Brahmavihārā are dukkhā

This is for on-going discussion between me and @yeshe.tenley carrying from Truly Exist, dependently exist, dependently ceased, truly not existing - #16 by yeshe.tenley

My title is bold on purpose. :slight_smile: I could’ve easily said “Dispassion is the best” but I think this is more interesting this way!

The inspiration for my argument & my criticism of elevating even brahmavihārās beyond the scope of how they’re useful for the mendicant’s realisation of nibbāna comes from DHP273:

Virāgo seṫṫho dhammānaṁ - Dispassion is the best dhamma

Repeated again in AN5.32:

“To whatever extent, Cundī, there are phenomena whether conditioned or unconditioned, dispassion is declared the foremost among them, that is, the crushing of pride, the removal of thirst, the uprooting of attachment, the termination of the round, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, nibbāna. Those who have confidence in the Dhamma, in dispassion, have confidence in the foremost, and for those who have confidence in the foremost, the result is foremost."

Let’s start with a few assumptions and definitions:

  1. A mendicant practices aspiring for the ultimate goal (Iti 16)
  2. They become personally extinguished (paccattaññeva parinibbāyati), knowing: “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.” (Nibbāna) (MN37)
  3. There is a difference between a mendicant who achieves nibbāna and one who doesn’t. (AN10.86)
  4. “In the same way, monks, I have taught you how the Dhamma is like a raft; it is for the purpose of escaping, not for the the purpose of grasping. Monks, I have taught you how the Dhamma is like a raft; those who understand this are to let go even of Dhamma, let alone non-Dhamma." (MN22)
  5. Noble Eightfold Path is the way to cessation of: Suffering (SN22.104), World (Iti112), Kamma (SN35.146), Aggregates (SN33.3)

Paccattaññeva is highlighted here, because anatta is often used as an excuse to explain that there’s no difference between inner-outer, self-other, this-that.

Anatta, suññata doesn’t mean There is no continuum which can result in nibbāna. In fact, anicca is precisely the basis of our soteriology: All processes (including one we refer here as a mendicant) will come to an end. A mendicant is not a thing, it’s a process, one that arises and ceases like any other dhamma.


Now with all those said, here’s the controversial title explained. :slight_smile:

I believe, especially the three positive Brahmavihārās (Loving-Kindness, Compassion, Sympathethic Joy) can be misunderstood as objects themselves, being placed in a position other than as a raft for crossing over.

Carrying on with the analogy, people want to carry these over to the far-shore, or worse yet, describe the other shore somehow as the ultimate reality of these virtues.

Arguing for detachment to these divine abodes sounds kind of weird, I admit. Potentially, it can sound uncompassionate, unloving, apathetic even! However, my point is completely otherwise.

These are tools for dispassion: Compassion removes anger, sympathetic joy removes greed; loving-kindness removes ignorance.

I believe, Buddha’s message can be paraphrased as “You don’t have to be a slave to samsara.” Expectations, obligations, responsibilities are all dukkha. Even in Metta Sutta Snp1.8 talks about mendicant should be Appakicco: with few duties!

And this should be the message, if anything at all: Telling people that it’s okay for them to worry about their own safety from suffering, not burdening them with the obligations and expectations of servitude.

If they choose to spread this message, as did Buddha, then it’s only praise-worthy, of course. But not at the expense of their own safety, their peace, their well-being.

As with all kusala cetasikas, even brahmavihārā are anattā, aniccā and dukkhā (Saṅkhāra-dukkha). We should not cultivate an addiction to these beyond their usefulness to cultivate our personal extinguishment (paccattaññeva parinibbāyati).

The greatest gift we can offer to others is to tell them it’s okay to worry about their own safety, without expecting any kind of service in return. Otherwise it’s not a gift; true gifts are given with nothing expected in return. :slight_smile:


And on your last post:

I use ultimate here the way teacher uses how whatever arises and ceases is all dukkha, as in SN12.15:

You’ll have no doubt or uncertainty that what arises is just suffering arising, and what ceases is just suffering ceasing.

The ending of a conditioned process is also a condition. The extinguishment of a flame, for example, depends on the oil running out. The absence of oil conditions the flame to cease. The cessation of the flame is the mere arising of a new state, namely, a non-burning wick.

The end of a process is just another condition within a process. Certain conditions give rise to an ending occurring. And that ending which occurs is a condition for the arising of other conditions. At no point is anything destroyed, annihilated, brought to non-existence. From the perspective of beings, all that can be said is one condition ceases (“fire”) and another condition arises (“extinguishment”).

