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When I was on a Self Inquiry retreat last year, I was explaining why I wanted to help other people. One of the two teachers looked at me and said, "There are no other people." That sort-of made sense to me. The next day I had a realization which made it make sense completely.

But the other day (is there another day?) I saw it in a different way: that it simply does not matter whether there are other people or not, because I can never have real insight in to them, so I am completely alone in my path. My image of two people is like spheres touching at one hypothetical point (Indra's Net). I cannot see much through a point-sized window on to (hypothetical) someone-else's world. This is like Vivekacudemani #515:

I am Actionless.
I am Changeless.
I am Partless.
I am Without Purpose.
I am Eternal.
I do not require any prop.
I am One, without a Second.

If I am One, can I know anyone else? What does Buddhism say on this point?

  • This question is predicated on the assumption that there is a "you" that is a "person". On what basis do you make this claim? – Ryan Jul 24 '15 at 10:34
  • @Ryan: I said that I see it both ways. The question is about functioning in everyday life, not about the absolute, which I am not arguing. I have a Chariot, er, car, also. How about you? "Have you had breakfast?" – user2341 Jul 24 '15 at 12:00
  • Here is a link to the Sedaka Sutta, which I took from an answer by @Robin111 to another question. I think it adds to this Question. Perhaps someone can turn it in to an answer? – user2341 Jul 25 '15 at 17:18
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In Theravada Buddhism the Abhidhamma Pitaka teaches that there are 2 kinds of realities, i.e. the conventional reality (sammuti sacca) and ultimate reality (paramattha sacca).

Conventional reality consists of concepts and entities, e.g. a man, woman, animal, car, planet, galaxy etc. These do not really exist since they are merely concepts with no real point of reference. A car or a person is merely a designation given to a collection of parts put together in a certain configuration.

Ultimate reality consists of Citta (consciousness), Cetasika (mental concomitants), Rupa (materialty) and Nibbana (unconditioned realm).

So when speaking about people we are dealing with conventional reality. In conventional reality concepts exist meaning that people exist.

In ultimate reality people do not exist.

Here is a quote from the Palikanon.com:

"The Buddha, in explaining his doctrine, sometimes used conventional language and sometimes the philosophical mode of expression which is in accordance with undeluded insight into reality. In that ultimate sense, existence is a mere process of physical and mental phenomena within which, or beyond which, no real ego-entity nor any abiding substance can ever be found. Thus, whenever the suttas speak of man, woman or person, or of the rebirth of a being, this must not be taken as being valid in the ultimate sense, but as a mere conventional mode of speech (vohāra-vacana).

It is one of the main characteristics of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, in distinction from most of the Sutta Pitaka, that it does not employ conventional language, but deals only with ultimates, or realities in the highest sense (paramattha-dhammā). But also in the Sutta Pitaka there are many expositions in terms of ultimate language (paramattha-desanā), namely, wherever these texts deal with the groups (khandha), elements (dhātu) or sense-bases (āyatana), and their components; and wherever the 3 characteristics (ti-lakkhana) are applied. The majority of Sutta texts, however, use the conventional language, as appropriate in a practical or ethical context, because it "would not be right to say that 'the groups' (khandha) feel shame, etc."

If you would like to read a bit more about what the Abhidhamma and ultimate reality is there is a well written chapter called "What is Abhidhamma" in the book "What Buddhists Believe" by Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda, p. 105-111. Here is a quote from the chapter:

The Abhidharma teaches that the egoistic beliefs and other concepts such as ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘person’ and ‘the world’ , which we use in daily conversation, do not adequately describe the real nature of existence. The conventional concepts do not reflect the fleeting nature of pleasures, uncertainties, impermanence of every component thing, and the conflict among the elements and energies intrinsic in all animate or inanimate things. The Abhidharma doctrine gives a clear exposition of the ultimate nature of human beings and brings the analysis of the human condition further than other studies known to them.

The Abhidharma deals with realities existing in the ultimate sense, or paramattha dhamma in Pali. There are four such realities:

  1. Citta, mind or consciousness, defined as ‘that which knows or experiences’ an object. Citta occurs as distinct momentary states of consciousness.

