Bhava – the limits of Heidegger’s study of being

Posted: November 29, 2016 by pathpress in Dhamma Article

by Ven. Ariyavaṃsa

  1. The world

“‘loko, loko’ti, bhante, vuccati. kittāvatā nu kho, bhante, lokoti vuccatī”ti?

Venerable sir, it is said ‘the world, the world.’ In what way, venerable sir, is it said ‘the world’?

SN 35:82

Normally, when people think of “the world” they are referring to everything, every thing. But what is this if not the totality of all things that are to be found within the world? If, however, one takes the trouble to consider this idea, it should not be long before one notices that it is deeply problematic, since it presupposes a world within which things can be found so that one can then add them together to get to this world, which one has already presupposed.

Martin Heidegger offered a radically different conception of the world. In Being and Time, he introduced the idea that the world is not another thing within-the-world, but is that because of which things are discovered.

the world is not itself an entity within-the-world; and yet it is so determinative for such entities that only in so far as ‘there is’ a world can they be encountered and show themselves in their being as entities which can be discovered.

BT p.102 [72]

The phenomenon of ‘world’ is such that it makes all phenomena intelligible as the phenomena that they are. It is because of this world that things are significant. And things are always significant. Even something that I have never encountered before and that I cannot recognize in terms of my past experience—even this strange alien entity is determined as significant (in the words of Venerable Ñāṇavīra (2010: 266): “as ‘strange object, to be treated with caution’”). Experience is always the experience of something significant, and this significance is determined by the world, by the background of meaning-relations that forms the context within which entities are discovered. The world and the entities within-the-world are co-given. They arise together, mutually dependent, bound up with each other, and utterly inconceivable without each other.

Even this thought: “this world, which is that on the basis of which things can be discovered”—even this is a phenomenon which can only be there because of the background of the world which makes this statement meaningful. Notice that the distinction we are making here, between entities within-the-world and the world, is the same as the distinction we find in the suttas between determined things (saṅkhatā dhammā) and that which determines these determined things—determinations (saṅkhārā). But care is needed here—although we can distinguish between the world and those entities within-the-world whose significance is determined by the world, this does not mean that the world is not also an entity. Whenever we think “world”, we are designating some entity. If it were not an entity, then it would be some kind of eternal God-like extra-temporal cause for all things. But the Buddha said: sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā (e.g. MN 35). The world, which is that which determines determined things, is not eternal. This can be verified by my own experience. In reflexion I discover that the world can only ever be found as already being there, given—and since I had nothing to do with its arising, I also have no control over its passing away. And since I have no control over it, it is subject to disappearance at any moment. It is impermanent. That on the basis of which phenomena within-the-world are discovered is itself a phenomenon inasmuch as it is impermanent, suffering, not-self, and should be abandoned. The phenomenon of world is different from phenomena within-the-world—it is more general, it is the background, it is peripheral, it is never in focus, it is that which determines the significance of whatever shows up within-the-world—and yet it is still a phenomenon, albeit a general, background, peripheral one.

  1. Being

“In the question which we are to work out, what is asked about is being—that which determines entities as entities, that on-the-basis-of-which [Woraufhin] entities are already understood…”

BT p.25-6 [6]

Although Heidegger was arguably the foremost phenomenological philosopher of the twentieth century and although he succeeded in describing so many of the phenomena involved in human experience, he was a puthujjana. Therefore, he assumed that he and the things that he encountered existed. Unable to see an escape from bhava, he was unable to go beyond suffering. Nonetheless, his thinking is a useful starting point for one who wishes to access the Buddha’s teaching at a time when so many pernicious assumptions obscure one’s ability to see the nature of experience. Let us, therefore, look at what Heidegger thought, before we later try to see where he went wrong.

Heidegger’s major contribution to philosophy can perhaps be described in terms of his attempt to transform the study of ontology, of being, and begins with what he called “the ontological difference”—the difference between beings [Seienden] and being [Sein]. Experience is always the experience of some being or other, some entity, some thing, some phenomenon. Having not seen the possibility of the cessation of being (bhavanirodha), Heidegger took the position, first articulated in the philosophy of the early Greeks, that in order to be able to attend to this or that being, this or that thing which is, first of all that being must be. Whether it is a chair, a headache or a vague impression about the day ahead, despite the fact that these things are all quite different, what unites them all is the fact that they all are. But this fact that they are, their being, cannot be understood as being just another being, since then we would have yet another being which is, and the being of this new being remains unaccounted for. Being is not just another being, another thing which is; and yet being cannot be understood without a being, since being is always the being of a being.

