What is a Being? Are we a Being?

I was reading this topic; Is Dependent Origination a parody of Vedic cosmology? - Essays - Discuss & Discover (suttacentral.net)

It talks also about creation of beings. It raised the question, for me, what is a being?

I believe Buddha discovered that we are a being in as much we are involved and attached to the 5 khandha’s as Me, mine, my self. In that involvement we become a being, at least that is our impression.

Being a being is, i believe, not about having a coarse human, animal body etc. or having a fine body or no body at all. Also entirely possessed of mind there is still the perception of being a being; as a subject who cognises. Being a being is not determined by having a certain coarse or subtle physical body, i think. Being a being is determined by experience, by perception. How one experiences oneself. It arises in the mind. I believe, it is mind-made.

The way we experience ourselves, for example now as a human being, is completely mind-made at any moment. It arises dependly all the time.
So, i believe Buddha teaches that only in a conventional way we are now human beings, but not in Truth.

A Buddha has qualities and abilities that are not normal human because he is freed from that perspective of being a human being. One who has broken with conceiving can also not conceive him/herself to be a human being.

In this line the creation of a being is the arising of an impression of me, mine, myself in the mind and does not refer to physical birth.
This is something momentary. And if this ends no being ends but the impression of being a being ends.
Meaning, avijja ends.

At least, one must first think about what is a being? Are those possessed entirely of Mind no beings? Do they see themselves or expereince themselves as beings? I think so because of subject-object duality.
Being a being is a mind-made impression, i think.

Coming from a philosophical background myself, I’ve had to learn (and still am) that thinking in philosophical concepts and definitions does not always help in understanding Buddhist teachings and getting to their core.

Maybe that is part of their “magic” or even the real, intended reason behind their brilliance? Sometimes it seems to me that the Dhamma is like a weather report, with no need to know or define the types of clouds to get the general picture.

In such a way, I think that it may already be enough to just think of a being as a living creature in the most general sense.

Here is the Buddha’s answer to your question in Sattasutta SN 23.2:

At Sāvatthī.

Seated to one side, Venerable Rādha said to the Buddha:

“Sir, they speak of this thing called a ‘sentient being’. How is a sentient being defined?”

“Rādha, when you cling, strongly cling, to desire, greed, relishing, and craving for form, then a being is spoken of. When you cling, strongly cling, to desire, greed, relishing, and craving for feeling … perception … choices … consciousness, then a being is spoken of.

Suppose some boys or girls were playing with sandcastles. As long as they’re not rid of greed, desire, fondness, thirst, passion, and craving for those sandcastles, they cherish them, fancy them, treasure them, and treat them as their own. But when they are rid of greed, desire, fondness, thirst, passion, and craving for those sandcastles, they scatter, destroy, and demolish them with their hands and feet, making them unplayable.

In the same way, you should scatter, destroy, and demolish form, making it unplayable. And you should practice for the ending of craving. You should scatter, destroy, and demolish feeling … perception … choices … consciousness, making it unplayable. And you should practice for the ending of craving. For the ending of craving is extinguishment.”

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Yes, thanks, i knew that sutta. I think it means Buddha defines ‘a being’ in an experiential way, just like ‘the world’. This is not easy to digest, i feel, because we are so used to see ‘the world’, and ’ a living being’as something we can directly observe, sense, feel, know. While this is not true. We cannot even see a tree directly.

I see what you are saying and agree with the general message. But don’t you think that when you have the perception of being a being, that can really make an end to hate, greed, anusaya, asavas, tanhas?
Isn’t this perception of being a being the fuel for all those patterns ?

What I see is quite an explicit answer: 1) Wherever there is clinging, there is sentient being. 2) Wherever there is no sentient being, there is no clinging.

However, it does not lead to: Wherever there is no clinging, there is no sentient being.

Maybe your usage of word is not precise. I don’t see in that sutta SN 23.2 any hint about “experiential way” as you suggested. Maybe you need to explain in more details about that “experiential way”?

