The six senses cease, is there nothing else?

Dear all, :slight_smile:

In SN35.23 it is said that the six senses are “all” or “everything”. Many this take to mean there is no possibility for existence or experience apart from these six senses. The sutta confirms that, since it says that if you claim there is another “everything” (e.g. a seventh consciousness), then that is just groundless.

Since the six senses are “everything”, when the six senses cease, all consciousness ceases. There is nothing left to experience.

However, in AN4.173 it is said that:

"With the remainderless fading away and cessation of the six bases for contact, is there nothing else?”

"Do not say so, friend.” (Bodhi)

This seems to refute the view, and has indeed been used by some to argue that the view is wrong. (Even though they generally tend to claim that there is something beyond the six senses, which the sutta addresses in the exact same way.)

I think the English translation by Ven. Bodhi (as well as Bhante @Sujato) is too free, it should be more close to the Pāli. Then the problem goes away (if we are also careful of the English phrasing used). Let me explain as best as I can so non-Pali students can also understand too.

Consider first the next two translations of n’atthi no kiñci uttariṁ karaṇīyaṁ (MN39):

  1. There isn’t anything more for us to be done.
  2. There is nothing more for us to be done.

These are equivalent in meaning. Whether there isn’t anything more to be done or whether there is nothing more to be done, the situation is the exact same. But the latter sounds better in English, so that is what people use. However, the Pāli literally says the first. Translators have turned “not anything” into “nothing”.

That’s no problem in this case, but it creates an issue for the subtle philosophical statements on the nature of parinibbāna in AN4.173. Now, here are two translations of the relevant passage, first Bhante Sujato’s and then mine:

“Reverend, when the six fields of contact have faded away and ceased with nothing left over, does something else exist?” “Don’t put it like that, reverend.”

“Does nothing else exist?” “Don’t put it like that, reverend.”

“Do both something else and nothing else exist?” “Don’t put it like that, reverend.”

“Do neither something else nor nothing else exist?” “Don’t put it like that, reverend.”

“Venerable, after the six senses completely fade away and cease, will something else still exist?” “Don’t say that, venerable.”

“After the six senses completely fade away and cease, will something else no longer exist?” “Don’t say that.”

“After the six senses completely fade away and cease, will something else both still exist and no longer exist?” “Don’t say that.”

“After the six senses completely fade away and cease, will something else neither still exist nor no longer exist?” “Don’t say that.”

We’re concerned with: "after the six senses completely fade away and cease, will something else no longer exist?” This implies that something beyond the six senses existed before death, which now also ceases to be. This “something” can be a self, for example, in which case this becomes the view of annihilation: the idea that a self ceases at death.

The commentary the agrees with my interpretation. It says this statement is about annihilationism (uccheda).

So now we can understand why things shouldn’t be put like that! But the translation “nothing” doesn’t portray this properly, I think.

The suggested translation also agrees much better with the classic tetralemma:

  1. X
  2. not X
  3. both X and not X
  4. neither X nor not X

This tetralemma is famously applied to the situation of a supposed tathāgata-being (i.e. self) after death. Notice how equivalent the following is to AN4.173:

“Sir Gotama, tell me, will a truthfinder (tathāgata) still exist after death?”

“Vaccha, I don’t affirm that a truthfinder will still exist after death.”

“Then how is it, will a truthfinder no longer exist after death?”

“I don’t affirm that a truthfinder will no longer exist after death.”

“Then how is it, will a truthfinder both still exist and no longer exist after death?”

“I don’t affirm that a truthfinder will both still exist and no longer exist after death.”

“Then how is it, will a truthfinder neither still exist nor no longer exist after death?”

“I don’t affirm that a truthfinder will neither still exist nor no longer exist after death.” (SN44.8)

This is essentially the same exchange as in AN4.173, just in different words.

I think this equivalence to the tetralemma is also lost if we translate “does nothing else exist” in AN4.173.

For another indication of the equivalence between the passages, AN4.173 continues to say all four statements are elaboration (or ‘proliferation’, papañca), and in AN7.54 this is also said about the four statements on the tathāgata. In this case I take papañca to mean you “elaborate” beyond what exits by posing either a thing beyond the six senses or a tathagata-being.