It is this idea, this distinction between being and beings, which allows for the possibility of the study of ontology—the study of being. For the most part, science studies the difference between beings and other beings. For example, biology studies “plants, animals, humans, life, etc.”, mathematics studies “numbers”, linguistics studies “languages”. Even though these are all abstract things, they are nevertheless things. They are all entities, beings, and so all of these sciences concern themselves with what Heidegger called the “ontic” (rather than the “ontological”) domain. Ontology, on the other hand, is only possible by making clear the distinction between being and beings. According to Heidegger, philosophy must be understood as that unique discipline which surmounts beings, in a quest to understand the being of beings. Philosophy, at least the philosophy that Heidegger set out to do, is the study of being—ontology.

We said that ontology is the science of being. But being is always the being of a being. Being is essentially different from a being, from beings. How is the distinction between being and beings to be grasped? How can its possibility be explained? If being is not itself a being, how then does it nevertheless belong to beings, since, after all, beings and only beings are? What does it mean to say that being belongs to beings? The correct answer to this question is the basic presupposition needed to set about the problems of ontology regarded as the science of being. We must be able to bring out clearly the difference between being and beings in order to make something like being the theme of inquiry. This distinction is not arbitrary; rather, it is the one by which the theme of ontology and thus of philosophy itself is first of all attained. We call it the ontological difference—the differentiation between being and beings. Only by making this distinction… not between one being and another being but between being and beings do we first enter the field of philosophical research. Therefore, in distinction from the sciences of the things that are, of beings, ontology, or philosophy in general, is the critical science, or the science of the inverted world. With this distinction between being and beings and the selection of being as theme we depart in principle from the domain of beings. We surmount it, transcend it. We can also call the science of being, as critical science, transcendental science. In doing so we are not simply taking over unaltered the concept of transcendental in Kant, although we are indeed adopting its original sense and its true tendency, perhaps still concealed from Kant. We are surmounting beings in order to reach being.

BPP p. 17

In Being and Time, we also find Heidegger stressing the transcendental nature of ontology.

Being and the structure of being lie beyond every entity and every possible character which an entity may possess. Being is the t r a n s c e n d e n s pure and simple.

BT p.62 [38]

The ontological difference is always there, even when we are not making this difference explicit by studying ontology. Human beings, Heidegger thought, are that unique kind of being which holds open the difference between being and beings. Not only do we have an understanding of this or that being (e.g. I understand that this is my room, that this is my chair, that that is a tree outside the window, etc.) but we always already have an implicit understanding of the being of these beings which we encounter. This understanding of being, he argued, is a necessary precondition for any human comportment towards beings. It is because we have an understanding of being prior to the encountering of beings (not to say prior to any conceptualized science of being, or ontology) that we are able to project being as the horizon upon which beings are understood as the beings they are. Without this implicit, non-articulated understanding of being, the beings that we comport ourselves towards would simply be unintelligible.

  1. Being-in-the-world

To say that the “for-the-sake-of-which” and significance are both disclosed in Dasein, means that Dasein is that entity which, as being-in-the-world, is an issue for itself.

BT p.182 [143]

Heidegger’s methodological approach to uncover the structure of being was to undergo an ontological investigation of that being whose being consists in an understanding of being. That is, his chief interest lay in the notion of Dasein, the being that he assumed that, in each case, we are. His whole Being and Time is described as an analytic of Dasein for the purpose of unveiling the structure of being. He assumed that this being that showed up as being the being that we are is in a different way from the other beings that we encounter. This led him to outline the different modes of being, the different ways in which different kinds of beings are. For example, when one adopts what Husserl called “the natural attitude”, entities are regarded as “substances”. This “substance ontology” derives from our implicit understanding of the notion of “substance”, which has been around since Aristotle and was later developed by Descartes who famously defined the term “res” as that which exists in such a way that it needs no other entity in order to exist. Making use of Heidegger’s favourite example, this hammer is made of a blob of iron and a wooden shank. Its properties can be measured and stated: its weight, its colour, its length, what it is made out of, etc. When I regard the hammer in this way it is such that it needs no other entity in order to be. It is independent, closed off, self-sufficient. This is what Sartre called “being-in-itself” and what Heidegger called the “present-at-hand”. This is its mode of being.

