Bhikkhu Bodhi on Nibbāna

He basically is of the opinion that Nibbāna is not nothingness, but the main point he rest on is that nibbāna is described with dhātu and āyatana which he doesn’t think is nothingness. He found it hard to reconcile with the paradox that all 5 aggregates ceases at the death of an arahant and just posits that consciousness somehow transforms into Nibbāna element. Whatever that is.

It’s a pretty weak argument, for me both the person interviewing him and Bhikkhu Bodhi himself trying to find a way to make sense of Nibbāna as something eternally experience in some way and not nothing sounds to me like craving for existence.

The argument of Christians win doesn’t hold any water. Some Buddhists are opposed to Christianity so they see that Nibbāna as eternal heaven is repulsive. Some are opposed to letting the Christian win to say that Buddha teachings the way to non-existence would prefer not to see Nibbāna as total cessation. We should disregard this type of justification as it goes both ways.

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Is nothingness the same a “void”?

The Thai teachers say Nibbana cannot be defined in terms of the conventional world, so any description is inaccurate. So when we have discussions about this subject, what we are arguing about is what is the least inaccurate description. At the end of the day, every conclusion has its shortcomings and fails to convey the true meaning of Nibbana.

Here is where words cause problems because “eternally experience” implies duality, the experience and the experiencer. If this were true, then I would agree that the view expressed would seem like some “entity” continuing into Nibbana. It is for this reason that Nibbana cannot be described as “an experience”. And I am not sure that Bhikkhu Bodhi is saying this.

In the post, Don’t you just love Ajahn Chah, he talks about the knowing nature of the mind. If consciousness is Vinyana, then this “knowing” is not one and the same. Vinyana is an expression of the “knowing”, just like a smile is an expression of the face but is not the face. So when the Thai teachers talk about realising Nibbana, they talk about leveraging Vinyana up to the point of enlightenment and after that the experience is indescribable, but sometimes referred to as seeing Nibbana.
Both Vinyana and Nibbana are Anatta. There is no “self” either before or after enlightenment. This point is generally misunderstood by those who don’t see Nibbana as a reality. As Nibbana is without beginning or end it cannot be instigated by any event, including the cessation of ignorance. Just as Vinyana and “knowing” are not identical so to Nirodha and Nibbana are not identical, but you cannot realise Nibbana without Nirodha. In reality, Nibbana is always real, it always has been and always will be, and, when we cleanse the “knowing” of defilements, all that is left is Dhamma. As Ajahn Tate said, “When the world (lokiya) ends, Dhamma remains.”
I apologise upfront for expressing my “inaccuracies”. I just wanted to express a view that I don’t think your interpretation of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s position on Nibbana is correct.

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It implies more, namely passages of time.

If you don’t like metaphysical statement that what we are has no beginning, end and is without change, only due to ignorance we don’t know our true nature; the second conclusion has no any shortcomings and doesn’t fail to convey the true meaning of nibbana: asankhata dhatu is what remains after we realise cessation of conceit “I am”.

I respectfully disagree. I think that Bhikkhu Bodhi’s teaching makes perfect sense. In fact I think that his is the only possible way to combine all Theravada doctrines without logical flaws or contradictions. It is the annihilationist/rigid not-self view that has inherent philosophical problems.

He most certainly is not a Christian or introducing Christian thought! He was only pointing out that the nihilist view is grist to the mill for Christian missionaries.

I too watched the video and I am as dismayed as you are. I got the feeling that Venerable Bodhi just got carried away by the insistence of the interviewer. It is hard for me to understand that the Venerable does not understand what Nibbana, or extingishment or enlightenment is.
Nibbana or whatever it is called is the end of existence as far as I know.
With Metta

He most certainly was not. What he is teaching is classical Theravada doctrine and there are videos of him from 20 years (or even longer) ago where he makes the exact same point.

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Perhaps that dismay may indicate attachment to a view that you crave others to validate? :pray:


It’s certainly a difficult issue. In his lectures on In the Buddha’s Words: The Buddha’s Words @ The Open Buddhist University he starts his discussion of Nibbana by joking that whatever he says how he will make friends and enemies all over the Internet when he starts talking about Nibbana… Talk 9k, from about 1:08…


Doesn’t this cut both ways? Trying to make sense of Nibaana as the absence of anything sounds like craving for non-existence?

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Actually, it’s about the ceasing of all dukkha – that kind of “non-existence” – and the enthusiasm/desire to practice the Dhamma to attain liberation, as in SN51.15

This differs from vibhavataṇhā, as in AN6.106

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Why should I take your word for it here? SN51.15 says, “giving up desire”, not “not existing.” The issue here is not to interpret the texts. The issue is that NgXinZhao’s argument applies to either intepretation/position.

It isn’t hard to understand that someone doesn’t understand what nibbana is, it is enough to make one assumption about him, namely: he is a puthujjana.

