Bhikkhu Bodhi on Nibbāna

This to me is a strange conclusion by Ven Analayo, because the passage litterally says “when all things have been eradicated” and that they “have come to an end”, i.e. disappeared. As I read these verses, the main idea here is that you (technically) can’t name a thing that doesn’t exist, because by doing so you reify it, making it into an existing “thing” again.

Analayo also says there “is an additional need to clarify that there is no self in the first place to be extinguished or perpetuated”. But that I think is a flawed line of reasoning. It effectively demands that “the sutta should say X”, and if not, then the cessation position is wrong…

Anyway, the topic of anatta can be explained in other ways than using the word ‘self’ explicitly, and to me that is exactly what this sutta does when comparing the ‘sage’ to a fire that is extinguished. A fire has no core or essence, just like the sage, so it can cease without annihilating anything. This is the same line of thinking as MN72. So Ven Analayo thinks the verses don’t explain anatta, but they can easily be interpreted to do so.


You guys need to see the problem in conjuction with all other doctrine… which is what these Venerables, Bhikkhu Bodhi and Analayo, are doing.

Just weighing a single point of doctrine by random viewpoints and methods and quoting random Suttas will not do the job …

So why not just profit from the decades of incredible professional work that these people have done? :wink::pray:


It is straight-forward reasoning. It would be so easy for Buddha to declare, “There is no self”. Materialists don’t have difficulties with communicating that god, soul, karma, and Nibbana doesn’t exist. Without confusion, we know exactly what they mean. Why doesn’t Buddha do that?

With Nibbana is a different story.
Language is a social construct, very useful to talk about the empirical sphere, but not reliable in thinking and talking about “utter transcendence”.
The difficulty is that we don’t have another way to communicate it. We use what we have.
To prevent reification and clinging, which hinders breakthrough, the suttas employ paradoxical language when discussing Nibbana.

The impression that equating Nirvana with a blank nothing does not fully capture the situation receives further support from some of its epithets and related images. These point consistently to something more than just a nothing, at the same time, however, attempting to restrain the opposite tendency toward reification. Nirvana is an island, yet that island is having nothing and taking up nothing. There is that where there is no birth, although to reify it as an unborn would be going too far. Light and darkness are both absent, all five aggregates cease, including consciousness, yet the destiny of those who have attained that much is beyond being designated.

It looks like Ven Analāyo agrees with you that MN72 explains anatta. Yet, he would add:

At the same time, however, the above passage employs the qualifications “extremely profound, vast, immeasurable, beyond reckoning, having forever ceased.” The Pāli version compares the profundity of a Tathāgata, similarly described as immeasurable and beyond being fathomed, to the nature of the ocean (not mentioned in another two parallels).

He stresses that it is imperative that we take into account both aspects, not only the extinct fire, but also the profundity and transcendence of reckoning. The image of the ocean complements the image of fire.
To paraphrase Tilakaratne, if the destination of the sage is comparable to a simple fire, why talk about his future life in terms of the ocean? We don’t use such cryptic language to talk about ordinary fire!
Maybe it’s an indication that the sage is beyond reconning? Transcends all measurements and language?

Regarding Nibbāna with and without residue:

Iti 44 is not translated correctly, and even if it was correctly translated it would still not be in favor of the cessationist view.

If we go by the wrong ”5 senses” translation, there is obviously no cessation spoken about regarding of the mind (6th sense) in pañcindriyāni = The five faculties.


And even if we render pañcindriyāni as it truly is meant, not as the 5 senses, but instead the following:

  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.

There is still nothing in favor for the cessationist view when reading Iti 44.

With a physical body = with residue
Without a physical body = without residue

I think it can be made into a valid argumet, but you can dispute the premises. (In other words, you can dispute whether or not it is sound.) The syllogism would look like:

  1. For all important, relevant-to-the-Dhamma, positions X, if the Buddha believed X, then the Buddha would have stated X clearly.
  2. “Nibbana is purely nothingness” is an important, relevant-to-the-Dhamma position.
  3. Therefore, by (1) and (2), if the Buddha believed “Nibbana is purely nothingness,” then the Buddha would have stated “Nibbana is purely nothingness” clearly.
  4. The Buddha did not state “Nibbana is purely nothingness” clearly.
  5. Therefore, by (4) and (3), the Buddha did not believe “Nibbana is purely nothingness.”

