What do you think about Ven Thanissaro’s view on Nibbāna?

But the Buddha gave his discovery more than 30 other names as well, to indicate ways in which it’s really worth desiring, really worth all the effort that goes into attaining it. The names fall into five main groups, conveying five different facets of that dimension:

The first is that it’s not a blank of nothingness. Instead, it’s a type of consciousness. But unlike ordinary consciousness, it’s not known through the six senses, and it doesn’t engage in fabricating any experience at all—unlike, for example, the non-dual consciousness found in formless levels of concentration. The Buddha described this consciousness as “without surface” and “unestablished.” His image for it is a beam of light that lands nowhere. Although bright in and of itself, it doesn’t engage in anything, and so can’t be detected by anyone else.

Coincidentally, I just finished reading all of the suttas excerpted in his book “Mind Like Fire Unbound”. I first read that book eons ago when the book came out.

I decided to reread it when there was a thread posted here about a piece of writing by Ajahn Brahmali making the case that there is nothing left of a person after paranibbana. To be fair, I think Venerable Brahmali, like the Buddha, would deny being an annihilationist. Venerable Brahmali made some significant points for his case. There are 5 aggregates ( which include consciousness ) that make up a person and plenty of sutta references that say all 5, including consciousness are gone after paranibbana. Tough to say there is something left.

I started reading a list of writings that disagree with Venerable Brahmali’s position, provided to me by the author of that thread. That thread still disturbs me. Many people look to religion as a source of emotional support. A mental map of the universe and a destination. That thread took the destination away.

Back to your question. I think TB in his book made a good point about ancient Indian metaphysics possibly altering our understanding of a fire being “extinguished”, “unbound” – alternate translations for nibanna. There was also one sutta that stated that super advanced meditators could get momentary glimpses of what nibanna is like. The implication being living people could not do that if nibanna means there is zero left. In that book TB had some interesting commentaries on the sutta excerpts, but I did not see how he got those ideas from the excerpts. To be fair, I read the book casually and Thanisarro Bhikkhu has spent his life translating and studying the suttas.


“As a young man, the Buddha had a vision of the world: All beings were like fish in a dwindling stream, fighting one another for a last gulp of water before they all died. Everywhere he looked for happiness, everything was already claimed. The implications of this vision struck terror in his heart: Life survived by feeding on other life, physically and mentally; to be interdependent is to “inter-eat”; the suffering that results serves no larger purpose, and so is totally pointless. This was the realization that drove him from home into the wilderness, to see if there might be a happiness that wasn’t dependent on conditions, that didn’t die, didn’t need to feed.”

—Thanissaro, Sutta Nipata 4.15

“a dimension, touched by the heart and mind, that was totally free from conditions. It wasn’t the result of anything, and didn’t cause anything else.”


Practically speaking the unconditioned nature of nibbana is the most important aspect to consider, differentiating that experience from the world, the so -called ‘All.’ This unconditioned category should be established from the very beginning of practice, and any thought or experience of the path classified as directing the mind away from the conditioned and toward the unconditioned. This division is therefore a strategic necessity. The Buddha recommends developing ‘a sense of the goal’ for laypeople in Anguttara Nikaya 11.13.


On another forum, one long-time member said something like “we’re wasting our time; we’re meditating to no longer exist.”

Another member said he took the beliefnet quiz which asks you several religious and spiritual beliefs and where you believe and it calculated his religion as 100% Jainism (for similar reasons). :grin:

I think it might be useful to think about nibbana views in the context of other views as well, like jhana and non-self.

I wonder if this is a real pattern (can anyone disconfirm it?), but it seems like nibbana = eternal consciousness views tend to correlate with soft jhanas and less categorical ideas about non-self (e.g. non-self as a strategy rather than an ontological truth).

On the other hand, nibbana = cessation tends to correlate with hard jhanas and categorical ideas about non-self.

This might not be a real pattern, happy to see any counter-examples :cowboy_hat_face:


For a different understanding that Is compelling and based on the contexts of the suttas in which these descriptions appear, you may wish to read:

Hope this is helpful.


Ajahn Geoff’s view of nibbāna is simply a variant of the general phenomena I have come to refer to as “Pure Awareness mysticism.” Pure Awareness mysticism, beginning in India as the end result of the samaņa zeitgeist and Hindu synthesis of Buddhist and Upanishadic theory with yogic self-hypnotism/concentration techniques, has spread throughout Asia to become THE dominant form of meditative practice in the world. Almost all extant traditional Buddhist forms are pretty much just Pure Awareness mysticism at their core, with a Buddhist coat of paint applied to the surface. The more you become familiar with and learn to look for Pure Awareness mysticism, (or its cultural equivalent that I have heard refered to as “Creeping Brahmanism”), the more you will see it EVERYWHERE in the Buddhist world.