AN4.173 indeed says that the scope of elaboration should only go as far as the six senses. So all statements must be wrong because they go beyond this scope. But saying “there is nothing else” does not do so! It stays exactly within the boundary of the six senses, by posing there is nothing outside of them. So this also indicates that this is not a good translation.

As a final thought, the Pāli for “does something else no longer exist” is natthaññaṃ kiñci (= na atthi aññaṃ kiñci, overly literally, “no exist else something”). It seems to me that if the question meant to ask whether there is nothing left after the six senses cease, the word aññaṃ shouldn’t be there. Because na atthi kiñci already means “there is nothing” (or literally “there isn’t anything”). The ‘else’ (aññaṃ) is here exactly to indicate the statement is about something else from the six senses.

Would love to hear your comments. Do you get my reasoning? I mean, I’m arguing against great translators here, so I’m a bit hesitant. :slight_smile:

(PS. I hope we can prevent this from becoming another debate on the nature of nibbāna and knowledge, and discuss the translation issue instead.)


Existence and experience are not the same. Except, perhaps, for some kinds of views that proclaim that there is only what can be experienced and nothing else: “The whole world is me” and the like.

The sutta SN35.23 is literally just saying:

Mendicants, suppose someone was to say:
‘I’ll reject this all and describe another all.’ They’d have no grounds for that…

“Wouldn’t be able to describe” and “Doesn’t exist” are two completely different statements, and only one of them is about experience, unless, again, there are some kind of very specific views as a context.

Saying “Do not say so” is not the same as saying “This is wrong” or “No”. For example, it could simply mean that the question is illegitimate because it is based on false assumptions, and to answer that question “yes” or “no” or even “don’t know” would be to accept those false assumptions as true and valid - to answer that question in any way is to proliferate the wrong views on which that question is based, and the only correct way to deal with such questions is to deny their validity: “Don’t say so, friend. … If you say that ‘…', you’re proliferating the unproliferated.”

For example: NA CA SO by Ven. Ñāṇavīra:

Na ca so na ca añño , ‘Neither he nor another’. This often-quoted dictum occurs in the Milindapañha somewhere, as the answer to the question ‘When a man dies, who is reborn—he or another?’. This question is quite illegitimate, and any attempt to answer it cannot be less so. The question, in asking who is reborn, falls into sakkāyaditthi . It takes for granted the validity of the person as ‘self’; for it is only about ‘self’ that this question—‘Eternal (so ) or perishable (añño )?’—can be asked (cf. PATICCASAMUPPĀDA, ANICCA [a], & SAKKĀYA). The answer also takes this ‘self’ for granted, since it allows that the question can be asked. It merely denies that this ‘self’ (which must be either eternal or perishable) is either eternal or perishable, thus making confusion worse confounded. The proper way is to reject the question in the first place. Compare Anguttara VI,ix,10 <A.iii,440> AN6.95, where it is said that the ditthisampanna not only can not hold that the author of pleasure and pain was somebody (either himself or another) but also can not hold that the author was not somebody (neither himself nor another). The ditthisampanna sees the present person (sakkāya ) as arisen dependent upon present conditions and as ceasing with the cessation of these present conditions. And, seeing this, he does not regard the present person as present ‘self’. Consequently, he does not ask the question Who? about the present. By inference — atītānāgate nayam netvā having induced the principle to past and future (cf. Gāmini Samy. 11 <S.iv,328> SN42.11)[a]—he does not regard the past or future person as past or future ‘self’, and does not ask the question Who? about the past or the future. (Cf. Māra’s question in line 2 of PARAMATTHA SACCA §1.)

So all such questions have nothing to do with the assertion of the existence or non-existence of anything beyond the six spheres, or of the existence of anything at all, or after death, etc. metaphysics. The problem lies much deeper: in the ordinary person’s lack of understanding of the very fact of the illegitimacy of such questions, because for the ordinary person the fact and reality is “I am”, beyond which it is impossible to go by mere reasoning. (And even the denial of one’s own existence is impossible for the ordinary person without the implicit assertion of “I am”, because in order to deny one’s own existence, one must first exist).