I am sure that it would help a lot to have every human being realize that they as living creatures are all subject to the same reality of existence (Being, in this case with a capital “B”), which in the end is unexplainable and a mystery, and therefore “all in the same boat”. But would it really solve our problems? Even if we all agreed on this point there would still be enormous differences of oppinion on how to go on, how to act, what our proper morals should be etc (and that is if we assume only the best intentions on the part of everybody).

In every day life you will not find three persons that can even agree on how the air conditioning should be set. Make the test if you don’t believe me.

Neither being nor non-being are Nibbana’s Path. I think Dependant Origination gives a new perception in this. The concrete world looked for in “being” is Samsara. The concrete world looked for in “non-being” is nullification of the non-existent. What are we trying to nullify?

So ultimately what I think we should turn to for guidance is Dependant Origination, explaining Emptiness. Finding the true meaning in the phrase “the Skandhas are Empty.”

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The cause of ‘being’ (verb) is craving for existence. Eliminating the fetter of craving for existence on the sensual plane is covered in 4 & 5 of the lower fetters; 6 & 7 explicitly cover elimination of the craving for fine-material and immaterial existence in the higher fetters.

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I believe that our lives, or who or what we are, is much more, and cannot be reduced, to a stream of vinnana’s or conscious moments. Our lives also contains many unconscious momens and this is a huge part of our lives. This is also accepted in Abhidhamma, i believe by introducing bhavanga. But everyone who thinks about this will confirm this. This is all just common sense. There is no reason at all to reduce our lives or who or what we are to a stream of mere conscious moments. That will never be a sincere or truthful description of our lives of who or what we are.

Buddha introduced yet another aspect of our lifes or being. Those moments that there is no mental activity at all (also no bhavanga) and still we are not death. This tells us something about our lifes, about who or what we are or maybe about the nature of mind.

Anyway, It is much more then a stream of conscious and even unconscious moments.

So what does the cessation of vinnana mean? An end of ones life? Going out like a flame? Well, Yes, if one believes that one is only a stream of vinnana’s, then that stream ends. But i believe Buddha does not teach that.

But in the end, i think, it all comes down to how one perceives oneself, who or what we think we are.
How deep can one look into ones life? Buddha’s approach is stilling. I am not an expert in this but such people can tell us the Truth, i believe.

To think about our lives as mere a stream of vinnana’s, conscious moments is, i believe, superficial. And also, to think about our lives as a stream of alternately conscious and unconscious moments is also not the whole Truth about our our lives, i believe. Even when this ceases we are not death.

Are we a being?

If you would try, there is no way you can point to something and call this ‘the world’. Right? ‘The world’ is for the mind mere a concept. But you can also not point to something and say…this is a human, or this is a tree.

These are all mere concepts. The same with ‘living being’. All such things are mere concepts.
It is all a mind made reality.

If you know yourself as ‘a human’ or as ‘a living being’, that is because of conceiving the khandha’s to be me, mine, my self and a lot more thinking.
Then you have conceptual and not direct knowledge of the khandha’s. The Buddha teaches that the Dhamma leads to direct knowledge.

My approach is not moral. I see different levels of understanding in EBT . The understanding that we are all living beings in the same boat is a helpful kind of understanding, but i feel it is not some ulitmate truth or final understanding.

I do not see an escape from suffering, from the anusaya, asava’s, if we keep seeing or perceiving ourselves as a being. I also believe that the purified mind sees another Truth and knows ‘i am a being’ is a conventional truth but not ultimate truth.

Maybe that’s “right” as your understanding.

However, below is the explicit answer from the Buddha for definition of “the world”, in Samiddhilokapañhāsutta SN 35.68:

“Sir, they speak of this thing called ‘the world’. How do we define the world or what is known as the world?”

“Samiddhi, where there is the eye, sights, eye consciousness, and phenomena to be known by eye consciousness, there is the world or what is known as the world. Where there is the ear … nose … tongue … body … Where there is the mind, ideas, mind consciousness, and phenomena to be known by mind consciousness, there is the world or what is known as the world.

