A substantialist view of the aggregates

Thank you as well. For fear of misunderstanding I will point out that I didn’t say that “they cannot be said to either arise or cease”, but rather I referred to “truly arising” and “truly ceasing” and I grant that this probably seems to you as if I’m playing word games with no meaningful difference, but for me there is a meaningful difference.

It is precisely because things cannot “truly arise” and “truly cease” that they can merely arise and merely cease. The Nile river exists in this way as merely arising and one day merely ceasing. The Nile river does not substantially exist, but it does merely exist in such a way that you can drown in it. Another way to look at it is that the Nile river is constantly in a flux of arising and ceasing.

The corpse of the Teacher was cremated and to this day there exist stupas in the world that claim his relics as not having truly ceased. The way in which those relics exist is dependent upon the prior form of the Teacher merely ceasing, but not truly ceasing.

One way to understand the difference between true cessation and mere cessation: when merely ceasing one thing necessarily gives rise to another. That is opposed to truly ceasing where if something truly ceases - that true cessation - cannot be said to act as a condition for the arising of some other. This is similar for mere arising versus true arising.

I hope this might help to clarify any misunderstandings generated from my own ineloquence and again thank you for the conversation. :pray:

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OK, thanks I think I understand your pov better now.

Based on this, would you say that there is no such thing as the cessation of life/existence without any rearising of life/existence and the Buddha did not teach such a goal?

Manifestly, there has been arising of life/existence in that we are alive and talking to each other now, right? In that sense, no there was not a true cessation of life/existence with the end of the life of Shakyamuni.

But I suspect you’re asking if there was a true cessation of the life of Shakyamuni and I’d say no because I don’t think there was any true cessation. Why? Because there was no true essence of Shakyamuni to truly end and I think he himself understood this and proclaimed this many many times. What can be said blamelessly is there was a mere cessation of the life of Shakyamuni with no future rebirth. However, I think there was no re-arising of any state of true existence nor perception of true existence for Shakyamuni from the moment of his liberation underneath the Bodhi tree. The ignorance perceiving true existence was extinguished right there.

More difficult is considering what happened to all those atoms from the corpse that are not in stupas, but have since become food for other living things. In this sense, one could even say that life has continued in dependence upon the former form of Shakyamuni’s corpse. It is also probably true that even now sentient beings are grasping at those relics found in stupas and suffering is arising based on that grasping. However, it seems uncharitable to appropriate that form on behalf of Shakyamuni whose life ended thousands of years ago.

Again, this probably sounds like I’m playing word games, but I don’t think this is the case or at least I’m not trying to in my feeble conceptions :slight_smile: :pray:

Yes, I meant the stream of consciousness of someone who has finished greed etc. I was curious whether that arises again after the death of the body in your view as in the simile of the seed of consciousness sprouting again and again after death for someone for whom things only arise and cease (without any truly - according to the definition that you propose - since this person does not have the idea of something substantial that can arise or cease).

Can you point to the simile of the seed you are speaking of? :pray:

Yes, of course

If, Ānanda, there were no deeds to result in the sensual realm, would continued existence in the sensual realm still come about?”

“No, sir.”

“So, Ānanda, deeds are the field, consciousness is the seed, and craving is the moisture. The intention and aim of sentient beings—shrouded by ignorance and fettered by craving—is established in a lower realm. That’s how there is rebirth into a new state of existence in the future.

In that particular sutta it is said that consciousness is the seed and craving is the moisture that leads to continued existence. Craving was given up utterly by the Teacher underneath the Bodhi tree not to arise again. How? By understanding the ignorance of the view of true existence. Continued existence could not arise with the giving up of this craving right there underneath the Bodhi tree. Continued existence of what? Ignorance and craving. Without ignorance and craving the world remains just as it is, but the continued existence of the view of true existence is eradicated as ignorance was replaced by knowledge. Something like that to my feeble conceptions.

Also, your question about a stream of consciousness reminds me of a sutta where the Teacher explicitly says it is better for one to appropriate the body as the self than the mind because appropriating the latter is a more vexed condition to get rid of. This is my paraphrase and it is likely missing some key meaning, but unfortunately my terrible memory cannot locate the sutta right now. Perhaps someone else remembers it?


