Is the Tathagata literal suffering?

  1. Tathagata is a title given or used by an individual who has discerned the suchness of the way things are in actuality.

  2. Suffering is the mental story one tells about pain, stress, dissatisfaction and suffering. Whilst with body, it is likely he experienced body pains but did not create any further mental story and knew how to manage pain or used meditation to mitigate the effects of severe pain as well as induce calm. Nibanna is just the release from the causes of suffering I.e. clinging, ignorance, aversion, and the other myriad hindrances as well as defilement. Who knows what meditational attainment can do for actually usurping pain, stress and dissatisfaction?

  3. Whether it is said or not it is up to the Noble aspirant to discern the way for themselves. The third noble truth points to the fact that there is an escape and the fourth is the means that leads to the cessation of suffering.

  4. The aggregates and the mind-body provide the basis for conditioned suffering. Because suffering is conditioned, one can overcome it by understanding its causes and developing mental discipline as well as insight into the four foundations of mindfulness: like seeing how mental clinging further perpetuates stress. Not all of ones direct experience is suffering. There are moments where there is no stress or no pain. Holding onto a hot cup hurts, whilst letting go provides relief. This can apply to unhelpful views, feelings, perceptions. Causation, conditionality and the middle way negates there being ‘inherent suffering’.

  5. Suffering is conditioned. One can understand the basis of suffering whilst alive and with discerning wisdom release oneself from such - negating further mental stress.

  6. The mind is what is impressed upon and is what experiences woe. It experiences woe due to ignorance and not knowing its own mechanisms. One let’s go of that which is further perpetuating woe that one is experiencing in the moment.

  7. Fact 3 and 4 of the Noble Truths highlight the end of suffering. Doubt is prevalent in your mind. It is the mind and what it is entangled with which is released.

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Yes i mean like the example i gave with oxygen being a gas right. X oxygen is Y gas. It’s a matter of classification.

There is a sutta

“There are these three forms of stressfulness, my friend: the stressfulness of pain, the stressfulness of fabrication, the stressfulness of change. These are the three forms of stressfulness.” Dukkha Sutta: Stress

It’s parallel here, the translations are not what i’d choose as i’d use the term suffering, and i don’t like the notes

There is also this sutta

“Just as, mendicants, even a tiny bit of fecal matter still stinks,
so too I don’t approve of even a tiny bit of continued existence [bhavaṁ], not even as long as a finger-snap.”

All of this bhava existence is dukkha and therefore not approved of, it shouldn’t be. If it wasn’t dukkha then it would be good & proper.

It’s not clear to me how it would be a metaphor.

If the aggregates & bhava weren’t dukkha then it would be proper to relish it and it’d be impossible to become disechanted.

He also explains it here

These three feelings have been spoken of by me: a feeling of pleasure, a feeling of pain, & a feeling of neither pleasure nor pain. These are the three feelings spoken of by me. But I have also said: ‘Whatever is felt comes under stress.’ That I have stated simply in connection with the inconstancy of fabrications. That I have stated simply in connection with the nature of fabrications to end… in connection with the nature of fabrications to fall away… to fade away… to cease… in connection with the nature of fabrications to change.

"And I have also taught the step-by-step cessation of fabrications. When one has attained the first jhāna, speech has ceased. When one has attained the second jhāna, directed thought & evaluation have ceased. When one has attained the third jhāna, rapture has ceased. When one has attained the fourth jhāna, in-and-out breathing has ceased. When one has attained the dimension of the infinitude of space, the perception of forms has ceased. When one has attained the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, the perception of the dimension of the infinitude of space has ceased. When one has attained the dimension of nothingness, the perception of the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness has ceased. When one has attained the dimension of neither-perception nor non-perception, the perception of the dimension of nothingness has ceased. When one has attained the cessation of perception & feeling, perception & feeling have ceased.Rahogata Sutta: Alone

Here he says that all feeling comes under dukkha and teaches it’s progressive stilling ending in cessation of perception & feeling by which taints are destroyed. It is also proclaimed as the most extreme pleasure. It is most extreme pleasure because by this attainment one discerns the Asankhata.

It has to be understood literally whilst being aware that a being can’t be pinned down as a truth & reality.

