Is the saññāvedayitanirodha a cognitive state?

As the title says, I would like to know whether the saññāvedayitanirodha is a cognitive state or not. In the Visuddhimagga, Buddhaghosa defines it as “the non-occurrence of consciousness (citta) and its concomitants (cetasikas) owing to their progressive cessation” (translation by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli), so we could conclude that in this meditative attainment there isn’t the possibility of know something. Indeed, Buddhaghosa defines the nirodha also as acittaka, “unconscious”.

But in some suttas that mention the nirodha there is the following formula: “having seen with wisdom, their defilements come to an end” (translation by Bhikkhu Sujato). So, we could conclude that not only the cognitive faculties still exist in the nirodha, but also that they are so refined to conduce to the paññā, the soteriologically decisive factor.


This refers to the nirodha, extinguishment, of the defilements while consciousness remains, not to saññāvedayitanirodha or the final nirodha of the khandhas after the death of an arahant.

Regarding saññāvedayitanirodha, it’s a term used in the suttas to refer to a temporary ceasing of all perception, feeling, and consciousness. In MN 43:

“What’s the difference between someone who has passed away and a mendicant who has attained the cessation of perception and feeling?” “Yvāyaṁ, āvuso, mato kālaṅkato, yo cāyaṁ bhikkhu saññāvedayitanirodhaṁ samāpanno—imesaṁ kiṁ nānākaraṇan”ti?

“When someone dies, their physical, verbal, and mental processes have ceased and stilled; their vitality is spent; their warmth is dissipated; and their faculties have disintegrated.

When a mendicant has attained the cessation of perception and feeling, their physical, verbal, and mental processes have ceased and stilled. But their vitality is not spent; their warmth is not dissipated; and their faculties are very clear. That’s the difference between someone who has passed away and a mendicant who has attained the cessation of perception and feeling.”

So if by “cognitive state” in the OP you meant a state that involves any sort of consciousness, MN43 and several other suttas point to this not being the case for saññāvedayitanirodha.

Hope this is helpful. :pray:

I used the term nirodha as abbreviation of saññāvedayitanirodha; furthermore, there are a number of suttas (e.g. Ariyapariyesanā-sutta, Cūḷasāropama-sutta, Cūḷagosinga-sutta, Anupada-sutta, Sappurisa-sutta) in which the quoted formula is present in correspondence of the attainment of the saññāvedayitanirodha: e.g., in the Nivāpa-sutta we read: “Furthermore, a mendicant, going totally beyond the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters and remains in the cessation of perception and feeling. And, having seen with wisdom, their defilements come to an end” (translation by Bhikkhu Sujato). This seems to imply the permanence of cognitive faculties in the saññāvedayitanirodha, else would be impossible to develop paññā. On the other hand, it’s possible that developing of paññā take place after emerging from saññāvedayitanirodha, not while the bhikkhu is found in it (in this case, the saññāvedayitanirodha would be a non-cognitive state, as you stated, because paññā would arise after having attained it). What do you think?

Yes, that’s exactly how I understand it and this has also been stated to me by several Venerables.
For example, this from Ven. Brahmali in an earlier thread:

Saññāvedayitanirodha is really a different kind of attainment altogether. Whereas the other eight attainments are part of samsaric existence, saññāvedayitanirodha is beyond the whole cycle of birth and death. If you have this attainment, you are on the way out.

Viññāṇa is not mentioned, but it is included. Perception is the quality of mind that allows you to recognise things. If there is no perception, it is impossible to recognise anything, including consciousness itself. Without perception you cannot know consciousness. What this means is that consciousness cannot exist without perception. And the suttas do say as much:

"Feeling, perception, and consciousness—these things are mixed, not separate. And you can never completely dissect them so as to describe the difference between them. For you perceive what you feel, and you cognize what you perceive. That’s why these things are mixed, not separate. And you can never completely dissect them so as to describe the difference between them.” (MN 43)

So saññāvedayitanirodha is a state where consciousness ceases completely while you are still “alive”.

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I agree with you, but… do the suttas support the interpretation of paññā as acquired after attaining the saññāvedayitanirodha? I have read all the suttas mentioning the saññāvedayitanirodha, but explicitly this is never affirmed. We only find the quoted formula: “take a mendicant who, going totally beyond the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters and remains in the cessation of perception and feeling. And, having seen with wisdom, their defilements come to an end”. Here, it seems clear that wisdom arises while the bhikkhu “remains in the cessation of perception and feeling”, not after attaining it.

Regarding saññāvedayitanirodha as being devoid of the mental khandhas, I agree with you: since this state lacks perceptions and sensations, it also lacks consciousness, because, as we read in the Pañcattaya-sutta, “if any ascetic or brahmin should say this: ‘Apart from form, feeling, perception, and choices, I will describe the coming and going of consciousness, its passing away and reappearing, its growth, increase, and maturity.’ That is not possible” (translation by Bhikkhu Sujato).

So if we accept this, how could one be aware of the ending of defilements in that state?

