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

Hi @mikenz66.

You’re right. By and large, they are very similar. The qualitative difference shows up in two ways. One, within the translation itself, and the other when compared to the views of the translator.

Within the translations

Ajahn Thanissaro

He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

Ven. Sujato

They turn their mind away from those things, and apply it to the deathless: ‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment.’

The terms fading away and extinguishment has a connotation of nothing left afterwards. However, the terms dispassion and unbinding, being more clearly linked to the aggregates are more difficult to interpret as nothing left afterwards.

Of course, how this is taken is very individual. But by and large I think it is not as easy to conclude that Nibbana is the same as nothingness with Ajahn Thanissaro’s translation.

With comparison to translator’s opinions

This is probably the more serious issue.

If you have a preference for Ajahn Thanissaro’s teachings and translations, his rendering reads well because he has made clear in his writings that there is consciousness outside the aggregates. Thus there is a mechanism for explaining the experience described in the passage.

If you have a preference for Ven. Sujato’s teachings and translations, his rendering doesn’t read as well because he has made clear in his writings that there is no consciousness outside the aggregates. Thus, there is no mechanism for explaining the experience described in the passage. The translation and the translator’s own views are at odds with each other.

It is that in Ven. Sujato’s translation doesn’t accord with certain interpretations of fading away and cessation (found in the passage), and the passage in general can’t be made sense of if we adopt his view that there is no kind of consciousness beyond the aggregates. (i.e. because no consciousness equals no experience).

There is nothing in the first translation that has a property of deathlessness. Both translations describe the experience after Nibbana in positive terms (i.e. sublime and exquisite). All I’m saying is that such a description does not accord with the idea that there is absolutely no form of consciousness after death.

More generally, there are suttas that describe the deathless as an element or dimension. These are also positive terms. Then there are a couple of suttas that talk about consciousness without surface, which is also a positive term. When we bring this all together, we see a clear pattern where the Buddha systematically veered away from the idea that Nibbana leads to nothingness.

I wouldn’t say I’m searching for anything. I’m merely offering that certain views, such as the complete absence of consciousness after Nibbana, don’t accord with the descriptions of Nibbana given in the suttas. Hence I’ve adopted a more nuanced view. There is an ability to experience Nibbana, otherwise Nibbana wouldn’t be described in positive terms. I’ve chosen to call the mechanism behind this consciousness not of the aggregates. But language is always going to be limited because we are only familiar with the aggregates and have never experienced anything beyond them.

On this point. I would be interested to know of any schools of thought that describe Brahman without also describing it as the Source of all things. I have not been able to find any so far.

I’ll leave you to do that. Advaita posits Maya (some people call it Lila) as creation.

I haven’t read the sutta that you are concerned with, either version. So I can’t say one way or another about your interpretation in terms of whether one coheres and one doesn’t. I am limiting myself to the SN for the time being. But, why would there be a complete absence of consciousness after Nibanna? Buddha wandered around like what? A somnambulist? Interesting. But no, I think he was conscious.

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That’s not been my experience. Seems to me many Buddhists, both in the far past and in modern times, have given a lot of thought to what self and emptiness, existence or non-existence means. I mean, just look at the ancient debates between Ābhidhammikas and Madhyamakas regarding sabhāva and emptiness. Go to any Buddhist online forum and you will always find in depth debates about such things too.

Perhaps it’s just the content I’ve seen so far then. I’ve read the suttas. But in terms of analyses, I’ve only looked at some Buddhist scholarship over the last 100 years or so. I’ll need to look more into the debates you mention. Hopefully they will be better rounded. It is easy to describe the properties of things. What is generally harder is relating those descriptions to anything practical one might do in a way that is coherent.

I asked because your comment seemed to indicate that you knew some specifics about the area, but np.

I prefer Thanissaro’s translation of the AN9.36 passage. It’s elaborating the cessation of craving, IMO, not cessation of the aggregates, or consciousness.

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I look forward to reading your researches.

But, if you think Buddha was sleep-walking you might wish to turn to the Mandukya Upanisad. It’s very short, you can definitely get sleep-walking out of it, is usually considered post-Buddha, contemporary to the ETBs, and, myself, I agree the scholars who see relation to the prajnaparamita literature in it.

Thank you :slight_smile:

Actually, I think the opposite. My first post was an argument along the lines of there must be a mechanism for the Buddha to experience Nibbana, and this is something outside the aggregates. Many of my subsequent posts were an attempt to clarify various terms to show how I came to this conclusion; and also to show how consciousness outside the aggregates is different from the Atman, or what other traditions describe as the Atman.

Well I think that’s what sleep-walking is.

OK, let me say this simply to you. You can check many sutta on this: consciousness supervenes on the salayatana (chose your translation) - eye/sights, nose/smells, ear/sounds … mind/things (some people might say something like constructed reals). This is what is called contact.

Is this while the Buddha is alive or after he has passed away? While he is alive, the aggregates are together, hence no sleepwalking. After he has passed away, he is beyond space and time. So while there is experience of Nibbana, there is neither sleep nor walking.

I wouldn’t have the slightest idea about Buddha being beyond space and time. That’s an article of faith for some people, I guess. You’ll have to ask others than me when it comes to matters of faith. I am not a religious person.

Now are you talking tathagatagarba? Or the alayavijnana of yogacara?

Actually it follows from the non-clinging to the aggregates. It is by means of the aggregates that one moves through space and time and perceives it. Therefore whatever is left after their dissolution cannot have anything to do with space or time.

Tathāgatagarbha - Buddha nature
Ālaya-vijñāna - A level of subliminal mental processes that occur uninterruptedly throughout one’s life and, in the Buddhist view, one’s multiple lifetimes.
Yogācāra - Describes everyday experience, however deluded, as well as its transformation through the practice of yoga to the ultimate state of buddhahood.

Just pulled these definitions from a google search. Based on this, I would say none of the above.

I’m not one to go around quoting suttas, because I think people need to sit down and spend time thinking on things, but you might want to have a look at something like SN 35.30 to reevaluate your understanding of “clinging to the aggregates,” dissolution, and more importantly “remainder.”


@Meggers. I read the sutta you linked me to. I see nothing that is contradictory to what I’ve presented. If you want to say something more definitive I am open to listening.

Nope, like I said, you’ll have to talk to other people here if you believe Buddha exists outside of time and space. I can’t help you with that. If attaining Nibbana means reaching a state that is outside time and space and Buddha’s consciousness becomes that and remains that eternally, you’ll have to talk to other people here, I can’t help you with that.

You’ll have to speak to people who can address those beliefs with you.

@Meggers - This is a forum for discussion and debate. I was simply asking whether you had anything to say to support your views. You don’t so that is fine.

Dear All,

Many thanks for the interesting discussion.

Thanks for your contributions and understanding.

With Metta,

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