On the inherent pessimism of parinibbana as mere cessation

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It’s exemplified in SN12.12 and SN12.35


Thank you @Dhammanando

From SN12.35:

When this was said, one of the mendicants asked the Buddha, “What are old age and death, sir, and who do they belong to?”

“That’s not a fitting question,” said the Buddha. “You might say, ‘What are old age and death, and who do they belong to?’ Or you might say, ‘Old age and death are one thing, who they belong to is another.’ But both of these mean the same thing, only the phrasing differs. Mendicant, if you have the view that the soul and the body are the same thing, there is no living of the spiritual life. If you have the view that the soul and the body are different things, there is no living of the spiritual life. Avoiding these two extremes, the Realized One teaches by the middle way: ‘Rebirth is a condition for old age and death.’”

Now just to tease out something;

“If you have the view that the soul and the body are different things, there is no living of the spiritual life.”

Now an existing thing is different from a non-existing thing is it not?

So if one says that bodies (or “aggregates”) exist but souls do not exist then one posits a difference between bodies and souls does one not?

There is so much evidence that the “mere cessation” position is rejected in the suttas that even its defenders can’t help but give examples of it in the suttas they cite!

Ok, let’s all give it one last try… :grin: :slightly_smiling_face:

Let’s consider Ajahn Brahm’s driverless bus (or a Tesla if one wishes!) and reflect on the following…

What drives the driverless bus? Is that a thing or a process? What is the manner of its origination?

What happens to that which drove the driverless bus when the bus is dismantled into parts and the parts broken down with no remainder? What is the manner of its cessation?

Is what drives the driverless bus the same thing as the parts of the bus? Or is what drives the driverless bus different from the parts of the bus?

Avoiding these extremes, the Realized one teaches by the middle way ‘that which drives the driverless bus’ is an emergent phenomena based on the coming together of the parts of the bus…these parts work together in this manner… When the parts are dismantled without any remainder, that phenomena ceases.



1.There is a computer that drives the driverless bus.

  1. It is not possible that parts can be broken down with no remainder as this would imply the possibility of making a non-existant (the “nothing”) out of a collection of existants (the parts)

  2. No wait, I really can’t be bothered. Today has been exhausting.

Unless it’s a fabrication like a view, which one could say materially speaking is neurons and electrical impulses I guess. Where does electricity go when a device is turned off and no longer pulling it? Where does a fire go when there is no more fuel to burn?

Likewise I would say wrong view pulls (or fuels) energy (or fire) to manifest the latent tendencies, 3 poisons, 5 hindrances, etc.

Getting rid of that wrong view and eventually the 3 poisons is shutting down that corridor where energy flows. Nibbana, the fire blows out.

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Close indeed, but is that it?
Is it the computer drive? Or the CPU? Or the software algorithm that runs on the hardware? Or the electricity that powers it all?
Or is it all these working together that produces the illusion of a driver driving the driverless bus? But with very real consequences.

Anyways, lets let it go for now. Digging deep into these things is undoubtedly exhausting! Too much thinking and pondering tires the body and strains the mind… and when the mind is strained, it is far from Samadhi! :pray: :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: :wink: :pray: :grin:


Just for the record I think the chariot metaphor, to my knowledge first appearing in SN5.10 is a terrible and misleading one, and good evidence of the corruption and decay of the dhamma when compared to more sophisticated expositions of conditionality in DN and MN.

The problem with it is that it can be easily misinterpreted, as I think many Therevadans do, as saying that there is no such thing as a self, but there are such things as aggregates.

This interpretation completely fails to penetrate conditionality.

The aggregates are just as conditioned, just as unreal, as the self is.

But Vajirā’s poem obscures this fact by asserting the conventionality of ‘existing being’ but leaving the same point unmade about the aggregates.

It’s a bit like your silly driverless bus metaphor: you say that you want to deny the existence of a “computer” because it is made of parts like cpu and memory but you don’t follow thru with your own logic, because the cpu is made of parts too, and those parts are made of parts, it’s made of (made up) parts all the way down! With no discernible beginning!

I would also like to make the point that Vajirā’s repeats the SN specific trope that “only” suffering arises, and that this is flatly contradicted by the Buddha in another sutta where he explains that if only suffering arose then no beings would bother to exist, but I can’t find the reference at the moment, perhaps you could help me?

Anyway, I understand what you are trying to argue, I have read SN, and the Milindapanha for that matter, and it is precisely this incoherent degenerate understanding of conditionality that reifies aggregates and anatta and turns conditionality into a kind of folk-physics that convinced me that SN is by and large a later text than the atthakavagga, parayanavagga and sekkha patipada

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SN22.60. :slight_smile: Although by your standard this sutta should be taken with a grain of salt for it is part of the later SN. Though afaik scholars tend to lean towards the assumption that the DN has more of the the later texts, and SN contains some of the earlier.

We have to realize that the word ‘suffering’ is used with various nuances. Sometimes it is opposed to pleasure, such as in this sutta, which talks about people who still have desire, about the worldlings, basically. But in the view of the enlightened suffering includes all feelings, including the pleasant ones. Hence Iti53 says: “Pleasant feeling, bhikkhus, should be seen as suffering.”

Anyway, I feel this topic has derailed again into the discussion about what is right and wrong, rather than how to deal with the idea of cessation when one takes it to be true. And this has been discussed before, so I won’t reply any further myself. But the solution to both, to get right view and to deal with truth, of course we all agree is meditation.