The Buddha intended to speak in those terms pertaining to the narrative of a being

"Monks, I will teach you the burden, the carrier of the burden, the taking up of the burden, and the casting off of the burden.

Whereas in context of dependent origination he is not talking about beings and would not answer such questions

The sixfold sense-base is a condition of sense-impression, and sense-impression is the condition of feeling.'"

“Who, O Lord, feels?”

“The question is not correct,” said the Exalted One. “I do not say that ‘he feels.’ Had I said so, then the question ‘Who feels?’ would be appropriate. But since I did not speak thus, the correct way to ask the question will be ‘What is the condition of feeling?’ And to that the correct reply is: ‘sense-impression is the condition of feeling; and feeling is the condition of craving.’”

“Who, O Lord, craves?”

“The question is not correct,” said the Exalted One. “I do not say that ‘he craves.’ Had I said so, then the question ‘Who craves?’ would be appropriate. But since I did not speak thus, the correct way to ask the question will be ‘What is the condition of craving?’ And to that the correct reply is: ‘Feeling is the condition of craving, and craving is the condition of clinging.’”

“Who, O Lord, clings?”

“The question is not correct,” said the Exalted One, "I do not say that ‘he clings.’ Had I said so, then the question ‘Who clings?’ would be appropriate. But since I did not speak thus, the correct way to ask the question will be ‘What is the condition of clinging?’ And to that the correct reply is: ‘Craving is the condition of clinging; and clinging is the condition of the process of becoming.’ Such is the origin of this entire mass of suffering

It’s a matter of context.

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There is a good simile in the sutta but i won’t be able to find it now nor do i recall fully but it is something like this.

Suppose a man desiring to kill a king would think ‘the king is well guarded, why don’t i befriend him as to get close and when i am close i will kill him’

And so he starts working dilligently for the king, eventually winning trust and consequently killing him’.

So from the start the person is an assasin.

Likewise the aggregates are to be regarded as a killer because they result in death.

“A virtuous monk, Kotthita my friend, should attend in an appropriate way to the five clinging-aggregates as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a dissolution, an emptiness, not-self. Which five? Form as a clinging-aggregate, feeling… perception… fabrications… consciousness as a clinging-aggregate. A virtuous monk should attend in an appropriate way to these five clinging-aggregates as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a dissolution, an emptiness, not-self. For it is possible that a virtuous monk, attending in an appropriate way to these five clinging-aggregates as inconstant… not-self, would realize the fruit of stream-entry.” Silavant Sutta: Virtuous

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So you think a person is literally the carrier of the aggregates and this is not metaphorical language. Thank you for letting me know. Unfortunately I cannot understand this. I do not understand how to think like this or how it could be productive.

It seems like an extreme view involving a very heavy ontological commitment. Excuse the pun. To be clear when I say it is heavy I do not mean that to be understood literally. I do not think it possible to put an ontological commitment on a weight scale and measure how heavy it is. Similarly, I do not think you can put the aggregates on a weight scale and measure how heavy they areI At least my mind is incapable of imagining how that would work. Thank you for answering my questions with sincerity.


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It’s like asking ‘Is the Tathagatha without feeling?’ The answer is no.

So if feeling is a burden the Tathagatha is with the burden in as far as we are speaking about a Tathagatha.

This doesn’t mean that Tathagatha can be pinned down as a truth & reality.

“What do you think, Anuradha: Do you regard form as the Tathagata?”

“No, lord.”

“Do you regard feeling as the Tathagata?”

“No, lord.”

“Do you regard perception as the Tathagata?”

“No, lord.”

“Do you regard fabrications as the Tathagata?”

“No, lord.”

“Do you regard consciousness as the Tathagata?”

“No, lord.”

“What do you think, Anuradha: Do you regard the Tathagata as being in form?.. Elsewhere than form?.. In feeling?.. Elsewhere than feeling?.. In perception?.. Elsewhere than perception?.. In fabrications?.. Elsewhere than fabrications?.. In consciousness?.. Elsewhere than consciousness?”

“No, lord.”

“What do you think: Do you regard the Tathagata as form-feeling-perception-fabrications-consciousness?”

