How did the Buddha know he wouldn't be reborn?

How did the Buddha find out that craving is a condition for dukkha? The analogy of consciousness, kamma, and craving (kamma is the field, craving is the moisture, and consciousness is the seed) makes sense; however, how did the Buddha find this relationship out?

We know that moisture is important for the growth of a plant because, when there is no moisture, the plant doesn’t grow. In contrast, the Buddha still had consciousness during his life, so how could he previously know that he wouldn’t get reborn and that it would be due to his lack of craving?

It could equally be asked how the Buddha-to-be knew the path to awakening.

“And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with renunciation arose in me. I discerned that 'Thinking imbued with renunciation has arisen in me; and that leads neither to my own affliction, nor to the affliction of others, nor to the affliction of both. It fosters discernment, promotes lack of vexation, & leads to Unbinding.”

—Majjhima Nikaya 19

The answer is through insight (discernment). Certain things are proven within the mind through investigation, and the practitioner persues that path consistently avoiding that of conventional reality, and continues to get successful results.

"“These four types of individuals are to be found existing in the world. Which four? The individual who goes with the flow, the individual who goes against the flow, the individual who stands fast, and the one who has crossed over, gone beyond, who stands on firm ground: a brahman.”

—Anguttara Nikaya 4.5

The Buddha’s original motivation was the stimulus of realizing impermanence through seeing old age, sickness and death, and that factor remained as a rejection of life as it appears. Once that solo path is resolutely entered it becomes a matter of psychological survival that the practitioner achieves results.


I agree that practicing the path leads to more signs that it is the right one. Most things can be confirmed by first hand experience, while they’re seen as beliefs while one doesn’t experience them. However, the Buddha knew he wasn’t going to get reborn before he actually died: this knowledge was of something prior to his actual experience. So how could he know that without craving he wouldn’t get reborn again?

The Buddha had the knowledge of how Kamma operates, as one of the 3 knowledges upon his Awakening. Knowing how Kamma works, one also knows and recognises when there is no more production of Kamma (when all craving, all asavas, have been completely abandoned). He penetrated the Law of Dependent Arising and understood how existence comes to arise and cease. The end of making Kamma is also the end of becomming (as per DA) - no more rebirth.

As per your analogy, the seed alone, without field or moisture , cannot (re) sprout.


Yes, the suttas talk about the Buddha seeing the arising of beings and noticing they were reborn according to what they had done in the past. For example, he could see that people acting morally would get reborn in better places than people acting immorally. However, when it comes to dependent origination, it’s unclear to me how the Buddha concluded that craving is a condition for bhava because there wasn’t anybody without craving for him to watch and see that they wouldn’t get reborn after they died.

We can also say that this is an insight that we can’t comprehend or explain, but this would contradict the fact that the four noble truths can be checked by oneself. In other words, if it’s true that each person can check that craving is a condition for dukkha or the five aggregates, how can this be done?

The Path to Awakening is a gradual one - the gradual training - and consists of Sila, Samadhi and Panna.
The first steps on the Path involve ethics/virtue/sila. As one practices kindness one is able to see the effects of skillful and beneficial actions on oneself and others. The cause for the insights has been developed, and only because the causes have been put in place is one able to see for oneself. If one does not act from kindness, one will not be able to experience the effects of kindness, and will not be able to see, understand and develop the insights that result from having developed sila. The same goes for Samadhi - as this is developed the associated insights become available. Without the causes one can’t see or experience it/the fruits for oneself. And the same for Panna.

In the beginning one bases practice on faith and confidence. As practice develops and one is able to see and confirm for oneself, then confidence increases. As sila is developed and perfected, the results and the associated insights become available. If it is not developed then these are not available.

The further along one goes, the greater the transformation, the more defilements are abandoned, as delusion starts to decrease, the more access one has to the higher levels of knowing and seeing. As one develops the Mind and becomes skilled at Samadhi, this then enables a deeper level of knowledge and vision. So the insights and knowledges and vision is a a gradually developed, conditional process.