In short, all such suttas are not at all about what the questions are asking, but about the wrong understanding of anatta.

So to draw, or even think of drawing, any conclusions about existence from the illegitimate questions of an4.173, or about the existence of the world and Tathagata from the illegitimate questions of SN44.8 or AN7.54, is to make exactly the same mistake - not even the same kind of mistake or a similar kind of mistake - but exactly the same mistake as those who asked these questions in the suttas, and the mistake is exactly one and the same in all these cases.


Venerable. The sutta says when the six fields of contact nirodha, proliferation also is subject to nirodha. The elephant in the room here is the word nirodha. Since you have shown an interest in commentary, have you considered how the Visuddhimagga explains the etymology of the word ‘nirodha’?

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I disagree with this. Not everything is about anatta. But I don’t want to discuss it here. Just want to say thanks for the comment.

Thanks also.
The Visuddhimagga usually doesn’t give serious etymologies. They are teaching devices, not alternatives to lexicographical etymologies. For example a bhikkhu is “one who sees (ikkhati) the danger (bhaya) in samsara”. This is the silliest “etymology”, because the word just comes from the verb bhikkhati, meaning to go for alms. But it reminds bhikkhus of samsara, so it’s helpful. I’ll bet you the situation is similar with nirodha.

I don’t see how this is relevant, though.


It means is there something real which exists after their cessation or something real which ceases to exist. Instead, they just cease. Because the bases arise and cease, they can’t be said to be real or unreal. That’s my Madhyamaka influenced reading of it.

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"[Sariputta:] “The statement, ‘With the remainderless stopping & fading of the six contact-media [vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, & intellection] is it the case that there is anything else?’ objectifies non-objectification.”

—Anguttara Nikaya 4.174

The All refers to conditioned reality only. In everything the Buddha says the unconditioned should be taken as an implied reality influencing the statement. Here Sariputta objects to it being spoken about.

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Hi Ven, thanks for the convincing argument, and also thanks for taking to time to offer an alternative that actually reads as English!

In fact I think the argument could be made simpler, that the translations by Bodhi and myself are simply wrong, because of distributing the negative incorrectly. This becomes apparent in the third clause.

Bodhi: Is there both something else and nothing else?
Sujato: Do both something else and nothing else exist?

This places the positive/negative dichotomy on the “something else”. But that would be something like:

atthi aññaṁ ca kiñci naññaṁ ca kiñci

Whereas the Pali places the dichotomy on the verb, per your translation:

atthi ca natthi ca aññaṁ kiñci
does something else both still exist and no longer exist

And I agree, this also makes the parallels with the other relevant passages quite compelling. I’ll review them and change them accordingly. I could do with some help here, it’ll be tricky to get everything done, as such phrases are not always standardized!

And you would win that bet!

I recently had a chat on this exact point. It seems to be something that has gained traction in the idea-o-sphere? Anyway, Buddhaghosa in Vsm traces nirodha (in a rather passing way) to its root sense of “obstruction”. This has been used by some, notably Phra Payutto in his book on dependent origination in the 90s, to argue that nirodha in dependent origination means not that things “cease” but that they are “not an obstacle” or “are not a problem”.

The rhetoric this argument is leveraging, I think, is the notion that Buddhaghosa’s approach (which of course is the approach of the Mahavihara, not Buddhaghosa personally) has an annihilationist streak, but even then he doesn’t take nirodha to be annihilation.

This became the second of the Great Ajahn Brahm Controversies (after he dared suggest that not everything practiced in the Ajahn Chah tradition was found in the Vinaya). Payutto’s translator sent him the book, AB wrote a rebuttal of it, and was hauled up before Ajahn Sumedho and others at Wat Nanachat for a dressing-down, apparently for the crime of disagreeing with a senior monk in a private letter. Of course the issue was not what he said but the way he said it. Not coincidentally, however, it disproved Ajahn Sumedho’s own interpretation of dependent origination.