But there are, Heidegger thought, other ways in which a thing can be. For example, let’s say I’m a carpenter. The scientist’s positive descriptions of this hammer are of no interest to me when I pick it up and use it in order to make a table. While I use the hammer and go about my business of hammering, all of the positive descriptions of its weight, dimensions, etc. withdraw and become invisible. The hammer itself withdraws as I focus on my project of making this table. The hammer is simply a piece of equipment which I make use of in order to pound in nails and make this table which my client has asked me to make him. In using it, I do not need to explicitly think about it. In fact, as a carpenter I very rarely find myself thinking about the hammer as such. To do so may actually impinge on my work. Rather, the hammer is more like an extension of my own body. To grasp the being of the hammer in a way that most authentically discloses my use of it, we must understand it in terms of its in-order-to structure. This mode of being of “equipment” is what Heidegger called the “ready-to-hand” and it is such that it can only be understood in terms of other things. The hammer is in-order-to bang nails, the nails are in-order-to fix pieces of wood together, the fixing-pieces-of-wood-together is in-order-to make a table, and the making-a-table is in-order-to get paid by my client. And all of these relationships can only be understood in terms of a kind of superordinate in-order-to which defines my own goals, aims, motives—what Heidegger called the “for-the-sake-of-which”. The important point is this: for as long as I am a puthujjana, everything ready-to-hand is ready-to-my-hand—it always implies a me, a self, a person. Why am I making this table for my client? For the sake of being a carpenter. The “for-the-sake-of-which” I do things is nothing other than the understanding of the being that I am—sakkāyadiṭṭhi. And this understanding is always in terms of the ready-to-hand equipment that I circumspectively make use of. Everything which shows up for me does so in terms of ready-to-hand equipment that I can (or cannot) make use of “for-the-sake-of” being the being that I am. Things are always mine, for me, my concern, etc.—even if in some privative mode. For example, even someone else’s belongings present themselves as being not mine, not my concern, etc., and therefore are always found in some kind of relation to me, even though this relation is a negative one. Everything that I can possibly experience shows up as being already significant, already involved in my for-the-sake-of-which which is disclosed in my understanding of the world. But just as things are always understood in terms of me and my concerns, I can only understand myself in terms of things which I encounter. To put it another way, my understanding of the being that I am is always as being-in-the-world—a unitary phenomenon in which Dasein and world are given together and equiprimordial. One can only understand one in terms of the other.

Heidegger thought that even though we first encounter beings as being ready-to-hand, when we think about these beings, that which is proximally ready-to-hand gets passed over and entities are first and foremost conceived as a context of substantive things (res) which are present-at-hand. Substantiality becomes the basic characteristic of our philosophy of being, and we lose sight of the fact that substantiality is only made possible because of our being-in-the-world. Thus, rather than assuming that I am just another present-at-hand entity (as most people do), Heidegger comes closer to the truth by revealing the way in which the self is unveiled in its relation to ready-to-hand entities that I circumspectively make use of “for-the-sake-of” being that being which I have chosen to be. But he still takes this self at face-value and assumes that because that which is ready-to-hand comes with the significance of a “for me”, this “me” is to be found somewhere. He assumes that I am a being, and that this being which in each case I am is that being that has an understanding of being. Not having gone beyond sakkāyadiṭṭhi, he assumes—like all puthujjanas—that this understanding belongs to me. In order to unveil the particular mode of being of this being that he assumes he is, he gave it a new name: Dasein.

… [T]o work out the question of being adequately, we must make an entity—the inquirer—transparent in his own being … This entity which each of us is himself and which includes inquiring as one of the possibilities of its being, we shall denote by the term “Dasein”.

BT p.27 [7]

Dasein, he said, is neither present-at-hand nor ready-to-hand, but is rather that being whose being involves an understanding of being. Heidegger describes Dasein’s particular way of being as follows:

Dasein is an entity which does not just occur among other entities. Rather it is ontically distinguished by the fact that, in its very being, that being is an issue for it.

BT p.32 [12]

Whilst Dasein is the word he uses to describe that being [Seienden] which each of us in each case is, he calls this being’s particular mode of being [Sein] “existence”. The essence of Dasein lies in its existence—Ek-sistenz, literally: “standing beyond itself”.

The Dasein as such is being-toward-itself, being-with-others, and being-among entities handy [i.e. ready-to-hand] and extant [i.e. present-at-hand]. In the structural moments of towards-itself, with-others, and among-the-extant there is implicit throughout the character of overstepping, of transcendence.