The argument is valid, which means that your only “option” is to dispute premises 1, 2, and 4. :slightly_smiling_face:


The Buddha himself said Nibbāna is beyond language, logic and reasoning (Atakkāvacara).

That doesn’t prevent Cessationists from explaining what Nibbāna is and what it implies, to the point that even non-meditators understand 100% what is spoken about.

Not beyond logic and reasoning by any stretch, quite the opposite: a permanent version of very common and mundane states of unconscioussness…

Then again there is Viññāṇa anidassana which Cessationists write essays about and try to refute in every way, which actually lives up to being Atakkāvacara.

Viññāṇa anidassana, and it being ”outside the allness of all”, is obviously not a reference to any formless realm. The “allness of all” problem is only a problem for cessationists, hence all these essays and theories filled with contradictions.

The mistake cessationists make with their various theories is not taking into account that Baka Brahmā doesn’t even know anything about the higher rupa loka realms according to the Buddha in MN 49:

There is the realm named after the gods of streaming radiance.
You passed away from there and were reborn here.
You’ve dwelt here so long that you’ve forgotten about that, so you don’t know it or see it.
There is the realm named after the gods replete with glory … There is the realm named after the gods of abundant fruit, which you don’t know or see.

So Baka Brahmā saying anything at all about the formless is therefore 100% impossible, since arupa loka is a TOTALLY different world of existence compared to rupa loka(!) - in which Baka Brahmā doesn’t even know of the higher planes.

So from this we can finally conclude that it is not Baka Brahmā saying:

Consciousness where nothing appears, infinite, luminous all-round—that is what does not fall within the scope of experience characterized by earth, water, fire, air, creatures, gods, the Progenitor, Brahmā, the gods of streaming radiance, the gods replete with glory, the gods of abundant fruit, the Vanquisher, and the all.

Just a minute ago in the sutta Baka Brahmā had no clue about ”the gods of streaming radiance, the gods replete with glory, the gods of abundant fruit.” according to The Buddha. So Baka is obviously not the one saying any of this.

Baka claims “this is permanent, this is everlasting, this is eternal … and beyond this there is no other escape.”

Cessationists take Baka to mean viññāṇa anidassana (which they imagine is the second formless realm) when saying this, which Baka mistakes to be permanent, outside “the allness of all”.

But that is quite impossible given that Baka doesn’t even know and see the higher realms of rupa loka. So the formless realms are out of the question.

And that is also the reason why the formless realms are not enumerated by the Buddha when he mentions ’the all.’ “The All” is defined in SN 35.23 :+1:

Baka is only talking about where he resides, not the second formless realm.

“I have seen existence will come to an end, so do not welcome any type of existence.” - The Buddha.

”Here “any type of existence” includes any type of consciousness, but the Buddha, trying to teach Baka a lesson, was referring especially to boundless consciousness.” - Ven. Sunyo

The Buddha teaching Baka a lesson about a type of formless conscioussness that Baka doesn’t even have any no clue about in the first place?

No, The Buddha was referring to all of existence - including all the formless realms. ’The all.’

Nibbāna is the cessation of existence, but existence itself involves both being and non-being, conscious and unconscious.

To cessationists existence apparently only equals being conscious, that is why Nibbāna is imagined to be like permanent dreamless sleep to them (hardly beyond reasoning and logic) - But Nibbāna is beyond ALL the Saṃsāric modes of unconscious and conscious / being and non-being - making it near impossible to discuss.

