On early Buddhism

I am really here.
I am a human being.
I am a real person
I am an individual.
My actions have consequences.
I am responsible for my actions.
Having been born,
I will really suffer and die.

You are really here with me.
You are a human being. (Or at least someone who can read)
You are a real person.
You are an individual.
Your actions have consequences.
You are responsible for your actions.
Having been born,
You will really suffer and die.

Nothing I have read or understood from the ebts would in any way contradict the above claims.

There is a complete freedom from death.
There is a complete freedom from suffering.
I can know it.
You can know it.

Nothing I have read or understood from the ebts would in any way contradict the above claims.

A person, like you or me, having known complete freedom from death.
A person, like you or me, having known complete freedom from suffering.

Cannot be said to be reckon-able by conditional terms like being, not being, living, dying, suffering, happiness, meaning, truth, reality, what have you,

They are deep, hard to fathom, immeasurable, like the ocean.

Nothing I have read or understood from the ebts would in any way contradict the above claims.

See MN72.

(but note appameyyo seems to indicate composition in a later period than the founding of D)

I am interested to hear what others think. especially of course @sujato and @Brahmali but also @Ceisiwr and @Jasudho and others.

My understanding is that nothing in the first 3 Sutta Nikayas, including the anatta teaching, would in any way contradict the above lines, I am curious about contrary views.


  1. Buddhism is the name given to a global religion and the vast ocean of literature and monastic culture and to the teaching of Gotoma, a Sakyan of the southern Himalayan foothills around two and a half thousand years ago.
  2. This book is about the third topic, the teaching of Gotoma.
  3. In order to understand how to know what this teaching is it is necessary to understand certain things about the second topic, the literature the monastics have preserved across asia and the world.
  4. This literature presumably emanates from the time of and immediately after the death of Gotoma. We therefore take it as a guiding principle that those texts closest in time to that time are the most likely to be the authentic teaching.
  5. This subset of the literature we will indicate as principally the four prose collections of “suttas” in the nikaya/agamas and the poetry, variously in the Samyutta and elsewhere.
  6. The argument that follows is about the prose.
  7. This prose we will idealize into an “ideal canon” by defining the material to be the substantive text shared between the Chinese and the Pali overlap of DN/DA MN/MA SN/SA AN/EA which we will henceforth refer to as D, M, S, E
  8. It will be the argument of this book to show why we may take this material to be roughly in order of composition as well as roughly in order in stature in the earliest times of which we know much about, what we will call the “pre-sectarian” period.
  9. It will be a further argument of this book to show that there is a gulf, in time and content, that separates the substantive original core of D and the substantive content of S. This claim is made tacit in my referring to it as the “scholastic” period wherein S formed, which occurs before our previously mentioned pre-sectarian period and after the initial formation of the canon in D.
  10. Finally we will argue that there is a clear and coherent philosophy elucidated in this prose material that is consistent and illuminating, and it is by a misreading of S that many wrong headed ideas about the teachings of Gotoma get off the ground.
  11. Arguments 8, 9 and 10 when accepted lead to an understanding of the principle teachings that the earliest generations of buddhists believed and it is the following:

kammic eternalism vs jhanic annihilationisits vs philosphical skeptics with the buddhist contribution being the declaration of the conditional as a resolution to the abayakata of the kammists and jhanists and a defeater of the ignorance of the skeptics.


I think it is not a person who realises the complete freedom from suffering, or only in a conventional way of expressing things. But is more like mind does. One cannot really say that mind is a person. Maybe you also express this in the words following this citation?

In later buddhism mind is more or less seen as something that has different aspect. It has a deep abiding nature that is described as empty and has a space-like character. It cannot be grasped.
Grasping at mind is like grasping air. Mind also has an aspect of clarity, i.e. things become aware. And in principle it can manifest all unhindered.

This nature of the mind is deep, hard to fathom, immeasurable like the ocean but if one has only attention or eye for what mind manifests, projects such as sounds, intentions, desires, thought, emotions this is it not seen.

It looks like some buddhist have the tendency to see only manifestations (vinnana) as mind. I think this is not oke, because while one purifies mind one does not purify manifestations.

