Implementation of Heidegger’s angst into Buddhist problem of suffering: on how Buddhist discourse engenders and epistemological problem and how to approach to it with western ontology

Автор: Ege Kaan Duman

Журнал: Revista Científica Arbitrada de la Fundación MenteClara @fundacionmenteclara

Статья в выпуске: 2, Vol. 4, 2019 года.

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Early Buddhist discourse recognizes the problem of dukkha (suffering) and argues that the cause of dukkha can be removed. This paper attempts to demonstrate how Buddhist claim that dukkha can be removed fails as it creates epistemological complications within the Buddhist discourse, and attempts to show how substituting Heidegger’s concept of Angst for Buddhist concept of dukkha could solve this problem. It is argued that the solution proposed by the four noble truths of early Buddhist tradition contradicts with the ontological and epistemological properties and implications of the concept of dukkha, and, accordingly, these properties of dukkha ought to be revised. As a solution to this problem, it is proposed that Angst addresses the problem of suffering more efficiently by not engendering such epistemological complications while also retaining the philosophy and worldview created by the Buddhist discourse as it accurately facilitates the Buddhist perspective.


Problem of suffering, four noble truths, Buddhism, early Buddhism, dukkha, Heidegger, angst, anguish

Короткий адрес:

IDR: 170163660   |   DOI: 10.32351/rca.v4.2.84

Фрагмент статьи Implementation of Heidegger’s angst into Buddhist problem of suffering: on how Buddhist discourse engenders and epistemological problem and how to approach to it with western ontology


While Buddhist discourse seemingly does not foster a problem concerning the existence of evil, it is imperative to show how early Buddhist tradition ontologically contradicts with its premises in its attempt to evaluate the existence of suffering to accurately examine the approach taken by this discourse. Accordingly, in this paper I will pursue to demonstrate how early Buddhist philosophy fails to maintain consistent ontological and metaphysical frameworks as it perceives beings in terms of finitude (Umehara, 1970) yet does not evidently acknowledge the continuity of spatial, temporal, and casual nature of things, which are required for us to claim that a thing is empirically real (Abelsen, 1993).

Thus, I will first dissect the Buddhist approach to existence of beings and to the four noble truths and show how these two approaches might engender a logical problem through Schopenhauer’s fourfold law of sufficient reason.

Then, I will wear a Western perspective to argue that while Buddhist view on existence seems rational, its approach to evil and suffering has essential epistemological complications.

In the conclusion, I will suggest that the implementation of Heidegger’s account of suffering, which ultimately originates from a similar metaphysical and epistemological understanding of world to that of Buddhist tradition, to the Buddhist discourse of existence provides the discourse with further consistency which Buddhist account of suffering fails to capture.

The four noble truths are as follows:

(1) Suffering exists

(2) Suffering has a cause

(3) The cause can be removed

(4) There are eight practices by which the cause of suffering can be removed (Umehara, 1970)

Now, prima facie, Buddhism acknowledges that suffering exists. Furthermore, it also acknowledges that its existence follows a cause, as (2) states. Indeed, (2) is contingent to Buddhist perception of this world that every phenomena is conditioned by causes (Kalupahana, 1977). This account creates an empirical basis for a metaphysical explanation of this world which ultimately stems from impermanency and which accordingly rejects substantial forms.

However, this does not eo ipso mean that since all phenomena are impermanent all phenomena therefore are or imply dukkha –suffering, unrest–. While all phenomena are nonsubstantial since they are casually determined, not all phenomena are dispositionally determined, and only those that are dispositionally determined are dukkha (Kalupahana, 1977). Thus, although world is necessarily impermanent, the suffering can be avoided as not everything is dispositionally determined (Gäb, 2015).

Problem with the Solution for Suffering in Early Buddhism

The discourse of phenomena and how they are determined, I believe, can be analyzed in the context of Schopenhauer’s fourfold law of sufficient reason (Schopenhauer, 2012). Indeed, I would like to argue that we start to recognize similar traces of metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology in Schopenhauer’s principle as we begin to further analyze how the existence persists in spatiotemporal universe in Buddhism.

In early Buddhist tradition, the world is devoid of substance, exists only in terms of emptiness as all phenomena is essentially finite and ephemeral (Abelsen, 1993). While the accession of (3) presupposes a conscious will, finitude extends beyond humans to all beings (Stambaugh, 1970). This argument presumes a kind of causality that fourfold law of sufficient reason asserts. It necessitates beings, consciousness, and actions in spatiotemporal dimension to ensue on a preceding being, consciousness, or an action that existed in the same spatiotemporal dimension. Accordingly, while Buddhism seems to reject ontology of beings as defined in Western tradition, it ultimately permits ontological assay of beings. Furthermore, the propositions of four noble truths do not demonstrate the intrinsic quality of truths themselves, but the sacredness they engender displays the quality Buddha has given to them (Orrù & Wang, 1992). That is, while four noble truths imply the value they are bestowed, they lack the capacity to capture the essence of the essence of themselves.