If one goes all the way, then the Awakening experience itself is the fruit of all the causes put in place thus far. So this is available only to those who have put the requisite causes in place, and who have cut off all the requisite defilements and hindrances - but not to those who have not done so as yet. So seeing for oneself is dependent on causes. One can see for oneself if one has put the causes into place - followed the Path - to that stage.

It is a transformative process, where perception itself has been re-conditioned in line with what the Buddha taught. So this stage of knowing and seeing for oneself is very advanced but still it is available if one goes through the processes required. It is like the simile of the tadpole and the frog. The tadpole can never ‘know’ what air is and what living in the air is like, until it has fully transformed into a frog and jumped out of the water - left the water behind. Now free of water, it can know what water was (previously its properties were ‘invisible’) - and it can now experience what air is. Previously it was only speculating, only with the required causes and conditions can it know and see for itself.

It is important to realise that this is not about intellectual understanding, but of transformative experience, altering perception itself, and ultimately/finally of the complete destruction of Delusion/Ignorance.

So here, the Buddha was not dependent on observing others, he had to discover the path on his own, that is precisely what made him a Buddha - that he penetrated this on his own without a guide. At the level of Awakening the Buddha was able to see and observe for himself how Mind works, how existence comes to be. It was something he knew and saw for himself. This is only possible through the highest development of Mind and taking the Path to the very end. When this is done - when the causes are in place- then one can know and see for oneself. Before hand this knowledge is not available, and one goes on faith/confidence, and/or speculates. The Buddha said that it was only when he had seen and known it for himself that he proclaimed it to the world. He has pointed out to us where to look and the gradual training that will enable seeing it for ourselves.

What I’ve said about the process is exemplified in AN11.2 Making a wish. This demonstrates the required conditions/causes for each of the steps.“Mendicants%2C%20an%20ethical,the%20far%20shore.”

You can also refer to the expanded 8 fold Noble Path - the 10 fold path- which ends with knowledge and vision and Liberation. If you do a search regarding the Noble 10 fold Path here on D&D you’ll get links to some interesting discussions.

So I hope this provides some food for thought regarding your question :slightly_smiling_face: :pray: :sunflower:


He ceased the desire to know whether he was reborn or not, and the matter was no longer a problem for him.
In fact, whether to be reborn is a false question, which is a paradox of thinking caused by the misuse of language.

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In Samyutta Nikaya 56.11 the Buddha describes his path to awakening, the four noble truths figure centrally, but no mention of DO.

The Law of Dependent Arising is inherent within the 4 Noble Truths themselves. Here is an extract from AN8.11 Veranjasutta, where the Buddha is describing the process of his Awakening and the knowledges.

17.1This was the second knowledge, which I achieved in the middle watch of the night. 17.2Ignorance was destroyed and knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed and light arose, as happens for a meditator who is diligent, keen, and resolute. 17.3This was my second breaking out, like a chick breaking out of the eggshell.

18.1When my mind had immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—I extended it toward knowledge of the ending of defilements. 18.2I truly understood: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the origin of suffering’ … ‘This is the cessation of suffering’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering’. 18.3I truly understood: ‘These are defilements’ … ‘This is the origin of defilements’ … ‘This is the cessation of defilements’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of defilements’. 18.4Knowing and seeing like this, my mind was freed from the defilements of sensuality, desire to be reborn, and ignorance. 18.5When it was freed, I knew it was freed.**

18.6](SuttaCentral)*I understood: ‘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.’

The first section in Bold is referring to the second and third Noble Truths, which are the equivalent of Dependent Origination (2nd NT) and Dependent Liberation/cessation (3rd NT), ie both modes of the Arising and the Ceasing of Suffering.
Knowing it, AND having done it - he achieved Liberation/Nibbana and was freed from Re-birth - and knew it. :slightly_smiling_face:


See also SN 12.65 and SA 287, which indicate the connection between the four noble truths and conditioned arising.

