Cessation of DO?

I am trying to understand what the cessation of DO means, practically speaking.
Most DO suttas conclude by describing a progressive cessation of the nidanas, ie “With the cessation of ignorance, there is the cessation of formations…” through to “cessation of aging and death, and this whole mass of suffering”. This cessation of the nidanas appears to correspond to the Third Noble Truth.

One question immediately springs to mind:

  1. Has DO ceased for the Arahant, and if so, how does the Arahant experience anything if consciousness, contact, etc have ceased? The aggregates all appear in the nidanas, so presumably they cease too?

I’d appreciate it if people responding could focus just on DO in “cessation mode”, rather than a more general discussion of DO.

According to SN 12.55, suffering in DO is comparable to the care and survival of a tree. The origin of this mass of suffering is to nourish and support growth:

Suppose, bhikkhus, there was a great tree, and all its roots going downwards and across would send the sap upwards. Sustained by that sap, nourished by it, that great tree would stand for a very long time. So too, when one lives contemplating gratification in things that can be clung to, craving increases…. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.

…while cessation is to chop it down and obliterate it:

Suppose, bhikkhus, there was a great tree. Then a man would come along bringing a shovel and a basket. He would cut down the tree at its foot, dig it up, and pull out the roots, even the fine rootlets and root-fibre. He would cut the tree into pieces, split the pieces, and reduce them to slivers. Then he would dry the slivers in the wind and sun, burn them in a fire, and collect the ashes. Having done so, he would winnow the ashes in a strong wind or let them be carried away by the swift current of a river. Thus that great tree would be cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, obliterated so that it is no more subject to future arising.

“No longer subject to future arising”. Clearly the body remains. There are memories of what suffering used to imply, i.e., an arahant can describe the meaning of liberation.

Seems to me that if cessation was meant to imply complete disappearance of the aggregates and/or the remnants of the 12 factors, it wouldn’t require a simile about something that grows. Nor would it make sense for the man to be the one who cuts it down through effort. If it were static, the simile could be about anything that is destroyed. The simile of the tree implies care and maintenance for continuance, and deliberate cutting off for destruction. What seems to cease is the maintenance of the mass of suffering. The necessary conditions for the survival of the tree are removed.

The aggregates are no longer subject to clinging, as the desire and lust towards them is gone. Yet they remain:

The five aggregates are fully understood,
they remain, but their root is cut.
I have reached the ending of suffering,
now there’ll be no more future lives.” -Thag 6.11

Point being, what has ceased is the mass of suffering, not the experience as a whole.


What a beautiful and exact explanation sir! What an understanding! Simply superb!


The five aggregates is the man. Their root is his desire. The great tree is the great mass of suffering. Therefore, what are destroyed are his desire and the sufferings, not the man.

Consciousness and contact are there, but DO will not reach to craving for an Arahant. When contacting some objects, feeling arises. With wisdom, contact is removed when feeling is recognized. With the cessasion of contact, feeling ceases.

By definition, In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises.The meeting of the three is contact. We can see that eye-consciousness arises depends on eye and forms. It only needs the eye and forms. Contact is the meeting of the three; therefore, if there is eye and forms, there will be contact regardless if the person is ignorance or not. This means when the eye sees the forms, there is contact. With contact, feeling arises. However, from feeling to craving will take some time and energy. With ignorance, one will maintain that contact and increase the feeling to the point that craving will arise. With wisdom, contact is removed, feeling ceases.

Just like when a pot of water is put on a stove, water is heat up. If we remove the pot from the stove as fast as we could, water will not get boil. We can do so thousand of times, and water will not get to the point of boiling if we do that properly.

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The above interpretation seems to say something that was dependently originated remains. :thinking:

And what, bhikkhus, are the dependently arisen phenomena? Aging-and-death, bhikkhus, is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen, subject to destruction, vanishing, fading away, and cessation. Birth is impermanent … Existence is impermanent … Clinging is impermanent … Craving is impermanent … Feeling is impermanent … Contact is impermanent … The six sense bases are impermanent … Name-and-form is impermanent … Consciousness is impermanent … Volitional formations are impermanent … Ignorance is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen, subject to destruction, vanishing, fading away, and cessation. These, bhikkhus, are called the dependently arisen phenomena.