“No, lord.”

“Do you regard the Tathagata as that which is without form, without feeling, without perception, without fabrications, without consciousness?”

“No, lord.”

“And so, Anuradha — when you can’t pin down the Tathagata as a truth or reality even in the present life — is it proper for you to declare, ‘Friends, the Tathagata — the supreme man, the superlative man, attainer of the superlative attainment — being described, is described otherwise than with these four positions: The Tathagata exists after death, does not exist after death, both does & does not exist after death, neither exists nor does not exist after death’?”

“No, lord.”

My advice is to consider whether things like ‘consciousness’, ‘feeling’, ‘reasoning’, ‘fabrications’, can be pinned down as a truth & reality and what would be the epistemological basis for this.

One could then compare how it fares in comparison to a word like ‘a person’.

It’s worth asking this question because if one asserts that no thing can be pinned down as a truth & reality then all things become equal in that.

I don’t know whether it’d be helpful to you or not but it’s a good exercise imho.

It has nothing to do with whether a Tathagata can be pinned down as saccato thetato. I accept that he cannot. What I can’t seem to accept is that we should correctly think of the Tathagata or any person as literally carrying the aggregates as if they were luggage you carry to the airport. That the aggregates are something with actual weight that can be measured on a weight scale like you weigh the ingredients you put in your bread recipe. I cannot understand this and despair to understand how you think this.

What I can accept is that the Teacher never intended for these words to be taken literally as meaning people literally carry around the aggregates like persons carry luggage to the airport. Rather, it makes sense to my limited mind that the Teacher intended his words to be understood metaphorically. That, it is not the actually case, that persons literally carry around the aggregates, but rather we should think as if we carry around the aggregates to counteract our habit of craving after them.

I also do not think form is an actual illusion or consciousness an actual magic trick performed by a magician. The Phena sutta, for me, is to be understood metaphorically being composed of figurative rather than literal language.

Further, I think the ontological commitment necessary to hold this view of persons literally carrying around aggregates is itself a burden and a heavy weight. Again, to be understood figuratively and not literally. Taking all the teachings literally like you do seems to my mind like a thicket of views I do not want to take part in.


This is unwise attention. (You’re assuming a person.)

You’re mixing up cause and effect. After you achieve true happiness (nibbāna) then you understand the nature of the aggregates. Samma Vimutti → Samma Kāya

Remember that while the Buddha taught that all this is suffering, he didn’t only teach suffering. He also taught that there is a cessation of suffering.

So focus on the gradual training. That is, contemplate the asubha nature of the body and take refuge in more refined, spiritual sources of happiness (i.e. jhāna). As you let go of the grosser aggregates, you’ll find yourself becoming happier and suffering less. Then, just let go more and more until…

As Ajahn Chah said: “Let go a little, get a little happiness. Let go a lot, get a lot of happiness. Let go completely, and…” see what happens!

Hope that helps!

Hmm. I don’t think that is the case? Rather, I think I was echoing the assumed conclusion of others: that persons are asserted to be mere labels on the basis of literal suffering. My echo was in the form of a question though and could have been more precisely stated. I apologize for my imprecision; let me try again.

What is the referent of your usage of the word “you” here? Is the referent literal suffering? How is it possible that literal suffering can achieve true happiness? That is my question and I think I stated it without assuming the true existence of a person?


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this is implied by the

if “you”, “me” and the “thathagata” just equate to “the five aggregates” and “the five aggregates” just equates to “suffering” then “tathagata” equates to “suffering”.

Do you see that?


yes, that is @Sunyo 's position and the position of many Theravadins, see the excellent

for more information.

yes, that is a logical consequence of the view.

this is less clear, first of all, given that the Theravadin believes that there is no one who is trapped in the first place, escape does not apply, this is a logical consequence of their view.

this is sort of the same as the last question.

I think that this would be true for both the Therevadin and the “EBT’er” for a “thing” to escape there must be some sort of “thingyness” by which that thing could be pointed to, but the Buddha cannot be pointed to by gods or men.

again, yes. This is the orthodox Theravadin position.