Anyway, monastic history aside, AB made the very good point that meaning derives from usage, not etymology, and that in the case of central doctrines like dependent origination it is usually possible to find a place where the meaning is definitively stated. He cited the Mahanidanasutta, where nirodha is replaced with:

Jāti ca hi, ānanda, nābhavissa sabbena sabbaṁ sabbathā sabbaṁ kassaci kimhici
Suppose there were totally and utterly no rebirth for anyone anywhere.

Which could hardly be more emphatic. The commentary to this passage says:

sabbākārena sabbā sabbena sabhāvena sabbā jāti nāma yadi na bhaveyya

(Rephrasing the original)

And later:

Jātinirodhāti jātivigamā, jātiabhāvāti attho
“cessation of rebirth” means “disappearance of rebirth, non-existence of rebirth”.

In the key definition in the commentary to SN 12.1, the commentary says:

Nirodho hotīti anuppādo hoti
“It ceases” means “it does not arise”.

There are any number of other passages that could be cited in support of this, but that should be enough. Nirodha means “cessation”, and the commentaries are perfectly well aware of this.




Ah, that’s riiiigth! :laughing: I felt something was wrong with the tetralemma structure in your and Ven. Bodhi’s translation there (as well as in the 4th clause) but didn’t see :man_facepalming: that you both put ‘else’ in there twice! Which is not in the Pali! Now you’ve convinced me, hahaha. Thanks for pointing that out.

I should thank my Pali students also, because it was by explaining the indefinite pronouns to them that I realized what was going on. Sometimes it becomes so automatic to translate standard phrases (e.g. na kiñci) in standard ways (e.g. nothing) that I no longer look at what the Pali is actually saying. But having to explain it to others from the ground up, brings such things into light. When it comes to these kinds of things, we’re all learning together, is the thing.

I’m happy that you agree with my suggestion. If you implement it, it will prevent some unnecessary confusion among people, I’m sure.

While we’re on the topic, may I also suggest to insert ‘no longer’ into “the Realized One does not exist after death”. :smiling_face: Because the way you phrased it, it is technically true: the (imagined) Realized One does not exist after death, because “they” never existed in the first place. The point of the statement, though, is that they are believed to stop existing at death, which is why I think it should be ‘no longer exists’.

There was a whole discussion about this, where some were really confused about the statement (as I used to be). Others explained the statement “not exist after death” was based on certain ancient Indian metaphysics of absolute selves, but I think the issue simply lies in translation. Both you and other translators regularly translate na as ‘no longer’, and I think you should do so here too. Because a difference of time is implied: before and after death. (I think we may have touched upon this before with natthi?)

If you think I can help with anything, Bhante, please send me a PM. Fair warning, though, these both-and and neither-nor statements tend to make my head spin! :crazy_face:


Each of the sense spheres, being not real, arises by causal condition (nidāna); having arisen it ceases completely by causal condition. It is a result of previous action, but there is no doer (not-self, anatta).

Cf.: SA 335, SN 35.197:

Pages 95-6 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (155.3 KB)

Pages 92-3 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (140.7 KB)

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I already did that.

Indeed! I could do with some checking to make sure it’s all consistent.


I just have to say that this torturous reformatting of english in the service of a sectarian interpretation of the undeclared points is a fools errand.

I have a whole thread about how the "didnt exist in the first place argument contradicts the bulk of the arguments in the ebt and is evidenced only in SN, but of course that has been mostly ignored, so to give just one example;

Is suffering produced by oneself?
Is suffering produced by another?
Is suffering produced by both?
Is suffering produced by niether?

All the above are wrong view!

If selves where simply fictions then suffering is produced by either 2 (if selves arent real but others are) or 4, if niether selves nor others are real.

There is a consistent argument in the ebts, more or less with the Yamaka and its derivitives the only exception, that the undeclared points are what they are regardless of the “reality” of beings, existants, etc.

As i have pointed out multiple times here MN72 does NOT imply that the fire wasnt real to begin with, OR that the cardinal directions arnt real.

This piecmeal revision of translations to attempt to support the rarer and less coherant argent in the ebts seems bizzare, and I can only think that it is primarily motivated by andesire to defent therevada orthodoxy, which is a shame given that the corpus is the inheritence of ALL buddhists.

