Perceiving Nibbana, (AN 10.7)

In this sutta (AN 10.7), Ven Sariputta describes a meditation experience where he was perceiving nothing. He calls it bhavaniodha, Nibbana. Now, this sutta obviously passes the test that it was preserved as an authentic teaching.

What do you think about this experience, ‘empty’ of everything?

One perception arose in me as another one ceased. I was percipient at that time of ‘The cessation of becoming — Unbinding.’"

SN 12.68 is likely to be relevant to this.

With metta


‘The cessation of existence is nibbāna; the cessation of existence is nibbāna.’ Just as, when a fire of twigs is burning, one flame arises and another flame ceases, so one perception arose and another perception ceased in me…

Hi Mat, this sutta makes me think of AN 4.45 in which the Buddha says, “It is, friend, in just this fathom-high carcass endowed with perception and mind that I make known the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world, and the way leading to the cessation of the world” (Trans. Bhikkhu Bodhi).

In accordance with the flame metaphor from AN 10.7, the “cessation of experience” does not necessarily indicate an absence of experience, but rather a cooling of perception. Thus, ‘empty’ could mean not wholly empty, but empty of craving.

The translation of bhava as existence is a little misleading, at least from a western perspective, as I tend to think of existence as life itself. Maybe “becoming” as in the PTS-PED would be more accurate?


The way I read it is that Sariputta had obtained a state in which all ordinary forms of conscious awareness of external and internal obects had ceased, and in which even the awareness of refined objects like the base of infinite space, the base of infinite consciousness, etc. had ceased, but in which he still retained awareness that these other forms of awareness had ceased, and that their cessation in some way constituted nibbana.

However, it is very puzzling. He says he was still aware of the arising and falling of perceptions. Well, then, perceptions of what, exactly? What is the content of these perceptions that are rising and falling like the flames in a fire of twigs?

Maybe part of the idea here is that the ordinary perception of the elements of sensory experience such as color and shapes as experiences of earth - or water, etc. - requires that they appear to stand still and be stable for some time, but that once one experiences them as a continuous flux, then they no longer constitute a perception of earth, water, etc.

If this is what is going on in the passage, it sounds very similar to the kinds of thoughts the Greek Eleatic philosophers were having at about the same time. They found the contrast between being and becoming to be completely mysterious. Since change appeared to them to be continuous, and not composed of elementary moments, then if an object was changing its shape continuously, there was no time at which it had any particular shape or other. They tended to conclude that the object couldn’t actually be anything during that process, and that being is incompatible with becoming.


Isn’t this Arahattaphala Samadhi?


According to Abhidhamma, perception is a universal mental state hence perception is found in all mental factors.
It appears what Sariputta talking about was some thing outside the normal experience. It appears to me he was talking about the Nirodha Samapatthi.


I wonder if it’s ‘flickering effect’ due to not fully inwardly settled; or it is inwardly settled yet there are moments of ‘awakening’ from inwardly settled state to not inwardly settled; that Sāriputta observe arising, arresting and perishing of consciousness and namarupa; then again enter back into state of inwardly settled. His knowing of that he experiences of ‘cessation of existence’ is discerned after full awakening from absorption by investigating the experience; noticing that there are ‘in-between’ of cessation and arising of perception; though i do not see this description in AN10.7.

Bhava as existance is not misleading if above is the case; as:

flames in a fire of twigs is the ‘reflection of a cage of crystal/glass/mirror fragments’ that is perceived when absorption is not inwardly settled.

On the 2nd thought, perhaps “Bhavanirodho nibbānaṃ bhavanirodho nibbānan” is a technic of text preservation, suggesting ‘in-between’, a mirror of nibbāna that can not be defined!

Maybe it’s the cessation of perception of feeling being interrupted by the perception ‘The cessation of existence is nibbāna; the cessation of existence is nibbāna.’

Putting in the meaning of the words in that paragraph from AN 10.7 maybe helps with the fire of twigs simile:

“One perception arose and another perception ceased in me: ‘The cessation of existence is extinguishment (nibbāna); the cessation of existence is extinguishment.’ Just as, when a fire of twigs is burning, one flame arises and another flame ceases, so one perception
arose and another perception ceased in me: ‘The cessation of existence is extinguishment; the cessation of existence is extinguishment.’ On that occasion, friend, I was percipient: ‘The cessation of existence is extinguishment.’”

Or from SN 12.68; the fact that “even though one has clearly seen ‘Nibbāna is the cessation of existence,’” doesn’t mean one is an arahant with taints destroyed. Could it be the event of stream entering to understand that ‘nibbana is the cessation of existence’?

Then the point of the sutta could be that the event of stream entering is not a meditative attainment, but a realization / insight that is something else.

Or the point could be something else, I’m just speculating wildly here :slight_smile:


Yes I thought so to. I feel however that ‘becoming’ (while better than ‘life’ or ‘existence’) doesn’t really reflect phenomenologically what they are talking about. bhavanirodha is described here as the absence of all sense impressions (apart from the recognition of that situation). We can then infer that sense impressions are bhava. If the sense impressions are from our ‘world’ they are sensual or kama bhava. If they are from Rupa jhana, they are Rupa bhava. An immaterial jhana would be arupa bhava. The distinction between bhava and jati is useful as cessation of bhava can be safely experienced by an a stream entrant or higher without having to experience the end of life or existence! As for a good English word to use for bhava, I can’t think of one but maybe ‘stream of phenomena’ (rejected: stream of experiences, sankharas, dhammas, realm specific stream of…) would be my suggestion.

A more difficult problem is what experience of cessation (or perception of emptiness) is really Nibbana? Are there perceptions of emptiness that mimic Nibbana? :slight_smile:

With metta


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No, not a mimic scenario here. Not the same case of parikamma nimitta that may mimic the breath, which is possible because there is perception. Here we have cessation of perception.
From previous post:

& my mistake, i should have bold those two words. As it is not:

Another term that i should have included is “‘glitch of’ flickering effect”. That would differentiate inwardly steady from inwardly settled.

It should be perception of ‘perception of extinguishment’ since simile of flames in a fire of twigs is mentioned; an in-between perceptions; that is discerned after emerging.
And we can not say for sure if that it is or not stream enterer or arahant experience, as there is a meditator, a lay practitioner whom i do not know exactly he is; take nibbāna as object when he sit; and there is nothing else that he needs to learn. That could be the case for people similar to Sariputta.

Emptiness is probably a practice so that the meditator would be able to comprehend ‘in-between’ when he discern the experience after emerging. We just don’t know what to look into most of the time, even uggaha can be missed, and here we are talking about ‘mimic’ of extinguishment; furtheremore, we have to differentiate that from bhavanga.

I do think highly possible for

and that would be the peak of development of faith.

The preserved text as in duplicate format is unique, repeat once, not twice, not three not four. If it repeat 2, 3, 4 … times, then if we imagine that on oscilloscope, we would take only one small part in between cessation and arising as to present nibbāna. It does not mention only once,

so that we do not take bhavanga as nibbāna. Instead, the text says it twice,

that would suggest a ‘glitch’ kind of phenomena.

A little digging in dictionary found this:

If i were to consider dropping ‘mi’ from missa and combined ‘missa’ with ‘sakalikaggi’; thus sakalikaggissa rendering as ‘a cage of crystal/glass/mirror fragments’ is pretty accurate. ‘Cage’ being the enclosure of pieces of mirrors filling up the wall. Cage may sound negative, but it is this cage that meditator working so hard to attain just to end up defining it as existence of an eternal citta; as i see it, if he fails to notice the ‘gap’ of non reflection, cessation of perception which is the ‘real thing’; that the cage is just a glitch.

If this is the case, those gurus that defining existence of eternal citta is pretty close to stream entering of ‘seeing’ nibbāna.

Sounds good!

I have come across a few states that get mistaken for Nibbana:

  1. pre-jhanic samadhi states - especially perception of space (akasa) e.g. the gap between the in and out breath.
  2. signless concentration (animitta samadhi) where one distances themselves from the perception and tries to remain perceptionless.
  3. ‘perceptionless’ concentration (_asannata samadhi _), where it is a intense pre-jhanic samadhi which blocks out perception.
  4. jhana, especially formless jhanas
  5. falling asleep during meditation!

With metta


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Isn’t that just to show it as an exclamation?

With metta

Yes, that is possible. But for an important sutta to have text just as an exclamation would be a bit odd. The peculiarity of it, is that the same phrase is mentioned again after the explanation.

Afais, ‘acci’ is not a metaphor, though it has been translated ad such.
Acci in this sutta is not flame, but a ‘ray’ of light from a ‘mirror’(-> bhava); so i would prefer to take it as a reflection; that’s how bhava begins. Looking at this spark alone, i am tempted to take bhava as becoming. But the spark is followed by more perceptions; from plain to coloured (such as Citrine crystal), that would suggest rupa kind of thing, existence. But if @Brenna wants to take bhava as many becomings, that is ok too.

So in this sutta, the term that we can understand easily is ‘saññā’, and saññā explain ‘acci’, the ‘gap’ between ‘acci’ explain nirodha; so we have:
“Bhava(glitch of acci, saññā)nirodho (gap)nibbānaṃ bhavanirodho nibbānan”

Yes. I have also heard this being described as a stone skipping across water, and where the stone hits the water is when perception happens.

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Nice description, simple and easy to see the picture!
On other occasion is good, but when it is used to relate to this sutta, might be suggesting eternal citta kind of idea, on the moment the stone is flying above water; that would be my worry.

True. However I think functionality of the similie was limited to the similarity of the frequency of the skipping stone hitting the water, to the frequency of perception arising in the meditative attainment of Nibbana.

With metta


On the 2nd thought, it does fit in this sutta by expanding it to multiple stones. I was originally taking the ripple as the papañca of the perception, but the multiple ripple spots should be the one that describe the various papañca of mind strand arises one after another within a glitch, so taking the stone as just the link that between a particular papañca though could be just a small one.

On the present of another stone, that the another glitch occurs, the gap between the stones when ripple disappears that is cessation of perceptions. So, each stone represent a self view, it cease when it sink into the water.

What interest me further is the intertwining of ripples from different spots within a glitch… Stone-skipping is a good one.