The Buddha taught only the cessation of existence

In this quote, existence is clearly being equated with suffering. The ultimate cessation of suffering is the end of rebirth and the cessation of existence. Now, the Buddha famously said “I teach only suffering and the cessation of suffering”. But since all experience is suffering and the cessation of suffering is the cessation of existence, can we say that:
The Buddha taught only existence and the cessation of existence?

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“Existence” is a rather unfortunate translation for “bhava”, conducive to nihilistic interpretation of Dhamma. As Bhikkhu Bodhi writes:

Bhava, however, is not “existence” in the sense of the most universal ontological category, that which is shared by everything from the dishes in the kitchen sink to the numbers in a mathematical equation. Existence in the latter sense is covered by the verb atthi and the abstract noun atthitā. Bhava is concrete sentient existence in one of the three realms of existence posited by Buddhist cosmology, a span of life beginning with conception and ending in death.


Agreed. I think bhava, in the suttas, is the ongoing processes of self-perpetuation, self-construction and becoming. It is the I-making and my-making process conditioned by attachment. The conditioned components of our experience are constant sources of attachment: we identify with them as me or mine, and are constantly building a self out of them, a process the Buddha analogizes to the work of an architect. For the fully awakened arahant, nothing that arises in experience is experienced as I, me or mine. All of these elements of experience are unsatisfactory or suffering, but none of them any longer are experienced as my suffering.

And yet there is experience!

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Yes, there are many suttas in wich Buddha actually says just this, that he teaches the dhamma for the cesation of existence, or that nibbana is the cessation of existence.

The belief that existence is not suffering but is pleasant is due to deluded perception. When this delusion is removed, everything that exists will be seen as suffering. Everything that arises will be seen as the arising of suffering. Even jhanic states will be seen as unpleasant and suffering.

I have heard that on one occasion Ven. Sariputta was staying near Rajagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels’ Feeding Sanctuary. There he said to the monks, “This Unbinding is pleasant, friends. This Unbinding is pleasant.”

When this was said, Ven. Udayin said to Ven. Sariputta, “But what is the pleasure here, my friend, where there is nothing felt?”


And another good sutta:

To understand this, one first needs to attain stream entry. Then, he needs to start practicing the 6 contemplations to be done by a stream enterer

When Dīghāvu declares that he already possesses these qualities, the Buddha tells him that since he is established in the four factors of stream-entry, he should “strive further to develop six qualities that partake of true knowledge” (cha vijjābhāgiyā dhammā): “You should dwell contemplating the impermanence of all formations, perceiving suffering in what is impermanent, perceiving non-self in what is suffering, perceiving abandonment, perceiving dispassion, perceiving cessation.”

That sutta is SN 55.3


“You should dwell contemplating the impermanence of all formations, perceiving suffering in what is impermanent, perceiving non-self in what is suffering, perceiving abandonment, perceiving dispassion, perceiving cessation.” sn55.33

How do the defilements fit into this? Things like greed, anger, hatred, lust, envy etc. Surely once we are free of those, we can enjoy conditioned existence with more equanimity, but from the quote in the OP it seems we can’t. It seems we need to completely end all experience, because it is all unsatisfactory and dukkha. I find it strange.

I don’t see how enjoying a peaceful sunny day in a pleasant garden or enjoying a silent retreat in the presence of dhamma friends is suffering.

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It is suffering because it produces craving to impermanent things, such as an impermanent pleasant state of mind that exists while staying in that garden. Suffering is produced by attachment to impermanent things. And this attachment develops naturally, there is this tendency for attachment to develop towards everything that is pleasant. So while you are having a pleasant state of mind, you are developing attachment and therefore suffer on the long run.

There is pleasure on the short run. Buddha said if there would be no pleasure in this world, beings would not become engangled in it. But with the long run in mind, that pleasure will be seen as the cause producing suffering.

It’s like a child chasing pleasures, not going to school etc. Or a gangaster burglerizing a shop to snort cocaine for 5 days, not seeing the bigger picture. Normal people operate in the same way, chasing impermanent pleasures in this world.

Asking about why that pleasurable state in the garden is unpleasant is like asking why is cocaine unpleasant. It sure is pleasant on the short run, but it’s unpleasant overall, the pleasure you get from it will make it harder for you to quit it. That pleasure will transform into suffering. The more pleasure, the more suffering afterwards. When delusion is removed, things that look pleasant will look unpleasant, through this line of thinking.


It’s suffering because it will change and cease. Sooner or later something will disturb the peace…it will rain…you will loose your eyesight…you will die…you will be reborn in the north pole…the sun will engulf the earth etc etc. :stuck_out_tongue:


I take it then, that you disagree with the quote in the original post?

Agreed! The suffering occurs only when we are clinging to 5 aggregates, in this case the memory of nice experience. The nibbana lays in not attaching to or letting go of clinging! Life is not suffering, but there is suffering in life!

I think if you attend more carefully, you will see that all of those lovely experiences are stained, so to speak, with a tincture of wistful sadness, since you know that they are impermanent and are passing away before your eyes. Your friends are corpses-to-be. The beauty of the flowers and shrubs are fleeting and doomed. The little insects and frogs live for only a moment as they move around furtively craving food and mates. In your own mind, your enjoyment is hindered by a disquieting sense of things left undone, or imperfections that need to be made more perfect. Everything is pulsating with a painful longing for something more, better, other.

It seems to me that this consciousness of pain is always with us, although we suppress it to some degree hen we are enjoying ourselves, and is what the Buddha described as an arrow embedded in our hearts. The Buddha’s path is about removing that arrow, bit by bit.


Yes. It is all dukkha and delusion. That is why the Buddha taught cessation and only cessation:

“You should dwell contemplating the impermanence of all formations, perceiving suffering in what is impermanent, perceiving non-self in what is suffering, perceiving abandonment, perceiving dispassion, perceiving cessation.”

Arahant touches Nibbana in this very life:

Te jhāyino sātatikā niccaṃ daḷhaparakkamā
Phusanti dhīrā nibbāṇaṃ yogakkhemaṃ anuttaraṃ.

The enlightened, constantly absorbed in jhana, persevering, firm in their effort:
they touch Unbinding, the unexcelled safety from bondage.

— Dhp 23

‘‘Rūpadhātuṃ pariññāya, arūpesu asaṇṭhitā;
Nirodhe ye vimuccanti, te janā maccuhāyino.

‘‘Kāyena amataṃ dhātuṃ, phusayitvā nirūpadhiṃ;
Upadhippaṭinissaggaṃ, sacchikatvā anāsavo;
Deseti sammāsambuddho, asokaṃ virajaṃ pada’’nti.

Comprehending the property of form, not taking a stance in the formless,
those released in cessation are people who’ve left death behind.

Having touched with his body the deathless property free from acquisitions,
having realized the relinquishing of acquisitions, fermentation-free,
the Rightly Self-awakened One teaches the state with no sorrow, no dust.

Itivuttaka 51

‘‘Pamādaṃ bhayato disvā, appamādañca khemato;
Bhāvethaṭṭhaṅgikaṃ maggaṃ, phusantā amataṃ pada’’nti.

"Seeing heedlessness as fearful,
And heedfulness as security,
Develop the eight-fold path,
Touching the deathless state.”

Theragatha 980

‘‘Sutvā ca kho mahesissa, saccaṃ sampaṭivijjhahaṃ;
Tattheva virajaṃ dhammaṃ, phusayiṃ amataṃ padaṃ.

Therigatha 149

In comparison with the happiness of Nibbana, everything else is, naturally, unsatisfactory.