Chapter Eight

Questions Put Aside: II

When a person consistently puts a question aside as a matter of principle, it may arouse suspicion that he is ignorant of or embarrassed by the answer. To maintain the questioner’s respect and trust, he has to provide a convincing case that the lack of answer is not a failing on his part. If he is asked for information or an opinion, he has to show why the question is not worth answering. If he is presenting a system of thought based on first principles, he has to show why his refusal to answer the question is not simply an attempt to mask a gap or inconsistency in the system.

As we have seen, the Buddha was not attempting to build a system of thought, so he was not caught in the latter dilemma. The consistency in his teaching was teleological, in that all the issues he discussed were aimed at a single end. As he repeatedly stated, all he taught was stress and the end of stress [§192]. Thus he was free to put questions aside on the grounds that they did not lead to that end. And, as we shall see, this was his primary reason for putting a wide variety of questions aside.

However, there were still instances in which he was accused of betraying his ignorance by refusing to answer a question. To this accusation he and his disciples responded strongly that he was actually acting from knowledge and vision. Precisely because he knew and saw, he knew that the question was best not answered. But this knowledge too was teleological, framed primarily in terms of cause and effect. It focused either on the kammic effects, present or future, of answering the question; or—in what amounts to the same thing—on the fact that the mental states giving rise to the question blocked the path to the end of stress.

For someone who had asked a question concerning action and its results, an answer framed in these terms might be immediately satisfying. But for a person who had asked a question about the existence or nature of such entities as the cosmos or the self, the Buddha’s claim to knowledge might still seem like a strategy of avoidance. This, however, is to miss the point. The Buddha wanted to focus attention on the kammic process of creating a perception of self or cosmos, for to view these processes as actions was to enter the path to the end of stress through the framework of the four noble truths. This, for him, was the most important knowledge one could have on these topics.

As we noted in the preceding chapter, when the Buddha put a question aside for reasons of etiquette he would often take the opportunity to teach the Dhamma in different, more beneficial terms. Here the same strategy is almost always at work. When he explains the drawbacks of asking and answering these questions in terms of the unskillful kamma involved, he is giving an important lesson in how to view experience in a framework conducive to right effort on the path.

This point is underlined by the two passages where the Buddha simply remained silent and did not immediately explain his reasons for refusing to answer a question. In SN 44:10 [§162], when he remained silent after Vacchagotta asked him whether there is or is not a self, Vacchagotta got up and left, apparently dissatisfied. Fortunately, Vacchagotta later returned to the Buddha to ask further questions, and subsequently—as the result of a later conversation—took refuge in the Triple Gem [§190]. Ultimately (MN 73), he ordained and became an arahant. Perhaps the Buddha foresaw this sequence of events, which was why he allowed Vacchagotta to depart dissatisfied in SN 44:10; or perhaps he wanted to explain his silence, but Vacchagotta—in leaving so quickly—didn’t give him the chance. In either event, it’s noteworthy that Vacchagotta’s act of taking refuge occurred after he had asked the Buddha another set of questions that the Buddha refused to answer, but on that occasion Vacchagotta did ask the Buddha’s reasons for refusing to answer the questions, and the Buddha explained why [§190]. The explanation is what led Vacchagotta to take refuge. This fact demonstrates two points: the collaborative nature of the act of teaching—Vacchagotta benefited more when he asked the Buddha to explain himself—and the fact that explained silence can have a more precise and telling effect on the mind than unexplained.

As for those of us in later generations reading SN 44:10, we are fortunate that, after Vacchagotta’s departure, Ven. Ānanda approached the Buddha, asking for the reasons behind his silence. The Buddha responded with three categorical answers and a cross-question, stating that his refusal to answer Vacchagotta’s questions was based primarily on impersonal standards: To say that there is no self would involve siding with the extreme wrong view of annihilationism; to say that there is a self would side with the extreme wrong view of eternalism and would get in the way of giving rise to the knowledge that all phenomena are not-self. (See Appendix Three.) Only partly was his silence based on Vacchagotta’s personal inability to understand one of the possible responses: Vacchagotta would have been bewildered if told that there is no self. And because Vacchagotta’s questions derived ultimately from four questions that MN 2 [§25] lists as unworthy of attention—“Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I?”—we can conclude that questions about the existence or non-existence of the self should be put aside across the board.

The other case of the Buddha’s remaining silent is in AN 10:95 [§163], where he responded with silence when Uttiya the wanderer asked him what portion of the cosmos would gain release. In this instance, Ven. Ānanda—fearing Uttiya would react negatively to the Buddha’s silence—took matters into his own hands. After using the analogy of the fortress gatekeeper to explain the nature of the Buddha’s knowledge of the way to awakening, Ven. Ānanda pointed out that Uttiya’s question was assuming an answer to a question the Buddha had previously put aside. In other words, to ask what portion of the cosmos will gain release is to ask, in different terms, what portion of the cosmos will come to an end. This question, in turn, is a different way of asking whether the cosmos is eternal, not-eternal, or partially eternal and partially not. As we will see, this question is one that the Buddha refused to answer across the board.

In addition to these two passages, there is another important passage in which the Buddha put a question aside without stating any reasons for why he was doing so. This is MN 109 [§142], which we discussed in Chapter Six—the case where a monk in the Buddha’s presence asked himself: “So—form is not-self, feeling is not-self, perception is not-self, fabrications are not-self, consciousness is not-self. Then what self will be touched by the actions done by what is not-self?” The Buddha announced to the assembled monks that “It’s possible that a senseless person—immersed in ignorance, overcome with craving—might think that he could outsmart the Teacher’s message in this way,” and then quoted the question to them without explaining why it was senseless. However, in this case he did not simply remain silent and leave the issue hanging. Instead, he immediately plunged into the line of cross-questioning introduced in SN 22:59 [§140], with the result that sixty monks gained total release. Thus, even though the Buddha didn’t state his reasons for putting the question aside, his successful use of cross-questioning showed why he put it aside: There is a better way to use the perception of not-self. Instead of drawing metaphysical conclusions from that perception, one would do better to use it to question the skillfulness of the act of I-making and my-making, so that those actions can be dropped and liberation attained.

Thus the simple act of putting a question aside is not, in and of itself, a sufficient teaching strategy. As this chapter will show, the Buddha’s most fruitful approach when putting a question aside was, when given the opportunity, to teach the Dhamma in other terms, offering another way of viewing experience: in the framework of skillful and unskillful action.

We have already seen, in Chapter One, that this framework underlies his categorical answers; and in Chapter Six, that it underlies the process of self cross-examination. Here, in the lessons the Buddha teaches when putting a question aside, he is offering further insights into this framework. In some cases, by explaining his reasons for putting a question aside, he is illustrating the teaching of kamma by showing that the question just asked is an example of unskillful kamma. In this way, he brings the teaching into the immediate present, pointing to the kamma the person asking the question is engaging in here and now. In other cases, he demonstrates the difference between skillful and unskillful kamma—again in the here and now—by posing a different, more skillful, question, and proceeding to answer it. Or he may propose an alternative way of looking at experience in general.

In particular—as we will see in this chapter—the Buddha often uses the context of putting a question aside to introduce a further refinement in the teaching on skillful and unskillful action, expressed in terms of dependent co-arising. In fact, this is one of his prime contexts for showing how these terms can be most effectively applied to problems in the immediate present. When analyzing the drawbacks of an unskillful question, or showing how best to avoid the traps of unskillful questions, he utilizes the terms of dependent co-arising in a way that demonstrates how pragmatic knowledge and mastery of these terms is one of the most skillful means to release. And in doing so, he drives home the point that the knowledge through which he sees that the question does not deserve answering is much more beneficial than any knowledge that could have come from answering it.

The Buddha’s emphasis on knowledge in this context shows that, in general, when he was putting a question aside he was not making a case for agnosticism. Particularly with regard to the categorical issue of which actions are skillful and not, he was an advocate of clear and detailed knowledge [§20, §§26-29], for knowledge of this topic is central to any program for putting an end to stress. Without this knowledge, clinging and attachment cannot be overcome. Although some people might imagine agnosticism to be a way of avoiding attachment to views, the Buddha saw clearly that it’s a fabrication born of craving and ignorance [§153]. It too can be an object of attachment—and it’s an attachment that leads nowhere. When applied to issues of skillful and unskillful action, agnosticism undercuts any desire to develop the skillful strategies that actually lead to release [§152]. For these reasons, such agnosticism has to be abandoned through knowledge if one wants to make progress on the path.

Still, the Buddha left open the question of what sorts of things he knew above and beyond the express purpose of his teachings. In a famous simile (SN 56:31, Chapter One), he stated that the knowledge he had gained in his awakening was like the leaves in the forest; what he had taught—the four noble truths in all their various permutations—was like a mere handful of leaves. He hadn’t taught the leaves in the forest because they didn’t lead to unbinding. He had taught the leaves in his hand because they did. Thus, by implication, any question about the full range of a Buddha’s knowledge should be put aside.

In fact, he said as much in AN 4:77 [§154], where he listed four inconceivables—topics that lay beyond the range of an ordinary person even to speculate about in a healthy way. In the words of the passage, these topics “would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about them.” They are:

the Buddha-range of the Buddhas

the jhāna-range of a person in jhāna

the results of kamma

conjecture about the cosmos.

The inclusion of the first two items in the list serves notice that the Buddha was not putting himself in the position of an ordinary person speculating about these matters. There was much that he knew through direct knowledge—through mastering jhāna and becoming a Buddha—that he did not have to speculate about. Thus, although the entire list lies beyond the range of healthy speculation, it tells us that we cannot know the range of the Buddha’s own knowledge of these things.

The inclusion of the third item in the list, the results of kamma, may come as a surprise, given the care with which the Buddha explained the results of kamma in many discourses. However, its inclusion here points to the fact, discussed in MN 136 [§66], that the workings of kamma are complex—more complex, in fact, than is indicated in that discourse. Their complexities would have posed a challenge for the Buddha if he had wanted to construct an explanation of stress and its end based on first principles, for a theory of kamma would have been a logical place to start. Thus he would have been required to give a full explanation of how and why kamma is complex. But because his teaching was teleological, aimed at actually putting an end to stress, he needed to explain only what was necessary toward that end: the ways in which past and present kamma shape experience. Although past kamma can influence the conditions on one’s sensory experience, the actual stress or lack of stress experienced by the mind is the direct result of present kamma—the act of following or abandoning clinging and craving. For the purpose of putting an end to stress, all that needs to be known is how to create skillful kamma and then—once that skill is mastered—how to create the kamma that puts an end to kamma [§31]. Thus there is no need to account for all the complex interactions of kammic results. A knowledge of general principles is enough.

And the general principles of kamma are simple. There is the potential for choice in every action. An action based on right views and skillful intentions leads to pleasant results; an action based on wrong views and unskillful intentions, to unpleasant results. But even though these principles are simple, the interactions of a person’s many actions in the course of a day, to say nothing of a lifetime, combined with the state of mind at the time when those results bear fruit, mean that the precise lines connecting actions to their results are too complex for an ordinary person to trace.

The irony here is that, although the Buddha discouraged any further speculation on the topic of kammic results, this sort of speculation has fired a great deal of scholastic Buddhist philosophy over the centuries. Many of the major concepts of that philosophy—the storehouse consciousness, the reality realm of the Buddhas, the Tathāgata-embryo, the reversal of the basis—grew from speculations about such issues as the mechanism by which the impulse of an action gets carried through time until it yields its results, or the way in which awakening can be achieved despite the kammic residue of one’s past ignorant actions. Had Buddhist thinkers followed the Buddha’s advice, the course of Buddhist thought would have been very different.

As for conjecture about the cosmos (or world, loka), the Buddha simply noted that no beginning point in time could be discerned [§155], and that the cosmos was so large that its limits could never be reached [§156, §157]. He was unwilling to encourage conjecture about what lay beyond ordinary human powers to measure in space and time. Instead, he encouraged people to view the cosmos simply as the basic sensory information from which the concept or perception of world or cosmos is derived. Focusing here, they could see how the process of becoming, leading to stress, was created through the creation of those concepts, thus framing their attention appropriately in terms of the four noble truths. But as for the limits of the cosmos “out there,” the Buddha advised that the issue be put aside.

Thus the four inconceivables are areas in which the Buddha did encourage an attitude of agnosticism among his followers, so as to focus their attention on the question of which actions are skillful and which are not—questions where knowledge is beneficial for purposes of release.

By and large, the same purpose underlies the many instances in which he put specific questions aside. A survey of these specific questions, however, yields many other insights into the Buddha’s reasons for not answering them.

For the sake of analysis, these questions can be classified by topic or context. In terms of topic, there are—in broad terms—three: questions about the metaphysics of the cosmos, questions about the nature and existence (or non-existence) of the self, and questions about whether an awakened person exists or doesn’t exist after death (see Appendix Four). This last category, however, is actually an extension of the second, for questions on this topic usually boil down to a concern for what will ultimately happen to the self if the Buddha’s path is pursued.

