Why is it wrong to say that an Arahant does not exist after death?

(Just in case, I’m inspired to ask this by a recent view uploaded by Ven. Ñanamoli. I’ve not watched it yet, I only saw the title).

As the title expresses I’d like to know why is it wrong to say that an Arahant does not exist after death. I offer these possibilities (there could be more; if you think another, please, tell me):

a) Something is destroyed in the arahants constitution, which does not allow to say that they continue after death; somehow, there is no more arahant after death.
b) Identity is an illusion, and ‘arahant’ is just a conventional and useful tag to designate a cluster of aggregates that are free from the conditions of suffering and rebirth.

As far as I understand, the first position is consider an heretical/wrong view, for adhering to annihilationism.
However, I’m not sure if the second one is the right explanation, mainly because such reasoning would not apply only to arahants, but for everyone, and such, the Buddha should never talk about the rebirth of a person, because the would be objective delineation of what is that person.

A way I think to save this second interpretation is to say that one should not talk about what happens to a person once the person stops identifying as such person; the subjective achievement of X tells other how to consider X from an outside perspective.

I remember some suttas in which the Buddha tells the audience how they should see the relation between present aggregates and past and future ones, not identifying with those sets of aggregates. The confusing thing to me is that I’m not sure if the Buddha is recommending an strategy (a la Thanissaro), or telling how things actually are. If it’s this second case, then rebirth should be considered a wrong view, regardless of the degree of enlightenment of the person evaluated.

Am I missing or misunderstanding something?
I’d appreciate any view on this matter.
Kind regards!


Because the only way to truly know for yourself is to experience death first hand. To speculate to the state of some being as to whether or not they exist after death is ultimately fruitless (at least for me). Isn’t it that one can use their own experience to discern what happens? Anything other than direct experiential insight is conjecture.

Option b sounds correct to me. My understanding is that it’s wrong to say an Arahant does not exist after death because it makes the assumption that the Arahant ‘existed’ as something other than just the aggregates. It’s more in line with reality to just say the khandas that made the Arahant ended. But the context there is the Buddha is teaching right view, so the language is precise.

But people do get reborn if they are not arahants so it’s using conventional language to say “this person got reborn to this place”. In precise language it could be described as the khandas continued on…as they were grasped still. But that would be really long and annoying to say all the time I guess.
It’s the precision of the language used that is causing the contradiction. That’s how I see it, but I could be wrong.


That’s my understanding of the suttas as well.

Though to be honest, this does seem to me consistent with some sense of the assertion: “an arahant does not exist after death”. 'An arahant does not exist after death" seems to me logically consistent with ‘an arahant does not exist before death, or at any point in time’.

If we take ‘arahant’ to be a conventional designation for the aggregates, then it seems that we could also take the negation of the existence of the arahant to mean that what was conventionally designated as the aggregates no longer exists.

But maybe that’s just my idiosyncratic sense of the meaning of these words. To me the way of putting it in the suttas seems needlessly mystifying and seems to cause more intellectual speculation than it prevents. But perhaps that’s a result of the radically different philosophical context in which the Buddha existed. For instance, AFAIK the madhyamaka interpretation would be that ‘exists’ here means ‘has svabhava’, though I’d be hesitant to read that back into the suttas unless it was a plausible reading for independent reasons (which it may well be, but I don’t know).

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If I were to add 5 cents to the discussion my best guess would be, taking in account precision of Buddha’s language, that he was unwilling to express the experience of parinibbana in any words available, because of them not giving any real hint to what it is(or not) and at the same time not leading to realization.
So he is sort of nudging us to experience by ourselves to find out.
Hope I made some sense :upside_down_face:
Much mettā, may your practice strengthen!


What I think is that It would be better to say, “there is no more death after/for arahant” instead of “there is no more arahant after death”.

Death is for only people like us who are not yet arhants. Once we destroy 10 fetters and 100 kinds of defilements and reach 8th and final stage of purity (arahant fruition stage) only then there is no death for us.

Yes, that, which causes destruction then construction then again destruction then construction, is destroyed. So in other words, birth and rebirth has stopped forever. No going and coming is there, that’s why it is perfect happiness. Going and coming is in only our case. Ideas of destruction/death and construction/birth are for us only. For arhat there is no such ideas hence we can’t say he dies or does not die, exists after death or does not exist after death, both exists and not exist after death, neither exist nor not exist after death. We can only say that he is free from all of these things and hence immortal without the need of both existence and non-existence, the eldest buddhaputra(true son of Buddha).

Same here :anjal:


Yeah I can see what you’re saying here. But I suppose it was a matter of covering ‘all the bases’ as it were. My understanding of the different statements is that they all allude to some sort of soul or permanent essence which of course the Buddha says is non-existent and that what we are experiencing is a process which he taught as dependent origination.

Perhaps the fault is in the title of the talk itself that is creating the confusion. :thinking: :slightly_smiling_face:

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It seems to me that the Pali words that are translated into “an Arahant does (not) exist after death” – in the culture that the EBTs were recorded in – implied a self surviving or being destroyed.

So, back then, it would be wrong to say that an Arahant doesn’t exist after death, because people would misunderstand that as the Buddha endorsing the philosophical position that an Arahant’s self is destroyed at death.

Edit: But even today, an everyday materialist who thinks conscious experience ends with the death of the physical body, might think the Buddha or his disciple saying “an Arahant doesn’t exist after death” is an endorsement of their materialist worldview.

It makes sense that the Buddha, being a wise teacher, would be sensitive to the possibility of being misunderstood by other people, especially when making a subtle point (AFAIK “no self to survive or be destroyed in the first place”) :slight_smile:


According to SN 12.15 = SA 301, it is incorrect to say that an Arahant does not exist after death.
Pages 192-5 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (274.5 KB)


I’ll go for option b. And I’m with Erik. I’ve argued before that “the Tathagata NO LONGER exists after death” is a better translation of the phrase in question. Because it implies that something existed before death, which now ceases to be. (Or is mistakenly taken to cease.)

Relevant is also SN22.85, the Yamaka Sutta, which concludes:

“Since a Tathagata is not seen by you as real and actual here in this very life [or “while alive”], is it fitting for you to declare: ‘As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed is annihilated and perishes with the breakup of the body and does not exist [or “no longer exist”] after death’?”

“Formerly, friend Sāriputta, when I was ignorant, I did hold that pernicious view, but now that I have heard this Dhamma teaching of the Venerable Sāriputta I have abandoned that pernicious view and have made the breakthrough to the Dhamma.”

In other words, since there is no real “Tathagata” while “they” were still alive (but only 5 aggregates), it is not right to say that they no longer exist after death.

Notice also that these statements are (usually) not made about the arahant but about the “tathagata”. Although often the two functionally mean the same, it seems that the term “tathagata” was also used by other religions, and with quite potent meaning. We get this sense from the suttas quite clearly. Some have argued that the Jains used “Tathagata” to signify the highest liberated soul. It is a bit of a nuance, but these statements on Tathagatas after death were first made by others and then declined by the Buddha. To me that is different from the Buddha himself introducing them and then denying them. Because it does imply that the statement is indeed one of annihilation, being made first by other people. I hope I’m getting across what I’m trying to say. In other words, because the statements were made by others it is likely to contain a common wrong view. And annihilationism was such a view which is often addressed in the suttas.


… for the same reason that it is wrong to say that ChatGPT does not exist after the computer has been turned off… or that Alexa no longer exists after the Amazon Echo device hardware fails. :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes: :upside_down_face:


For anyone interested, Ajahn Chah talked about the Lord Buddha’s existence. He said,

Whether a tree, a mountain, or an animal, it is all Dhamma, everything is Dhamma. Where is the Dhamma? Speaking simply, that which is not Dhamma does not exist. Dhamma is Nature. This is called the ‘Sacca-Dhamma,’ the True Dhamma. If one sees Nature, one sees the Dhamma; if one sees Dhamma, one sees Nature. Seeing Nature, one knows the Dhamma.