BPP p.301 (my gloss in brackets)

Heidegger’s main point was this: the essential precondition required for an entity like Dasein to project a world and encounter beings (whether present-at-hand, ready-to-hand, Dasein, or any other kind of being) is the capacity to open up, to unveil, to disclose. Dasein provides the clearing—or, more precisely, it is the clearing—that opens up and makes possible the encountering of other beings. This is the essence of Dasein which its name already indicates. “Da” suggests a “here”, or a “there”, or “some specific place”. “Sein” means “to be”, and so “Dasein” is to be here, to be there, to be in some specific place. As Heidegger’s translator, Albert Hofstadter, explains in his appendix to The Basic Problems of Phenomenology:

The ontological role of the human being qua Dasien… is… to be the Da, to be its Da, namely, to be the essential disclosedness by which the here and the there first become possible, or by which the spatiality of the world becomes possible within which beings can be distinguished from their being and understood by way of their being and so encountered as the beings they are, so that human comportment toward them as beings becomes possible… Da is not just a here or a there or a here-there, but rather is the essential disclosure by which here, there, and here-there become possible. It is their source.

BPP p. 336

  1. The end of the world, the end of being

upādānanirodhā bhavanirodho…pe…. evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa nirodho hoti. ayaṃ kho, bhikkhave, lokassa atthaṅgamo.

With the cessation of assumption, the cessation of being… in this way there is the cessation of this whole heap of suffering. This, bhikkhus, is called the disappearance of the world.

SN 12:44

We are now in a position to critically evaluate Heidegger’s thinking in the light of the Buddha’s teaching. He assumes that I am, and thought that the being that I am is disclosed in terms of the way in which the ready-to-hand entities that I circumspectively make use of in order to take a stand on my being comes with this significance of being “for me”. Up to a point, this is correct. For the puthujjana, everything ready-to-hand implies, indicates, points to me. Even that thought of “me” is there in the form of my thought. Whatever I look at, this me is always elsewhere. Why? Because this me is part of the background, the horizon that determines the significance of all the entities within-the-world that I encounter. What Heidegger was unable to see is the distinction between the puthujjana, the ariyasāvaka, and the arahat. For the arahat, the notion of “for me” no longer arises. For the ariyasāvaka, it arises, but he now knows that it is his mistaken assumptions in regard to this notion that are the cause of his suffering, and he knows the escape from this. For the puthujjana, the notion of “for me” is taken at face value. The mistake that Heidegger made—indeed, the mistake that every puthujjana makes—is to assume that all of the entities within-the-world that he encounters are in some way mine because, first of all, I exist. He assumes: “I exist, therefore things can be mine (or not mine).” The ariyasāvaka, however, understands that this is the wrong way round—it is only because things show up as being mine that the puthujjana assumes that I exist. The fact that I exist is a gratuitous assumption, based on the evidence of this ever-present notion of mine. However, even though this mine or for me keeps showing up, that is not because there is a me somewhere for which these things are. The ariyasāvaka knows that sabbe dhammā anattā—all things are not-self. This does not, contrary to most Buddhist commentataries, mean that there is no self or that the self does not exist. The self most definitely does exist for the puthujjana (due to the fact that he assumes that it exists). No—what it means is that whatever thing that I encounter, that is not self, since the self always shows up as being an aspect of the background which determines the significance of this thing. Self and world are inseparable.

Heidegger went a lot further than any other philosopher and was able to unveil many of the background phenomena that constitute our everyday experience—phenomena which we ordinarily pass over and fail to recognize. Indeed, the task he set himself was to unveil the most general of all background phenomena: being. His notion of the “ontological difference” opens up the possibility of discerning what the Buddha referred to as bhava. But the attempt to distinguish the being of different kinds of beings is a mistake based on his assumption that the self exists. Yes, things show up as being mine (for all who have not attained arahattaphala), but that does not mean that there is a being which I am. The whole notion of Dasein—the being whose being is characterized by its understanding of being—is misguided, and presumes some kind of prioritized centre of this experience, some kind of eternal entity beyond or outside this experience for whom the experience is for. Once one has made a distinction between being (bhava) and the things which are (dhammā) one only muddies the waters by trying to find the different kinds of being of different kinds of things. A stricter phenomenological approach would focus on being as such. Whether it is the being of this or that thing, being is there. And rather than assume that there is this being which I am whose being involves an understanding of being (i.e. that this understanding of being belongs to this being which is me), a stricter phenomenological description would say no more than “all experience involves an understanding of being” or “there can be no experience without an understanding of being”.

In fact, Heidegger had initially set out to disclose the meaning of being in general, being as such, but this led to his discussion of Temporalität which he touched on only briefly right at the end of Being and Time and attempted to flesh out in his lecture course The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. All of this was ultimately unsuccessful. Temporalität, an extremely obscure and problematic idea, was as far as his thinking at this time could go and it was at this point that he decided to give up on his analytic of Dasein and became more interested in the being of works of art. What became known as Heidegger’s “turn”, or the move from “early Heidegger” to “late Heidegger” does not require detailed discussion here, except that we can note that it was at the point where Heidegger tried to understand the meaning of being in general, bhava, rather than the being of this or that entity, that he reached his limit.

