This answer states that:

View are mental constructions as they break down under scrutiny at a lower level of abstraction. Since an average person cannot discern the realities at lower levels of abstraction some view and confidence in these view.

I am confused by this, because I understand the world in terms of views, I have the feeling most people hold on to views. If these views aren't existent, what are people holding on to? I agree that perhaps these views are illusory, as they are impermanent and dependently originated, but doesn't the fact we recognize them imply they have some reality and existence?

More so, when I write for myself I often get insights, but these insights form aggregated beliefs. They're precisely aggregated, abstract ways of seeing things. Does Buddhism precisely condemn this as a cause to suffering?

Lastly, the quote mentions lower levels of abstraction. Wouldn't most people usually live in such levels, and fail to reach higher levels of abstraction?

  • 1
    Maybe they mean as with a computer program, there are levels of abstraction and the lower level would mean more fundamental and the higher abstraction would be more conseptual.
    – Lowbrow
    Sep 23, 2019 at 11:58
  • I have updated this answer cited above for more clarity. Sep 23, 2019 at 15:07
  • "If you wish to know the Truth, hold no cherished opinions."
    – Sun WuKong
    Sep 24, 2019 at 11:40

4 Answers 4


When we say "level of abstraction" we don't mean "level of sophistication", but rather "how much generalization this abstraction entails". "High level of abstraction" means a birds-eyes-view with a lot of generalization. "Low-level of abstraction" means we look at particulars.

For example, when we say "In US, Democrats are generally good people, and Republicans are generally more pragmatic than ethical." -- that's a high level of abstraction, not high level of sophistication.

Most people hold these kind of very general views about things, very much simplified. In fact, the nature of MIND is such that it has tendency to forming and holding on to such simplified views. Children are known for this, as well as unsophisticated adults. Mahayana Buddhists say that "reifying" (grasping as real) such views is the root of suffering. Buddha said, the Highest of the two Right Views (the right view without asavas vs the right view with asavas) is "analysis of dharmas" - meaning, the ultimate right view is to go beyond simplified views and reifyed abstractions.


Because simplified views omit too much, they are "leaking abstractions", thereby creating potential for mental conflict, which is the nature of suffering.

How do they create potential for mental conflict?

  1. Either two (groups of) people hold opposing simplified views on the same ontological subject, and therefore come in conflict with each other. OR
  2. A person grasps at a simplified view and comes in conflict with REALITY when the details omitted in the simplified view inevitably come up. (One obvious example is Impermanence - i.e. we grasp at an idea of an entity as something fixed, while the reality beyond this simplified abstraction is an assembly of transitory aggregates. Impermanence is just one example of leaking abstraction though, out of million other cases.)

To summarize, grasping at views, specifically grasping at "abstract", "generalized", "simplified" views, and specifically assuming them to be THE ontological reality must be recognized as the root of suffering.

  • In that case, I understand seeing 'reality' to mean seeing phenomena as they are, without the shortcuts of neglecting the details and simplification. Would such 'real' seeing mean attending to 'particulars' as you say, truly existent entities? I thought also that Mahayana Buddhism dismissed such entities constituting reality?
    – user7302
    Sep 23, 2019 at 16:18
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    Yes. Generally speaking, seeing things as they are means seeing things analytically, in all their multifaceted complexity. But no "truly existing entities", that would be reductivistic materialism. Instead, in Mahayana Buddhism we say, there's no one absolutely correct way of seeing things, views are like tools, different tools for different jobs.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Sep 23, 2019 at 16:23
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    When you see things from "all the sides" at the same time, it's like having multidimensional vision. That's "seeing things as they are". "Entering" that "multidimensional" reality is entering Emptiness and entering Nirvana, I say.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Sep 23, 2019 at 16:35

OP: View are mental constructions as they break down under scrutiny at a lower level of abstraction.

Conceptual objects have constituent parts. These constituent parts have other parts. At the lowest level is what is known as the ultimate reality which has the basic building blocks. This needs to be realised through meditation.

OP: Since an average person cannot discern the realities at lower levels of abstraction they develop confidence in these views.