When grouped by topic, the questions put aside in the discourses are these (the meaning of the asterisks will become clear in the following discussion):

The cosmos/world:

“‘Your question should not be phrased in this way: ‘Where do these four great elements—the earth property, the liquid property, the fire property, and the wind property—cease without remainder?’ Instead, it should be phrased like this: ‘Where do water, earth, fire, & wind have no footing? Where are long & short, coarse & fine, fair & foul, name & form brought to an end?’” — DN 11

“And, Master Gotama, when having directly known it, you teach the Dhamma to your disciples for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow & lamentation, for the disappearance of pain & distress, for the attainment of the right method, & for the realization of unbinding, will all the cosmos be led to release, or a half of it, or a third?” — AN 10:95

“Now, then, Master Gotama, does everything exist?” “Then, Master Gotama, does everything not exist?” “Then is everything a Oneness?” “Then is everything a plurality?” — SN 12:48*

“Master Gotama, is it the case that ‘The cosmos is eternal: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless’?”**

“Very well then, Master Gotama, is it the case that: ‘The cosmos is not eternal: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless’?”**

“Very well then, Master Gotama, is it the case that ‘The cosmos is finite: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless’?”**

“Very well then, Master Gotama, is it the case that ‘The cosmos is infinite: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless’?”** — AN 10:95

An existent being/self:

“Now then, Venerable Gotama, is there a self?” “Then is there no self?” — SN 44:10

“By whom was this being created? Where is the being’s maker? Where has the being originated? Where does the being cease?” — SN 5:10

“So—form is not-self, feeling is not-self, perception is not-self, fabrications are not-self, consciousness is not-self. Then what self will be touched by the actions done by what is not-self?” — MN 109

“Was I in the past? Was I not in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? Having been what, what was I in the past?” “Shall I be in the future? Shall I not be in the future? What shall I be in the future? How shall I be in the future? Having been what, what shall I be in the future?” “Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? Where has this being come from? Where is it bound?” — SN 12:20***

“Now, then, Master Gotama, is pain self-made?” “Then is pain other-made?” “Then is pain self-made & other-made?” — SN 12:17*

“Now, then, Master Gotama, are pleasure & pain self-made?” “Then are pleasure & pain other-made?” “Then are pleasure & pain self-made & other-made?” — SN 12:18*

“Now, then, Master Gotama: Is the one who acts the same one who experiences [the results of the act]?” “Then, Master Gotama, is the one who acts someone other than the one who experiences?” — SN 12:46*

“Now tell me, Sāriputta my friend: Is aging-&-death self-made or other-made or both self-made & other-made?” [etc., with regard to factors of dependent co-arising] — SN 12:67*

“Lord, who feeds on the consciousness-nutriment?“ “Lord, who makes contact?” [etc., with regard to factors of dependent co-arising] — SN 12:12*

“Which is the aging-&-death, lord, and whose is the aging-&-death?” [etc., with regard to the factors of dependent co-arising] — SN 12:35*

“Master Gotama, is it the case that ‘The soul is the same thing as the body: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless’?”**

“Very well then, Master Gotama, is it the case that: ‘The soul is one thing and the body another: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless’?”** — AN 10:95

Existence after awakening:

“But, Master Gotama, the monk whose mind is thus released: Where does he reappear?” “Very well then, Master Gotama, does he not reappear?” “… does he both reappear & not reappear?” “… does he neither reappear nor not reappear?” — MN 72

“With the remainderless cessation & fading of the six contact-media [vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, & intellection], is it the case that there is anything else?” “With the remainderless cessation & fading of the six contact-media, is it the case that there is not anything else?” “… is it the case that there both is & is not anything else?” “… is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else?” — AN 4:173

“He who has reached the end: Does he not exist, or is he for eternity free from dis-ease? Please, sage, declare this to me as this phenomenon has been known by you.” — Sn 5:6

“Master Gotama, is it the case that ‘After death a Tathāgata exists: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless’?”**

“Very well then, Master Gotama, is it the case that: ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless’?”**

“Very well then, Master Gotama, is it the case that ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless’?”**

“Very well then, Master Gotama, is it the case that ‘After death a Tathāgata neither does nor does not exist: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless’?”** — AN 10:95

From this list of topics, two points immediately stand out. The first is that all the questions deal in the terms most basic to the process of becoming: one’s sense of self in a particular world or cosmos of experience. Because becoming is intimately tied up with the first noble truth of suffering and stress, the appropriate duty for dealing with its underlying concepts is to comprehend them to the point of dispassion, so as to gain release from them. But these questions provoke passion for these concepts by giving substance and reality to them. Thus they run counter to the duties of the path.

Directly related to this first point is the second one: All these questions are products of papañca, or objectification. As we noted in Chapter Three, this sort of thinking derives its classifications from the basic thought, “I am the thinker.” Having objectified the “I am,” one has created an agent of actions, and an experiencer of pleasure and pain. At the same time, one has created a nucleus of categories around which many questions can coalesce: self/not-self, existence/non-existence, thinker/thought, agent/object. For example, once the conceit “I am” becomes a meaningful statement, the question “Am I not?” becomes meaningful as well. Given the many roles played by a thinker—constantly changing, arising only to disappear—one has implicitly raised questions about whether these identities do or do not really exist. One has also created questions of how they exist, for as a being, the thinker needs to keep consuming physical and mental nourishment. This leads to questions about the existence of the world or cosmos from which one expects to draw that nourishment: To what extent can it be controlled? Does it offer a finite or infinite amount of food? Will it supply food forever, or will it come to an end? Will total awakening put an end to the thinker, or will it supply the thinker with an unending source of food?

The primary danger of this sort of questioning is that it treats mental processes—the perception of self, the perception of cosmos—as objects rather than processes. Thus it interferes with the radical self cross-examination discussed in Chapter Six, by which these processes are viewed as forms of unskillful action and thus abandoned so as to lead to the deathless.

But objectification presents other drawbacks as well, which can be seen most clearly if we group the questions the Buddha put aside, not according to topic, but according to the general contexts in which they are found in the discourses. This way of grouping the questions also has the advantage of highlighting the Buddha’s specific strategy for dismantling questions framed in terms of objectification by using those framed in the terms of appropriate attention.

Aside from a few miscellaneous situations scattered randomly in the texts, there are four major contexts in which the Buddha puts questions aside, with the fourth context a subset of the first. The contexts are these: the ten undeclared issues; the questions of inappropriate attention; questions applied to dependent co-arising; and the last four of the undeclared issues—the tetralemma, or set of four unacceptable alternatives, on the Tathāgata after death—discussed as a separate set. The way in which the Buddha treats the questions in these contexts reveals a great deal about where the line between objectification and appropriate attention lies, and how appropriate attention can be used to deconstruct objectification and its attendant problems.

1) The ten undeclared issues are the questions marked with a double asterisk in the above list of questions put aside. These were apparently a standard questionnaire used by philosophical debaters in the Buddha’s time to map where they and their opponents stood on the vital issues of the day. And, of course, these questions—and the views derived to answer them—were not peculiar to India or to the time of the Buddha. Plato, for one, offered answers to all of them, and his answers to the questions about the nature of the soul and its fate after death were central to his thought. In the Timaeus he postulated a cosmos partly eternal, partly not, partly finite and partly not. In the Symposium, Phaedo, and Republic he insisted that the soul is distinct from the body and that, after death, the philosopher’s soul will exist for eternity in rapturous contemplation of the eternal forms. This, as he saw it, is the aim of all philosophy. Later Western philosophers and theologians argued over Plato’s answers to these questions, but the vast majority of them agreed that the questions were worthy of answer. In fact, a long and interesting study could be made of the variety of answers that Western thought has provided for these questions, all of which the Buddha labeled as deserving to be put aside.

The ten undeclared issues are discussed as a set in a large number of discourses, among them §§176-183. A few of the views that the Buddha’s contemporaries offered as answers to these questions are presented in DN 1 [§184]. The discourses discussing these ten questions focus initially on explaining why the Buddha puts them aside, after which they often propose various ways of replacing these questions with the framework of appropriate attention.

In the various explanations for why the Buddha put these questions aside, the term objectification appears in only one discourse [§178], but objectification is clearly the underlying issue in all the explanations, for the drawbacks they attribute to the questions put aside are identical to the drawbacks of objectification. It’s because the Buddha knows and sees these drawbacks that he can assert that, in refusing to answer these questions, he is acting not from ignorance, but from knowledge.

What does he know? In general terms, he sees the extent of view-standpoints, the cause of views, and the uprooting of views [§178]. In more particular terms, he sees the origins of these questions and views, their immediate kammic effect, their long-term kammic effect, and the advantages of letting them go.

Thus his reasons for putting them aside are primarily pragmatic. Instead of stating whether the questions can or cannot be answered, he puts them aside because he sees that the act of asking and answering them can lead to short-term and long-term harm.

This point is vividly illustrated by the famous simile of the arrow, in MN 63 [§176]:

“It’s just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a brahman, a merchant, or a worker.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me… until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short… until I know whether he was dark, ruddy-brown, or golden-colored… until I know his home village, town, or city… until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a long bow or a crossbow… until I know whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark… until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated… until I know whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird… until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, a langur, or a monkey.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.’ The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him.”

Because the information requested by the wounded man is theoretically knowable, it’s possible to read this simile as suggesting that there could be answers to the ten questions, but that the Buddha wanted to avoid giving them because they were a waste of valuable time. After all, as we have noted, knowledge of the limits of the physical cosmos might possibly have been in the Buddha’s range. But, in terms of his general standards for what he would teach—that it had to be true and beneficial and timely—the simple pragmatic fact that these questions were unbeneficial was reason enough not to answer them.

The Buddha’s various lists of pragmatic reasons for not answering the ten questions fall into two main sorts:

a) In what might be called his basic list of pragmatic reasons—the one most commonly cited in the discourses—he simply notes that the questions are irrelevant to the goal of his teaching:

“[This] does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, self-awakening, unbinding.” — MN 63

MN 63 further states that, “It’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘the cosmos is eternal’ that there is the living of the holy life (Sassato lokoti… diṭṭhiyā sati brahma-cariya-vāso abhavissāti: evaṁ no).” This discourse then applies the same verdict to the nine other views. In other words, these views do not constitute the practice, and they distract attention from the practice, but there is nothing in MN 63 to indicate that they are antithetical to the practice.

b) However, in what might be called the strong lists of pragmatic reasons, the Buddha notes that these questions derive from unskillful states of mind that actually foster the causes of suffering rather than trying to abandon them. To try to answer these questions is thus not simply to stray aimlessly from the duties of the path; it’s to go against those duties in the opposite direction. This point is highlighted by SN 12:35 [§167], which goes considerably further than MN 63 in stating that:

“When there is the view that the soul is the same as the body, there is no leading the holy life. And when there is the view that the soul is one thing and the body another, there is no leading the holy life. (Taṁ jīvaṁ taṁ sarīraṁ vā… diṭṭhiyā sati brahma-cariya-vāso na hoti; aññaṁ jīvaṁ aññaṁ sarīraṁ vā… diṭṭhiyā sati brahma-cariya-vāso na hoti).” — SN 12:35

In other words, instead of simply being an irrelevant waste of time, the act of holding to any of these views makes the practice of the holy life impossible.

This point is illustrated by the ways the Buddha, in connection with the strong list of pragmatic reasons, discusses his knowledge of the origin of these ten questions. For example, he sees that they derive from a misunderstanding of and attachment to the aggregates and sense media [§178, §181]. As Ven. Isidatta adds in §179, these questions are also the result of self-identity views related to the aggregates. In other words, they arise because one holds to a sense of self both as object of some of the views and as thinker/holder of views: the “I am” in “I am the thinker.” In DN 1 [§184], the Buddha notes that attempts to answer these questions are based on logical deductions either from first principles or from limited meditative experiences, both of which are inadequate grounds for proof, in that each can be used to reach contradictory conclusions.

With regard to the immediate consequences of holding to any views derived from these questions, the Buddha sees that they are entangling—“a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views… accompanied by suffering, distress, despair, & fever” [§183]—and an expression of anguish [§178]. In holding to them, one is holding on to agitation and vacillation [§184], to suffering and stress [§182]. This anguish and agitation can involve the mental unrest that comes from getting entangled in arguments over such views, the internal agitation that comes from holding on to uncertain knowledge, as well as the basic suffering that comes from holding fast to the basic terms of becoming: one’s sense of self and of the world. As long as one objectifies the issues of world and self, one cannot engage in the self cross-examination that treats the perceptions of world and self as a form of kamma. And again, one is fostering the causes for suffering rather than abandoning them.

The long-term consequences of all this, as stated in the strong lists, is that some of these views lead to bad states of rebirth; and that, in pursuing these questions, one does not reach unbinding.

Taken together, the Buddha’s two ways of stating the pragmatic drawbacks of answering these ten questions—in the basic list and the strong lists—highlight two important points. The first is that the motivation behind these questions is not always innocent ignorance. When based on attachment, these questions can be a strategy for avoiding the hard work of abandoning unskillful actions and developing skillful ones in their place. This point is dramatized in MN 63, where the monk Māluṅkyaputta refuses to practice until the Buddha has answered these ten questions to his satisfaction. Thus if, in the course of the practice, the mind finds itself attached to these questions, it needs to see what important issues it is avoiding and why.

The second important point related to the Buddha’s pragmatic reasons for leaving the undeclared issues undeclared is that his analysis of the present impact of holding to these views—immersing one in a “thicket,” a “writhing,” a “contortion”—parallels his discussion of the conflicts arising from objectification. We have already noted, in Chapter Three, five ways in which the categories of objectification give rise to various forms of conflict: (1) They deal in abstract uncertainties, rather than the certainties of action and result; (2) one’s identity as a being, once created by these categories, gets drawn into the issues created by those categories; (3) such an act of self-definition is an act of self-limitation; (4) one gets inevitably drawn into conflict with the categories and issues created by other people as they define themselves and others—and try to impose these definitions on others—each doing this on his or her own terms; and (5), in defining oneself, one becomes a being with a need to feed off the world, with the attendant uncertainties that come from an insecure food source, as well as the dangers posed by others who might want to take that food source—or oneself—as food for themselves.

Thus the conflict caused by objectification is both internal and external: internal in the limitations and agitation that come from unskillful desire; external in the quarrels, disputes, rivalry, and hostility that can occur when one’s views and desires come into conflict with those of others. In refusing to declare an answer to any of the ten undeclared issues, the Buddha was avoiding both the internal suffering of conflictive thoughts and the external suffering of needless quarrels and debates.

It’s important to emphasize the word needless here, for—as we have seen—the Buddha didn’t try to avoid conflict by simply putting all questions aside. When questions of skillful and unskillful action were at stake, he was prepared strongly to argue his case. In this way, he showed the attitude of a skillful warrior. Unlike the sectarians of AN 10:93 [§182], he knew which battles were worth fighting and which best left aside. Unlike the agnostics of DN 1 [§152], who were afraid to advance any ideas about skillful and unskillful action for fear of being bested in argument, he knew how to win the important battles.

In fact, once the Buddha had explained his reasons for putting the ten undeclared issues aside—which, as we have already noted, is an implicit way of shifting attention to the important battles of skillful and unskillful action—he would often shift attention to these battles in an explicit way, stating that the framework of objectification should be replaced with that of appropriate attention. His primary explicit tactic in this approach was to show how objectification is caused by unskillful actions. In other words, he placed objectification as an action in maps showing chains of unskillful actions, making the point that the frameworks supplied by objectification are actually subsumed under the framework of appropriate attention.

Here he was repeating in a more extended way one of the tactics he used in a cursory way when explaining why the ten undeclared issues should be put aside—briefly citing their origins in unskillful mental states—but the explicit maps have the advantage of explaining further why the framework of appropriate attention is such an important replacement for objectification—in other words, why the battles of appropriate attention are the important ones to win. At the same time, they show why these battles are ultimately won within the mind, and why these inner battles have to take a few strategic turns.

A useful set of maps to begin with are those detailing the causal chain of actions by which the categories of objectification arise and lead to needless conflict. These maps are found in MN 18 [§50], DN 21 [§4], and Sn 4:11. Because the Buddhist analysis of causality is generally non-linear, with plenty of room for feedback loops, the maps vary in the order of some of their factors.

In MN 18, as we have already seen in Chapter Three, the map is this:

contact → feeling → perception → thinking → being assailed by the perceptions & categories of objectification

In DN 21, the map reads like this:

the perceptions & categories of objectification → thinking → desire → dear-&-not-dear → envy & stinginess → rivalry & hostility

In Sn 4:11, the map falls into two parts, which can be diagrammed like this:

perception → the categories of objectification

perception → name & form → contact → appealing & unappealing → desire → dear-&-not-dear → stinginess/divisiveness/quarrels/disputes

These maps teach several important lessons about the conditions determining the Buddha’s strategy in replacing objectification with the framework of appropriate attention. The first lesson lies in their common feature: They all cite perception—the act of labeling thoughts, feelings, and sensations—as the primary culprit. This means that any attempt to dismantle objectification will require dismantling perception. However, the fact that perception is listed on two levels—as perception in general and as the particular perceptions of objectification—reflects the two tiers in the Buddha’s strategy for overcoming attachment to perceptions: using the perceptions of appropriate attention to dismantle the perceptions of objectification, and then turning the perceptions of appropriate attention on themselves—as actions—to dismantle attachment to themselves as well, leaving no attachment to any perceptions at all.

The two tiers in this strategy are reflected in one of the main differences among these maps, a difference we have already noted in Chapter One: In DN 21, thinking results from the perceptions and categories of objectification, whereas in MN 18 it precedes them. The apparent explanation for this difference is that in MN 18 the term objectification covers only thought dealing in the categories of becoming and inappropriate attention. This meaning of the term is useful in the first tier of the strategy—corresponding to the standard definition of right view [§33]—where the perceptions of appropriate attention are used to undercut the perceptions of inappropriate attention. In DN 21, however, objectification includes the categories framing the questions of appropriate attention as well. This is the meaning of the term useful in the level of the strategy—corresponding to the more advanced definition of right view in SN 12:15 [§172]—where even the categories of appropriate attention are dismantled and dropped.

The maps also indicate how the framework of skillful and unskillful action underlies both tiers of this strategy. In fact, the maps themselves are an expression of this framework. All three portray perceptions not in terms of their content or relationship to underlying entities, but in terms of their function as actions: the roles they play in a causal chain of activities. This portrayal helps not only to depersonalize the process of perception-fabrication—setting aside the issue of any possible self involved in the process—but also to set aside the issue of whether these perceptions provide true information about the world “out there” or “in here.” The act of setting these issues aside is crucial to the Buddha’s strategy, for as long as the mind still sees perception as a means for attaining truth, it can stir up the passion needed to keep fabricating perceptions for that purpose [§38]. But when perception can be viewed simply as an unskillful action leading to unnecessary stress, a sense of disenchantment for the process of perception-fabrication develops, undermining the passion fueling that process. This allows the process simply to stop. In terms of kamma, this strategy is the kamma that puts an end to kamma [§31], leading through disenchantment, dispassion, and cessation to release.

The detailed steps in this strategy are portrayed in the discourses where the Buddha goes beyond simply describing the drawbacks of the ten undeclared issues and discusses the viewpoint from which any view based on them can be transcended. To begin with, there is the analysis offered at the end of DN 1 [§184], in which he states that the vacillation and agitation inherent in asserting any of the possible views concerning the eternity and infinity of the cosmos is a product of craving. Craving, in turn, is based on contact at the six sense media.

This analysis places the act of holding these views into the map of dependent co-arising [§19, §41], a teaching that itemizes in the most extended form the details of the first three noble truths, tracing the origination of suffering and stress to ignorance of the four noble truths. When—through the ending of ignorance—one discerns the origination, ending, allure, drawbacks of, and emancipation from the six sense media, one discerns the release that is higher than any of these conditioned things.

The advantage of this strategy, as we will see below, is that dependent co-arising is a mode of perception that avoids the dichotomies of existence/non-existence, self/not-self underlying the categories of objectification. More than that: This mode of analysis not only avoids these dichotomies; it also deconstructs them. In focusing attention on levels of feeling and perception prior to objectification, it fosters an ability to view objectification not as a source of true or false information about realities but simply as a process of mental events and actions leading to stress. This causes any passion fueling the process to fade away.

AN 10:93 [§182] extends this strategy from the cosmological issues mentioned in DN 1 to include all ten of the undeclared issues. To take the first view as an example:

“As for the venerable one who says, ‘The cosmos is eternal. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless. This is the sort of view I have,’ his view arises from his own inappropriate attention or in dependence on the words of another. Now this view has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently co-arisen. Whatever has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently co-arisen: That is inconstant. Whatever is inconstant is stress. This venerable one thus adheres to that very stress, submits himself to that very stress.”

In response to the retort that the act of holding to this analysis too would entail adhering to and submitting to stress, Anāthapiṇḍika the householder replies,

“Venerable sirs, whatever has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently co-arisen: That is inconstant. Whatever is inconstant is stressful. Whatever is stressful is not me, is not what I am, is not my self. Having seen this well with right discernment as it has come to be, I also discern the higher escape from it as it has come to be.”

In other words, this form of analysis is superior to other views in that it contains a perspective that can be used to effect not only their transcendence, but also its own. Having reduced every other view to an instance of clinging, it has placed those views into the context of dependent co-arising, which gives guidance as to how that clinging can be abandoned. Then, in the second tier of the strategy, the terms of this analysis can be turned on themselves, viewing them too as processes. This undercuts any clinging to them and leads to the higher escape: total release.

This point is reflected in the fact that, in the cessation mode of dependent co-arising, all perceptions (as a sub-factor of fabrications and name-&-form) cease, and not just unskillful ones. In fact, all experience of the six senses ceases as well [§50]. This, however, does not mean that awakening is the end of all sensory experience. Ud 3:10 (Chapter One) indicates that after experiencing the bliss of release, one can emerge from that state and perceive the world of the six senses once more. But, as the image of the flayed cow in MN 146 [§77] indicates, one’s relationship to the senses has now changed. One experiences the senses as if disjoined from them—a point seconded by §201. As for perceptions and classifications, now that one has fully understood them, one can continue using them without being subject to them [§196]. In the words of MN 18 [§50], one is no longer assailed by them. Freed from their limitations, one’s awareness has no restrictions at all [§201].

2) The questions of inappropriate attention, marked with a triple asterisk in the above list, appear in three different discourses. The broad outlines of their treatment in the Canon parallel that of the ten undeclared issues. In other words, the discourses listing them discuss the drawbacks of holding any view based on these questions, the pragmatic reasons for putting them aside, and the strategy for overcoming any interest in these questions by viewing them in terms of dependent co-arising and the four noble truths. However, a few of the details in the treatment differ in this case, the most important being that the questions of inappropriate attention go deeper than the ten undeclared issues, for they deal directly with the terms and perceptions that underlie all possible positions taken on the ten undeclared issues.

MN 2—which we discussed in Chapter Three—first states the pragmatic reasons for putting these questions aside, using a phrase commonly applied to the ten undeclared issues: Any answers to these questions form “a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views.” It then adds, “Bound by a fetter of views, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person is not freed from birth, aging, & death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. He is not freed, I tell you, from stress.” The discussion then offers a practical alternative to these questions by directing the meditator to attend instead to identifying stress, its origination, its cessation, and the path to its cessation as they are directly experienced. In other words, a first step in the practice is to put aside the questions of inappropriate attention and to replace them with an alternative set of perceptions based on the framework of the four noble truths.

The other two references to these questions, SN 12:20 [§164] and MN 38 [§165], point to a later stage in the practice: Once the meditator has seen dependent co-arising, he/she will no longer be tempted to chase after these questions. In other words, it’s not the case that these questions are put aside as irrelevancies simply for the duration of the practice, after which one may return to them as one likes. The experience of the practice removes any and all interest in pursuing them ever again.

This point is supported by a passage in MN 140, in which the Buddha described various “conceivings” stilled in a sage at peace: “I am” … “I am this” … “I shall be” … “I shall not be” … “I shall be possessed of form” … “I shall not be possessed of form” … “I shall be percipient” … “I shall not be percipient” … “I shall be neither percipient nor non-percipient.” These are obviously answers to some of the questions of inappropriate attention: “Am I?” “Am I not?” “What am I?” “Shall I be?” “What shall I be?” Once these questions are put aside for good, the corresponding currents of conceiving no longer flow.

Thus these four passages, taken together, describe three stages in the practice: consciously abandoning the questions of inappropriate attention so as to focus on the four noble truths; contemplating the four noble truths until one sees events in terms of dependent co-arising; and finally, as a result, no longer being tempted to pursue the questions of inappropriate attention. These passages, however, don’t go into any detail about how the application of dependent co-arising connects the second to the third stage in this progression. For that, we need to look at how the Buddha treats the questions in the next category.

3) Questions applied to dependent co-arising. The passages in this category—all marked with a single asterisk in the above list—fall into two sub-categories.

a) Those in the primary sub-category [§§166-173] present dependent co-arising as an alternative mode of perception that avoids many of the questions springing from the either/or dichotomies posited by the perceptions and categories of becoming, such as existence/non-existence, self/other, or agent/object: Does everything exist? Does everything not exist? Are pleasure and pain self-made? Other-made? Both? Neither? Is the one who acts the same as the one who experiences the act? Is the one who acts different from the one who experiences the act? Is the one who experiences feeling the same as the feeling, or something different? In every case where the Buddha is presented with these questions, he puts them aside and advises his listeners to look at experience in terms of dependent co-arising as a way of avoiding the entanglements of trying to answer these questions.

Among the either/or questions avoided by dependent co-arising, perhaps the most interesting dichotomy is given in SN 12:48 [§171]—Is everything a Oneness? Is everything a plurality?—for the Buddha has frequently and erroneously been depicted as saying Yes to both questions. On the one hand, in medieval India, Mahāyāna scholastic philosophers criticized what they saw as the pluralistic world-view of the Buddha’s “Hīnayāna” teachings, whereas they themselves adhered to the belief that, on what they called the ultimate level of truth, everything is a Oneness. On the other hand, at present, many people assume that the Buddha taught dependent co-arising as an expression of universal interconnectedness, which they further interpret as a teaching on universal Oneness. Although the Buddha did recognize that there are states of meditation yielding an experience of non-duality—with the highest such experience the non-duality of consciousness (AN 10:29)—he noted that even these experiences are conditioned and subject to change. He did not interpret them as conveying or constituting metaphysical truths. Instead, he taught dependent co-arising as a way to avoid taking a position on the objectifying question of whether everything is a Oneness or a plurality, focusing instead directly on the processes of how stress is brought into being and how it can be brought to an end.

For this is precisely how dependent co-arising avoids all of these objectifying dichotomies and modes of thinking: It regards experience simply in terms of processes—events arising and passing away in dependence on other events. No reference is made to the existence or non-existence of any agents creating these events, observers experiencing them, thinkers thinking about them, or an outside world or cosmos underlying them. Thus, instead of viewing events in light of the perceptions and categories of becoming—self-identity and world-views—dependent co-arising perceives them in the Buddha’s categorical mode, simply as actions and results in a complex causal sequence.

The pragmatic reasons for adopting this mode of perception are explicit in the formula of dependent co-arising itself: Ignorance—lack of skill in applying the teaching of dependent co-arising—leads to suffering and stress in all their aspects; knowledge—skill in applying this teaching—brings all aspects of suffering and stress to an end.

b) The difficulty of developing and maintaining this mode of perception without slipping back into the perceptions of becoming is indicated by the passages in the second sub-category [§170, §§174-175], where the Buddha declares invalid all questions that attempt to confirm or deny the existence of an agent, owner, or underlying substance framing the factors of dependent co-arising. In each of these cases, he is fending off attempts to place dependent co-arising within the framework of becoming; and in each case he reiterates that the only framework worth focusing on concerns the relationships among the factors of dependent co-arising in and of themselves.

This is why the Buddha so often stresses the need to develop the perception of not-self, for it counteracts any habitual tendency that—by assuming an agent causing the events, or a subject experiencing them—would interfere with the act of viewing experience in terms of dependent co-arising. At the same time—and this is where the effectiveness of dependent co-arising as a strategy is most explicitly explained—he reduces questions of “self” to the perception of “self,” thus placing it within the sequence of dependent co-arising, rather than framing that sequence. As a perception, “self” functions as a sub-factor under fabrication and name-&-form. As a topic of inappropriate questions, it also functions as the sub-factor of attention under name-&-form. When expanded into a theory about the existence or non-existence of a self, the perception of self functions as an object or mode of clinging. Because all of these factors lead to suffering, the Buddha’s strategy of placing “self” in this context and applying the perception of “not-self” to every object of clinging induces a sense of dispassion toward all forms of self-identification.

To counteract questions about a “world” or “cosmos” lying behind dependent co-arising, the Buddha employs a similar strategy, even though he does not advocate the use of a parallel “non-world” perception. He first reduces the world/cosmos to a set of psychological factors, the six sense media, which function both as a factor of dependent co-arising and as old kamma [§32, §159; also SN 35:115]. Thus the world, instead of lying behind or around the sequence of dependent co-arising, is reduced to a factor within the sequence. Then the Buddha shows how the world, thus perceived, ends with the ending of craving. By reducing the world to the means by which the perception of “world” is formed, and showing how such a world—instead of being substantial—is synonymous with suffering, he induces a perception of distaste for being reborn in any world at all.

“And what is the perception of distaste for every world? There is the case where a monk abandoning any attachments, clingings, fixations of awareness, biases, or obsessions with regard to any world, refrains from them and does not get involved. This is called the perception of distaste for every world.” — AN 10:60

SN 12:15 [§172] gives a more detailed picture of how this perception of distaste is developed. There the meditator is encouraged to observe the origination and cessation of the world—the six sense media—as it actually occurs. To do this, one needs to have put aside notions of agent and experiencer in order to see these events in and of themselves, and not as a potential world of food for the self. As the mind remains in this mode of perception, watching the repeated origination of the world, the concept of “non-existence” with regard to the world simply does not occur. As it watches the repeated cessation of the world, the concept of “existence” with regard to the world also doesn’t occur. In other words, the mind has not mounted a full rejection of these concepts with regard to the world. It has simply entered a mode of perception where they are irrelevant and so do not arise. The only perception retaining any relevancy is that of stress arising, stress passing away. This perception then leads through disenchantment—distaste for any desire to continue feeding on this stress—to dispassion, and through dispassion to release.

When release is gained, it tends to be expressed in terms of the factors of dependent co-arising as the end of becoming and birth.

“Unprovoked is my release. This is the last birth. There is now no further becoming.” — SN 56:11

“Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for the sake of this-ness [an idiomatic expression meaning, ‘this world’].” — SN 22:59

Although this passage from SN 56:11 still contains the term “my,” and although arahants frequently use the terms “I” and “mine” in everyday discourse, there is no longer the conceit, “I am.” This is an important distinction. While “I” and “my” are useful designations for functioning in the realm of the six senses, when awakening is reached there is no longer any desire to turn them into an “I am” framing that realm. This is because one of the prominent descriptions for release is that it is free from hunger (nicchāta) of every sort. With no hunger, there is no need to assume an agent to find food or a subject needing to be fed. Thus the questions of inappropriate attention—particularly “Am I? Am I not? What am I?”—no longer address a felt need. This is why an awakened person no longer runs after them.

The question remains, though—at least for those contemplating whether awakening is a desirable goal to pursue—as to how to describe such a person. We have already seen, under the ten undeclared issues, some of the pragmatic reasons for why the Buddha refuses to answer questions about the existence of an awakened person after death, reasons that these questions hold in common with the other undeclared issues. But it turns out that there are additional reasons, peculiar to these questions, for putting them aside. This is why the discourses occasionally give them separate treatment.

4) The tetralemma on the Tathāgata after death. Several passages in the Canon treat this list of four questions separately from their more frequent context in the list of ten undeclared issues. Two such passages—DN 29 [§185] and SN 16:12—give the basic list of pragmatic reasons for putting these four questions aside. But a few passages [§§186-189] hint at other reasons for not answering these questions, stating simply, with little further explanation, that these questions would not occur to one who has gained awakening. This is because such a person knows the aggregates and their cessation as they have come to be—i.e., as they appear to experience without being objectified into states of becoming—and so has abandoned any passion or fondness for the aggregates, becoming, clinging, and craving.

It’s possible to view this list of reasons as an extension of the stronger list of pragmatic reasons for putting these questions aside. In other words, these questions wouldn’t occur to a person who has abandoned unskillful mental states, because such a person has seen that these questions—and the terms in which they are framed—serve no skillful purpose. But it’s also possible to read these reasons as indicating that such questions don’t occur to a person who has actually become a Tathāgata because the four alternatives don’t do justice to that attainment. In fact, DN 15 [§195] affirms that this too is the case, and states explicitly why this is so: In gaining release, the arahant has gained a sense of exactly how far expression, designation, and description—i.e., language—can go. Having gained this knowledge, the arahant is released from those limitations. This point is further supported by passages [§197, §198] stating that the experience of this attainment lies beyond even the range of the word, “all”; and still further supported by passages [§190, §191] stating that the Tathāgata is freed from anything by which one might describe him—or, what amounts to the same thing—that the means by which a Tathāgata might be described have been abandoned and totally cease [§§190-194, §202].

These points are related to the way in which the Canon defines and classifies a “being.”

Then Ven. Rādha went to the Blessed One and on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One: “‘A being,’ lord. ‘A being,’ it’s said. To what extent is one said to be ‘a being’?”

“Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for form, Rādha: When one is caught up [satta] there, tied up [visatta] there, one is said to be ‘a being [satta].’

“Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for feeling… perception… fabrications… consciousness, Rādha: When one is caught up there, tied up there, one is said to be ‘a being.’” — SN 23:2

“If one stays obsessed with form, that’s what one is measured/limited by. Whatever one is measured by, that’s how one is classified.

“If one stays obsessed with feeling… perception… fabrications… consciousness, that’s what one is measured/limited by. Whatever one is measured by, that’s how one is classified.

“If one doesn’t stay obsessed with form, monk, that’s not what one is measured/limited by. Whatever one isn’t measured by, that’s not how one is classified.

“If one doesn’t stay obsessed with feeling… perception… fabrications… consciousness, that’s not what one is measured/limited by. Whatever one isn’t measured by, that’s not how one is classified.” — SN 22:36

Thus an arahant, in abandoning passion, craving, and obsession for the aggregates, can no longer be classified as a being. Free from this classification, he/she cannot be defined, and so cannot be described in any of the four ways proposed by the tetralemma.

This is where the questions of the tetralemma differ radically from the other six undeclared issues. Questions about beings and the cosmos, whether pragmatic or not, are still meaningful and potentially answerable because their terms can be defined [§159; §199]. But because the Tathāgata cannot be defined, the four questions of the tetralemma are meaningless and so cannot be answered at all.

This point is so important that the Buddha and his disciples expand on it through cross-questioning. In SN 22:85 [§193], where Ven. Yamaka has insisted that the Tathāgata after death does not exist, Ven. Sāriputta takes him to task and subjects him to a questionnaire, asking how he would identify the Tathāgata in the present life. After running through a long list of the various ways one might identify the Tathāgata with regard to the aggregates, and getting Yamaka to admit that none of them apply to the Tathāgata, Ven. Sāriputta then gets him to admit that if he can’t pin down—define—what the Tathāgata is in the present life, there is no way he can legitimately say that the Tathāgata doesn’t exist after death. This aggressive cross-questioning, however, does more than convince Yamaka that his previous answer was wrong. It actually leads him to break through to the Dhamma, i.e., to gain stream-entry. Ven. Sāriputta thus asks him,

“Then, friend Yamaka, how would you answer if you are asked, ‘A monk, an arahant, with no more fermentations: What is he with the breakup of the body, after death?’”

“Thus asked, my friend, I would answer, ‘Form is inconstant… Feeling… Perception… Fabrications… Consciousness is inconstant. That which is inconstant is stressful. That which is stressful has ceased and gone to its end.”

This answer gains Ven. Sāriputta’s approval, in that it limits itself to what can be defined and described.

SN 44:2 [§192] contains the same questionnaire, given by the Buddha to Ven. Anurādha, who had insisted that the Tathāgata after death could be described in a way outside of the four alternatives of the tetralemma. The conclusion here, however, is somewhat different. After getting Anurādha to admit that he could not describe the Tathāgata in the present life, much less after death, the Buddha ends simply by saying that all he teaches is stress and the end of stress. This, in effect, returns to one of his reasons for not answering any of the ten undeclared issues: They are irrelevant to his program as a teacher in showing people how to gain release.

SN 44:1 and MN 72 [§190, §191] employ another type of cross-questioning—the exploration of an analogy—to give a sense of why the Tathāgata after death cannot be described. In SN 44:1, the bhikkhunī Khemā gets King Pasenadi, who presumably employed many expert accountants and mathematicians to keep track of his palace inventories, to admit that even he had no mathematician capable of calculating the number of sand grains in the river Ganges or the number of buckets of water in the ocean. In the same way, she then tells him, the Tathāgata—freed from the classifications of the aggregates—is “deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the ocean.”

The same phrase is mentioned in MN 72, but the analogy explored through cross-questioning is a different one: When a fire has gone out, in which direction has it gone? East? West? North? Or south? Just as these questions cannot be answered because none of the possible directions applies to an extinguished fire, the Buddha says, one cannot say that the arahant after death reappears, doesn’t reappear, both, or neither, because none of these alternatives apply. Although the image of the extinguished fire, to a modern mind, might give a very different impression from that of the ocean—the nothingness of the extinguished fire vs. the vastness of the ocean—in the Buddha’s time the two images were more congruent. The Buddha’s questioner in this passage, Vacchagotta, was a brahman. The brahmans in his time held a view that fire, when extinguished, is not annihilated. Instead, it goes into a diffuse state, latent and omnipresent throughout all the elements of the cosmos—even in water. The Buddha himself did not adopt all the particulars of this view, but when talking to Vacchagotta he used some of its implications to suggest to Vacchagotta’s mind that the arahant after death is so boundless that he/she cannot be confined to the range of what can be described.

This covers the four main contexts in which the Canon lists the questions the Buddha put aside. As for the few questions falling outside of these contexts, it’s easy to see in each case that they can be equated with or related to questions falling within them.

When we survey the main contexts in which the Buddha discusses questions to be put aside, we gain further insight into the way in which questions deserving appropriate attention differ from those derived from the categories and perceptions of blatant objectification (i.e., objectification on the level described in MN 18, rather than the subtler and more inclusive level described in DN 21). We have noted above that these two classes of questions differ in the perceptions they employ. Even more importantly, they differ in the framework they provide for those perceptions, a point illustrated by §170, §174 and §175. In blatant objectification, perceptions of self/other, self/world, agent/object, existence/non-existence, taken as realities, form the framework in which meaning is assigned to the processes of the six senses. Thus the meaning of these processes is determined by measuring them against the framework of realities assumed to underlie them.

In the questions of appropriate attention, however, the roles are reversed. The processes of dependent co-arising—events arising and passing away in dependence on other events—form the framework for such perceptions as self and cosmos. In this framework, these perceptions are measured, not so much for their truth-value in representing assumed realities, as for their role as mental events in either engendering stress or putting it to an end. When questioned from this perspective, issues of agent/object, existence/non-existence can be comprehended as elements of becoming, and thus as inherently perpetuating stress. When dismantled and viewed simply as instances of stress arising and passing away, their terms become totally irrelevant—even antithetical—to the project of putting an end to stress.

As we noted above, all the various maps showing how objectification leads to conflict assign a central role to perception. Thus, by rendering irrelevant the reality usually assigned to the perceptions of blatant objectification, the perceptions of dependent co-arising effectively dismantle the power of that level of objectification over the mind. In this way, these perceptions are not simply an alternative to the perceptions of blatant objectification. They act as the cure for blatant objectification. And because they can then be turned on any attachment even to appropriate attention, they cure objectification on both levels of subtlety to which the term applies. This helps to explain why, in §19, the Buddha’s breakthrough to the deathless came from cross-questioning himself using the terms of dependent co-arising, for he wasn’t simply replacing one set of perceptions with another. He was using these perceptions to free himself from attachment to perception of every sort.

Thus the distinction between the framework of inappropriate attention, expressed in terms of blatant objectification, and the framework of appropriate attention, expressed in terms of dependent co-arising, is that questions framed in terms of the former generally tend to keep one trapped in the framework, leading to continued conflict and stress, whereas questions framed in terms of the latter ultimately lead to a knowing (añña) free not only from stress, but also from mental frameworks of every sort. This knowing is so liberating that even after one emerges from it and returns to the world of the six senses, one is able to use mental frameworks without ever being bound by them. Because the pragmatic effects of appropriate attention and inappropriate attention differ so radically, it should come as no surprise that the distinction between these two frameworks is apparently the primary consideration at work when the Buddha decides whether to put a question aside. However, our analysis has shown that at least two other considerations might also be at work. The first derives from the fact we noted in Chapter Three, that some questions appropriate for one level of right view have to be put aside when developing a higher level of right view. The second consideration derives from the general limitations of linguistic description when trying to discuss a person who has no desire or obsessions by which he/she could be defined. Thus—when issues of etiquette are not at stake—these three considerations seem to be the primary factors at play when the Buddha is deciding whether to answer a question or put it aside:

• the distinction between blatant objectification and appropriate attention;

• the level of right view appropriate for the listener;

• the limitations of language.

This summary can be supported by examining pairs of questions that, on the surface, seem quite similar, but to which the Buddha responded in different ways: answering in one case, and putting aside in another. In some instances, the questions are explicitly stated; in others, they lie implicit behind declarative statements. For us, the important point lies in trying to discern the patterns in the Buddha’s choice of a response, to see why one question was considered skillful and its similar pairing was not. And the three considerations summarized above provide a convenient framework for discerning these patterns and the reasons behind them.

• First, some instances in which the distinction between questions that are not answered and those that are, is based on the difference between blatant objectification and appropriate attention:

In DN 11 [§161], the Buddha chides a monk for asking, “Where do these four great elements—the earth property, the liquid property, the fire property, and the wind property—cease without remainder?” and then tells him that the question should be phrased like this: “Where do water, earth, fire, & wind have no footing? Where are long & short, coarse & fine, fair & foul, name & form brought to an end?” The four properties listed here are equivalent to the physical cosmos as a whole. Thus the first question is concerned with the physical extent of the cosmos “out there.” The second question, however, treats the properties as an instance of name and form, a factor conditioned by consciousness directly experienced “right here” in the context of dependent co-arising. The answer then tells of a type of consciousness that provides no footing for the experience of name and form: consciousness without surface, without end, luminous all around. Aside from a passage in MN 49 [§205], which states that this consciousness is not experienced through the six sense media (the cosmos as defined in [§159]), the Buddha offers no further explanation of it, a fact to which we will return below. But his treatment of this point in DN 11 helps to illustrate a point made in §§156-158, that the physical end of the cosmos is not to be reached by traveling, but the end of the experience of the cosmos is to be found within this body—i.e., by viewing the cosmos as an instance of name and form in the context of dependent co-arising.

In SN 5:10 [§203], Sister Vajirā puts aside four questions posed by Māra: “By whom was this being created? Where is the being’s maker? Where has the being originated? Where does the being cease?” Her reasoning is that it is wrong to assume a “being.” However, as we have noted above, when the Buddha is asked by Ven. Rādha in SN 23:2 [§199], “To what extent is one said to be ‘a being’?” the Buddha answers, “Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for form [or any of the remaining aggregates], Rādha: When one is caught up [satta] there, tied up [visatta] there, one is said to be ‘a being [satta].’” The distinction here is that Māra treats the concept of “a being” from the perspective of blatant objectification, whereas the Buddha’s answer shows that it can be more usefully defined—and its origination understood—in terms that would fit into dependent co-arising.

In fact, Sister Vajirā, after rejecting Māra’s questions, makes the same point in discussing how the assumption of a being arises—through the presence of the aggregates—and how it is found to be empty when the aggregates are taken apart—i.e., when all craving and clinging for them is removed [§199].

In MN 72 [§190], the Buddha refuses to tell Vacchagotta whether, after death, the arahant reappears, doesn’t reappear, both, or neither. However—as we saw above, in SN 56:11 and SN 22:59—he describes part of the realization of full awakening as, “this is the last birth… birth is ended… there is now no further becoming.” [See also §18, §68, §79, §112, §138, §139, §141, §142, §195 and §200.] In the first case, Vacchagotta’s question is phrased in terms of blatant objectification—looking for the existence, non-existence, etc., of the arahant, conceived to be a being—whereas the realizations of awakening are phrased in terms borrowed from dependent co-arising.

• As for an example of a question answered on one level of right view, only to be put aside on another:

The topic of kamma is treated differently on the preliminary and transcendent levels of right view. The standard description of the Buddha’s second knowledge on the night of his awakening, phrased in terms of the preliminary level, indicates that beings experience pleasure and pain in dependence on their own actions.

“I saw—by means of the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human—beings passing away & re-appearing, and I discerned how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with actions: ‘These beings—who were endowed with bad conduct of body, speech, & mind, who reviled the noble ones, held wrong views and undertook actions under the influence of wrong views—with the breakup of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. But these beings—who were endowed with good conduct of body, speech, & mind, who did not revile the noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views—with the breakup of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world.’” — MN 19

This point is seconded in the analytical answer the Buddha gives in MN 136 [§66]:

“Having intentionally done—with body, with speech, or with mind—an action that is to be experienced as pleasure, one experiences pleasure. Having intentionally done—with body, with speech, or with mind—an action that is to be experienced as pain, one experiences pain. Having intentionally done—with body, with speech, or with mind—an action that is to be experienced as neither-pleasure-nor-pain, one experiences neither-pleasure-nor-pain.”

In fact, the principle that beings experience the results of their actions is so important that the Buddha recommends that all people contemplate it on a daily basis:

“It’s not the case only for me that I am the owner of actions, heir to actions, born of actions, related through actions, and have actions as my arbitrator; that—whatever I do, for good or for evil—to that will I fall heir. To the extent that there are beings—past & future, passing away & re-arising—all beings are the owners of actions, heir to actions, born of actions, related through actions, and have actions as their arbitrator. Whatever they do, for good or for evil, to that will they fall heir.” — AN 5:57

As we noted in our discussion of MN 136 in Chapter Three, the assumption that one will receive the results of one’s own actions is essential for developing skillful mental states and abandoning unskillful ones. This assumption underlies the preliminary level of right view.

However, in SN 12:17 [§166], the Buddha declares that knowledge of dependent co-arising helps to avoid the eternalistic leanings of the view that pain is self-made, and the annihilationistic leanings of the view that pain is other-made. (See Appendix Three.) In SN 12:18 [§167] he makes a similar statement about views concerning the self-made or other-made origins of both pleasure and pain. It’s important to note, though, that he explains the meaning of self-made and other-made differently in the two discourses. In SN 12:17, self-made means that the agent is the same person as the experiencer: “With the one who acts being the same as the one who experiences, existing from the beginning, pleasure & pain are self-made.” Other-made in this discourse means that the agent is something or someone else aside from the one who experiences: “With the one who acts being one thing, and the one who experiences being another, existing as the one struck by the feeling.” In SN 12:18, however, self-made refers to an identity, not between the agent and the experiencer, but between the feeling and the experiencer of the feeling, whereas other-made means that feeling is one thing, and the experiencer something else.

In addition to refusing to say that pleasure and pain are self-made or other-made, the Buddha in SN 12:17 and 12:18 also refuses to say that they are both. Had these questions followed the pattern of the tetralemma, he would have then gone on to refuse to say, without qualification, that pleasure and pain are neither self-made nor other-made. However, he qualifies this alternative, denying that they are neither self-made nor other-made in the sense of being spontaneously arisen—i.e., arising without a cause—but affirming that they can be described as neither self-made nor other-made in the sense that they are dependently co-arisen. Thus the alternative of being spontaneously arisen does not count as a question put aside, for that alternative is decisively rejected in favor of explaining pleasure and pain in other terms.

The question of pleasure and pain’s being self-made, other-made, or both, however, is definitely put aside. And regardless of how the terms are defined, the important point is that the ideas underlying the terms self-made and other-made parallel the two issues in the ten undeclared issues that refer to the identity or difference between the soul and the body. Thus they are a form of blatant objectification, which is put aside through right view as defined in terms of the four noble truths and dependent co-arising.

This means that the difference between these passages and those above is that they deal in the different assumptions required to develop different levels of skill on the path. MN 19, MN 136, and AN 5:57 deal with the mental framework of truths beneficial and timely as one embarks on the path of skillful action; SN 12:17 and 12:18, with the mental framework of truths beneficial and timely as one works to avoid objectification. Note that this does not mean that SN 12:17 and 12:18 deal in absolute or ultimate truths, whereas MN 19, MN 136, and AN 5:57 deal only in conventional truths. It’s just that the two levels of right view are appropriate for different levels of skill, both of which—although their underlying assumptions may be different—lead ultimately to the same goal, upon which both are dropped.

• And as for some examples of the ambiguities that arise due to the limitations of language:

As we noted above, the Buddha in MN 72 [§190] refuses to tell Vacchagotta whether, after death, the arahant reappears, doesn’t reappear, both, or neither. In MN 140, however, he states:

“Furthermore, a sage at peace doesn’t take birth, doesn’t age, doesn’t die, is unagitated, and is free from longing. He has nothing whereby he would take birth. Not taking birth, will he age? Not aging, will he die? Not dying, will he be agitated? Not being agitated, for what will he long?”

And in SN 44:9 [§204], he states:

“Just as a fire burns with clinging/sustenance and not without clinging/sustenance, even so I designate the rebirth of one who has clinging/sustenance and not of one without clinging/sustenance.”

Unlike the passages from SN 22:59 and SN 56:11, these passages do not deal purely in the framework of dependent co-arising. Thus the difference between blatant objectification and dependent co-arising cannot account for the difference between the Buddha’s response-strategy in MN 72 on the one hand, and in MN 140 and SN 44:9 on the other, for all the questions involved treat the arahant as a person, a being.

A similar ambiguity marks some of the discussions of whether anything is left in the experience of total unbinding. AN 4:173 [§208], for example, declares that the act of asking whether, with the cessation of the six sense media, there is anything left, nothing left, both, or neither, is a form of objectification. This is apparently due to the fact that the questions of inappropriate attention—a form of objectification—deal not only in terms of self/other, and existence/non-existence, but also in terms of past, present, and future [§25]. The cessation of the six sense media, however, lies outside of time, so to deal in terms of anything or nothing else leftover afterward would be to impose a sense of time on what lies outside of time. This is why AN 4:173—seconding the discussion in MN 18 [§50]—states that the possibility of objectification as an action ceases with the cessation of the six sense media; and goes further to say that the range of what can be talked about in terms of objectification ceases with the cessation of the six sense media as well.

Nevertheless, other passages seem to imply either something or nothing existing in the experience of unbinding. For example, as we have noted above, DN 11 [§161] and MN 49 [§205] refer to a type of consciousness—“without surface, without end, luminous all around”—that, to the unawakened mind, sounds like a something. Ud 8:1 [§206] also refers to what seems to be a something—the existence of a dimension that constitutes the end of stress, a dimension that SN 35:117 [§198] says should be experienced—whereas Ud 8:2 [§207] suggests more of a nothing: “It’s hard to see the unaffected, for the truth is not easily seen. Craving is pierced in one who knows; for one who sees, there is nothing.” Even DN 11’s discussion of consciousness without surface deals in ambiguous terms: “Here water, earth, fire, & wind have no footing. Here long & short… name & form are all brought to an end. With the cessation of consciousness, each is here brought to an end.” The repeated here in this passage would seem to refer to consciousness without surface, but the phrase “the cessation of consciousness” creates an ambiguity. Is this phrase referring to the cessation of consciousness without surface as well, or solely to the cessation of the consciousness-aggregate? Was the Buddha being sloppy in his phrasing here, or deliberately ambiguous?

If we reflect on the fact, mentioned several times in this book, that his teaching is meant not only to be true but also beneficial and timely, that its coherence lies not in the consistent application of first principles but in the consistent focus of its teleology; if we also reflect on the Buddha’s occasional use of blatant objectification in explaining his teachings; and if we reflect on his general attitude toward language—that it cannot encompass the goal, but can be used strategically as part of the practice leading to the goal—then the Buddha’s ambiguities in his descriptions of the arahant after death and his descriptions of unbinding would appear to be deliberate. In these various dialogues, he is dealing with people who come to him with different levels of understanding. He teaches them not a general picture of reality—which would be a useless form of objectification—but tools of understanding, forms of right view, that will help them generate the desire to develop right effort leading to the goal of total release. As their questions touch on the goal, they are bound to find different aspects of it intriguing or puzzling—not that unbinding is multifaceted; simply that a mind of multifarious cravings, clingings, and sufferings can become curious about it in multiple ways.

So when the Buddha refuses to say whether the arahant reappears or not, he is emphasizing the fact that, in taking on no identity, the awakened person is boundless. When he says that the arahant is not reborn, he is emphasizing the fact that, when there is freedom from birth, there is freedom from suffering and stress. When he treats unbinding as a something—a dimension, a consciousness without surface—he is making the point that unbinding is not a form of annihilation; when he treats it as a nothing, he is making the point that consciousness without surface, unlike even the infinitude of consciousness experienced in jhāna, has no object at all. When he leaves unexplained this paradox of something and nothing, or the question of how consciousness without surface relates to the cessation of consciousness, his apparent intent is not to get his listeners to abandon all effort at thought. Instead, it’s to pique their curiosity, to stir within them a desire to develop right view and to use that right view as part of the complete path leading to a direct, personal experience of the goal. That’s where they’ll untangle the paradoxes for themselves.

This point is supported by a fact already noted: that the Buddha’s most effective use of the strategy of putting a question aside is not when he simply remains silent, but when he follows up with an alternative way of viewing experience, an alternative mode of perception, that is more beneficial in leading to release.

After all, there are dangers in simply trying to force the mind not to think, for that approach can easily lead to the dead-end state without perception mentioned in DN 1 [§184]. And there are no instances in the discourses where a listener gains release simply on learning that awakening or an awakened one cannot properly be described. The closest examples are those of Ven. Yamaka [§193] and Upasīva [§202], but even in their cases they learn more specifically what has to be abandoned before reaching the point where language—including even the subtle objectification of right view—breaks down.

As we have noted with regard to SN 12:15 [§172], language is transcended not simply by trying to block it out, but by focusing on the issue of stress arising and passing away to the point where even such basic terms as existence and non-existence simply don’t come to mind.

This is why the Buddha said that he taught only stress and the ending of stress, for if his listeners focus full attention on these questions, that takes care of everything else.

Readings

Agnosticism

§ 152. “Monks, there are some contemplatives & brahmans who, being asked questions regarding this or that, resort to verbal contortions, to eel-like wriggling, on four grounds…. There is the case of a certain contemplative or brahman who does not discern as it actually is that ‘This is skillful,’ or that ‘This is unskillful.’ The thought occurs to him, ‘I don’t discern as it actually is that “This is skillful,” or that “This is unskillful.” If I… were to declare that “This is skillful,” or that “This is unskillful,” desire, passion, aversion, or irritation would occur to me; that would be a falsehood for me. Whatever would be a falsehood for me would be a distress for me. Whatever would be a distress for me would be an obstacle for me.’ So, out of fear of falsehood, a loathing for falsehood, he does not declare that ‘This is skillful,’ or that ‘This is unskillful.’ Being asked questions regarding this or that, he resorts to verbal contortions, to eel-like wriggling: ‘I don’t think so. I don’t think in that way. I don’t think otherwise. I don’t think not. I don’t think not not.’

[The second case is virtually identical with the first, substituting ‘clinging’ for ‘falsehood.’]

[The third case:] “There is the case of a certain contemplative or brahman who does not discern as it actually is that ‘This is skillful,’ or that ‘This is unskillful’…. ‘If I, not discerning as it actually is that “This is skillful,” or that “This is unskillful,” were to declare that “This is skillful,” or that “This is unskillful”—There are contemplatives & brahmans who are pundits, subtle, skilled in debate, who prowl about like hair-splitting marksmen, as it were, shooting (philosophical) view-standpoints to pieces with their dialectic. They might cross-question me, press me for reasons, rebuke me. I might not be able to stand my ground; that would be a distress for me… an obstacle for me.’ So, out of a fear for questioning, a loathing for questioning… he resorts to verbal contortions, to eel-like wriggling….

[The fourth case:] “There is the case of a certain contemplative or brahman who is dull & exceedingly stupid. Out of dullness & exceeding stupidity, he—being asked questions regarding this or that—resorts to verbal contortions, to eel-like wriggling: ‘If you ask me if there exists another world [after death], if I thought that there exists another world, would I declare that to you? I don’t think so. I don’t think in that way. I don’t think otherwise. I don’t think not. I don’t think not not. If you asked me if there isn’t another world… both is & isn’t… neither is nor isn’t… if there are beings who transmigrate… if there aren’t… both are & aren’t… neither are nor aren’t… if the Tathāgata exists after death… doesn’t… both… neither… I don’t think so. I don’t think in that way. I don’t think otherwise. I don’t think not. I don’t think not not.’” — DN 1

§ 153. “Well then—knowing in what way, seeing in what way, does one without delay put an end to fermentations? There is the case where an ordinary uninstructed person—who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma—assumes form to be the self. That assumption is a fabrication. Now, what is the cause, what is the origination, what is the birth, what is the coming-into-existence of that fabrication? To an ordinary uninstructed person, touched by that which is felt born of contact with ignorance, craving arises. That fabrication is born of that. And that fabrication is inconstant, fabricated, dependently co-arisen. That craving…. That feeling…. That contact… That ignorance is inconstant, fabricated, dependently co-arisen. It’s by knowing & seeing in this way that one without delay puts an end to fermentations.

[The same analysis is then applied to a wide range of views about the existence & non-existence of the self, down to:]

“He doesn’t assume form to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form, or feeling to be the self, or the self as possessing feeling, or feeling as in the self, or the self as in feeling, or perception to be the self, or the self as possessing perception, or perception as in the self, or the self as in perception, or fabrications to be the self, or the self as possessing fabrications, or fabrications as in the self, or the self as in fabrications, or consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness, nor does he have the [eternalist] view, ‘This self is the same as the cosmos. This I will be after death, constant, lasting, eternal, not subject to change,’ nor does he have the [annihilationist] view, ‘I would not be, neither would there be what is mine. I will not be, neither will there be what is mine,’ but he is doubtful & uncertain, having come to no conclusion with regard to the true Dhamma. That doubt, uncertainty, & coming-to-no-conclusion is a fabrication. [Italics added.]

“What is the cause, what is the origination, what is the birth, what is the coming-into-existence of that fabrication? To an ordinary uninstructed person, touched by that which is felt born of contact with ignorance, craving arises. That fabrication is born of that. And that fabrication is inconstant, fabricated, dependently co-arisen. That craving…. That feeling…. That contact…. That ignorance is inconstant, fabricated, dependently co-arisen. It’s by knowing & seeing in this way that one without delay puts an end to fermentations.” — SN 22:81

Inconceivables: Kamma & the World

§ 154. “There are these four inconceivables that are not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about them. Which four?

“The Buddha-range of the Buddhas [i.e., the range of powers a Buddha develops as a result of becoming a Buddha] is an inconceivable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.

“The jhāna-range of a person in jhāna [i.e., the range of powers that one may obtain while absorbed in jhāna]….

“The [precise working out of the] results of kamma….

“Conjecture about [the origin, extent, etc., of] the cosmos is an inconceivable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.

“These are the four inconceivables that are not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about them.” — AN 4:77

§ 155. “From an inconceivable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. What do you think, monks? Which is greater, the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time—crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing—or the water in the four great oceans?”

“As we understand the Dhamma taught to us by the Blessed One, this is the greater: the tears we have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time—crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing—not the water in the four great oceans.”

“Excellent, monks. Excellent. It is excellent that you thus understand the Dhamma taught by me.

“This is the greater: the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time—crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing—not the water in the four great oceans.

“Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a mother. The tears you have shed over the death of a mother while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time—crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing—are greater than the water in the four great oceans.

“Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a father… the death of a brother… the death of a sister… the death of a son… the death of a daughter… loss with regard to relatives… loss with regard to wealth… loss with regard to disease. The tears you have shed over loss with regard to disease while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time—crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing—are greater than the water in the four great oceans.

“Why is that? From an inconceivable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries—enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released.” — SN 15:3

§ 156. Then two brahman cosmologists went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, they sat to one side. As they were sitting there, they said to the Blessed One, “Master Gotama, Pūraṇa Kassapa—all-knowing, all-seeing—claims exhaustive knowledge & vision: ‘Whether I am standing or walking, awake or asleep, continual, unflagging knowledge & vision is established within me.’ He says, ‘I dwell with infinite knowledge, knowing & seeing the finite cosmos.’ Yet Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta—all-knowing, all-seeing—also claims exhaustive knowledge & vision: ‘Whether I am standing or walking, awake or asleep, continual, unflagging knowledge & vision is established within me.’ He says, ‘I dwell with infinite knowledge, knowing & seeing the infinite cosmos.’ Of these two speakers of knowledge, these two who contradict each other, which is telling the truth, and which is lying?”

“Enough, brahmans. Put this question aside. I will teach you the Dhamma. Listen and pay close attention. I will speak.”

“Yes, sir,” the brahmans responded to the Blessed One, and the Blessed One said, “Suppose that there were four men standing at the four directions, endowed with supreme speed & stride. Like that of a strong archer—well-trained, a practiced hand, a practiced sharp-shooter—shooting a light arrow across the shadow of a palm tree: Such would be the speed with which they were endowed. As far as the east sea is from the west: Such would be the stride with which they were endowed. Then the man standing at the eastern direction would say, ‘I, by walking, will reach the end of the cosmos.’ He—with a one-hundred year life, a one-hundred year span—would spend one hundred years traveling—apart from the time spent on eating, drinking, chewing & tasting, urinating & defecating, and sleeping to fight off weariness—but without reaching the end of the cosmos he would die along the way. [Similarly with the men standing at the western, southern, & northern directions.] Why is that? I tell you, it isn’t through that sort of traveling that the end of the cosmos is known, seen, or reached. But at the same time, I tell you that there is no making an end of suffering & stress without reaching the end of the cosmos.

“These five strings of sensuality are, in the Vinaya of the noble ones, called the cosmos. Which five? Forms cognizable via the eye—agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing; sounds cognizable via the ear… aromas cognizable via the nose… flavors cognizable via the tongue… tactile sensations cognizable via the body—agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing. These are the five strings of sensuality that, in the Vinaya of the noble ones, are called the cosmos.

“There is the case where a monk—quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities—enters & remains in the first jhāna: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. This is called a monk who, coming to the end of the cosmos, remains at the end of the cosmos. Others say of him, ‘He is encompassed in the cosmos; he has not escaped from the cosmos.’ And I too say of him, ‘He is encompassed in the cosmos; he has not escaped from the cosmos.’

[Similarly with the second, third, & fourth jhānas, and with the attainment of the dimensions of the infinitude of space, the infinitude of consciousness, nothingness, and neither perception nor non-perception [§150].]

“Furthermore, with the complete transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, he enters & remains in the cessation of perception & feeling. And, having seen [that] with discernment, his fermentations are completely ended. This is called a monk who, coming to the end of the cosmos, remains at the end of the cosmos, having crossed over attachment in the cosmos.” — AN 9:38 [See also §79]

§ 157. On one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Sāvatthī, in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery. Then Rohitassa, the son of a deva, in the far extreme of the night, his extreme radiance lighting up the entirety of Jeta’s Grove, went to the Blessed One. On arrival, having bowed down to the Blessed One, he stood to one side. As he was standing there he said to the Blessed One: “Is it possible, lord, by traveling, to know or see or reach a far end of the cosmos where one doesn’t take birth, age, die, pass away or reappear?”

“I tell you, friend, that it isn’t possible by traveling to know or see or reach a far end of the cosmos where one doesn’t take birth, age, die, pass away, or reappear.”

“How amazing, lord! How astounding!—how well that has been said by the Blessed One: ‘I tell you, friend, that it isn’t possible by traveling to know or see or reach a far end of the cosmos where one doesn’t take birth, age, die, pass away, or reappear.’ Once I was a seer named Rohitassa, a student of Bhoja, a powerful sky-walker. My speed was as fast as that of a strong archer—well-trained, a practiced hand, a practiced sharp-shooter—shooting a light arrow across the shadow of a palm tree. My stride stretched as far as the east sea is from the west. To me, endowed with such speed, such a stride, there came the desire: ‘I will go traveling to the end of the cosmos.’ I—with a one-hundred year life, a one-hundred year span—spent one hundred years traveling—apart from the time spent on eating, drinking, chewing & tasting, urinating & defecating, and sleeping to fight off weariness—but without reaching the end of the cosmos I died along the way. So it’s amazing, lord; it’s astounding—how well that has been said by the Blessed One: ‘I tell you, friend, that it isn’t possible by traveling to know or see or reach a far end of the cosmos where one doesn’t take birth, age, die, pass away, or reappear.’”

[When this was said, the Blessed One responded:] “I tell you, friend, that it isn’t possible by traveling to know or see or reach a far end of the cosmos where one doesn’t take birth, age, die, pass away, or reappear. But at the same time, I tell you that there is no making an end of suffering & stress without reaching the end of the cosmos. Yet it is just within this fathom-long body, with its perception & intellect, that I declare that there is the cosmos, the origination of the cosmos, the cessation of the cosmos, and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the cosmos.” — AN 4:45

§ 158. [Ven. Ānanda:] “Concerning the brief statement made by the Blessed One, after which he entered his dwelling without expounding the detailed meaning—i.e., ‘I don’t say that the end of the cosmos is to be known, seen, & reached by traveling. But neither do I say that there is a making an end of stress without having reached the end of the cosmos’—I understand the detailed meaning of this statement to be this:

“That by means of which one has a perception of cosmos, a concept of cosmos with regard to the cosmos: That, in the Vinaya of a noble one, is called the ‘cosmos.’ Now, by means of what does one have a perception of cosmos, a concept of cosmos with regard to the cosmos? By means of the eye… the ear… the nose… the tongue… the body… the intellect one has a perception of cosmos, a concept of cosmos with regard to the cosmos.” — SN 35:116

§ 159. Then a certain monk went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One: “‘The cosmos, the cosmos [loka],’ it is said. In what respect does the word ‘cosmos’ apply?

“Insofar as it disintegrates [lujjati], monk, it is called the ‘cosmos.’ Now, what disintegrates? The eye disintegrates. Forms disintegrate. Consciousness at the eye disintegrates. Contact at the eye disintegrates. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the eye—experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain—that too disintegrates.

“The ear disintegrates. Sounds disintegrate….

“The nose disintegrates. Aromas disintegrate….

“The tongue disintegrates. Tastes disintegrate….

“The body disintegrates. Tactile sensations disintegrate….

“The intellect disintegrates. Ideas disintegrate. Consciousness at the intellect consciousness disintegrates. Contact at the intellect disintegrates. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the intellect—experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain—that too disintegrates.

“Insofar as it disintegrates, it is called the ‘cosmos.’” — SN 35:82

§ 160. At Sāvatthī. There the Blessed One addressed the monks: “I will teach you the origination of the cosmos & the ending of the cosmos. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak.”

“As you say, lord,” the monks responded to the Blessed One.

The Blessed One said, “And what is the origination of the cosmos? Dependent on the eye & forms there arises eye-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. This is the origination of the cosmos.

“Dependent on the ear & sounds there arises ear-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact…. Dependent on the nose & aromas there arises nose-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact…. Dependent on the tongue & flavors there arises tongue-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact…. Dependent on the body & tactile sensations there arises body-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact…. Dependent on the intellect & qualities there arises intellect-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. This is the origination of the cosmos.

“And what is the ending of the cosmos? Dependent on the eye & forms there arises eye-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. Now, from the remainderless cessation & fading away of that very craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering. This is the ending of the cosmos.

“Dependent on the ear & sounds there arises ear-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact…. Dependent on the nose & aromas there arises nose-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact…. Dependent on the tongue & flavors there arises tongue-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact…. Dependent on the body & tactile sensations there arises body-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact…. Dependent on the intellect & qualities there arises intellect-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. Now, from the remainderless cessation & fading away of that very craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering. This is the ending of the cosmos.” — SN 12:44

§ 161. “Then the monk attained to such a state of concentration that the way leading to the gods of Brahmā’s retinue appeared in his centered mind. So he approached the gods of Brahmā’s retinue and, on arrival, asked them, ‘Friends, where do these four great elements—the earth property, the liquid property, the fire property, and the wind property—cease without remainder?’

“When this was said, the gods of Brahmā’s retinue said to the monk, ‘We also don’t know where the four great elements—the earth property, the liquid property, the fire property, and the wind property—cease without remainder. But there is Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Conqueror Unconquered, the All-Seeing, Wielder of Power, Sovereign Lord, Maker, Creator, Chief, Appointer and Ruler, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be. He is higher and more sublime than we. He should know where the four great elements… cease without remainder.’

“‘But where, friends, is the Great Brahmā now?’

“‘Monk, we also don’t know where Brahmā is or in what way Brahmā is. But when signs appear, light shines forth, and a radiance appears, Brahmā will appear. For these are the portents of Brahmā’s appearance: light shines forth and a radiance appears.’

“Then it was not long before the Great Brahmā appeared.

“So the monk approached the Great Brahmā and, on arrival, said, ‘Friend, where do these four great elements—the earth property, the liquid property, the fire property, and the wind property—cease without remainder?’

“When this was said, the Great Brahmā said to the monk, ‘I, monk, am Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Conqueror Unconquered, the All-Seeing, Wielder of Power, Sovereign Lord, Maker, Creator, Chief, Appointer and Ruler, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be.’

“A second time, the monk said to the Great Brahmā, ‘Friend, I didn’t ask you if you were Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Conqueror Unconquered, the All-Seeing, Wielder of Power, Sovereign Lord, Maker, Creator, Chief, Appointer and Ruler, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be. I asked you where these four great elements… cease without remainder.’

“A second time, the Great Brahmā said to the monk, ‘I, monk, am Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Conqueror Unconquered, the All-Seeing, Wielder of Power, Sovereign Lord, Maker, Creator, Chief, Appointer and Ruler, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be.’

“A third time, the monk said to the Great Brahmā, ‘Friend, I didn’t ask you if you were Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Conqueror Unconquered, the All-Seeing, Wielder of Power, Sovereign Lord, Maker, Creator, Chief, Appointer and Ruler, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be. I asked you where these four great elements… cease without remainder.’

“Then the Great Brahmā, taking the monk by the arm and leading him off to one side, said to him, ‘These gods of Brahmā’s retinue believe, “There is nothing that the Great Brahmā does not know. There is nothing that the Great Brahmā does not see. There is nothing of which the Great Brahmā is unaware. There is nothing that the Great Brahmā has not realized.” That is why I did not say in their presence that I too don’t know where the four great elements… cease without remainder. So you have acted wrongly, acted incorrectly, in bypassing the Blessed One in search of an answer to this question elsewhere. Go right back to the Blessed One and, on arrival, ask him this question. However he answers it, you should take it to heart.’

“Then—just as a strong man might extend his flexed arm or flex his extended arm—the monk disappeared from the Brahmā world and immediately appeared in front of me. Having bowed down to me, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to me, ‘Venerable sir, where do these four great elements—the earth property, the liquid property, the fire property, and the wind property—cease without remainder?’

“When this was said, I said to him, ‘Once, monk, some sea-faring merchants took a shore-sighting bird and set sail in their ship. When they could not see the shore, they released the shore-sighting bird. It flew to the east, south, west, north, straight up, and to all the intermediate points of the compass. If it saw the shore in any direction, it flew there. If it did not see the shore in any direction, it returned right back to the ship. In the same way, monk, having gone as far as the Brahmā world in search of an answer to your question, you have come right back to my presence.

“‘Your question should not be phrased in this way: ‘Where do these four great elements—the earth property, the liquid property, the fire property, and the wind property—cease without remainder?’ Instead, it should be phrased like this:

“‘Where do water, earth, fire, & wind

have no footing?

Where are  long & short,

coarse & fine,

fair & foul,

name & form

brought to an end?

“‘And the answer to that is:

“‘Consciousness without surface,1

without end,

luminous all around:

Here water, earth, fire, & wind

have no footing.

Here

long & short

coarse & fine

fair & foul

name & form

are all brought to an end.

With the cessation of consciousness

each is here brought to an end.’” — DN 11

NOTE: 1. For a discussion of this term, see §205, note 4.

The Buddha’s Silence

§ 162. Then Vacchagotta the wanderer went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat down to one side. As he was sitting there, he asked the Blessed One: “Now then, Venerable Gotama, is there a self?”

When this was said, the Blessed One was silent.

“Then is there no self?”

A second time, the Blessed One was silent.

Then Vacchagotta the wanderer got up from his seat and left.

Then, not long after Vacchagotta the wanderer had left, Ven. Ānanda said to the Blessed One, “Why, lord, did the Blessed One not answer when asked a question by Vacchagotta the wanderer?”

“Ānanda, if I—being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self—were to answer that there is a self, that would be in company with those contemplatives & brahmans who are exponents of eternalism [see Appendix Two]. If I—being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self—were to answer that there is no self, that would be in company with those contemplatives & brahmans who are exponents of annihilationism. If I—being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self—were to answer that there is a self, would that be in keeping with the arising of knowledge that all phenomena are not-self?”

“No, lord.”

“And if I—being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self—were to answer that there is no self, the bewildered Vacchagotta would become even more bewildered: ‘Does the self I used to have now not exist?’” — SN 44:10

§ 163. Then Uttiya the wanderer went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One,

“Master Gotama, is it the case that ‘The cosmos is eternal: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless’?”

“Uttiya, I haven’t declared that ‘The cosmos is eternal: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless.’”

“Very well then, Master Gotama, is it the case that: ‘The cosmos is not eternal: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless’?”

“Uttiya, I haven’t declared that ‘The cosmos is not eternal: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless.’”

“Very well then, Master Gotama, is it the case that ‘The cosmos is finite… ’ … ‘The cosmos is infinite… ’ … ‘The soul is the same thing as the body… ’ … ‘The soul is one thing and the body another… ’ … ‘After death a Tathāgata exists… ’ … ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist… ’ … ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist… ’ … ‘After death a Tathāgata neither does nor does not exist. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless’?”

“Uttiya, I haven’t declared that ‘After death a Tathāgata neither does nor does not exist: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless.’”

“But, Master Gotama, on being asked, ‘Is it the case that “The cosmos is eternal: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless”?’ you inform me, ‘Uttiya, I haven’t declared that “The cosmos is eternal: Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless.”’ On being asked, ‘Is it the case that “The cosmos is not eternal… ” … “The cosmos is finite… ” … “The cosmos is infinite… ” … “The soul is the same thing as the body… ” … “The soul is one thing and the body another… ” … “After death a Tathāgata exists… ” … “After death a Tathāgata does not exist… ” … “After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist… ” … “After death a Tathāgata neither does nor does not exist. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless”?’ you inform me, ‘Uttiya, I haven’t declared that “After death a Tathāgata neither does nor does not exist. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless.”’ Now is there anything you have declared?”

“Uttiya, having directly known it, I teach the Dhamma to my disciples for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow & lamentation, for the disappearance of pain & distress, for the attainment of the right method, & for the realization of unbinding.”

“And, Master Gotama, when having directly known it, you teach the Dhamma to your disciples for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow & lamentation, for the disappearance of pain & distress, for the attainment of the right method, & for the realization of unbinding, will all the cosmos be led (to release), or a half of it, or a third?”

When this was said, the Blessed One was silent.

Then the thought occurred to Ven. Ānanda: “Don’t let Uttiya the wanderer acquire the evil view-standpoint that, ‘When I asked him an all-encompassing question, Gotama the contemplative faltered and didn’t reply. Perhaps he was unable to.’ That would be for his long-term harm & suffering.” So he said to Uttiya, “Very well then, my friend, I will give you an analogy, for there are cases where it is through the use of analogy that observant people can understand the meaning of what is being said.

“Suppose that there were a royal frontier city with strong ramparts, strong walls & arches, and a single gate. In it would be a wise, competent, & knowledgeable gatekeeper to keep out those he didn’t know and to let in those he did. Walking along the path encircling the city, he wouldn’t see a crack or an opening in the walls big enough for even a cat to slip through. Although he wouldn’t know that ‘So-and-so many creatures enter or leave the city,’ he would know this: ‘Whatever large creatures enter or leave the city all enter or leave it through this gate.’

“In the same way, the Tathāgata isn’t concerned with whether all the cosmos or half of it or a third of it will be led (to release) by means of that (Dhamma). But he does know this: ‘All those who have been led, are being led, or will be led (to release) from the cosmos have done so, are doing so, or will do so after having abandoned the five hindrances—those defilements of awareness that weaken discernment—having well-established their minds in the four establishings of mindfulness, and having developed, as they have come to be, the seven factors for awakening. When you asked the Blessed One this question, you had already asked it in another way. That’s why he didn’t respond.” — AN 10:95

Questions of Inappropriate Attention

§ 164. “Monks, I will teach you dependent co-arising & dependently co-arisen phenomena. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak….

“Now, what is dependent co-arising? From birth as a requisite condition comes aging-&-death. Whether or not there is the arising of Tathāgatas, this property stands—this regularity of the Dhamma, this orderliness of the Dhamma, this this/that conditionality. The Tathāgata directly awakens to that, breaks through to that. Directly awakening & breaking through to that, he declares it, teaches it, describes it, sets it forth. He reveals it, explains it, makes it plain, & says, ‘Look.’ From birth as a requisite condition comes aging-&-death.