The division between the being of this and that entity, of me and of the objects that I encounter—all of this is a gratuitous mistake that stems from taking one’s own being for granted and giving it the position of the centre of the experience. Whether it is the being of Dasein, the being of something present-at-hand, the being of things that are ready-to-hand, or the being of anything else—being is there, bhava is there. This is what must be discerned and this, the Buddha tells us, is what must be brought to an end. So, how is this to be done? Heidegger was right insofar as the answer to this lies in developing an understanding of Dasein, in understanding what it is to be a puthujjana, and yet precisely because he was a puthujjana he was unable to grasp the entirety of the problem—to see it from an external perspective, as it were. The aim is not simply to understand more about what this thing is, whether I call it Dasein, or me, or my self. The aim must be to bring about an unalterable change in one’s understanding so that one abandons this notion once and for all. For a puthujjana, experience is always, at bottom, the experience of self and world and the task he must set himself is to bring about a radical and permanent transformation of this picture. In order to do this, his attention must include the background—that is, the world. The world of the puthujjana is always the world of things that in some way relate to me. The question is: is it possible to change the world such that things are significant (e.g. the hammer is still “for hammering in nails”) but their significance no longer includes the notion of a me for whom these things are for?

Worlds can certainly change. Thomas Kuhn (1970) demonstrated this rather nicely in his extremely Heideggerian account of scientific revolutions. Think of the shift from the Ptolemaic to the Copernican paradigm, or from the Newtonian to the Einsteinian. Paradigm shifts like this are nothing other than world-transformations. The old world collapses and is replaced by a new one. When an entity is encountered in a new paradigm, it is encountered on the basis of a completely new world, and so its significance is now completely different. A moving planet for an Einsteinian physicist means something entirely different from a moving planet for a Newtonian physicist, since the two inhabit separate and incompatible worlds.

So how does one change one’s world to the extent that the particular significance “for me” is eradicated—for if this were possible, then everything which one encountered in that world would be completely transformed? Fortunately, world-transformations are also possible for ontologico-existential worlds which are that on the basis of which things within-the-world are encountered. What must be recognized is that even the world (i.e. that thing which determines all things) is determined. Just as there cannot be any thing without a world, there cannot be any world without this body. If there were no body, no world could possibly arise, and so no entities whatsoever could be encountered. If this body were abandoned, then this world which arises dependent on this body can no longer stand. This is the end of the world that the Buddha talks of in SN 12:44—or at least the end of my world, the world which always discloses the way in which entities relate to me.

How, then, does one abandon the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body, the mind? All one can do is to keep pressing the thought that whatever thing I encounter, that can only be there because this body is already there, given beforehand.

atthi kāyo’ti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti.

Or else the mindfulness that “There is a body” is present.

DN 22/ MN 10

Even that thought I have of what the ‘body’ is, or this ‘body’ which I see when I look down at my arms and legs, or this ‘body’ which I can feel touching the ground, or this ‘body’ which feels pain, or this ‘body’ which I am sitting down with and breathing with—whatever way in which the ‘body’ appears (as feelings, perceptions or intentions), that can only be there because body is already given. And that body is there with its consciousness. Rūpa and viññāṇa cannot possibly be accessed by me, cannot possibly be felt, perceived or intended, since they are that because of which there is feeling, perception and intentions, and yet I know they there because without them there would be no world, or any entity that can possibly be encountered within that world (including any thought in regard to my self). When one sees the contradiction involved in assuming the existence of a self whilst establishing the perception that anything which appears does so in dependence on something over which I have absolutely no control, then something must fall away. That body because of which I am in a world—this must be recognized… yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya sudiṭṭhaṃ hoti (MN 14). When it is well seen as it really is with right wisdom, it is seen as being beyond my control, always already there. And since its arising is beyond my control, so too it is subject to passing away at any moment.

yaṃ kiñci samudayadhammaṃ, sabbaṃ taṃ nirodhadhamma”nti.

Whatever has the nature of arising, all of that is subject to cessation.

SN 56:11

If the world were to cease (which it will), then nothing whatsoever will be able to be encountered any more. Even the idea of no more world, no more entities, death, nothingness—all of these are still phenomena, which have arisen against a background of a world. Without a world, even these would not be conceivable. And since the world is impermanent, so too anything that could possibly be encountered within that world is impermanent. And anything that is impermanent cannot possibly taken to be self, since the notion of a self is nothing other than an eternal extra-temporal entity which stands outside of this experience—as if such a thing were possible!—and which, being separate from this experience, has control over it. By developing the recognition that all things are impermanent, the self is squeezed out, with nowhere left to arise.

tasmātiha, bhikkhave, yaṃ kiñci rūpaṃ … yā kāci vedanā … yā kāci saññā … ye keci saṅkhārā … yaṃ kiñci viññāṇaṃ atītānāgatapaccuppannaṃ ajjhattaṃ vā bahiddhā vā oḷārikaṃ vā sukhumaṃ vā hīnaṃ vā paṇītaṃ vā yaṃ dūre santike vā, sabbaṃ rūpaṃ — ‘netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ.

