Why Is There Anything At All?
Why Is There Anything At All?
It is a primitive form of thought
that things either exist or do not exist. - Sir Arthur Eddington
"Why is there any 'thing' at all?" This seems to be the mother of all basic existential questions. But this question prompts another question - "Why is there this question at all?" This in turn begs the question - "Why do I not know?" The answer is "I do not know why (I do not know)", or "I do not know - because of my fundamental ignorance." At this point, this might simply seem to be evasion of the first question. But if we reflect carefully, we should always ask why we ask certain questions in the first place - as questions can be asked wrongly or without much true meaning.
To say "it is" is to grasp for permanence.
To say "it is not" is to adopt the view of nihilism.
Therefore a wise person does not say "exists" or "does not exist." - Siddhi Nagarjuna
But I digress. Now back to the original question. Buddhism teaches us that "things" do not exist in the way we suppose them to - as "solid" unchanging entities. For instance, the physical elements of nature on the microscopic level are always morphing into each other, breaking up or becoming more complex. There is no enduring immutable element even in the elements themselves. In terms of mental phenomena, the Buddha discovered through detailed meditative observation, that all of its elements - mental forms, feelings, perceptions, intentions and consciousness are likewise fluxing all the time.
Since every element morphs chemically,
always changing from itself to another,
what is truly elemental, other than change? -stonepeace
So, to reiterate, "things" indeed do not exist the way we habitually think they do. This does not only apply to minute psycho-physical details, but also to more macro aspects of observable nature. For instance, there is actually no such thing as a waterfall - there is only "water falling!" Because every "thing" is constantly changing and thus without any fixed self-nature, "things" actually "exist yet "do not exist" at the same time. There is no thinker but only the thinking. There are only processes. This applies to our illusion of "self" too. All is flow.
Since there is only constant "changing",
how can there be a constant "changer"? -stonepeace
So it seems, the first question was indeed asked wrongly, in having assumed the existence of "things" existing as unchanging forms. So the question should perhaps be now rephrased thus - "Why is there constant change?" Unfortunately, as I'm unenlightened on this metaphysical question, the answer is still "I do not know why." However, what I do know is that, as exemplified by the Buddha's attainment of Enlightenment, we can all evolve spiritually to realise the answer. And this evolution is possible precisely because there is constant change! Spiritual cultivation is but another process of change among all other processes, but it is one which seeks to transform ignorance to omniscient wisdom.
There is no existence or non-existence of anything.
Things are neither solidly present nor totally absent. - stonepeace
Incidentally, the Buddha also taught that metaphysical and thus speculative questions, though seemingly intelligent, are not wise, in the sense that they are not relevant to the immediate task of simply becoming wiser through understanding our mind, which dispels ignorance, instead of ignorantly seeking the roots of our ignorance with our ignorance! The latter is moving in the wrong direction! It is likened to seeking light within the darkness of ignorance by walking deeper into darkness when one should simply walk towards the light of wisdom. We are probably too ignorant to understand the roots of our ignorance too - or the Buddha might had simply told us how it "arose". What matters is not how we got here (as ignorant), but what we can do now to become wise - through practising and perfecting the Noble Eightfold Path.
- Shen Shi'an