Bhikkhu Bodhi on Nibbāna

Unless I’m much mistaken, I don’t believe that Venerable @sujato believes this abhidhammic view. Of course, I usually am much mistaken. :joy: :pray:

I think there is a belief, at least in some parts of Mahayana buddhism, that the Buddha still exists in some substantial way.

You can find this view in all extant traditions to my knowledge. Does not make it correct. :pray:


Having previously trained for a number of years in a Mahayana tradition, this is generally true, although the word “substantial” could be debated or deleted in some Mahayana views.
There is an old saying in Zen that “The Buddha is still sitting”, indicating that since dukkha still exists and beings remain deluded the “work” of liberating beings is unfinished.
Hence, bodhisattvas take a vow to be reborn, perhaps ad infinitum, until all beings are liberated.

Clearly, this is a very different perspective than what is taught in the Nikāyas.

" When the Buddha became fully extinguished, Parinibbute bhagavati saha parinibbānā, along with the full extinguishment there was a great earthquake, awe-inspiring and hair-raising, and thunder cracked the sky.
When the Buddha became fully extinguished, Brahmā Sahampati recited this verse:

“All creatures in this world must lay down this bag of bones. For even a Teacher such as this, unrivaled in the world, the Realized One, attained to power, the Buddha became fully extinguished.”


I believe it is normal, in line with the EBT, not to think about the Tathagata as being born, decaying, and dying (AN10.81)

The Tathagata cannot be considered anymore in terms of the 5 khandha’s, he is immeasurable, deep as the ocean (MN72)

You cannot measure the Tathagata or Realised Ones. (AN3.80)

DN27 says that the Tathagata is the dhammakaya. The body of the Dhamma.

There are also sutta’s that make clear that the Tathagata is not a human. He can live as long as an eon.
A human body cannot. The radiance of a Tathagata can penetrate deep into the universe.

All these sutta’s do not suggest a Tathagata is mere impersonal processes. These can be measured.
To think about the Tathagata as mere a concept also seems irrational.

I was referring to the nature of parinibbāna part.

Here’s a good counter to your claim that the 6 sense contact doesn’t arise, cease etc.

What is conditioned can be seen arising and ceasing. What’s unconditioned cannot. And you agree that the 6 sense contacts are conditioned right? That means the arising and ceasing can be seen.

I apologize Venerable, but I have no idea how you are under the impression that I think the 6 sense contacts don’t arise and cease. I’m sure my own ineloquence has caused this misunderstanding, but to clarify I don’t maintain that the six sense contacts are unconditioned. Nonetheless, when looked for under analysis they are completely void, hollow and insubstantial as the Teacher explained. :pray:

That’s true Venerable that the word death and the world can be understood like that, but it isn’t necessarily what the Teacher is talking about.

In other suttas, the Teacher clarifies that this is not about death and that he defines the world like this:

These five kinds of sensual stimulation are called the world in the training of the Noble One. What five? Sights known by the eye that are likable, desirable, agreeable, pleasant, sensual, and arousing. Sounds known by the ear … Smells known by the nose … Tastes known by the tongue … Touches known by the body that are likable, desirable, agreeable, pleasant, sensual, and arousing. These five kinds of sensual stimulation are called the world in the training of the Noble One.

Furthermore, take a mendicant who, going totally beyond the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters and remains in the cessation of perception and feeling. And, having seen with wisdom, their defilements come to an end. This is called a mendicant who, having gone to the end of the world, meditates at the end of the world. And they’ve crossed over clinging to the world.”
AN 9.38

Seeing this with Ud 1.10 makes it clear that this has nothing to do with death. When an awakened one meditates like this they are not “in this world or the world beyond or between the two.” And as the Teacher said just this is the end of suffering. Death is not the cure to suffering and seeing it as such prevents the actual cure. It is also morbid and bleak and liable to perpetuate suffering, not end it. Again, this is just not about death or clinging to death to my feeble mind.


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Hello Venerable,

I’m not sure what this is clarifying or what you mean by this statement. Can you help me understand what you mean? I apologize for not being able to grasp what you wish to clarify with this statement.


Correct – because the Buddha is talking about saññāvedayitanirodha in which all consciousness and experiences have temporarily ceased. In this way, recalling SN35.23, it is the end of the world,
(notice this has nothing to do with the “outside” world or reality, whatever it may be).
So, temporarily, there is no experience of dukkha – except dukkha has not finally ended because: it’s temporary.

Certainly this applies to an arahant in whom greed, anger, and ignorance have ended. But while alive the senses and aggregates remain. You’ve said that you see this as non-dukkha, and won’t rehash this point here.

But I think we did agree that the ending of rebirth is what the Path aims for, and that has to be the full ending of all dukkha. Conventionally, we call this death. The dissolution of the senses and aggregates without any re-arising and

Without rebirth.


