Why are annihilationism and eternalism both erroneous views?


I’m curious to hear why you think either of these two are wrong views as well as information from varying Suttas as to why this is so.

Because both are based on the idea of a solid self, one that expires at death and one that persists afterwards.

There are many suttas that address the Buddha’s teaching of anatta, non-self.


I’m not sure that is so.

The reason why I think that is because one’s mind, mano/mana, whatever term you may refer to it as is a core part of a living being - the life force which ultimately is what one is.

That may or may not become entangled by its sense of self. The realisation of anatta, for me, is seeing that there is the ideological self and then what that is premised on which one is in their immanent suchness. Seeing this ideological, mind constructed sense of self, a mental samskara, an image the mind makes of itself for what it is, allows one to let go of the unhelpful aspects of it born of wisdom.

When the aggregates come together in such a way that gives rise to the body, from the body springs forth mind, and mindfulness comes to develop overtime, and from this mind comes the sense of self (awareness of itself). It is this awareness of oneself and an attachment to a fixed intellectual thought based idea of oneself that may be problematic.

When the views, opinions, habits, ideas and actions give rise to stress does one come to question and evaluate them. Out of habit and natural unawareness of the mechanics of the thinking process: some come to be entangled in the thickets of views. There is what one is imminently and then the view of oneself.

To build on what Stephen said above, either idea is an assumption about the status of Self, which could never go beyond the breakdown of the things that were its necessary condition. In its nature, the self is an assumption that emanates off of the things that define it, all of which will fall apart at death, namely, the living body. To ask whether the self is either annihilated or eternal is to assume it was not determined by those things in the world - an assumption that gives it an independence that is wholly unjustified.

Bearing in mind suttas such as SN 22.47:

At Savatthi. “Bhikkhus, those ascetics and brahmins who regard anything as self in various ways all regard as self the five aggregates subject to clinging, or a certain one among them.

…we are reminded that the sense of self was always the result of that upadana in regard to the five aggregates. In a sense, the emanation of self was never the problem, but it is the assumption that the emanation is primary and comes before everything else, which the suttas plainly say is not the case. This is why the Buddha was sure to say that sankhara are both impermanent and suffering and all dhamma are not self. The point is to see that all the things that give the self its substance and meaning are subject to change and suffering (DN 17), and therefore all things are not self (all things are unable to resist change). From that point of view, it is inconceivable to ponder a status of self at death. If is factually secondary, dependent up things that are bound for destruction, how can it be spoken of apart from them?


Perhaps to put it another way, although the self appears as an empirical reality- certainly I and others seem to exist and persist independently from ‘the world’, the Buddha told us that in fact ‘selves’ are purely dependent on conditions which arise and pass away. And since these ‘selves’ originate and cease due to conditions, the idea that they can be eternal, or persist unchanging cannot be true.
So, maybe a little sadly, and as a source of great suffering, ownership of this ‘self’, an assertion of ‘this is me’ or ‘this is mine’ is impossible, since there is nothing solid upon which such claims can be made.


For some reason I do not think the notion of eternalism or annihilationism is about a ‘self that endures or is annihilated’ but is being asked by the mana/mano. It is this which has a notion of itself, a view of itself, which anatta aids one in seeing through, but the question is coming from the mind itself.

Asking 'will I endures or will I perish? The mind that asks the question may be obscured by an attachment to its view of itself or not (not if it rests in its immediate suchness).

What is it that comes to be reborn? In theory, that is the manas, the cita-santana, which is that which calls itself ‘a self’ - which may or may not be obscured with attachment to self-view.

This is why I think this contemplation isn’t connected to anatta. I do not think the sense of self is an assumption of such, but is the mental image the manas projects of itself, cognising of itself because of realising that it is alive or is aware that it is aware.

If the answer is not annihilationism or eternalism; then what is the middle way between these two? My speculative hypothesis is ‘dwelling in the suchness as they are’ without giving rise to view, i.e. abiding in emptiness as defined in ‘not substituting direct experience for a view’.

1 Like

If not eternalism,
Nor annihilationism,
Then what is being alluded to in the middle between these two?

Although another view, maybe ‘presentism’ may slot in here.

I suggest, like in the above answer to SDC, that it is erroneous to substitute a view in place of one’s direct experience because a fixed view is not a substitute for the flow of direct experience itself. That is placing a ‘view’ behind experience which leads to rose tinted goggles syndrome (seeing ones experience filtered through an idea). Maybe this is something to do with the historical Buddha’s mention on ‘the thicket of views’? That it is erroneous to hold a view in substitute of direct experience itself? Because even when I inspect my own direct experience there is breaks and gaps in it like in deep sleep. The conscious aspect of mind is not present at that instance so that too is not subsisting ‘eternally’ yet does pop up again during waking.

What about Nibbana? Is it unable to resist change?

This is incorrect because exclusive equanimity rejects right effort. Equanimity should always have an agenda (an agent of right effort), being applied selectively.

“So he exerts a fabrication against the cause of stress where there comes dispassion from the fabrication of exertion, and develops equanimity with regard to the cause of stress where there comes dispassion from the development of equanimity.”

—Majjhima Nikaya 101

Yes. Nibbana is referred to as ‘the unconditioned. ‘

1 Like

Nibbana is not described as a conditioned/determined thing (sankhata) in the suttas, so it does not fall under the same criteria of things that directly appear as a result of the six sense base, which is what the threefold description applies to: things that support the self and that they cannot resist the change. That is not to say that nibbana cannot be experienced, but it will be directly known, not directly perceived (MN 1).

Isn’t ‘knowing’ and ‘perceiving’ happen at the same time?

The above does not exclude the function of language, thought and conceptual cognition in navigating life; but makes a point to discern the difference between the notion of some ‘thing’ and the thing in itself.

Although not in the Pali Canon, the Flower Sermon illustrates this suchness. The idea of picking up a flower as compared to the action of picking up the flower. Ultimately, ‘doing’ is non-conceptual, but the mana, is that which ‘knows, perceives, does’ vis a vis the 5 senses. Mind, manas, and mindfulness is sixth. That is what can become lost within abstract thought, the stress and dissatisfaction that can come from this, leads to the blossoming of the contemplative mind.

The map is not the territory, the finger that points to the Moon isn’t the Moon itself, the idea of a thing is not the thing in-itself. Yet, maps have a function, especially if they aid in helping bringing about learning and realisation. Language/conceptual abstraction has a function but through through natural ignorance one can go down all sorts of rabbit holes, mazes and become lost within the thickets of views. It is important to know the difference between the map and territory. Knowing when to use one, and when to put jt down, And sometimes you may even forge a map for others. Sometimes one may stumble in unforeseen territory without a map.

Words are line pinning the tail on the donkey. Each word has a corresponding phenomenon. The word ‘fire’ came to be to express that which was witnessed through one of the sense faculties, and through need, some being came to forge the term for sake of communication.

I am in agreement with you.

Not necessarily according to MN 1, but let me qualify it. The experience for the sekha and higher, as compared to the ordinary worldling, shows a sharp distinction; that as a result of not conceiving, he directly knows the nature of any perception, which is to say there is no redundancy that requires “mine”: there can be knowledge that is discerned as a result of what has appeared without the knowledge itself appearing directly.

Simplest example, a person who is young and wise can discern the knowledge of their own immediate liability to death without having directly perceived it. Sure, he may perceive an object of the mind that represents an idea of death, but knowing it as a fact and feeling the weight of it (resulting in dispassion), is a result of discernment on account of perception. On the other hand, someone with little wisdom won’t discern it deeply enough to feel to the extent that dispassion develops. Sure, they may have that same image of death as the former person, but their discernment is weak and that truth cannot fully apply. Same perception, different discernment.

Since all we experience are dependently originated things there is then nothing substantial in experience. The atta, which is a substance, is then denied. Rationalists might then argue that the atta is beyond sense experience, but the Buddha in the Sabba sutta said it’s foolish to speculate on things apart from sense experience since you can’t know about them. The Buddha’s teachings on dependent origination and on sense experience are criticising the substance theory and Rationalist ideas which were very commonplace at the time. Dependent origination also corrects the mistaken view that freedom from suffering is to be found in some state, either that of eternal existence (the eternalist goal) or eternal death (the annihilationist goal), since any state is always arrived at via intention and so cannot last. As ever his teachings were to correct a mistaken view.

1 Like

What does happen when we experience imagined objects?

“Dependent origination also corrects the mistaken view that freedom from suffering is to be found in some state, either that of eternal existence (the eternalist goal) or eternal death (the annihilationist goal), since any state is always arrived at via intention and so cannot last. As ever his teachings were to correct a mistaken view.”

I get you. That is the answer I was seeking to set things into perspective. In regards to dependent origination negating substance view, I do not take a stance, but just hold fast to causation with the context of identidying stress and its cessation. Dependent origination can be used in other modalities outside of the nature of suffering, like discerning ‘the means or method’ that leads to originating a fire or some effect.

The experience of imaginary things is an experience that has occurred due to conditions.
Sometimes, it’s hard to understand how things really are, and not what our mind is fooled into thinking.

That depends on your relationship to the imagined object, I’d assume you are saying, a thought or some idea.

Let’s say there is a memory that you reflect upon that causes anxiety, stress and strife when reflecting on that. There may be a reason as to why that is happening when is up to the individual to discern why especially if they are interested in overcoming their suffering as to fare well.

Not all objects are mental objects. The word fire is a mental object but what the word points to is not a mental object.

Yes, but what about the object of that experience? I mean “imagined object”?

Yes, but how about the conditionality of pure imagined-objects?