Your thesis is that there can be a continuum of conditions which realize Nibbāna. What does this even mean? Let’s take a fire.

A fire is a continuum of conditions. At certain points in time, we designate “fire.” At another point in time, we designate “the fire is extinguished.” But how could the “fire” attain a state of “extinguishment”? They are not the same condition. The thing which we called a fire is not the thing we call “extinguished.” For a “fire” to become “extinguished” it must be annihilated. But extinguishment is a separate appearance than fire; it is an appearance of a different condition. So there is no annihilation, only a new condition arising based on other conditions. The fire never becomes “extinguished,” only “extinguishment” can arise where the fire once was.

Where is the continuity here? Each condition was not the same as the one before, otherwise it would be eternalism. No condition can attain anything. Any change would by default not be the same condition. If one condition persisted and was destroyed, it would be annihilationism. But we do not observe either.

A three-year-old cannot attain the state of being a ten-year-old. Only a ten-year-old can be a ten-year-old. A ten-year-old cannot be a three-year-old. Only a three-year-old can be a three-year-old.

You may object: Yes, but it is the same continuum which at one point was three and at another point was ten. So: Where is this continuum? Can you point it out? If one thing arises and another ceases, how do we identify a continuum?

To identify a continuum, you must identify that X was the cause which created Y. And Y was the cause which created Z. And so on. So there must be a cause which generates an effect and so on. There would have to be two separate things, one which creates the other. That would be a continuum.

“This puppet isn’t self-made, nor is this misery made by another.
SN 5.9

If something else didn’t create it, then a separate cause didn’t produce it. If a separate cause didn’t produce it, how can a continuum be established?


The Buddha is certainly Greater than Love, but that kind of Enlightenment contains Love within it as well. It is a Foundation that must not be abandoned.

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Not my thesis; it’s buddha-vacana. :slight_smile:

“But if a mendicant is keen and prudent they can achieve awakening, extinguishment, and the supreme sanctuary from the yoke.” Iti34

It says “a mendicant” can achieve awakening. A person. :slight_smile:

The quote you linked from Ven. Sunyo I would agree with. Like I said, the ending of a flame is conditioned.

A person is a convention for bunch of processes.

So too, when the aggregates are present
‘sentient being’ is the convention we use. SN5.10

Okay? I don’t understand how this is relevant to the topic though. :slight_smile:

Are you saying the aggregates can attain nibbāna? That there are aggregates in nibbāna?


Attaining nibbāna is a metaphor for ending.

Aggregates can end, yes.

You linked a post to someone saying that “the unconditioned” is actually conditioned, as it is the ending that arises from other conditions. I was agreeing and referring to a prior example.

But that means that an individual continuum can’t attain nibbāna. An individual continuum doesn’t end when the aggregates end. The aggregates ending would simply be another condition in the continuum.

If you think about it, if you follow the paradigm of Nibbana is Samsara, Samsara is Nibbana, it reverberates from the connotation that Self is no-Self, and no-Self is Self. The argument can then vanish like a mirage with the rest of this world, and you can come to the Realization that there is nothing to be found. You are already there, abiding and simultaneously non-abiding in nothingness. I think this is the Middle-Way in the scope of Dhamma and no-Dhamma. In such a way, one can abandon the Raft and extinguish the fire completely.

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I admit I don’t understand the distinction you’re trying to make. An individual continuum ceases without reminder according to suttas (as Buddha explains his extinguishment, as well as the extinguishment of Sariputta, Mahamoggallana, etc).

If you have an objection to this, I would rather you explain it 1. With suttas 2. Explaining what the suttas mean. 3. What Buddha refers to when he describes his and his disciples’ extinguishments.

The only weird thing is of course imagining knowing something, prior to actually knowing what it actually is.

Having a materialist/physicalist view of what mind & heart is capable of is, is not really in any favour for any buddhist.

Just like the heavens are better and nothing like the best type of life here on earth or the most intense lucid dream. Rupa Loka in turn is nothing like the heavens, a completely new type of world detached from Kama Loka.

Mind/Heart is ”a little” different than one might be used to, compared to all things possible in Kama Loka.

So how can one become dispassionate about Rupa Loka when lust for Rupa Loka is one of the five higher fetters, prior to actually having investigated those worlds fully and then becoming dispassionate?

I think this is very interesting, because if one is constantly jumping the gun and categorically saying anicca, dukkha & anatta to the extreme point that spreading metta is also dukkha - please explain then how anyone with such a view also truly knows that the Rupa Loka planes of existence are in fact impermanent?

How does anyone know this?