Not wishing to rehash, but I don’t think it is correct that the senses and aggregates are non-dukkha and if I gave the impression otherwise I apologize and it was due to my own inarticulate babbling.

If the aggregates and senses are grasped at and clung to, then suffering arises. If the aggregates and senses are not grasped at and clung to, then in the absence of conditions for suffering, suffering cannot arise. Grasping and clinging at sense stimulation act as conditions for suffering. In the absence of these conditions, suffering cannot arise.

In the absence of grasping at and clinging to sense stimulation; there can be no “I” in that, nor can there by any “mine” in that; not being “in that” and not being “by that” it can’t be said there is any be…ing in this world in another world or between the two; just this is the end of suffering.

To my mind, none of this has anything to do with death.


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And here’s where we respectfully disagree, as the Buddha stated in many suttas that anything impermanent, conditional, is dukkha.

Except I think we agree that death is just a conventional term that’s used for the final cessation of all senses and aggregates for an Awakened one, yes?

Whether one takes an “eternalist” view of final nibbāna or sees it as full cessation, both agree that the complete and irrevocable freedom from all dukkha involves the final dissolution of all conditions (death), without rebirth.

So it’s not about fixating on death like it’s some special event or state, but recognizing that it is a process of the dissolution of remaining conditions for an awakened one, without the possibility of re-arising/rebirth.
Just this is the final unequivocal ending of dukkha, even according to both views of final nibbāna.


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I believe, this refers to a perfectly stilled mind in which nothing is felt nor perceived. Mind is here submerged into its own stilled, empty knowing nature. There is no aggregation at all. There is nothing that weighs on the mind. There is no building, no constructing taking place.

At some moment in time sankhara’s re-arise again…in mind ofcourse… because they arise in mind. It cannot be this way that sankhara’s re-arise again and after that mind arises again. But vinnana’s start re-arising again…and the world re-arises as Buddha defines it with shapes and colour, sounds, smells, etc.

Defining the death of an awakened one is problematic because in a sense an awakened one has already passed beyond being and dying and is no longer “in this” world or “in that” world. Further, identifying an awakened one as having aggregates is problematic as it doesn’t seem fair to appropriate on behalf of an awakened one what has already been laid down.

Still, you can use the word death to describe what happens to beings at the end of life. However, equating nibbana with death I do not think is appropriate.

No, I just don’t agree that it is appropriate to equate what is beyond death with death.

Heedfulness is the state free of death;
heedlessness is the state of death.
The heedful do not die,
while the heedless are like the dead.
Dhp 21

The awakened one is free of the state of death.

That’s what I’d describe as fixating on death as some special event. :joy: The awakened one is already awakened and beyond death and beyond suffering. Those without any belief in rebirth think of death as a special event where the self utterly ends. Others think that the death of one who is already beyond death and existing/not-existing is a special event where the aggregates appropriated on behalf of an awakened one utterly ends. Respectfully, I don’t think either is appropriate.

And what is the unconditioned?
The ending of greed, hate, and delusion.
SN 43.12

Unless you believe the Teacher had greed, hate, and delusion in life, then it isn’t appropriate to equate nibbana with death. The Teacher knew the unconditioned with direct perception and had arrived at the unconditioned in his very life; how? through the ending of greed, hate, and delusion. This is how I understand at least.




Thanks for your responses.
I think we’re operating from different assumptions and interpretations on abstract terms like arahant, freedom, and even death.
We might not be able to get past this and as our assumptions or premises differ, so will our conclusions.

Anyway, to try to clarify a bit more –

From a mentality standpoint, also to speak, this is true in so far as there is no clinging, ignorance, or self-sense. So there’s nothing the mind is attaching to.
But at the same time the Buddha said in SN12.19:
“For an astute person shrouded by ignorance and fettered by craving, this body has been produced [by previous kamma]. But the astute person has given up that ignorance and finished that craving.
The astute person has completed the spiritual journey for the complete ending of suffering.
Therefore, when their body breaks up, the astute person is not reborn in another body.”

And that is the final ending of dukkha. The whole project, ultimately, is about ending rebirth.
This only makes sense if all conditions are fundamentally dukkha – otherwise, why not keep being reborn without defilements?
But the Buddha doesn’t teach this, even if it theoretically could happen, because the ending of rebirth is the ending of all conditions, including old kamma.

This is what I’ve meant regarding there death of an arahant. The Buddha points to the old kamma (the body and senses) that arose in this life which will end without rebirth “when their body breaks up” – i.e. death.
Seems pretty clear.

Also, note that the Buddha does not say they are now free of all dukkha, but that they have completed the spiritual journey to its final cessation.
That’s another point that we’ve discussed.

Similarly, in SN35.146:
"And what is old action? [kamma]
*Katamañca, bhikkhave, purāṇakammaṁ?
The eye is old action. It should be seen as produced by choices and intentions, as something to be felt. [Same for the other senses, including mind, mano].
“When you experience freedom due to the cessation of deeds by body, speech, and mind. This is called the cessation of action.”

