A paradoxical perception in the Pāli discourses?

In AN10.7 Venerable Sāriputta says he was meditating in such a way he wasn’t even perceiving the state of neither-awareness-nor-nonawareness (or ‘neither-perception-nor-nonperception’), yet at the same time he was still aware. This is paradoxical, because beyond this state of meditation there is only the cessation of all awareness, so how could Sāriputta still be aware? The answer lies in his subject of meditation. The perception he was cultivating was, “the cessation of existence is extinguishment” (bhavanirodho nibbānaṃ).

This perception entails the realization that the cessation of existence is indeed the goal of the Buddha’s path, as well as perceiving it to have the positive qualities of peace and coolness associated with the term ‘extinguishment’. It is a cognitive understanding of what the goal is, not a direct experience of it. (Compare Schmithausen, On Some Aspects of Descriptions or Theories of Liberating Insight and Enlightenment in Early Buddhism, p.227–228; contra Anālayo, The Signless and the Deathless, Chapter II.3.)

In the preceding discourse (AN10.6), Sāriputta also says he was cultivating a perception that paradoxically went beyond perception, reflecting that extinguishment is peaceful and sublime. This too is a contemplation of certain qualities of extinguishment, which is further clarified when in AN10.60 the same perception is explicitly described and as a reflection/consideration (paṭisañcikkhati), alongside such reflections that the aggregates are impermanent and that the body is liable to sickness. It is also described as a thought in AN3.32. The reflection “the cessation of existence is extinguishment” in SN12.68 is called “personal knowledge” (paccattaṃ ñāṇaṁ). It is described in the exact same way as the personal knowledge that death depends on birth—followed by the other links of Dependent Arising—which likewise is not a direct experience of birth or death but a cognitive understanding of their relationship. (However, while the connection between birth and death is to some extent obvious to all, the knowledge of extinguishment is based on profound and direct insight into cessation.) The commentary also calls the perception a ‘reviewing/reflection’ (paccavekkhaṇā).

In the latter discourse “the cessation of existence is extinguishment” is the knowledge of an enlightened being but also that of a trainee (sekha), so this perception is available to all noble ones, including the stream winners. Stream winners directly realized that their existence is going to cease after a few more lives at most. For them, the perception on extinguishment is a recollection of this realization, which will incline their mind further towards letting go of suffering. For enlightened beings the perception will be based on their knowledge that existence is going to cease at the end of this life. It is a reflection on their knowledge that “there won’t be a next existence” (e.g. SN35.72, Thag1.67). In MN49 the Buddha himself says he knows existence will come to an end, specifically using a future verb form. For fully enlightened ones like him, this is just a known fact which serves no further purpose to develop the mind. (In some other places enlightened ones say, “all states of existence are ended”, e.g. Thig 5.5, but with bhava in the plural, this refers to future lives, to having ended rebirth in all realms.)

That the reflection on the cessation of existence concerns the extinguishment that happens at an enlightened being’s death, can also be derived from Iti44, which says all existence only ceases after this life (samparāyikā), at the kind of extinguishment which leaves no remnant (anupādisesā nibbānadhātu), also known colloquially as full extinguishment (parinibbāna). Sāriputta obviously hadn’t reached this yet, but he was reflecting on it, knowing that it was going to happen. (Contra Ñāṇananda, The Magic of the Mind, p72–75, who states: “This experience of the cessation of existence (bhavanirodho), which is none other than ‘Nibbāna here-and-now’.”)

Sāriputta’s point is, since this perception is a reflection on the cessation of existence including all awareness, it in a sense goes beyond the state of neither-awareness-nor-nonawareness, where there still is a tiny bit of awareness left. However, it still is a reflective perception, not the actual cessation of awareness itself, so in that sense it doesn’t go beyond it.

The paradox therefore simply revolves around what we mean by ‘percipient of’ and ‘going beyond’. It is not the case that the nature of extinguishment is inherently paradoxical, that there exists a unique type of perception that isn’t a perception. The Pāli word saññā, just like the English ‘perception’, can both mean a cognitive understanding of something or mere awareness of something. (See also Hamilton, Identity and Experience, p.62: “Throughout the Sutta the word saññā is used in the sense of ‘consciousness’ […] but it is also used in the sense of the arising or cessation of particular ‘conceptions’ […] achieved through training the mind […]”.) Sāriputta was cultivating a perception, in the sense of a cognitive understanding, of the cessation of perception, in the sense of awareness.

