Looking for essays/papers/talks arguing against the view of parinibbana as the mere cessation of the khandhas

To clarify, I’m looking for work based in the EBTs arguing that parinibbana is an existing reality as opposed to a quasi-annihilationist view that all that happens is the ending of the khandhas (which differs from the annihilationism the Buddha criticized in that because there is no self, there is no self to be annihilated). I came across Bhikkhu Bodhi’s piece searching the forum which I found interesting, but its only 4 pages so I’d like something more in-depth. Many thanks!

For anyone looking for work arguing the opposing view, Ajahn @Brahmali 's paper is tremendously well-argued and compelling.

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parinibbaba is the cessation of suffering which is the 5 aggregates collectively I believe you agree with this

now whether if there’s something outside of the 5 aggregates the Buddha said you are proliferating the unproliferated

now whether if there’s nothing outside of the 5 aggregates the Buddha said you are proliferating the unproliferated

now whether if there are both something and nothing outside of the 5 aggregates the Buddha said you are proliferating the unproliferated

now whether if there’s neither something nor nothing outside of the 5 aggregates the Buddha said you are still proliferating the unproliferated

it’s better for us to focus only on 5 aggregates instead of something we can’t think properly

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Hi. It seems the word ‘parinibbana’ can also refer to the here-&-now Nibbana. Is this related to your inquiry? For example:

Not grasping, they’re not anxious. Not being anxious, they personally become extinguished.

Anupādiyaṁ na paritassati, aparitassaṁ paccattaññeva parinibbāyati:

MN 37

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No, I’m specifically interested in the state of nibbana after death, not the nibbana experienced by an arahant while alive.

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there’s 2 nibbana, nibbana with residue and nibbana without residue and that residue is the 5 aggregate

Just curious, is it clear from the suttas what happens when an Arahant dies?

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There is Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s Fire Unbound - Titlepage | The Mind like Fire Unbound

And The Island from Ajahns Amaro and Pasanno - The Island : An Anthology of the Buddha's Teachings on Nibbana | Abhayagiri Monastery

Nyanaponika Thera has this booklet contrasting annihilation with nibbāna - https://scdd.sfo2.cdn.digitaloceanspaces.com/uploads/original/3X/9/f/9fe69ccb810ba8abd9cd9e0df0c28bde1d5af015.pdf


You may read:

“Chapter 2. The Five Aggregates” (pp. 24-72) in The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism: A Comparative Study Based on the Sūtrāṅga portion of the Pāli Saṃyutta-Nikāya and the Chinese Saṃyuktāgama (Series: Beitrage zur Indologie Band 32; Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2000) by Choong Mun-keat.


Harvey, Peter (1995b), The Selfless Mind: Personality, Consciousness and Nirvāṇa in Early Buddhism

Lindtner, Christian (1997), “The Problem of Precanonical Buddhism”, Buddhist Studies Review, 14 (2)


What is Harvey’s general position? Ajahn Brahmali cites him extensively in the paper so I presumed they’re in general agreement.

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Anyway, it is not taught that an arahant and Tathagata do no exist anymore after death. , right?
Why not?

When the words or designations ‘arahant’ and ‘tathagata’ are only two conventional names/labels given to a purified assembly of 5 aggregates, a collection of nama and rupa existing from beginningless times, and those 5 aggregates completely cease at death, why does the Buddha not agree with the conclusion that an arahant and Tathagata do not exist after death? Isn’t that the only possible outcome?

I also think that when one sees parinibbana as going out like a flame, vanishing for ever, with nothing remaining, than one aims at becoming non-existent. In becoming non-existent after death one sees the escape for suffering. I belief this must be very close to vibhava tanha.

I do not belief the EBT say that a Buddha arises in the world to show beings a Path to become non-existent after death and vanish completely, but he shows a Path to the deathless, unconditioned.

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It is possible outcome, a Path to the deathless.

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what is tathagata ?

I think the question needs a preclude

He argues in this book (see pp. 200 - ) that nibbana is a special kind of viññana which has “stopped” and is transcendent, precisely the opposite of the Sujato / Brahamali position.


MN72 says: The Tathagata is liberated from reckoning in terms of material
form (rupa) because he has abandom them. The same with vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana.
He talks about his own nature as ‘profound, immeasurable, unfathomable like the ocean’.

Anyway, the Buddha does certaintly in EBT not only teach the sankhata, that what arises, ceases and changes in the meantime. Which also refers to the khandha’s. He also teaches asankhata, that what cannot be characterised as arising, ceasing and changing. Only knowing sankhata is no wisdom. One needs to know asankhata too (DN34).