If the inhabibtants themselves who have already lived there countless of millions/billions of years and will continue living millions/billions of years didn’t know - how can a buddhist know?

Well we can’t, we can only have FAITH in the Buddha that all planes are indeed impermanent, but no one has a single way of knowing this themselves - unless they want to stay in such a plane billions of years and wait there until they die.

So with that being said, one would hope buddhists instead had a little humility and instead focused on FAITH in The Buddha.

Now the mind is incredibly powerful, we can close our eyes fall asleep and from nowhere we have not only new fully functioning senses but also another body to interact with in a dream world. In this dream we can encounter everything from the most ”out there” things we’ve never seen before - to exact replicas of our family and friends, or places we used to live. All this the mind can create by any average person not even interested in meditation.

So if one meditates one realises that the mind is even more powerful than what is possible any type of dream.

I get it, one can be dispassionate and reject everything to reach the goal and just say anicca, dukkha & anatta to all, but if someone who is already practicing Dependent Origination this way has a preference that Nibbāna must be ”mere cessation” - the mind is so powerful that such practioners can both consciously and subconsciously put themselves in a unconscious blank state since they imagine that this is the goal. This is what they also happen to prefer.

This is the danger of jumping the gun and having preferences.

Are those unconscious states without feelings?

But then these states have to be Nibbāna, right?

To study DO in a shallow way thinking, ”this must lead to that” prior to actually truly knowing - is why it is very bad to limit what mind & heart is capable of from a materialist/physicalist perspective of what is possible and impossible.

Does anyone truly know all about the ins and outs regarding matter (the elements) and why and even how the mind can manipulate the elements/matter?

We know very little about matter and scientists will not help you much regarding these matters. :wink:

So good luck applying scientific notions regarding matter or what is possible and impossible according to an interpretation of DO - to an immersion that even goes beyond immateriality!

You simply have to shift perspective here. The aggregates ending is a phenomenon for those in the world. The flame, extinguished, is a conditioned phenomenon in the world. The flame, extinguished, is at peace itself, no longer in the world. Indescribable. Unconditioned.

But I agree this post was made for treating an altogether different topic (which I’m keen on). I’d like to see that unfold.

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I don’t, really. Samsara is dukkha, Nibbāna is the cessation of dukkha, absence of dukkha. If there’s no distinction between dukkha and its absence, then we have no basis for discussion, our soteriology.

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You’re treating Dukkha like it posseses substance. What is it?

Okay I’ll try and explain. I’m interested in your answer. I’m not just saying it as a trick question.

The Buddha attained enlightenment. The Buddha was a person. You quoted a sutta saying a person (or ‘sentient being’) is a designation for the aggregates. So that means that the Buddha’s aggregates ended when the Buddha attained final extinguishment. I think you agree with this.

The aggregates ending is not the same as the individual continuum ending. An individual continuum is a series of conditions. One condition, then another, then another, and so on.

For the aggregates to end, there must be certain conditions in place. If those conditions are in place, a new condition would arise, which would be the ending of the aggregates. So the ending of the aggregates would be a conditioned arising. Take, for example, a flame. A flame can only go out under certain conditions. Those conditions can give rise to the condition of a flame going out. So a flame going out is an arising of a new condition. You could think of it like an ‘event.’ When something happens, that is an event. A fire coming into existence and a fire going out of existence are both events that arise under certain conditions, and they would serve as conditions for any following events.

That new condition would be in the same continuum of arising events. For example, if a flame goes out, that could give rise to a change in temperature. So too, when the Buddha passed away due to causes and conditions, that gave rise to other conditions. So the continuum did not end, right?

If you don’t want to answer that’s okay. It arose in relation to some things in your post. But I’m happy to set it aside if you’d prefer! :slight_smile:

Not really, I’m treating dukkha as suttas do - as a process that arises and ceases.

Dukkha being beyond existence/nonexistence is not the same as it not arising and not ceasing. Buddha is clear on that.

It arises, and ceases, but really nothing arises and ceases. This world is like a gargantuan mirage. All phenomena are Empty, there is no coming or going in this world, and no entering Nibbana. Designations come from the Buddha’s Skillful Means. What they designate is not just Empty of uniformity, but also Reality. Reality is an illusion, and the Only Truth is that which a Buddha sees. I hope to become Enlightened to that level one day.

How can it be at peace within itself if it is ceased? You just described it, so how can it be indescribable?

Are you saying there is a self inside the flame that, if the external conditions do not appear, would be at peace in an ineffable state of existence? If a flame is just a designation in the world, to suggest that it exists in and of itself beyond the world once it has ended doesn’t seem to follow.