And so, what is the use of a lot of study when the ultimate reality of life, in its every moment, in its every act, is just and endless cycle of births and deaths? If we are mindful and clearly aware when in all postures (sitting, standing, walking, lying), then self-knowledge is ready to be born; that is knowing the truth of Dhamma already in existence right here and now.

At present, the Buddha, the real Buddha, is still living, for He is the Dhamma itself, the ‘Sacca Dhamma.’ And ‘Sacca Dhamma,’ that which enables one to become a Buddha, still exists. It has not fled anywhere! It gives rise to two Buddhas: one in a body and the other in the mind.

‘The real Dhamma,’ the Buddha told Ananda, ‘can only be realized through practice!’ Whoever sees the Dhamma, sees the Buddha. Whoever sees the Buddha, sees the Dhamma. And how is this? Previously, no Buddha existed; it was only when Siddartha Gotama realised the Dhamma that he became the Buddha. If we explain it this way, then He is the same as us. If we realize the Dhamma, then we likewise will become the Budhha. This is called the Buddha in mind or ‘Nama-Dhamma.’

An extract from a talk by Ajahn Chah on Dhamma Nature.

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Damn! (Atleast for me) You always hit bullseye with your analogies/explanations sir​:fire::sunglasses::pray::pray::pray:


My thinking about this is that after an Arahant dies, unlike other people, his/her consciousness will continue to exist but will not be born by any other beings. As far as where the consciousness will go, we have to continue to practice to become an Arahant to find it out.

What reason is that?

An Arahant (or sense spheres/aggregates), being not real, arises by causal condition (nidaana); having arisen it ceases completely by causal condition. It is a result of previous action, but there is no doer (anatta ‘not-self’).

Cf.: SA 335:
Pages 95-6 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (155.3 KB)

Because IMO, to say that Alexa ‘exists’ or ‘does not exist’ is sakayaditthi… an identification of ‘Self’.

IMO, it is better to state that ‘Alexa’ is an emergent phenomena based on underlying processes such as hardware and software based on which ‘Alexa’ arises and ceases in accordance with iddapaccayata, the Law of causation/conditionality.

If we were to say that Alexa ‘exists’, then we would have to be able to clearly define a certain ‘this’ as Alexa. However, what is found is hardware, software, electric current, logical processes and subprocesses… none of which can be clearly demarcated as ‘Alexa’. " This <<pointing to the motherboard, the chip, the battery… >> is not Alexa". Going through it all, no ‘Alexa’ can be found.

Yet if we were to say that Alexa ‘does not exist’, then whom are we talking to? Who or what is the active agent that performs actions such as turning on the house lights, playing music etc.?

Similarly for the other two options of ‘both’ and ‘neither’.

Examining the matter, one might conclude that the statement closest to the Truth is that

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.

which is the most basic statement of the Dhamma.

(I chose ‘Alexa’ as the example because it is easy for most of us moderns to see the artificial and constructed nature of ‘Alexa’. Doing the same with a sentient being - ourselves or another - is difficult due to the basic fetter of sakayaditthi by which we are all afflicted. We should however, strive to see through the illusory nature of the construct of ‘Self’.)

A Buddha (or an Arahant) is simply ‘Dhamma in action’ (SN22.87).

This is actually true of all sentient beings, the problem is that the process termed as a ‘sentient being’ is tainted by Craving. Being ignorant of the Truth, ‘they’ have Self view (sakayaditthi) leading ‘them’ to attach to the underlying impersonal processes of the aggregates. Being anicca and anatta, those aggregates change despite the ‘sentient being’s’ desires, hence the ‘sentient being’ Suffers.

It is their Craving, their Attachment and their Becoming that causes the ‘sentient being’ to self perpetuate across lives.

I think of ‘Self’ as an ‘exe’ process that autostarts every time a suitable hardware gets booted up, running an appropriate software. From the viewpoint of the ‘Self’ that is having an experience, there is a continuity… both within and across lifetimes. Yet this ‘Self’ can never be pinned down… because it is an emergent process.

Simply understanding this intellectually however is not enough!

The Buddha (or an Arahant) has experientially realized the Truth and made a complete end to Craving such that it is unable to arise in future. They don’t see themselves in terms of ‘existing’ or ‘not existing’ and they know that when the aggregates break apart at Parinibbana, all that ceases is any remaining Suffering. (SA293).

:rose: :slightly_smiling_face:


Good point presented.
SA 293 has its Sanskrit version, Tripathi, Sutra 11:
Pages 197-8 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (163.8 KB)

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Let’s examine a simple example:

We are drinking water everyday. Can we say that water does not exist? If it does not exist, then what are we drinking?

If we learnt Chemistry, we all know that the liquid water that we are drinking everyday is H2O, and this is proven as a fact.

If we say that there is no such thing as water. It is just Hydrogen and Oxygen. Then how can we explain why water is liquid while Hydrogen and Oxygen are not? Moreover, it has other characteristics that Hydrogen and Oxygen do not have, and vice versa.

If we point to a cup full of water and say that water does not exist in that cup. In that cup, there is only Hydrogen and Oxygen, there is no such thing as water. So it is wrong to say that water does not exist after I drank all of it since I only consumed Hydrogen and Oxygen??? Does this sound reasonable?

If we say that water does not exist in the ultimate sense or in the first place; therefore, it is wrong to call anything as water. If this is the case, it will also be wrong if we call it Hydrogen or Oxygen or anything else. So, what should we call it? I am thirsty now, please give me some “what?”

H2O is the abstract universal rule for water. This is the unconditioned, permanent, eternal abstraction of water. It is the essence of water. It is indestructible, boundless, immaterial, invisible. Can we call this abstract universal rule: ‘water?” No, it is not “water” that we can drink. So is it not “water?” No, we also cannot say it is not water since it is the source of so called water. If H2O is not water, then what will make water? Not saying that the Chemistry teachers will give you a zero!

Can we say that this abstract universal rule for water does not exist?
Can we say that this abstract universal rule for water exists? If it is so, where is it? Can we pinpoint or describe it? Is it blue or yellow? Hot or cold?

The water that we are drinking everyday is the manifestation of this abstract rule when there is proper condition for it. When the manifestation happens, we have what we call water. Because it is the manifestation of the abstract rule when proper condition is met, it is conditioned and impermanent.

After the manifestation, we have what we call water. It exists as the liquid that we can drink and water our lawn. That manifestation is called ‘water, “ and the manifestation is not an imagination of our mind.

Existence and non-existence are for the manifestation, not for the abstraction. When there is manifestation, there is existence and non-existence of the manifestation. When there is no manifestation, existence and non-existence are not applied.

If we carefully examine this simple example, then we may have a new understanding of what is “self?” However, this is another controversial topic that will never end.


Thanks for the answer (and for all the previous ones, as well).

I wanted to say that I agree with you partially.
The agreement goes in that I think you are pointing out something I think the suttas point as well: the composers or the Buddha is assuming an ontological reductionistic position, i.e. only a certain layer of reality is real, and every thing composed of that or which has that layer as the component, is either derivatively real, or less real, or simply not real.

I disagree in that this is a good and useful position to hold (but I know your not holding explicitly that this is your view, so I’m not assuming that), folowing a similar line of argument as the one expressed by @freedom.
We can say mostly of everything which we experience that it is not real or that it doesn’t really exist, using exist as belonging to the fundamental layer of reality. For instance, we can say thoughts do not really exist, because they could be composed of some X more fundamental stuff. And I see some “abhidhammist” holding that only the aggregates are fundamental to back up the sutta’s or the Buddha’s metaphysical position that I called reductionism.

Am I misinterpreting something, or over-reading some point?
I’d love to know your view on this.

Kind regards!