Bhikkhu Bodhi on Nibbāna

Well, first, I need to ask, does the phrase “Nibbana isn’t a state of existence” mean the same to you as “Nibbana is a state of non-existence?”

Oxford languages defines Nothingness:

the absence or cessation of life or existence.

Very well said all of it and you are right that is my preferred resolution. It is the law of excluded middle which deceives us here. :pray:

Yeah, so then it looks like there are two possibilites:

  1. the fact that non-existence is never applied to nibbāna means that we should not interpret nibbāna as just what is implied by “complete cessationism”
  2. the fact that non-existence is never applied to nibbāna means that we should not interpret what the Suttas call non-existence as how we would want to understand the English phrase

I think you could argue that “nothingness” is not a place or “thing” either. “Non-existence” does not apply to “things,” at least in the way I am using the phrase. Kant famously said that existence is not a predicate! But regardless, multiple people now have objected to me using the term “nothingness” for Nibbana. But I was not married to the term - I am pretty sure I can rewrite all of what I had said while instead using the preferred terms of those who disagree with me.

Ah, so now to some people this looks like a distinction without a difference!
Let me rephrase:

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. Non-existent.

by putting it like this it makes it clear that some view the cessationism vs. non-existent distinction as being a no-true-scotsman or a distinction without a difference.

Yes, I agree that it has been nice.

1 Like

I think this an admirable attempt; but not persuasive? Granting the law of excluded middle will turn nibbana into an indirect proof to be some thing. We don’t know if it is a true continued existence or it is true cessation, but we think we’ve proven (albeit indirectly) it is a true thing and that it is pleasant. And if we believe we’ve proven it to be (albeit indirectly) - and we believe we can obtain that thing we’ve indirectly proven - won’t we necessarily desire it?

Also, this seems to me to place a lot of import on the moment of death as some thing that is a particularly important moment. We are going to build up a lot of stress that is just another moment won’t we?


Here you are stating that the law of excluded middle does not apply to this statement. At least that is how i interpret your statement. This is such a healthy way of debating and I thank @Soren for formalizing it so we can get to the heart of the actual logical disagreements which involve premises and so on. Bravo @Soren! :pray:

1 Like

Nibbana is the emptiness of substance. It’s not a “thing” which exists, or nothing existing due to x ceasing.

1 Like

How does this end dukkha? There are three types of dukkha:

1 the dukkha of pain or gross dukkha
2 the dukkha of change
3 the all-pervasive dukkha of phenomenal existence

How does the nibbana you describe end these dukkha?


Potentially we would, yes. By the way, I haven’t made up my mind about any of these things, and so questioning premise (2) is not my preferred option necessarily, I just think it is one reasonable approach you might take.

Let me be less formal for a moment and give an analogy. The analogy would be something like what a coach tells their athletes. Suppose you had an athlete who kept dreaming about how nice it would be to win their event, what it would be like, and what it would feel like. The coach then might tell them, “stop focusing on the results and daydreaming about how nice it would be to win this event. Focus on the causes themselves, and practice your sport and technique for its own sake.” Something like this.

A lot of us certainly do this! I think the idea would be that the Arahant already has direct knowledge of what will precede death, and so they have no need to feel any stress.


I am confused what you mean by this. “Emptiness of substance” is an ontological description about the nature of substance. But this would imply Nibbana has nothing to do with the N8FP? Did you mean, Nibbana is the [realization of] the emptiness of substance?

It’s not about the nature of substance, as that’s essence. It’s about the emptiness of substance and essence. The emptiness of truly existing things and true individual things. Nothing can be established as being real or not real, nor as characteristics. As individual things.

Hello. I do not think that describing the nature of substance necessitates stating that they have an essence. Indeed, saying that substance is empty and without substance is about “the nature of substance.” But if you do not like this way of putting it, then that is fine. I would still repeat my question reworded:

Hi Bhante :smiley:

I will replay soon.


Thanks for the clarification. :+1: I agree it is not broken in formal logic terms, so I should not have called it a logical fallacy. Did I mean illogical fallacy?

Either way, I don’t think you represent Ven Anālayo’s argument properly with your syllogism. He doesn’t say that the Buddha never says these things (although he probably thinks so). He argues that in this specific instance of the Upasīva Suttta the Buddha should have explained things in a certain way: “There may have been an additional need [for the Buddha] to clarify [to Upassiva] that there is no self in the first place to be extinguished or perpetuated.” Venerable Anālayo doesn’t see such clarification in the Buddha’s reply, and from that concludes the the Buddha didn’t teach a remainderless cessation of self-less processes (i.e. your “nothingness”).

Now, what I’m saying is, apart from being a misreading of the sutta, this is arguing that something is false because it is not said to be true. That is not a sound argument. To me, it is illogical, but perhaps technically it is indeed logical in formal terms. Let’s not get caught up in that distinction. You say it’s not meant pedantically, but focusing on this does end up neglecting my actual point.

Either way, I would indeed disagree with premise 4 (The Buddha did not state “Nibbana is purely nothingness” clearly.), if using “nothingness” in a non-sutta way, which I can accept for sake of argument, though I prefer to call it complete cessation. There are plenty of indications that consciousness/awareness/experience/existence cease, and what type of existence can be left when there is no consciousness? However, here I was specifically disagreeing with Ven. Anālayo’s line of reasoning in a particular instance of the Upasiva Sutta, where he effectively demands that the Buddha should say something to this effect in response (which the Buddha does, I think, but still, expecting things to be explained in a particular way is generally not a good argument).

