Two Elements of Nibbāna in EA 16.2

Two elements of Nibbāna is mentioned at Iti 44. From this sutta, Theravada consider Nibbāna with residue (saupādisesā) is attained by an Arahant when he/she destroyed taints (asava) on his/her attainment of Arahantship, while Nibbāna without residue (anupādisesā) is attained when he/she died (Parinibbāna) without any aggregate left.

But when we read the sutta itself without any commentary, it seems that the sutta doesn’t say that Nibbāna without residue is the same as the experience of an Arhant when he/she died. Some people questioned this traditional interpretation and propose other explanation of Nibbāna without residue. For example, this article interpret Nibbāna without residue is the same as Nirodha Samāpatti.

So, when I discussed this topic with my friends, I came across a parallel of Iti 44 in Chinese Ekottarika Agama, i.e EA 16.2. Here I try to translate it freely (using Chinese lookup tools for SC site):

「有此二法涅槃界。 云何為二?有餘涅槃界、無餘涅槃界。
There are these two elements of Nibbāna . What it the two? Nibbāna element with residue and Nibbāna element without residue.

彼云 何名為有餘涅槃界?於是,比丘滅五下分 結,即彼般涅槃,不還來此世,是謂名為 有餘涅槃界。
What is called Nibbāna element with residue? Here, a monk, [by] destroying five lower fetters, he approached final Nibbāna [in Suddhavasa realm], not returning to this world. This is called Nibbāna element with residue.

彼云何名為無餘涅槃界? 於 是,比丘盡有漏成無漏,意解脫、智慧解脫, 自身作證而自遊戲:生死已盡,梵行已立, 更不受有,如實知之,是謂為無餘涅 槃界。此二涅 槃界,當求方便,至無餘涅槃 界。如是,諸比丘!當作是學。」
What is called Nibbāna element without residue? Here, a monk destroyed taints (asava) and attained the unstained, is liberated in the mind (cetovimutti) and liberated by wisdom (paññāvimutti). He personally realized and penetrated for himself: ‘Birth and death has been destroyed, holy life has been established, there is no more experience of becoming.’ Thus he understands as it really is. This is called Nibbāna element without residue. These are two elements of Nibbāna, which should be sought with [exerting] effort, until [achieving] Nibbāna without residue. Thus, monks, you should train.

It’s remarkable that this sutra defined the two elements Nibbāna differently from Iti 44. It explained Nibbāna with residue as attainment of Anagami fuition which will lead attainment of final Nibbāna in the next life and Nibbāna without residue as attainment of Arahantship. I think this explanation is more make sense than explanation from Iti 44 because upādi is fuel of attachment which still have to be destroyed by Anagami and Arahant is not having it again.

What do you think, guys? Perhaps, is there other explanation of this two elements of Nibbāna from other Northern Buddhist sources?


Interesting topic! I have to admit, I have the same interpretation in my head of these two nirvanas (in this life and dying without another rebirth). Luckily, Chinese translations of these two terms are pretty consistent, so it’s easy to search for them.

SA 738 explicitly connects nirvana with remainder and the fruit of the anāgāmin:


SA 1221 appears to make the same assumption. Vaṇgīsa wonders after his preceptors dies:

[0333a07] 時,尊者婆耆舍作是念:「我和上為有餘涅槃?無餘涅槃?我今當求其相。」

In the Pali parallel, Sn 2.12, Vaṇgīsa asks only whether he attained parinibbāna or not. In SA, he appears to be asking whether he was an anāgāmin or fully liberated.

Also, Xuanzang’s Itivṛttaka has a parallel for Iti 44, and it follows the Pali fairly well, just a bit more elaborate. So, it may well be a case of later development that we’ve ended up with these definitions of two nirvanas in Theravada and XZ’s Itivṛttaka.

The Itivṛttaka’s (T765.677a29) definition of nirvana with support:


What’s called the element of nirvana with remaining support? It means, monks, becoming an arhat. The contaminants have ended, the religious life has been established, the task has been done, the heavy burden has been discarded, the goal has been realized, the bonds of existence have ended, and they correctly understand. Their mind is liberated, and they’ve gained complete awareness.


Conditioned by past actions, their faculties continue to abide as a result. Although their faculties are formed, making contact with various beautiful and ugly objects, they reject them. Grasping hold of nothing, their minds aren’t wrapped up in craving and dislike because the bonds of craving, dislike, and the like are forever ended.


Although they have mind and beautiful and ugly things, they have no greed or anger. Why is that? The bonds of craving, dislike, and so on are forever ended … their body continues to abide in the world, yet to parinirvāṇa. They are esteemed by humans and gods who pay respect and support them. This is called the element of nirvana with remaining support.

And nirvana without support (T765.678a19):


What is called the element of nirvana without remaining support? It means, monks, becoming an arhat. The contaminants have ended, the religious life has been established, the task has been done, the heavy burden has been discarded, the goal has been realized, the bonds of existence have ended, and they correctly understand. They’ve been well liberated, and they’ve gained complete awareness.


In the present time, all that they’ve acquired has no active cause. They seek no more. They are forever and fully ceased, absolutely quiescent, and absolutely quenched. They disappear and don’t (re-)appear; they are simply purified, without the body of speculations. Thus purified and without the body of speculations, they cannot be said to exist, to not exist, to both exist and not exist, or to neither exist nor not exist. We can only say that they cannot be described and have absolutely nirvana-d. This is called the element of nirvana without remaining support.

I would say, this sutra in both Pali and Chinese may be a later development. But we don’t know exactly which canon Xuanzang was translating, though I’d expect it to be (Mūla?-)Sarvâstivāda since he was mainly interested in translating the supporting texts needed to understand the Yogâcārabhūmi properly (so, he translated almost all of the Sarvâstivāda’s Abhidharma that it was built on). It’s pretty interesting that SĀ seems to support the EĀ interpretation of nirvana with remainder as rebirth as an anāgāmin.


It seems that Sarvastivada and Yogacara Abhidharma also support the Theravada concept of twofold Nibbana (when Arahant is alive and when death). I also found Mahayana Chinese commentary that mentioned 4 kinds of Nirvana with two of which are the same as twofold Nibbana of Theravada/Sarvastivada view.

Perhaps, is there any commentary or Abhidharma of other schools which supported definition of twofold Nirvana from EA 16.2?

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If EA is Mahasamghika, it might be hard to find parallels. I don’t think much material directly traceable to the Mahasamghikas is around anymore, unless I am quite wrong.

Do you mind point out which part of the text says he was anagamin ?

You’re correct. Even the Vinaya that we have in Chinese from the Mahasamghikas doesn’t have much material to work with for studying sutras and legends because Faxian only brought the bhikṣu and bhikṣuṇī precepts portions back to China.

I’m wondering, though, if this might not be a matter of time rather than sectarianism. It may be that it was during the Abhidharma period that this definition of the two nirvanas was decided, and it was adopted by everyone after that. It may be a little piece to a bigger puzzle, I think.

He doesn’t, which is why I said he “appears to be asking” that. What I wonder is why did Vangisa ask about nirvana with remainder if he’s asking whether or not his preceptor was reborn? It sounds like he’s wondering if his preceptor was an arhat or not. At the end of his gathas, he’s elated to have heard from the Buddha that his preceptor was indeed fully liberated and didn’t receive another rebirth. So, it seems that in SA 1221, nirvana with remainder means some sort of rebirth. If he meant it the way it’s defined in EA 16.2, then it’d mean rebirth as an anagamin.

It seems the earlier translation
「有餘」(有殘餘東西 ) meaning left with some residues and was describing the anagamin whom if reappear in pure abodes still left with some defilements . So subsequently translators came up with「有餘依」(with remaining support) which stand for anagamin to differentiate it from 「有餘涅槃」
nibbana with remainder (ie arahant before breakups) 。

So far, most of the places I can find the two nirvanas discussed in Chinese texts, they both refer to arhats. “With remainder” means an arhat whose mind is fully liberated, but they’re still alive. The five skandhas are what remains. When they die, that remainder is gone, and they enter nirvana without remainder. That’s the standard way we understand the terms today in most texts.

Seniya found an EA sutra that seems to interpret with remainder as having another birth yet to go as an anāgāmin, which is interesting because it might be an older interpretation. SA 1221 appears to understand it that way, too, but it’s not so clear. It’s academic, really, but it’s interesting.

On the Chinese translation, the early translators were more interested in getting the basic meaning across, while Xuanzang and other later translators were more literal. The sanskrit word for nirvana with remainder is sopadhiśeṣa-nirvāṇa. Xuanzang breaks sopadhiśeṣa down to three parts and translates them:

sa (有/having) + upadhi (依/support) + śeṣa (餘/remaining)

That word order doesn’t match Chinese grammar that wants adjectives in front of nouns, so he rearranges it to 有 (having) + 餘 (remaining) + 依 (support) = 有餘依涅槃 (nirvana with remaining support). That’s pretty close to the sanskrit.


This may of interest :

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