  • Let us end this once and for all with the following:

Anidassanaṃ is a synonym for Nibbāna specifically and is found in SN 43.14

The invisible (Anidassanañca) …

that in which nothing appears …
Anidassanañca vo, bhikkhave, desessāmi anidassanagāmiñca maggaṁ.
Taṁ suṇātha. Katamañca, bhikkhave, anidassanaṁ …pe….

One more time:

Anidassanañca vo, bhikkhave, desessāmi anidassanagāmiñca maggaṁ.
Taṁ suṇātha. Katamañca, bhikkhave,
anidassanaṁ <——————

So there should hopefully not be any doubt by now that Viññāṇaṁ anidassanaṁ anantaṁ sabbato pabhaṁ has nothing to do with the second formless realm.

Viññāṇaṁ anidassanaṁ anantaṁ sabbato pabhaṁ refers to the goal and stillness which is completely beyond Saṃsāra.

are you sure :blush:

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Anidassanañca vo, bhikkhave, desessāmi anidassanagāmiñca maggaṁ.
Taṁ suṇātha. Katamañca, bhikkhave,
anidassanaṁ <—————— :hugs:

SuttaCentral :+1:

that in which nothing appears …
Anidassanañca vo, bhikkhave, desessāmi anidassanagāmiñca maggaṁ.
Taṁ suṇātha. Katamañca, bhikkhave, anidassanaṁ …pe….

Very much appreciate these formulations into slightly more formal language as it aids in evaluating the logic.

Curious about your previous formulation that was accepted though; thought you were going to flip it to show how the argument goes both ways? Working on it? Or has the reformulation agreeable to @Jasudho dissuaded you that it can be flipped as you said previously?


Yes I am working on it; I also tend to lose my zeal for long drawn out debates. I hope the formulations help everybody, even those I disagree with, to think more clearly. :slightly_smiling_face:

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I sometimes crave a web discussion system that would enforce such a slight formalism in some form or fashion to ground discussion so as to prevent misunderstanding and thereby aid understanding. As I have mentioned before, Tibetan Buddhist monastic debate is held adhering to a type of this formalism for these purposes. If people are going to disagree, then it should be for valid mistakes and not invalid mistakes :joy: :pray:

Whilst we can’t be sure it looks like MN 49 has undergone some editing by the Theravadins, where they already interpreted “ Viññāṇa anidassana” to be not a consciousness but referring to nibbana. It looks like the DN is the original, and in the Dharmaguptaka version it’s clearly talking about a formless attainment.


Hi both, :slight_smile:

It is straightforward, yes, but that doesn’t make it right. Such arguments can seem more solid than they actually are. To me, Ven Analayo basically argues: “The Buddha does not seem to say what I think he should say if X were true, so X is false.” Technically, this is a logical fallacy known as argument from ignorance. I can also ask: Why does the Buddha not simply tell Upasiva that nibbāna is an utter transcendent experience, like Ven Anālayo says it is? He doesn’t do so, so that assumption by Ven Anālayo is false, I could argue—but won’t because it’s arguing from what is not said. Good arguments go by what actually is said, not by what is left unsaid (or what we think is left unsaid).

The verse itself says that “the sage” disappears. That’s why you can’t define or “reckon” them anymore:

Contrary to Ven Analayo, to me this actually is about anatta. You can’t even say there is ‘one who disappeared’ because there was no self, no real he or she who disappeared in the first place. Also, “when everything is terminated”, there is nothing left to speak of, “all ways of describing are terminated”. This is the exact same idea as SN22.85, for example, just phrased more poetically.

This is interpretation is in line with the Niddesa (an old commentary to this text), which also says that “the one who disappeared” can’t be defined because the aggregates have ceased. The Niddesa doesn’t explain that nibbāna or the sage exist in a state beyond reckoning or something like that, like Ven Analayo interprets these verses.

So I see two mistakes: First, Ven Analayo argues from what is not said, which is always problematic. Second, what he thinks is not said, others do think is said. So his conclusion is, in a sense, already assumed in his reading of the text. We all do this to some extent, but I thought Ven Analayo to be more objective. I assume he is aware of the commentarial understanding, but I don’t think he even mentions it.