“Suppose that the person who does the deed experiences the result. Then for one who has existed since the beginning, suffering is made by oneself. This statement leans toward eternalism.
“‘So karoti so paṭisaṁvedayatī’ti kho, kassapa, ādito sato ‘sayaṅkataṁ dukkhan’ti iti vadaṁ sassataṁ etaṁ pareti.

Suppose that one person does the deed and another experiences the result. Then for one stricken by feeling, suffering is made by another. This statement leans toward annihilationism.
‘Añño karoti añño paṭisaṁvedayatī’ti kho, kassapa, vedanābhitunnassa sato ‘paraṅkataṁ dukkhan’ti iti vadaṁ ucchedaṁ etaṁ pareti.

so by the above argument if we claim that we are the same identity over time that is that we produce suffering and experience the results then we are eternalists, but if we say that we are different now from what we where then, thus experiencing the results of anothers actions then we are annihilationists.

i guess “both” and “niether” are left as excersizes for the reader, but while not being elaborated, they are definitely both rejected.

Once again, there is simply no way a fictionalist position can account for all this, and its a shame to break the coherence across the range of examples by shoehorning fictionalism wherever it sort of fits and ignoring where it doesnt (until some genius grammarian works out how to do more “justice” to the pali).

It also creates greater tension with the agama sources, and again given the mission of this site seems a shame.


These are the same questions as "Does the self exist after death, not exist, both exists and does not exist, neither exists nor does not exist. The first is the Brahmin view. The second is the Annihilationist view. The third is the Jain view.

There is a problem with our way of accounting for change. Noticing this state of affair, South Asian philosophers engaged in raging debates around the paradoxes of causality at the turn of the CE. In a nutshell, if someone says “the potter makes the pot”, there are several types of possible stance on this:

one can say that the effect “pot” already exists prior to the fruition of its immediate cause;

one can say that it does not, hence the relevance of the causation process;

some that it is neither existent, nor non-existent before the causation process;

and one can also say that it both exists and does not exist prior to that.

While philosophers from different lineages have been variously depicted as holding one or the other of these alternatives, Jainas are consistently depicted as holding the last one and it is regularly considered as a Jaina specificity to hold that something both exists and does not exist prior to the causation process. But of course, Jains are far from being the only ones to claim so. Besides, they claim more precisely that what exists is at once originating, decaying and persisting in an essential and simultaneous way:

TS 5.29. Existence is endowed with production, decay and duration.

Indeed, any existing entity is both made of permanent atoms, sometimes including a permanent self; and partaking to the manifold and changing world we experience (Soni 1991). Here, while it is produced:

the pot is already existent with respect to its substance (dravya), the clay;
yet formerly non-existent with respect to its particular modes (paryāya; guṇa): shape, function, etc.

Jaina Philosophy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

As you can see, all of these views pivot around substance theory and causation. For the Jains the atta both exists and doesn’t exist, because it is an eternally changing substance (due to the modifications of the soul that comes with the sub-atomic karma particles). The reason why the Buddha doesn’t answer them is because, via dependent origination, he rejects substance metaphysics. The questions do not apply, because substance is not acknowledged. For the Buddha, there is no substance in sense experience, and all we can know is sense experience for Him. The questions then become meaningless. Subsequently, when substance is denied, when essentialism and absolute identity of things is denied, then nothing can be established as being real or unreal.

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Hi Joseph, thanks for commenting. :slightly_smiling_face:

But with all respect, guessing at the motivations behind the words of others doesn’t seem to be particularly helpful in situations like these on any front. And in my personal experience it’s almost always wrong, anyway. Even trained psychologists often get things majorly wrong after hours of consultation with their clients.

Perhaps reread the post with this in mind, and also Ajahn Sujato’s response. I won’t say I don’t have a bias (because everybody does, even the Buddha, we might as well admit it) but you’ll see that the core arguments are based on the grammar, which is as neutral and back-to-the-corpus as you can possibly get. The rest was a container for and fleshing out of that.

