Near death experiences and Intermediate state

The processes of death, intermediate states, and rebirth, are common topics in nuropsycology as well as in Buddhism. So it is important to know how humans die-the stages of death, and the physiological reasons behind them.

Some people experienced when they were undergoing a surgery, that they were floating arroung their body or in the room, and explained how exactly the surgery carried out. Then these were confirmed by the doctors to be correct.

This could be used as evidence to the intermediate state, some people say. However, according to Ven. Katukurunde Nyanananda Thero, this might be due to the capability of the consciousness to make a temporal body in the air.
There are number of explainations by western scientists on this particular subject claiming that there may be an after life. Some of those were already published in this forum.

However, there is no intermediate state between to lifes of a being according to EBTs (mainly particcasamuppada). Since, the continuum of the citta (mind) has no gaps but arising and decaying (uppadavaya), just after the last thought of current life, first thought of next life arises.

Now the problem comes, when a person explains his floating like experience as qouted above; the experience really is a floating of his astral body, or he get hallucinations where it is similar to dreaming?
If the experience is due to the separation of the asral body the physical body, does astrel body has its own sight and other senses?
If there is no subtle/astral body, how a person see how his surgery carried out when he is unconscious?

I don’t know about that, how to explain the provision for those awakened in between one birth and another?

I forgot the terminology and don’t have the references, but I am sure it is a recurrent concept. Maybe venerable @Dhammanando can remind us?

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Katāvattu accounts this particular problem and deny all the arguments which are in favor to intermediate state. what do you mean by “awakened”?

Katavattu is not considered EBT.

There is no problem when you assume that there is an in-between state as implied by EBT suttas.

Another explanation shared by many different spiritual traditions is that we have several ‘bodies’ and we can temporarily leave the physical body which is the most external layer of these stacked bodies. Actually, the EBTs mention this as well when the Buddha mention the capacity of leaving one’s body like a sword (subtle body) coming out of his sheath (gross physical body).

If we apply Occam’s razor, what is the most likely:

  1. There is an in-between state, but one group of buddhists misunderstood the suttas and since this school is the only surviving one, the interpretation that that there is none has now been accepted and sealed by the stamp of tradition
  2. There is no in-between state, but the Buddha did not explain very well what he meant by the in-between states in the suttas so the commentators had to explain it later on. And all the spiritual traditions that support a version of reincarnation with an in-between state (both in the west and in the east, ancient and modern i.e. the Platonists, Tibetan Buddhism, Theosophy and other new age traditions, some Christian churches etc) are all wrong and deluded.

I’d say number 1 is more likely.

If you’re interested to read an account of what the in-between state might look like, the final part of Plato’s Republic makes a fascinating read! (page 478 to 483):

It starts like this:

“Well, I said, I will tell you a tale; not one of the tales which Odysseus tells to the hero Alcinous, yet this too is a tale of a hero, Er the son of Armenius, a Pamphylian by birth. He was slain in battle, and ten days afterwards, when the bodies of the dead were taken up already in a state of corruption, his body was found unaffected by decay, and carried away home to be buried. And on the twelfth day, as he was lying on the funeral pile, he returned to life and told them what he had seen in the other world.
He said that when his soul left the body he went on a journey with a great company, and that they came to a mysterious place at which there were two openings in the earth; they were near together, and over against them were two other openings in the heaven above. In the intermediate space there were judges seated, who commanded the just, after they had given judgment on them and had bound their sentences in front of them, to ascend by the heavenly way on the right hand; and in like manner the unjust were bidden by them to descend by the lower way on the left hand; these also bore the symbols of their deeds, but fastened on their backs. He drew near, and they told him that he was to be the messenger who would carry the report of the other world to men, and they bade him hear and see all that was to be heard and seen in that place”


Even though you reject katavattu being an EBT, there really is a problem, when the existence (being) is selfless (soulless). How do you prove selfless nature of an intermediate state?

This is solely a misinterpretation, where the sword is not a subtle body but a materialistic body (olārika) created using purified fourth jhāna of miracle which considered as a Iddhipāṭihāriya (a miracle). One can make number of bodies using Iddhipāṭihāriya. Ex: Cullapantaka thero made 1000 at once
Here sheath complies to real body (physical).

I don’t want to discuss what selflessness is. However, I struggle to see how this concept has something to do with this discussion?

No, it’s another hypothesis, and such is your explanation.

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This might be of interest:

“Rebirth and the in-between state in early buddhism” by Bhante Sujato

The most ex­plicit state­ment in sup­port of the in-between state is prob­a­bly the Kutuhalasāla Sutta, which speaks of how a be­ing has laid down this body but has not yet been re­born into an­other body.