Not only mahayana teachers but also teachers from the theravada thai forest tradition do not equate the pure nature of mind with what mind manifest or projects. Mind is forerunner of projections such as visuals, sounds, odours, intentions, thought, but it seems like this is not acknowledged.
It seems like those people do not believe that such a thing as, for example, a plan, arises in the mind. Has mind as forerunner. Do you feel this idea of mind as some kind of medium in which things arise is wrong and not supported by EBT

I think the issue is that if somebody were to show Suttas which seeemingly contradict these statements in the OP you would reply, “well I don’t consider those to be EBTs.” You have created another thread where you expressed your view that DN is earlier than SN, and it is from this view that I imagine you base your current OP on. But IMO, you did not respond adequately to the arguments made against your thesis in the other thread.

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I would agree, just with the caveat that we not take statements like “I am really here” to be a statement about “This truly Existent plane of reality in which I inhabit and will be free from.”

The suttas discuss how terms like “I” are conventional designations, but that they don’t point to anything we can possibly know. In other words, ‘I’ refers to conditioned phenomena and the experience of ‘really being here’ is a conditioned phenomenon. Still, we cannot deny that this experience is happening, that there is a way to know one is freed from it and not reckoned in terms of it, without relying on eternalism, annihilationism, or other views on inherent (non)existence.

In more simple terms, I think the suttas are pointing to just basic observable things and not getting all tense about it (as you seem to be pointing to in your post). We’re here, suffering and in a cycle of birth-death, and there’s a way to know that has been ended via letting go of mental fixation and grasping onto phenomena. “I,” “you,” “real,” “here,” “then” — whatever, sure; just don’t get too caught up in it. All things in our POV — including our POV which depends on them — can be seen to arise and cease.


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Yes! Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful reply!!

I agree with everything you say, I was being provocative, but I wanted to show how using everyday language like “I am really here” (at my bookshop today) is a perfectly true and reasonable statment.

Devil’s advocate question:

I am not really here.
There is no such thing as a human being.*
There is no such thing as a real person
There is no such thing as an individual.

Couldn’t all these statements also be considered consistent with the EBTs?
I didn’t quote the other phrases as I agree with them!

  • E.g., what do we mean by human being? Was there a “first” human being? Why did the one before that not qualify, what was it that changed to enable the next “being” to now be worthy of the label “human”. Isnt a better way to consider this, there are beings with the following characteristics, and we have arbitrarily determined, for our convenience, to append the label “homo erectus” to these ones, and “homo sapiens sapiens” to these other ones…but in reality they are just entities that have no absolute existence at all, only in relation to the observer’s labelling???
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Addit: my father explained Buddhism to me by saying we should be called “human becomings” as that is more accurate way to encapsulate the constant re-creations of ourselves, rather than the illusion of a static “being”

…or as a monk (forget who, but I think Ajahn Jayasero) said (wtte):
“we think we are nouns but we are actually verbs”


Ven. Ñāṇavīra:

Existential philosophies, then, insist upon asking questions about self and the world, taking care at the same time to insist that they are unanswerable.[f] Beyond this point of frustration these philosophies cannot go. The Buddha, too, insists that questions about self and the world are unanswerable, either by refusing to answer them[g] or by indicating that no statement about self and the world can be justified.[h] But – and here is the vital difference – the Buddha can and does go beyond this point: not, to be sure, by answering the unanswerable, but by showing the way leading to the final cessation of all questions about self and the world.[i][j]

The fundamental upādāna or ‘holding’ is attavāda (see Majjhima ii,1 <M.i,67>), which is holding a belief in ‘self’. The puthujjana takes what appears to be his ‘self’ at its face value; and so long as this goes on he continues to be a ‘self’, at least in his own eyes (and in those of others like him). This is bhava or ‘being’. The puthujjana knows that people are born and die; and since he thinks ‘my self exists’ so he also thinks ‘my self was born’ and ‘my self will die’. The puthujjana sees a ‘self’ to whom the words birth and death apply.[d] In contrast to the puthujjana , the arahat has altogether got rid of asmimāna (not to speak of attavāda —see MAMA), and does not even think ‘I am’. This is bhavanirodha , cessation of being. And since he does not think ‘I am’ he also does not think ‘I was born’ or ‘I shall die’. In other words, he sees no ‘self’ or even ‘I’ for the words birth and death to apply to. This is jātinirodha and jarāmarananirodha.

