Is Nibbana different from the goal of the annihilationnists?

A provocative question for some, maybe. However, it sort of strikes me as odd that the Buddha’s final objective is to end esistence. Yes, I understand that we are searching for the ending of craving – or greed, hatred and delusion --and therefore the ending of suffering. But isn’t the end game --nibbana – just the wanting or craving for non existence, which is also part of craving (as also explained by the Buddha)?

Any thoughts would be appreciated.



The way I understand craving for non-existence is like this: you believe there is a self or some unchanging core or a ‘me’ who suffers and you would like to annihilate that. You are trying to get rid of yourself.

The Buddha discovered that there really is no such self - every part of us is impermanent, suffering and non-self. When we see that clearly, the problem stops being a problem. We see that there is nothing to get rid of…there is only a process of suffering arising and suffering ceasing…all we have to do is stop feeding that process and it ceases all by itself.


it sounds much like what we’re doing following the N8P

we believe that there’s a self, we are told it’s a misconception, then we are trying to get rid of that misconception which in effect is tantamount to getting rid of self (since the self is nothing but a misconception anyway)

in the Buddhadhamma too we only are free when the self is removed from our ideation

so the concept of liberation may be theoretically identical with that of annihilationists, what differ however is the practical end results: they keep dabbling in samsara without being able to realize their ideal, while it is being realized by the buddhists (in a best case scenario)


Thanks for your response, Raivo…

Understood, but the problem I have with this understanding is that we are still dealing with some sort of goal. We talk of ‘letting go’ or renunciation …and that there is nothing to attain (like the Self of the Vedantins or whatever version of a future utopia one prefers). Yet we ‘let go’ in order to get to nibbana. We can play with words and say it isn’t an attainment. But though there is a discrepancy, we still want to ‘get’ nibbana.

Yes, this can be categorized as a wholesome goal (chanda) and yes, you are right, what we ‘want’ is to get rid of our’selves’…no self. It may be freedom from suffering but the ultimate result seems rather similar to annihilation.

I am no doubt phrasing things wrongly. Maybe someone has the appropriate tune up or rectification.

Presisely, LXNDR…

The annihilationnists may be stuck in samsara but that is because they can’t understand rebirth. Obviously, this discussion hinges on this.
In this though, the Buddha’s notion of rebirth is similar to the Vedantins’ end of samsara through Self-knowledge. In both cases, Ignorance is removed. How removing ignorance can prevent rebirth or reincarnation (depending on the respective views) boils down to a belief, unless one has the experience of it with Nibbana (or Self-knowledge in Sankara’s view, which need not be based on direct experience). But that is another can of worms which is out of my pay grade, so to speak.

While writing my response, when I thought about my own practice, I kind of felt I drift from one extreme to the other…at times I think it would be nice to get reborn in a heaven realm an at times I think i would be nice to end all this crap…and of course most of the time I think about all the nice sensual pleasures.

I guess we have to crave for something until we can let go of craving and I think we should be aiming towards the neutral ground between craving for existence and craving for non-existence…center ourselves so we’re not drawn to either side and through meditation get rid of enough of ourselves to see through the whole thing.

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I’ve struggled with this too.

In some sense, it seems to me that the BuddhaDhamma is actually more annihilationist than the annihiliationists. The (existential) nihilists we’re referring to here still believe in a self, just that it ends at corporeal death. Buddhism goes one step further and says there never was a self to begin with, or perhaps more accurately — that it is a misapprehension of reality.

In later madhyamaka thought there is a lot of talk about emptiness. But because of the mind’s natural tendency to ascribe selfhood or own-existence, we can become trapped in reifying emptiness. So to correct this there is the concept of the “emptiness of emptiness”, which I always thought would make a good name for a metal band.

Yes…and some even end up reifying “the emptiness of emptiness.”
(I always thought “The Deathless” might be a catchy name for a metal band :slight_smile:

No, they are stuck in samsara because of clinging; the annihilationist overreaches with their view because they think the problem is with “my” khandhas, which is why they hope for annihilation. But in fact the problem is with ongoing _upadana-_khandhas, and so removal of clinging is the goal, not removal of the aggregates.

When it comes to rebirth, I think there was no reason to even mention it to annihilationists; this thread goes over this facet of the topic a bit.

And, without going crazy with it, we can notice in the Kalama Sutta that a noble disciple can win these two assurances:

The first assurance he has won is this: ‘If there is another world, and if there is the fruit and result of good and bad deeds, it is possible that with the breakup of the body, after death, I will be reborn in a good destination, in a heavenly world.’

The second assurance he has won is this: ‘If there is no other world, and there is no fruit and result of good and bad deeds, still right here, in this very life, I maintain myself in happiness, without enmity and ill will, free of trouble.

Here, a noble disciple is both noble as well as uncertain about ‘another world’. SN 12.70 says the same thing.

With respect to anatta & emptiness teachings, these are facts which assist with the cessation of craving for sensuality, for existence, and for nonexistence. Cessation of the khandhas is a side-effect, and probably the reason why the Buddha was often confused for an annihilationist, especially by the numerous eternalists.

Cessation of dukkha by way of the cessation of craving: THIS is the goal.


If we go on this line of thinking what is missing is the 9th and the 10th.
Right knowledge and right release.

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Yes this is the main problem (defect) with annihilationists.