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There is nothing in Bold. There is nothing in this description about DO:

""And this, monks, is the noble truth of the origination of stress: the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.

“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of stress: the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving.”

—Samyutta Nikaya 56.11

The second noble truth:

““And where does this craving, when arising, arise? And where, when dwelling, does it dwell? Whatever is endearing & alluring in terms of the world: that is where this craving, when arising, arises. That is where, when dwelling, it dwells.”

—Digha Nikaya 22

Thanks for the thorough reply! Unfortunately I think it doesn’t address my question, probably because I didn’t phrase it well enough. I’m looking for understanding how the Buddha claimed knowledge of the relationship between craving and cessation more specifically.

I understand that the path is gradual. However, the way knowledge arises can be understood before one has it. For example, acting with kindness leads to the results of kindness, but without kindness, the same results aren’t there, from this a person can conclude that the former is the condition for the latter. Understanding this doesn’t require kindness (just reason) although the knowledge that the relationship is true requires first-hand experience.

Knowledge in the practice has the following format then:
No kindness → no results of kindness
Kindness → results of kindness

When it comes to craving and the four noble truths, we would expect the same pattern.
For example, Thanissaro Bhikkhu has made the criticism that if one believes nibbana is experienced only after the death of an arahat, there is no way for the Buddha to know he would experience nibbana after death. In other words, his knowledge would be unjustified. In the venerable’s view, cessation of conditioned experience is felt when craving ceases:

Craving → conditioned experience
No craving → no conditioned experience

In this way, the Buddha could experience nibbana while alive and know by himself that that would be his fate after death (let’s not discuss venerable’s singular views on what nibbana is though). Also, I remember an Ajahn who called stream entering a preview of nibbana.

As another example, when I was still focused on Mahayana Buddhism, I read a book that defended that conditioned experience was dependent on craving, and one can experience directly that, as craving ceases in meditation, things start to cease as well. Therefore:

Craving → conditioned experience
No craving → no conditioned experience

Even though I haven’t experienced this by myself, I can see how this would give the meditator knowledge of cessation.

Do you believe insight into the four noble truths is achieved in the same way? By seeing phenome ceasing as craving ceases?

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It is said of the Buddha, “knowing, he says ‘I know.’ Seeing, he says ‘I see.’”

Having known and seen the causes of rebirth, and knowing and seeing their lack, he said “no more rebirth.”

Seeing those who did not know and see, he caused those with the ‘little dust’ in their eyes to to know and see.

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You need to add a bit to this
There are suttas which go through this process, (and the one I quoted above AN11.8 also goes over this), but I’m just doing it below with some more links for illustration off the top of my head to give the general idea.

The gradual training itself is the gradual conditioning process, to enable one to see the link between craving and cessation. In your 2 examples you have simply left out all of the intervening steps.

results of kindness > insight into the effect of kindness on mind
insight into the effect of kindness onto mind > knowledge of how to bring about beneficial mind states
Knowledge of how to bring about beneficial mind states > insight into 4 right efforts and how they work
Knowledge of Right Effort > development of skill of Right Effort
development of skill of Right Effort > ability to tame the mind
Ability to tame the mind > greater insights into how the mind works and access to more powerful mindfulness, contemplations and Samadhi (this includes understanding the 3 characteristics, the aggregates, contact etc)
Deeper meditation > different cognition, seeing into the actual mechanics of the mind
seeing into the mechanics of the mind > dissolving delusion
Dissolution of delusion > seeing reality as it really is. (Complete penetration of the 4 Noble Truths)
Seeing reality as it really is > dispassion for the conditioned
dispassion for the conditioned > relinquishment of all craving
relinquishment of all craving > Liberation/Nibbana