  2. Cetasika, the mental factors that arise and occur along with the citta.

  3. Rupa, physical phenomenon or material form.

  4. Nirvana, the unconditioned state of bliss which is the final goal.

Citta, the cetasika, and rupa are conditioned realities. They arise because of conditions, and will disappear when the conditions sustaining them cease to continue to do so. They are impermanent states. Nirvana, on the other hand, is an unconditioned reality. It does not arise and, therefore, does not fall away. These four realities can be experienced regardless of the names we may choose to give them. Other than these realities, everything—be they within ourselves or without, whether in the past, present or future, whether coarse or subtle, low or lofty, far or near—is a concept and not the ultimate reality.

Citta, cetasika, and Nirvana are also called nama. Nirvana is an unconditioned nama. The two conditioned nama, that is, citta and cetasika, together with rupa (form), make up psychophysical organisms, including human beings. Both mind and matter, or nama-rupa, are analysed in Abhidharma as though under a microscope. Events connected with the process of birth and death are explained in detail. The Abhidharma clarifies intricate points of the Dharma and enables the arising of an understanding of reality, thereby setting forth in clear terms the Path of Emancipation. The realization we gain from the Abhidharma with regard to our lives and the world is not to be understood in a conventional sense, but is an absolute reality.

  • So, apparently the Abhidharma would say that my question is wrongly put, although conventionally, it can be asked. This is perhaps why the teacher said what she said: it was like a Koan, intended to awaken insight. – user2341 Jul 24 '15 at 0:50
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    It depends on what reality one is referring to. Conventionally the question can be asked and answered. Ultimately it cannot. The Buddha once said that it's okay to use conventional language but do not be fooled thereby. Because humans use nouns to describe stuff it can give the impression that there exist substantiality and solidity. – Lanka Jul 24 '15 at 13:47
  • That's funny, I was thinking that conventionally, the question can be asked, but any answer must be necessarily untrue, and absolutely it has an answer (what you said). This is why I quit Philosophy: useless for finding out the truth. – user2341 Jul 25 '15 at 1:00
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    Philosophy also deals purely with conventional reality meaning that there is no real point of reference. Here we are dealing with intellectual knowledge (book knowledge). In ultimate reality we are dealing with experiental knowledge (insight knowledge) which is based on objective observation and non-interaction with mental and physical phenomena. Philosophy can be used for thinking and imagination but it cannot issue Liberation from suffering. – Lanka Jul 25 '15 at 13:59
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The practice of a bodhisatvva

The entire practice of a bodhisattva is divided into six perfections, which are generosity, discipline, patience, effort, meditative concentration, and wisdom. In order to fulfill the hopes of others, it is very important to engage in the practice of generosity, which in turn should be strengthened by a strict observance of ethical discipline, that is, of non-violence. The practice of discipline must itself be complemented by that of patience, because you will need to have forebearance when facing the harm inflicted on you by others. In order to succeed in these practices, your endeavour must be strong and stable. And without meditative concentration that effort will not be so effective. Finally if you do not have the wisdom that realizes the nature of all phenomena, you will not be capable of guiding others on the path that leads to enlightenment.

The sweet taste of bodhicitta

If there is one practice that is sufficient to bring about buddhahood, it is the practice of great compassion. Chandragomin, a sixth-century Indian poet, said that it is stupid to expect to change the taste of a very bitter fruit by simply adding one or two drops of sugar to it. In the same way, we cannot expect the fragrance of our minds, which are so contaminated by the bitter taste of delusion, to change instantaneously into the sweet taste of boddhicitta or compassion on the basis of just one or two sessions of meditation. Sustained and continuous effort is extremely important.

As the Buddha himself said, on th strength of their wisdom bodhisattvas abandon all delusion, but through the vigour of applying compassionate methods, they never abandon beings.

