Important controversies in short

Namo Buddhaya!

As i see it,

People in the world generally argue whether there is or isn’t anything after death. Some buddhists are just like this, in that they argue the exact same dichotomy but in reference to the arahant.

As i understand it this constitutes annihilationism & eternalism debates as pertains to misinterpretations of the dhamma.

Another point that people argue about is whether some special samadhi attainment surpassing those of other teachers is necessary to remove fetters.

In other words, it can be proposed that

  • Alara Kalama taught the dhamma as the attainment of base of nothingness.
  • Uddaka Ramaputta taught a superior dhamma as the attainment of neither perception nor non perception.
  • Buddha taught the most excellent dhamma as the attainment of cessation of perception & feeling for the removal of taints.

On the other hand many people believe that cessation of perception & feeling is not required for the removal of taints and it being merely an optional pleasant abiding for those extraordinarily inclined to mastering all variant meditative attainments.

So we have 4 common permutations
1a. Nothing after death of the arahant, no samadhi attainment required
1b. Nothing after death of the arahant, samadhi attainment required
2a. Something after death of the arahant, no samadhi attainment required
2b. Something after death of the arahant, samadhi attainment required

Now what exactly constitutes that samadhi is another point of controversy but i think this is more or less what is common for division as to view now & before too.

I don’t think anyone would claim that cessation of perception and feeling is required for arahanthood as it’s after mastering formless realm that an arahant or non returner can get it and not all arahants have formless attainments.

So just the nature of parinibbāna is different. Can add in the level required to qualify as Jhāna. Then can put in the names of teachers in each 4 sections. That’s the division I see more prominent in the Theravada world.

Namo Buddhaya!

I claim this

This can not be inferred from the texts. I can’t see any way to draw this out from suttapitaka.

It appears that the commentators merely asserted that

but there is no substantiation in these commentaries.

Please do show if you know of anything but in as far as I know there is nothing like this.

As far as i can tell this is not found in canonical texts nor is there any basis to proclaim this as you do.

It is also quite the extraordinary claim because it is said

  • When monk emerges from cessation of perception & feeling, for him feelings & perceptions arise first, and contact therein is with signless. And signless samadhi is for the destruction of greed & anger, and so if we assert that those who attain signless samadhi also have contact with signless, it’s natural to assume that those with greed & anger need to attain it.
  • mn64 describes the removal of fetters as a turning towards deathless, cessation, stilling of all sankhara which is stilling of feeling & perception and a turning away from form, feeling, consciousness, perception. Therefore it’s natural to assume that those with greed & anger attain cessation of perception & feeling in turning away from it towards the deathless.
  • seeing with wisdom which destroys taints in texts is associated with cessation of perception & feeling and when coupled these are called definitive extinguishment & dhamma attainment. Therefore it is not apparent that one can or should divorce the removal of taints from the attainment of cessation of perception & feeling.

Therefore when someone claims this to be in a certain way we should compare to see if that can be found in texts held to be true which commentary isn’t.

One thing that can be said is that if the eternalists are correct they will always know they were right while the annihilationists will always know they were wrong.

And if the annihilationists are right, they will never know they were right and the eternalists will never know they were wrong.

The one problem with both views is that both require one to exist or not exist to the end of time in order to know if they are or are not right. As the saying goes, these things take time.

And maybe there isn’t any.

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Good day Bhante!

Indeed, i think that if one was to delineate a difference as to how teachers interpret jhana it’d classify 95%+ of teachers.

As to other categories i listed i think these are more important. Also i am not the only person interpreting in this way but drawing this out from the aggregate commentary is not easy as they have complicated things as to what is path moment, fruition attainment, fruition-re-attainment, fruition oriented insight, etc

However in commentary there is definitively a system where path & fruition attainments are being associated with a distinct meditative attainment. The “dry insight” systems are based on this in general. So Mahasi Sayadaw, Ajahn Tong Sirimangalo, etc.

As far as i can tell, those who proclaim ‘nothing after death for the arahant and there being no distinct meditative attainment’ are the most prominent sect, at least online.