If you don’t believe me, just read the Patañjali yoga sutra (it’s quite a short read and well worth the time investment) and then compare what you read to what is taught by, say, Laung Ta Māha Boowa. You may begin to wonder whether or not all these Buddhist teachers are actually teaching their disciples how to attain moksha rather than nibbāna…


Both of these views are repeatedly, explicitly, unequivocally rejected by the Buddha in D, M, S, and EA. As being incoherent views that the Buddha has let go of.

I find it frankly almost unbelievable that both these views are still defended by people who profess to take the ebt as thier best approximation of the teachings of the buddha.


But in practice, different people develop different interpretation of what the Buddha taught in the EBTs. That is, people read the same words, but arrive at different interpretations.

I think it’s worthwhile approaching the EBTs with a sense of intellectual humility. We should be honest about the fact that we’re always engaging in interpretation when reading the EBTs :slight_smile:

And I think it can be useful to just be descriptive about what the different views are sometimes.


In my experience, while it is very hard indeed for the conditioned mind to accept that it cannot comprehend and describe the unconditioned, it becomes near impossible when it is logged into an internet forum.


I like Thanissaro’s view and it is similar to my own view.

Textually, I think Thanissaro’s view is difficult to establish on EBTs alone, though it’s a fair interpretation. However, it seems like the EBTs do not posit anything positive ontologically about nibbana.

But philosophically, the positivist view is just much more appealing. I find it quite difficult to see how the “total extinguishment view” - what I call the classic Theravada view that all forms of consciousness or awareness disappear at nibbana - is different than the annihilationism of a materialist. I also find it difficult to see how its different than spiritual suicide.

Now, I am aware the Buddha cautioned people against seeing nibbana this way (as annihilation), so if this is the case, then this makes the “total extinguishment view” less likely as well. The promoters of the “total extinguishment view” would have to explain how their view is different than annihilation in a metaphysically rigorous way.

I find the typical response to this unsatisfying as well. This is the response that says “you never had a self so nothing is being annihilated anyways”. But this just seems wrong. Even if there is no self, there is still an impermanent stream, and this is being totally cut off in the “total extinguishment view”.


For me, the “you never had a self to begin with” is the explanation that generates the least contradictions when taking in the EBTs as a whole, which is why I prefer it.

But this just shows that we all approach the EBTs with different prior beliefs and inclinations that shapes the explanations we prefer.

Yes indeed, and I think the Buddha knew that people had different inclinations, spiritual needs, intellectual backgrounds and so forth, and I think this is why there is some ambiguity in his teachings.

But also, I would argue that ambiguity is inherent in all forms of communication. Ultimately, true knowledge can only come from the laboratory of our own experience/mind/body.

It doesn’t make sense to me to hold any view too tightly, because believing too strongly tends to stop the mind from seeing things that go against those beliefs.


Well, that’s how annihilation is defined in the suttas – the view of the extinction of any kind of “self.”

Beyond that, the “total extinguishment view”, as you call it, applies to nibbāna after the death of an arahant – which refers to the extinguishment of the khandhas rather than the extinguishment of a particular entity.

And why is that considered “bliss”? Because as the Biuddha said many times, in many ways, whatever is conditioned, including the khandhas, is dukkha.
As in SN22.15: Yad aniccaṁ taṁ dukkhaṁ; What’s impermanent is suffering. "
And SN12.125: “Dukkhameva uppajjamānaṁ uppajjati, dukkhaṁ nirujjhamānaṁ nirujjhatī; whatever arises and ceases is only dukkha arising and ceasing.”

So if all that fully ends with nothing left over, all that’s lost is dukkha. This is what the Buddha said the main purpose of his teachings are about.

Just offering some comments to perhaps clarify the position of those who see final nibbāna in this way. :pray:


Yes, thanks, this is how I generally understand this view, which is I add I pretty textually accurate way of understanding what the suttas say about nibbana

But of course, my concern remains. Even if you say that annihilation is only defined as the extinction of a self, one must admit that the idea of nibbana being defended still holds that all phenomena in a person’s stream of continuity will cease to exist. And this view is still a type of annihilationism, call it annihilationism2 or call it whatever you will.

Indeed, this view is what is called “annihilationism” in Western philosophy of religion (for example, it is what is accepted as being “annihilationism” in Christianity, and this is a view that is accepted by some Christians as something that happens to certain people who are not saved). See: Annihilationism - Wikipedia Annihilationism2 is also what most materialists / physicalists think will happen to everyone at death.

My main concern with this is that this annihilationism2 nibbana, as a spiritual goal, does not seem to be a very attractive goal at all.

Indeed, it is just the same as what materialists think everyone gets for free at death. Also, annihilationism2 seems to have some further issues. It seems to devalue all other positive spiritual values, like compassion and friendliness for example. If the highest goal is a kind of annihilation (not of a self, but of the aggregates), then it seems like ceasing to exist is superior to compassion, to kindness, to love.

But this just does not seem right to me. At least, it goes against some very basic intuitions I have regarding what is valuable.

So, if I am trying to be charitable to the Buddha, I would try to attribute to him a view which is not this annihilationism2 nibbana, because it just seems very problematic to me. This is why I ultimately like Thanissaro’s interpretation more. It’s not due to textual or hermeneutic concerns, but philosophical ones.


A number of people on previous threads on this topic have expressed themselves in ways similar to what you’ve expressed . If you’re interested and haven’t done so, you can look these topics up on the Search function and see the views that have been posted.
Some of the discussions have been lively! :grinning:

Of course, that’s a view that each of us can choose, or not choose, for ourselves. Responses from some people of the extinguishment at final nibbāna view is: it’s our clinging to a self-view that expresses itself as a fear of, or lack of attractiveness, to extinguishment; the drive to exist in some way, bhavāsava, is very strong. Again, if it’s only dukkha and not a self that’s being extinguished, then what’s the problem?

Again, this is not being offered to try to convince you or anyone of what the “correct” answer is. But the teachings in the suttas make it clear over and over that all conditions are inherently dukkha, that all the khandhas (including consciousness) are anicca, and that the khandhas end without rebirth, when an arahant passes away.

The ending of rebirth, being integral to the Buddha’s teachings in the Nikāyas, importantly separates it from death as spoken about by materialists – who deny rebirth. If an un-awakened being keeps being reborn, having to experience dukkha over and over and over again…then the final nibbāna of extinguishment is, as the Buddha says, the highest “bliss”, (AN9.34, MN43, MN44, SN36.11, and MN59 - "…when a mendicant, going totally beyond the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters and remains in the cessation of perception and feeling. This is a pleasure that is finer than that.
Idhānanda, bhikkhu sabbaso nevasañ­ñā­nāsa­ñ­ñāya­tanaṁ samatikkamma saññā­ve­dayi­tani­r­odhaṁ upasampajja viharati. Idaṁ kho, ānanda, etamhā sukhā aññaṁ sukhaṁ abhikkantatarañca paṇītatarañca.

But, again, this is offered only to help clarify this view and understanding of final nibbāna, as understood by a number of Dhamma practitioners.

Happily, as we know, these beautiful qualities are cultivated and manifested in all sincere Dhamma practitoners. And, as in Iti44, while an arahant is still alive and the khandhas are still present, (nibbāna with residue), they are naturally expressed through the manifestation of not only wisdom, but all four Brahmaviharas, including kindness, goodwill, and compassion, that extend to all beings. Even by those who incline towards the “extinguishment is bliss” view. :slightly_smiling_face: :pray:


As i have pointed out elsewhere, this argument is present in SN amd SA but contradicts arguments given elsewhere in SN, D,M and EA, specifically the undeclared points and the fire similie.

It seems to me that we have very different priors (as in prior beliefs), so arguments that are convincing for you aren’t necessarily convincing for me, and vice versa.


Sure, there is a problem of priors, and for me those priors are pretty specific issues around the undeclared points, the place and veracity of certain arguments within the EBT’s, and a philosophical requirement of non contradiction that may or may not be operative in the source material.

All that said I still think it is clear that “unestablished consciousness” would be a “something left over” and that it is therefore very explicitly rejected in the ebt.

Likewise the “nothing left over” crowd falls afoul of the same problem.

Something left: one should not say this.
Nothing left: one should Not say this
Both something left and nothing left: no
Niether something nor nothing: no

None of those are right.

When the fire goes “out” it disnt go “out” the east window, the western chimmney, the northen door or the southern gate, its not anywhere on the compass.

When a buddhist goes “out” they dont go “out” of existence, or out of non-existence or out of both or out of niether.

This is the explicit argument not just of MN72 but of whole swathes of the EBT, and no amount of “not real to begin with” can make a coherant argument about it.

The fire, both when it was present and when it is gone, is not real, unreal, both or niether. So say the EBTs.

And again, this argument is given in the ebts about: the buddha after death, the arahant after death, the distinction between finite and infinite, the relation between action and consequence, and many other phenomena besides.