The puthujjana , taking his apparent ‘self’ at face value, does not see that he is a victim of upādāna ; he does not see that ‘being a self’ depends upon ‘holding a belief in self’ (upādānapaccayā bhavo ); and he does not see that birth and death depend upon his ‘being a self’ (bhavapaccayā jāti , and so on).

And if ‘transcendental’ means ‘outside the range of understanding of the puthujjana’—though the dictionary hardly intends this[b]—, then again it is transcendental. Only this last meaning corresponds to lokuttara. (i) Existence or being (bhava) transcends reason (takka, which is the range of the scholar or scientist), and (ii) extinction (nibbāna) transcends existence (which is the range of the puthujjana):

(i) There is no reason why I am, why I exist. My existence cannot be demonstrated by reasoning since it is not necessary, and any attempt to do so simply begs the question. The Cartesian cogito ergo sum is not a logical proposition—logically speaking it is a mere tautology. My existence is beyond reason.

(ii) I can assert my existence or I can deny it, but in order to do either I must exist; for it is I myself who assert it or deny it. Any attempt I may make to abolish my existence tacitly confirms it; for it is my existence that I am seeking to abolish. Ye kho te bhonto samanabrāhmanā sato sattassa ucchedam vināsam vibhavam paññāpenti te sakkāyabhayā sakkāyaparijegucchā sakkāyam yeva anuparidhāvanti anuparivattanti. Seyyathāpi nāma sā gaddūlabaddho dalhe thambhe vā khīle vā upanibaddho tam eva thambham vā khīlam vā anuparidhāvati anuparivattati, evam ev’ime bhonto samanabrāhmanā sakkāyabhayā sakkāyaparijegucchā sakkāyam yeva anuparidhāvanti anuparivattanti. (‘Those recluses and divines who make known the annihilation, perishing, and un-being, of the existing creature,—they, through fear of perssonality, through loathing of personality, are simply running and circling around personality. Just, indeed, as a dog, tied with a leash to a firm post or stake, runs and circles around that same post or stake, so these recluses and divines, through fear of personality, through loathing of personality, are simply running and circling around personality.’) (Majjhima xi,2 <M.ii,232>) Cessation of ‘my existence’ (which is extinction— bhavanirodho nibbānam (‘Extinction is cessation of being.’) [Anguttara X,i,7 <A.v,9>]) is beyond my existence. See ATAKKĀVACARA.

Yes, but for a reason - upādāna. See above.
And here on the difference between “to be a person” and “to be an individual”:
Ven. Ñāṇavīra:

An arahat (while alive—that is, if we can speak of a 'living arahat ') continues to be individual in the sense that ‘he’ is a sequence of states (Theragāthā v. 716)[13] distinguishable from other arahanto (and a fortiori from individuals other than arahanto ). Every set of pañcakkhandhā [a]—not pañc’upādānakkhandhā in the arahat 's case—is unique, and individuality in this sense ceases only with the final cessation of the pañcakkhandhā at the breaking up of the arahat 's body. But a living arahat is no longer somebody or a person , since the notion or conceit ‘(I) am’ has already ceased. Individuality must therefore be carefully distinguished from personality ,[b] which is: being a person, being somebody, being a subject (to whom objects are present), selfhood, the mirage ‘I am’, and so on. The puthujjana is not able to distinguish them—for him individuality is not conceivable apart from personality, which he takes as selfhood. The sotāpanna is able to distinguish them—he sees that personality or ‘selfhood’ is a deception dependent upon avijjā , a deception dependent upon not seeing the deception, which is not the case with individuality—, though he is not yet free from an aroma of subjectivity, asmimāna . The arahat not only distinguishes them but also has entirely got rid of all taint of subjectivity—‘he’ is individual but in no way personal. For lack of suitable expressions (which in any case would puzzle the puthujjana ) ‘he’ is obliged to go on saying ‘I’ and ‘me’ and ‘mine’ (cf. Dīgha i,9 <D.i,202>; Devatā Samy. iii,5 <S.i,14>[14]). Individuality where the arahat is concerned still involves the perspective or orientation that things necessarily adopt when they exist , or are present , or are cognized ; and for each individual the perspective is different. Loss of upādāna is not loss of point of view.