[quote=“daverupa, post:9, topic:3165”]
Here, a noble disciple is both noble as well as uncertain about ‘another world’. SN 12.70 says the same thing.[/quote]
What exactly is being referred to from SN 12.70? Thanks

The way I understand your above comment Nibbana is equal to craving for Non Existence hence any efforts at achieving Nibbana is also craving. Though it seems paradoxical it is not so for the following reasons.
Prior to arrival of the Buddha there were various views, 62 to be precise according to Brammajala Sutta DN.1, with the annihilationnist and eternalist views being the strongest. Some were of the opinion that at death everything came to an end and others were of the opinion that death did not bring everything to an end but it continued for ever. Both these views were based on an ill conceived idea of a soul atman.
When the Buddha appeared he avoided these two extremes and preached the middle way which is based on Dependent Origination thereby proving that a soul does not exist either to discontinue at death or to continue eternally after death.
The Buddha said he who sees the Dhamma sees me and he who sees Dependent Origination (DO) sees Dhamma. In other words Dependent Origination is the Dhamma.
Now DO starts with ignorance and ignorance is the not understanding of the four noble truths. The first noble truth is suffering which in short is the five aggregates of clinging. Because beings are conditioned by their own ignorance they tend to think in terms of “this is mine, this I am, and this is myself” with regard to the five aggregates thereby forgetting the three characteristics of Anicca, Dukkha and Anata and paving the way for Greed, hatred and delusion. It follows that end of suffering is the total eradication of ignorance.
Buddha Gotama as well as previous Buddhas contemplated on the arising and passing away nature of the aggregates prior to their enlightenments and that was their break through. The ordinary worldling fails to understand this momentary arising and passing away nature and as such continue to give way to feelings leading to craving and then to clinging.
So naturally he craves for more and more of sensual pleasures and nurtures desires to even more pleasures in the indefinite future which is craving for existence - _Bhava tanha. And some, due to not understanding the correct path of the noble eight fold path to end suffering nurture desires to end suffering leading to _Vibhava tanha because they have a belief in continuity.
The noble disciple having comprehended the DO and the three characteristics endeavor to end suffering by following the noble eight fold path which is the middle way because he correctly understand that there is only a phenomenon not a being that can be recognized as “this is mine, this I am, and this is myself”. He too has a goal or a craving so to say but that craving is to end craving which is the second noble truth or to end ignorance. Without such Iddipada as (chanda, viriya,chitta, veemansa) such a lofty goal would be impossible. But at the end of the day even the Dhamma itself that helped him achieve that goal is given up leaving him with holding nothing so a question of craving does not arise.
So here there is no craving for non existence or vibhava tanha but what is there is the end of a phenomenon with simultaneous end of ignorance.

I might have gone to extra lengths to drive my point home but done with good intentions so bear with me if that is the case.

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My personal opinion about our desire to reach Nibbana is closely connected with the raft simile found in MN 22. The Buddhasasana is a raft moving us to the Other Shore that is Nibbana, our desire to reach it is similar to us oaring across the stream of existence. Ultimately, on the very last stages of the Path, it will become kind of unwholesome because as soon as you have reached the Other Shore oaring is of no use, it will not bring you any further. What will bring you further is leaving the raft, making this one last step and putting the oar aside.

However, while you are in the middle of the stream, and the current is so strong, and the Other Shore is still barely in sight, it doesn’t really matter how tired you are or how pointless oaring will ultimately become. Clench your teeth and keep oaring.

Besides, the major issue is not our desire to reach Nibbana, the essential problem is that we think this desire is ours :slight_smile:

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My mistake, no doubt, for not making it clear enough that my reference to annihilationnism is meant to be more specific than the meanings used in the time of the Buddha.

I am referring, as the title of this thread implies, to the goal of non-existence. Also, I brought up rebirth since most today interested in the concept of non existence have little consideration or interest in the notion of rebirth.

So I see the confusion I have sort of created in the minds of some. My apologies. Georges Bataille is one example of what I was considering. Though it is beyond the scope of this thread, I’ll simply give one reference:

Nimal (a little lower) has so far best addressed where I was going.

The fact that these liberated folk don’t have the power to verify any post-death scenario, yet they are liberated.

I wonder if I could have a quote? Bataille is a little too focused on erotic defecation, for me…

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Thanks for going “extra lengths” Nimal. Your good intentions have indeed cleared things up a little.

The author has misunderstood anatta, misunderstood nibbana. He’s not holding nothing, that does seem to crave annihilation of some sort. There’s no dukkha, and no being there, and no holding, and no reified ‘nothing’.


I don’t think there can be something that may be referred to as ‘the goal of non-existence’. For the annihilationists of at least the Buddha’s time, the non-existence is something that is going to happen no matter how much you do or don’t want it, one shouldn’t really strive for it. For the Buddha Himself, the non-existence of a self is not a goal, for how could it be a goal if there is no self in the first place?

I don’t know if the annihilationists considered the annihilation of their Self as desirable. I suspect it could hardly be so because it would be totally unclear why they didn’t simply kill themselves. If you accept my reasoning, one can say that their position was something along the lines of ‘Well, this is sad, but what can you do?’, something quite similar to the ideas in Ecclesiastes. Still, I admit I don’t know enough about their views to claim anything with any certainty, the annihilationist ideas could possibly be different to what I presented here.

The Buddha’s position is more radical. You could perhaps summarize it this way: ‘The fire is burning, the fire has extinguished. Where’s desire in there? How can you even speak of one these things being ‘more desirable’?’ The reason for our desire to get rid of dukkha and reach Nibbana is that our starting position is that of a puthujjana who still thinks in terms of ‘self, desire, better/worse’. It is even a bit ironical that the very moment we realize how speaking of goals and desires doesn’t make any sense we are finally liberated.

Without getting into details, suffice it to say that Bataille (apart from his scatalogical delerium) has a fascination with non existence.

But I am much more interested in your last sentence. I don’t think Nimal meant to refer to any sense of reification. At least I don’t read that into his comments.
Could you further elaborate on [quote=“daverupa, post:18, topic:3165”]
There’s no dukkha, and no being there, and no holding, and no reified ‘nothing’.