Commentaries on whether "sabbe dhammā anattā" refers to Nibbana


It is definetely something that is experienced, or better, confirmed within one’s dependently originated process of being…


What do you think of this line from the ending of the sutta on the all?

Mendicants, suppose someone was to say: ‘I’ll reject this all and describe another all.’ They’d have no grounds for that, they’d be stumped by questions, and, in addition, they’d get frustrated. Why is that? Because they’re out of their element.”


So what you are essentially asking is, where is nibbana. Is it in the all or out side the all.

For me what makes the most sense is : Nibbana as the resolution of all sankharas. Now, when the lamp-flame is extinguished, where did it go? is it still in the all? or out side the all ? :crazy_face:


The fire going out simile applies to what was visible before- phenomena. It doesn’t say anything about what the state of Nibbana is like, except to say it isn’t like phenomena. Many teachings explain Nibbana by describing the absence of something- yet that is not to say Nibbana doesn’t exist.


There is that sphere, monks, where there is no earth, no water, no fire, no air, no sphere of infinite space, no sphere of infinite consciousness, no sphere of nothingness, no sphere of neither perception nor non-perception, no this world, no world beyond, neither Moon nor Sun. There, monks, I say there is surely no coming, no going, no persisting, no passing away, no rebirth It is quite without support, unmoving, without an object,—just this is the end of suffering.”


Would you have the sutta reference for the quote please


I just want to clarify here, because when we discuss ontology in Indian philosophy it has a rather specialized meaning. Normally ontology refers simply to the discussion of being, what it is, how it can be described, and so on. But in Indian philosophy, starting with the Vedas and developing in the Upanishads, “being” takes on a much more pregnant theological sense. Being is essential and absolute. The reality is an irreducible underlying essence, and change is a mere phantasm that disguises that reality.

Obviously the Buddha rejected this approach with his teaching of impermanence. But there have been tendencies in the Buddhist tradition, most notably in the middle-period Abhidhamma schools, to resurrect “being” as an absolute category. This is, according to Nagarjuna, the basic flaw behind the Abhidhammic notion that an ultimately-existing phenomena (dhamma) is such because it bears its own intrinsic essence (svabhāva).

When we use “ontology” as a shorthand in Buddhist philosophy, this is what we’re referring to. The Abhidhammists—including modern day Theravadins—would argue that the idea of svabhāva has its roots in the Pali suttas. Others, including myself, would reject this. So if I say that such and such a phrase or sutta is not “ontological”, I mean that it does not support the notion of an absolute and essential form of being. Rather, the Buddha described “being” in terms of the observed phenomena as a conditioned process.

This does not mean that the Buddha did not discuss “being” at all, or that all his teachings are no more than a “strategy”. Obviously, the Buddha, being sane, was quite happy to talk about whether something existed or not, and such discussions are found throughout the suttas. The point is that when he talked about something as existing, he did not impute to it the metaphysical absolutism of the Upanishads (or the Abhidhamma).


That does help clarify some of the modern Buddhist stance against “ontologies”. But it is also such a dramatic re-framing of it. It seems to be more an “ātmology of dhammā” than an ontology.


Well, indeed, and that is precisely Nagarjuna’s point.

Leaving aside the use of the word “ontology”, an understanding of the underlying philosophical context is really essential to make sense of a number of passages in the suttas.

Most obvious is the phrase atthi attā, which literally translates as “there is a self”. But what it really means is “the self exists absolutely and eternally”. The opposite, natthi attā, means, not “the self does not exist”, but “the self does not exist absolutely and eternally”, i.e. “the self will be annihilated”. That this sense is required is clear from multiple contexts in the suttas, and is, so far as I know, universally understood in the Buddhist traditions, which equate natthi attā with annihilationism. Yet modern interpreters persist in reading it in a naive literal sense.


If you dont mind can you please elaborate? :slightly_smiling_face:

Also when you say ontology do mean it in the sense as used by engineers or by philosophers?


The way I understand, you can keep Nibbana as a mental object but Nibbana is not a mental object.


Which means ther is a self?



In their philosophy, yes. Which is why it is not the Buddhist teaching of not-self.


The distinction between noumena and phenomena might be more relevant here. The Sabba Sutta describes phenomena rather than noumena.


It looks to me like a state or quality of mind ( citta ), thinking in terms of Nibbana as a dhatu, and in terms of the third frame of the Satipatthana Sutta ( MN10 ):

"When the mind is without passion, he discerns that the mind is without passion… When the mind is without aversion, he discerns that the mind is without aversion… When the mind is without delusion, he discerns that the mind is without delusion.
“When the mind is enlarged, he discerns that the mind is enlarged… When the mind is surpassed, he discerns that the mind is surpassed… When the mind is released, he discerns that the mind is released.”


He discerns, as it has come to be, that ‘This is the cessation of stress.’ MN10