Question for Ajahn Brahmali about arahant after death

Ajahn @Brahmali wrote in a thread this:

I understand the quote from the Yamaka Sutta (SN 22.85) to articulate precisely why the Buddha refused to deny the existence of arahants after death. It may seem a bit mystical (“not apprehended by you as real and actual here in this very life”), but I think this due to the fact you cannot deny the existence of the person as a changeable phenomenon. You can only deny the existence of a personal and permanent core. For this reason he uses a more complex sentence, including the words “real and actual”. I believe this is all there is to it. But the sutta is a one off, and as such we should not emphasise it too much.

I don’t quite understand that part because: When you say the arahant exists in this life then you can say he doesn’t exist after death when nibbana is not something. When the Arahant does not exist in this life because of Anatta than you can still say the arahant does not exist after death because he did not exist in the first place.
So I do not understand why the arahant cannot be said to not exist after death.

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What the Nikāyas Say and Do not Say about Nibbāna | The Open Buddhist University

The above link hopefully will address your concerns.
With Metta


Hi! The problem is the word “exists”. This word has a particular meaning in the Indian context, implying a permanent self. Nor can you say a person does not exist, for in ancient India this meant everything stops when you die, that is, it was a materialist doctrine. So the correct way of expressing this is to say the arahant ceases at death. What is the arahant? Dukkha. Dukkha ceases when the arahant dies.


Thanks for your answer.
I still don’t understand how it would be wrong to say the Arahant does not exist after death, because isn’t it a fact that everything stops at death for an arahant?

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The Emptiness of an Arhat tells us He is not only a living Arhat, but also one going through the Bardo of passing away into His next life, for those are the attributes associated with His Emptiness. Sunyata. What differences are there between life before and after death? Especially because there is no life or death in the Eyes of Emptiness.

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Sorry, I don’t understand your post.

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There is no separate Self in an Arhat from the phenomena that are affecting the Arhat’s life. There is no life, because there is no Self to experience that life. There is only an Empty Self. There is no death either, because that Arhat has no Self to experience that death. So whom is living? And whom is dying? Found within the Emptiness of an Arhat is the remedy that led Him to Nirvana, and that is letting go of a perception of a Self separate from other phenomena. There is no coming and no going and no entering Nirvana. Is there a fire of a blown out candle? Even that fire has no characteristics separate from a blown out wick. So what are the Arhat left with? Only Sunyata. And what is that Emptiness? Absolute Maitri.

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If there is no separate Self from other phenomena, it is not a question of whether it exists or not, because perceiving the world’s Emptiness grants the vision that the Self neither exists nor not exists, because that Emptiness which the Aspirants of Buddhism seek to meditate is of it’s own accord. That Wisdom does not come from a plane of being or non-being, existence or non-existence. So is there anything that exists? Maitri is Transcendental to either being or non-being, it is the characteristic of a Buddha to be Compassionate. So dwelling in Nirvana gives one a Loving attribute of understanding Sunyata. Once one understands that all phenomena are Empty of a Self, they come to realize that it is not that a Self exists or not, but that we are here in the now which can only be described by the Arhat in truth as the present moment, which is nonetheless devoid of seperateness from any other moment, because the present moment has the perceivable characteristics in an Expedient Way of all other moments. Dwelling in that Expedient Means, a philosophy can be developed to guide others to the truth of Anatta and Sunyata step by step, but in reality the Self is Empty and there is no practitioner that either lives or doesn’t live, or dies or doesn’t die. There is only Sunyata, which like I said, is the Mettic remedy for a wandering heart and someone who is heaped up with ideas and clinging to philosophies that involve a Self that is not Empty of a separate existence or non-existence. What is the mystery of who we truly are? Only the Buddhas truly know, and behind that wisdom is only the Supreme Absolute Truth of the Dharma that we can learn from the Buddha.


Because existence / non-existence does not apply to the Arahant. Just like spatial position does not apply to an extinguished flame.

Even while alive, you can say that the body of an Arahant exists, the perceptions of an Arahant exist, and so on and so forth, but you cannot really rightly say that the Arahant exists, because the Arahant is not any of those things.