I understand the “And…” to take place after the state of saññāvedayitanirodha has ceased. If we accept it in this way, no further speculations are needed.
State of saññāvedayitanirodha → ceases, with return of consciousness → consciousness-pañña, knowing the defilements have ended, for example.

Otherwise, we have the contradiction of saññāvedayitanirodha, empty of consciousness, somehow at the same time being conscious of the ending of defilements.
Not sure how that works…

Anyway, that’s my humble understanding.

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Regarding this, there is another problem: if the saññāvedayitanirodha is the non-occurrence of citta and cetasikas, how can the mental stream be restored after its temporary interruption? Bronkhorst formulates the problem in these terms:

Mental dharmas normally succeed each other in a continuous sequence, the current mental dharma acting as the primary cause for the next one. After an interruption like the attainment of cessation, there are no mental dharmas that could produce succeeding ones. Nevertheless, the ancient discourses proclaim that it is possible to return from the attainment of cessation.

Kind of “proves” the point. The EBTs indicate that only arahants and anagāmis can attain that state of saññāvedayitanirodha, and in the latter, there are still some kammic inclinations which are dormant but not yet extinguished.
In either case, the assertion in the suttas is that it does happen – possibly because the āyusankhāra, the vital life principle, is still present along with the khandhas which remain during the physical iife of the arahant. However, after this state, there appears to be clear knowledge of the ultimate cessation of all that.


This appears to be a more Abhidhammic kind of analysis, especially as “cause” can be problematic when taken too literally. Everything arises due to innumerable combinations of conditions, so where to pick something out and say “There, that’s the cause.”? But this is another topic.

Personally, I don’t spend too much time pondering these particular kinds of details and prefer to practice as best as I can, knowing things will become clearer and more peaceful along the way. :slightly_smiling_face:

Just saying…

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Actually, this is a deduction of Buddhaghosa, in his Visuddhimagga, starting from a passage of the Paṭisambhidāmagga (I 97). However, this interpretation,that limits the possibility of accessing saññāvedayitanirodha to anāgāmis and arahants, does not have a clear and explicit base in the suttas.

Anyway, I too think that, according to suttas’ terminology, the return from the saññāvedayitanirodha is possible due to the factors āyu and usmā, that to say, life force and heat, even if according to a process that was not analyzed in the Pāli Canon, as far as I know.

Agree. Something happens and there’s a resumption of consciousness.
Thanks for sharing.

The western concept of consciousness shouldn’t be confused with the Buddhist. In Buddhism consciousness arises with each sense impression and then falls away (Vism. XXIII, 31).

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Very interesting discussion, and also a topic in which I have an interest.

Might I suggest a few article which give some additional food for thought? (Or, alternatively, perhaps just confuse the issue further.)

In answer to the OP, this is a recent publication by Grzegorz Polak where he argues for precisely that point. I have the article itself, but, for obvious reasons, I am not able to upload it here. However, I think there are ways to get access to it if one is determined.

In response to the comment that

I would recommend this monograph By Daniel M. Stuart where he proposes a possible link between the philosophical and the meditative uses of the concept of nirodha in early Buddhism. (A similar idea was argued quite convincingly, in my opinion, by Eviatar Shulman in his 2014 Rethinking the Buddha, though in reference to the 4NT as opposed to nirodha. Again, I can’t provide a pdf here, but it’s out there for the diligent.) The point about the intersection of philosophy and meditation consists only of a few passing remarks; however, the bulk of the paper consists of Stuart demonstrating that the meditative attainment we currently associate with saññāvedayitanirodha was not something so well pinned down in the early period, and the way he presents it seems to leave room for the possibility of cognition within that state.

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I know, but Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli translates citta as “consciousness”, while the translation of acittaka as “unconscious” is of Rupert Gethin.

Thanks for sharing. Regarding Shulman, if I remember correctly, he proposed the possibility of a degree of awareness remaining in the saññāvedayitanirodha. However, if this attainment is by definition the cessation of perception and feeling, and so also consciousness, which depends on the other mental aggregates (see Pañcattaya-sutta), how can awareness still exists? And how is it possible to have insight or any other kind of knowledge in that state? Attempting to resolve this problem, Norman suggests that seeing with wisdom could take place after emerging from the saññāvedayitanirodha, not while one is in it. What do you think?


I think I would be better able to explain my views to you if you read the materials I uploaded first, at least Stuart’s, as it’s based on cross-referencing Pali, Chinese, and somewhat recent Gandhari texts.

Norman was obviously an erudite scholar of Pali, but not only was he limited to Pali Buddhism, he wasn’t very learned about Buddhist doctrine by his own admission. His views are necessarily mainstream because he has to take the traditional view on face value. Inconsistencies in the traditional view is what leaves you puzzled, no? (At least, they left me puzzled.) Alternative views might help, I thought. That’s what I uploaded and linked.

I don’t recall Shulman writing on saññāvedayitanirodha.

At the moment, I’ve read Polak’s article: interesting! Later I will also read Stuart’s contribution, which is longer and then require more time.

Shulman wrote about the saññāvedayitanirodha in his book Rethinking the Buddha: Early Buddhist Philosophy as Meditative Perception, pages 32-40.