Vaccha, I de­clare that there is re­birth for one with fuel [with grasp­ing], not for one with­out fuel [with­out grasp­ing]. Vaccha, just as fire burns with fuel, not with­out fuel, even so, Vaccha, I de­clare that there is re­birth for one with fuel [with grasp­ing], not for one with­out fuel [with­out grasp­ing].’

‘But, mas­ter Gotama, when a flame is tossed by the wind and goes a long way, what does mas­ter Gotama de­clare to be its fuel?’

‘Vaccha, when a flame is tossed by the wind and goes a long way, I de­clare that it is fu­elled by the air. For, Vaccha, at that time, the air is the fuel.’

‘And fur­ther, mas­ter Gotama, when a be­ing has laid down this body, but has not yet been re­born in an­other body, what does the mas­ter Gotama de­clare to be the fuel?’

‘Vaccha, when a be­ing has laid down this body, but has not yet been re­born in an­other body, it is fu­elled by crav­ing, I say. For, Vaccha, at that time, crav­ing is the fuel.


My question is specific, it is about selfless nature of an intermediate state. You might have missed that.

I would still argue this is not a hypothesis. You have to read Sāmaññaphala Sutta clearly to understand the concept. This is not about mind body (manokāya) but Mind-made body (manomayakāya).

Mind-Made Body (DN2)
When their mind has become immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—they extend it and project it toward the creation of a mind-made body. From this body they create another body, physical, mind-made, complete in all its various parts, not deficient in any faculty.

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I appreciate these references, thank you so much!
@Yasoj Please note that I am not making arguments against someones view. It is the scientific method where we set out to disprove our theories, and when we cannot disprove them we say this must be getting at something really true about the reality.

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In addition to Danny’s example, there are a couple of other suttas that seem to imply an intermediate state. From SN 46.3:

If one does not attain final knowledge early in this very life, then one attains final knowledge at the time of death.

If one does not attain final knowledge early in this very life or at the time of death, then with the utter destruction of the five lower fetters one becomes an attainer of Nibbāna in the interval. “If one does not attain final knowledge early in this very life … or become an attainer of Nibbāna in the interval, then with the utter destruction of the five lower fetters one becomes an attainer of Nibbāna upon landing.

This excerpt mentions 3 time periods: at death, in the interval, and upon landing. This seems to indicate an in-between state.

From AN 7.55:

Take a mendicant who practices like this: ‘It might not be, and it might not be mine. It will not be, and it will not be mine. I am giving up what exists, what has come to be.’ They gain equanimity. They’re not attached to life, or to creating a new life. And they see with right wisdom that there is a peaceful state beyond. But they haven’t totally realized that state. They haven’t completely given up the underlying tendencies of conceit, attachment to life, and ignorance. With the ending of the five lower fetters they’re extinguished between one life and the next. Suppose you struck an iron pot that had been heated all day. Any spark that flew off and floated away would be extinguished.

In the same way, a mendicant who practices like this … With the ending of the five lower fetters they’re extinguished between one life and the next.


Can you please provide links to these suttas, I found it difficult to find suttas in suttacentral.
Your argument about attainer of Nibbāna in the interval is already denied in katavattu.
But Ill explain if you want me to. For the other one I have to read the pāli version. So, links would be appreciated.

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Sorry, I usually do that. I’ve edited my post to include links.


I’m not making an argument. I’m pointing out where the EBTs reference an intermediate state.


Apologies for any inconvenience caused.
Then I would rather give real interpretation to the phrase. Both suttas that you pointed out represents same phrase.
antarāparinibbāyī - an attainer of Nibbāna in the interval which doesn’t mean intermediate state

pañcannaṃ orambhāgiyānaṃ saṃyojanānaṃ parikkhayā
From the utter destruction of the five lower fetters

When someone destructs his five lower fetters (orambhāgiyā saṃyojana) and then dies, he get his birth as a brahma of a plane of suddāvāsa brahmas. There are 5 planes of suddāvāsa, called Aviha, ātappa, sudassa, sudassii, akanitta. (See DN20)
Some of the anāgāmi brahmas goes the world of brahmas (4th jhana) in their last life and attain arahantship before the mid part of the lifespan. Such anagamins are called attainers of Nibbāna in the interval (antarāparinibbāyī). [Edited]

No inconvenience caused, and no apology necessary, bhante. I think we may be simply speaking at cross-purposes. I entered the conversation to discuss EBT references to an intermediate state. It sounds to me like you’re discussing later Theravāda exegesis, though I may be wrong. If so, could you please provide quotes from the early discourses that support your interpretation of antarāparinibbāyī?


Thanks @christopher that’s the reference I was looking for!

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Cool! Then let’s continue solving this riddle…

Yes this was the definition provided by commentaries. (Pali Commentaries are the first reported scientifically written texts to my knowledge. Because they use references to back their arguments up, how ever in some cases the writters kind of mess things up when they use their own explainations.)
I could ask the same question from you.
There is no definition for these words in EBTs, and then you are in your own to decide.
Actually, EBT has some suttas that shows some favor to intermediate state. But no solid evidences to prove the existance of intermediate state.
Most trickiest one is the kutuhalasala sutta. However, that is also not a derect evidance. When we interpret something we have to think of the essence of the Buddhism.
For an exmple:
Mātaraṃ pitaraṃ hantvā, rājāno dve ca khattiye;
Raṭṭhaṃ sānucaraṃ hantvā, anīgho yāti brāhmaṇo.

Destroying mother and father, and then two noble kings, destroying a kingdom and its followers, the brahmin proceeds untroubled.
The Miscellaneous Chapter
Could you interpret this as a killing or rather interpret as follows,
Having slain mother (craving), father (self-conceit), two warrior-kings (eternalism and nihilism), and destroyed a country (sense organs and sense objects) together with its treasurer (attachment and lust), ungrieving goes the holy man.
However, Ill find some references from the early discourses: takes time.

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There is a clear accout to the word antarāparinibbāyī in Purisagati Sutta.
This word is used because, there are not fully enlightened. They haven’t totally given up the underlying tendencies of conceit, attachment to life, and ignorance (AN55). Thats why they are called antarāparinibbāyī.

Tañca khvassa padaṃ na sabbena sabbaṃ sacchikataṃ hoti, tassa na sabbena sabbaṃ mānānusayo pahīno hoti, na sabbena sabbaṃ bhavarāgānusayo pahīno hoti, na sabbena sabbaṃ avijjānusayo pahīno hoti. So pañcannaṃ orambhāgiyānaṃ saṃyojanānaṃ parikkhayā antarāparinibbāyī hoti.
Note: I am not much convinced with the English translation, may be because it is my second language.
I prefer using Pali words rather than making English phrases.


The Blessed one has never made any statement about the intermediate state (antarabhava). If He had said something about a bhava, He would have stated about punabbhava (a birth in a new existance). Did the Buddha preach a raincarnation? No. What is reincarnation? Reincarnation (Skrt: punarāvṛtti) refers to a concept that the non-physical essence of a living being starts a new life in a different physical form. It is also called rebirth or transmigration. The word punabbhava has a completely diffetent meaning than the word raincarnation. Punabbhava means a birth in a new existance, in endless cycles called saṃsāra. It may also be called as rebirth.

If there is an intermediate state between the two bhavas (states of existance), it leads indirectly believing in a soul which contradicts with basic buddhist prinsiple of anatta (not a soul/not-self).

Rūpaṃ, bhikkhave, aniccaṃ. yadaniccaṃ taṃ dukkhaṃ; yaṃ dukkhaṃ tadanattā; yadanattā taṃ ‘Netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attāti.

Mendicants, form is impermanent. What’s impermanent is suffering. What’s suffering is not-self. And what’s not-self should be truly seen with right understanding like this: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’ (SN 22.12)

tadanattā :arrow_right:|taṃ + anattā|
taṃ - that
anattā - (n. and predicative adj.) not a soul, without a soul. Most freq. in combn. with dukkha & anicca
May also be noted as non-self, not-self, etc. (Read also, PTS dictionary, pp 28.)

"na meso attā" would rather be translated as - this is not my soul (skrt: ātman).
Notes: na meso attā > |na eso me attā|
Na - a negator
Eso has base *e; where it means “this”.
Etad (pron. adj.) [Vedic etad, of pron. base *e; see Walde, Lat. Wtb. under equidem] demonstr. pron. “this”, with on the whole the same meaning and function as tad, only more definite and emphatic. Declined like tad.
Me- to me; my; mine;
attā - Attan (m.) & atta (the latter is the form used in compn.) [Vedic ātman] The soul as postulated in the animistic theories held in N India in the 6th and 7th cent. B. C. (PTS Dictionary)

In the Mahātaṇhāsaṅkhaya sutta, it is stated that a Buddhist monk called Sāti who lived in Buddha’s day also developed this misconception.

Sāti, what is that consciousness?”
“Sir, it is he who speaks and feels and experiences the results of good and bad deeds in all the different realms.”
“Silly man, who on earth have you ever known me to teach in that way? Haven’t I said in many ways that consciousness is dependently originated, since consciousness does not arise without a cause? But still you misrepresent me by your wrong grasp, harm yourself, and make much bad karma. This will be for your lasting harm and suffering.”

If there is a intermediate state, does it subjected to paticcasamuppāda (dependent origination)?

Dependant origination is the principle that explains why there is no soul or self. Ever since, the dependant origination is a continuum of events, there should not be a pause from one life to another. According to commentaries, last thought of current life is called cuti citta (thought of passing away) and the first thought of new life is called patisandhi citta (the thought of reunion).

There are two phrases that represents birth of a being in the Pattichsamuppada discourses,
saṅkhārapaccayā viññāṇaṃ
bhavapaccayā jāti
These texts does not show that the astrel/ mind body of the dead remains elsewhere for a certain time and later conceives in a mothers womb. It is a perversion of the Buddhists’ Patticcasamuppada doctrine to say that the body of the deceased leaves a strange body and floats in the sky. However, if there is a intermediate state, there should be a way to the existance of dependent origination in intermediate state. How to explain this?

As argued in katavattu, there are only three realms to be born, and as long as intermediate state does not belong to any of these realms, there could not be an intermediate state. There are many other arguments in Katavattu.
Evidence for three realms,

Does Kutuhalasala Sutta support the intermediate state?

Vaccha, I de­clare that there is re­birth for one with fuel [with grasp­ing], not for one with­out fuel [with­out grasp­ing]. Vaccha, just as fire burns with fuel, not with­out fuel, even so, Vaccha, I de­clare that there is re­birth for one with fuel [with grasp­ing], not for one with­out fuel [with­out grasp­ing].’
Vaccha, when a flame is tossed by the wind and goes a long way, I de­clare that it is fu­elled by the air. For, Vaccha, at that time, the air is the fuel.’
When someone who is attached has laid down this body, Vaccha, and has not been reborn in one of the realms, I say they’re fueled by craving. For craving is their fuel then.”

Explaination by Ven. Sujato,

It is not really possible to draw any conclusions about the length of time in the in-between state. While a fire is burning normally, it is sustained by a complex of factors, such as fuel, oxygen, and heat. But when a tongue of flame is momentarily tossed away from the source fire, it can last only a short while, and in that time it is tenuously sustained by the continued supply of oxygen. Similarly in our lives, we are sustained by food, sense stimulus, and so on, but in the in-between, it is only the slender thread of craving that propels us

This Sutta doesn’t necessarily mean there is an intermediate state, but the craving (taṇhā) is the fuel.
This idea is backed by AN6.61. Lets accept the fact that there may be an intermediate state, nonetheless, the argument can also be made to the other direction.

Similar to the fire in the sutta, in our lives, we are sustained by food, sense stimulus, and so on, as explained by Ven. Sujato.
Lets asume there is no in-between state,
Saupādānassa khvāhaṃ, vaccha, upapattiṃ paññāpemi no anupādānassa
I de­clare that there is re­birth for one with fuel [with grasp­ing], not for one with­out fuel [with­out grasp­ing].

According to above sentence, rebirth occurs only to a being with grasping/fuel, not for a being without fual (arahant). Therefore, the Blessed One explains what is the driving force of rebirth or saṃsāra.

Simile is used to explain the driving force of rebirth, which is a tongue of flame. When a tongue of flame is tossed away from the source fire, what keeps it alive is a continuous supply of air (oxygen). Similarly craving (tanhā) is the link between one existance to another (upādāna). If the flame was in a vaccum there is no supply of oxygen to the fire, then the flame could be extinguished, similarly, when there is no craving there wont be another birth.

Similar explaination can be found in Majjesutta:
taṇhā sibbinī; taṇhā hi naṃ sibbati tassa tasseva bhavassa abhinibbattiyā.

Craving is the seamstress, for craving weaves one to rebirth in this or that state of existence. (AN 6.61)

Note: Lack of information in EBTs led different buddhist sects and theories to arise. Phenomena such as the mechanism of kamma, memory, origin and existance of life and the universe, etc canot be explained clearly using EBTs. After few centuries of the Buddha’s parinibbāna, some bhikkus created new theories to explain unexplained parts of dhamma where they touched extremes.


There are seven types of cases listed in this sutta. All seven have not given up the underlying tendencies of conceit, attachment to life, and ignorance. And yet antarāparinibbāyī is only used to describe the first three. If it meant “not fully awakened”, we would expect it to be applied to the other four as well.

Perhaps more convincing are the similes given after each type of case. In the first three cases, the ones described as antarāparinibbāyī, the similes describe a very hot iron pot being struck and a burning spark flying off. In all three of these cases, the spark is described as being extinguished “in between” (antarā) flying off the bowl and landing.

SN 46.3, which I referenced above, also lists several cases related to rebirth and awakening. The first two list awakening in this life (either early in this life or at death). The next one lists awakening antarāparinibbāyī, in between. The next case listed is awakening “upon landing”, which seems to mean immediately in the new existence. This is supported by the next two, who are not awakened immediately in the new existence but are awakened after some time, either without needing to make effort or having to make effort. The placement of the antarāparinibbāyī case strongly suggests awakening in the interval between lives.

This interpretation also preserves a straightforward interpretation of antarāparinibbāyī, literally “extinguishment in between”, while the orthodox Theravāda interpretation seems to me to require quite a bit of reinterpretation of the term and ends up (in my view) contradicting the sequence of the cases listed in the suttas under discussion.