I think, this is maybe what people think I think. but I am not saying that at all, in fact I think that much of what is important philosophically about Buddhism is recaptured in Mahayana materials that are unquestionably late.

My issue is not that SN is late and therefore “shouldn’t be considered” my issue is that parts of SN alter (what I take to be) the traditional language of the Buddha’s philosophy to make it more open to misinterpretation as essentialist and “substantialist” (that is that the aggregates are “real” and the “self” is “unreal”)

I then think this becomes more pronounced in abbhidhamma materials and the inevitable and necessary reaction to that gives rise to the Mahayana.

So I am happy to “consider” ALL the materials, INCLUDING Mahayana materials, as representing both valid and sometimes invalid developments in Buddhism.

My assessment that SN is (by and large) later than the “core” of DN is merely that, an assessment, based on doctrinal development, which is based on textual evidence. It is not meant to discredit SN in it’s entirety, merely to identify the parts of it that show a divergance from (what I take to be) earlier ways of expressing the dhamma, and highlight how these innovations can lead to misinterpretation.

SO anyway, my argument is NOT that “late suttas should not be considered”.
it is just that “some suttas ARE late, and this explains why their appears to be development in (at least the expression of) the doctrine across the Nikayas.”

I think a lot of people hear excuse themselves form having to deeply engage with Mahayana material because by their standards they shouldn’t be considered because they’re late, this is not my position.

Anyway, thank you for providing the sutta reference, I think it is the one I was thinking of, though I had mis-remembered it as occurring in MN (don’t worry I think parts of MN are late too).

Oh, and one last thing, I have probably used less than careful language in expressing myself here, so for the record I acknowledge that there is late material in DN, as I understand it, it has some of the most ornate and “late” verse forms in the canon, and the mahaparinibanna sutta is widely thought to have been “open” for a long time, perhaps longer than any part of SN was open, it’s just that I take parts of DN (for e.g the sekkha patipada) to represent an earlier strata than the bulk of SN. I also acknowledge that many of the “formula” of SN are undoubtedly very early and probably predate any of the nikayas as settled texts, my contention tho is that SOME of the formulas, like the aggregates, like the phrase “all dhammas are without self”, are late, based on their doctrinal development (the aggregates appearing to me to be a simplification and obfuscation of DO and the “all dhammas” phrase being too open to the "there is no self"interpretation which is a “wrong view” in the earlier material), the relative frequency with which they are found in SN versus the other NIkayas, and that SN has a more “artificial” mode of textual production based on permutations of stock phrases that I find likely to be late when compared to the more narrative based structures in DN and MN.

(oh, and the similarity of the structure of SN to the structure of abbhidahmma matikas is another piece of evidence suggestive of that nikaya being intermediate in age between the narrative nikayas of DN and MN and the (universally agreed to be ) late abbhidhamma texts)

Again, to imply that I am using lateness as a reason to dismiss content is to misrepresent my position, I am identifying arguments that appear to contradict other material in the nikayas, finding that they cluster in SN, and using that as evidence for the relative lateness of SN, however I also absolutely agree that plenty of material in SN does NOT contradict other material and is perfectly legitimate, regardless of it’s lateness or otherwise.

anyway, thanks again for the citation.



OK, that’s cool. You can have that opinion, obviously. And I respect it. But I think we should be careful when we take doctrine as a measure to decide what is early and late, because then we can be tempted to reject whatever doesn’t align with our views based on our own view. And to challenge our views is a large part of the Buddha’s message. I think we need some real good extra reasons too. For example, if I recall correctly, earlier you rejected the Yamaka Sutta. But are there textual reasons for this? Do other scholars agree? Does the parallel show signs of inauthenticity? Those kind of questions should ideally determine what’s late and early, not our views.

There is also a quote like that in the MN, but it is about gratifying and ungratifying, not about pleasure and suffering. I’ll try to look it up.

Edit: found SN35.17, SN22.28. I’m quite sure MN has a similar passage but I can’t find it right now.


This very true. Elements of doctrine can be added or removed, simply saying it only increases is questionable. Once established that certain suttas are earlier or latter, you can determine if latter suttas contradict the doctrines of earlier suttas and represent a change in doctrine.

Certain suttas in the Atthakavagga and the Parayanavagga are believed to be very early because of their meter and mention in canonical commentaries. Academics disagree which is earlier. The Parayanavagga does show brahmanic influence, the Atthakavagga does not. Archeological evidence of the presence of brahmans in the region dated to the Buddha’s time would help the cause of the Parayanavagga, but the Atthakavagga has a leg up on the Parayanavagga since the Atthakavagga does not need that.

If the earliest suttas in the Atthakavagga are earlier, and, for the reason stated above, they probably are, than the Buddha adhered to “no views” and this is a problem for what I call “Big Buddhism” which is full of views and pronouncements that are clearly contrary to the oldest suttas in the Atthakavagga.

Why “Big Buddhism” makes up so much more of the doctrine is self explanatory. It can add and elaborate on views, where “no views” or “Tiny Buddhism” cannot. Simply counting suttas to back up a position does not help. The discrepancy in the number of suttas is expected.

I suspect that “Big Buddhism” took off with the reign of emperor Ashoka who certainly had Brahmans in his realm and pushed Buddhism on them. Apologetics would be required to do that. This would be another reason for the later extensive development of doctrine. State sponsorship can only help with acceptance.

I think those who believe in final nibanna and all the other speculative elements of “Big Buddhism” are at a big disadvantage in a debate on issues of what the historical Buddha actually taught.