How is final nibanna different from the extinction of consciousness after death as conceived by materialists?

How is final nibanna different from the extinction of consciousness after death as conceived by materialists?

While I remain agnostic on what happens after death, I believe that those who hold to final nibanna believe the state is the extinction of all awareness or consciousness and that that would be indistinguishable from how materialists envision what happens after death.

Am I right in this assumption or wrong? Please share your thoughts.

Firstly, for the arahant death is what befalls “this body”:

Now on that occasion a viper had fallen on the Venerable Upasena’s body. Then the Venerable Upasena addressed the bhikkhus thus: “Come, friends, lift this body of mine on to the bed and carry it outside before it is scattered right here like a handful of chaff.”

while for those ucchedavādins who take body as self, death is what befalls “me”.

Herein, bhikkhus, a certain recluse or a brahmin asserts the following doctrine and view: ‘The self, good sir, has material form; it is composed of the four primary elements and originates from father and mother. Since this self, good sir, is annihilated and destroyed with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death, at this point the self is completely annihilated.’ In this way some proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being.
DN1

Secondly, contrary to his expectations, the ucchedavādin is reborn.

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For the Arahant, is their any awareness left of any kind?

Apparently not.

When he [the arahant] feels a feeling terminating with life, he understands: ‘I feel a feeling terminating with life.’ He understands: ‘With the breakup of the body, following the exhaustion of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here; mere bodily remains will be left.’

“Suppose, bhikkhus, a man would remove a hot clay pot from a potter’s kiln and set it on smooth ground: its heat would be dissipated right there and potsherds would be left. So too, when he feels a feeling terminating with the body … terminating with life…. He understands: ‘With the breakup of the body, following the exhaustion of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here; mere bodily remains will be left.’ “What do you think, bhikkhus, can a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed generate a meritorious volitional formation, or a demeritorious volitional formation, or an imperturbable volitional formation?”

“No, venerable sir.”

“When there are utterly no volitional formations, with the cessation of volitional formations, would consciousness be discerned?”

“No, venerable sir.”

SN12.51

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Does this make an Arahant a “philosophical zombie?”

it’s one of those questions isn’t it? it gets to the whole subtlety and depth of Buddhism in a really simple way, because I am quite sure that

would come very close to amounting to one of the undeclared views.

If taken in a deflationary sense of “awareness” meaning consciousness or perception then we seem on safe ground saying, stronger than “Apparently not”, “Definitely not”.

But if we claim that there is nothing i.e if we claim that now that they are dead the arahant “no longer exits” then this is clearly wrong view, denied by the Buddha well over 20 times, in all four principle Nikayas, unambiguously.

So whatever we are to make of it, the materialist view that “when your dead you don’t exist” is manifestly rejected by the Buddha, not just in the case of the arahant, but also, in a different way, in the case of the ordinary person.

basically ceasing to appear is different from ceasing to exist. an existent thing can’t cease to exist (you can’t derive a nothing from a something) , and nor can a non-existant thing (what would it even mean for a non-existant thing to cease to exist?)

the awakened are like magicians, they step behind the curtain and vanish, we peal back the curtain only to find another curtain, and another, every time we grasp one and pull it aside, another appears, how did they manage the trick?

magic.

I think you’re taking my “apparently” the wrong way. I meant it in the third sense given below, not the second:

  1. (archaic) Plainly; clearly; manifestly; evidently.
    Synonyms: obviously, plainly, clearly, evidently, visibly.

  2. Seemingly; in appearance.
    Synonyms: ostensibly, seemingly.

  3. According to what the speaker has read or heard.
    Synonyms: allegedly, reportedly

It’s a rather treacherous sort of adverb and it would probably be sensible if we stopped using it altogether.

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/apparently

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I took Raftafarian’s query to be about the post-khandhaparibbāna arahant, not the arahant in the interim between kilesaparinibbāna and khandhaparinibbāna.

