After his liberation, did Gautama Buddha live in samsara?

(I have many very important questions for my spiritual path.
May this post and your messages awaken myriads of beings).

For the Mahayana, there is a dynamic nirvana in which a Buddha can experience nirvana while interacting with beings in samsara to help them liberate themselves.
In this regard, I have a first question: for the Mahayana, does a Buddha living in dynmic nirvana have perceptions of samsara at the same time? For example, did Gautama Buddha live samsaric human perceptions while living nirvana?

Secondly, I would like to know the Theravada view on this issue. Does the Theravada accept the idea of dynamic nirvana for Buddhas? If not, here is my question: when Gautama Buddha was human, was he in nirvana? Or was he only perceiving samsaric phenomena? Or was he even suffering?

Thank you in advance.

Again, may all beings end the ignorance of their true nature.

What do you mean by Gotama Buddha being in Samsāra? I.e. what are you designating as ‘the Buddha’?

I highly recommend reading SN 22.85. It and other similar suttas go into this. When we say ‘the Buddha,’ we must recognize that this is just a word for a bunch of impersonal, conditioned, transient phenomena. They are not actually “the Buddha” in any substantial sense. No such Buddha can be found.

What does this mean? All of these samsaric phenomena were, of course, in samsāra. They were dukkha. But was the Buddha in samsāra? Was he in Nibbāna? Was he in both? Was he in neither? All of these are invalid questions, because the question assumes some substantial being that is in a reified realm, rather than the mere manifestation and cessation of dukkha.

To quote the Kaccānagotta Sutta (SN 12.15):

[I]f—when it comes to this attraction, grasping, mental fixation, insistence, and underlying tendency—you don’t get attracted, grasp, and commit to the notion ‘my self’, you’ll have no doubt or uncertainty that what arises is just suffering arising, and what ceases is just suffering ceasing Your knowledge about this is independent of others.

Think about it :wink:



Having trained for a number of years in Zen, I’m aware of the Nibbāna = Saṁsāra teaching. This is not found in the suttas of the Pāli Canon. Anywhere.
Rather the conditioned and the unconditioned are directly differentiated, as in Iti43:
"…since there is an unborn, unproduced, unmade, and unconditioned, an escape is found from the born, produced, made, and conditioned.”

I don’t know what you mean by “dynamic”, unless you’re referring to the endless arising and ceasing of conditions and taking that to be nibbāna. If so, see above. Also SN26.10.

Being freed of all greed, anger, and ignorance the Buddha and arahants (these being mere designations) have realized the peace of nibbāna with residua/something left over, meaning the continued presence of the khandhas while the body remains alive. After physical death and the dissolution of the khandhas, often called parinibbāna, there is no further rebirth hence no possibility of being born again into the dukkha of conditions/samsāra. See Iti44.

Because the khandhas are still present and active for a Buddha or arahant, they still perceive, experience contact, and the six senses are active. See SN22.48. However, they do not identify with them or cling to them and have seen clearly into their nature. So, "They understand: ‘Rebirth is ended, the spiritual journey has been completed, what had to be done has been done, there is no return to any state of existence.’ MN37

There are many other suttas and examples that could be cited here, but this is an overview.

Hope this is helpful.

Peace :pray:

1 Like

There is always duality including for arahants and the Buddha.

“Citta, these are the world’s designations, the world’s expressions, the world’s ways of speaking, the world’s descriptions, with which the Tathagata expresses himself but without grasping to them.”

—Digha Nikaya 9

Dhamma and non-duality:

What I call “dynamic nirvana” is the Mahayanist idea that a Buddha can have both one foot in nirvana and one foot in samsara. I don’t know if the Theravada agrees with this. But a priori, since Gautama Buddha was helping beings with residual nirvana, I suppose the Theravada accepts the idea of having one foot in residual nirvana while having one foot in samsara?

However, the notion of dynamic nirvana goes further, because for the Mahayana even in parinirvana we can continue to be involved in samsara. I know that the Theravada does not agree with this.

So, in nirvana with residue, even perceiving conditioned phenomena, one does not suffer?

Thank you a LOT.

1 Like

This has been debated rather extensively on this forum, sometimes within topics not directly labeled as such in the OP. So I can’t direct you to them right now.

In either case, the gentle advice is to practice and stick with it without holding too strongly to any views about topics like this.
you may wish to read Bhikkhu Bodhi’s essay, “The Aggregates and Clinging Aggregates.” you can download it in pdf at Pali Buddhist Review.


If samsara = nibbana this quoted statement doesn’t make sense.

Let’s have proper definition.

Samsara is usually defined as rounds of rebirth. But also sometimes seems to be referring to the physical universe.

Nibbana is sometimes used to refer to parinibbana, which is total cessation, no arising, no ceasing due to no arising, no coming, no going. Also, there’s nibbana with remainder, which is a living arahant (including Buddha).

