Buddhism on “Do Humans Exist”?
True emptiness is that which transcends all things
and yet is imminent in all.
One of the most controversial ideas in Buddhism is the idea of emptiness. This is the idea that everything is empty of inherent essence. Meaning, there is nothing that is part of who I am that is different than the things that are part of you. There is nothing constant that defines us as individuals. This leads to the next idea, that everything is impermanent and forever changing. This is proven by modern science with things like particle decay and our bodies replacing themselves completely every seven years or so (no cell in our body is the same as seven years ago). So, having an essence would apply to something like the Western idea of soul or spirit, the “us” that inhabits our bodies. The Buddhists believe that there is no such thing.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu over on Tricycle Online, summed it up nicely as far as experience goes: “Emptiness is a mode of perception, a way of looking at experience. It adds nothing to, and takes nothing away from, the raw data of physical and mental events. You look at events in the mind and the senses with no thought of whether there’s anything lying behind them.”
The idea of emptiness necessitates the idea of interdependence, meaning nothing can exist on it’s own. That everything and everyone depends upon everyone else for it’s existence.
How is it, then, that we are reborn? If there is no part of us that carries on after we die, what is reincarnating?
This very idea has birthed many schools of Buddhism over the years, none of which have a perfect answer that can be agreed upon by everyone else. BUT, I will try to break this down for you. Karma is a creative force which has been around since the beginning of all things. It is the cause and effect principle, where every effect had a cause, and every cause had an effect. This also relates to he idea of interdependence.
Now, Shakyamuni Buddha, the Buddha we all know and love, never tried to answer metaphysical questions such as “what was the original cause?” So, we won’t get in to that as we are strictly looking into the present and future. As individuals, we generate karma, and have for many past lives. Every single moment has the potential for everything. We make a decision in every single moment of our lives. Since we know that every cause has an effect, we can understand how many effects have to play out from even just the time we’ve spent reading this! Because it would be impossible for all these effects to play out in one life time they continue to happen for many lifetimes to come. So, the aim of some buddhists is to create as few effects as possible so they don’t have to be reborn. (As being reborn is a continuation of samsara, or cycles of suffering, as all life brings with it suffering…a different topic all together.)
In a perhaps more logical sense, then, it isn’t a soul that is acquiring a new body, but rather a process of causes and effects that are continuing to cycle through all of time on a particular wave length. So, if all we are is a cycle of cause and effect, and there is no essence within us, do we really exist? For that matter, does anything really exist?
I open the floor.