The Dalai Lama's Little Book of Inner Peace -- The Essential Life and Teachings


There was also a video in which the Dalai Lama said,

I never consider myself as something special. If I consider myself as something different from you, like I am Buddhist, or even more, I am His Holiness the Dalai Lama, or even if I consider I am Nobel Laureate, then actually you create yourself as a prisoner. I forget these things, I simply consider I am one of the seven billion human beings. We are mentally, emotionally, intellectually, we are the same.

He goes on to say that people get fulfillment of purpose, and "always feel happy", from helping others, etc.

It's not that other people "don't exist": it's that there are not "other" people, not different; i.e. "we are the same".

  • Thank you for the references. To me, saying "we are the same" presupposes that there are two. Saying "we are one" is a different idea. I like your quote of "not abandoning beings". But still, I don't abandon part of "my" body when it gets sick. Does Buddhism address this distinction? – user2341 Jul 23 '15 at 23:38
  • which distinction are you referring to? – Ryan Jul 23 '15 at 23:42
  • @Ryan: the distinction between self and others, in the sense of: [if there are others] can I ever know (have insight into) them? Or is the "wall" between my experience and theirs simply too great? – user2341 Jul 24 '15 at 0:41
  • insight into yourself is insight into others. this is why chris said we are the same, i believe. if you want direct insight, you can develop and abide in the fourth jhana, and obtain psychic powers. – Ryan Jul 24 '15 at 0:43
  • @Ryan: When I was a child, I wondered if anyone could have insight in to me. Apparently (except for my Guru) the answer is No. I suppose this is like what you are saying. But I have no real insight in to the experience of... ahem, other people. Even two people standing near each other do not see the same thing. – user2341 Jul 24 '15 at 1:11
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There is no not-others and there is no others. Buddhism teaches a nondual perspective beyond either extreme, beyond the dichotimization that is the habit of the intellect.

There is not even that One because to mention that One is to already create a separateness. There is just is-ness. There is not even just is-ness because is-ness implies separation from not-is-ness.

Being such, you may notice that the answers to these kind of questions are not given by words alone but the answer can only be tasted through experience and Insight, a process that obviates the intellect and uses intuition (primordial forms of awareness) to "get it".

Also, arrow analogy here

  • I was not aware that Buddhism in general teaches a nondual perspective. I thought it was something that people just happened across, and Buddhism does not much discuss it. Advaita does. Nonduality has become very well-known and I rarely see those people mentioning Buddhism. – user2341 Jul 23 '15 at 23:21
  • Buddhism across many traditions does this as well as most notably Taoism, friend and brother of Buddhism. I would recommend the Diamond Sutra Explained by Master Nan and Heart Sutra and also Surangama Sutra. – Ahmed Jul 24 '15 at 1:36
  • I think the Heart Sutra is fun because it deliberately disavows all the basic tenets of Buddhism. Can't recall the Diamond, although I have read it before. I will look at Surangama. Thank you. – user2341 Jul 24 '15 at 1:56
  • Well said friend Ahmed, I was about to say the same. Letting go of either extreme we grasp the truth. Je Tsongkhapa's "short essence of true eloquence" is a masterful analysis of non-duality. Early Buddhism was about liberation, it wasn't about intellectually explicating philosophical concepts. Later Buddhism with the luxury of time was able to textualise the felt sentiment of non-duality. – Buddho Jul 24 '15 at 4:22
  • I just found it interesting that I had to create the Nonduality Tag. You seem to be saying that it is beneath consideration, assumed. Maybe I missed this idea in Buddhism all these years. Found it elsewhere though, and more understandable. – user2341 Jul 24 '15 at 11:54
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There are no words. There are no borders. There are no countries . There is no "other". There is no "self"

But that doesn't mean we do not conceive of words, borders, countries, others and the self but we mix conceived reality with ultimate reality without even realizing it. Mindful Meditation on reality shows us how to untangle our perceptions of reality. We have to practice to understand this.

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no comprende, UUU, and those here possible interested,

assuming it's asked for the purpose of release, for it's purpose this answer follows:

Q: Are there other people, according to Buddhism?

According to the Buddha and his Dhamma, there are all around, all the time, other people, and to hold the perception of the two governing principles arosen, in cases that the perception of self is current out of sign, is a very needed to be reminded to keep right effort arosen and to gain deliverence, so be sure that I or others see UUU`s, or your actions, know what you think, speak or do.