So you can see where the insights into craving come into the picture

I agree with the above statement. The Buddha says that Nibbana is experienced in the here and now after Enlightenment of the Arahant. There is often confusion and many arguments about this . This is Nibbana with residue - while the 5 aggregates are still intact before the physical death of the entity. After the breaking apart of the Aggregates (physical death) they are not ‘re-born’ into any state or realm - neither of form or formless or pure consciousness - ie there is extinguishment of all of the aggregates, including consciousness. This is your first simile - if there is no ground and no moisture due to the absence of craving (delusion) - there is no way for the seed to re-sprout. Uprooted, cut off like a palm stump - no more fuel - extinguished. This is often referred to as Pari-Nibbana. See the Parinibbana sutta which describes the Buddhas last months before his death/parinibbana.

The topic of NIbbana has been discussed exhaustively on this site. If you want to delve into this, then I suggest you do a search and have a look.

However, from my perspective there is limited benefit to this. Right effort and Right Attention are more about putting the causes into place to bring about the conditioned changes required to move along the path, rather than to develop intellectual and philosophical understanding of the body of texts… but of course it depends on your purpose and interest in engaging with the Buddhist texts.

Best of luck for your journey :slightly_smiling_face: :pray: :sunflower:


Ven. Thanissaro was in fact referring to nibbana after death, as if the experience of insight allowed one to experience nibbana without residue, for, if there is no way to experience it, how could the Buddha know he would experience that after death? In other words, he defends that knowledge buddhism is derived exclusively from first-hand experience.

I’m not discussing the nature of nibbana here though: I’m discussing knowledge of nibbana. Some here may say that one needs to see nibbana to understand it because it’s unconditioned. However, knowledge is conditioned, and there is no reason to think it can’t be explained by reason only. My question is exclusively about the epistemology of the religion. Although this is philosophical, it is still part of Buddhism. The Buddha also discussed knowledge and how one could confirm by themselves, so I think my question can actually be answered without hurting practice or something. This isn’t the same as metaphysical speculations.

Since Buddhism is a religion that justifies its teachings based on “checking by oneself,” I think it’s important to firstly analyze what “checking” actually means. The word “insight” is too vague and doesn’t prove that Buddhism is true, unless we actually define what this insight is like. Since this is knowledge about a conditioned thing, it can be understood from a theoretical level.

Because the Buddha discovered the reality that it is a conditioned existence and revealed the truth that there is the unconditioned:

A sage is not born, how can it die

Which means by reaching the unconditioned, one transcends the cycles the existence (birth and death)
…… therefore dispels “delusion / ignorance “ (DO) which bounds oneself in samsara (cycle of birth and death) …… hence no more further future existence (suffering) …… to the unborn.

Nibbana isn’t seen, but rather, the illusion (not-self) is seen so the conceit l-am (delusion /ignorance) is dispelled and by the direct experience is that of Nibbana where nothing is felt.

I agree with that, but my question is how did he know that the things he saw were in fact the causes of rebirth? Naming all of that “insight” doesn’t help explain how that knowledge is actually correct.


Maybe there’s one category of individuals missing: “experience(s) (or flow) follows me - not the contrary”.


But shouldn’t the unconditioned be integrated within the conditioned ? Instead of by avoiding it?

If it’s within the conditioned, it would follow that it would not be “beyond the ALL”…… this also means there can’t be any “direct experience” as clearly they aren’t direct.

There are attainments which falls within the conditioned …… But the one based on the 4NT are that “beyond the ALL” (the one for the purification of the path)…… ie. unconditioned.

Hence samsara is conditioned…… and Nibbana is unconditioned. …… clear dividing boundary (ALL) between the two so one can transcend …… yet Nibbana encapsulates samsara.

What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is termed the All.

O house-builder, you are seen! You will not build this house again. For your rafters are broken and your ridgepole shattered. My mind has reached the Unconditioned; I have attained the destruction of craving.