In other words, when reflecting on extinguishment it is not really proper to say you are still percipient of anything constructed, yet at the same time it is still a constructed perception.


It is not very precise statement, sotāpanna sees:

whatever has come to being as come to being. By seeing it thus he has entered upon the way to dispassion for it, to the fading and ceasing of lust for it. That is how one with vision sees.” Iti. 49

In other words sekha sees that his very being (“I am”) is dependently arisen on the present condition, namely ignorance and is only possible when ignorance is present.

‘I am’ is derivative,*not underivative. Derivative upon what? Derivative upon form, feeling, perception, formations, and consciousness.”
SN 22:83

*(Upādāya has a double meaning that is difficult to capture in translation. As absolutive of upādiyati it means “having clung to,” but it also has an idiomatic sense, “derived from, dependent on,” as in the expression catunnañ ca mahābhūtānaṃ upādāya rūpaṃ, “the form derived from the four great elements.”)

Bhikkhu Bodhi

And this statement unfortunately is simply mistaken: the merely presence of living body in the field of consciousness isn’t synonymous with the state of bhava. Difference between puthujjana and arahat can be stated as presence and absence of upādāna.

And when this is not (upādāna) this is not (bhava):

Cessation of conceit “I am” can be realised here and now. And when it happens, ignorance doesn’t support the state of being anymore.

To be is to be contingent: nothing of which it can be said that “it is” can be alone and independent. But being is a member of paticca-samuppada as arising which contains ignorance. Being is only invertible by ignorance.

Destruction of ignorance destroys the illusion of being. When ignorance is no more, than consciousness no longer can attribute being (pahoti) at all. But that is not all for when consciousness is predicated of one who has no ignorance than it is no more indicatable (as it was indicated in M Sutta 22)

Nanamoli Thera


Ven Nanamoli is just a monk, not necessarily authoritative: so it is better to quote Suttas:

“He understands thus: ‘Whatever disturbances there might be dependent on the taint of sensual desire, those are not present here; whatever disturbances there might be dependent on the taint of being, those are not present here; whatever disturbances there might be dependent on the taint of ignorance, those are not present here. There is present only this amount of disturbance, namely, that connected with the six bases that are dependent on this body and conditioned by life.’

He understands: ‘This field of perception is void of the taint of sensual desire; this field of perception is void of the taint of being; this field of perception is void of the taint of ignorance. There is present only this non-voidness, namely, that connected with the six bases that are dependent on this body and conditioned by life.’ Thus he regards it as void of what is not there, but as to what remains there he understands that which is present thus: ‘This is present.’ Thus, Ānanda, this is his genuine, [109] undistorted, pure descent into voidness, supreme and unsurpassed.

MN 121


Hi. I never studied this AN10.7 before. When I read it, all the monk is describing is an impermanence of perceptions; meaning his mind is never caught up in a prolonged continued manner with one certain perception. The AN 10.7 does not say the monk ceased to perceive earth. The AN10.7 uses the phrase perceive “earth in earth” or “earth in relation to earth”. I think the key to this AN10.7 is this phrase “in relation to”. There is something more in this phrase than meets the eye. I remember reading a sutta about bhava I recall described bhava as consciousness “established” in a sensual, material or immaterial element. In the AN10.7 the consciousness of the monk did not have continued establishment in any of those objects of perception listed. I read nothing paradoxical in AN 10.7.

Being an arahant is still a state of bhava, it is said in SN22.76. (See also here.)

“Taint of being” is translated as “defilement of desire to be reborn” by Sujato.

Either way, don’t you think Iti44 is quite clear when it directly connects the cessation of bhava with parinibbāna, not with enlightenment.

This is AN3.76, which is usually understood to be about rebirth. The establishing of consciousness in a certain realm means it getting reborn there, producing a new bhava.

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All I see is that you don’t see: with upādāna as condition bhava. But perhaps my seeing things as they are is dependently arisen on ignorance, and so I cannot appreciate deep and profound idea that our body must be dead before we can speak about nibbana now and here.

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What about the case of a person who doesn’t know about rebirth or doesn’t want to be reborn, or an animal who doesn’t even have the concept of rebirth or the ability to have such a concept, are they already arahats at 1/3 because they can’t have the desire to be reborn at all?