Where there is no eye, no sights, no eye consciousness, and no phenomena to be known by eye consciousness, there is no world or what is known as the world. Where there is no ear … nose … tongue … body … Where there is no mind, no ideas, no mind consciousness, and no phenomena to be known by mind consciousness, there is no world or what is known as the world.”

There are also other suttas which say similar meaning about “the world”: SN 35.82, SN 35.83, SN 35.84, SN 35.107

So please kindly take note that your understanding of “mere concepts”, “mind made reality” or “experiential” are not supported by the EBT. Please give much effort to explain details and to reconcile the discrepancies when whatever you said are different or in conflict with the EBT. Kind regards. :pray:


Interesting discussion, but I think we all probably know that the only time we are ever going to fully understand these complex Buddhist concepts is when we no longer hold any interest in holding onto them at all…

“Human Becoming” was how my father preferred to describe this rather than “Human Being” as he said that was a better English translation of the EBT description of what was happening- a constant mind-based creation of an “entity”, seemingly solid and real but just like solid matter, empty and illusory.

I also like Ajahn Jayasero’s description I have seen in his online talks:
“We think we are nouns but we are actually verbs”.

In relation to the 5 Khandhas, I have heard Monastics describe them as vehicles for experiencing ourselves rather than taking them to be the exclusive and exhaustive components of ourselves…often wondered about this as the Noble Ones have a body and sensation and perceptions but what about Sankharas and then how is Consciousness different?

Who will know till the end of the path I guess :slight_smile:

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I don’t understand how you read that SN 35.68 and still come to such conclusion “what is known as ‘the world’ is what we experience via the six senses, i.e. the world is experientially defined.”

Did you skip totally the parts “eye, sights, phenomena to be known by eye consciousness” and only read “eye consciousness”?

Of course I am without words. As you said, words have no meaning for you.

Just a reminder, I only quoted sutta while you are contradicting with what the Buddha said and then eventually inevitably come to some so much wisdom conclusions that I have no other choice but to withdraw from this discussion before embarrassing myself any further.

Note: Please simply ignore me in the future on this forum. Whenever you see me saying something logically or quoting sutta, that’s meant for other persons, not for you. So in the future, please just ignore me and continue your own discussion with someone else who should be with so much more wisdom that can bring words which have no meaning to you.

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At this point the Buddha would hide the notifications for this thread.

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Hi. What is the Pali word in the relevant sutta SN 23.2 for the translation of “sentient”? Thanks

I do not see the problem. How can something that is known, not be something experientially and not have mind as forerunner? Even when you see a certain shape, colour, become aware of a certain smell, sense a certain tactile sensation, or when a certain plan or emotion arises, that is all mind-made.

What we experience as ‘world’ is not something objective or something which can be seen seperate from how our senses, cognition, nerves, brain, kamma constructs this ‘world’ or better experience.

That is what i read in this sutta. It is not like the eye is a glass and eye-vinnana takes notice of what is objectively there outside. Perceiving is constructing .

About this ‘world’, see AN10.58

Bodhi translates: all things are rooted in desire. They come into being through attention.
Sujato translates: all things are rooted in desire. They are produced by application of mind.

What does it mean that all things come into being trough attention/application of mind?

It is of note that this question and answer relies on a play of words, and is not a hard definition of the word ‘sentient being’.

The word is satta, which has two meanings: being (as a noun) and stuck (as a past participle). A valid translation of the question could also be along the lines of: “They speak of ‘stuck’. To what extent is one ‘stuck’ (satta)?”

I think it can become problematic when such playful definitions are taken as the highest expression of the dhamma, and taken to redefine every instance of the word ‘satta’ in the suttas. The Buddha used the term ‘being’ in a conventional way most of the time. This sutta is the exception to that.

For example, in SN35.66 a different definition is found, one without a pun, where ‘a being’ is defined very similarly as ‘the world’ in the other text quoted in this topic, namely as the six senses.

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