When does the mind die?

A belief that floats around is that the mind dies and is reborn every second/moment. I would like to confirm what the EBT says about the matter.

Here’s what I know

  1. Only an Arahant can see the speed of the mind. In SN 12.61 says it’s better for a putthujana to consider the body a self than the mind because the body is much slower than the mind

But, indeed, that which, monks, is called ‘mind’, or ‘thought’, or ‘consciousness’, that, by night and by day, as other, indeed, arises, as other ceases. [6] Just as, monks, a monkey in the mountain-side forests, moving itself, [7] grasps a branch, then releasing that, grasps another, then releasing that, grasps another; even so, indeed, monks, that which is called ‘mind’, or ‘thought’, or ‘consciousness’: that, by night and by day, as other, indeed, arises, as other ceases.

There’s also a sutta where the Buddha says the mind is faster than the devas that fly around the sun at extreme speeds, I’ll try to find it.


As fast as that man is, the sun and moon are faster. As fast as that man is, as fast as the sun and moon are, and as fast as the deities that run before the sun and moon are, the waning of the life forces is faster.

  • SN 20.6
  1. At the time of conception the gandhabba enters the new body. Some say ghandhabba means sperm in this context. Eitherway, it seems like the mind is born before the human body is born (leaves the womb)

"Monks, the descent of the embryo occurs with the union of three things. There is the case where there is no union of the mother & father, the mother is not in her season, and a gandhabba [8] is not present, nor is there a descent of an embryo. There is the case where there is a union of the mother & father, and the mother is in her season, but a gandhabba is not present, nor is there a descent of an embryo. But when there is a union of the mother & father, the mother is in her season, and a gandhabba is present, then with this union of three things the descent of the embryo occurs.

  • MN 38
  1. A person is dragged to hell when his body dies. He also floats to heaven when his body dies.

"Suppose a man were to throw a jar of ghee or a jar of oil into a deep lake of water, where it would break. There the shards & jar-fragments would go down, while the ghee or oil would rise upward and separate out. In the same way, if one’s mind has long been nurtured with conviction, nurtured with virtue, nurtured with learning, nurtured with relinquishment, nurtured with discernment, then when the body… is eaten by crows, vultures, hawks, dogs, hyenas, or all sorts of creatures, nevertheless the mind… rises upward and separates out.

and Ven Sujato translation

Right here the crows, vultures, hawks, dogs, jackals, and many kinds of little creatures devour it. But their mind rises up, headed for a higher place.

  • SN 55.21

I can’t find the sutta where beings drag the person down to hell, I can only find the sutta where hell wardens drag the person to king yama, AFTER he has reappeared in hell, but I remember a sutta where the actual soul/mind is dragged down to hell.

Either way, it seems like the sutta with mahanama that the mind separates from the body. This aligns with the Vinaya story of a ghost still lurking around its decaying body in the charnel grounds, when a monk takes the body’s robes the ghost scares and chases the monk.

So does the mind die every second/moment? Or does it die at physical death and is reborn?

Thank you


A nice similie to help understand this ‘stream of consciousness’ is that of a river. Every second the river is different, yet it is still flowing and recognisable as a river - so it all depends on your perspective. So you may ask - what is river? what is mind? Personally, I find it helps to think of the mind, not as a ‘thing’ but as a process. The whole aim of meditation is to slow the movement of the mind, even to the point of stopping all movement. This lack of agitating ‘process’ is stillness/peace. So rather than asking ‘when does the mind die’, one could reframe it to - when/how does the process of mind cease :slight_smile: The answer is contained in the teachings on Dependent Origination/Liberation


Thanks for the comment however I’m talking about when the mind is born and dies (not stopped as in nibbana). I understand how the mind comes to be, how it ceases, i.e. Dependent Origination, what I’m asking about the frequency of the mind dying and when this happens with sutta references.

I.e. does the mind born and die every moment or does it die and reborn at physical death, it seems like you’re implying the former.

You’ll have to define that term. What do you mean by “die”?


The dissolution of the five aggregates at the time of the running out of the vital life force

edit: I guess knowing if āyusaṅkhārā or jīvitasaṅkhāra (life force) happens in the mind is relevant, as the Buddha was able to stop these at will and die at will.


Why don’t you observe the arising and passing away of 5 aggregates ?

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I don’t think the mind is ever described In the suttas as something that “dies” and is “reborn” moment to moment, as it is sometimes described in some interpretations of dependent arising (Buddhadasa etc ).

Like it was said above, its like a river that’s constantly flowing. The river is changing rapidly but it’s not “dying”.

But when you die, as in, the breakup of the aggregates, then the mind dies (and is reborn).


I think you’ll find one answer in the Vishuddhimagga and a different one in the EBTs.

With rebirth comes a new and different body. Why would it not be the same with the mind? Processes continue, whilst any perceived “entity” doesn’t.


In the Buddhist view, without mindfulness the mind is dead:

21. Heedfulness is the path to the Deathless. Heedlessness is the path to death. The heedful die not. The heedless are as if dead already. [3]—Dhammapada


Ven @Brahmali, in the myth busting portion of this series (a different one than Viveka referenced) delineated between life-to-life DO and the moment-to-moment flavor. He clarified that he and his colleagues were covering the 1st version, though acknowledged that EBTs mention the 2nd which is likely where the above belief…uh…originates from. @-ing him (1) in case I’m misquoting and (2) because he’ll have the goods.


i have not seen anything about this in sutta.
There is this meditative experiencing that all senses in continuous rhythmic flickering. Is that the knowledge and vision for the momentary death/birth of mind?

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Impermanence or the cycle of birth, growth, maturity; decline, ageing, death does happen at the atomic level, but normally it is perceived at a slower rate in the physical body.

“It would be better for the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person to hold to the body composed of the four great elements, rather than the mind, as the self. Why is that? Because this body composed of the four great elements is seen standing for a year, two years, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred years or more. But what’s called ‘mind,’ ‘intellect,’ or ‘consciousness’ by day and by night arises as one thing and ceases as another.”—SN 12.61


Welcome to the D&D community Jacky. :slight_smile:

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According to google, the mind is defined as:

the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought.

Based on the above definition, the mind dies when the abovementioned element ceases.

I’ve heard Ajahn Chah explain in one of his Dhamma talks that the mind is actually separate to thoughts. Thoughts, memories etc. are the ‘things’ that ‘pop in’ and ‘pop out’ in the mind.

The thought is not the mind, and the mind is not the thought. They are separate, as I understand. So it’s actually the ‘thoughts’ or ‘mental formations’ are the ones that ‘come to be’ and ‘dissolve’ with rapidity that you are perhaps referring to, not so much the mind. :pray:


I think the mind (or consciousness) never dies in the sense of ‘non-existence’ (which is one extreme; SN 12.15) at physical death and is reborn, or every second/moment. However, the mind is empty of self or of anything belonging to self; but the mind is not absent or non-existence, according to SN 35.85 and SA 232. See p. 94:
Pages 93-94 from the-fundamental-teachings-of-early-buddhism_Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (138.3 KB)

And p. 16:
Pages 14-16 from The Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 1999.pdf (2.1 MB)

The five aggregates emphasise psychological analysis; the sense-faculties emphasise physiological analysis (notes 99 and 100 in The Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism).

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He’s probably referring to the consciousness without surface. See this part of Sati the fisherman sutta and footnotes:

“Exactly so, lord. As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is just this consciousness that runs and wanders on, not another.”

"Which consciousness, Sāti, is that?" [1]

“This speaker, this knower, lord, that is sensitive here & there to the ripening of good & evil actions.”

“And to whom, worthless man, do you understand me to have taught the Dhamma like that? Haven’t I, in many ways, said of dependently co-arisen consciousness, ‘Apart from a requisite condition, there is no coming-into-play of consciousness’? [2] But you, through your own poor grasp, not only slander us but also dig yourself up [by the root] and produce much demerit for yourself. That will lead to your long-term harm & suffering.”


The Buddha, knowing that there are two types of consciousness — the consciousness aggregate (viññāṇakkhandha), which is experienced in conjunction with the six sense media, and consciousness without surface (viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ), which is experienced independently of the six sense media (MN 49) — is here giving Sāti the chance to identify which of the two types he has interpreted as running and wandering on. Sāti’s answer shows that he is talking about the first type. The remaining discussion of consciousness throughout this sutta is thus directed at this first type. It would have been interesting to see how the Buddha would have attacked Sāti’s misunderstanding had Sāti stated that he was talking about the second.

On the topic of consciousness without surface, see DN 11, note 1, and MN 49, note 9.

What I consider “mind” is consciousness (vinnana), perception (sanna), volitional activity (sankhara), intention (cetana), attention (manasikara), and contact (phassa).

But really, these are all features of the mind. What I consider the core mind is consciousness (vinnana). So yes, like you said, thoughts aren’t really the mind… which is why I consider them features, and thoughts are born from perception (sanna). So the features start with intention, attention, and perception, which obviously requires contact to come to completion.

So the question is, is the consciousness without surface (viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ) impermanent?

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It seems this term or idea, viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ, is not found in the SN/SA suttas?

Out of interest, is there a reason why you dismiss suttas with parallels from the MN, AN and DN? Even if we accept Choong Mun-keat’s premise that those Nikayas/Agamas were formed at the 1st council that still puts them roughly 100 years after the Master’s final Nibbana. That would mean disciples of Ananda etc would have been present. Are we too believe that they would have grossly distorted the Dhamma by then? If their disciples got it wrong 100 years after his death then I can’t see any reason to practice Dhamma now, 2500 years later. What’s the point if it can’t even be preserved for 100 years, by 2nd generation monks and nuns? Personally, even if I accept Choong Mun-keat’s argument that still puts MN/AN and DN in good stead with me, as I have confidence in the Sangha to pass on the Dhamma. So, I’m interested in hearing your point of view?

All the best :slight_smile:


so the phrase originates where?