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

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!

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

It could mean that. It could also mean that there is a certain arrangement of matter in an electronic device. I don’t think “exists” in English, either in ordinary speech or philosophical discourse, really has the substantialist meaning that it seems to in the suttas. This is particularly so in relation to ordinary objects.

Contra what the (Gelugpa) madhyamikas seem to think, I don’t think that people actually think that ordinary objects have some sort of core essence that persists through time. Their refutations of inanimate objects as having a self seem to be vigorously attacking a strawman.

On the other hand, it does seem that people think that sentient beings have some sort of essence. Ie, they think that they are more than an aggregate of psychological events. They think that there is (or that they are) some sort of container for all of these psychological events. They think that there is some further fact beyond the psychological events which unites them all. Ie, they are not reductionists about persons.

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.

You actually seem to be asserting that “Alexa” is something separate from the processes of a computer. It doesn’t arise from these processes. It is these processes. I assume this is what you meant.

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.

Of course it can’t be found in any of the parts, it’s a composite entity. All it is is the parts. All that this demonstrates is that there is no “bearer” of the parts. This doesn’t mean “Alexa doesn’t exist”. What it does mean is that asserting “Alexa exists” is just asserting that some arrangement of matter exists.

To use a different example, chariots do exist. “Chariot” refers to a collection of parts. When I say “there is a chariot over there”, I’m asserting that there is a collection of parts over there. I’m not asserting that there is some collection of parts which are united by some sort of bearer of all the parts. This is a reductionist view about chariots.

An eliminativist view would be that chariots don’t exist at all. There is nothing in reality to which ‘chariot’ refers. “Chariot” doesn’t even refer to a collection of parts. This is clearly false. If it were true, then it would be impossible to account for the fact that our words mean anything at all. We’d just be blurting out sounds randomly in response to various stimuli.

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Parinibbana is the extinction of all conditions that allow formations (sankhara) to arise. Including the extinction of the emergence of perception. Meanwhile, what we express is always based on perception. When we say “exists” then it is “exists, which perception understands”. When we say “does not exist or annihilate” then that also means as far as perception can mean.

When an arahat reaches parinibbana it is already something beyond perception. Therefore, when it is said to “exist” it means proliferation. But if it says “does not exist” it is also proliferation.

Yes. AFAIK, that is also mostly the position of the EBT Buddha.

However, since

when a question is ordinarily asked about a Buddha/ Arahant existing/ not existing the underlying assumption is that there is some underlying essence which exists.

This is sakayaditthi, IMO.

We are all so strongly bound by this fetter that we tend to extend this habit of personification to inanimate matter as well. However, that personification is not strong - we actually know that the doll is just cloth and cotton stuffing or that ‘Alexa’ is simply a label that refers to a certain functioning process.

It should be relatively simple to extend that knowledge to an analysis of ourselves. :slightly_smiling_face:

‘Buddha’ or ‘Arahant’ or even ‘Sentient Being’ can be viewed simply as a label referring to the present process of the 5 aggregates. Within the framework of reference, yes - these processes exist (in the ordinary English meaning of the word). But because there is no craving or Self identification, they don’t see themselves as ‘existing’ as they don’t identify as any of their underlying processes. When the aggregates break up, the label no longer applies as the framework of reference no longer holds good. For a Buddha or an Arahant, since there is no more craving the process of Self identification cannot restart (MN72). So yes, it could indeed be said within the limited meaning of the word that they no longer ‘exist’ - but this might not be entirely accurate (for reasons I cover later).Better perhaps is to describe it as the Buddha puts it to Vacchagotta in MN72 - the process has gone out/ has gone beyond the frame of reference. If there was some craving left, as is the case for an ordinary sentient being - the process of Self identification would be re-established with fresh fuel (SN44.9).

But because most of us instinctively cling to the notion that there actually is some essence there while alive, when we ask if an Arahant exists after death, we are typically asking about this essence, not about the label. For most of us therefore, this kind of answer is most puzzling just as it was for Vacchagotta (SN44.10).

Now as to the question of why the Buddha/ Arahant may be more than simply a collection of parts during life and therefore why it might not be entirely accurate to say that they no longer ‘exist’ after death.

IMO, Sentience is an emergent property of the underlying processes rather than just being those processes -something that AI may be on the verge of achieving. I might be wrong as my understanding of this is still half-formed. However, I suspect the proof lies in the experience of Cessation. If one has been able to cease and then restart the process of Sentient Experience even though the underlying processes of the 5 aggregates remain unhampered, the obvious conclusion would be that Sentience is not just the 5 aggregates (SN22.85). So the Buddha might not be just a label for a collection of 5 aggregates - there is a possibility of a ‘bearer’ kept open - it is just not < this >. Well, is there something more? And what is that? :man_shrugging: :man_shrugging: :thinking: :grimacing: However, for this reason I believe that it may not be entirely accurate to say that once the aggregates breakup, the Buddha/ Arahant does not exist even within the limited English sense of the word.

Given all these difficulties of understanding, language and sheer lack of actual experience of various altered states, its obvious why the Buddha encouraged us to set aside these unanswered questions and focus on ending our Suffering!


Yes. Though I am of the opinion that existence as an objective reality also depends on the frame of reference being applied.

Thus, applying a certain frame of reference (ultimate reality) the Buddha says that the aggregates are empty of Self. Yet applying another frame of reference (relative reality), he says that Mother and Father actually exist.

Both statements are true but only within their respective frames of reference.

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In response to the OP, I don’t think option a) is even a runner in the context of the suttas.

I have doubts regarding option b) also. It does have a limited amount of direct sutta support, i.e., the adjoining suttas SN22.85 and SN22.86.

From SN22.85:

“Is it really true, Reverend Yamaka, that you have such a harmful misconception: ‘As I understand the Buddha’s teaching, a mendicant who has ended the defilements is annihilated and destroyed when their body breaks up, and doesn’t exist after death’?”

“Yes, reverend, that’s how I understand the Buddha’s teaching.”

“What do you think, Yamaka? Is form permanent or impermanent?”

“Impermanent, reverend.”

“Is feeling … perception … choices … consciousness permanent or impermanent?”

“Impermanent, reverend.”

“So you should truly see … Seeing this … They understand: ‘… there is no return to any state of existence.’

What do you think, Reverend Yamaka? Do you regard the Realized One as form?”

“No, reverend.”

“Do you regard the Realized One as feeling … perception … choices … consciousness?”

“No, reverend.”

“What do you think, Reverend Yamaka? Do you regard the Realized One as in form?”

“No, reverend.”

“Or do you regard the Realized One as distinct from form?”

“No, reverend.”

“Do you regard the Realized One as in feeling … or distinct from feeling … as in perception … or distinct from perception … as in choices … or distinct from choices … as in consciousness?”

“No, reverend.”

“Or do you regard the Realized One as distinct from consciousness?”

“No, reverend.”

“What do you think, Yamaka? Do you regard the Realized One as possessing form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness?”

“No, reverend.”

“What do you think, Yamaka? Do you regard the Realized One as one who is without form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness?”

“No, reverend.”

“In that case, Reverend Yamaka, since you don’t acknowledge the Realized One as a genuine fact in the present life, is it appropriate to declare: ‘As I understand the Buddha’s teaching, a mendicant who has ended the defilements is annihilated and destroyed when their body breaks up, and doesn’t exist after death.’?”

That does support the option b) fictitiousness of identity explanation for all this. I cannot recall any other suttas that support this explanation so directly (but perhaps there are others :man_shrugging: ). Bhikkhu Bodhi translates some of the key terms there a little differently but with essentially the same sense, i.e., he has “when the Tathagata is not apprehended by you as real and actual here in this very life” rather than “since you don’t acknowledge the Realized One as a genuine fact in the present life”.

So I think it is a viable theory with respect to the suttas. However, one issue is that the “genuine fact” part doesn’t seem to be present in the parallels to these two suttas (we have Bhikkhu Analayo translations of their parallels SA104 and SA106 here). I neither understand Pali nor sutta Chinese so am depending completely on the translations here.

@josephzizys gathered many of the suttas that involve this particular fourfold negation (existence/non-existence of an arahant after death) in this thread:

IMO most of the other examples in that thread point in a different direction to the fictitiousness of identity explanation. I personally don’t find option b) in the OP really satisfactory as an explanation of the inapplicability of existence, non-existence, existence and non-existence, neither existence nor non-existence to an arahant. If that was the explanation, I cannot see why it would not be all over the place in the canon (I don’t buy the argument of it not being said because it would be misunderstood; maybe that might hold in some cases, but the mentioned thread does list suttas with other explanations).

However, I also have no satisfactory alternative explanation myself for the inapplicability of those 4 states if option b) is ruled out.


The Yamaka and related suttas appear to make an argument for fictionalism or eliminative reductionism about the personal identity of the arahant.

There are several issues with the argument as given, which as @suaimhneas mentions is an argument rarely made in the EBT’s.

I wont go over the problems, i think ive discussed them elsewhere, but basically the suttas repeatedly say that an arahant would never hold any of the views;

I am real
I am not real
I am both
I am neither

Or any of the views

“I” is real
“I” is not real
“I” is both
“I” is neither

The Yamaka can be read as adopting a stealth version of the second option in either list.

Suffice it to say that there is a mountain of evidence suggesting that this is not a satisfactory stratagy for understanding the buddhist tetralemma in all its contexts.

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Sry to barge in like this but I would like to share what I think…

What I think =>, yes there is ‘sense of self’ which kickstarts the process of becoming…in ultimate reality this sense of self is unreal/not real. For sentient beings(us who suffer beautifullly) it is real but for those who are arhats they know perfectly that this sense of self or ‘I’ is unreal, it cannot be created & cannot be destroyed it arises because of seeing unreal as real. In other words this ‘I’ or ‘sense of self’ cannot be created nor can be destroyed because IT IS NOT EVEN THERE IN REALITY. Birth and death happen only because this ‘I’ is seen as real and process kickstarts. That’s why it is said that it is wrong to say that ‘arhat does not exist after death’.

Now what is difference between death of normal sentient being and death of arhat? For sentient being there is end during death and then for a moment he sees truth of cessation but he cannot stay with it(or be one with it and stay there)[in other words sentient being is attached with ‘I’ so much that he believes he is ‘I’] as he hasn’t lived holy life taught by buddha(hasn’t destroyed fetters)…so he takes birth again to fulfill his craving of existence.
But when arhat dies he is not attached(or he does not identify with) to this ‘I’ who dies during death hence arhat cannot die hence it is called parinibbana (and not death in reality!). But does that mean arhat has self which does not die? Answer is not exactly. Because self has characteristic of birth and death(as we all have) but arhat has broken his attachment to(& identification with) ‘sense of self’ or ‘I’ and lived holy life taught by buddha(destroyed fetters and all bonds) hence he/she can perfectly become one with cessation(of I and aggregates)…in other words arhat has attained control over process of birth and death in reverse sense of control…and because he has destroyed ignorance and craving he is free from birth and death and all kinds of sufferings. That’s why it is said that arhat’s consciousness cannot be seen by mara. If we look for him from the our perspective of existence(to check if he becomes non-existent after parinibbana ) we will see ‘nothing’ and if we look from the sense of non-existence/cessation(only arhats can look from this perspective when they see buddha because only arhats can stay with cessation perfectly and still stay alive)we(arhats) will see ‘everything’(when they look at buddha)(hence we see that somewhere in suttas, one arhat nun when looking at buddha says that he is unfathomable like ocean!) . Hence it is improper to say that arhat after death, ‘exists’ or ‘doesn’t exist’ or ‘both exists & doesn’t exist’ or ‘neither exist nor doesn’t exist’.

Yes exactly. Problem arises when sentient people like us who are not arhats are practicing to be arhat believe that there is sense of self which cannot die! That’s why teaching of anatta helps here. Its like analogy of going to other shore of nibbana from this shore of suffering. In reality we are not on any shore we are actually floating in the ocean of suffering. Shore is nibbana. But to give us direction and for us to travel we need to know that where we are is this shore and nibbana is that shore. Just as this analogy it is said that we have belief in self and we have to break it. In ultimate reality it is more correct to say that identification with self(birth & death) is problem rather than ‘self’ itself which is unreal. Belief in self needs to be destroyed.

PS. - I can be wrong also, I am always open to that possibility because I identify with ‘I’ which is prone to error!:sweat_smile:

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Are there any suttas saying that the liberated mind (vimuttaṁ citta) ceases to exist after parinibbāna? If none, it would probably be theoretically safe to say that the liberated mind still ‘exists’ and is not perceiveable and therefore untraceable even to Mara.

I don’t know if suttas say such thing or not(need someone to point this out). But IMO I think chitta=mind also ceases in parinibbana. Because if that’s not the case then person will continue to jump in cyclic existence. Mind is like painter which paints human existence then existence in heavenly realms then again in hell realms again in heavenly realms. I mean to say is that, mind is the cause of going from here n there in cyclic existence. So nibbana must be beyond even mind. When arhat is alive and living and walking, mind must be there…but after parinibbana it must be ceasing definitely. Because even mind is subject to change…hence it also comes in the realm of impermanence and arhat goes out of realm of impermanence when parinibbana is attained so mind must be ceasing in parinibbana. But this may give impression of non-existence of mind after parinibbana. So my logic is, as it takes ignorance for samsara to be, but it takes dhamma to attain nibbana and not to be in samsara, so non-existence of mind would be wrong conclusion so it can be safe to say that arhat becomes free from this mind after attaining parinibbana. (Seems Less room for error this way to me)

I wonder what others more reliable people have to say. Plz someone point out sutta related to this!

The teachings only shows one to reach and see the 4NT and not beyond.

On existence and non-existence, perhaps the following SN12.15: it’s transcendent.