Those who claim that there is something else after death of the arahants are not easy to find online, but there are those who teach this ‘consciousness divorced from the 6 senses’ namely Bodhi & Thanissaro. I am not sure if the two are in agreement but it seems like they use similar terminology and make appeals to the same texts but it’s not clear to me if these are actual eternalists because i have never questioned them to establish this and what i have seen is but them paraphrasing texts, which is not enough for me to draw out the meaning of what they teach.

This whilst being so, there is a disagreement on what exactly is this attainment. For example Ayya Khema criticized a Mahasi oriented group for taking blackouts during meditation for path & fruition attainments.

The commentary scholars run into a problem where commentary asserts that cessation of perception & feeling is reserved for bodily-witnesses who are anagami. So there is another sub-division as to whether a teacher divorces signless samadhi from cessation of perception & feeling.

Mahasi Sayadaw himself writes that signless samadhi is a description of path-fruition attainment but afaik he largely ignored the latter controversy.

I thought there’s so many voices here on that camp just bumping the topic up to 400+ replies by now, and still ongoing. Also, so many mahayana influenced people are in this camp.

I see the 4 controversy camps I put in and the prominent figures in them are:

  1. Hard Jhāna, nothing after parinibbāna: Ajahn Brahm and many sutta central monastics associated with him and orthodox/classical Theravada.

  2. Jhāna lite, nothing after parinibbāna: Bhante Aggacitta, Bhante Ariyadhammika.

  3. Hard Jhāna, something after parinibbāna: Burgs (student of pa auk, influenced by tibetan buddhism), mahayana in general?

  4. Jhāna lite, something after parinibbāna: Bhante Thanissaro.

I am not very sure on the many thai ajahns who believe in something after parinibbāna called the original mind is of hard or lite Jhāna. I haven’t read their books. I am not sure if it is just their disciples misinterpreted their talks to give the opposite thing that they actually mean.

Bhante Aggacitta clears this up nicely : CESSATION EXPERIENCES & THE NOTION OF AWAKENING eBook (updated Jan2024) — Theravada Buddhist Council of Malaysia

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My impression is that there are many who criticize the interpretation of there being nothing after death for the arahant but it doesn’t make all these people eternalists because

  1. There are those who are on the fence between two wrong interpretations of annihilation & eternal bhava.
  2. There are those who critcize both wrong interpretations of annihilation & eternal bhava.
  3. There are those who whilst adhering to either wrong interpretation of annihilation or eternal bhava criticize the opposite wrong view.

These people will use similar arguemets and it’s not easy to tell them apart without a more or less thorough interrogation.

Thank you for the link. Can we summarize the types he classified by qualification, so we don’t have to read the 100+ pages

I assume he knows about the blackout

  1. blackout

As to other types i imagine one could consider

  1. a cessation of craving as experienced by a person who quits smoking for example. An entirely colloquial & qualified notion of a cessation of craving.
  2. a cessation of delusion as experienced by a person who learns & understands something as to change his mind. An entirely colloquial & qualified notion of a cessation of delusion.
  3. a cessation as an indescribable meditative attainment surpassing feeling states.

2 & 3 are variant descriptions of a general change in mind & behavior and one can find many other examples such as a cessation of greed, in that a person becomes less greedy, etc. Religious people tend to describe their experience in these terms in general.

  1. Alternatively people might talk about cessation of certain feelings & perceptions, such as a person who is not a buddhist would then have non-buddhist feelings & perceptions and these would cease if he was to become buddhist.

  2. And finally one can mistake any meditative attainment for being the highest in mistaking the pleasure of a subtle feeling state for an altogether absence of feeling or removal of taints.

You should just read it. It’s in 3 parts, the first part should answer your questions already.

It’s not actually too long and the page is very small.

Based on orthodox Theravada:

Bhavaṅga Apparent Cessation Experience (BACE)
Jhāna Apparent Cessation Experience (JACE)
Magga Apparent Cessation Experience (MACE)
Phala Apparent Cessation Experience (PACE)
Real Cessation Experience (RCE) (Cessation of perception and feeling)

You thinking that RCE is required for arahanthood may indicate that you confuse MACE for RCE.