Hi again,

The reason I asked about the consciousness of an enlightened being was since you said

One way to understand the difference between true cessation and mere cessation: when merely ceasing one thing necessarily gives rise to another. That is opposed to truly ceasing where if something truly ceases - that true cessation - cannot be said to act as a condition for the arising of some other.

and usually the consciousness of an enlightened being is said to disappear so thoroughly that no being in existence can locate it. In that sense something has truly ceased as you define it without giving rise to something else but was not substantial for the being themselves. Perhaps you interpret that it was substantial for all the non-arahants hanging around :smiley: so it only ceased truly for them but even the arahants would not be able to find it, I suppose.


Continued existence of what? Ignorance and craving.

Just wanted to say that I’m not sure if the term Continued existence (bhava) is stretchy enough to accommodate such a statement. From what I know, bhava refers to existence in a life and enlightened beings do have bhava while they are alive as mentioned in SN 22.76.

As far as there are abodes of sentient beings, even up until the pinnacle of existence, the perfected ones are the foremost and the best.”
Yāvatā, bhikkhave, sattāvāsā, yāvatā bhavaggaṁ, ete aggā, ete seṭṭhā lokasmiṁ yadidaṁ arahanto”ti.

So it is directly tied to rebirth, instead of referring to the Continued existence of a view of a true self. But bhava does cease with death for the enlightened ones since it arises based on ignorance and craving. For more details, you can check out this thread too.

Maybe SN 12.61

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Yes! Thank you.

Just the consciousness is said to disappear so thoroughly? My recollection is that it was an enlightened one that cannot be located after the physical death of the body; not just the consciousness. Are you equating an enlightened one with consciousness? Which sutta is this?

Yes, and I’ve said that rebirth ceases and so does ignorance and craving. Ignorance is the first link in dependent arising and the root of existence. I’ve said that ignorance ceases and so does craving and both of these are links in dependent arising. Doesn’t that necessarily mean the rest do not arise since they are without the condition to arise? Are you speculating on some existence outside of dependent arising that you think ceases with nibbana?

I’m not sure what you’re disputing? I’ve said that rebirth ceases and ignorance and craving cease and as you’ve said bhava arises only in dependence on ignorance and craving which I’ve acknowledged cease. I’m at a loss for what distinction you are making.


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Hi again Yeshe, I don’t recall the specific sutta. Maybe I imagined it but I’ll do a search sometime and add it later. Maybe it is related to how the suttas sometimes illustrate rebirth loosely as a process of of consciousness leaving a body and entering another.

Not really, earlier you said that you believe suffering ceases at the moment defilements cease. You also said that

which I interpreted to mean that you were saying that bhava ceases the moment one is enlightened. Usually, I find that these two views are held at the same time so I may have jumped the gun in assuming what you were saying. Apologies for the confusion.

On an unrelated note,
Is Bhante Sujato’s reference to substantial aggregates in your original post a reference to the fetter of sakkāya ditthi? A view of substantial aggregates is sometimes also used to refer to that. However, in that case a person can be said to have abandoned that yet not be free from suffering.

Thanks for exploring this with me :slight_smile:

No, the quote of Bhante Sujato’s was not in reference to the aggregates, but rather of substantial existence generally. To view something substantially existing is to view it as, “ontologically fundamental, irreducible to any simpler components, and existing independently of other phenomena.”

However, I think the term sakkāya ditthi is related to the view of substantial existence. In terms of the self I think this is sakkāya ditthi, but in terms of the aggregates not having a core it is not the same but very closely related.


Maybe it is Ud 8.10:

“When an iron bar is struck
by heat and flame
the heat gradually dissipates,
and where it has gone no-one knows.

In the same way for the rightly released,
who have crossed the flood of sensual bonds,
and attained unshakable happiness,
where they have gone cannot be found.”

Which is interesting because we now know that the heat does not utterly cease. It is my hypothesis that the Teacher foresaw this and knew it to even thousands of years ago.

Heat is nothing more than molecular and atomic motion. According to the currently known laws of physics it is impossible to achieve a temperature of absolute zero because things are always in motion.

So where that heat goes cannot be found, but we know it exists and does not come to true cessation :slight_smile: :pray:

Hi Yeshe, I will have to search a bit systematically but one example of such a reference would be SN 4.23:

Now at that time a cloud of black smoke was moving east, west, north, south, above, below, and in-between.

Then the Buddha said to the mendicants,

“Mendicants, do you see that cloud of black smoke moving east, west, north, south, above, below, and in-between?”