Having attained enlightenment, the arahant is freed from samsara in the sense of no more rebirth. Of course we can still see the arahant, thus the arahant is still in the physical universe in the conventional sense. And they are considered as nibbana with remainder. There’s still physical suffering which is possible, but not mental suffering. In the ultimate sense, there’s no one to be referred to, even before enlightenment, there is no self, no one, this applies to all beings.

After parinibbana, there’s nothing to refer to as anything. We cannot point to the corpse and say this is the arahant, it’s not meaningful, the corpse may still in physical universe, but there’s no more arising.

Due to no more arising, nothing to be referred to as self there cannot be any notion of still coming back to samsara. Any notion of that smacks of eternalism. As if there’s an eternal soul somewhere.

On the dhammakaya thing, one might as well stick to non personalized language. The dhamma principle is there even without Buddha arising. It is by the dhamma which we are liberated. See. Totally impersonalized language compared to saying Buddha has dhamma body, which is eternal and continues to liberate beings, this imputes a possible self into the abstract.


One possible way of understanding how there can be no suffering once Craving and Clinging for conditioned phenomena is ended, even though the conditioned phenomena continue to be perceived is described in MN101

“Suppose that a man is in love with a woman, his mind ensnared with fierce desire, fierce passion. He sees her standing with another man, chatting, joking, and laughing. What do you think, monks: As he sees her standing with another man, chatting, joking, and laughing, would sorrow, lamentation, pain, disuffering, and despair arise in him?”

“Yes, lord. Why is that? Because he is in love with her, his mind ensnared with fierce desire, fierce passion…”

“Now suppose the thought were to occur to him, ‘I am in love with this woman, my mind ensnared with fierce desire, fierce passion. When I see her standing with another man, chatting, joking, and laughing, then sorrow, lamentation, pain, disuffering, and despair arise within me. Why don’t I abandon my desire and passion for that woman?’ So he abandons his desire and passion for that woman, and afterwards sees her standing with another man, chatting, joking, and laughing. What do you think, monks: As he sees her standing with another man, chatting, joking, and laughing, would sorrow, lamentation, pain, disuffering, and despair arise in him?”

“No, lord. Why is that? He is dispassionate toward that woman…”

“In the same way, the monk, when not loaded down, does not load himself down with pain, nor does he reject pleasure that accords with the Dhamma, although he is not infatuated with that pleasure.

IMO, Nirvana is simply about growing cool to each and every conditioned phenomenon… Samsara, women, family… even one’s Body and Mind, by seeing them as they truly are.

Seeing this, a learned noble disciple grows disillusioned with form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness.
Being disillusioned, desire fades away. When desire fades away they’re freed. When they’re freed, they know they’re freed.

AFAIK, Awakened Ones experience both Samsara and Nirvana, but having Understood, they no longer grasp … not at conditioned phenomena (MN140)… and not even at Nirvana (MN1).


1 Like

Thank you very much, I didn’t know this was being debated.

@NgXinZhao Thank you very much. If I understood correctly, the arhat can suffer physical pain, but not mental pain.
Now, let us imagine that the arhat is captured by criminals preparing to torture him physically. Can the arhat, in order to escape this physical suffering, instantly cease his perception of samsara?

Thank you very much !

1 Like

Regarding the so-called “Nibbana==Samsara” issue see:


Saṃsāra is not a place. Nirvana is not a place. Please don’t take metaphors too literally.

For the full history of this confusion, see:

1 Like

Thank you, this is very interesting.

I think, Gautama Buddha did not live in Samsara after his liberation (from dukkha). Samsara is Nirvana.

1 Like

Thank you. Ignorance, malice, lust, etc., are mental, “in the head”; it is not a material place outside of perception. Please, is this what you mean when you say that samsara (and nirvana) is not a place?

1 Like

Apparently, he attained residual nirvana (i.e. even in nirvana he was connected to samsara through the body), and then upon the death of the body he attained non-residual nirvana (nirvana totally disconnected from samsara). But I am not sure if nirvana with residue is compatible with the experience of suffering in samsara.

Yeah, that’s right.

Further complicating matters, nirvana can refer to a couple different things: either a dhamma-dhatu or a state of mental purity.

After enlightenment, obviously the Buddha’s mind was pure at all times. From time to time he may have been absorbed in a particular meditative attainment which some people would call “nibbāna.” His passing we call “parinibbana”

It’s important to keep the different meanings distinct

You keep saying “in saṃsāra” which is a category error. Saṃsāra is not a place. If by “saṃsāra” you mean “not nirvana” then you’ll have to specify which nirvana you mean for the question to be well-posed.

Walking around, the Buddha wasn’t in parinibbana nor in the “ninth jhana”… so I guess he was “in saṃsāra” to that extent. But obviously he was still enlightened, and thus still “in nirvana” to that extent. Is that making sense?

1 Like

I think, the so-called “residual nirvana” is not connected to samsara.

Thank you. If the Buddha lived in nirvana while living in samsara, did he experience suffering?