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Thank you, it’s been several years; I’ll look it over. That’ll be interesting to talk about. And, since you’ve apparently read Shulman, I’ll be interested to hear your views on whether or not his 4NT theory can be applied to nirodha: an idea which I think is presaged in the Stuart piece.

Please tag me when you’re ready.

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@knotty36 Okay, I have a bit quickly read the Stuart’s contribution; I have to admit that it was a difficult read for me, because I’m not a philologist, and that work is philological in nature, especially in the second part. Now I’m curious to know your ideas.

Meanwhile, I note a thing, for me particularly interesting: in the Stuart’s work, for two times the saññāvedayitanirodha is talked about as a “non-experience” (pages 27 and 44). I agree with this “definition”: as several scholars have claimed, the nirodha lacks any sort of experience, and, as Gombrich states, the distinction between subject and object is essential to experience; therefore, we must conclude that the state of nirodha, lacking of experience, also lacks the dichotomy of subject-object. As Husgafvel argues, this suggests that the nirodha may be the sole “non-dual” meditative attainment within the Pāli Canon. This interpretations seems supported by the Visuddhimagga, when it explicitly defines the saññāvedayitanirodha as the non-occurrence of citta and cetasikas: when these are absent, the entire psychological apparatus of the subject is missing, making it impossible to experience any object; in this sense, as nirodha lacks both the subject and the object, which are essential to the definition of experience, it is a possible non-dual meditative attainment, in the words of Husgafvel.

What do you think?

Some reflections…

In other words, no consciousness of any kind.

It helps to consider nirodha in terms of absence, as in “lacks” in the above quote… Put another way, as “empty of.” Is the utter absence of the future, in itself, an attainment or a “thing” or a “place” or a whatever?
Or: just a pure “not here”, just absence, so to speak?

Same for whatever the mind experienced 5 seconds ago --not here, absent. Memories and sankhāras appear now, maybe about the past, but the past experience itself is just absent, ceased, nirodha-ized.

When the defilements are just absent without possibility of re-arising → nibbāna, the end of dukkha, per the suttas and as in the case of Bāhiya, (UD1.10).
When the arahant dies and the khandhas permanently cease - are absent - without the possibility of re-arising → parinibbāna, no rebirth, the final end of dukkha. Yes?
Which is what the Buddha said his teaching was about.

As per some of the earlier posts, saññāvedayitanirodha can be understood simply as the utter absence of perception, feeling, experience, consciousness, (though temporary).
And, again, what can be disturbed or suffer in the utter absence of defilements and rebirth, including the absence of consciousness?

Just another way of looking at the elephant. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Hi. I just finished re-reading Shulman (2014). His suggestion that there may remain some degree of cognitive function in saññāvedayitanirodha appears to be based on the inclusion of wisdom through the formula pannaya cassa disva asava parikkhiṇa honti. Thus far, I’ve tended to side with Griffiths (1986) in a generally negative appraisal of the presence of this formula in the context of saññāvedayitanirodha. (I think Griffiths called it a “last-minute injection of wisdom.”) If not actually a later interpolation, it nevertheless feels out of place here. (Shulman admits as much.)

I look to suttas such as the Samādhi Sutta, the Sāriputta Sutta and the like (and there are quite a few more just like them) which, after disassociating the attainments they describe from all conceivable bases for perception, maintain that these attainments nevertheless are percipient. “Percipient of what?” is the catch!

The whole “emerging from the attainment and reflecting”-thing never really convinced me. It just seems like a convenient cop-out scholars (both ancient and modern, as it is certainly a viewpoint represented in the suttas) came up solve the paradox of how one experiences wisdom in these deep states of concentration. Well, I don’t think Buddhist traditions (even the hopelessly benighted “Hinayāna”) have ever shied away from paradox–in fact, you might say they even revel in them. (See SN 1.1, or even the two aforementioned suttas on meditation.)

I understand. Philology aside, I think his work’s greatest contribution is the clear demonstration of how the early tradition was undecided on exactly what saññāvedayitanirodha was–or even whether or not it truly was the nirodha of saññā and vedanā. It only reinforces what Shulman said.

Can you point me in the direction of where Husgafvel discusses this?

Personally, I stay away from the classification of “dual” or “non-dual” when dealing with early Buddhism. I don’t know that it’s an appropriate fit, because, for what little I know about non-duality, I know that there are a lot of stipulations concerning whether something qualifies as non-dual or regarding what disqualifies it as non-dual. Plus, I just don’t see where it adds clarity to our understanding of Buddhism. Was duality or its transcendence of any concern at all to the Buddha?

Buddhaghosa’s system of classification dates to 1,000 years after the Buddha (even when his sources don’t). I would take him with a grain of salt. Plus, the goal of the Visuddhimagga is the classification and systematization of practices which were probably at times only loosely connected by way of a very flexible body of ideas into a fixed and unified matrix. Like laying a roll of carpet to fit a room, you’re going to have to cut away some pieces that don’t fit. Weird, anomalous (and perhaps outdated by that time) practices like saññāvedayitanirodha would likely be the first casualties.