Very strange choice of translation.


Oke, but a cognitive understanding of the definitive cessation of suffering, is this what we as buddhist at best can arrive at? We will never ever have a direct knowledge of the definitive cessation of suffering? That is what you say.

Does the Dhamma not lead to direct knowledge but we will never have direct knowledge of the goal of Dhamma?

Isn’t is a bit strange that no buddhist will ever have direct knowledge of the ultimate goal of Dhamma but at best an intellectual understanding that with death all will come to an end and cease? In fact, you teach that the definitve cessation of suffering will never ever be more than a prospect.

It is merely the proces of conceiving what you describe Sariputta is doing. Conceiving what is about to happen or will happen in the future, when dying. Conceiving is a diseases the sutta’s say.

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Rebirth and death happen to the real aggregates of a real world and as long as those real aggregates believe they are a non-existent self. If those real aggregates give up the belief that they are a non-existent self, then those aggregates die for a final time and are never reborn. Is that a conception that is a disease?

Rebirth and death happen to the real defilements of a real unconditioned citta as long as those real defilements believe they are are a non-existent self. If those real defilements give up the belief that they are a non-existent self, then those defilements die for a final time and are never reborn. Is that a conception that is a disease?

Hey, maybe come to think of it, these are not that far apart? Substitute a couple words and agreement might pop out? :joy: :pray:

Hi Ven. Sunyo, :pray:

But in which plane of existence is this immersion, where Sāriputta is still perceiving, taking place?

Iti44 is very clear in that both John D. Ireland and Ven. Sujato have incorrectly translated Pañcindriyāni as the 5 senses.

Pañcindriyāni is not the 5 senses, but instead the following 5 faculties:

  1. Saddhindriyaṁ, = the faith faculty,
  2. viriyindriyaṁ, = the energy faculty,
  3. satindriyaṁ, = the mindfulness faculty,
  4. samādhindriyaṁ, = the concentration faculty,
  5. paññindriyaṁ. = the wisdom faculty.

Imāni kho, bhikkhave, pañcindriyāni.
These, monastics, are the five faculties.

All of these depend upon contact. So there is a clear extension between the two, which is reflected in the language.

Pañcindriyā can also be the sense faculties, as well as five emotional faculties (see SN 48 in various suttas); one rather concrete example is SN 48.41.

The context in Iti 44 says that through these five indriyā one experiences “the agreeable and disagreeable” and feels “pleasure and pain”. This does not happen through faith, energy, mindfulness, samadhi, and wisdom, does it?

iti44:3.3: Their five sense faculties still remain. So long as their senses have not gone they continue to experience the agreeable and disagreeable, to feel pleasure and pain.

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Hello @sabbamitta ! :slight_smile: :pray:

I was well aware of this but then the question is why the sixth sense (mind) is not included? As in saḷāyatana.

Also iti44 says the five faculties in question are functioning unobstructed/unhindered: Tassa tiṭṭhanteva pañcindriyāni yesaṁ avighātattā.

Avighātattā = “unobstructed” or “unhindered”.

Edit: What I’m getting at is the following:

If it is only the 5 senses then the mind is not included in this sutta. :wink:

Hi Dhabba,

Well, indriya also means sense faculties and the context of Iti44 aligns with this:
“So long as their senses have not gone they continue to experience the agreeable and disagreeable, to feel pleasure and pain.”

This doesn’t really fit if we take them to be the five faculties used for awakening, but makes sense if they’re the senses. :slightly_smiling_face:


But why Yeshe would i not believe that the Buddha really found the deathless, the unborn, the not-desintegrating, the stable, the peace, the constant, the refuge, the peace without death, the imperishable state …if all sutta’s come down to this and share this?

SN43 clearly teaches that Buddha teaches the Path to the stable, the constant, the not-deintegrating…and then we cannot arrive there???

Must i be so cynical that the Buddha refered to a mere cessation at death without anything remaining…as the not-disintegrating, peace, the constant, the end of suffering?
Sorry, i cannot accept this cynism.

Uberhaupt, thinking about the end of suffering as a mere cessation without anything remaining.