“Yes, sir.”

“That’s Māra the Wicked searching for Godhika’s consciousness, wondering: ‘Where is Godhika’s consciousness established?’ But since his consciousness is not established, Godhika is extinguished.”

But what we now know about heat has no bearing on how a simile should be understood. The simile is contextual, and depends rather on how the Buddha and his ancient Indian audience understood heat. I would say it is not far-fetched that they understood the heat and similarly fire when fuel runs out to cease or extinguish which is why no one knows where it has gone.

Sorry, but this is a straw man for many who understand the aggregates as dukkha. You’re ascribing your definitions and understanding to others who simply don’t subscribe to them.

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It is conjecture on my part that the Teacher understood that true cessation of heat/energy was not possible it is true, but I think it is a supportable conjecture. With my limited mind I can’t verify and directly know this conjecture as true, but then I can’t verify and know the opposite either.

Still, this finding of modern physics that true cessation of energy/motion is not possible bolsters the argument against any kind of true cessation at all. It strengthens it. Now, we don’t know this finding of modern physics to be true - it is only known through inference and the absence of any observation of true cessation - but it certainly should give confidence that a substantialist view is incorrect.


It could be that I’m misunderstanding other’s words. But I take it that others do subscribe to the aggregates as fundamentally dukkha in an ontological sense. That was the premise and was stated many times in the other thread where you asked for this definition. That when looks one can find a core of dukkha in the aggregates. If you don’t so subscribe, then why do you insist on calling the aggregates fundamentally dukkha?

Maybe you have a difference of opinion with Venerable Sunyo and others and so do not regard the aggregates as fundamentally dukkha in an ontological sense? if so, what does it mean to have a opinion of the aggregates as fundamentally dukkha in a non-ontological sense?

Please have a look at the other way of seeing this that I mentioned:

Another way of seeing this is to ask if the essence of the aggregates is impermanence incarnate or is it not-self incarnate or is it dukkha incarnate ? If you say all three, then you are left either with the nonsensical idea that a thing can have three separate essences or you are left with the idea that impermanence , not-self , and dukkha are all fundamentally the same thing. Which means that not-self is impermanent. Which means that not-self is dukkha. Quite unsatisfying I’d say. :smiley:

If you say that the aggregates are fundamentally dukkha are you also saying the aggregates are fundamentally impermanent and are fundamentally non-self? Are you then saying what is fundamentally non-self is fundamentally dukkha? That non-self is dukkha?

If not, then wow would you resolve this? If I’m ascribing to you beliefs you do not hold, then I apologize. However, the way in which you are using words points me to this meaning. Of course, I’m open to the case that I’m misunderstanding due to my own ineloquent ability to communicate. As I said, feel free to ignore if what I’m saying is disagreeable or is not indicative of what you believe.


The modern theory of thermodynamics was established in the 19th century, statistical molecular descriptions for thermodynamics in the late 19th and 20th century. Assuming that ancient Indians knew such physical laws is wildly anachronistic. The opposite on the other hand is a reasonable conjecture IMO :pray:

The Teacher said that he understood much more than he revealed. It may be wildly anachronistic, but it is not impossible that the Teacher knew this to be the case. Why do you assume the Teacher was ignorant in this case? Why is that the reasonable conjecture? :pray:

Assuming that the Buddha knew such a thing, do you also assume that his audience also automatically knew all that. If someone starts talking today using ideas that will be become mainstream science 2000 years later, I’m not sure people will be able to make any coherent sense of it at all.

So where then do you draw the line? Do you also assume that the Buddha knew about quantum mechanics and did the Buddha also know that wavefunction of the universe is described by a purely deterministic first-order differential equation?
You can probably re-interpret a lot of similes in adhoc ways using modern principles from quantum principles in fun ways.

No :joy:

I don’t assume any ignorance on the part of the Teacher. Which might be wildly anachronistic of me, but I do believe this non assumption is reasonable. I’ve developed faith and confidence in the Teacher that I believe is reasonable by checking what he says and finding it matches again and again.

Agreed! The converse is also the case. For instance, one quantum gravity researcher - Carlo Rovelli - has interpreted his relational view of quantum mechanics in a way commensurate with the writings of an ancient Indian Buddhist sage from hundreds of years ago. Who in turn interprets his writings as commensurate with the Teacher. See Helgoland.

:joy: :pray:

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