To these ends, Buddhism’s four noble truths self contradict in that while the Buddhist argument originates from the claim that a being or a thought necessarily precedes a being or a thought as all beings are impermanent themselves, it also argues for the possibility of cessation of the cause of suffering. This worldview is then conflicting since while the views of impermanency and (3) are valid per se, they are inconsistent with each other. That is, if the ephemerality of beings prove the causality that the principle of sufficient reason argues for holds true, then the cause of suffering cannot be removed for two reasons.

First, the existence of things must follow a line if the impermanency makes up for the future existence of things. The finitude in Buddhist tradition, while it exemplifies for the end of things, also implies the beginning of other things, which ultimately are finite. Therefore, as the exact infinitude is absent in being, then the being itself is the reason for the derivations of such and such being. Accordingly, the cause of the suffering cannot be removed fully as the notion of removal must follow a notion that causes the suffering: A notion that pursues to dismiss the cause of the suffering requires the cause of the suffering, yet as this notion is impermanent, it cannot engender itself as itself would require the cause of suffering. Thus, even if the cause of the suffering can be removed, this removal can also only be ephemeral as the notion of removing the cause of suffering implies not the continuance of itself, but continuance of the cause of suffering.

Second reason is that the dispositionally determined phenomena are dukkha. While disposition, as argued in the first reason, follows another disposition, dispositionally determined action to remove the cause of dukkha itself is dukkha. While casual actions do not necessarily imply dukkha, dispositional actions, even if they are imposed to remove the dukkha, are essentially dukkha. That is, just as suffering is a result of our craving (Gäb, 2015), a will that is dispositional towards this craving would also result in suffering as it essentially is craving itself. Thus, if (3) is realized by a dispositional notion, which is fundamentally very likely, then (3) paradoxically engenders (1).

Using Heidegger’s Angst to Solve the Problem

Since the metaphysical and epistemological prescription of the world of Buddhist tradition is very similar to that of Heidegger, I would like to propose changing Buddhist account of dukkha to Heidegger’s account of Angst (Heidegger, 1962) as I believe the concept of Angst provides more consistency to Buddhist discourse than dukkha does. However, I want to respond to some possible counterarguments to my proposition before discussing why it appears as a rational idea to implement Angst into Buddhist philosophy how it could be accomplished.

(1) While some might argue that substituting dukkha with Angst would alter the four noble truths, as dukkha is essential to the Worldview Buddhism adheres to, I kindly reject this proposition. Even though the concept of dukkha per se and how it is perceived are essential to Buddhist philosophy, I believe that Buddhist tradition would more efficiently employ Angst because of the inconsistency of dukkha’s eschatological aspect with the general framework Buddhism I have shown above. To this end, Angst would not engender the epistemological problems we examine in Buddhist discourse that are caused by the conception of dukkha.

(2) Another point of view that attempts to undermine my proposition is that the concern of finitude extend beyond humans in Buddhism (Stambaugh, 1970) while Heidegger’s ontology mainly discusses being and be-ing as a human. Stambaugh argues that Heidegger’s Angst “is a fundamental state of mind of Dasein” and has a revealing character in that it “reveals to Dasein the world as world in all its uncanniness.” (Stambaugh, 1970).

I think Stambaugh’s argument is weak in that while Heidegger does indeed not pursue a holistic question of being, he does not deny that beings other than humans are essentially finite, and that while Angst has a revealing character, such character is not intrinsic but descriptive. Heidegger’s choice of not engaging in the discourse that extends beyond humans can perhaps most aptly be explained by Geworfenheit –thrownness–. Unlike the Buddhist tradition which argues that dukkha ceases with nirvana, Heidegger argues that suffering does not cease, but is metamorphisized into Angst with Dasein’s confronting the finitude of his/her being and be-ing. Accordingly, the avoidance of complete eternality –sasvata– and nothingness –ucheda– Buddhism argues for demonstrates itself more efficiently in Heidegger’s Angst as it presupposes a dispositional consciousness.

Then, Angst does not directly reveal the world and its uncanniness to Dasein, but when Das Man becomes Dasein, he/she becomes aware of the world Angst implies. Ergo, while Heidegger’s concern for finitude does not extend beyond humans like Buddhist concern, the finitude per se does. The reason it is not discussed in Heidegger’s ontology as clearly as in Buddhist discourse is that the Geworfenheit can only be a constant medium for Dasein, which, ultimately, is human.


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