No, the sutta’s are not vague. The Buddha sought no Path to become non-existent. Never, ever.
He was not at all interested in a mere cessation at death. I do not see this in the sutta’s and the Buddha i imagine was not at all aiming at a mere cessation.

There is not hair on my head, and i have still a lot :innocent:, that believes that the end of rebirth is some mere cessation.

I fully admit, i am not gonna denie this…my heart does not believe at all that a Buddha comes in the world to show all these poor lifestream the Path to become non-existent and finally cease without anything remaining because those poor lifestream are so suffering, they are better o when they complete cease without anything remaining.
I admit, IF this is really what Buddha did teach, and was his goal…i do not want to have anything to do with this dhamma nor Buddha.

I also admit…i feel it is really worrying that people really embrace the Dhamma as a Path to total cessation and see not other end of suffering then to cease totally.

Hello! :slight_smile:

So it is the 5 senses that are functioning without any hindrances or obstructions?

Why is the 6th sense, mind, left out of this?

The five mental faculties of: faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom ought to also function without any obstructions or hindrances, despite one still feeling both pleasure and pain due to still having a physical body.


  • ”While abiding, their five faculties operate unhindered, perceiving the agreeable and disagreeable, and experiencing pleasure and pain."

  • “As they persist, their five faculties function without obstruction, perceiving both the pleasant and unpleasant, and undergoing pleasure and pain.”

  • “In their presence, the five faculties operate freely, perceiving the agreeable and disagreeable, and experiencing pleasure and pain.”

  • “Their five faculties continue unimpeded, perceiving both the agreeable and disagreeable, and experiencing pleasure and pain as they abide.”

  • “With their five faculties unobstructed, they perceive both the pleasant and unpleasant, experiencing pleasure and pain as they persist.”

Thank you. Which realm was Gotama reborn in during his final birth? Sensual realm, material realm or immaterial realm?

In a number of suttas the five senses are cited, such as in DN14, DN21, and DN23.

Iti44 is pointing to the lack of attachment and identification with the five senses even as they remain conduits of pleasure and pain.

Again, I don’t see how the Five Indriyas of faith and effort, etc. apply as “something left over” that experience the agreeable and disagreeable, which seems to easily apply to the senses.

Anyway, that’s my understanding.

I didn’t say that nor do I think it. The comment you are replying to just pointed out that the account you present and those who are arguing against it are very similar in structure. :pray:

Hello Venerable, thank you for your contributions to this forum. Your posts help a lot with understanding the suttas.

I agree that these reflections refer to the cessation of existence that comes through the ending of craving. Some passages that mention reflections of the type :

the cessation of existence is extinguishment

this is peaceful, this is sublime i.e stilling of all conditions …

also mention a state of immersion that comes along with such reflections, yet seems to be different from the form and formless immersions. This leaves perhaps a hole for readers to fill in with a variety of interpretations corresponding to what they take the goal to be.

For example in AN 10.7 and AN 10.6, this immersion is related to perceiving the above reflections

Could it be, reverend Sāriputta, that a mendicant might gain a state of immersion like this? They wouldn’t perceive earth in earth, water in water, fire in fire, or air in air. And they wouldn’t perceive the dimension of infinite space in the dimension of infinite space…

In AN 11.7 as well, this is said by both the Buddha and Sāriputta.

In AN 11.8, it is said that one gains a state of absorption by focussing on the reflection

“Could it be, sir, that a mendicant might gain a state of immersion like this. They wouldn’t focus on the eye or sights, ear or sounds, nose or smells, tongue or tastes, or body or touches. They wouldn’t focus on earth in earth, water in water, fire in fire, or air in air. And they wouldn’t focus on the dimension of infinite space in the dimension of infinite space, the dimension of infinite consciousness in the dimension of infinite consciousness, the dimension of nothingness in the dimension of nothingness, or the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception in the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. They wouldn’t focus on this world in this world, or the other world in the other world. And they wouldn’t focus on what is seen, heard, thought, known, attained, sought, or explored by the mind. Yet they would focus?”
“It could be, Ānanda.”
“But how could this be?”
“Ānanda, it’s when a mendicant focuses thus: ‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment.’