In order to prosecute this sectarian view the Therevadins downplay the undeclared points, the danger gratification escape suttas, and any number of other ideas and arguments in the ebt that don’t support thier sectarian position.

They also overplay much rarer ideas and arguments, like SN22.85 and SN5.10 and SN44.10 that do occur in some EBT, but more rarely and more often without parallels.

See for example my thread

Basically this board seems to ebb and flow in it’s perspective, when I joined a couple of years ago it was actually quite full of interesting perspectives and detailed textual explorations from both the Theravadin and many other perspectives.

Because of the historical fact that the monastic scholar that built the site that this discussion board is for is actually ordained into the Theravadin lineage there is always going to be a core representation of this viewpoint here, while unfortunately, many of the researchers with different perspectives have drifted away, with some telling me in private that the constant prosecution of the Theravadin position has contributed to this.

I tenaciously refuse to leave, mostly because this is the only buddhist forum i know that uses discourse and i can’t stand having to click into pre-defined subcategories on forums, but also because I find it invigorating to argue with people who hold a different perspective to mine as it forces one to improve their argumentation.

That said it can get depressing. and sometimes leave one with the feeling of talking to brick walls, so it’s important to take breaks and remember that there is a bias here, as i say mostly simply by historical happenstance, and that other perspectives should be sought out when necessary.

Hope you stick around!


(Edited to remove an “unfortunately” which made it sound like i thought it unfortunate that Therevadins where here, what i meant was its unfortunate some non-Therevadins have left)

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Ah, I think I see the confusion here. You’re accusing me of a kind of monism? Rest assured, I don’t believe that the aggregates are made out of some kind of suffering substance. :rofl: That’s not what “the aggregates are suffering” means :rofl:

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Hi @josephzizys; I definitely don’t want to argue. My goal is to learn and if in the process I can be of some small tiny bit of help to someone else to try my best. So far I think this website is fantastic and full of curious fellow dhamma friends trying their best to understand the path and to practice accordingly.

My goal is to employ Right Speech and not to foist my limited understanding on others. If I end up doing that, then I’ll be harming others as well as myself and I happily encourage others to let me know if I veer away from Right Speech and engage in arguing. You would truly be doing me a service so this is my invitation to others to let me know. I hope I will hear others when they correct me and respond in a way befitting my teachers. If I do not it is my own fault and I take full responsibility.

It is difficult to encounter ideas contrary to our own when we’ve heavily invested in them. I’m hoping to give up such views as they are too burdensome. I’ve enjoyed interacting with you too @josephzizys and thank you for the warm welcome and the kind comments.


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Aha- the core issue!
And the great source of suffering.

(Thanks for pointing this out Venerable)

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I don’t believe I have accused you of anything have I? If that is the case, then I am sorry and apologize. I thought I was asking a question that arose based on (mis)understanding what you said?

I also didn’t mention any “substance” in my question did I? I meant no disrespect and did not intend to accuse of anything. If that is how I am perceived, then please feel free to ignore the question and I will stop asking.


Did you see the restatement of my imprecise wording? Do you still perceive that I am assuming the true existence of a person? :pray:

Hi @yeshe.tenley I am sorry, I know that english is not your first language so this is probably a source of confusion here. In English “argument” can mean both “a heated conflict between persons” and also “a sequence of reasoning to support a conclusion” when I say I like to debate here to hone my arguments I do not mean “fight with people” I mean “practice and refine my reasoning and explication of reasoning in support of my conclusions”.

you definitely won’t learn unless you learn how to make and understand arguments, that is basically what learning means.

anyway, glad you are enjoying the forum!

I think almost all of us do, especially myself!

I have confidence the Buddha must be right about this, although it certainly seems there is a ‘me’ !

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Oh! You meant what I think of as debate operated in forum of mutually humility and good will. Yes, if invited I am willing to try if it would be helpful or constructive for myself or others. Sorry for the confusion.



Dukkha, being not real, arises by causal condition; having arisen it ceases completely by causal condition. It is a result of previous action, but there is no doer (empty of self or of anything belonging to self).

Well, at least we are in agreement that this is an improper thing to be doing! I too often assume. I too am trying to quit this pernicious habit. I rejoice that we have found a common understanding! :grin: