Looking for a sutta reference : Buddha challenges a nihilist

Hello friends, I have a memory of a sutta where the Buddha is challenging a nihilist (perhaps by initially teaching about the soul before deconstructing that). I cannot find it for the life of me!! Did I make this up? With gratitude - Upayadhi

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You’ll have to be more specific. By nihilism you mean “doesn’t believe in rebirth”?


Venerable, apologies for my vagueness. It is a sutta where the Buddha is teaching someone with a very materialist view. He starts by actually teaching him atman (which is a bit surprising) and then teaches him anatta. I do not recall if there is discussion of rebirth.
More generally I am trying to trace the retorts of the Buddha to the charge of pessimism. This judgment arose among Christian colonialists and orientalists centuries later, but I know there are discussions akin to this accusation within the time of the Buddha, and I can’t remember what he says. I hope that clarifies!

MN 60:

“Now, householders, of those contemplatives & brahmans who hold this doctrine, hold this view — ‘There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no brahmans or contemplatives who, faring rightly and practicing rightly, proclaim this world and the next after having directly known and realized it for themselves’ — it can be expected that, shunning these three skillful activities — good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, good mental conduct — they will adopt & practice these three unskillful activities: bad bodily conduct, bad verbal conduct, bad mental conduct. Why is that? Because those venerable contemplatives & brahmans do not see, in unskillful activities, the drawbacks, the degradation, and the defilement; nor in skillful activities the rewards of renunciation, resembling cleansing.”


Hi Upayadhi!

There’s MN 74 that discusses the event leading to Sāriputta’s enlightenment, where the Buddha has a discussion with the wanderer Dīghanakha Aggivessana who seems to be a disciple of Sañjaya Belaṭṭhiputta. I discussed it in my recent YouTube video on Sāriputta.

“Master Gotama, this is my doctrine and view: ‘I believe in nothing.’”
“This view of yours, Aggivessana—do you believe in that?”
“If I believed in this view, Master Gotama, it wouldn’t make any difference, it wouldn’t make any difference!”

They go on to discuss views and the self.


This sort of reminds me of DN 9:

“But Poṭṭhapāda, do you believe in a self?”

“I believe in a substantial self, sir, which is physical, made up of the four primary elements, and consumes solid food.”

“Suppose there were such a substantial self, Poṭṭhapāda. In that case, perception would be one thing, the self another. Here is another way to understand how perception and self are different things. So long as that substantial self remains, still some perceptions arise in a person and others cease. That is a way to understand how perception and self are different things.”

But it doesn’t fit so well with nihilism?