Reconciling the Buddha's stance on views in Snp 4.5 and with more speculative claims of knowledge in twelve links of Dependent Origination

This was a question to Bhante @sujato in the last of his talks on The Chapter of Eights put on by the Barre Center that he asked be put on the forum because it was too dense a question at the time. I have added quotes to facilitate reading and understanding what is being asked.

I think that it is hard to reconcile any kind of speculative theory or claim with Snp 4.5

Consider this from Snp 4.5:

Nor would they form a view about the world
through a notion or through precepts and vows.

The positions that the Buddha does not declare in MN 63 are metaphysical views about this world or the next. Snp 4.5 appears to explain why he does not declare them. They are views about the world or the next and so he will not declare them on principle as per Snp 4.5. Note the word for cosmos and world are the same.

So, Māluṅkyaputta, you should remember what I have not declared as undeclared, and what I have declared as declared. And what have I not declared? I have not declared the following: ‘the cosmos is eternal,’ ‘the cosmos is not eternal,’ ‘the world is finite,’ ‘the world is infinite,’ ‘the soul and the body are the same thing,’ ‘the soul and the body are different things,’ ‘a Realized One exists after death,’ ‘a Realized One doesn’t exist after death,’ ‘a Realized One both exists and doesn’t exist after death,’ ‘a Realized One neither exists nor doesn’t exist after death.’

And why haven’t I declared these things? Because they aren’t beneficial or relevant to the fundamentals of the spiritual life. They don’t lead to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. That’s why I haven’t declared them.

Likewise, the conditional consolations spoken of in AN 3.65 are also about this world or the next. Again, Snp 4.5 appears to explain why he uses the conditional, He will not declare any views about this world or the next on principle as per Snp 4.5.

AN 3.65
When that noble disciple has a mind that’s free of enmity and ill will, uncorrupted and purified, they’ve won four consolations in the present life. ‘If it turns out there is another world, and good and bad deeds have a result, then—when the body breaks up, after death—I’ll be reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm.’ This is the first consolation they’ve won.

‘If it turns out there is no other world, and good and bad deeds don’t have a result, then in the present life I’ll keep myself free of enmity and ill will, untroubled and happy.’ This is the second consolation they’ve won.

‘If it turns out that bad things happen to people who do bad things, then since I have no bad intentions, and since I’m not doing anything bad, how can suffering touch me?’ This is the third consolation they’ve won.

‘If it turns out that bad things don’t happen to people who do bad things, then I still see myself pure on both sides.’ This is the fourth consolation they’ve won.

When that noble disciple has a mind that’s free of enmity and ill will, undefiled and purified, they’ve won these four consolations in the present life.”

“That’s so true, Blessed One! That’s so true, Holy One! When that noble disciple has a mind that’s free of enmity and ill will, undefiled and purified, they’ve won these four consolations in the present life. …

I understand why common sense and common experience causality are necessary for mundane explanations and for people to understand one another, but how do you reconcile the quote from Snp 4.5 above with the more speculative claims of the twelve links of dependent origination?

A note to those who were not in attendence, Bhante Sujato had talked about why appeals to personal experience are problematic.

Thanks for bringing the question here. Rather than try to address everything all at once, let me respond to a couple of points and see where that takes us.

These are three of the epistemological bases that are discussed in the Atthakavagga.

  • notion = The Pali is ñāṇa, but it is commonly used in the Atthakavagga in the sense of idea, concept, speculation, something that has been arrived at through thought.
  • precepts — ethical precepts
  • vows — to be vegetarian, to never lie down, to eat like a dog … any kind of vow or observance that has a spiritual aim.

They (i.e. an enlightened one) would form no view about the world on these bases. This passage says nothing about forming views on other bases.

That’s not quite correct. The speculative views include metaphysical notions about the soul, and speculation about the state of an enlightened being after death. They’re not about rebirth in general, only certain ideas concerning rebirth.

In this case the Buddha is speaking with the Kalamas, who are agnostic, and hence he adopts an agnostic framework for argument. The point is not that the Buddha himself harbored doubts about rebirth, or that he thought such things were speculative. Rather, he showed something quite different and equally important: that living and ethical and contemplative life does not depend on beliefs about rebirth. It’s quite possible to be agnostic about such things and still live a good life.

The Buddha is showing his compassion in adopting a rhetorical position that would allow him to connect with others, without insisting that they had to believe everything that he said.

The doctrinally tricky point here is that the Buddha speaks of the “noble disciple” as being unsure about rebirth, whereas elsewhere the stream-enterer is shown to have insight into the four noble truths, including rebirth.

A comparison with the Chinese version of this text—translated on SC by Charles Patton—shows that there, this passage is presented a little differently and this problem is not present. Rather than themselves weighing the views of whether rebirth is real, they are confident in their own good rebirth since they know that it is real. But they do not criticize others who deny the reality of rebirth, but rather praise and support those of right view who affirm the reality of rebirth.

Insight into dependent origination is based on direct personal experience and reasoned inference, not on speculation.


You might find this thread,
“The Buddha before Buddhism” - The Watercooler - Discuss & Discover (

this more recent video by @dougsmith helpful.


For the cleansed one there is nowhere in the world
a formed view about various existences.
Having abandoned deceit and conceit, being cleansed, by what would he go? He is not an approacher.
The one who approaches engages in debate regarding ideas— the non approacher by what, how, could you tell him? Taking up or rejecting—such things are not for him.
He has shaken off all views here itself.(THE OCTAD ON THE CORRUPT)

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Thank you.

This is a much better quote from the actual octets than mine. It is far more explicit about its scope.

Bhante @sujato 's version says:

Snp 4.3
The cleansed one has no formulated view
at all in the world about the different realms.
Having given up illusion and conceit,
by what path would they go? They are not involved.

For one who is involved gets embroiled in disputes about
but how to dispute with the uninvolved? About what?
For picking up and putting down is not what they do; The problem addressed is one who is picking up one thing after another. It’s therefore best to translate atta in an active sense, per Niddesa: gahaṇaṁ muñcanā samatikkanto.
they have shaken off all views in this very life.

With regard to the Chinese version of AN 3.65, it is so materially different from the Pali that it is hard for me not to dismiss the possibility that it was altered to address the very problem I pointed out.

I do want to be very clear about something. I am not saying the Buddha did not believe in karma/rebirth. I am saying that in some places in the canon, it appears to be clear that he would not make declarations about it. I think this is only controversial in its implications.

That’s a literal translation? I really like it. Where it’s from?

It is available on SuttaCentral: Snp 4.3

I don’t know if you would call it a literal translation or not, but based on a few other translations I have seen, it is inline with them, That said, it retains the poetic element much better. It really does read as poetry.

I agree, but it still does weaken the case, at the very least we can say it lacks support in the Chinese. A closer study of the two might give some clarity here, but in such cases, we’re usually left simply juggling probabilities.

Regarding the usage of “noble disciple” in the Kalama Sutta, while this usually means one of the eight persons, there are some cases where it is used in a more liberal sense as simply a “Buddhist practitioner”. Whether this is because of a genuine flexibility in usage, or a slight sloppiness in editing, I cannot say. But the Kalama Sutta might also be read in this light, especially given that the passage in question, with “noble disciple”, appears several times elsewhere in the canon.

Here once again we have a careful qualification: no formulated view, i.e. none made by speculation, by sheer theorizing. In the verses, we won’t necessarily find that such a qualification is always present, but the context shows clearly enough that it is discussing speculation, not meditative insight.

Sure, I get it. It’s a subtle point!

This is not as damaging as you may think. It is very reminiscent of the what happens in the New Testament. The women find the tomb empty. Later people bring up the objection that the body could have been stolen. Then it turns out that an entire cohort of roman soldiers were keeping guard and witnessed the risen Christ. This is too custom made to deal with the objection to have any real probability of being true. It is too improbable for this to have been omitted in the first account.

We are always talking probabilities. Every line could be fabricated and every argument is inductive with regard to this kind of thing. Uncertainty is part of the human condition. We must all make an honest assessment of the likelihood that something is true. We are all responsible for what we believe.

Meditative insight is a tricky thing to argue in deep samadhi where sensory perception has halted. Sensory deprivation is notorious for causing hallucinations. Deep samadhi appears to function more an act of complete renunciation of the world than an act of insight. Though, I think that knowing that impersonal consciousness exists and is nothing to fear is important.