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Interesting! I look forward to reading it…thanks!

@Green May I ask you a question below:

Suppose that: No one you ever know has the psychic power of seeing past lives (pubbe-nivāsanussati). Also, no one you ever know has the psychic power of the divine eye to see other people’s rebirth due to karma (dibba-cakkhu). Then you see certain people Mr. ABC dies, after many years, his body is decomposed into ash.

So, my question is: You ask all the people you ever know, can anyone tell you Mr. ABC exists or does not exist after death? Reasonable answer should be: No one can honestly tell you so. This is what happens right now with science in physical domain.

Now, apply this to the case of the arahant or the Buddha: There is no one with such psychic power to see past the parinibbāna so no one can honestly answer you about such question as “exist or does not exist”.

You can also take a case with black hole, until we have someone or something that goes in and comes back, we will have nothing but wild speculation theories from philosophers and theorists.

You can “belief” (typo: believe) all you want but your belief will always clash with someone with another belief. And no one can prove other’s view is not correct. They can only state: I “belief” (typo: believe) as another way of wild speculation that leads to endless arguments.

And when this madness goes to another level of believing:

This is the only truth, other ideas are silly
Idameva saccaṁ, moghamaññan

We will have zealots and wars.

So, the Buddha already told us the correct way: It’s already enough, stop there!

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For me this is important. I feel it is a mistake to belief the Buddha shows beings an escape for their suffering by becoming non-existent after death, vanishing for ever, go out like a flame.

I also think that many people will feel that this is a very dark goal. I see that and sense that in some people. I also am worried about people who wish to end suffering by vanishing for ever, going out like flames, becoming non-existent after death. This is also clearly no EBT. Buddha does not teach that the enligtend after death become non-existent.

I belief the message of the Buddha in EBT is different and positive: the enlightend person knows not only sankhata (khnadha’s) but also asankhata part. Asankhata part cannot cease. Only sankhata will cease at death for an enlightend person. Not all will cease.

I belief this all makes a huge difference, and is worth discussing.

I was reading Ajahn Brahmali paper above and at the last part, he said

Sāriputta’s questioning of Yamaka establishes that anything one might take a Tathāgata/arahant to be — that is, anything among the five khandhas — is all impermanent and suffering. Thus there is no permanent self and therefore no real person/arahant/Tathāgata to be annihilated in the first place

This, then, is what really happens at the death of an arahant. Because human beings, including arahants, are nothing more than an impersonal process (i.e. devoid of a stable self) which is impermanent and suffering, all that happens when an arahant dies is that this process comes to an end. From arahants’ point of view the khandhas have nothing to do with them;117 nor are they anything apart from the khandhas, as we have seen in the Yamaka Sutta. Moreover, because the khandhas are suffering, their cessation can only be a good thing. The death of an arahant is just the end, the cessation, of an unwanted process. Nothing of value is being lost; nothing is being annihilated.118 This is why the death of an arahant does not count as annihilation.

I remember seeing this kind of interpretation before.

That which is without a state of being self and a state of being other does not burn. And what does not burn will not be extinguished
The Teaching of Vimalakīrti | 84000 Reading Room 3.12

the footnotes:
Skt. yo ’svabhāvo ’para­bhāvaś ca tad anujjvalitam | yad anujjvalitaṃ tan na śāmyati. His seemingly irrelevant statement, which occurs again in Vimala­kīrti’s speech to Kātyāyana (3.­25), is, in fact, highly relevant to the main Disciple Vehicle concern: the burning of the misery of the world, in which, they believe, man’s condition is like that of one whose head is ablaze. Hence their major preoccupation is to extinguish that fire, just as a burning man will seek water with a frantic intensity to save himself. Thus Vimala­kīrti is telling Mahā­kāśyapa and Kātyāyana that since they do not have intrinsic existence as self, or imparted existence as other in relationship to anything else, they do not really exist and, therefore, they cannot burn with the misery of the world and there is nothing to extinguish in liberation (nirvāṇa literally meaning “extinguishment”).

Also, comparing this sentence:

From arahants’ point of view the khandhas have nothing to do with them; nor are they anything apart from the khandhas

to Root Verses of Middle Way ( Mūlamadhyamakakārikā) by Nagarjuna.

