Did Bahiya have a head?

I believe the experience described to Bahiya in Ud 1.10 is the same as the one Douglas Harding describes in greater detail in “On having no Head” . I am curious if others feel the same way. If you think Bahiya is being told something else, how is it different?

Ud 1.10
In the seen will be merely the seen; in the heard will be merely the heard; in the thought will be merely the thought; in the known will be merely the known.’ That’s how you should train. When you have trained in this way, you won’t be ‘by that’. When you’re not ‘by that’, you won’t be ‘in that’. When you’re not ‘in that’, you won’t be in this world or the world beyond or between the two.

On Having no Head
It was when I was thirty-three that I made the discovery. Though it
certainly came out of the blue, it did so in response to an urgent inquiry; I had for several months been absorbed in the question: what am I? The fact that I happened to be walking in the Himalayas at the time probably had little to do with it; though in that country unusual states of mind are said to come more easily. However that may be, a very still clear day, and a view from the ridge where I stood, over misty blue valleys to the highest mountain range in the world, made a setting worthy of the grandest vision.

What actually happened was something absurdly simple and
unspectacular: just for the moment I stopped thinking. Reason and
imagination and all mental chatter died down. For once, words really failed me. I forgot my name, my humanness, my thingness, all that could be called me or mine. Past and future dropped away. It was as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories. There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it To look was enough. And what I found was khaki trouser legs terminating downwards in a pair of brown shoes, khaki sleeves terminating sideways in a pair of pink hands, and a khaki shirt iron terminating upwards in - absolutely noth-ing whatever! Certainly not in a head.

It took me no time at all to notice that this nothing, this hole where a head should have been, was no ordinary vacancy, no mere nothing. On the con-trary, it was very much occupied. It was a vast emptiness vastly filled, a nothing that found room for everything - room for grass, trees, shadowy distant hills, and far above them snow-peaks like a row of angular clouds riding the blue sky. I had lost a head and gained a world.

It was all, quite literally, breathtaking. I seemed to stop breathing
altogether, absorbed in the Given. Here it was, this superb scene, brightly shining in the clear air, alone and unsup-ported, mysteriously suspended in the void, and (and this was the real miracle, the wonder and delight) utterly free of “me”, unstained by any observer. Its total presence was my total absence, body and soul. Lighter than air, clearer than glass, altogether released from myself, I was nowhere around.

the above can be compared to the below:


the above sounds like an annihilationist view, where an existent self that is believed to be real has in experience disappeared. If Harding wrote: “self-view disappeared from the mind”, this would be a Buddhist view. But Harding said: “I myself disappeared”, which is an annihilationist view.

This example of Harding is excellent for understanding the nuances of what in the EBTs is called “annihilationism”; such as occurred in SN 44.10 with Vacchagotta; where Vacchagotta believed in a self and asked the Buddha did the self (he believed in) exist or not exist. While the Pali does not literally say this, Vacchagotta essentially asked the Buddha: “does my self exist?” and “does my self not exist”? Harding is similar to Vacchagotta, in that he believed his existing self had disappeared.

Also, the Bahiya teaching is explained in detail in SN 35.95:

When you know a thought with mindfulness,there’s no desire for thoughts.Experiencing it with a mind free of desire,you don’t keep clinging to it.

Even as you know a thoughtand get familiar with how it feels,you wear away, you don’t heap up:that’s how to live mindfully.Eroding suffering like this,you’re said to be in the presence of extinguishment.’

That’s how I understand the detailed meaning of the Buddha’s brief statement.”

SN 35.95

So, for a Buddha, when a Buddha thinks, such as when giving a talk, a Buddha knows those thoughts of the mind are not-self. In other words, a Buddha seems to have a head and a Buddha seems to understand the head is not-self, i.e., it is a ‘head’ rather than a ‘self’.

But for Harding, he seemed to believe he was a self but his self disappeared. Also, he appeared to belief his head was “himself” and this head he personally possessed was decapitated. :upside_down_face:


That’s a really good sutta! Love the implication of not having greed for things you don’t know or haven’t experienced, making you think about how to experience new things without greed, and what the difference is in experience which causes greed to arise or not.

Definitely added to my favourite’s list. Thanks!

edit: seems like the battle with the poisons happens at contact

mindfulness is lost as attention latches on a pleasant feature.

If one properly attends to the drawbacks (which includes no-self) instead, mindfulness can remain and thwart greed from arising.

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I think he is expressing his astonishment at the shattering of the illusion of self. It is hard to speak English without using the words like “I” and “self”. The illusion dissolved or disappeared.

I think what he is saying is his mind stopped filling in the blanks. From my own experience we still feel sensations from the skin on our heads and so we effectively fill in the blank of not seeing the head with “but I still feel it so its still there.” This thought did not happen. Just like with Bahiya, in the seen was merely the seen.

But what does being in the presence of extinguishment feel like? How much does this really convey?

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Above teaching meant receiving any sensing on each channel(6ayatana)… We shall not develop " Tanha (clinking) “… if it occurred, stop it. Do like this,
when …” taṇhā(clinking)…ceased "
…then… " upādānaṁ(grasping)…ceased
…then… " bhava(existence)…ceased…

" Not existence "…therefore…will not appear(5aggregages or some of it) in any world or between.

I think it is difference from " having no head "…as described…
You see the world as usual seen " pretty as pretty “…” ugly as ugly “…” dirty as dirty "…different only you have no more wanted due to " taṇhā "…on what you seen, heard …