Therefore, bhikkhus, any kind of matter whatsoever … any kind of perception whatsoever … any kind of determinations whatsoever … any kind of consciousness whatsoever, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, all consciousness should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘Not this is mine, not this I am, not this is my self’.

SN 56:11

References from Pali Canon

DN Dīgha Nikāya

MN Majjhima Nikāya

SN Saṃyutta Nikāya

Other References

BT Heidegger, M. (1962) Being and Time. (trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson). Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

BPP Heidegger, M. (1988) The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. (trans. A. Hofstadter). Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press.

Kuhn, T. S. (1970) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd Edition). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Ñāṇavīra (2010) Clearing the Path. Path Press Publications.

  1. Simon says:

    When, in someone’s endeavour to try to understand the Buddha’s teaching in the Pāli-suttas out of “a concern for one’s own welfare”, as the Ven. Ñāṇavīra Thera wrote in the preface to his “Notes on Dhamma”, because one is “subjectively engaged with an anxious problem, the problem of one’s existence, which is also the problem of one’s suffering” it comes to bringing together these teaching and western philosophy, especially Existentialism of phenomenological method, much care (heideggerian pun intended) is needed.
    This endeavour rest on two more or less implicit preconceptions. One is, that what is talked about in the suttas and in existentialist phenomenology has something in commen. Second is, that at the end of the day the dhamma has to be given priority. Care is especially needed in connecting the terminology, as what at first glance seems to be the same, can reveal itself as something quite different when questioned deeper. To understand phenomenological terms it is necessary to go the same way as the phenomenologist did, when he got a grasp of the phenomenon. In fact, in a heideggerian sense, this is the proper method of “phenomenology” taken literally as “to let what shows itself be seen from itself, just as it shows itself from itself”. The same holds true when trying too get access to the Pāli-suttas and the dhamma taught therein.
    In my eyes, the identification of Heidegger’s notion of being (Sein) as that which all beings (Seiende) have in commen, which trancends all categories of beings (Seiende, thats why it is called the nomen trancendens) with Pāli bhava is problematic. So far as the dhamma is only concerned with dukkha and the cessation of dukkha, and in so far as dukkha is the “personal problem” par excellence it has to be understood always as problem Dasein has with itself. Being a problem for itself, being an issue for itself in fact has been shown by Heidegger to be the special mode of Dasein’s (and only Daseins’) being (Sein) which he came to call existence. Only as far as Dasein exists (ek-sists), is always beyond, ahead of itself, it can have a notion of itself being toward a beginning (birth) and toward an end (death). In my eyes, an identification of Pāli bhava with existence (in the heideggerian sense only, traditional ontology did not distinguish between being (Sein) and existence) is far more fruitful. The notion of being (Sein) as the nomen transcendens could be brought together with Pāli atthitā (cf. 12.15), which is glossed as “sabbaṃ atthi”, a notion that is said to cease when existence is fully understood.

    “‘sabbaṃ atthī’ti kho, kaccāna, ayameko anto. ‘sabbaṃ natthī’ti ayaṃ dutiyo anto. ete te, kaccāna, ubho ante anupagamma majjhena tathāgato dhammaṃ deseti — ‘avijjāpaccayā saṅkhārā; saṅkhārapaccayā viññāṇaṃ … pe … evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti. avijjāya tveva asesavirāganirodhā saṅkhāranirodho; saṅkhāranirodhā viññāṇanirodho … pe … evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa nirodho hotī’”ti – kaccānagottasuttaṃ (SN 12.15)

  2. ariyavamsa says:

