TO BE OR NOT TO BE, the undeclared points in the 4 principle Nikayas:

TO BE OR NOT TO BE (or both, or neither) The undeclared points in the 4 principle Nikayas.

The undeclared points are a number of questions, typically ten, but sometimes as few as two, as at SN44.10, and sometimes as many as 11, as at AN10.95, and often 4, as at SN12.17. This essay focuses on the standard set of ten, and looks at the differing explanations given for the Buddha’s silence in the different suttas.

We first see the undeclared points introduced at DN1 and DN2, where they are used to illustrate the failure of skepticism, or Ajñāna philosophy, first in general, and then in particular in the form given to it by Sañjaya Belatthiputra, in both instances it is decried as “stupid”. This starts us off being able to at least eliminate one idea; that the Buddha was a skeptic with regards to the possibility of knowledge in relation to the undeclared points, whatever the explanation of the undeclared points in Buddhism, agnosticism or skepticism is eliminated literally in chapter one (and two) of the first Big Book of Buddhism, the Digha Nikaya.

The lists given at DN1 and DN2 are idiosyncratic when compared with the lists given in the other suttas, presumably because they reflect not the Buddhas undeclared points, but the Ajñāna undeclared points, however the crucial overlap is in the last four questions; Does a Buddha exist after death? not exist? Both? Neither? These, along with some new questions about the temporal and spatial extent of the world (finitude vs infinitude) and the identity or difference between the person and the body, become the standard list in subsequent discussions.
Here are the relevant passages from DN1 and DN2:

And what is the fourth ground on which they rely?
Catutthe ca bhonto samaṇabrāhmaṇā kimāgamma kimārabbha amarāvikkhepikā tattha tattha pañhaṁ puṭṭhā samānā vācāvikkhepaṁ āpajjanti amarāvikkhepaṁ?

It’s when some ascetic or brahmin is dull and stupid.
Idha, bhikkhave, ekacco samaṇo vā brāhmaṇo vā mando hoti momūho.

Because of that, whenever they’re asked a question, they resort to evasiveness and equivocation:
So mandattā momūhattā tattha tattha pañhaṁ puṭṭho samāno vācāvikkhepaṁ āpajjati amarāvikkhepaṁ:

‘Suppose you were to ask me whether there is another world. If I believed there was, I would say so.
‘atthi paro loko’ti iti ce maṁ pucchasi, ‘atthi paro loko’ti iti ce me assa, ‘atthi paro loko’ti iti te naṁ byākareyyaṁ,

But I don’t say it’s like this. I don’t say it’s like that. I don’t say it’s otherwise. I don’t say it’s not so. And I don’t deny it’s not so.
‘evantipi me no, tathātipi me no, aññathātipi me no, notipi me no, no notipi me no’ti.

Suppose you were to ask me whether there is no other world …
‘Natthi paro loko …pe…

whether there both is and is not another world …
‘atthi ca natthi ca paro loko …pe…

whether there neither is nor is not another world …
‘nevatthi na natthi paro loko …pe…

whether there are beings who are reborn spontaneously …
‘atthi sattā opapātikā …pe…

whether there are not beings who are reborn spontaneously …
‘natthi sattā opapātikā …pe…

whether there both are and are not beings who are reborn spontaneously …
‘atthi ca natthi ca sattā opapātikā …pe…

whether there neither are nor are not beings who are reborn spontaneously …
‘nevatthi na natthi sattā opapātikā …pe…

whether there is fruit and result of good and bad deeds …
‘atthi sukatadukkaṭānaṁ kammānaṁ phalaṁ vipāko …pe…

whether there is not fruit and result of good and bad deeds …
‘natthi sukatadukkaṭānaṁ kammānaṁ phalaṁ vipāko …pe…

whether there both is and is not fruit and result of good and bad deeds …
‘atthi ca natthi ca sukatadukkaṭānaṁ kammānaṁ phalaṁ vipāko …pe…

whether there neither is nor is not fruit and result of good and bad deeds …
‘nevatthi na natthi sukatadukkaṭānaṁ kammānaṁ phalaṁ vipāko …pe…

whether a Realized One exists after death …
‘hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā …pe…

whether a Realized One doesn’t exist after death …
‘na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā …pe…

whether a Realized One both exists and doesn’t exist after death …
‘hoti ca na ca hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā …pe…

whether a Realized One neither exists nor doesn’t exist after death. If I believed there was, I would say so.
‘neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti iti ce maṁ pucchasi, ‘neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti iti ce me assa, ‘neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti iti te naṁ byākareyyaṁ,

But I don’t say it’s like this. I don’t say it’s like that. I don’t say it’s otherwise. I don’t say it’s not so. And I don’t deny it’s not so.’
‘evantipi me no, tathātipi me no, aññathātipi me no, notipi me no, no notipi me no’ti.

This is the fourth ground on which some ascetics and brahmins rely when resorting to evasiveness and equivocation.
Idaṁ, bhikkhave, catutthaṁ ṭhānaṁ, yaṁ āgamma yaṁ ārabbha eke samaṇabrāhmaṇā amarāvikkhepikā tattha tattha pañhaṁ puṭṭhā samānā vācāvikkhepaṁ āpajjanti amarāvikkhepaṁ.

DN1

One time, sir, I approached Sañjaya Belaṭṭhiputta and exchanged greetings with him.
Ekamidāhaṁ, bhante, samayaṁ yena sañcayo belaṭṭhaputto tenupasaṅkamiṁ; upasaṅkamitvā sañcayena belaṭṭhaputtena saddhiṁ sammodiṁ. When the greetings and polite conversation were over,

I sat down to one side, and asked him the same question.
Sammodanīyaṁ kathaṁ sāraṇīyaṁ vītisāretvā ekamantaṁ nisīdiṁ. Ekamantaṁ nisinno kho ahaṁ, bhante, sañcayaṁ belaṭṭhaputtaṁ etadavocaṁ: ‘yathā nu kho imāni, bho sañcaya, puthusippāyatanāni …pe… sakkā nu kho, bho sañcaya, evameva diṭṭheva dhamme sandiṭṭhikaṁ sāmaññaphalaṁ paññapetun’ti?

He said:
Evaṁ vutte, bhante, sañcayo belaṭṭhaputto maṁ etadavoca: ‘

Suppose you were to ask me whether there is another world. If I believed there was, I would say so.
‘atthi paro lokoti iti ce maṁ pucchasi, atthi paro lokoti iti ce me assa, atthi paro lokoti iti te naṁ byākareyyaṁ.

But I don’t say it’s like this. I don’t say it’s like that. I don’t say it’s otherwise. I don’t say it’s not so. And I don’t deny it’s not so.
Evantipi me no, tathātipi me no, aññathātipi me no, notipi me no, no notipi me no.

Suppose you were to ask me whether there is no other world …
Natthi paro loko …pe…

DN2

Next we see the standard list introduced for the first time, at DN9, in a deep philosophical discourse on the nature of perception, and in a part of the discussion where the question seems to be whether we might take our own perspectival frame as our self, that is perhaps our unique selfhood is precisely identical to our perceptions, the Buddha seems to change the subject to the ten undeclared points:

then is this right: ‘The cosmos is eternal. This is the only truth, anything else is wrong’?”
kiṁ pana, bhante, ‘sassato loko, idameva saccaṁ moghamaññan’”ti?

“This has not been declared by me, Poṭṭhapāda.”
“Abyākataṁ kho etaṁ, poṭṭhapāda, mayā: ‘sassato loko, idameva saccaṁ moghamaññan’”ti.

“Then is this right: ‘The cosmos is not eternal. This is the only truth, anything else is wrong’?”
“Kiṁ pana, bhante, ‘asassato loko, idameva saccaṁ moghamaññan’”ti?

“This too has not been declared by me.”
“Etampi kho, poṭṭhapāda, mayā abyākataṁ: ‘asassato loko, idameva saccaṁ moghamaññan’”ti.

“Then is this right: ‘The cosmos is finite …’ …
“Kiṁ pana, bhante, ‘antavā loko …pe…

‘The cosmos is infinite …’ …
‘anantavā loko …

‘The soul and the body are the same thing …’ …
‘taṁ jīvaṁ taṁ sarīraṁ …

‘The soul and the body are different things …’ …
‘aññaṁ jīvaṁ aññaṁ sarīraṁ …

‘A Realized One exists after death …’ …
‘hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā …

‘A Realized One doesn’t exist after death …’ …
‘na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā …

‘A Realized One both exists and doesn’t exist after death …’ …
‘hoti ca na ca hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā …

‘A Realized One neither exists nor doesn’t exist after death. This is the only truth, anything else is wrong’?”
‘neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā, idameva saccaṁ moghamaññan’”ti?

“This too has not been declared by me.”
“Etampi kho, poṭṭhapāda, mayā abyākataṁ: ‘neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā, idameva saccaṁ moghamaññan’”ti.

“Why haven’t these things been declared by the Buddha?”
“Kasmā panetaṁ, bhante, bhagavatā abyākatan”ti?

“Because they’re not beneficial or relevant to the fundamentals of the spiritual life. They don’t lead to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment.
“Na hetaṁ, poṭṭhapāda, atthasaṁhitaṁ na dhammasaṁhitaṁ nādibrahmacariyakaṁ, na nibbidāya na virāgāya na nirodhāya na upasamāya na abhiññāya na sambodhāya na nibbānāya saṁvattati, That’s why I haven’t declared them.” tasmā etaṁ mayā abyākatan”ti.

“Then what has been declared by the Buddha?”
“Kiṁ pana, bhante, bhagavatā byākatan”ti?

“I have declared this: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the origin of suffering’ … ‘This is the cessation of suffering’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering’.”
“Idaṁ dukkhanti kho, poṭṭhapāda, mayā byākataṁ. Ayaṁ dukkhasamudayoti kho, poṭṭhapāda, mayā byākataṁ. Ayaṁ dukkhanirodhoti kho, poṭṭhapāda, mayā byākataṁ. Ayaṁ dukkhanirodhagāminī paṭipadāti kho, poṭṭhapāda, mayā byākatan”ti.

“Why have these things been declared by the Buddha?”
“Kasmā panetaṁ, bhante, bhagavatā byākatan”ti?

“Because they are beneficial and relevant to the fundamentals of the spiritual life. They lead to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment.
“Etañhi, poṭṭhapāda, atthasaṁhitaṁ, etaṁ dhammasaṁhitaṁ, etaṁ ādibrahmacariyakaṁ, etaṁ nibbidāya virāgāya nirodhāya upasamāya abhiññāya sambodhāya nibbānāya saṁvattati;

That’s why I have declared them.”
tasmā etaṁ mayā byākatan”ti.

DN9

So here we see the first explanation of the reason for the points not being declared: that they are not beneficial to the spiritual life. This is often given as an explanation and things are left at that, however there is more going on here, firstly the undeclared points are here contrasted for the first time with what has been declared by the Buddha, that is suffering, it’s arising, it’s ceasing and the path to it’s cessation. This contrast, and elaboration on the reasons for it, begin to paint a picture of the Buddhas position as distinct to skepticism or agnosticism in coming suttas.

In fact, in the next sutta to deal with the subject, we have just such an elaboration, giving us a second reason, other than “not benificial”, one that begins to explain some of the why the undeclared points are thought to be so:

It wouldn’t be appropriate to say that a mendicant whose mind is freed like this holds the following views:
Evaṁ vimuttacittaṁ kho, ānanda, bhikkhuṁ yo evaṁ vadeyya:

‘A Realized One exists after death’;
‘hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā itissa diṭṭhī’ti, tadakallaṁ.

‘A Realized One doesn’t exist after death’;
‘Na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā itissa diṭṭhī’ti, tadakallaṁ.

‘A Realized One both exists and doesn’t exist after death’;
‘Hoti ca na ca hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā itissa diṭṭhī’ti, tadakallaṁ.

‘A Realized One neither exists nor doesn’t exist after death’.
‘Neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā itissa diṭṭhī’ti, tadakallaṁ.

Why is that?
Taṁ kissa hetu?

A mendicant is freed by directly knowing this: how far language and the scope of language extend; how far terminology and the scope of terminology extend; how far description and the scope of description extend; how far wisdom and the sphere of wisdom extend; how far the cycle of rebirths and its continuation extend. It wouldn’t be appropriate to say that a mendicant freed by directly knowing this holds the view: ‘There is no such thing as knowing and seeing.’
Yāvatā, ānanda, adhivacanaṁ yāvatā adhivacanapatho, yāvatā nirutti yāvatā niruttipatho, yāvatā paññatti yāvatā paññattipatho, yāvatā paññā yāvatā paññāvacaraṁ, yāvatā vaṭṭaṁ, yāvatā vaṭṭati, tadabhiññāvimutto bhikkhu, tadabhiññāvimuttaṁ bhikkhuṁ ‘na jānāti na passati itissa diṭṭhī’ti, tadakallaṁ. Variant: yāvatā vaṭṭaṁ, yāvatā vaṭṭat

DN15

So here we see an explanation that is not in terms of “beneficial” or “not benificial” but in terms of “the scope of language”. Here we see that one of the reasons that the undeclared points might be not beneficial is because to hold any of them as a philosophical position is said by the Buddha to go beyond the “scope of language”. They are not true or untrue, they are incoherent.

This then distinguishes the Buddhas silence on these points from the skeptical one, the idea is not that the answers cannot be known and we are therefore ignorant of their truths or falsity, rather it is that the scope of language and cognition cannot reach outside the forms, perceptions, and consciousness that we are presented with and to do so is to make a kind of error, adducing from phenomena some view that goes beyond the limitations of phenomena.

Thus in the next sutta on the topic, MN63 we find:

It’s not true that if there were the view ‘the cosmos is eternal’ there would be the living of the spiritual life.
‘Sassato loko’ti, mālukyaputta, diṭṭhiyā sati brahmacariyavāso abhavissāti, evaṁ no.

It’s not true that if there were the view ‘the cosmos is not eternal’ there would be the living of the spiritual life.
‘Asassato loko’ti, mālukyaputta, diṭṭhiyā sati brahmacariyavāso abhavissāti, evampi no.

When there is the view that the cosmos is eternal or that the cosmos is not eternal, there is rebirth, there is old age, there is death, and there is sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress.
‘Sassato loko’ti vā, mālukyaputta, diṭṭhiyā sati, ‘asassato loko’ti vā diṭṭhiyā sati attheva jāti, atthi jarā, atthi maraṇaṁ, santi sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā;

MN63

So here we have a statment to the effect that to hold any of the positive views of the undeclared points is to hold onto a view that traps one in the cycle of rebirth and suffering. This is a stronger position to the “unbenificial to the spiritual life” it is more along the lines of “the spiritual life is literally impossible for one who holds these views”.
Now, The Buddha has denied that scepticism is a sufficient response, and claims to “know and see” how these positions go beyond the scope of language, and, in the next sutta, MN72, we get some more information:

“Each of these ten convictions is the thicket of views, the desert of views, the trick of views, the evasiveness of views, the fetter of views. They’re beset with anguish, distress, and fever. They don’t lead to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment.
“‘Sassato loko’ti kho, vaccha, diṭṭhigatametaṁ diṭṭhigahanaṁ diṭṭhikantāro diṭṭhivisūkaṁ diṭṭhivipphanditaṁ diṭṭhisaṁyojanaṁ sadukkhaṁ savighātaṁ saupāyāsaṁ sapariḷāhaṁ, na nibbidāya na virāgāya na nirodhāya na upasamāya na abhiññāya na sambodhāya na nibbānāya saṁvattati. V‘Asassato loko’ti kho, vaccha …pe… ‘antavā loko’ti kho, vaccha …pe… ‘anantavā loko’ti kho, vaccha …pe… ‘taṁ jīvaṁ taṁ sarīran’ti kho, vaccha …pe… ‘aññaṁ jīvaṁ aññaṁ sarīran’ti kho, vaccha …pe… ‘hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti kho, vaccha …pe… ‘na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti kho, vaccha …pe… ‘hoti ca na ca hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti kho, vaccha …pe… ‘neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti kho, vaccha, diṭṭhigatametaṁ diṭṭhigahanaṁ diṭṭhikantāro diṭṭhivisūkaṁ diṭṭhivipphanditaṁ diṭṭhisaṁyojanaṁ sadukkhaṁ savighātaṁ saupāyāsaṁ sapariḷāhaṁ, na nibbidāya na virāgāya na nirodhāya na upasamāya na abhiññāya na sambodhāya na nibbānāya saṁvattati.

Seeing this drawback I avoid all these convictions.”
Imaṁ kho ahaṁ, vaccha, ādīnavaṁ sampassamāno evaṁ imāni sabbaso diṭṭhigatāni anupagato”ti.

“But does Master Gotama have any convictions at all?”
“Atthi pana bhoto gotamassa kiñci diṭṭhigatan”ti?

“The Realized One has done away with convictions.
“Diṭṭhigatanti kho, vaccha, apanītametaṁ tathāgatassa.

MN72

So the Buddha says that they have “done away with” convictions of the sort that are described in the ten undeclared points, but Vacchagotta is still confused, so a similie is given:

“But Vaccha, suppose they were to ask you:
“Sace pana taṁ, vaccha, evaṁ puccheyya:

‘This fire in front of you that is extinguished: in what direction did it go—
‘yo te ayaṁ purato aggi nibbuto so aggi ito katamaṁ disaṁ gato—

east, south, west, or north?’ How would you answer?”
puratthimaṁ vā dakkhiṇaṁ vā pacchimaṁ vā uttaraṁ vā’ti, evaṁ puṭṭho tvaṁ, vaccha, kinti byākareyyāsī”ti?

“It doesn’t apply, Master Gotama. The fire depended on grass and logs as fuel. When that runs out, and no more fuel is added, the fire is reckoned to have become extinguished due to lack of fuel.”
“Na upeti, bho gotama, yañhi so, bho gotama, aggi tiṇakaṭṭhupādānaṁ paṭicca ajali tassa ca pariyādānā aññassa ca anupahārā anāhāro nibbutotveva saṅkhyaṁ gacchatī”ti.

“In the same way, Vaccha, any form by which a Realized One might be described has been cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, obliterated, and unable to arise in the future.
“Evameva kho, vaccha, yena rūpena tathāgataṁ paññāpayamāno paññāpeyya taṁ rūpaṁ tathāgatassa pahīnaṁ ucchinnamūlaṁ tālāvatthukataṁ anabhāvaṅkataṁ āyatiṁ anuppādadhammaṁ.

A Realized One is freed from reckoning in terms of form. They’re deep, immeasurable, and hard to fathom,
Rūpasaṅkhayavimutto kho, vaccha, tathāgato gambhīro appameyyo duppariyogāḷho—

like the ocean.
seyyathāpi mahāsamuddo.

‘They’re reborn’, ‘they’re not reborn’, ‘they’re both reborn and not reborn’, ‘they’re neither reborn nor not reborn’—none of these apply.
Upapajjatīti na upeti, na upapajjatīti na upeti, upapajjati ca na ca upapajjatīti na upeti, neva upapajjati na na upapajjatīti na upeti.

MN72

So we are again given an example of a situation where a particular kind of langage is not appropriate or applicable to a particular situation, in this case, it is explained that asking the question “when the fire went away, did it go away to the East? Or to the West? Or to the South? Or to the North?” is a kind of conceptual mistake, a mistake about the “scope of language”.

So to summerise the argument as given in DN and MN, we have a set of questions, typified by the quartet “does a buddha exist after death? Not exist? Both? Neither?” that appears to be a kind of common philosophical framework, notably utilised by skeptics, who claimed that no knowledge was possbile of such things, the Buddha strenuously rejects this position, calling it ‘stupid’ and claims that such questions are not answerable not because we cannot have knowledge about them, but because they go “beyond the scope of language” the way the status of the fire is beyond the scope of cardinal directions.

Moving on to SN, we see furthur development and perhaps even some divergence from the position in the first two books. The first occurance of the questions occurs at SN16.12 and is a conversation between Sariputta and Mahakassapa where the basic formula is laid out, first the undeclared points are listed and said to be unbenificial, then this is contrasted with what has been declared, the four noble truths, which are said to be benifical.

However, at the next occurance, a new explination, seemingly in tension with the previous “scope of langage” agrument is given, at SN22.86:

“In that case, Anurādha, since you don’t acknowledge the Realized One as a genuine fact in the present life, is it appropriate to declare:
“Ettha ca te, anurādha, diṭṭheva dhamme saccato thetato tathāgate anupalabbhiyamāne kallaṁ nu te taṁ veyyākaraṇaṁ:

‘Reverends, when a Realized One is describing a Realized One—a supreme person, highest of people, who has reached the highest point—they describe them other than these four ways:
‘yo so, āvuso, tathāgato uttamapuriso paramapuriso paramapattipatto taṁ tathāgato aññatra imehi catūhi ṭhānehi paññāpayamāno paññāpeti—

After death, a Realized One exists, or doesn’t exist, or both exists and doesn’t exist, or neither exists nor doesn’t exist’?”
hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti vā … na hoti … hoti ca na ca hoti … neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti vā’”ti?

SN22.86

So here we see a new strategy, where the subject is denied and so the terms can’t apply, that is, since there is no Buddha, then it doesn’t make sense to say they exist, don’t exist, both or niether. This is not the same argument as gaiven before, in the fire analogy for example, it is not that the fire isn’t a real thing that makes it inappropriate to apply the terms east west north or south to it, rather it is the terms that are inappropriate to the situation.

Next we come to SN24.18 where a differnt slant again is taken, showing how opinions about the undeclared poins are obsessions of the mind, and therefore subject to conditionality, so that by not grasping at them we free ourselves from them. This makes explicit the contrast we have seen earlier, where the undeclared points are always jusxtoposed with the decleration of the four truths, being the example par exelence of conditionality:

“That which is seen, heard, thought, known, sought, and explored by the mind: is that permanent or impermanent?”
“Yampidaṁ diṭṭhaṁ sutaṁ mutaṁ viññātaṁ pattaṁ pariyesitaṁ anuvicaritaṁ manasā tampi niccaṁ vā aniccaṁ vā”ti?

“Impermanent, sir.”
“Aniccaṁ, bhante”.

“But if it’s impermanent, is it suffering or happiness?”
“Yaṁ panāniccaṁ dukkhaṁ vā taṁ sukhaṁ vā”ti?

“Suffering, sir.”
“Dukkhaṁ, bhante”.

“But by not grasping what’s impermanent, suffering, and perishable, would the view arise:
“Yaṁ panāniccaṁ dukkhaṁ vipariṇāmadhammaṁ, api nu taṁ anupādāya evaṁ diṭṭhi uppajjeyya:

‘A Realized One neither exists nor doesn’t exist after death’?”
‘neva hoti, na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’”ti?

“No, sir.”
“No hetaṁ, bhante”.

SN24.18

This is reinforced again at SN33.1 where the views of the undeclared points are said to arise because of a failure to grasp condtionality:

“What is the cause, Master Gotama, what is the reason why these various misconceptions arise in the world? That is:
“ko nu kho, bho gotama, hetu, ko paccayo, yānimāni anekavihitāni diṭṭhigatāni loke uppajjanti—

the cosmos is eternal, or not eternal, or finite, or infinite; the soul and the body are the same thing, or they are different things; after death, a Realized One exists, or doesn’t exist, or both exists and doesn’t exist, or neither exists nor doesn’t exist.”
sassato lokoti vā, asassato lokoti vā, antavā lokoti vā, anantavā lokoti vā, taṁ jīvaṁ taṁ sarīranti vā, aññaṁ jīvaṁ aññaṁ sarīranti vā, hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti vā, na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti vā, hoti ca na ca hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti vā, neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti vā”ti?

“Vaccha, it is because of not knowing form, its origin, its cessation, and the practice that leads to its cessation
“Rūpe kho, vaccha, aññāṇā, rūpasamudaye aññāṇā, rūpanirodhe aññāṇā, rūpanirodhagāminiyā paṭipadāya aññāṇā; that these various misconceptions arise in the world. evamimāni anekavihitāni diṭṭhigatāni loke uppajjanti— sassato lokoti vā …pe… neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti vāti. This is the cause, this is the reason.” Ayaṁ kho, vaccha, hetu, ayaṁ paccayo, yānimāni anekavihitāni diṭṭhigatāni loke uppajjanti— sassato lokoti vā, asassato lokoti vā …pe… neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti vā”ti.

SN33.1

At SN41.3 we have another interesting divergence, stating that the undeclared points arise in views because of “identity view”. (it is also interesting that here we have an example of a sutta in SN referring to a sutta in DN by name, something that as far as I can tell never happens the other way round).

“Sir, there are many different views that arise in the world. For example:
“yā imā, bhante thera, anekavihitā diṭṭhiyo loke uppajjanti:

the cosmos is eternal, or not eternal, or finite, or infinite; the soul and the body are the same thing, or they are different things; after death, a Realized One exists, or doesn’t exist, or both exists and doesn’t exist, or neither exists nor doesn’t exist.
‘sassato lokoti vā, asassato lokoti vā, antavā lokoti vā, anantavā lokoti vā, taṁ jīvaṁ taṁ sarīranti vā, aññaṁ jīvaṁ aññaṁ sarīranti vā, hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti vā, na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti vā, hoti ca na ca hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti vā, neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti vā.

And also the sixty-two misconceptions spoken of in the Prime Net Discourse.
Yāni cimāni dvāsaṭṭhi diṭṭhigatāni brahmajāle bhaṇitāni;

When what exists do these views come to be? When what doesn’t exist do these views not come to be?”
imā nu kho, bhante, diṭṭhiyo kismiṁ sati honti, kismiṁ asati na hontī”ti?

These views come to be when identity view exists. When identity view does not exist they do not come to be.”
imā kho, gahapati, diṭṭhiyo sakkāyadiṭṭhiyā sati honti, sakkāyadiṭṭhiyā asati na hontī’”ti.

SN41.3

Next, Khema reinforces the “applicabilty of langage” positon, and also evokes some of the imagry of both conditionality and the buddha, beeing measurless, deep like the ocean:

What’s the cause, what’s the reason why this has not been declared by the Buddha?”
Ko nu kho, ayye, hetu, ko paccayo yenetaṁ abyākataṁ bhagavatā”ti?

“Well then, great king, I’ll ask you about this in return, and you can answer as you like.
“Tena hi, mahārāja, taññevettha paṭipucchissāmi. Yathā te khameyya tathā naṁ byākareyyāsi. What do you think, great king? Taṁ kiṁ maññasi, mahārāja,

Is there any accountant or finger-tallier or reckoner who can count the grains of sand in the Ganges, that is,
atthi te koci gaṇako vā muddiko vā saṅkhāyako vā yo pahoti gaṅgāya vālukaṁ gaṇetuṁ—

how many grains of sand there are, how many hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of grains of sand?”
ettakā vālukā iti vā, ettakāni vālukasatāni iti vā, ettakāni vālukasahassāni iti vā, ettakāni vālukasatasahassāni iti vā”ti?

“No, ma’am.”
“No hetaṁ, ayye”.

“Is there any accountant or finger-tallier or reckoner who can count the water in the ocean, that is,
“Atthi pana te koci gaṇako vā muddiko vā saṅkhāyako vā yo pahoti mahāsamudde udakaṁ gaṇetuṁ—

how many gallons of water there are, how many hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of gallons of water?”
ettakāni udakāḷhakāni iti vā, ettakāni udakāḷhakasatāni iti vā, ettakāni udakāḷhakasahassāni iti vā, ettakāni udakāḷhakasatasahassāni iti vā”ti?

“No, ma’am.
“No hetaṁ, ayye”.

Why is that?
“Taṁ kissa hetu”?

Because the ocean is deep, immeasurable, and hard to fathom.”
“Mahāyye, samuddo gambhīro appameyyo duppariyogāho”ti.

“In the same way, great king, any form by which a Realized One might be described has been cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, obliterated, and unable to arise in the future.
“Evameva kho, mahārāja, yena rūpena tathāgataṁ paññāpayamāno paññāpeyya taṁ rūpaṁ tathāgatassa pahīnaṁ ucchinnamūlaṁ tālāvatthukataṁ anabhāvaṅkataṁ āyatiṁ anuppādadhammaṁ.

A Realized One is freed from reckoning in terms of form. They’re deep, immeasurable, and hard to fathom,
Rūpasaṅkhāyavimutto kho, mahārāja, tathāgato gambhīro appameyyo duppariyogāho—

like the ocean.
seyyathāpi mahāsamuddo.

To say that after death, a Realized One exists, or doesn’t exist, or both exists and doesn’t exist, or neither exists nor doesn’t exist: none of these apply.
‘Hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’tipi na upeti, ‘na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’tipi na upeti, ‘hoti ca na ca hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’tipi na upeti, ‘neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’tipi na upeti.

SN44.1

At SN 44.3 we get the explination that the undeclared views are “included” in form, feeling, perceptions, choices and consciousness, that is that they are subject to conditionality, to impermanence, arising, ceasing, and therefore capable fo being gotten free of:

What’s the cause, what’s the reason why they have not been declared by the Buddha?”
Ko nu kho, āvuso, hetu, ko paccayo yenetaṁ abyākataṁ bhagavatā”ti?

“Reverend, ‘does a Realized One exist after death?’ is included in form.
“Hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti kho, āvuso, rūpagatametaṁ.

‘Does a Realized One not exist after death?’ is included in form.
Na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti, rūpagatametaṁ.

‘Does a Realized One both exist and not exist after death?’ is included in form.
Hoti ca na ca hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti, rūpagatametaṁ.

‘Does a Realized One neither exist nor not exist after death?’ is included in form.
Neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti, rūpagatametaṁ.

SN44.3

Kaccāna, at 44.11 reinforces this conection between the undeclared points and conditionality, pointing out that there would have to be a reason or ground for assertions of the Buddhas existence or non existence, but that these things have been cut off or done away with by the Buddha, who is therefore freed from being reckoned in such terms:

What’s the cause, what’s the reason why this has not been declared by the Buddha?”
Ko nu kho, bho kaccāna, hetu, ko paccayo, yenetaṁ abyākataṁ samaṇena gotamenā”ti?

“In order to describe him as ‘possessing form’ or ‘formless’ or ‘percipient’ or ‘non-percipient’ or ‘neither percipient nor non-percipient’, there must be some cause or reason for doing so. But if that cause and reason were to totally and utterly cease without anything left over,
“Yo ca, vaccha, hetu, yo ca paccayo paññāpanāya rūpīti vā arūpīti vā saññīti vā asaññīti vā nevasaññīnāsaññīti vā, so ca hetu, so ca paccayo sabbena sabbaṁ sabbathā sabbaṁ aparisesaṁ nirujjheyya.

how could you describe him in any such terms?”
Kena naṁ paññāpayamāno paññāpeyya rūpīti vā arūpīti vā saññīti vā asaññīti vā nevasaññīnāsaññīti vā”ti.

SN44.11

Next, Moggallāna tells us that it is ultimatley by mis-identifying with the impermanent flux of sense data that the others take up the wrong views, and it is by not making this error that the Buddha can leave them behind:

“What’s the cause, Master Moggallāna, what’s the reason why, when the wanderers who follow other paths are asked these questions, they declare one of these to be true?
“Ko nu kho, bho moggallāna, hetu ko paccayo, yena aññatitthiyānaṁ paribbājakānaṁ evaṁ puṭṭhānaṁ evaṁ veyyākaraṇaṁ hoti— sassato lokoti vā, asassato lokoti vā, antavā lokoti vā, anantavā lokoti vā, taṁ jīvaṁ taṁ sarīranti vā, aññaṁ jīvaṁ aññaṁ sarīranti vā, hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti vā, na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti vā, hoti ca na ca hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti vā, neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti vā?

And what’s the reason why, when the ascetic Gotama is asked these questions, he does not declare one of these to be true?”
Ko pana, bho moggallāna, hetu ko paccayo, yena samaṇassa gotamassa evaṁ puṭṭhassa na evaṁ veyyākaraṇaṁ hoti— sassato lokotipi, asassato lokotipi, antavā lokotipi, anantavā lokotipi, taṁ jīvaṁ taṁ sarīrantipi, aññaṁ jīvaṁ aññaṁ sarīrantipi, hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇātipi, na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇātipi, hoti ca na ca hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇātipi, neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇātipī”ti?

“Vaccha, the wanderers who follow other paths regard the eye like this: 'This is mine, I am this, this is my self.’ They regard the ear … nose …
“Aññatitthiyā kho, vaccha, paribbājakā cakkhuṁ ‘etaṁ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’ti samanupassanti …pe…

tongue … body …
jivhaṁ ‘etaṁ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’ti samanupassanti …pe…

mind like this: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self.’
manaṁ ‘etaṁ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’ti samanupassanti.

That’s why, when asked, they declare one of those answers to be true.
Tasmā aññatitthiyānaṁ paribbājakānaṁ evaṁ puṭṭhānaṁ evaṁ veyyākaraṇaṁ hoti— sassato lokoti vā …pe… neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇāti vā.

The Realized One, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha regards the eye like this: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’ He regards the ear … nose …
Tathāgato ca kho, vaccha, arahaṁ sammāsambuddho cakkhuṁ ‘netaṁ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti samanupassati …pe…

tongue … body …
jivhaṁ ‘netaṁ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti samanupassati …pe…

mind like this: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’
manaṁ ‘netaṁ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti samanupassati.

That’s why, when asked, he does not declare one of those answers to be true.”
Tasmā tathāgatassa evaṁ puṭṭhassa na evaṁ veyyākaraṇaṁ hoti— sassato lokotipi …pe… neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇātipī”ti.

SN44.7

SN 56.8 explains that the views are “thought up” and “bad thoughts” and that conditionality can be used to abandon them:

“Mendicants, don’t think up a bad, unskillful idea.
“Mā, bhikkhave, pāpakaṁ akusalaṁ cittaṁ cinteyyātha:

For example: the cosmos is eternal, or not eternal, or finite, or infinite; the soul and the body are the same thing, or they are different things; after death, a Realized One exists, or doesn’t exist, or both exists and doesn’t exist, or neither exists nor doesn’t exist.
‘sassato loko’ti vā ‘asassato loko’ti vā, ‘antavā loko’ti vā ‘anantavā loko’ti vā, ‘taṁ jīvaṁ taṁ sarīran’ti vā ‘aññaṁ jīvaṁ aññaṁ sarīran’ti vā, ‘hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti vā ‘na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti vā, ‘hoti ca na ca hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti vā, ‘neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti vā.

Why is that?
Taṁ kissa hetu?

Because those thoughts 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.
Nesā, bhikkhave, cintā atthasaṁhitā nādibrahmacariyakā na nibbidāya na virāgāya na nirodhāya na upasamāya na abhiññāya na sambodhāya na nibbānāya saṁvattati.

When you think something up, you should think: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the origin of suffering’ … ‘This is the cessation of suffering’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering’.
Cintentā ca kho tumhe, bhikkhave, ‘idaṁ dukkhan’ti cinteyyātha, ‘ayaṁ dukkhasamudayo’ti cinteyyātha, ‘ayaṁ dukkhanirodho’ti cinteyyātha, ‘ayaṁ dukkhanirodhagāminī paṭipadā’ti cinteyyātha.

Why is that?
Taṁ kissa hetu?

Because those thoughts are beneficial and relevant to the fundamentals of the spiritual life. They lead to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment.
Esā, bhikkhave, cintā atthasaṁhitā, esā ādibrahmacariyakā, esā nibbidāya virāgāya nirodhāya upasamāya abhiññāya sambodhāya nibbānāya saṁvattati.

That’s why you should practice meditation …”
Tasmātiha, bhikkhave, ‘idaṁ dukkhan’ti yogo karaṇīyo …pe… ‘ayaṁ dukkhanirodhagāminī paṭipadā’ti yogo karaṇīyo”ti.

SN56.8

AN first addresses the undeclared in a quite comprehensive sutta that explains them as views subject to the law of conditionality, being about craving, perception, identification, proliferation and grasping, and that as such they should be cut off and given up:

“Sir, what is the cause, what is the reason why an educated noble disciple has no doubts regarding the undeclared points?”
“ko nu kho, bhante, hetu ko paccayo yena sutavato ariyasāvakassa vicikicchā nuppajjati abyākatavatthūsū”ti?

“Mendicant, it’s due to the cessation of views that an educated noble disciple has no doubts regarding the undeclared points.
“Diṭṭhinirodhā kho, bhikkhu, sutavato ariyasāvakassa vicikicchā nuppajjati abyākatavatthūsu.

‘A Realized One exists after death’: this is a misconception.
‘Hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti kho, bhikkhu, diṭṭhigatametaṁ;

‘A Realized One doesn’t exist after death’: this is a misconception.
‘na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti kho, bhikkhu, diṭṭhigatametaṁ;

‘A Realized One both exists and doesn’t exist after death’: this is a misconception.
‘hoti ca na ca hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti kho, bhikkhu, diṭṭhigatametaṁ;

‘A Realized One neither exists nor doesn’t exist after death’: this is a misconception.
‘neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti kho, bhikkhu, diṭṭhigatametaṁ.

An uneducated ordinary person doesn’t understand views, their origin, their cessation, or the practice that leads to their cessation.
Assutavā, bhikkhu, puthujjano diṭṭhiṁ nappajānāti, diṭṭhisamudayaṁ nappajānāti, diṭṭhinirodhaṁ nappajānāti, diṭṭhinirodhagāminiṁ paṭipadaṁ nappajānāti.

And so their views grow. They’re not freed from rebirth, old age, and death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress. They’re not freed from suffering, I say.
Tassa sā diṭṭhi pavaḍḍhati, so na parimuccati jātiyā jarāya maraṇena sokehi paridevehi dukkhehi domanassehi upāyāsehi, na parimuccati dukkhasmāti vadāmi.

An educated noble disciple does understand views, their origin, their cessation, and the practice that leads to their cessation.
Sutavā ca kho, bhikkhu, ariyasāvako diṭṭhiṁ pajānāti, diṭṭhisamudayaṁ pajānāti, diṭṭhinirodhaṁ pajānāti, diṭṭhinirodhagāminiṁ paṭipadaṁ pajānāti.

And so their views cease. They’re freed from rebirth, old age, and death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress. They’re freed from suffering, I say.
Tassa sā diṭṭhi nirujjhati, so parimuccati jātiyā jarāya maraṇena sokehi paridevehi dukkhehi domanassehi upāyāsehi, parimuccati dukkhasmāti vadāmi.

Knowing and seeing this, an educated noble disciple does not answer: ‘A Realized One exists after death’,
Evaṁ jānaṁ kho, bhikkhu, sutavā ariyasāvako evaṁ passaṁ ‘hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’tipi na byākaroti;

‘a Realized One doesn’t exist after death’,
‘na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’tipi na byākaroti;

‘a Realized One both exists and doesn’t exist after death’,
‘hoti ca na ca hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’tipi na byākaroti;

‘a Realized One neither exists nor doesn’t exist after death.’
‘neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’tipi na byākaroti.

Knowing and seeing this, an educated noble disciple does not declare the undeclared points.
Evaṁ jānaṁ kho, bhikkhu, sutavā ariyasāvako evaṁ passaṁ evaṁ abyākaraṇadhammo hoti abyākatavatthūsu.

Knowing and seeing this, an educated noble disciple doesn’t shake, tremble, quake, or get nervous regarding the undeclared points.
Evaṁ jānaṁ kho, bhikkhu, sutavā ariyasāvako evaṁ passaṁ na chambhati, na kampati, na vedhati, na santāsaṁ āpajjati abyākatavatthūsu.

‘A Realized One exists after death’: this is just about craving. …
‘Hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti kho, bhikkhu, taṇhāgatametaṁ …pe…

it’s just about perception …
saññāgatametaṁ …pe…

it’s an identification …
maññitametaṁ …pe…

it’s a proliferation …
papañcitametaṁ …pe…

it’s just about grasping …
upādānagatametaṁ …pe…

‘A Realized One exists after death’: this is a regret.
‘hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti kho, bhikkhu, vippaṭisāro eso;

‘A Realized One doesn’t exist after death’: this is a regret.
‘na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti kho, bhikkhu, vippaṭisāro eso;

‘A Realized One both exists and doesn’t exist after death’: this is a regret.
‘hoti ca na ca hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti kho, bhikkhu, vippaṭisāro eso;

‘A Realized One neither exists nor doesn’t exist after death’: this is a regret.
‘neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā’ti kho, bhikkhu, vippaṭisāro eso.

An uneducated ordinary person doesn’t understand regrets, their origin, their cessation, or the practice that leads to their cessation.
Assutavā, bhikkhu, puthujjano vippaṭisāraṁ nappajānāti, vippaṭisārasamudayaṁ nappajānāti, vippaṭisāranirodhaṁ nappajānāti, vippaṭisāranirodhagāminiṁ paṭipadaṁ nappajānāti.

And so their regrets grow. They’re not freed from rebirth, old age, and death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress. They’re not freed from suffering, I say.
Tassa so vippaṭisāro pavaḍḍhati, so na parimuccati jātiyā jarāya maraṇena sokehi paridevehi dukkhehi domanassehi upāyāsehi, na parimuccati dukkhasmāti vadāmi.

AN7.54

At AN 10.93 it is explained that views like the undeclared points are “created, conditioned, chosen, dependently originated”:

When this was said, Anāthapiṇḍika said this,
Evaṁ vutte, anāthapiṇḍiko gahapati te paribbājake etadavoca:

“Sirs, regarding the venerable who said this:
“yvāyaṁ, bhante, āyasmā evamāha:

‘The cosmos is eternal. This is the only truth, other ideas are silly.
‘sassato loko, idameva saccaṁ moghamaññanti—

That’s my view, householder.’
evaṁdiṭṭhiko ahaṁ, gahapatī’ti,

This view of his has either arisen from his own improper attention, or is conditioned by what someone else says.
imassa ayamāyasmato diṭṭhi attano vā ayonisomanasikārahetu uppannā paratoghosapaccayā vā.

But that view is created, conditioned, chosen, dependently originated.
Sā kho panesā diṭṭhi bhūtā saṅkhatā cetayitā paṭiccasamuppannā.

Anything that is created, conditioned, chosen, and dependently originated is impermanent.
Yaṁ kho pana kiñci bhūtaṁ saṅkhataṁ cetayitaṁ paṭiccasamuppannaṁ tadaniccaṁ.

And what’s impermanent is suffering.
Yadaniccaṁ taṁ dukkhaṁ.

What he clings to and holds to is just suffering.
Yaṁ dukkhaṁ tadeveso āyasmā allīno, tadeveso āyasmā ajjhupagato.

AN10.93

So in conclusion, the 4 principle NIkayas give a variety of explinations for the undeclared points being undeclared; first, scepticism or agnosticism about them is flatly rejected. Second it is said that speculating on them is not conducive to the spiritual life. Third, it is argued that to hold any of these positions is to go beyond the “scope or applicability of language”, fourth the views are said to be condtitioned and therefore holding onto them is suffering. Fifth they are equated with “identiy view” an incorrect or mistaken identification. Laslty there is an arguement, much less often attested, that the subject, the Buddha, is a fiction, or not a genuine fact in the first place, and that it is therefore innapropriate to say of a fiction that it exists, does not exist, both or neither after death…

“But reverend, could there be another way of explaining why this was not declared by the Buddha?”
“Siyā panāvuso, aññopi pariyāyo, yenetaṁ abyākataṁ bhagavatā”ti?

“Seriously, reverend, what more could you want?
“Ettha dāni, āvuso sāriputta, ito uttari kiṁ icchasi?

For one who is freed due to the ending of craving, there is no cycle of rebirths to be found.”
Taṇhāsaṅkhayavimuttassa, āvuso sāriputta, bhikkhuno vaṭṭaṁ natthi paññāpanāyā”ti.

SN44.6

Appendix.

It should be noted and understood that there are not just 4 questions about the existential status of the Buddha after death, but a variety of questions, about whether the cosmos is eternal or not, about whether the cosmos is infinite or not, about if the person is identical to thier body or not, about if actions and results have the same, different, both or neither subject, about if there is a self or not, and even, as below, about whether the Buddhist path is a univeral salvation or not:

“But when Master Gotama teaches in this way, is the whole world saved, or half, or a third?”
“Yaṁ panetaṁ bhavaṁ gotamo abhiññāya sāvakānaṁ dhammaṁ desesi sattānaṁ visuddhiyā sokaparidevānaṁ samatikkamāya dukkhadomanassānaṁ atthaṅgamāya ñāyassa adhigamāya nibbānassa sacchikiriyāya, sabbo vā tena loko nīyati upaḍḍho vā tibhāgo vā”ti?

But when he said this, the Buddha kept silent.
Evaṁ vutte, bhagavā tuṇhī ahosi.

Uttiya, you were just asking the Buddha the same question as before in a different way.
Yadeva kho tvaṁ, āvuso uttiya, bhagavantaṁ pañhaṁ apucchi tadevetaṁ pañhaṁ bhagavantaṁ aññena pariyāyena apucchi.

That’s why he didn’t answer.”
Tasmā te taṁ bhagavā na byākāsī”ti.

AN10.95

This collection of qoutes has focused on the existential status questions, mostly because they where easy to find with the search string: tathāgato paraṃ maraṇā, but it is important to remember that in explaining the reasoning behind the silence with regards to these points, the explination has to be sufficient to explain them all, not just some, I think that for this reason, along with its rareness, and it’s seeming incompatability with the fire similie and with conditionality, we should be suspicious of the “not a genuine fact” response at SN22.86

FInally I leave you with Ananda, again reinforcing that he does not hold the view that the Buddha is a fiction, rather than he has understood how views come to be in dependance on contact, and has uprooted them:

‘A Realized One neither exists nor doesn’t exist after death. This is the only truth, other ideas are silly’?”
neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā, idameva saccaṁ moghamaññanti—evaṁdiṭṭhi bhavan”ti?

“That’s not my view, reverend.”
“Na kho ahaṁ, āvuso, evaṁdiṭṭhi: ‘neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā, idameva saccaṁ moghamaññan’”ti.

“Then, sir, do you neither know nor see?”
“Tena hi bhavaṁ na jānāti, na passatī”ti?

“That’s not so, reverend.
“Na kho ahaṁ, āvuso, na jānāmi na passāmi.

I do know and see.”
Jānāmahaṁ, āvuso, passāmī”ti.

‘A Realized One neither exists nor doesn’t exist after death. This is the only truth, other ideas are silly:’ that’s a misconception.
‘neva hoti na na hoti tathāgato paraṁ maraṇā, idameva saccaṁ moghamaññan’ti kho, āvuso, diṭṭhigatametaṁ.

I know and see the scope of convictions, the scope of grounds for views, fixation on views, obsession with views, the origin of views, and the uprooting of views.
Yāvatā, āvuso, diṭṭhi yāvatā diṭṭhiṭṭhānaṁ diṭṭhiadhiṭṭhānaṁ diṭṭhipariyuṭṭhānaṁ diṭṭhisamuṭṭhānaṁ diṭṭhisamugghāto, tamahaṁ jānāmi tamahaṁ passāmi.

Knowing and seeing thus, why should I say:
Tamahaṁ jānanto tamahaṁ passanto kyāhaṁ vakkhāmi:

‘I neither know nor see?’
‘na jānāmi na passāmī’ti?

I do know and see.”
Jānāmahaṁ, āvuso, passāmī”ti.

AN10.96

Metta.

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Hi. I got stumped above. Are you saying the above are undeclared points of the Buddha? Thanks

No that is from the Ajnana list.

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I think that the Buddha taught liberation in this life through practice as we see here:

Ud 1.10
Let the Holy One teach me the Dhamma! That would be for my lasting welfare and happiness.”

“In that case, Bāhiya, you should train like this: ‘In the seen will be merely the seen; in the heard will be merely the heard; in the thought will be merely the thought; in the known will be merely the known.’ That’s how you should train. When you have trained in this way, you won’t be ‘by that’. When you’re not ‘by that’, you won’t be ‘in that’. When you’re not ‘in that’, you won’t be in this world or the world beyond or between the two. Just this is the end of suffering.”

And here where we see the training sketched out and the connection to why soteriology was irrelevant.

Snp 4.2
Rid of desire for both ends,
having completely understood contact, free of greed,
doing nothing for which they’d blame themselves,
the wise don’t cling to the seen and the heard.

Having completely understood perception and having crossed the flood,
the sage, not clinging to possessions,
with dart plucked out, living diligently,
does not long for this world or the next.

Soteriology is not a concern for someone who does not long for this world or a next. I think he discouraged speculating about what will come because it interfered with the far more urgent need to meditate and cultivate the mind to the attainment described to Bahiya.

I understand the truth about words and language being insufficient to adequately describe ultimate reality.
Thus my questions like what is self, and how does rebirth really work are ‘stupid’ in their pursuit of greater understanding?
And are the answers found herein also stupid?
Respectfully!

I am qouting the Buddha and King Ajatasattu who are referring to the Ajnana position:

It’s when some ascetic or brahmin is dull and stupid.
Idha, bhikkhave, ekacco samaṇo vā brāhmaṇo vā mando hoti momūho.

DN1

‘This is the most foolish and stupid of all these ascetics and brahmins!
‘ayañca imesaṁ samaṇabrāhmaṇānaṁ sabbabālo sabbamūḷho.

DN2

The post above collects all the occurances on the question “does the Buddha exist after death” in the 4 principle Nikayas and briefly elucidates thier development from the skeptical framework of the Ajnana’s to the Buddhas explanation of thier incoherance via conditionality.

It should be useful for anyone who may like to have a quick refrence to the “undeclared points” in early buddhism, although it is not exhaustive, there being other suttas that deal with undeclared questions other than the Buddhas post mortem status.

Metta.

So why is the above undeclared? Thanks :saluting_face:

I qoute every explination given in the 4 Nikayas in the original post @CurlyCarl , the reasons range from the question being unbenificial, to it being impossible to lead the spiritual life while holding any one of the views listed, to the views going beyond “the scope of language and wisdom” to the views being created and conditioned and therefore suffering, to the views depending on identity view, to the views mistakenly taking the Buddha to be a “genuine fact”

The qoutes give a good sense of the topic, and I am planning a follow up post with other examples of the tetralemma not involving post-mortem status.

Eventually i hope to write a 3rd post analysing the first 2 from a contemporary philosophical perspective, as there is a lacuna with regards to the tetralemma in the EBT’s (see for example ,Jan Westerhoff, Nāgārjuna’s Catuṣkoṭi - PhilPapers ) with most contemporary philosophers passing over them in a cursory manner before focusing on Nagarjuna.

My feeling is that this is a mistake, and students of Nagarjuna would benifit from a more comprehensive analysis of the occurances in the EBT’s.

Metta

So why isn’t the above emphasized in respect to Taking Refuge In The Buddha? It seems the above matter mostly is emphasized in relation to “death” (“maraṇā”).

Great article @josephzizys. A thought on how Sn22.86 may be brought more in line with your other analyses:

Interestingly, Ajahn Thanissaro doesn’t use the term ‘genuine fact’. Rather, he translates that sentence this way:

And so, Anuradha — when you can’t pin down the Tathagata as a truth or reality even in the present life…

In this rendering, the Buddha seems to be saying that the Tathagata is undefined within the context of the aggregates and, as such, asking about existence or non existence within this context makes no sense. The aggregates seem to be heavily investigated here because birth and death are a function of the movement of the aggregates.

This might work better with the other suttas that show a question has been asked incorrectly because of a classification error.

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Possibly. However, the sutta quoted SN 22.86 seems to not entirely divorce the Tathagata from the aggregates. SN 22.86 says:

Do you regard the Realized One as one who is without form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness?”

ayaṁ so arūpī … avedano … asaññī … asaṅkhāro … aviññāṇo tathāgatoti samanupassasī”ti?

“No, sir.”

“No hetaṁ, bhante”.

In particular, a similar sutta SN 22.85 concludes the same investigative questioning, by saying:

“Reverend Yamaka, suppose they were to ask you: ‘When their body breaks up, after death, what happens to a perfected one, who has ended the defilements?’ How would you answer?”

“Sir, if they were to ask this, I’d answer like this: ‘Reverend, form is impermanent. What’s impermanent is suffering. What’s suffering has ceased and ended.

Feeling … perception … choices … consciousness is impermanent. What’s impermanent is suffering. What’s suffering has ceased and ended.’ That’s how I’d answer such a question.”

“Good, good, Reverend Yamaka!

I feel like we are in general agreement, and the issue is probably in the way I expressed the idea.

Put another way…

If you could say that the the Realised One is without the aggregates, you could use the aggregates to pin him down, as you could point to the aggregates and say ‘the Realised One is without these aggregates’. I.e. there would be some way in which you could describe the Realised One in terms of the aggregates or by using the aggregates. But because you can’t use that mode of classification either, the Realised One can’t be pinned down.

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as I say in the original post, I am somewhat suspicious of this argument:

It does appear to make a different claim, that of fictionalism, using a term, “genuine fact” that is rarely attested, occurring only at SN22.85 SN22.86 SN44.2 all in the same argument, once to Yamaka and twice to Anuradhasutta, and then in AN3.61 where the term is used to mock persons who don’t accept the reality of kamma.

So, to be a little less subtle, I am suggesting that the preceding suttas are late, and that they make an argument, about the Buddha "not being a genuine fact: i.e the Buddha being a fiction, that is not supported by the 19 other suttas quoted, which rather than claiming the Buddha doesn’t exist, claim that they are beyond the scope of language and conception because they have achieved the cessation of transitory phenomena.

To again look ahead to my planned third post, my point is basically that the unanswered questions tend to be of the form

A
B
A and B
neither A of B

and these four alternatives are rejected as going beyond the scope of language.

so in the Buddha post mortem example it resolves to

A: the Buddha exists after death
B: the Buddha doesn’t exist after death
A and B: the Buddha both exists and doesn’t exist after death
neither A or B: the Buddha neither exists nor doesn’t exist after death.

and all these are mistaken views.

However there are many other examples of the same form but with different terms so elsewhere we have:

“Well, Master Gotama, is suffering made by oneself?”
“Kiṁ nu kho, bho gotama, ‘sayaṅkataṁ dukkhan’ti?

“Not so, Kassapa,” said the Buddha.
‘Mā hevaṁ, kassapā’ti bhagavā avoca.

“Then is suffering made by another?”
‘Kiṁ pana, bho gotama, paraṅkataṁ dukkhan’ti?

“Not so, Kassapa,” said the Buddha.
‘Mā hevaṁ, kassapā’ti bhagavā avoca.

“Well, is suffering made by both oneself and another?”
‘Kiṁ nu kho, bho gotama, sayaṅkatañca paraṅkatañca dukkhan’ti?

“Not so, Kassapa,” said the Buddha.
‘Mā hevaṁ, kassapā’ti bhagavā avoca.

“Then does suffering arise by chance, not made by oneself or another?”
‘Kiṁ pana, bho gotama, asayaṅkāraṁ aparaṅkāraṁ adhiccasamuppannaṁ dukkhan’ti?

“Not so, Kassapa,” said the Buddha.
‘Mā hevaṁ, kassapā’ti bhagavā avoca.

“Well, is there no such thing as suffering?”
‘Kiṁ nu kho, bho gotama, natthi dukkhan’ti?

“It’s not that there’s no such thing as suffering.
‘Na kho, kassapa, natthi dukkhaṁ.

Suffering is real.”
Atthi kho, kassapa, dukkhan’ti.

SN12.17

So here suffering is acknowledged as a real and genuine fact, but the 4 alternatives rejected for the Buddha’s postmortem status are rejected as applying to suffering too, so the explanation can’t be that “suffering isn’t a genuine fact”.

the sutta goes on to explain:

“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.

Avoiding these two extremes, the Realized One teaches by the middle way:
Ete te, kassapa, ubho ante anupagamma majjhena tathāgato dhammaṁ deseti:

‘Ignorance is a condition for choices.
‘avijjāpaccayā saṅkhārā;

Choices are a condition for consciousness. …
saṅkhārapaccayā viññāṇaṁ …pe…

That is how this entire mass of suffering originates.
evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti.

When ignorance fades away and ceases with nothing left over, choices cease.
Avijjāya tveva asesavirāganirodhā saṅkhāranirodho;

When choices cease, consciousness ceases. …
saṅkhāranirodhā viññāṇanirodho …pe…

That is how this entire mass of suffering ceases.’”
evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa nirodho hotī’”ti.

So again the explanation seems to be around the incoherence of “eternalism” and “annihilationism” which I am coming round to thinking would be better translated as “realism” and “fictionalism”.

Metta.

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Does the word for word translation of Pali to English result in genuine fact as the translation?

anupalabbhiyamāne - non-existent; is not perceived; is not ascertained.
upalabbhati - is found, does exist.

Atthi kho, kassapa, dukkhan’ti. - suffering indeed exists Kassapa. (or if you like to Yoda the Pali, “exists indeed, Kassapa, does suffering”)

basically atthi and natthi meaning exist and don’t exist occur literally thousands of times in the 4 principle Nikayas, while upalabbhati and anupalabbhiyamāne ‘is found to exist’ and ‘is not found to exist’ almost never occur in the 4 NIkayas but occur hundreds of times in the Kathavatthu. The terms are palpably late. the argument is, in my opinion, palpably late and stands in stark contrast philosophically to the vast preponderance of suttas on the topic as posted above.

Metta.

Hmm… I see. Not having researched early and late Pali I can’t make a definite statement about that.

Just from looking at the various potential literal translations of anupalabbhiyamāne though, it seems to serve a different function to naththi.

Unless there are other translations, naththi seems to have just the one meaning… non-exist.

anupalabbhiyamāne, on the other hand takes on a meaning of is not perceived or is not ascertained. I would hazard a guess that the meaning of non-existent came later, when someone decided that if you can’t perceive or ascertain something it probably doesn’t exist. In such a case, there may have been less of a need to use the term.

anupalabbhiyamāne
DN: 0
MN: 0
SN: 3
AN: 3
KN: 1
AB: 1

so this term is very rare in the early Buddhist texts.

natthi
DN: 118
MN: 194
SN: 178
AN: 159
KN: 930
AB: 1990

this term is very common.

upalabbhati
DN: 1 (in the known to be open late DN16)
MN: 1
SN: 3
AN: 0
KN: 29
AB: 164

This term, related to the first term, is very rare in early texts like DN, MN, SN and AN, but much more common in later collections like KN and AB (abhidhamma).

atthi occurs as a separate word 2613 times in the Vinaya, Nikayas and Abhidhamma.
in compounds it is of course much more common than that.

So the idea that the term was early and fell out of use just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, it is a term that becomes MORE popular in later texts not less. And the early texts that it does appear in are in at least some cases known to be late, in the sense that they where open to additions and alterations till late in the history of the texts, like DN16

Ah, apologies. What I meant wasn’t that anupalabbhiyamāne fell out of use. But rather that its specific meanings of not perceived or not ascertained may not have required its extensive use. Even if it was interchangeable with naththi, naththi is shorter, more convenient to use and its meaning is unambiguous.

Given that the use of the meanings not perceived or not ascertained for anupalabbhiyamāne could result in a translation where the Buddha is trying to avoid another kind of classification error (e.g. in Thanissaro’s rendering), I don’t think that these suttas should be disregarded. Especially since Pali itself wasn’t a language used for administration or literary works, and so was never homogenised in the same way as other languages.

I dont think they should be disregarded either, but i think they should be assesed and compared with the explinations given in the other suttas - and i think when this os done it turns out not to be possible to reconcile this one with the others…

Thanissaro gives;

“And so, Anuradha — when you can’t pin down the Tathagata as a truth or reality even in the present life — is it proper for you to declare, ‘Friends, the Tathagata — the supreme man, the superlative man, attainer of the superlative attainment — being described, is described otherwise than with these four positions: The Tathagata exists after death, does not exist after death, both does & does not exist after death, neither exists nor does not exist after death’?”

“No, lord.”

Which really doesnt change the sense of the argent at all, and appears to be incompatible with for example the fire similie, which would need to find that the reason north west south and east dont apply was because vacchagotta could not pin down the fire as a teuth or reality" which is not in fact the argument given.

This version of the argument, the fictionalist one, occurs basically twice in the whole canon, both times in SN, and is absent from DN, MN and AN.

The other 20 odd arguments given all critique existance and non existance, and argue that these commitments should be avoided in favour of conditionality, that is: “this exists when that exists, this doesnt exist when that doesnt exist”.

The fictionalist account, firstly is simply incoherant (if the buddha never really existed who was Anuradha even talking to) and secondly is already an option in the 4 positions: i.e if the buddha doesnt exist now then they also dont exist in the post mortem state, so the argument doesnt even make sense even if you accept that Anuradha is talking with a non-existant being, non existance is one of the options rejected.

Metta

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I think I see where you’re going with this. Another way to reconcile this occurred to me:

You’ve mentioned about MN72:

The direct comparison made is that as the status of the fire is beyond the scope of the cardinal directions, the status of the Buddha is beyond the scope of language. More specifically, in MN72, the status of the Buddha after death is beyond the scope of language.

Combining this with what is found in SN22.85, could we not generalise this to the status of the Buddha is beyond the scope of language both in the present and in the future?

The term Tathagata could mean “one such come” or “one such gone”, both being contradictory to each other. That seems to indicate that the status of the Tathagata cannot be pinned down in the present or future as well.

I’m thinking it probably has to do with clinging and self-view. Every un-awakened person clings to a view of self and imposes a view of self onto other people. So perhaps all the Buddha is saying is that, since people use those views by default and those views can’t be applied to him, he can’t be pinned down.

Another way of thinking is that we assign identities to things to encapsulate properties about them that allow us to predict something about them. For example, with the identity of ‘cup’, we know that if we pour water into it, the ‘cup’ will hold it.

However, any identity that one might assign the Buddha is underpinned by self-view and therefore the properties encapsulated, being distorted by self-view, are wrong. This then means that certain predictions one might make about the Buddha (e.g. what is his status at present, what happens to him after death) are also wrong.

Going back to the fire analogy, a being (fire) with self-view (burning on wood) can be said to exist, not exist, both or neither (travel the cardinal directions). However, when self-view is extinguished (fire goes out), descriptions based on existence do not apply (the cardinal directions do not apply).

So it’s not that he doesn’t exist… it’s that whatever existence he may or may not have can’t be accurately described or understood by anyone with self-view.