A normal person does not see through to the ultimate nature, hence mistake this as either permanent, pleasant, self or beautiful. These perversions at multiple stages which are mear recognition or memory (saññā,vipallāsa), thinking (citta,vipallāsa) or deep ingrained view reinforced through continuous thinking on the experience (ditthi,vipallāsa).

Take a person for example. If you look only at body parts as:

head hairs (Pali: kesā), body hairs (lomā), nails (nakhā), teeth (dantā), skin (taco), flesh (maṃsaṃ), tendons (nahāru), bones (aṭṭhi), bone marrow (aṭṭhimiñjaṃ), kidneys (vakkaṃ), heart (hadayaṃ), liver (yakanaṃ), pleura (kilomakaṃ), spleen (pihakaṃ), lungs (papphāsaṃ), large intestines (antaṃ), small intestines (antaguṇaṃ), undigested food (udariyaṃ), feces (karīsaṃ), bile (pittaṃ), phlegm (semhaṃ), pus (pubbo), blood (lohitaṃ), sweat (sedo), fat (medo), tears (assu), skin-oil (vasā), saliva (kheḷo), mucus (siṅghānikā), fluid in the joints (lasikā), urine (muttaṃ).

You will not develop the notion of a person if you look at only the parts or imagine a pile of body parts.

When you are at a saloon and see hair on the floor you think of it as hair. You will not thin of the hair on the floor as me, Jhon, etc. There there is no perception of a person by looking merely at hair. Only when all parts are together there is a notion of a person. If you take hair and dive this further then the notion of hair is lost. Then it will be different chemical complexes. If you go further and break down to the lowest level you will be left wilt subatomic particles which is Buddhism is called Kalapa. When you think of the person you might think beautiful, but if you think of the parts the notion of beauty is lost. If you see a beauty queen or supermodel after a horrific accident in the morgue the notion of beauty is not there anymore.

If you take any object like a car, table, clock, etc. the notion of the concept (car, table, clock) and recognition is there as long as it is a whole. When you look at parts (tyre, planks, cogs) then the original notion and recognition are lost. Generally one perceives a car as and solid permanent object. Laps of time or and accident will prove otherwise.

Now let's take the notion of my car. You meet with and accident and the car is all in parts. Holding onto the notion of the car when could break would bring you sorrow when it does break. If you see that this is compounded as subjected to break and become obsolete then the sorrow is less.

Each physical items one perceives (tree, house, son, garden, etc.) are compounded hence the sum of parts and the notion of an object arises when it is whole and not by the individual constituents. Anything can easily fall apart to the constituents.

Any conceptual item is subjected to the following preventions:

  • what is impermanent is taken to be permanent;
  • what is painful is taken to be pleasurable;
  • what is not self is taken to be a (or the) self; and
  • what is impure is taken to be pure.

OP: the fact we recognize them imply they have some reality and existence?

They are made of Rūpa. In conventional terms, we have to recognise them as such, but in reality, they are made of smaller constituents, which have certain properties.

The undue expectation from something compounded than their basic elements (Mahābhūta) will result in pain. If we think of a tree, our notion is that it is solid, lasting unchanging impression. This will be painful when the tree collapses on your house.

OP: Wouldn't most people usually live in such levels, and fail to reach higher levels of abstraction?

At the lowest level of abstraction would be real objects (Paramattha Dhammas) corresponding to citta (a moment of consciousness or a moment of experience), cetasika (mental factors accompanying consciousness), rupa (material phenomena) and nibbana (the unconditioned reality). Anything compounded or constructed from by the mind will pannatti which is not real. Following are some constructed items:

  • Santhana pannatti are concepts of form, like land, mountains, etc.
  • Samuha pannatti are collective concepts, corresponding to a collection or group of things, like chariot, table.
  • Disa pannatti refer to concepts of locality.
  • Kala pannatti refer to concepts of time.
  • Akasa pannatti refer to space, like caves, wells.
  • Nimitta pannatti refer to conceptualized images, visualized images.

