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Momentariness, Buddhist doctrine of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F061-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

The object of the Buddhist doctrine of momentariness is not the nature of time, but existence within time. Rather than atomizing time into moments, it atomizes phenomena temporally by dissecting them into a succession of discrete momentary entities. Its fundamental proposition is that everything passes out of existence as soon as it has originated and in this sense is momentary. As an entity vanishes, it gives rise to a new entity of almost the same nature which originates immediately afterwards. Thus, there is an uninterrupted flow of causally connected momentary entities of nearly the same nature, the so-called continuum (santāna). These entities succeed each other so fast that the process cannot be discerned by ordinary perception. Because earlier and later entities within one continuum are almost exactly alike, we come to conceive of something as a temporally extended entity even though the fact that it is in truth nothing but a series of causally connected momentary entities. According to this doctrine, the world (including the sentient beings inhabiting it) is at every moment distinct from the world in the previous or next moment. It is, however, linked to the past and future by the law of causality in so far as a phenomenon usually engenders a phenomenon of its kind when it perishes, so that the world originating in the next moment reflects the world in the preceding moment.

At the root of Buddhism lies the (never questioned) conviction that everything that has originated is bound to perish and is therefore, with the exception of factors conducive to enlightenment, ultimately a source of frustration. There is no surviving textual material that documents how this law of impermanence came to be radicalized in terms of momentariness. It seems that by the fourth century the doctrine of momentariness had already assumed its final form. Characteristically, the debate became more and more dominated by epistemological questions, while the metaphysical aspect faded into the background.

Citing this article:
Von Rospatt, Alexander. Momentariness, Buddhist doctrine of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F061-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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