not clear about this idea of “fundamental structure”. As applied to cars and planes, it seems to be about purpose or function. But applying this to a being seems problematic, since according to SN5.10 a being is just a convention or view.
SN5.10 also seems to say that actually there are no beings, only suffering.
Though SN23.2 seems to say that a being is defined by craving

Suffering and craving are the same thing. All conditioned things are impermanent, suffering and not self.

See the 3 levels of suffering, this is also detailed in the essay “changes” by Ven Bodhesako which I will quote below. It’s also why I said earlier that suffering is recursive and hardest to see because the most primordial level of suffering is the most subtlest to see, just like seeing atoms and quarks is impossible with the naked eye, but one can easily see a car.

From the suttas:

“There are these three forms of stressfulness, my friend: the stressfulness of pain, the stressfulness of fabrication, the stressfulness of change. These are the three forms of stressfulness.”

Pain is easiest to see, Sankhara-dukkha, and Viparinama-dukkha-anicca are not.

From Ven Bodhesako:

structure of that deception and craving which underlie the generation of all ill, and if the Buddha’s Teaching is (as it claims to be) concerned entirely with ill and the path leading to its ceasing (“Both formerly, monks, and now, it is just suffering that I make known and the cessation of suffering.” — M. 22: i,140), then why is there nothing found in the Suttas about recursive hierarchies? To which the simple answer must be: there is, repeatedly and on many levels. And if it is due to recursiveness that deception and craving achieve their stability then a closer look at this peculiar creature may better help us to understand (and, we may hope, to end) the ill which is its consequence. Perhaps, then, there is value in an examination, even at length, of ways in which the Suttas illustrate the principle of recursiveness.

We can divide the system “bicycle” into sub-systems, which will include the mechanisms of steering, propulsion, and braking, the rider’s support, and so on. And an examination of these will yield an understanding, at least in some sense, of what is meant by “bicycle.”

None of these sub-systems are themselves “bicycle:” the system is to be found only in the whole of the sub-systems (some of which, such as “bell,” may be optional) organized in a particular functional manner. A bicycle, then, is the sum of its parts plus their organization. Although no sub-system in itself is (or includes) “bicycle,” yet the sub-systems are comprehensive, both as a whole (for there is no mysterious element outside of them which is needed in order to furnish the organized sub-systems with that “breath of life” whereby — presto! — there is suddenly a bicycle); and individually (inasmuch as there is no component which in its nature cannot be categorized as belonging to this or that sub-system). Furthermore, the sub-systems are organized in a way which is non-iterative (that is, no sub-system is inherently inseparable from other sub-systems; every component, regardless of function, can be classified within one and only one sub-system).

Further, if we wish to understand any sub-system more fully we can reduce it in turn to its components. This will lead us eventually to the nuts, bolts, springs, levers, and what-nots that are the “atoms” which combine to form certain structures (“molecules”) which combine to form higher-level structures which eventually make a bicycle.[54]

This sort of analysis, which is reductionist in character, is fully adequate to understand the structure of bicycles. Furthermore, it is the only type of analysis which can lead to the knowledge, “how to assemble a bicycle.”

Suppose, as we dismantle our bicycle (carefully cataloging where each piece came from, what it connected to, and how it functions), we were to discover, tucked away nearly out of sight, a curious mechanism we had never noticed before: a small replica of the very bicycle we were examining — a replica complete in every detail. Not a mere model of our bicycle, this replica, we discover, is an integral part of it, connected to the other parts in a functional manner. What ought we to do?

Obviously, if bicycles were constructed in this peculiar fashion then a reductionist analysis would never result in an understanding of how to assemble a bicycle. A different form of analysis would be necessary.

But, it may be objected, bicycles are in fact not constructed in such a peculiar way. Ignorance, craving, holding, and suffering, it has been said, are so constructed. But it has also been said that these are actually seen (in their essential aspect) only by enlightened beings and not by the likes of us, and that their existence is therefore not actually established (the structures, that is, not the enlightened beings).

He goes on to describe how one sees what needs to be seen

In a holistic approach there can be no attempt to discover entities more fundamental than those apparent on any level of experience. It is accepted that the fundamental structure is manifest at every level of generality. Thus it is possible to discover the universe in a grain of sand.

It gets a lot more detailed, I recommend checking the essay out Change – Path Press

The Buddha referred such questions to Dependent Origination – impersonal processes leading either to dukkha or liberation.
Clouds form with particular shapes due to impersonal processes, without self-ness, and disappear due to impersonal processes.
Engaging in abstract philosophizing about whether they “truly exist” – vague and abstract terms – is something the Buddha did not recommend, as such speculation is not conducive to the ending of dukkha.

Rather: Iti – imasmiṁ asati – idaṁ na hoti; imassa nirodhā – idaṁ nirujjati
This not being – this does not come to be; With the cessation of this – this ceases — MN 79, MN 115

"Sabba sankhara anicca " – all beings/manifestations are ever-changing conditional phenomena (as per DO), manifesting with different forms and characteristics but without a permanent, essential, “being”. In this sense, we “exist” as ever- inconstant , dependent, processes.
And the Buddha taught the way out of this otherwise endless processing.

SN5.10 i do not understand. Why does only suffering end? What also ends, or not? is creativity, an oppertunity to propagate, to make friends, to spread Dhamma, to enjoy things etc etc.
(sorry, this is a difficult subject for me).

“Bhikkhus, there are these two views: the view of being and the view of non-being. Any recluses or brahmins who rely on the view of being, adopt the view of being, accept the view of being, are opposed to the view of non-being. Any recluses or brahmins who rely on the view of non-being, adopt the view of non-being, accept the view of non-being, are opposed to the view of being.

MN 11: Cūḷasīhanādasutta—Bhikkhu Bodhi (


So do you regard SN5.10 as a teaching on anatta?

I think it’s existence and non-existence which are being discussed in MN11, similar to SN12.15.
SN5.10 is challenging the assumption that beings exist - “Why do you assume a being…?”

It’s the same application. When emptiness is seen, no self is known. Being, existing etc are one extreme. Anyway, this is using the ultimate reality language. Ultimate reality uses the middle path, dependent origination. Or non-dual. Reading this now: Awakening to Reality: Critique on Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Article “Dhamma and Non-duality”

Conventional reality language, the meaning of exist vs not exist is different. Exist means can be contacted with the 6 sense bases. Not exist, is like fiction, dream vs exist as in a statue, actual actor.

Yes, SN5.10 is a quite challenging sutta. I view it as another teaching on anatta, since the assumption of a “being” looks very similar to the assumption of a self.

Though SN5.10 is saying that beings don’t exist, so it’s a different argument to the one about existence v. non-existence.