'By & large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by (takes as its object) a polarity, that of existence & non-existence.
But when one sees the origination of the world with right discernment as it has come to be, “non-existence” with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world with right discernment as it has come to be, “existence” with reference to the world does not occur to one.
‘By & large, Kaccayana, this world is in bondage to attachments, clingings (sustenances), & biases.
But one such as this does not get involved with or cling to these attachments, clingings, fixations of awareness, biases, or obsessions; nor is he resolved on “my self.”
He has no uncertainty or doubt that mere stress, when arising, is arising; stress, when passing away, is passing away. In this, his knowledge is independent of others. It’s to this extent, Kaccayana, that there is right view.’

Also considering the unborn as an escape, Ud 8.3:

There is, monks, an unborn - unbecome - unmade - unfabricated. If there were not that unborn - unbecome - unmade - unfabricated, there would not be the case that escape from the born - become - made - fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn - unbecome - unmade - unfabricated, escape from the born - become - made - fabricated is discerned.

Furthermore on unconditioned, this needs to be comprehended:

“Bhikkhus, there are these three characteristics that define the unconditioned. What three? No arising is seen, no vanishing is seen, and no alteration while it persists is seen. These are the three characteristics that define the unconditioned.”

I haven’t had a chance to read the entire thread, so this might already have been mentioned.

Maybe the third and fourth dassanasamāpattidesanā - viññāṇasota (stream of consciousness) established and unestablished as in dn28 helps?

I think this is the video mentioned in the very beginning of the opening post:

It’s the simple fact that is a question part of duality. Part of manifested. Part of imagination. Part of the born

It’s in Upanishads also.

The ideas, ‘it is’ and ‘it is not’, as regards Reality, are only ideas in the intellect. They do not pertain to the eternal Reality.

Atma Upanishad

Hi, skkhadhamma

The liberated mind is referred to within satipatthana as an elevated form of chitta. Another sutta explains the origin and disappearance of each of the foundations of mindfulness: for the body, it is nourishment; for filings - contact; for the mind - name and form; for the dhammas - attention. Thus, this type of citta is just as conditioned (it is a sankkhara), based on the name-form. With the cessation of name and form, this mind ceases. All formed things are impermanent, all formed things are unsatisfactory; only nibbana (their cessation and fading) is peace.

Hi and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

CMIIW, but what I understood from this quote, vimuttam-citta is a sankhara. Could you please elaborate more on this?

The liberated citta is mentioned as one of the paired states of mind (under the third pillar of mindfulness). It is also said that the citta itself (that is, any of its states listed in more detail in the mahasatipatthana sutta), arises under the condition of the form-name, disappears when the form-name disappears. Everything that has a beginning, change and decay is called sankhara. Sankhkara is also something that requires certain causes and conditions to arise and maintain. All sankharas are impermanent and unsatisfactory. therefore they have no place in the final liberation, in nibbana, which is not sankhara by definition and is free (empty) of all sankhara.

Are you thinking of SN4.23 // SN22.87 ? It simply says that after death, the consciousness of the Arahant does not re-establish.

The Blessed One then addressed the bhikkhus thus: “Do you see, bhikkhus, that cloud of smoke, that swirl of darkness, moving to the east, then to the west, to the north, to the south, upwards, downwards, and to the intermediate quarters?”

“Yes, venerable sir.”

“That, bhikkhus, is Mara the Evil One searching for the consciousness of the clansman Godhika, wondering: ‘Where now has the consciousness of the clansman Godhika been established?’ However, bhikkhus, with consciousness unestablished, the clansman Godhika has attained final Nibbāna.”


SN 4.23 - I read about it from a book long ago and now there it is the sutta itself. Thank you for this.

Based on that same sutta, I just found out that Mara was actually a yakkha.

Those suttas you mentioned are implying that vinnana will no longer exist after parinibbana. I was wondering about vimuttaṁ-citta instead of vinnana.

Accordance with SN 16.12, in the end I don’t think we’ll find the exact answer for this thread.

Nevertheless, it is still an interesting topic to discuss.

The very similar Channasutta has an additional bit which I don’t see in those first two suttas:

…you should regularly apply your mind[1] well to this instruction of the Buddha:

‘For the dependent there is agitation. For the independent there’s no agitation. When there’s no agitation there is tranquility. When there’s tranquility there’s no inclination. When there’s no inclination, there’s no coming and going. When there’s no coming and going, there’s no passing away and reappearing. When there’s no passing away and reappearing, there’s no this world or world beyond or between the two[2]. Just this is the end of suffering.’

[1] reminds me of AN5.57, the Pali name of which is literally unpronounceable
[2] added italics as it seems relevant to the OP, at least in my thinking

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