Can you clarify what you mean by “orthodox theravada”?

MN106 is, i feel quit clear there is no black out in jhana nor while attaining Nibbana.

I have never seen blacking out described by any teacher or sutta seen as some spiritual attainment and i feel it is all quit weird to hear this here. For me, blacking out during meditation is not some sign of great progress or attainment but sleepiness. I never heard before about blacking out in 20 years i am in contact with buddhism. Strange things are happening in the Sangha. Talking about blackout as a spiritual attainment? As happiness? Bliss? The end of suffering? Pfff…i feel i might have a blackout soon. I am shocked about all i read here.

If someone believes that asankhata is used in the sutta’s to point to something, say the sublime supreme peace of Nibbana, is this person now an eternalist?
If not an arising is seen, not a ceasing and no change…is this the same as eternalism?

I don’t want to. In general i don’t consider works of disciples & commentary as something worth learning & mastering.

There is so much commentary to learn and it cannot be made a requisite for discussing the texts because it’s rather wild to adapt a wholesale commentary interpretation as if it’s canonical.

Therefore in as far as orthodoxy is concerned it’d be difficult to pin commentary as orthodoxy where it’s often unsubstantiated at best.

Thank you for this; I enjoyed the injection of humor and something new to the debate. The Teacher said neither the eternalists nor the annihilationists were right. That’s missing in the breakdown above :joy: :pray:

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I did say both were misinterpretations thinking it’d account for something

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It might if he conceives the asankhata as a feeling or a soul of sorts, especially if he thinks there is a multiplicity of these souls/feelings/experiences

It’s mostly contained to burmese traditions. This is where commentary is studied most rigorously & much is made of it.

It’s not talked about much because it doesn’t come up lest one is comparing contemporary teachers or is being taught this.

I understand. FWIW, I think there are far more permutations than this. What’s interesting is the focus on death seems to inhabit most of them? To my mind, the controversies were alive and well at the time of the Teacher. The Teacher pointed out that this focus on death and the question of “what comes after” was itself something to be let go of. :pray:

I think these are the most important divides.

It boils down to this

  • all teachers say that some meditative attainment is required. This certain attainment they call jhana but there is disagreement as to what is jhana mainly in two colloquially term factions
  1. Jhanā lite
  2. Vsm/hard jhanā


  1. Feelings & perceptions of light, form or color not divorced from five sense faculties
  2. Feelings & perceptions of light, form or color divorced from five sense faculties

Then there is further disagreement whether a stream-enterer has any meditative distinction other than jhana which he directly knows & sees as one would having entered into & emerged from the attainment of cessation of perception & feeling.

There is then among these disagreement on whar this attainment is.

I think mahayana has to a large extent absorbed the eternalists as it’d often be most appealing

There is also much disagreement that follws about further terminology

  • What does one know & see? The four noble truths? The general instruction?
  • What exactly does it mean to see the four noble truths?
  • With what does one see? Is it the eye of wisdom?
  • Is the eye of wisdom the same thing as eye of dhamma which is the stainless vision of the dhamma?
  • Is seeing the deathless the same thing as this special attainment?
  • Is seeing the deathless the same thing as seeing the sorrowless asoka state? The same thing as learning about & knowing that there is a sorrowless or actually seeing it as is?
  • +++

Thus there are of course many subdivisions as to these controversies and training methods

Other than this i’ll mention that signless & emptiness controversies are geneally tied to the aforementioned positions. And that there also exist more trifling controversies like

  • whether arahant can drink alcohol
  • whether sotapanna can break the five precepts
  • whether two buddhas can be alive and separated only by the distance in between any two galaxies.

If this thread is merely an attempt at classifying various positions or controversies staked out I’d say that linking the ‘jhanas’ controversy to the ‘after death’ controversies is unwarranted. To my mind, people who stake out positions in either the former or latter are not always congruent. :pray: