The Two Extremes of Buddha

When we view the Buddha, it strikes me that there are two extremes of conceptualization that often come up in discussion (this is referring to Buddhist discussion boards particularly).

Extreme 1: The Buddha was an utterly normal man who really learned how to be chill, and you should learn from him how to be chill, because then you will be less stressed out.

Extreme 2: The Buddha is God and he is here to deliver you from the realm of endless hell.

I am presenting extremes of these extremes, but out of curiousity, does anyone have a similar experience when reading Buddhist forums and seeing people argue Buddhology?

Isn’t this the case with many unusual human beings. When I read, how Tiger Woods hits a hole in one, it appears to me that he is a super normal person. But when I read about his private life, he just an average human. Tiger Woods could be a wrong example, but when you read about Jesus Christ also you find similar qualities.
I think this is due to Iddhipada (supernormal powers) not active all the time. Buddha can read other’s mind but sometimes he did not know what happened to the monks in the monastery.

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Would you say the extremes in the forums simply reflect the diversity of views that actually exist in reality and not just in buddhist forums?

For example, Western secular buddhist present the Buddha as a normal person that achieved x, and the promise is that you can do the same. On the other extreme, some schools of mahayana present the buddha as a God to be worshiped and whose name is to be endlessly repeated, so the practitioner can go to some type heaven or attains some spiritual goal. Some schools of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism actually encourage practitioners to chant for anything they desire and they worship the Gohonzon.

Perhaps you are referring specifically to early buddhism. But that still has the extremes you refer to. There is is huge gulf between the type of western-secular-early-buddhism taught by Stephen Batchelor, and the early buddhism taught by, say, Bhikkhu Bodhi. Not just in terms of how they view the Buddha, but also in terms of how they view so many of the central concepts in early buddhism.

I’d say the diversity of views found in online forums reflects the genuine diversity of views in the various schools of early buddhism that exist today. It is a true thicket views.

This sounds rather exaggerated. Rather than “less stressed out” it is more about “ending suffering”.

Apart from this, the EBTs (MN 117, etc) do refer to two sorts of right view, which is why there are two sorts of Dhamma.

This has been the case from Day 1, when in SN 56.11 it was taught: “This is what is to be done by those who have left the household life”.

Regards :seedling:

Perhaps a new topic here: is it really possible to live life, to be engaged with life, to actively live life and not suffer at all? Living a full life entails both happiness and suffering. Aristotle said the ‘un-examined life is not worth living’. The common retort is : ‘the un-lived life is not worth examining’. We could also add: ‘the fully lived life can never be without suffering’.

I trust it is possible. However, if you are an arahant, your “engagement” with life is more limited than a lay person, since life is only about alms round, teaching the Dhamma, generating metta, giving blessings, etc.

Regards :deciduous_tree:

You know …even to this day, right now in some parts of the world, an arahant could return to her Vihara compound and find it burnt to the ground by terrorist bandits who have raped, tortured and killed all the inhabitants. The arahant would see all that she loves and cares for, all that she spent a lifetime in building and nurturing, suddenly raped, butchered and burned. I wonder if an arahant would truly feel nothing in such a situation, “Oh well, just another day in samsara. Oh look, there is some shade by that tree, let me go meditate.”

Or rather, would the arahant not fall to the ground upon seeing such a sight. Fall to the ground and be racked by pain and grief, scream and cry in agony. I know the Buddha instructs to feel no ill will or anger even as bandits tear us apart. But surely the arahant would feel sadness, grief and agony at the sight of her entire community being murdered. No?

The middle ground is stream entry. The life of a stream entrant is so very normal that it would hardly be distinguishable from that of a non-stream entrant (apart from their moral behaviour and faith in the triple gem, which are of course, personal aspects). It is said to be (by whom?) the middle ground or path between the material and the spiritual. The fact that someone is a stream entrant means that they are guaranteed enlightenment, in this life or thereafter. Also they retain all their defilements allowing them to ‘live life to the fullest’- ie -enjoy everything life can offer. Visakha the stream enterer was married, and had many children. She used to attend on the Buddha a lot and was a prominent member of the community. Her fashionable outfits have even been mentioned- especially her jewelry! I think she remained a stream entrant until her death, as far as I am aware. There were lay men who were merchants but noble attained individuals. This path can be as gradual as one wants it to be. So it might be that after becoming a stream entrant, higher attainments call out for more practice, but its not urgent, now that a great mass of potential suffering has been lopped off.

with metta


How many arahants are there in the world? Not many, I would think.

So, yes, I think that a true arahant would not experience grief. But such beings are exceedingly rare.

I think it is often the case that non-attachment and not caring look like the same thing. They are of course, not the same. Not feeling suffering, yet responding compassionately understanding the distress the other person is going through, is a good compromise, and a good alternative to rolling on the floor crying, which is not really helpful to the other person who is actually suffering.

with metta

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It seems like an extreme form of clinical detachment. Extreme in the sense that everyone and everything is regarded with clinical detachment.

We are already ‘clinically detached’ in situations that we aren’t invested in. For example a scratch on the other guy’s car or the epidemic (again?) in another person’s country. Alobha is non-craving. It isn’t tuning out/selective attention or dissociation from reality or hardening ones heart. It simply seeing the drawbacks (aadinava) of attachment/clinging. :slightly_smiling_face:.

