Momentary Existence Explained

Momentary Existence

According to the Buddhism, each experience can be observed in a critical view as a complex consisting of:

  1. Conscious, sensible perceiving of something objectively existing
  2. Conscious psychic phenomena as emotions, memories, etc.

If we separate in abstraction consciousness as such, a pure consciousness as a form from its content, we are getting 3 basic components:

  1. Consciousness
  2. Psychic phenomena in abstraction separated from consciousness
  3. Sensible phenomena, the content of senses, also separately from a consciousness.

In Buddhist terminology those 3 elements are named “čitta”(or “vijnana”), “čaitta” and “rupa”. These elements or dharmas are connected each with other. The process itself, when dharmas are connecting, changed, replaced, etc. can be seen as a new element, the fourth element.

Reminding it is an abstraction, we can say: the conscious, empirical life of each personality, so called subject, who experiences his or her external and inner world, is constituted of the elements that are connected between themselves according to a certain laws.

Those elements can be divided to many smaller types, they are met in most different shades and combinations and form something homogeneous, with a potential and subordinated to the law of dependent origination. All separate elements are involved in relations between each other. They are dependant each of other.

There are two very important concepts of dharma and karma, relying very closely each on other. And it shows us, the Buddhist analysis that divides a personality to elements, is not of psychophysiological character, but psychological in a sense its objects are the external and inner experiences of a person, not his material body. The same stands correct to a theory of momentary existence, which is tightly connected to the dharma theory.

buddha dharma momentsThe theory of moments or momentary existence in most of the later scriptures is not anymore proven but is considered to be commonly accepted. In the treatises on elements, groups, etc. it is considered to be well known. It consists of hypothesis that each element lasts only one very short moment, and thus the conscious personality is a chain of always changing combinations of moments, which consists of separate elements that manifest themselves only one short moment. This concept is expressing the observation that the content of the consciousness is changing endlessly. The flow of the consciousness is a chain of moments.

According to the theory of momentary existence, the content of the consciousness is changing so fast that the process of the changing itself we cannot observe directly. A moment is so tiny particle of time that it is not accessible in the direct knowledge. Thus, the consciousness and its content are considered to be a chain or flow of equal, endlessly small particles of time.

In the teaching of moments, the moment becomes a synonym to the element (dharma). Two moments are two completely different elements. Element becomes something similar to a dot in the coordinates of time and space. They are not changing, they are disappearing. What doesn’t disappear also doesn’t exist. The cause of manifestation of each dharma is a previous moment, which also manifested itself from nothing to disappear in nowhere.

The conclusion from the theory of momentary existence was denial of a movement. Really existing object, i.e. element, cannot move, because it disappears right after its origination, it doesn’t have time to move.

The later doesn’t contradict to the fact that one of the main features of material things is a movement. Each movement can be divided to a row of separate phenomena or manifestations that are originating in a chain. For instance, the acceleration of a falling body is explained with differences in a weight and movement in each moment of the falling, because the moment is assembled differently at each moment (AK-2; 46).

Sautrantika denied the existence of the past and future in the literal meaning, they acknowledged only the reality of the present. They stated that a future is not really existing until it becomes a present, but the past is not real after it has been present (AK-5; 24). However they didn’t deny the influence of the past to the present and future, but explained it by gradual changes as brought by the uninterrupted continuity of the moments.

Here Buddhism leaves the field of psychology and enters into that of ontology – the question about the reality of being. Because of all the content of our experience is reduced to momentary combinations of momentary elements, it is concluded that there is nothing really existing.

Accordingly to the Buddhists view, we could consider anything to be really existing only if it were unchanging and eternal. But in the analysis of the empirical being we are not able to find anything like this. This is the reason, why the view of empirical existence as something really existing is an illusion. To the momentary illusions has been added also the one which we are used to call “I” or “Me”.

New dharmas are originating and disappearing each moment, but it should not be understood as an absolute birth or creation from nothing or from something, it means they are manifesting themselves out of some transcendental, unknown level of existence and create some momentary phenomena or functions. The process of origination and disappearing of dharmas is without a beginning. The endless chain of manifestations creates the illusion of continual empirical being.