AN 3.32 refers to gaining a state of immersion this time referring to the breakthrough to Arahantship as well

“Ānanda, it’s when a mendicant thinks: ‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment.’
That’s how, Ānanda, a mendicant might gain a state of immersion such that there’s no ego, possessiveness, or underlying tendency to conceit for this conscious body; and no ego, possessiveness, or underlying tendency to conceit for all external stimuli; and that they’d live having achieved the freedom of heart and freedom by wisdom where ego, possessiveness, and underlying tendency to conceit are no more.

This formulation of etaṁ santaṁ, etaṁ paṅītaṁ is also used to refer to states of absorption in MN 102, but in the context of the jhānas in that case

‘This is peaceful, this is sublime, that is, entering and remaining in the rapture of seclusion.’

In the Jhānasutta AN 9.36, it is said that a person attains a jhāna, and after their contemplation of this experience reaches a sufficient depth (in terms of the three characteristics for example), their mind turns away from these things that carry the three characteristics. Instead it turns towards the extinguishment :

They turn their mind away from those things, and apply it to freedom from death: ‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment.’

Regarding this it is then said

Abiding in that they attain the ending of defilements.

Here we encounter an abiding in these reflections on extinguishment but it is not any of the standard abidings in jhāna since it comes after reflecting on the jhānas as suffering, dart, not-self etc, but instead an abiding that gives rise to Arahantship. So this abiding (also referring to immersion?) is also associated with the breakthrough to highest stage of awakening. This is likened to an archer who first practice their craft by shooting at straw man (hindrances) and then eventually shatters large objects with it (defilements). How should we understand the nature of this immersion?

In my own reading so far, I have provisionally interpreted this immersion that comes with reflecting on the peace of extinguishment for the Noble Ones to refer to the commentarial idea of Fruition. This fruition absorption is also said to be possible only for Noble Ones. The Visuddhimagga on Pg 731 (in Ven Nyanamoli’s translation) says

(ii) Who attains it? (iii) Who do not attain it? No ordinary men attain it. Why? Because it is beyond their reach. But all Noble Ones attain it. Why? Because it is within their reach.

Moreover it is associated with peace and happiness and has to be entered, cultivated, emerged from etc like other absorption attainments

(iv) Why do they attain it? For the purpose of abiding in bliss here and now. For just as a king experiences royal bliss and a deity experiences divine bliss, so too the Noble Ones think, “We shall experience the noble supramundane bliss,” and after deciding on the duration, they attain the attainment of fruition whenever they choose.

and requires focus on the topic of extinguishment in seclusion

“Although they are resultant states, nevertheless the states of fruition attainment occur in the noble person only when he chooses since they do not arise without the preliminary work and do so only when they are given predominance”

(v) How does its attainment come about?
(v) In the first place its attainment comes about for two reasons: with not bringing to mind any object other than Nibbāna, and with bringing Nibbāna to mind, according as it is said: “Friend, there are two conditions for the attainment of the signless mind-deliverance; they are the non-bringing to mind of all signs, and the bringing to mind of the signless element”

Here, my own understanding is that the commentarial idea of Nibbāna refers to the absence of any conditions (which the Noble disciple is able to recognize due to their previous development of the path) since it is the cessation of them. Then the commentarial literature uses this strange language (from the pov of the suttas) of “consciousness taking Nibbāna as its object” maybe because it wants to distinguish this absorption from the final cessation of consciousness in the manner of the dependent origination sequence and its inverse. Perhaps, this is parallel to how the suttas are playfully using perception that is not percipient of forms, formless yet percipient since it is percipient of the cessation of forms and formless. So the commentary broadens the definition of Nibbāna to include this state of immersion produced by the Noble One’s recollection, along with the cessation of defilement and existence.

Since the occurrence of this absorption is an empirical claim by the commentary (since it says that the attainment can be entered for a fixed amount of time set by prior volition, cultivated, emerged from etc) and not just a theoretical device, I considered it a satisfactory idea to see things in this way. But it is mostly speculation on my part to provisionally harmonise the two kinds of literature until I can read more and understand it better. I am not really an expert on the commentaries or the suttas. What are your thoughts on this correspondence? Does this fruition idea of the commentary make sense here? Or maybe it fits somewhere else in the suttas better? Or perhaps, the commentary is going off towards some other tangential direction with this fruition idea?

Best :slight_smile:


The following sure sound like they are talking about the same thing and that is a completely stable experiencing of the senses without perceiving a self that clings. In other word, the end of greed, hatred, and delusion.

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