Regarding the latter, as I’ve scarcely at all looked into modern discussions of the “philosophical zombie” conception, I can’t say for sure how apt the term would be for the post-kilesaparinibbāna arahant. My suspicion, however, is that it wouldn’t be apt at all, for in the zombie conception, as I understand it, there’s an absence of teleology. In the arahant, by contrast:

The arahat’s experience, as stated above, is teleological, as is the puthujjana’s; but with the arahat things no longer have the particular significance of being ‘mine’. This special significance, dependent upon avijjā, is not of the same kind as a thing’s simple intentional or teleological significances, but is, as it were, a parasite upon them.
(Ñānavīra, Note on Anicca)

You say that, as far as you see it, the arahat’s experience functions automatically. By this I presume that you mean it functions without any self or agent or master to direct it. But I do not say otherwise. All that I would add is that this automatically functioning experience has a complex teleological structure.

The puthujjana’s experience, however, is still more complex, since there is also avijjā, and there is thus appropriation as well as teleology.
But this, too, functions automatically, without any self or agent to direct it. On account of the appropriation, however, it appears to be directed by a self, agent, or master. Avijjā functions automatically, but conceals this fact from itself. Avijjā is an automatically functioning blindness, blind to its own automatic functioning. Removal of the blindness removes the appropriation but not the teleology.
(Ñānavīra, Letter to Sister Vajirā, 10 January 1962)

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Ah okay :+1: That was my question, as I’ve once or twice heard the living Arahant described as such, and your original post was “apparently” :wink: unclear which stage you meant :slight_smile:

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DN1 doesn’t just bring up the annihilationist view point. There’s also “non-percipient being without a body”.

It’s safe to say that whatever we (and by that, I mean “most of us”) think Paranibbana is, we could very well be mistaken.

Annihilation and non-percipient being are both wrong views.

To answer your question, I don’t know. :joy:

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The Arahant is said to be free from further births and deaths, and the suttas don’t speak of Arahants going to “heaven” when they die.
So it sounds like a complete extinction, similar to a materialist view.

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A different angle…

The consciousness aggregate can only know and be known when it contacts the other aggregates. For example, we only detect the presence of eye consciousness if there is visual stimuli.

A simple experiment.

Look straight ahead and note what you see. Assuming there is light, you will see a variety of colours. Then close your eyes. You will only see black. Either way, eye consciousness is at work because you sense the presence or absence of light.

Now try to look through the back of your head. Notice that there is no colour there, not even black. Eye consciousness does not arise because the appropriate visual organ does not exist at the back of your head.

This can be extrapolated to all the other kinds of consciousness that sense other aggregates.

If the aggregates fail to arise after death, any consciousness tied up with the aggregates also fails to be arise.

However, that is not to say that there is nothing at all. Just that any consciousness associated with the aggregates doesn’t arise.

The Buddha has sometimes called the deathless a dimension or reality, so Nibbana is not nothingness.

To call something a dimension or reality, one must have been able to experience it. But this is where language breaks down. The experience has nothing to do with the aggregates, so any description of it will be imperfect at best.

I am inclined to go with a consciousness that is not of the aggregates. However, more than a few of my fellow commenters don’t like the idea, as they believe it espouses an eternal ‘self’. However, there is actually no need to superimpose a sense of self onto such a consciousness.

You can read through the debate here if you’re interested. This is my first post on the matter and the debate starts from there…

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I give you a ton of credit for acknowledging this.

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While I am inclined to think something like this, I think that it would be regarded as heretical by most Buddhist as your experience indicates. I think that by “self” the Buddha originally meant a visceral personal self. In other worlds, self as the feeling of “being an organism in a hostile environment.” That is why in so many suttas the Buddha talks about seeing the end of the world as so important. Without opposition to the world the sense of this visceral self disappears. That said, I think the collision with Brahmanism derailed Buddhist thought by making “self” something abstract which I do not believe was the intent in a whole bunch of suttas.

I think Buddhists became dead set on denying Atman with a capital ‘A’ and veered off into the “forbidden zone” of things the Buddha would not comment on. Obviously, I am implying that the much of the canon is a later creation by later Buddhists competing with Brahmans and not from the Buddha. I think he would have said “How could you possibly know what happens after death and why are you wasting your time thinking about it when you could be meditating.”