ātmā skandhā yadi bhaved udayavyayabhāg bhavet |
skandhebhyo ’nyo yadi bhaved bhaved askandhalakṣaṇaḥ || 1 ||
18. 1. If the self were the skandhas, it would participate in coming to be and passing away.
If it were something other than the skandhas, it would be something having the defining characteristic of a non-skandha.

Again, comparing his interpretation I quoted above with Nagarjuna’s

pratītya yad yad bhavati na hi tāvat tad eva tat |
na cānyad api tat tasmān nocchinnaṃ nāpi śāśvatam || 10 ||
18.10. When something exists dependent on something [as its cause], that is not on the one hand identical with that [cause],
but neither is it different; therefore that [cause] is neither destroyed nor eternal.

śāśvatāśāśvatādy atra kutaḥ śānte catuṣṭayam |
antānantādi cāpy atra kutaḥ śānte catuṣṭayam || 12 ||
22.12. How can “It is eternal,” “It is noneternal,” and the rest of this tetralemma apply [to the Tathāgata], who is free of intrinsic nature?
And how can “It has an end,” “It does not have an end,” and the rest of this tetralemma apply [to the Tathāgata], who is free of intrinsic nature?

ghanagrāho gṛhītas tu yenāstīti tathāgataḥ |
nāstīti sa vikalpayan nirvṛtasyāpi kalpayet || 13 ||
22.13. But one who has taken up a mass of beliefs, such as that the Tathāgata exists,
so conceptualizing, that person will also imagine that [the Tathāgata] does not exist when extinguished.

svabhāvataś ca śūnye ’smiṃś cintā naivopapadyate |
paraṃ nirodhād bhavati buddho na bhavatīti vā || 14 ||
22.14. And the thought does not hold, with reference to this (Tathāgata) who is intrinsically empty,
that the Buddha either exists or does not exist after cessation.

This is how I understand.

After parinibbana:

  • The Arahant or Tathagata is not a person or an object or something that we can identify. They have no name for us to call or identify. We cannot refer them to anything, so there is no way to identify them. We cannot refer them as ArahantX, TathagataY, or Arahant who is always happy or the Arahant who lives or used to live at such place, or the Arahant who was Sariputta…

  • The Arahant or Tathagata is not the five aggregates, but they are also not something apart from them.

  • The Arahant or Tathagata does not take anything as “This is mine, this I am, this is myself.”

  • The Arahant or Tathagata is not a consciousness or stream of consciousness.

Therefore, to my understanding, Arahant or Tathagata is the remaining when nothing can be referred as “This is mine, this I am, this is myself.”

Just like the “I” that we often use to identify ourselves. The “I” does not exist by itself alone, but it exists when the mind takes something as “This is mine, this I am, this is myself.” We can think it in term of a pointer. When a pointer points to something, it becomes that object and has all the properties of that object. If it does not point to anything, it is meaningless.

Since we can see the existence of the “I”, we cannot say that the “I” does not exist. Since we can see the non-existence of the “I”, we also cannot say that the “I” exists. Same for Arahant and Tathagata.

After parinibbana, the purified mind-base of the six senses is released from the body (can be inferred from MN43.)

This purified mind-base is not a consciousness. It will need its objects for mind-consciousness to arise (it is a base just like an eye).

This purified mind-base can function as the six senses (See MN43), and it is not limited by a body, so it has no limitation.

Since it is purified, It does not take itself as “This is mine, this I am, this is myself.” Therefore, we cannot say it is the ArahantX or the Tathagata.

When this purified mind-base takes no object. That’s what we called Nibbana or the ultimate refuge where Mara cannot see or reach. When it takes its objects, it will take them with wisdom knowing the danger and the escape from them. When it takes its objects, six senses consciousness arise, feeling arises, perception arises, volitional formations arise. Therefore, it is not apart from the five aggregates. When it does not take any object, it is not the five aggregates. We can see it is acting like a pointer! (We can infer from examples in MN25.)

We cannot say that purified mind-base is the ArahantX or the mind-base of ArahantX because by doing so, we are trying to objectify something that cannot be objectified (or we take the object as the pointer while the pointer is not an object!)

We also cannot say that the ArahantX is that purified mind-base just like we cannot say the pointer is an integer number 5 when it does not point to anything.

I think this purified mind-base is some kind of pure energy which has no beginning and no end, and it is indestructible. The defiled mind-base is what carries a person from life to life. It is not consciousness, or stream of consciousness, and it is not permanent since it can be changed from a defiled mind-base to a purified one, and it is indestructible.