Phenomenalical pondering and try to grasp this view or that are not conductive for release. One just will die, the arrow not removed.

An what is right effort, supported by one, two or three governing principles, not having abound them, not denying them?

"One tries to abandon wrong view & to enter into right view: This is one's right effort...

"And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view. And what is wrong view? 'There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no brahmans or contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.' This is wrong view...

"One tries to abandon wrong resolve & to enter into right resolve: This is one's right effort...

"And what is right resolve? Being resolved on renunciation, on freedom from ill-will, on harmlessness: This is called right resolve."

— SN 45.8

"One tries to abandon wrong speech & to enter into right speech: This is one's right effort...

"There are these ten topics of [proper] conversation. Which ten? Talk on modesty, on contentment, on seclusion, on non-entanglement, on arousing persistence, on virtue, on concentration, on discernment, on release, and on the knowledge & vision of release. These are the ten topics of conversation. If you were to engage repeatedly in these ten topics of conversation, you would outshine even the sun & moon, so mighty, so powerful — to say nothing of the wanderers of other sects."

— AN 10.69

"One tries to abandon wrong action & to enter into right action: This is one's right effort...

"Having thus gone forth, following the training & way of life of the monks, abandoning the taking of life, he abstains from the taking of life. He dwells with his rod laid down, his knife laid down, scrupulous, kind, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings. Abandoning the taking of what is not given, he abstains from taking what is not given. He takes only what is given, accepts only what is given, lives not by stealth but by means of a self that has become pure. Abandoning uncelibacy, he lives a celibate life, aloof, refraining from the sexual act that is the villager's way."

— AN X 99

"One tries to abandon wrong livelihood & to enter into right livelihood: This is one's right effort."

"'When brahmans or contemplatives who are unpurified in their livelihood resort to isolated forest or wilderness dwellings, it's the fault of their unpurified livelihood that they give rise to unskillful fear & terror. But it's not the case that I am unpurified in my livelihood when I resort to isolated forest or wilderness dwellings. I am purified in my livelihood. I am one of those noble ones who are purified in their livelihood when they resort to isolated forest or wilderness dwellings.' Seeing in myself this purity of livelihood, I felt even more undaunted about staying in the wilderness.

"The thought occurred to me: 'When brahmans or contemplatives who are covetous & fiercely passionate for sensual pleasures... I am not covetous... I have a mind of good will... devoid of sloth & drowsiness... a still mind... gone beyond uncertainty... I do not praise myself or disparage others... gone beyond horripilation... few wants... persistence is aroused... mindfulness established......'When brahmans or contemplatives who are unconcentrated, with straying minds... I am consummate in concentration.

— MN 4

— MN 117

"And what, monks, is right effort?

[i] "There is the case where a monk generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen.

[ii] "He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the abandonment of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen.

[iii] "He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisen.

[iv] "He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen: This, monks, is called right effort."

— SN 45.8

On significantly of the circumstances here:

The Contemplation of Dualities

Those who don't discern stress, what brings stress into play, & where it totally stops, without trace; who don't know the path, the way to the stilling of stress: lowly in their awareness-release & discernment-release, incapable of making an end, they're headed to birth & aging.

But those who discern stress, what brings stress into play, & where it totally stops, without trace; who discern the path, the way to the stilling of stress: consummate in their awareness-release & discernment-release, capable of making an end, they aren't headed to birth & aging.


[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial purpose and other low wordily gains by means of trade and exchange]

  • Perhaps my question was poorly worded. My point was more that it seems impossible to know someone else's reality, so it is like solipsism. Other answers and comments here say that I can know someone else's experience through my own, but it still seems like speculation. "Useless to ponder." – user2341 Oct 26 '17 at 22:10
  • Such would be "worthy" a question, thought that it could be, and many think they actually can. Mind reading.. It's good to know someones watching you, Comprehende. And whats the different between preoccupation, psychic power and the mirrical of instruction. – Samana Johann Oct 27 '17 at 0:13

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