    I did not intend to identify “bhava” with Heidegger’s use of the word “Sein”. And I think you may be right to suggest that his word “existence” gets closer. However, I also think it would be a mistake to identify “bhava” with either of these words in the way that Heidegger used them–if we are to presume that he remained a puthujjana. The notion of existence, as the special mode of Dasein’s being, presupposes that there is this being which Dasein is and that there are other beings whose being is different from Dasein’s mode of being–namely, the ready-to-hand and the present-at-hand. But whenever Heidegger finds himself thinking about the being of ready-to-hand equipment, this is always in relation to the being of Dasein. His notion of readiness-to-hand is always a readiness-to-my-hand. In other words, bhava is there. Similarly, even though he was able to conceive of present-at-hand substances with properties, which appear self-sufficient, independent of his own existence, this was only possible because first of all there is this Dasein which is abstracting or de-worlding ready-to-hand entities in this way. The natural world of present-at-hand entities does not remove one’s particular point of view of this concrete situation one finds oneself in. It does not go beyond, surmount, or understand it. It merely conceals it–and yet bhava is still there. The significance of the word “bhava”, as the Buddha used it, will surely not be grasped by trying to identify it with any Heideggerian terminology (or, indeed, with any other puthujjana philosopher’s terminology). As far as I see it, it will only be grasped when one understands and abandons the assumption of some entity separate from this experience, to whom this experience is happening and who is the master of this experience. For as long as that assumption remains, so too bhava remains and is not recognized.

    — upādānapaccayā bhavo … upādānanirodhā bhavanirodho

    • Simon says:


      thank you for your reply. You wrote:

      „The notion of existence, as the special mode of Dasein’s being, presupposes that there is this being which Dasein is and that there are other beings whose being is different from Dasein’s mode of being–namely, the ready-to-hand and the present-at-hand. But whenever Heidegger finds himself thinking about the being of ready-to-hand equipment, this is always in relation to the being of Dasein. His notion of readiness-to-hand is always a readiness-to-my-hand. In other words, bhava is there.“ 

I agree. But I think its important to point out, that Heidegger did not presuppose three different kind of entities out there in a container called „world“ of which one is Dasein in the special mode of the being (Sein) of existence. He came to his terms by way of the phenomenological method. Thus, it is less a „presupposition“ but a description of experience (Erleben) as experience. Phenomenology is, as long as it understands itself, a term of method only, of “letting what shows itself be seen from itself, just as it shows itself from itself“. This is, as you already pointed out, the experience of an everyday commoner (puthujjana). But this was Heidegger’s undertaking from the start, to give a phenomenological account of the everydayness of the being (Seiendes) that is always myself, which he called Dasein. Thus, it is necessarily a description of experience under the influence of avijjā and upādāna, including that of selfhood, but this is where everybody starts.
      In „Sein und Zeit“ he shows that Dasein does not simply occur alongside other beings (Seiende) in the mentioned sense above, but that it is Dasein itself, as the clearing opened by the original for-the-sake-of that „is always in each case already referred in terms of for-the-sake-of-which to the with-what of relevance. This means that, insofar as it is, it always already lets beings (Seiendes) be encountered as things at hand (Zuhandenes).“ BT, p. 80.
      The original for-the-sake-of is always, in everyday commoncy (as a puthujjana), a for-the-sake-of-myself. In §§13 and 69 of BT Heidegger shows that a being (Seiendes) is only encountered as a present-at-hand (Vorhandenes) when it’s original being-at-hand is skipped, jumped over in a special mode of relating to it (knowing/cognizing, Erkennen). The for-the-sake-of is what opens the Da, the there-here of Dasein, in which beings (Seiende) can be encountered in a world, it is the „coming back to itself in a standing ahead of itself“ (ek-sistence). In fact, Daseins being (Sein) as care (Sorge) means that it wants, desires itself, Dasein always wants itself.

“na kho, bhikkhu, taññeva upādānaṃ te pañcupādānakkhandhā nāpi aññatra pañcahi upādānakkhandhehi upādānaṃ, api ca yo tattha chandarāgo taṃ tattha upādānan”ti

      “Bhikkhus, that holding is neither the same as the five aggre­gates subject to holding, nor is the holding something apart from the five aggregates subject to holding. But rather, the desire and lust for them, that is the holding there.” (SN 22.82, puṇṇamasuttaṃ )

      Heidegger saw that to be primordial and thus, as you wrote, had no idea of how to bring it to an end, to cease it. This was not in his domain.

  3. Joseph says:

    This essay is truly a gem.

  4. errorous says:

    “he was a puthujjana. Therefore, he assumed that he and the things that he encountered existed.”

    Well, leaving aside a certainty of my being, which I can humbly attribute to presence of ignorance in my experience, this sentence suggests that my certainty of the fact that things are, that they exist, also depends on ignorance. It is not very clear for me, quoting Chamfort:

    Speron-Speroni admirably explains how it is that an author who, in his own opinion, delivers himself clearly, is sometimes obscure to his reader. “It is because,” he says, “the author proceeds from the thought to the expression, the reader from the expression to the thought.”