It’s fine to just discuss our own interpretation, but in this case I feel it is problematic, because Ven Analayo is specifically arguing against another view yet does not consider how that very view interprets the same text.

In my opinion, Ven Analayo, and many others with him, is mixing up psychology and ontology. Nibbana is psychologically positive, but ontological negative. When we look at it like this, most such arguments loose much of their strength. Nibbāna is called an island, for example, because that gives us notions of safety and peace; not because nibbāna is a physical place.

Nibbāna isn’t IS anything, not even nothingness. That’s why you can’t say this. Nibbāna is a synonym for cessation/ending. The suttas say this very clearly, numerous times. Also, “nothingness” in the suttas has a technical meaning of a state of meditation/place of rebirth. In the Upasiva Sutta this state is already said to have been abandoned before they discuss nibbāna.

Also, the verse says “when all things have been eradicated”, which is pretty much the same as saying there is nothing left. Or at least, that is a very natural interpretation, which contradicts Ven Analayo’s reading.


I wouldn’t say final nibbana is total cessation myself. I’d say the aggregates cease without remainder and that’s all that can be said. I wouldn’t say it is something either.

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But, IF there is no attachment to the khandha’s, IF there is no identification with the khandha’s,
then that situation also cannot be described in terms of khandha’s. So, I feel it is not that bad to say that the nature of a detached mind is beyond reckoning.

This situation in the sutta’s is described as hard to see, the Truth, deep, unfathomable, Tathagata. It is compared with the depth of the ocean. The nature of a detached mind is in EBT also called a mind free of limits (AN10.81). To think about this in terms of khandha’s, is, i feel a mistake.

Yes, i think that this situation very well can be seen as: the nature of a detached mind cannot be reckoned in terms of colour, form, space, time, khandha’s or whatever.

If you bring this situation of detachment in the domain of conceiving, conceiving it to be eternal, to be here or there, to be vinnana…i believe that all goes wrong.
But the habit to bring things in the domain of conceiving, Mara’s domain, ignorance domain, is what we all tend to do. Because that is our usual way to get grip on things. That is also why grasping can only be overcome when we also understand that trying to understand the deeper aspect of Dhamma with reasoning and conceiving is per defintion impossible.

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Please explain exactly how this is so. :pray:
Also, is it Baka or the Buddha speaking?

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Great! So what I would say next is that I acknowledge that it is a strong argument. In particular, often times the debates over this subject end up debating premise (1):

But my point here is not really to debate this premise. And that is because I acknowledge that there are statements in the Suttas which really do seem to indicate (1). So if we find ourselves trying to bolster support for premise (1) above, then I think we are going down the wrong road.

Then what point am I trying to make? Well, first, I will “flip” the argument summary I gave as promised:

This is the exact same as before, except that I have bolded the parts that I have “multiplied by -1.” Both this argument, and the original one from it this was flipped, look pretty convincing. But for a given person might they start to look unconvincing when you compare (6) and -(6) (negative 6) right next to each other. So what is going on? I think the dilemma, and the reason for the endless debates, is that the Suttas themselves seem to contradict each other. And to demonstrate this, I offer the following argument:

  1. Either “Nibbana is a state of existence” or it is not the case that “Nibbana is a state of existence”. (Law of excluded middle)
  2. The Buddha encouraged us to not have desire for any state of existence and the Buddha encouraged us not to have desire for any state of non-existence.
  3. The Buddha encouraged us to have desire for Nibbana.
  4. By (1) and (3), the Buddha encouraged us to have desire for a state of existence or the Buddha encouraged us to have desire for a state of non-existence.
  5. (4) and (2) are in contradiction. In particular, (2) is of the form:
    not(A) and not(B),
    but (4) is of the form:
    A or B.