So again, the Buddha does not speak of complete freedom from dukkha but freedom, while alive, of the cessation actions based on ignorance and craving.
But also, the old kamma does not suddenly evaporate upon awakening – it remains until the break up of the body, as the Buddha said in the first sutta.

This is what is meant by death and since the old kamma was unique to that being and since it remains even when the mind is free of greed, anger, and ignorance, we can conventionally say they finally and fully cease at death – and that all dukkha ends at that point.
Even if, as you’ve said you believe, that the aggregates are without dukkha if there is no desire, it doesn’t mean that when they dissolve there can be any dukkha whatsoever in the absence of rebirth.

This is not what is meant. Just the ceasing of all conditions without rebirth is not defining what’s beyond.

These are verses that, like poetry, are more poetical. But even off we take them literally, when greed, anger, and ignorance are no longer present, there is the certainty that there is no one/no self to die, and that after death there will be no rebirth – hence freedom from all birth and death. This is realizing freedom from death and what is free of birth and construction when all conditions cease.

Finally, even non-awakened beings can’t be pinned down. As you’ve written, all the senses and aggregates are void and insubstantial. So, do they not experience death?

Awakened ones are the same in terms of old kamma as non-awakened ones with respect to the presence of the senses and aggregates. What has ceased are greed, anger, and ignorance.
But the old kamma, senses and aggregates remain.
Until the break up of the body – death – as in the suttas above.

We have to discern between nibbāna while alive and final nibbāna or things can get murky.
See iti44.


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It’s another way of “describing” …cessation.

In that utterly non-perceptive, non-conscious state, was there any experience of dukkha?

But because it’s temporary and, as you wrote, conditions re-arise in the mind, it’s not yet final nibbāna, a cessation in which no conditions can arise.

AN11.7 explains that there is perception possible in a different way then via vinnana.

“Ānanda, it’s when a mendicant perceives: ‘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.’

The stilling of all activities, complete detachments, cessation… it cannot be seen as

That is quit clear.

I do really not see why you believe that the Buddha would refer to some unconscious state as the end of suffering. That state will never be known. The Dhamma leads to direct knowledge, the sutta’s teach, but in your interpretation of Dhamma, no one will ever experience, know, the cessation of suffering.
Never ever. In your view there is no direct knowledge possible of the cessation of suffering. It it mere an idea, a prospect, but never known. I feel this cannot be Dhamma.

This sutta doesn’t deal with or mention saññāvedayitanirodha, but stops at the formless attainment of neither perception nor non-perception. It then moves on to the contemplation of aspects of nibbāna, during which consciousness remains.

Yes it can. It’s a contemplation about the stilling of formations. The meditator has not died and entered into final nibbāna.
And while an arahant is alive, they remain conscious.

This is different than the temporary cessation of consciousness in saññāvedayitanirodha.

See Sariputta’s wisdom teachings in AN10.7:
" ‘The cessation of continued existence is extinguishment. The cessation of continued existence is extinguishment.’ Suppose there was a burning pile of twigs. One flame would arise and another would cease. In the same way, one perception arose in me and another perception ceased: ‘The cessation of continued existence is extinguishment. The cessation of continued existence is extinguishment.’ At that time I perceived that the cessation of continued existence is extinguishment.”


" At one time Venerable Sāriputta was staying near Rājagaha, in the Bamboo Grove, the squirrels’ feeding ground.

There he addressed the mendicants: “Reverends, extinguishment is bliss! Extinguishment is bliss!”

When he said this, Venerable Udāyī said to him, “But Reverend Sāriputta, what’s blissful about it, since nothing is felt?”

“The fact that nothing is felt is precisely what’s blissful about it."

This “bliss” is not how we usually use this word, where it means intense happiness.
Rather, Sariputta uses it ironically to show that all the other conditional forms of bliss/happiness are not as blissful – meaning utterly free of all dukkha – as extinguishment.

Not what I’ve been saying.

Instead, when there is no greed, anger, or ignorance, great peace and equanimity are experienced and it is known that the conditions that perpetuate rebirth have ceased. Hence, it is also known that with the last death there will be no rebirth and no re-arising of any dukkha. Cessation of all that.
“The fact that nothing is felt is precisely what’s blissful about it.”

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Hello @Jasudho! :pray:

You missed a very important thing in AN 10.7 regarding Sāriputta’s wisdom teachings:

"There I entered into concentration in such a manner that I was neither perceiving earth, nor water, nor fire, nor air, nor the sphere of infinite space, nor the sphere of infinite consciousness, nor the sphere of nothingness, nor the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception, nor this world, nor the other world; yet, I was perceiving."


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Didn’t miss it. Actually, that was my point. Consciousness had not ceased in these states, as it temporarily does in saññāvedayitanirodha.
Even these refined attainments in a sense are not directly percipient of “this world or the other world” as the five senses have temporarily ceased.

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