But since we’re on the topic of logic:

Exactly why wouldn’t you say so? If it’s not total cessation, then, not being nothing, in any normal way of speaking it would be something. If there is some type of experience, some kind of state, some dhamma, some whatever, it is something, by definition, being the antonym of ‘nothing’.


Is vinnana present while under narcosis, deep asleep? Is there is no existence without the six sense vinnana’s arising? Is there mere nothing? Or is that delusion that there is really nothing when vinnana ceases?

Because of dependent origination nothing can be taken as real. Without that you can’t say something exists forever or is destroyed and nothing is left. Empty dhammas arise and cease, and for the Arahant all we can say is that they have ceased. The rest is proliferation.

Thanks, I did not expect that reply. But that seems an overly insistent way to use the words “something” and “nothing”. Empty dhammas, in ordinary speech, we can still call “something”, if we agree that by this we are not reifying them into permanent entities. (In fact, dhamma can also mean ‘thing’.) Like, when @Soren used “nothingness” and I initially objected, I was still able to see what he meant and not get stuck on definitions of words. Otherwise we’re not properly engaging the argument, and it’s ends up being just semantics about ‘something’ and ‘nothing’. I suppose you know what I mean with my question as well: there is either something or nothing left, something still exists (for that particular “being”) or not. You can’t have both or neither. Either that, or you are effectively saying that you don’t know and/or that enlightened ones don’t know.

Any formal argument can be divided into the initial premises, and then the deductive steps applied to those premises. Strictly speaking, a fallacy is an error in the deductive steps. If there are no errors in the deductive steps, then the argument is called valid. If an argument is valid, then if the premises are true, the conclusion must true.

Suppose we have some valid argument. Except for areas like mathematics, where the axioms are typically agreed upon because they seem so self evident, or the “truth” of the axioms is not really considered interesting in the first place, the deductive steps may all be valid, and hence the argument is valid, but the reasons for accepting the premises are often based upon “priors” or informal reasoning.

So I think that what you must mean is that is that the reasons for accepting the premises I presented are themselves logical fallacies.

Does this make sense? It is not super complicated per se, but it is a new way of thinking that takes some getting used to at first, and I do not know if I have done a good job of explaining it. Once you understand it though (formal logic), it provides a very organized and powerful way to think about your thinking (and argumentation).

So, first, let me say that I am not really trying to defend Ven Anālayo’s position - at least not yet. I am trying, at present, to express his argument in formal terms so that we can understand it’s structure. And there is a subtle distinction to be made. Premise 1 says:

  1. For all important, relevant-to-the-Dhamma, positions X, if the Buddha believed X, then the Buddha would have stated X clearly.

So it is not so much that the Buddha never says these things, it is that he never said them clearly. Now, in reponse to what I just said, you go on to say:

So I think the argument you presented above, what it is saying, is that Premise 1 should be questioned. Let me rephrase what you wrote (I hope fairly):

Okay, but if you look at my original reply, my entire point was almost entirely just about that distinction. So not focusing on this does end up neglecting my actual point.

The natural response to what I just said might be something like, “well if that was your primary point, so what?” However, I think if you take some time to appreciate this distinction, which might seems unusual at first, you will begin to appreciate it. The reason this distinction is made in the study of logic is because smart people have found it a very important and useful distinction to make. I have some more I could say on this topic (Analayo’s argument), but I do not think it is the right time yet to say it until that distinction is appreciated and understood.

I think you have compelling counteraguments to make. I think that those counterarguments could be best expresed not by disagreeing with just premise 4, but by disagreeing with premise 1 and premise 4 “as a pair”:

Do you agree that your counteraguments disagree with premise 1 and premise 4 here “as a pair?” Notice that the way I linked them together hinges on the meaning of the phrase “state X clearly;” a phrase/concern which I think you find objectionable.


This is so wonderful. Not because it is winning any argument or anything but because it is illuminating what the actual disagreements are and what they are not. Without illuminating in such a way it is often very easy to get lost in a haze of rhetoric and misunderstanding each other and even oneself.

To risk getting lost in my own haze, I’d say it is like breaking down the structure of the conversation to reveal its algorithmic nature. To reveal the hidden source code of the conversation, realizing we can refactor, getting rid of technical debt, focusing on the important parts so as to make the further maintenance less burdensome, with the goal of building on the understanding in the future.


1 Like

For the sake of illumination but not to enter the debate myself I would like to point out a further premise that I think others are assuming here:

(1A) We have a reliable record in the form of the suttas of exactly what the Buddha stated clearly and conversations in the sutta between the Buddha and his interlocutors. That record is not missing any important and clearly stated parts. Therefore we can reliably infer from what was not stated clearly.

Probably could be more succinct but I think this premise is important to acknowledge.


1 Like

Yes, exactly! To put it into the pedantic-but-useful form, the premises could be expanded something like:

  1. For all Suttas Y, and all statements X, if a Sutta Y in the Pali canon says X, then X is a close representation of what the Buddha said.
  2. (Contrapositive of above). For all statements X, if there does not exist a Sutta Y where the Buddha (clearly) states X, then the Buddha did not state X.

And I am losing track of the numbering at this point :laughing:

Haha, well that is an interesting way of putting it.

1 Like