‘I’ can know that, but not before there is a whole new understanding of what it means to be ‘I’ and to say ‘I’.

Talking about any ‘you’ is really overstepping the boundary of Dhamma as teaching into the realm of speculation and useless questions: Dhamma is only concerned with dukkha and the elimination of dukkha - a purely personal problem of what is ‘I’ and ‘mine’.

See above. The person who is still “I”, a self, is not beyond suffering and death (and birth too, by the way), that person for that person himself, in that person’s experience, is still a living being in sense and reality, a person who was born and would die, who experiences suffering, happiness, who lives in the world.

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In a conventional sense, there are references to I, me, mine, you, etc. No big deal.

But if you’re saying that there can be realization of complete freedom from death and dukkha while retaining a sense of " I am a person having known this", well…

But I’m not sure if that’s what you meant.

It’s all essence-less processes.

read certainly isn’t the truth is it? merely pointing to it.
understood here is more like understanding.

having known is something that one knows and sees……via direct experience.

It isn’t book knowledge we’re taught.

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I was close to posting the following in this thread:


But will post it here instead.

Among the five higher fetters are lust for the luminous form realms and lust for the formless realms - these states are so exceptionally pleasant that it is quite natural anyone would like to stay in them and not search any further.

Out of countless of billions of beings in all planes of existence only the extremely rare being called a Buddha shows the way to the highest state beyond the formless, Nibbāna.

Billions of humans already know what it is like being unconscious, either from dreamless sleep or drinking too much alcohol etc. Yet Nibbāna is a very rare state that is not only very hard to attain, it can’t even be explained or compared to anything.

Once again:

Nibbāna is atakkāvacara, “beyond logical reasoning”. It is difficult to comprehend with logic or reason, since it is not a concrete “thing.” It cannot be explained with logic or reason to someone who has not attained it by themselves.

So that being said it is really impossible that Nibbāna equals a unconscious state of annihilation, since pretty much anyone already knows what it is like being unconscious…

Remember that it is only due to extreme suffering, sorrow and pain that Vibhava-taṇhā arises. There is no pain, sorrow or suffering in these higher realms, it is only dukkha (unsatisfactory) because of the Buddha’s incredible insight that even these blissful planes of existence will come to an end.

If I attain one of the luminous form or formless states I say, that it was indeed me as an individual and real person who is really here who attained these states.

Therefore the insight regarding the three characteristics Anicca, Dukkha & Anatta only comes thanks to a Buddha attaining Nibbāna and really shows that Nibbāna is NOT a unconscious state of complete annihilation! :slight_smile:

Because how can these insights, that only a Buddha attaining Nibbāna has, like impermanence, unsatisfactoriess & not-self come about from being unconscious?

And from this ”unconscious state” somehow apply these characteristics otherwise impossible to see; to the extremely blissful luminous form or formless planes of existence?

Anyone who has attained these states would prefer these over a Nibbāna that equals annihilation and 100% unconscioussnes. Otherwise two of the higher fetters would not be lust for the luminous form realms and lust for the formless realms.

Please be so kind and show me any sutta where the Buddha explains that specifically Vibhava-taṇhā is actually a good thing…Seeing the repulsiveness of food, the body or even the world at large is not Vibhava-taṇhā.

Seeing the repulsive in the pleasant (luminous form/formless) is not Vibhava-taṇhā.

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Everything you qouted is classic Therevada exegesis and exactly what i am saying is wrong exegesis of the ebt.

I will adress your specific qoutes momentarily.

Thats certainly true of many :slight_smile:

I agree with much of what you are saying!

Consciousness is not annihilated by awakening, clinging or attachment or “understandability in terms of consciousness” is what is annihilated.

The Buddha was freed when he awoke, not when he died.

The idea that he was only “really” freed when his body died is a sectarian innovation based on a deep confusion about what awakening to truth could be.

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This is true, it was in the other thread when replying to @Jasudho and his sutta quotes that I understood that essentially this view is based on interpreting certain suttas as these having to do with ”after the death of an arahant”. But the suttas in question don’t.