SN 12.20

remains until it ceases, like a fire remaining for a while with the fuel already fed to it, but going out after a time if no more fuel is given.

It is clearly the case that the Buddha was alive, walking and talking and so on, for many years after his enlightenment, this means he was conscious, had feelings, perceptions, a body etc, if he wasn’t conscious he would not have been able to talk etc, if he didn’t have a body people wouldn’t have been able to see him etc, so whatever it means, cessation of DO does NOT mean the instantaneous disappearance of a body or a mind or consciousness or perception etc, it MUST mean something else.

it MAY mean, as I take the bulk of the tradition to have held, that the body (and it’s dependant consciousness) remains for a little while before “complete” cessation at death, because of the ‘fuel already in the fire’ so to speak.

it also MAY mean something else, something along the lines that all that may be said to be ‘personal’ about experiencing has been completely let go of, and therefore the Buddha is no more attached to the body (and consciousness, and speech, and actions) of the Buddha than they are attached to anything or anyone else, it’s all pretty tricky IMO.



Hi Carl,

Depends on what we’re discussing. DO is summed up as “such is the arising of this mass of suffering”, not “such is the arising of this whole experience”. What remains is experience free of greed, hatred and delusion. This is acknowledged a bit differently in MN 121, where even after liberation there is what remains. Not about DO, but describing the same liberation:

They understand: ‘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.’

They understand: ‘Here there is no stress due to the defilements of sensuality, desire to be reborn, or ignorance. There is only this modicum of stress, namely that associated with the six sense fields dependent on this body and conditioned by life.’ They understand: ‘This field of perception is empty of the perception of the defilements of sensuality, desire to be reborn, and ignorance. There is only this that is not emptiness, namely that associated with the six sense fields dependent on this body and conditioned by life.’ And so they regard it as empty of what is not there, but as to what remains they understand that it is present. That’s how emptiness is born in them—genuine, undistorted, and pure.

Again, DO does not seem limited to an explanation about how the mind functions or how perception works, but is a description of the arising or cessation of the mass of suffering.

Thanks SDC. Where have you read the above in the Suttas? Thanks :slightly_smiling_face:

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Thanks for Thag 6.11, I hadn’t seen that before. It seems that the aggregates do remain.
I note that SN12.55 only deals with craving onwards, and is reminiscent of the Second Noble Truth.

What I still don’t get is what the cessation of the nidanas from formations to feeling means, or why it is necessary for the cessation of craving.
To me DO would make more sense without these nidanas, ie going straight from the cessation of ignorance to the cessation of craving.

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A useful distinction between the arising of suffering and the arising of experience.
But again, I wonder why the nidanas from formations through to feeling are included, and why they are described as ceasing, since these nidanas are about how we experience things.
To put it another way, it’s apparently ignorance that causes craving and suffering, and not the nidanas from formations to feeling. So why do these nidanas need to cease in order for craving and suffering to cease?

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What I find puzzling is that the nidanas from formations to feeling appear to continue for the Arahant, but DO in cessation mode says that the cessation of suffering is conditional on these nidanas ceasing.
Another possibility is that all the nidanas following ignorance are defined by ignorance. So what ceases are ignorant formations, and not formations per se.


Hi Carl,

To be frank, I haven’t read those ideas in the suttas, which was why I pointed them out. As far as SN 12 goes, it seems DO is the description of one very broad situation: the mass of suffering. And even though there are these 12 different aspects of it, at no point should they represent individual and/or separate occurrences that don’t apply to the whole. The enduring situation is the mass of suffering - past birth, future birth, current birth, it does not seem to make a difference. It will be the same arrangement no matter when it is discerned. Those 12 aspects will always be what constitutes the mass. In the same way there is the tree and it’s roots; the whole thing is maintained on account of different aspects that each serve a single purpose. The roots are persisting, the bark is persisting, the sap, the limbs, the leaves. All depends on what part is being contemplated. There won’t ever be a point where it is just the roots, just the bark, just the leaves, etc., if the tree persists (the mass of suffering), all its parts are contributing to that end. When the mass ceases, those aspects may persist, just no longer contributing to suffering.

