Clarification on Dhatu-vibhanga Sutta

MN 140.

Bhikku Bodhi’s translation:

When he feels a feeling terminating with life, he understands: ‘I feel a feeling terminating with life.’ He understands: ‘On the dissolution of the body, with the ending of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here.’

Thanissaro’s translation:

When sensing a feeling limited to life, one discerns that ‘I am sensing a feeling limited to life.’ One discerns that ‘With the break-up of the body, after the termination of life, all that is sensed, not being relished, will grow cold right here.’

Which rendering is better ? ‘terminating with life’ or ‘limited to life’ ?

With BB’s translation, I read it as a direct realization of Parinibbana in this very life, but it is not so clear with Thanissaro’s choice.

Also, ‘all that is felt’ vs ‘all that is sensed’ - are they the same ?

I often wondered what that sentence meant and some time ago I came across a translation by Bhikkhu Analayo that made lots of sense to me… I think it was from its translation of the Madhyama Agama, I’ll post it here once I’ll find the passage again!

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the pali is

:diamonds:…jīvitapariyantikaṃ vedanaṃ vedayamāno ‘jīvitapariyantikaṃ vedanaṃ vedayāmī’ti pajānāti, ‘kāyassa bhedā paraṃ maraṇā uddhaṃ jīvitapariyādānā idheva sabbavedayitāni anabhinanditāni sītībhavissantī’ti pajānāti.

vedana is the 2nd of the 5 aggregates, vedayamano is the verb form of that. So “feeling” or “sensed” are referring to that.

I interpret “terminating with life” and “limited by life” the same way, especially since it’s preceded by the description “after the break up of the body after death” is already pretty clearly talking about physical death. what distinction did you draw from b.bodhi and thanissaro’s translation?

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I found it. This is a parallel passage from a different sutta from the Madhyama Agama (MA12):
The translation can be found in this book (there is a PDF download link - the PDF is free).

If in a monk ignorance has been extinguished and knowledge has arisen, then with ignorance extinguished and knowledge arisen, when there arises the feeling of the body nearing its end, he knows that there has arisen the feeling of the body nearing its end. When there arises the feeling of life nearing its end, he knows that there has arisen the feeling of life nearing its end. And when the body breaks up and life ends, the life span having expired,
> then all that is felt in this life will be exhausted and come to an end. It should be understood that it will end and become cold.

I don’t know if this translation would work with the Pali though… But to me it makes more sense than the english translations from the Nikayas.


This reminds me of SN45.12 for some reason.

I translate this passage as:

Feeling the end of the body approaching, they understand: ‘I feel the end of the body approaching.’ Feeling the end of life approaching, they understand: ‘I feel the end of life approaching.’

The operative term here is jīvitapariyantika, which means “end of life-ish”, so literally “feeling an end-of-life-ish feeling”.


With BB, I took it as a specific feeling that denotes death, but with Thanissaro, just something bound by the constraints of life. The posts by Yasoja and Ven. Sujato make it clear that this a death-specific feeling.

I think attaining direct knowledge of this particular feeling and its cessation is required to know that death (and thus birth) have been extinguished, along with the causes that result in their renewal. So even though past lives have not been recollected, one can still say: Birth has been extinguished, there are no more states of becoming.

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Yes, his translation here is not very clear.

Thanks for clarifying.


It also makes me think about the the suttas where some of the arahants (and the Buddha of course) are announcing that they will die very soon - they basically know exactly when their life will end.

There seem also to be examples of such things in modern times, such as some hindu yogis… Does anyone know examples of modern Buddhist masters predicting their imminent death in such a way?

I am not sure.

But, related to the original point about dwelling and contemplating a feeling related to death, I came across Shrimad Rajchandra (never heard of him before). He describes how dwelling on death allowed him to recollect his past lives - at the age of seven.

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There’s plenty of anecdotes like this, although I haven’t really confirmed any.

When I was staying in Ipoh, there was one little hermitage, way up top of a mountain. I visited it one time with the man who had been a long term caretaker for that place. Imagine, if you will, a large cave, with some smaller caves offset, shrines for the Buddha and for various Chinese deities, up a long flight of stairs, overlooking the plains of Ipoh. This isn’t the place, but you get the feel of it:

It seems that in the past there had been a monk staying there. He lived quietly and alone, as so many monks do in Malaysia. I think, if I recall correctly, he was Chinese Mahayana, but I may be mistaken.

Anyway, one day the caretaker came up to see him as usual. When he arrived, he found the monk, sitting beside his bathing area. The place was still wet, and the monk had his bathing robe on. He was sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, as if meditating next to the bathing spot. The caretaker announced his presence, but there was no response. Drawing near, he called the monk’s name, and again. When he came close, he realized that the monk was dead. It seems that he had sensed the coming of death while having his bath, and had the presence of mind to sit in meditation before the final moments.


Both the picture and the anecdote bring up thoughts about becoming totally quenched. All the fire, thirst and craving completely put out…

Interesting, actually, this is not how I understand the passage. For me, it’s about feeling your imminent death, not about contemplating death when you are alive… But I might be wrong, I’ll keep your interpretation in mind and think about it.

Thanks, I never heard of him as well, though I read Gandhi’s autobiography so I must have read his name in passing. It looks like he had a short but incredible life!

Very inspiring, thanks for sharing this story Bhante.


I understand it the same way - the sutta is about a particular feeling denoting death. I was looking up on this and found out about that jain monk…

I thought Webu Sayadaw had an incident of this?