It’s wrong to say these things, because they involve him with that which he is not involved. Saying he exists or doesn’t exist is like saying red is even or odd, or saying sweetness is an acute or obtuse angle, or like saying the weak nuclear force rhymes or doesn’t rhyme.

Here’s how I understand it:

Does the self of an arahant persist after death, or is it destroyed on death? [exist vs. not-exist]

Neither, because [like all of us] an arahant is just a particular set of five khandas without self. When the arahant dies those khandas simply cease, there’s no being/self inside those khandas that could persist or be destroyed in the first place.

I.e. the person who asks about the existence or non-existence of arahants after death, is asking from the perspective of identity view.


Bound round with delusion, the world
only appears to be competent.
Bound with acquisitions, foolish,
surrounded by darkness,
it seems eternal,
but for one who sees,
there is nothing.(Buddha Ud 7.10)

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This isn’t the world we are meant to live in. But while we are still here we may as well be Bodhisattvas.


The best way to understand whether an Arahath exist after Anupadisesha parinirvana (not death as stated here, probably due to lack of understanding) is the last stanza in Rathana Sutta, they reach the stage of void like the extinguishing of the flame in a lamp. Can anyone say, the flame went up or down or forward or backward or in a circle etc.? All this is due to not understanding the Saupadisesha Parinirvan and Anupadisesha Parinirvana.

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Blockquote Hi! The problem is the word “exists”. This word has a particular meaning in the Indian context, implying a permanent self. Nor can you say a person does not exist, for in ancient India this meant everything stops when you die, that is, it was a materialist doctrine. So the correct way of expressing this is to say the arahant ceases at death. What is the arahant ? Dukkha . Dukkha ceases when the arahant dies.

Thank you @Brahmali but sorry, I still don’t understand it.
You said that you cannot say a person does not exist because that would mean that everything stops when that person dies, but isn’t that exactly what happens to an Arahant after death? It may seem similar to the materialist doctrine but the difference is that the arahant has to become enlightened to cease to exist and the materialist view is that it happens to everyone after death.

What I still don’t understand ist this part:
When the Arahant dies, everything ceases with nothing remaining. That is explained in your book about what is and isn’t nibbana. But then as I see it it would be 100% correct to say the arahant does not exist after death because there is nothing. Why exactly is it wrong to say does not exist. I don’t understand it.

And another thing I don’t get is, when you cannot pin down the Arahant in this life you cannot say he doesn’t exist after death, but I don’t get that logic, when there is nothing remaining then you can clearly say he doesn’t exist, because there is nothing remaining.

Let me barge in here. The issue here is whether arahant exists in truth and fact. Arahant or Tathagata or Upasaka are simply terminology used to denote a formation saṅkhara with a conditioned state saṅkhata. This is the reality of everything that exists with various conventional names.
So, when the arahant dies nothing exists because nothing in reality existed before before died too.
This is how I understand it and hope it will help.
With Metta

thanks, yes, but then it would still be correct to say he doesn’t exist, or not? I am not trying to be rude, I just want to understand.

Since “he” is simply a reference to what does not exist in truth and fact it would be more correct to say nothing exists because nothing existed in the first place.
With Metta

I still don’t get it: When “he” is a reference to something that doesn’t exist than that would precisely mean that “he” doesn’t exist.

Yes. “he” does not exist in truth and fact. This means a saṅkhara is conventionally called “he”. All saṅkhara are impermanent, unsatisfactory and not self.

Even the Buddha used the word “I” referring to his corporeal body because if he went on saying “I do not exist” he would have been considered a mad man. But the Buddha understood the difference between convention and reality.
So the disciples of the Buddha who understands the core of the teaching - the reality - use conventional pronouns such as “he” or “arahant” but they know that they are mere conventional references to saṅkhara that is impermanent, unsatisfactory and not self.
Hope this clarifies.
With Metta

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I am sorry but I know this, and I don’t see how it answers my question? It doesn’t matter if the Arahant in life doesn’t exist absolutely or does conventionally exist as aggregates, because after death he doesn’t exist in neither way. So how is it wrong to say he doesn’t exist after death?

I am grateful, that you are trying to help though.