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final extinguishment(parinibbānasa)… There is element left over… That element is not 5 aggregates. But extinguished-element or unconditioned-element or deathless-element.
:point_up:
This is different from " ucchedavādā " (their view is, there left not thing)
And not " sassatavādā " (their view is, left some of 5 aggregates, especially citta - vinnana - mano)

In AN 10.81, a Tathagata is said to dwell with “unrestricted awareness” free of 10 things, one of which is the consciousness aggregate.

Take this with a grain of salt, but my understanding is that in Buddhist philosophy consciousness relies on objects of consciousness – it arises dependent on something else. In other words, the consciousness aggregate is conditioned. However, it seems (according to the referenced sutta) that there is an awareness operating separately from the consciousness aggregate.

It seems to me that it is this awareness that can cease being caught up with conditioned reality, and thus be freed (i.e. Nibbana).

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The suttas seem to say in many places an Arahant does not experienced “death” therefore it seems possibly there is no such thing as Nibbana after “death”.

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The most eminent Professor Jay Garfield discusses “Zombies and Other Exotica in Consciousness Studies” in his book Engaging Buddhism: Why Buddhism Matters to Contemporary Philosophy (2015).

Assuming that the jaygarfield on wordpress supplying jaygarfield/files is really Prof. Garfield, he has a draft of his book (not for any sort of republication, so you have to look at it for yourself) on his wordpress site at:

It looks good to me.

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This brings up something I found a while ago which I find very interesting.

Wikipedia states that although Atman is taken as ‘soul’ or ‘self’, the literal translation of Atman is breath.

Breath is what provides sustenance, and more than a few branches of Hinduism portray the Atman as being the ultimate sustenance by virtue of it being the source of all things.

If we take the literal translation of Atman as breath or, to make it clearer, sustenance the transformation in the following passage is remarkable.

SN22.59. Rather than this:

“Bhikkhus, how do you conceive it: is form permanent or impermanent?” — “Impermanent, venerable Sir.” — “Now is what is impermanent painful or pleasant?” — “Painful, venerable Sir.” — “Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, this is I, this is my self’”? — “No, venerable sir.”`

"Is feeling permanent or impermanent?..

"Is perception permanent or impermanent?..

"Are determinations permanent or impermanent?..

“Is consciousness permanent or impermanent?” — “Impermanent, venerable sir.” — “Now is what is impermanent pleasant or painful?” — “Painful, venerable sir.” — “Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, this is I, this is my self’”? — “No, venerable sir.”

"So, bhikkhus any kind of form whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near, must with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine, this is not I, this is not myself.’

You get this:

“Bhikkhus, how do you conceive it: is form permanent or impermanent?” — “Impermanent, venerable Sir.” — “Now is what is impermanent painful or pleasant?” — “Painful, venerable Sir.” — “Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, this is I, this is my sustenance’”? — “No, venerable sir.”

"Is feeling permanent or impermanent?..

"Is perception permanent or impermanent?..

"Are determinations permanent or impermanent?..

“Is consciousness permanent or impermanent?” — “Impermanent, venerable sir.” — “Now is what is impermanent pleasant or painful?” — “Painful, venerable sir.” — “Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, this is I, this is my sustenance’”? — “No, venerable sir.”

"So, bhikkhus any kind of form whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near, must with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine, this is not I, this is not my sustenance.’

Rather than an abstract don’t take it as a ‘self’, the instruction is much more explicit. Don’t look for pleasure in the aggregates.

In layman’s terms, if it’s going to give you a stomach ache (i.e. if it is painful), don’t eat it (i.e. don’t take it as sustenance).

In the same way as what is not physically eaten is not absorbed into a body, an aggregate that is not relied upon for sustenance is not absorbed into a ‘self’.

This seems to also work with the many suttas which talk about stopping nutriment.

Now I don’t know if the words atta and anatta should be re-translated as sustenance or non sustenance. But the origins of atta (or Atman) give us some nice clues about how to put the Buddha’s teachings into practice and avoids philosophical arguments over the ‘self’.

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Thank you for sharing! That is a really cool way to think of anatta.

I think sustenance is also interesting in light of the fire analogy. We “feed” a fire, no?

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