I believe this seeming contradiction is one of the hidden sources of anxiety which causes Buddhists to debate with each other about the nature of Nibbana so much. And, in response to the anxiety, we carve out special exceptions depending on which side of the excluded middle we side with in premise (1) directly above. These specials exceptions looks like (6) and -(6):

As Yeshe hinted at, when you take a step back, these just look like no-true-scotsman fallacies. Or, people defend (6) or -(6) by making distinctions, but these distinctions often look like distinctions-without-a-difference.

I originally said that NgXinZhao’s statement “cut both ways,” and the “contradiction” I have demonstrated above shows this in action. (6) and -(6) are both ways of saying, “the argument cuts one way, but not the other way, because I can draw a distinction in this particular case.” Even if one of (6) or -(6) is correct though, the argument just circles right back around to the debated premises you started with in the first place, and therefore I do not think it is a good argument to throw in. As an analogy, suppose somebody named John made claim A. Then another person named Sally made counterarguments B and C. However, counteragument C relied on counterargument B in the first place! In that case, to me, there is no point in bringing it up. Just stick to debating B!

Are there any ways to avoid this contradiction rather than choosing either (6) or -(6)? One way, as Yeshe has explained elsewhere, is to question my use of the Law of the Excluded Middle. I will let him explain this more, if he wishes.

The other way, and I thought it likely that somebody would mention it, but nobodyd did, is to question premise (2):

I think it is possible to have a desire to end desire, but not focus or keep in mind what the result of this after death will be, other than to just be confident that it is worth the effort. In other words, grant the law of excluded middle to (post-death) Nibbana, and so grant that it is either a state of existence or non-existence, but do not focus your desire on the post-death state per-se, just focus on ending desire in this present life.

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Thanks. You’ve offered some nice summaries.

Again, I’d say it comes down to definitions. Existence and non-existence in the suttas have particular contextual meanings – and I’ve never seen them used as applied to nibbāna.
So in this sense, the premises are not quite what I agree with so the conclusions aren’t either.

I think I know what you’re getting at with cessation as non-existence. Conceptually, this can make sense. But I don’t think it applies to what is not even nothing in terms of the final cessation.
Remember, nibbāna means extinguishment, cooling, and is not a place or “thing.” And existence/non-existence apply to “things” – even ineffable ones.

In the example of a flame going out going out, as in SN36.7 and SN44.9, the Buddha and others don’t get into whether the flame that went out still exists or is non-existent. It just went out. Full stop. Cessation.

Thanks for sharing your points and for the respectful and friendly dialogue. :pray:

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Hello Sunyo, and good wishes. I agree I haven’t shown at this point that the argument is necessarily “right.” However, I used the terms “valid” and “sound” in a technical sense deliberately. The argument summary that I presented is definitely valid (again, in the technical sense of the word! - I linked to what this means in my original post). If you doubt this, I could formalize it into logical symbols, and have some proof checking software verify the argument.

But I acknowledged that the argument might not be sound. (This just means some of the premises could be false). Now the advantage of me phrasing it in this way is that it forces everyone to be more precise. It really does restrict your options to debating the truth of premises I presented. So when you say,

then I have to say, “no! - I have presented a valid argument. And I use the term valid argument in a technical sense. By definition, a valid argument is the opposite of a logical fallacy!”

Now, my aim here is not to be pedantic. I think you could easily just phrase what you are saying as, “I dispute premise (1). The reasons for believing premise (1) are fallacious reasons, and the support for it is an argument from ignorance.”
Where premise (1) is

But Sunyo, I am merely using this phrase in exactly the same way you did in this thread :slightly_smiling_face:

So, let me put it like this (and I think you have been in the robes for 10 years so I can call you Ajahn? :laughing:)

I am well aware of this, but the context there is not the English word “nothingness” as I used it, but rather a Pali phrase which gets translated as the meditative state/arupa of (infinite) nothingness. It is not really nothingness though, it is a perception of nothingness.

Anyway, if you are unhappy with my phrasing of terms, then I am happy not to use the phrase nothingness, and instead I will rephrase it exactly as you wish.

Just to be clear, you are disputing premise (4) here:


Nibbana isn’t a state of existence, but neither is it nothingness.

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