If you can read Pali, you’ll have to at least agree that it makes sense linguistically. And if we want to compare texts and study them from a neutral perspective, shouldn’t we at least start with linguistically accurate translations? I would say it’s perfectly in line with the mission of this site! :slightly_smiling_face:

Is suffering produced by niether?

This is not the full view, at least not in the sutta’s I recall, but perhaps you can correct me. As I recall the view is “is suffering produced by neither, having originated by chance”. This is wrong, because it is still the results of specific actions, so it isn’t random. There is still a certain continuity there from one life to the next, although it doesn’t involve a self.

The same idea applies to persons experiencing deeds of themselves or others. If you think it is a completely different person who in the next life experiences results of your deeds, then you might as well end your life to end your suffering (hence it’s annihilistic). (This is not just a theory, some people, like some secular Buddhists, do think of rebirth more or less like this.) If you think it’s the exact same person, the real you as it were, who experiences the results, then you are falling into eternalism. But it’s a self-less stream of aggregates that continues, so neither situation applies.

The “both” and “neither” of these situations aren’t there indeed, thanks for pointing that out. They are not implied either, because the sutta follows with “the middle way between” these two views. The middle way is always said to be between two extremes, not between four.

So these quotes actually support my view, and I would like to thank you for bringing them up.

But now we’re discussing views again, which you implied are biased. So if you have some more neutral remarks, on grammar or the like, please let me know.


They are there Bhante

Is suffering produced by both?

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Thanks Ceisiwr.

But I was talking about this passage (SN12.17):

“Suppose that the person who does the deed experiences the result. Then for one who has existed since the beginning, suffering is made by oneself. This statement leans toward eternalism. Suppose that one person does the deed and another experiences the result. Then for one stricken by feeling, suffering is made by another. This statement leans toward annihilationism. Avoiding these TWO extremes, the Realized One teaches by the middle way:

The passage you refer to occur earlier in the same sutta.

And my point there was that the “neither” view also in this sutta is not simply “neither oneself nor another”. It is "then does suffering arise by chance, not made by oneself or another?” The text departs from the standard tetralemma (A, not A, both A and not A, neither A nor not A) here by including “by chance”, so that must be the most relevant bit. And I think this happens everywhere where this dilemma is discussed, but please prove me wrong.

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Ah my mistake. Still, I see it as being covered since 3 is a combination of those two as per the Jain view. The last view is a bit more obscure though. Possibly it presents a view of rejecting all the other possibilities whilst still wanting to posit something.

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Ah. Am I right in understanding that the Jains thought suffering was created by both because it was due to the inner self AND external karmic particles? Or is that too simplistic.

Ha! Even hear we beg to differ! (Much love sunyo, your reasons are of course your own)

But for real, trying to understand what could possibly motivate the fictionalist argument i resort even to speculation about the minds of others :slight_smile:

I have no time and am on my phone but will try to respond more civilly ant thoroughly when i have an opportunity.

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This is an important issue probably deserving of its own thread re the meaning of the pali , but something can’t be by chance and not random at the same time.

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This is such a fantastic explination right up till the last minute!

If person A is identical to B
Then the AB person exists eternally

If A is not identical to B
Then person A is annihilated.

If A is both identical and non identical to B
Then person A in contradiction with person B

If A is niether identical nor non identical to B
Then A is in contradiction with B

With the aggregates its the same formal argument

If the aggregates cease and something remains
You have eternalism

If the agreggates cease and nothing remains
You have annihilationism (the aggregates are annihilated)

If the aggregates cease and there obtains a situation whereby there both is and is not anything else you have a contradiction

If the aggregates cease and there obtains niether that there is nothing nor that there is something you have a contradiction

The argument in general form is consistent in all cases in the ebt bar the yamaka and the agama source omits the claim the yamaka makes

Why try to make of a good doctrine, anatta, a bad argument, like fictionalism, especially when there is a better argument, that clearly preceedes anatta in the shared corpus of pali and chinese, that removes the need for fictionalist arguments entirely?

And especially especially when the actual positive argumnet, that is “conditionality”, works in all cases regardless of wether we regard the terms as real, fictional, both or niether!!

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