Hello friends and thank you for taking time to read, consider, and respond to my post. I am greatly perplexed by what happens to a Tathagata after death and I need your help wrestling with the Yamaka Sutta.
See, it’s very easy to understand who we are in terms of the aggregates. It makes sense, doesn’t it? There’s no permanent self because we are comprised of ever-changing parts. The truth of this reasoning is so apparent that it’s hard to argue. But seeing ourselves in this way leads to an issue: how can we experience Nibbana without remainder if the aggregates fall away at death of a Tathagata?
It is for this reason that the Yamaka Sutta is very interesting to me because Yamaka was convinced that Pari-nibbana results in the end of our existence.
I understand that on some level, there can be no annihilation of a self because there is no self and yet, there is something that is being annihilated, no? I like to use an example of someone’s house being destroyed in a tornado… We can’t expect to be of much comfort to them should we say that their house never really existed. After all, isn’t a house just an aggregate of pipes, wires, wood, insulation, and brick? None of those things have been destroyed – they’ve just been scattered about.
In this example, nothing is technically annihilated but it’s not the parts that matter, it’s the structure in which we live. Similarly, if the aggregates fall away at the death of an enlightened being, then there is no more being.
So Yamaka has this understanding (and I’m right there with him) but apparently its a wrong understanding because a bunch of monks try to dissuade him from it and when they fail, they ask a senior Monk, Sariputta, to help Yamaka.
Sariputta comes to Yamaka and asks him if he can describe the Tathagata in terms of the aggregates or apart from them. Yamaka can’t do it and Sariputta points out that its unwise to make declarations about a Tathagata after death if declarations can’t be made about them while they’re alive. It’s this realization that helps Yamaka abandon his view, but I have a difficult time following the conversation and seeing where Yamaka makes the switch.
See Sariputta asks him like this:
- Do you regard any of the aggregates to be the Tathagata?
- Do you regard the Tathagata as being inside or outside of any of the aggregates?
- Do you regard the Tathagata as the sum of the aggregates?
- Do you regard the Tathagata as being apart from the sum of the aggregates?
To each of these questions, Yamaka answers “no” but that’s where I lose him. Isn’t who we are a composite of the aggregates? I would’ve answered “yes” to number 3. But if someone wanted to argue that death is not the end for an enlightened being then logically, the answer would have to be “yes” to question number 4.
The only way that there can be any kind of existence for a Tathagata after their death is if there is some other part to us besides and beyond the aggregates. Right? I know that this “something” is never identified (and maybe such a notion is explicitly condemned) but if there isn’t anything more to us than the aggregates, then I don’t see any logical way to state that the death of an enlightened being isn’t the end of their existence.
Please help me to understand! I have wracked my brain about this issue.