I have no clue how this Nibbāna = Non-Existence view even came about in the first place essentially making the buddhist path Vibhava-taṇhā and nothing but Vibhava-taṇhā… :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

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Ahhh…not quite.

Vibhava-taṇhā is a grasping based on ignorance and wrong view.
The practitioners who express that final nibbāna is cessation of the khandhas with nothing left over – hence the final cessation of all dukhha – are expressing something utterly different.
Such as in Iti44:

“For them, everything that’s felt, being no longer relished, will become cool right here.
This is called the element of extinguishment with nothing left over.

Regarding nibbåna with residue while an arahant is still alive, from the same sutta, there is agreement that there is no clinging, aversion, greed, anger, or ignorance. So, none of that dukkha.
The point is that the khandhas themselves are conditional and hence forms of dukkha, even for a “mind” liberated from all defilements. Still: pain when stepping on a sharp object, sheer discomfort of illness and old age – forms of dukkha the Buddha described in SN56.11.

The arahant will have no further rebirth and hence no further dukkha from illness, old age, and death. But will alive these physical conditional kinds of dukkha are still present.
This is also what the prior sutta quotes pointed to pretty clearly.
And the khandhas don’t disappear without rebirth until final nibbāna.

Also AN3.136 and MN35:
" All conditions are suffering. Sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā."


SN22.76: " Consciousness is impermanent. What’s impermanent is suffering."

SN35.1: “The mind is impermanent. What’s impermanent is suffering.”

So the final and irrevocable cessation of all conditions, including the khandhas, is the final cessation of all dukkha and not a delusional self-based wish for extinction.

Of course, we’re all free to practice as we wish.

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Thanks, I fully understood your way of reasoning regarding the physical body/Nibbāna in the other thread, that is why I asked a question but then aswered it myself. :wink:
But to say this view is the correct view by quoting Sāriputta’s statement regarding no feelings (which has nothing to do with the death of an arahant) and that this somehow implies or proves that Nibbāna is indeed annihilation is where we disagree. :pray:

BTW I’m not taking the eternalist stance either, Nibbāna is beyond being and non-being. No matter the time span annihilation and eternal are just concepts, not actual realities.

In the context of all this what do you think of SN 22.81?

Perhaps they don’t regard form or feeling or perception or choices or consciousness as self. Nor do they have such a view: ‘The self and the cosmos are one and the same. After passing away I will be permanent, everlasting, eternal, and imperishable.’ Still, they have such a view: ‘I might not be, and it might not be mine. I will not be, and it will not be mine.’ But that annihilationist view is just a conditioned phenomenon. And what’s the source of that conditioned phenomenon? … That’s how you should know and see in order to end the defilements in the present life.

Perhaps they don’t regard form or feeling or perception or choices or consciousness as self. Nor do they have such a view: ‘The self and the cosmos are one and the same. After passing away I will be permanent, everlasting, eternal, and imperishable.’ Nor do they have such a view: ‘I might not be, and it might not be mine. I will not be, and it will not be mine.’ Still, they have doubts and uncertainties. They’re undecided about the true teaching. That doubt and uncertainty, the indecision about the true teaching, is just a conditioned phenomenon. And what’s the source of that conditioned phenomenon? When an unlearned ordinary person is struck by feelings born of contact with ignorance, craving arises. That conditioned phenomenon is born from that. So that conditioned phenomenon is impermanent, conditioned, and dependently originated. And that craving, that feeling, that contact, and that ignorance are also impermanent, conditioned, and dependently originated. That’s how you should know and see in order to end the defilements in the present life.”

Note: Early Buddhism includes both essential teachings (such as knowing-seeing the four noble truths, the notion of anicca, dukkha, anatta, and the middle way) and non-essential teachings (such as adaptations of Vedic religious myths).

This is because there were two phases in Early Buddhism: 1. Samyutta/Samyukta Buddhism based on saṃyukta-kathā 相應教 (the synthesis of the three aṅgas), and 2. Nikaya/Agama Buddhism based on the four principal Nikayas/Agamas.

No. This is not Buddhadhamma’s higher teaching.

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You are misunderstanding the nuances of conditionality and the 4NT

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