But in practice, it is hard to understand which judgement about one’s understanding what nibbana is, is made by one who understands what nibbana is, and which is made by one who doesn’t understend what nibbana is.

Theoretically at least it should not be hard to understand by introspection that one is a puthujjana and so doesn’t understand what nibbana is, but in practice most of scholars and even other Buddhists cannot resist temptation to speak about nibbana in very authoritative way without arising of the knowledge of the Four Noble Trusts.

Not my word. Are you saying the Buddha didn’t teach for the ending of dukkha?
The sutta was offered to differentiate craving from desire to practice the Path – to end dukkha.

The way I read that sutta is not imposing a distinction, but rather erasing a superimposed distinction. The sutta clearly points out that desire to end dukkha must also be given up. Why? Because that desire itself leads to dukkha. The superimposed distinction that must be erased? That somehow desire and dukkha are distinct. Indeed, Ananda says in that sutta that the very purpose of the holy life is to give up desire.

The proper distinction isn’t between desire and dukkha, but rather between desire and the mere aggregates; desire and the world’s pretty things.

I don’t think the matter under debate is whether the goal is ending dukkha, but rather getting to the heart of what ending dukkha actually means. Those who equate dukkha with the mere aggregates and the completely void, hollow and insubstantial six sense faculties risk generating desire to truly end these insubstantial things; where no such true ending is possible. But this desire itself to truly end something that cannot truly end must be given up. You cannot arrive in the proverbial park of no-desire while still carrying this desire around. :joy: :pray:

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Right. But the sutta also points to the need for skillful desire (chanda) to get to that point. Another way to look at it is healthy motivation to engage the practice.

We agree that the arahants no longer need to practice the Path and they have no craving.
But to say chanda is not needed before this is to put the cart before the horse.

As before, we respectfully disagree about this point. Whatever is anicca is dukkha.
SN35.1: " What’s impermanent is suffering. Yad aniccaṁ taṁ dukkhaṁ

We could turn this around and say those who do not see the aggregates as fundamentally dukkha will not be able to fully let go of them.



Yes, I recognize this claim as very well articulated. The claim and counterclaim I think can be formulated like this:

  1. Is it possible to totally give up desire for the aggregates (either craving for their continued existence or craving for their non-existence) while not seeing the aggregates as fundamentally existing as dukkha incarnate?

  2. Is it possible to totally give up desire for the aggregates (either craving for their continued existence or craving for their non-existence) while seeing the aggregates as fundamentally existing?

This is I believe our disagreement boiled down in the clearest terms I’m able to muster. You say no and yes. I say yes and no. :joy:



Very interesting… Maybe this will expose aspects of that sort of claim: his body still exists after death in the form of decomposed matter. Does that matter? Why not? Was his body him? It does still exist now (some of it in stupas). Is the decomposed matter of his body only that remains or are there specs of his sensation and mental aggregates floating around as dust? Are the aggregates purely physical in this way? Does existence in some physical state not include the body? I can’t see how anything else could “remain”. Could he be abiding in cessation of perception and feeling forever? What does existence in some state really mean…

Sorry if this is too off topic, but this is funny because ideas of Greek transcendental Beauty, where one goes beyond reproduction and the impermanence of life into permanence, influenced Christianity’s idea of the path to God and heaven. The Greeks easily could have gotten this from Indian culture, which would be a watered down version of enlightenment, going beyond rebirth and impermanence (not necessarily into permanence). When you compare the other parts of these theories it’s surprisingly close. If you remove the labels, it’s a belief that evolved long enough to seem contradicting.

Anyway the actual arguments from missionaries in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s talk are, as usual, presumptuous strawmans (strawmen?). It’s unfortunate how some cultures didn’t promote debate as much as Indians did, but that’s how things are.

Indeed haha

The Buddha taught that the deep and profound teachings will be the first to disappear and perhaps this is the reason! :sweat_smile: So much petty squabbling by blind people on the internet touching different parts of the elephant! :face_with_hand_over_mouth:


I do not think so…If ones sees the cessation of existence as Nibbana, and one also believes that there is nothing remaining when an arahant dies, and one desires this cessation of existence, that is, i feel, just the same as desiring non-existence. It is the same as what someone in great pains longs for. To cease and not feel anything anymore. That is also what mere cessation believers long for, right?

Apart from the worldview someone may have, it is exactly the same delight, desire, the same prospect.

finally i will not feel suffering anymore. Finally all ends for me

While according sutta’s the Buddha teaches the Path to the Uncondioned, according you he teaches the Path to Non-Existence. The Path of Reducing All Lifestreams to mere nothing.

Well, what a great light in the world! Excuse my cynical tone.

Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi has had these ideas for years. I responded to them here: CLICK. In short, the words ayatana and dhatu do not have the ontological significance the venerable assigns to them.

Any transcendentalist interpretation of this passage therefore relies on the word āyatana alone. Before coming to any weighty conclusions, we should therefore determine whether āyatana necessarily refers to a state of existence. We find that it does not.