    “And that body is there with its consciousness” sorry, but I don’t think the body can claim ownership in this case. The body seems to be rather a tool, or organ of perception which is used by the consciousness.

    By the way, advertisement of Viagra can be found on Nanavira page. I believed it was hacked, but nothing is done with it.

    • pathpress says:

      errorous says: “By the way, advertisement of Viagra can be found on Nanavira page. I believed it was hacked, but nothing is done with it.”

      If this problems still arises, please let us know. Many thanks for this warning.
      Best wishes,
      the Administrator.

    • ariyavamsa says:

      Dear errorous,

      I will try to answer your questions.

      When I said that it was due to ignorance that he thought that “the things that he encountered existed”, I was using the word “existed” to refer to “bhava”, which is only there when there is avijjā. If there is avijjā, the things-in-the-world, whether they are ready-to-hand or present-at-hand, already presuppose a subject for whom those things are. This is what I understand Ven. Ñāṇavīra to mean when, in reference to the Mūlapariyāyasutta, he said:

      “’X is pregnant’—pregnant, that is to say, with subjectivity” (SN, MAMA)

      So, in a very important sense, it is not just “me” that is removed with the removal of ignorance, leaving everything else as it stands; it is the whole of existence (i.e. being-in-the-world) that is removed. Of course, things are still present for the arahat, it’s just that these things are no longer imply bhava. Existence no longer applies—or, you might say, although things appear, they don’t exist any more (see Ven. Ñāṇamoli’s essay “Appearance and Existence”: It is in this way that we can say that with the disappearance of ignorance there is the disappearance of the world (cf. SN 12:44)

      Yes, you are right: of course, the body does not “own” consciousness. But it does “determine” it. The important thing is to be able to see that it is not “me” who is the owner of this consciousness. Therefore, I think it is actually more accurate (and, more importantly, more helpful) to say that “the body is there with its consciousness” than to say that “the body is operated by (my) consciousness”. The consciousness is not mine since I can only find it as already being out there with the body, juxtaposed with it, simultaneously aligned with it. It is the body’s consciousness only insofar as it is that consciousness which has paired with it. You might say it’s a little like saying: “the desk is there with its chair” or “the window is there with its curtain” or “the cup is there with its saucer”… although, admittedly, these do sound a little strange… and an important difference here is that while you can have a desk without “its” chair, the body would be completely inconceivable without consciousness, and consciousness would be completely inconceivable without the body.

      Although it may seem to you that the body is “used by” the consciousness, it seems to me that this is to assume some kind of relationship or directionality between these two completely separate domains. This is the puthujjana’s phassa: the assumption of some sort of ‘meeting’ between rūpa and viññāṇa. Any assumption about any relationship between these two aggregates (e.g. that the one uses the other, acts upon the other, causes the other, etc., that they are the same, that they are different, that they are both-the-same-&-different, that they are neither-the-same-nor-different, etc.) allows room for subjectivity/ownership/mastery to remain. The aggregates are 5 entirely separate heaps in entirely separate domains, completely indifferent to each other. In order compare any of the aggregates, or to distinguish between them, or to talk about some kind of effect or influence that one has on the other, one has already presupposed that there is some place, some vantage point, outside of the aggregates from where one can look down upon them in order to make that comparison/distinction. For the arahat, such a place is inconceivable. The idea that there is something or somewhere outside of or over-&-above these 5 aggregates simply no longer arises. The 5 aggregates are all-inclusive — which is why all one can say is: “imasmiṃ sati idaṃ hoti” (When this is, this is).

      I think that when writing the sentence “that body is there with its consciousness”, I probably had in mind the following Pali phrase: “imasmiñca saviññāṇake kāye” (e.g. MN 109, SN 18:13, SN 22:71)… literally: “and in this with-consciousness-ish body”.

  5. Anatta says:

    Completely agree with Joseph, although my English skill is defective. It would be great, if the article could translated to German. Here are few persons who would be benefit.

    • pathpress says:

      Dear Anatta,
      do you know anyone who is able to translate it?
      Best wishes,
      the Administrator

      • Anatta says:

        Thank you very much for asking me. I will ask a friend, who is able to understand the sense, but it is not only to translate wihtout understanding. It might be take time, but it could be possible. Unforunately, here in Germany I did not found anything like this article of this page in the internet or books. The only thing is the German translation of Notes on Dhamma, wich is the best and only true writing about Dhamma I’ve read.

        With best wishes,


  6. Anatta says:

    Dear Administrator,

    I’ve asked for translation, my friends are ready to do. We will message you, when the work is finished. Then you can tell me, how I could send the translation. I have some technical problems to post on this page, sometimes does not work.

    Best wishes,


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