To function in society one needs this conceptual or conventional sense of objects and truths. E.g. You can say pass me the Jam than saying to pass me the subatomic particles. You can say I am taking a bus than say a mass of subatomic particles in motion with another mass of subatomic particles. You can say it is raining than liquified subatomic particles in motion through a gas medium. Even in Buddhism the Vinaya and Sutta Pitaka are in conventional terms. Only in the Abhidhamma one has absolute terms. But when using conventions one should see them unperverted, i.e.:

  • Impermanent as impermanent
  • Painful as painful
  • Not-self as not-self
  • Impure [unattractive or repulsive] as impure

But when one is looking through the lens of meditation one should penetrate the conventional sense and see their constituent nature and the true characteristics of conditionally arisen, impermanent, painful, not-self and decaying (not-beautiful), which is the ultimate truth.

Another example on higher-level abstractions (Chariot) breaking down at lower levels (Wheel, Axels, Reighs, Frame, Seat, Draught pole) if found example of the Chariot in the King Milinda's Questions:

But what is a chariot? Nagasena asked. Is it the wheels, or the axles, or the reigns, or the frame, or the seat, or the draught pole? Is it a combination of those elements? Or is it found outside those elements?

The King answered no to each question. Then there is no chariot! Nagasena said.

Now the King acknowledged the designation "chariot" depended on these constituent parts, but that "chariot" itself is a concept, or a mere name.

Just so, Nagasena said, "Nagasena" is a designation for something conceptual. It is a mere name. When the constituent parts are present we call it a chariot; When the Five Skandhas are present, we call it a being.


Another way to understand the chariot simile is to imagine the chariot being taken apart. At what point in the dis-assembly does the chariot cease to be a chariot? We can update the simile to make it an automobile. As we disassemble the car, at what point is it not a car? When we take off the wheels? When we remove the seats? When we pry off the cylinder head?

Any judgment we make is subjective. Perhaps you may argue that a pile of car parts is still a car, just not an assembled one. The point is, though, that "car" and "chariot" are concepts we project onto the constituent parts. But there is no "car" or "chariot" essence that somehow dwells within the parts.

O'Brien, Barbara. "King Milinda's Questions and the Chariot Simile." Learn Religions, Jun. 25, 2019, https://www.learnreligions.com/king-milindas-questions-450052.


For Buddhists, or at least Mahayanists, the true nature of Reality would be beyond conceptual fabrication. It would follow that all views are wrong. Such views are always speculative and abstract. The one exception, of course, would be the view that Reality is beyond conceptual fabrication.

Further to this Reality would be free of all distinction and division, thus would transcend the categories of thought such that all 'positive' statements and views about Reality would be wrong. This is what Nagarjuna proves in his Fundamental Wisdom.

It would be as a consequence of the nature of Reality that all extreme views are logically indefensible, for they would be wrong. The correct view would not be extreme, but it is debatable whether this can be called a view since it denies the possibility of conceiving (as opposed to knowing) or describing (except seemingly-paradoxically) the genuine nature of Reality. This may be called a neutral or non-dual metaphysical position but this is not a view in itself, unless we say it the view that all other views are wrong.

Some say that Nagarjuna and the Buddha ask us to abandon all views but it seems to me this is not quite right. We are allowed to hold the view that their view is right such that Reality cannot be captured by an expressible or thinkable 'view'.

This is all to do with the limits of language and logic. The issue goes back to the Old Testament Tower of Babel and the hopeless consequences of thinking we can work out what can only be discovered.

The avoidance of abstract views would be necessary for the realisation of the correct one, for this cannot be an abstract view but is a knowledge of what is the case.

This is not to say that abstract theoretical views are never useful or always hopeless. They may be helpful and even useful as approximations, but they would never be rigorous and should only ever be temporary structures that we can expect to become obsolete as our realisation of our true situation deepens.

  • is reality beyond fabrication? is that was true, there could be no perception of a likeness. a recursive likeness would be impossible
    – blue_ego
    Jan 15, 2023 at 15:20

Ego is a funny thing. We tell ourselves this one little thing. Then we decide it's good or bad. It starts a story like no tomorrow. You get good guys and bad guys when someone becomes this person or that person a whole reality forms on the assumption and association's. So is it true or just a story? Is this who we are?

A student/roshi of mine said it like this: "You shouldn't point at it, it's unlucky."

See the magic of Mara?

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