Ven. Ñāṇananda, Nibbana and Phenomenological Existentialism

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Take for example Ven. Ñāṇavīra’s criticism of the chariot simile in the Milinda Panha. What if says is that of course a chariot is not a sum of its elements, it is a sum of its elements in a specific functional arrangement, otherwise it is nothing but a heap of chariot details.

Even though Ven. Ñāṇavīra did not purse this line of thinking further, I frequently ask myself (without giving any definitive answer) if nama in namarupa couldn’t be this functional arrangement.


I am not all that familiar with Ven. Ñāṇananda’s writing, but I believe that he has a traditional view of saṃsāra as the round of death and rebirth. I also think that he sees nibbāna simply as the ending of this. So yes, there may indeed be merit in his other ideas, such as his ideas on papañca (proliferation) as expounded in Concept and Reality.


Thanks bhante. Looks like I have to overcome my nibbida to his use of the magic show metaphor and words like ‘illusory’ and ‘illusion’. If I find enough time to read ‘Nibbana - The Mind Stilled’ I will surely share my impression here giving you a brief summary of his most important ideas.


Dear All
Can someone either provide a link to or the full text of the following.?.
"A Critical Examination of Ñāṇavīra’s 'A Note on Paṭiccasamuppāda"
With Metta


Hi Nimal,

as far as I know, you can find it on under the title A Critical Examination of Ñāṇavīra Thera‟s “A Note on Paṭiccasamuppāda”. Not sure if I can provide a link since I am not really sure about the copyright, but it is pretty easy to find there.


I think the appropriate middle way is to be agnostic about rebirth, whether it concerns dependent origination or any other aspect of the Buddhist teachings. I don’t think it is useful to force people to take a stand on an issue that they are not ready to take a stand on. Moreover, in a very literal sense the vast majority of Buddhists are agnostic about rebirth, because it is just a belief for them without any direct “gnosis”. Once you see it this way, a middle ground sort of opens up.

What is truly problematic is the outright denial of rebirth, for this is tantamount to saying that the Buddha got it wrong. And if you deny the awakening of the Buddha, I am not sure if it makes much sense to call yourself a Buddhist.


I wholehaertedly agree with you on that, Bhante. What I meant is that even if you do not consider Secular Buddhists to be Buddhists (which is ultimately not that important), we still can have a meaningful talk with them about which beliefs are shared by us, which aren’t, on which points there may be future evidence supporting one of the sides (and by that I mean objectively verifiable evidence, as they cannot accept subjective experience of Awakening or knowledge about rebirth as such, just as we cannot really see how you can possibly prove that consciousness is equal to brain processes) and which points are likely to remain beliefs. Having established all of this and expressing respect for our belief differences stripping the discussion of emotional and affective overtones that, unfortunately, are sometimes heard on both sides, we can contribute to our mutual well-being.


Hi Vstakan
Thank you for providing the information.
With Metta


a few suttas posit that not only name-and-form is dependent on consciousness but vice versa as well, which would explain why an arahant doesn’t lose their consciousness at extinguishment


I think this argument is one of the weakest that Ven. Ñāṇavīra presented in his book. There are more than one way to refute it with very little effort needed, and your objection is a good example. That is pretty weird provided this argument is considered by some to come from a stream-enterer :wink:


Some thing I have come to understand about the Paticca Samuppada in its - Past-Present- Future interpretation is that it is beyond my understanding until I begin to see my past lives and the process of physical death and rebirth. When the Buddha said that this Dhamma is sandihiko and akaliko ( something to understand in this very moment and timeless) I don’t think it involved seeing your past lives and futures births. If we interpret the Paticca Samuppada in the conventional sense this is what we aught to be able to see before claiming to understand the Paticcha Samuppada. Perhaps at the level of an Arahat we might get this understanding. Until then it is only a belief. On the other hand the Suttas tell us that even a stream enterer has clear understanding of the Paticca Samuppada. So does that mean a stream winner can clearly see the process of physical birth rebirth and death ? I am not sure. But if we see the Paticcha Samupadda as a description of metal states as it exist here in the present moment as the Ven. Nananada and few others interprets it The Patticha Samupadda makes a whole lot more sense and I can see how it can be sandihiko and akaliko.
Quoting from Saṃyutta Nikāya 12 5. Gahapativagga 41. Pañca­ve­rabhaya­sutta

“And what is the noble method that he has clearly seen and thoroughly penetrated with wisdom? Here, householder, the noble disciple attends closely and carefully to dependent origination itself thus: ‘When this exists, that comes to be; with the arising of this, that arises. When this does not exist, that does not come to be; with the cessation of this, that ceases. That is, with ignorance as condition, volitional formations come to be; with volitional formations as condition, consciousness…. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering. But with the remainderless fading away and cessation of ignorance comes cessation of volitional formations; with the cessation of volitional formations, cessation of consciousness…. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.’
“This is the noble method that he has clearly seen and thoroughly penetrated with wisdom."


You should also consider reading the 4 volume The Law of Dependent Arising Series. They have a lot of the same content but its worth it.


In the context of dependent origination, I think sandiṭṭhika and akālika means seeing causal relationships. What you see is the causal relationship between craving and rebirth. It’s like understanding a law of nature. There is no need to remember your past life.


Thanks for the reply Venerable . Yes that’s true - it is all about seeing causal relationships. But when you say rebirth what does it mean. Is it physical birth of life or the arising of a metal state. For me it makes much more sense to see it as the birth of a metal state rather than physical birth.


The issue is that when we talk about what the Lord Buddha taught we should really consider how He or His early students used a specific word in the whole corpus of the Canonical texts , we should analyze the entire context. Neither your opinion, nor mine, nor even Ven. Brahmali’s matter unless they are substantiated by textual, linguistic and cultural evidence. When it comes to jāti, we should admit it regularly occurs in the rebirth context, so we should really say that is what the Canonical Buddha thought and / or taught whether we can really connect to it or not.

On the other hand, I can’t really see why you can’t observe the different stages of this extended conditioning process encompassing several lives in this very moment. You can observe it even on the conceptual level right down to the consciousness-name-and-form knot, as is mentioned in DN 15. Probably, you cannot adequately describe the workings of sankhara in our language, most certainly you cannot really describe your ignorance. Still, you can observe and analyze the other stages within your conceptual reach and see how they produce each other. Extrapolating the results of your investingation and analysis, you can apply them to your past and future lives to see how the rebirth process works. As Ven. Brahmali mentioned, it is like understanding a law of nature. You see an apple falling down on your head and realize how planets and galaxies are attracted to each other. You observe how your craving is conditioned by your feeling etc., and you can realize how it leads to rebirth. What I strongly agree with Ven. Brahmali on, is that we should not think that the present moment description is the ultimate one, that it is exactly what the Buddha was talking about. It can be a handy heuristic tool for us to better understand the ultimate law, very much like Newton’s apple, but a falling apple is definitely one of the less significant effect of gravity in the Universe.


"Sanditthika and kalika (the opposite of akalika) are used together in a revealing phrase which occurs three times in the suttas (SN 1, 20; SN 4, 21; and MN 70). The phrase, with minor variations in each sutta is as follows:
I don’t run after what is kalika, having abandoned what is sanditthika.
I run after what is sanditthika, having abandoned what is kalika.
Naham sanditthikam hitva, kalikam anudhavami.
Kalikam hitva, sanditthikam anudhavami.
In these three contexts, sanditthika and kalika are clearly direct opposites, antonyms again. Thus it is reasonable to assume that the opposite of kalika, akalika, must be synonymous with sanditthika. That is, sanditthika and akalika have essentially the same meaning. They both refer to that which is ‘visible in this life’.“
The above is a quote from Ajahn Brahmawamso’s article on DO. The link to the full article is found at Q & A section of this site under " How should Dependent Origination should be viewed”.
With Metta


As Vstakan says, we need to be careful not to impose our own opinions on the suttas. For instance, there are lots of people who don’t believe in rebirth - and of course that’s perfectly fine. But if they argue, as some do, that the Buddha too rejected rebirth then they go too far. To me it is inescapable that in the suttas the term jāti means the coming into existence at the beginning of a life, also in the context of dependent origination.


Yes and I agree - we should not impose our opinions on the Suttas. But the difficulty is that with the Buddha not around to clarify things for us we are always at the mercy of some one else’s opinion or interpretation of the Sutta. For clarification I always try to go to the Sutta description as I think this is the most authentic of the Buddha’s word. But some Suttas are not easy to interpret without deep insights from the practice of meditation. In these situations we ask monks or people who practice for their opinion what the Buddha must have meant by certain language. But until you realize for yourself these are just going to be opinions that tend to shape your own views - or ‘ditthi’ . We should not cling to these views but use it as a tool for further insight if possible.


Yes, you have a point. But if you start off with the simpler suttas, you can still learn a lot. An example is the definition of jāti, which in the context of dependent origination is as follows:

And what, bhikkhus, is birth? The birth of the various beings into the various orders of beings, their being born, descent into the womb, production, the manifestation of the aggregates, the obtaining of the sense bases. This is called birth.


Does SN 22.95 support this?