With metta

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Possibly. But I think it is clear that the suttas present this as the ideal state achieved by the saints. The arahant is said to have no “dear ones.” Although the arahants possesses metta, a disposition of perfect good will toward all sentient beings, and karuna, a concern to relieve the suffering of sentient beings wherever it is found, such good will and concern are not supposed to be accompanied in the mind of the arahant by the kind of emotional involvement with beings that brings with it a sense of grief or loss when those beings’ existences come to an end, and which is egotistic at bottom.

Calling this state of mind “clinical” seems like an attempt to pathologize the state. But I think that possibly imposes a value system from the modern mental health professions that accepts samsaric emotional engagement as the only normal and completely healthy way to be, at least when experienced within moderate bounds, and cannot conceive of any higher state of function. The arahant is not supposed to be indifferently bereft of good will and concern for beings, but that concern is also not supposed to involve the painful feelings of grief, remorse, guilt, bondage, anxiety, pity and “co-suffering” that characterize ordinary life. Whether such a state of mind is possible is part of the question of whether arahantship actually exists.

But it is easier for the rest of us to identify with the learners, not the arahants.

Then venerable Ānanda, after entering the living place, and leaning against the door-lintel, stood there crying: “The Teacher will attain Final Emancipation while I am still a Trainee with much to do, he who has compassion for me!”

Then the Gracious One addressed the monks, saying: “Where, monks, is Ānanda?”

“This venerable Ānanda, reverend Sir, after entering the living place, and leaning against the door-lintel, stands there crying: ‘The Teacher will attain Final Emancipation while I am still a Trainee with much to do, he who has compassion for me!’”

Then the Gracious One addressed a certain monk, saying: “Go, monk, and in my name address Ānanda, saying: ‘The Teacher, friend Ānanda, is calling you.’”

“Very well, reverend Sir, and after replying to the Gracious One, he approached venerable Ānanda, and after approaching he said this to venerable Ānanda: “The Teacher, friend Ānanda, is calling you.”

“Very well, friend,” said venerable Ānanda, and after replying to that monk, he approached the Gracious One, and after approaching and worshipping the Gracious One, he sat down on one side. While sitting on one side the Gracious One said this to venerable Ānanda:

“Enough, Ānanda, don’t grieve, don’t lament, were you not warned by me when I declared: ‘There is alteration in, separation from, and changeability in all that is dear and appealing.’ How can it be otherwise, Ānanda, for that which is obtained, born, become, conditioned, subject to dissolution? It is not possible to say this: ‘The Realised One’s body should not dissolve’.

For a long time, Ānanda, you dwelt near to the Realised One with beneficial, pleasant, trustworthy, and limitlessly friendly bodily actions, with beneficial, pleasant, trustworthy, and limitlessly friendly speech actions, with beneficial, pleasant, trustworthy, and limitlessly friendly mental actions, you have done meritorious deeds, Ānanda, you should devote yourself to quickly striving to be one who is pollutant-free!”

All the directions are obscure,
The teachings are not clear to me;
With our benevolent friend gone,
It seems as if all is darkness.

For one whose friend has passed away,
One whose teacher is gone for good,
There is no friend that can compare
With mindfulness of the body.

The old ones have all passed away;
I do not fit in with the new.
And so today I muse alone
Like a bird who has gone to roost.

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In many ways echoing what Mat said, though I haven’t looked up the exact definition of clinical detachment, I have the impression that blocking out the unbearable pain of reality is a big part of the deal. By stark contrast, as I understand it, the Buddha’s encouragement is to turn towards reality and see it exactly as it is. Seeing “merely the seen” in the seen (SN 35.95) - and not adding any of the personal distortion on top that generates our endless heartache - we can look directly at anything the world has to offer with equanimity (very much distinct from indifference, suppression or anything of the like).

If the arahant was completely detached from the suffering around them in a “dead-ish” kind of way I, personally, don’t see how we would have even ended up with the Buddha’s teachings in the first place, as he wouldn’t have bothered to teach. The sutta’s state quite often enough that the Buddha taught out of compassion - that is, he was moved by the suffering of others.

Indeed, the suffering he saw (by my impression) is far, far worse that the horrific hypothetical situation presented above: he saw countless beings endlessly and hopelessly roaming about in samsara drowning in all the torment that entails. Seeing such misery with perfect clarity, he was beyond such affliction as would cause him to drop to his knees and weep; however compassion motivated him to teach so that those willing to listen would find the same unshakable peace he enjoyed. Doesn’t sound very detached to me.


So what has been established is that nibbana (complete freedom from suffering) is NOT the cessation of perception and feeling, it is not the end of the arahant’s existence, and it is not being in some jhanic state or in some other dimension.

You have all argued that the arahant exists in this world and never suffers. Therefore, the arahant is in a constant state of freedom from suffering. Which is a constant state of nibbana.
So, nibbana is a continuous conscious living state here and now.


If you want a definitive answer, it’s probably best to train and find out for yourself :wink: - for my own part I’m not comfortable speculating beyond what is explicitly given in the texts. The bare-bones version of my comment above would thus be that the arahant appears to have a capacity for compassion.

Everything else I prefer (just in accordance with my own tastes) to leave alone as 1) I think the answer is so far passed words/intellectual reasoning as to make it an unsatisfying pursuit (for me) and 2) I can so readily see I’ve got so much work to do at the ‘humdrum’ sila end of things I needn’t concern myself too much with what to expect nibbana-wise any time soon. :laughing: As such I respectfully bow out of the inquiry.

It is not speculation. If the arahant never suffers, then he is in a constant state of nibbana.


Sometimes, relief seems to be reaction when witnessing suffering in others. From Ud 2.6:


Or sometimes people are seen as irritating, which would be the opposite of dull and forced indifference and detachment:

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