Nihilists and formless attainments

I have read somewhere, that at the buddhas time there were some nihilists who wanted to undo creation by attaining the formless attainments. Does anyone know about them? I want to read a bit about them out of curiosity.


We had a discussion about this on DhammaWheel

Personally I’m of the view that the Buddha likely started out as an annihilationist, and that Āḷāra Kālāma & Uddaka Rāmaputta were Brahmins who became annihilationists. Ven. Anālayo’s also has this to say:

DN 1 at DN I 37,1 and its parallels DĀ 21 at T I 93b20, T 21 at T I 269c22, a Tibetan discourse parallel in Weller 1934: 58,3 (§191), a discourse quotation in the *Śāriputrābhidharma, T 1548 at T XXVIII 660b24, and a discourse quotation in D 4094 ju 152a4 or Q 5595 tu 175a8. The same versions also attribute the arising of annihilationist views to the immaterial attainments (for Sanskrit fragments corresponding to the section on annihilationism see also Hartmann 1989: 54 and SHT X 4189, Wille 2008: 307).

Interestingly the parallel to SN 47.31 seems to explicitly state that Uddaka Rāmaputta was an annihilationist:

"Uddaka Rāmaputta had this view and taught like this, “Existence is an illness, a tumour, a thorn. Those who advocate nonperception are foolish. Those who have realized [know]: this is tranquil, this is sublime, namely attaining the sphere of neither-perception-nor-nonperception.”

The Discourse on Uddaka [Rāmaputta] - MĀ 114

Assuming that Uddaka didn’t know of emptiness, we can safely assume he was thinking of the escape from existence in terms of the ending of a self, which was achieved by the attainment of neither perception nor non-perception. A state where there is barely any mind left at all.

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Thanks, interesting but I did not find the views I mentioned there.

Thanks, that is what I was looking for.

It seems strange to me though, that an annihilationist would say annihilation is tranquil and sublime, as these seem to be positive qualities, or am I wrong here?

I don’t think it so strange. Plenty of modern materialists think of oblivion as peaceful. I don’t think the annihilationists in the texts are quite the same as our modern ones though. It’s very possible they believed in reincarnation, and so saw annihilation not as something that just happens but is rather something to be obtained. Ajita Kesakambali might be an exception, although it’s possible he practiced kasiṇa meditation and so viewed his annihilation in terms of “merging” with one of the elements at death, but I’m speculating a bit here.

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Yes, that makes sense. Thanks.