My post was meant to emphasize the very commonly accepted idea that DO is describing some momentary accounting of different occurrences, but I just don’t think there is much support for that in the suttas. Yes, one (or one pair) can be contemplated individually, just not divorced from the persistence of the others.

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Yes, but the way I understand it, that is secondary to how these 12 aspects are set up as the origin of that mass of suffering. Those are aspects of the experience, but in terms of DO the main concern seems to be to show their place in the mass, not their place altogether. Not sure if that makes sense.

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Previously you cited SN 12.55 about the Great Tree, which says:

Bhikkhus, when one dwells contemplating gratification in things that can be clung to, craving increases. With craving as condition, clinging comes to be…. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.

MN 1 says:

At one time the Buddha was staying near Ukkaṭṭhā, in the Subhaga Forest at the root of a magnificent sal tree… relishing/delight is the root of suffering (nandī dukkhassa mūlam).

My impression is the Great Tree referred to in SN 12.55 is not about the twelve conditions but only has its root at craving/delight.


Interesting theory. This may imply, when MN 123 says the Bodhisatta entered his mother’s womb, the underlying tendency to ignorance remained in that (assumed) relinking (patisandhi) consciousness and in the embryonic aggregates. But later, upon enlightenment, the aggregates of the Buddha were completely cleansed of ignorance. Therefore, each of the 12 conditions rooted/immersed in ignorance ended & only purified aggregates, purified sense bases, purified sense contact, etc, remained. Thus, there would be no ‘rebirth’ in the future because the aggregates, sense bases, sense contact, etc, are now purified. What do you think about his theory? :slightly_smiling_face:

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Keeping in mind the myriad of ways DO is described in DN 15, it is the principle dependency in regards to the mass of suffering that matters. Indeed it doesn’t have to be all twelve and occasionally it is more than twelve. The point seems to be that when it comes to DO, which both SN 12.55 and DN 15 are without a doubt in reference to, the constituents are described in relation to one enduring situation of suffering.

I understand your concern, but if you take a look at SN 12.59, which I should’ve used to begin with as it is a better example, the tree simile applies to ten of the factors, so I think it safe to use as a tool to understand the principle is any of its different forms.

These suttas seem to be about contemplating ‘gratification’ (‘assāda’):



tasting, tasting with relish, enjoying; taste, flavor; enjoyable taste; enjoyment

Therefore, the ‘root of delight’ appears to exist prior to the avakkanti of consciousness (SN 12.59) or avakkanti of namarupa (SN 12.58) mentioned in these suttas.

It seems none of these suttas change my interpretation about the Great Tree. In MN 1, it is said ‘delight is the root of suffering’.

For my mind to abide in purified samadhi requires consciousness. Then if my mind starts to contemplate the gratification of a eating a pizza, a new consciousness arises. This new consciousness arose after the new delight about the pizza. Obviously, the samsara of dependent origination is not only about ‘rebirth’ over three lifetimes. Surely, it is also moment to moment. Possibly SN 22.53 on the subject of consciousness may be helpful here. :slightly_smiling_face:

Fair enough. As always, thanks for the interesting discussion.

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My thought is that it is probably something more like formations ceasing for the arahant that is, the arahant is no longer attached or connected to the natural process of that particular body and that particular consciousness giving rise to those particular feelings and perceptions, the arahant has “let go” of all that, and is not involved in the further production of such things in the future, hence as each of the processes that have been set in motion come to cease no new process or continuation is found, having been de-fueled.

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and I should probably elaborate, that none of these things apply to the arahant becasue there is no “arahant” there that is anything you could use to define the arahant would be a phenomena that could be attached to the arahant, but the arahant is not attached, so there is no description posible, including i suppose there, not there, there and not there, neither there nor not there. so again, i think it’s tricky.

Yes, it could be that the nidanas from formation to feeling describe experience tainted by ignorance. Experience in terms of the aggregates, sense-bases, etc.
Those nidanas cease, but what remains is experience untainted by ignorance.

There is something similar in the Khanda Sutta (SN22.48), where a distinction is made between aggregates and clinging aggregates. This implies that clinging aggregates can cease, just leaving untainted aggregates. Also, I recall that in the First Noble Truth, dukkha is summarised as the clinging aggregates, ie the aggregates subject to clinging.

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