[Similarly down through the causal stream to:]

“From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications. Whether or not there is the arising of Tathāgatas, this property stands—this regularity of the Dhamma, this orderliness of the Dhamma, this this/that conditionality. The Tathāgata directly awakens to that, breaks through to that. Directly awakening & breaking through to that, he declares it, teaches it, describes it, sets it forth. He reveals it, explains it, makes it plain, & says, ‘Look.’ From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications. What’s there in this way is a reality, not an unreality, not other than what it seems, conditioned by this/that. This is called dependent co-arising.

“And what are dependently co-arisen phenomena? Aging-&-death is a dependently co-arisen phenomenon: inconstant, compounded, dependently co-arisen, subject to ending, subject to passing away, subject to fading, subject to cessation.

[Similarly down through the causal stream to:]

“Ignorance is a dependently co-arisen phenomenon: inconstant, compounded, dependently co-arisen, subject to ending, subject to passing away, subject to fading, subject to cessation. These are called dependently co-arisen phenomena.

“When a disciple of the noble ones has seen well with right discernment this dependent co-arising & these dependently co-arisen phenomena as they have come to be, it is not possible that he would run after the past, thinking, ‘Was I in the past? Was I not in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? Having been what, what was I in the past?’ or that he would run after the future, thinking, ‘Shall I be in the future? Shall I not be in the future? What shall I be in the future? How shall I be in the future? Having been what, what shall I be in the future?’ or that he would be inwardly perplexed about the immediate present, thinking, ‘Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? Where has this being come from? Where is it bound?’

“Such a thing is not possible. Why is that? Because the disciple of the noble ones has seen well with right discernment this dependent co-arising & these dependently co-arisen phenomena as they have come to be.” — SN 12:20

§ 165. “Good, monks. Just as you say that, so do I: When this isn’t, that isn’t. From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that. In other words, from the cessation of ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications. From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness. From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form. From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/ sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering.

“Now, knowing thus and seeing thus, would you run after the past, thinking, ‘Were we in the past? Were we not in the past? What were we in the past? How were we in the past? Having been what, what were we in the past’?”

“No, lord.”

“Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you run after the future, thinking, ‘Shall we be in the future? Shall we not be in the future? What shall we be in the future? How shall we be in the future? Having been what, what shall we be in the future’?”

“No, lord.”

“Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you be inwardly perplexed about the immediate present, thinking, ‘Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? Where has this being come from? Where is it bound’?”

“No, lord.”

“Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you say, ‘The Teacher is our respected mentor. We speak thus out of respect for the Teacher’?”

“No, lord.”

“Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you say, ‘The Contemplative says this. We speak thus in line with the Contemplative’s words’?”

“No, lord.”

“Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you dedicate yourselves to another teacher?”

“No, lord.”

“Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you return to the observances, grand ceremonies, & auspicious rites of common contemplatives & brahmans as having any essence?”

“No, lord.”

“Is it the case that you speak simply in line with what you have known, seen, & understood for yourselves?”

“Yes, lord.”

“Good, monks. You have been guided by me in this Dhamma which is to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the observant for themselves. For it has been said, ‘This Dhamma is to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be by the observant for themselves,’ and it was in reference to this that it was said.” — MN 38

Dependent Co-arising: Extremes Avoided

§ 166. [Kassapa the cloth-less ascetic:] “Now, then, Master Gotama, is pain self-made?”

“Don’t say that, Kassapa,” the Blessed One said.

“Then is pain other-made?”

“Don’t say that, Kassapa,” the Blessed One said.

“Then is pain self-made & other-made?”

“Don’t say that, Kassapa,” the Blessed One said.

“Then is pain, without self-making or other-making, spontaneously arisen?”

“Don’t say that, Kassapa,” the Blessed One said.

“Then is there no pain?”

“It’s not the case that there is no pain, Kassapa. There is pain.”

“Then in that case, Master Gotama doesn’t know, doesn’t see pain.”

“It’s not the case that I don’t know, don’t see pain, Kassapa. I do know pain. I do see pain.”…

“Then tell me about pain, Master Gotama. Teach me about pain.”

“Kassapa, the statement, ‘With the one who acts being the same as the one who experiences, existing from the beginning, pleasure & pain are self-made’: This circles around eternalism [see Appendix Two]. And the statement, ‘With the one who acts being one thing, and the one who experiences being another, existing as the one struck by the feeling’: This circles around annihilationism. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathāgata teaches the Dhamma via the middle: From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications…. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.

“Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications…. From the cessation of birth, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering.” — SN 12:17

§ 167. As he was sitting there, Timbarukkha the wanderer said to the Blessed One, “Now, then, Master Gotama, are pleasure & pain self-made?”

“Don’t say that, Timbarukkha,” the Blessed One said.

“Then are pleasure & pain other-made?”

“Don’t say that, Timbarukkha,” the Blessed One said.

“Then are pleasure & pain self-made & other-made?”

“Don’t say that, Timbarukkha,” the Blessed One said.

“Then are pleasure & pain, without self-making or other-making, spontaneously arisen?”

“Don’t say that, Timbarukkha,” the Blessed One said.

“Then is there no pleasure & pain?”

“It’s not the case that there is no pleasure & pain, Timbarukkha. There is pleasure & pain.”

“Then in that case, Master Gotama doesn’t know, doesn’t see, pleasure & pain.”

“It’s not the case that I don’t know, don’t see, pleasure & pain, Timbarukkha. I do know pleasure & pain. I do see pleasure & pain.”…

“Then tell me about pleasure & pain, Master Gotama. Teach me about pleasure & pain.”

“Timbarukkha, I don’t say that—with the feeling being the same as the one who feels, existing from the beginning—pleasure & pain are self-made. And I don’t say that—with feeling being one thing and the one who feels another, existing as the one struck by the feeling—pleasure & pain are other-made. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathāgata teaches the Dhamma via the middle: From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications…. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.

“Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications…. From the cessation of birth, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering.” — SN 12:18

§ 168. “Whatever contemplatives & brahmans—teachers of kamma who declare that pleasure & pain are self-made: Even that is dependent on contact. Whatever contemplatives & brahmans—teachers of kamma who declare that pleasure & pain are other-made… self-made & other-made… without self-making or other-making, spontaneously arisen: Even that is from contact as a requisite condition.

“That any contemplatives & brahmans—teachers of kamma who declare that pleasure & pain are self-made—would be sensitive to pleasure & pain other than through contact: That isn’t possible. That any contemplatives & brahmans—teachers of kamma who declare that pleasure & pain are other-made… self-made & other-made… without self-making or other-making, spontaneously arisen—would be sensitive to pleasure & pain other than through contact: That isn’t possible. [Compare the final analysis in DN 1, §184]

“When there is a body, pleasure & pain arise internally with bodily intention as the cause; or when there is speech, pleasure & pain arise internally with verbal intention as the cause; or when there is intellect, pleasure & pain arise internally with intellectual intention as the cause.

“From ignorance as a requisite condition, then either of one’s own accord one fabricates the bodily fabrication on account of which that pleasure & pain arise internally, or because of others one fabricates the bodily fabrication on account of which that pleasure & pain arise internally. Either alert one fabricates the bodily fabrication on account of which that pleasure & pain arise internally, or unalert one fabricates the bodily fabrication on account of which that pleasure & pain arise internally. [Similarly with verbal & intellectual fabrications.]

“Now, ignorance is bound up in these things. From the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance, there no longer exists (the sense of) the body on account of which that pleasure & pain internally arise. There no longer exists the speech… the intellect on account of which that pleasure & pain internally arise. There no longer exists the field, the site, the dimension, or the issue on account of which that pleasure & pain internally arise.” — SN 12:25

§ 169. A certain brahman said to the Blessed One: “Now, then, Master Gotama: Is the one who acts the same one who experiences [the results of the act]?”

“[To say,] brahman, ‘The one who acts is the same one who experiences,’ is one extreme.”

“Then, Master Gotama, is the one who acts someone other than the one who experiences?”

“[To say,] brahman, ‘The one who acts is someone other than the one who experiences,’ is the second extreme. Avoiding both of these extremes, the Tathāgata teaches the Dhamma via the middle: From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications…. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.

“Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications…. From the cessation of birth, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering.” — SN 12:46

§ 170. [Ven. MahāKoṭṭhita:] “Now tell me, Sāriputta my friend: Is aging-&-death self-made or other-made or both self-made & other-made, or—without self-making or other-making—spontaneously arisen?”

[Ven. Sāriputta:] “It’s not the case, Koṭṭhita my friend, that aging-&-death is self-made, that it is other-made, that it is both self-made & other-made, or that—without self-making or other-making—it’s spontaneously arisen. However, from birth as a requisite condition comes aging-&-death.”

“Now tell me, friend Sāriputta: Is birth…. Is becoming…. Is clinging/sustenance… Is craving…. Is feeling…. Is contact…. Are the six sense media self-made or other-made or both self-made & other-made, or—without self-making or other-making—spontaneously arisen?”

“It’s not the case, Koṭṭhita my friend, that the six sense media are self-made, that they are other-made, that they are both self-made & other-made, or that—without self-making or other-making—they’re spontaneously arisen. However, from name-&-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media.”

“Now tell me, friend Sāriputta: Is name-&-form self-made or other-made or both self-made & other-made, or—without self-making or other-making— spontaneously arisen?”

“It’s not the case, Koṭṭhita my friend, that name-&-form is self-made, that it is other-made, that it is both self-made & other-made, or that—without self-making or other-making—it’s spontaneously arisen. However, from consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form.”

“Now tell me, friend Sāriputta: Is consciousness self-made or other-made or both self-made & other-made, or—without self-making or other-making—spontaneously arisen?”

“It’s not the case, Koṭṭhita my friend, that consciousness is self-made, that it is other-made, that it is both self-made & other-made, or that—without self-making or other-making—it’s spontaneously arisen. However, from name-&-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness.”

“Just now, friend Sāriputta, I understood your statement as, ‘It’s not the case, Koṭṭhita my friend, that name-&-form is self-made, that it is other-made, that it is both self-made & other-made, or that—without self-making or other-making—it’s spontaneously arisen. However, from consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form.’ But then I understood your statement as, ‘It’s not the case, Koṭṭhita my friend, that consciousness is self-made, that it is other-made, that it is both self-made & other-made, or that—without self-making or other-making—it’s spontaneously arisen. However, from name-&-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness.’ Now how is the meaning of these statements to be understood?”

Ven. Sāriputta: “Very well then, Koṭṭhita my friend, I will give you an analogy; for there are cases where it is through the use of an analogy that observant people can understand the meaning of what is being said. It is as if two sheaves of reeds were to stand leaning against one another. In the same way, from name-&-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness, from consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form. From name-&-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media. From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of suffering & stress.

“If one were to pull away one of those sheaves of reeds, the other would fall; if one were to pull away the other, the first one would fall. In the same way, from the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of consciousness, from the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form. From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of suffering & stress.” — SN 12:67

§ 171. Then a brahman cosmologist went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One, “Now, then, Master Gotama, does everything exist?”

“‘Everything exists’ is the senior form of cosmology, brahman.”

“Then, Master Gotama, does everything not exist?”

“‘Everything does not exist’ is the second form of cosmology, brahman.”

“Then is everything a Oneness?”

“‘Everything is a Oneness’ is the third form of cosmology, brahman.”

“Then is everything a plurality?”

“‘Everything is a plurality is the fourth form of cosmology, brahman. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathāgata teaches the Dhamma via the middle: From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications…. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.

“Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications…. From the cessation of birth, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering.” — SN 12:48

§ 172. Then Ven. Kaccāyana Gotta approached the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One: “Lord, ‘Right view, right view,’ it is said. To what extent is there right view?”

“By & large, Kaccāyana, 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 [cosmos] as it has come to be with right discernment, ‘non-existence’ with reference to the world doesn’t occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it has come to be with right discernment, ‘existence’ with reference to the world doesn’t occur to one.

“By & large, Kaccāyana, 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 doubt or uncertainty 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, Kaccāyana, that there is right view.

“‘Everything exists’: That is one extreme. ‘Everything doesn’t exist’: That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathāgata teaches the Dhamma via the middle: From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications….” — SN 12:15

§ 173. Then Bāhiya, hurriedly leaving Jeta’s Grove and entering Sāvatthī, saw the Blessed One going for alms in Sāvatthī—serene & inspiring serene confidence, calming, his senses at peace, his mind at peace, having attained the utmost tranquility & poise, tamed, guarded, his senses restrained, a Great One [nāga]. Seeing him, he approached the Blessed One and, on reaching him, threw himself down, with his head at the Blessed One’s feet, and said, “Teach me the Dhamma, O Blessed One! Teach me the Dhamma, O One Well-Gone, that will be for my long-term benefit & happiness.”

When this was said, the Blessed One said to him, “This is not the time, Bāhiya. We have entered the town for alms.”

A second time, Bāhiya said to the Blessed One: “But it is hard to know for sure what dangers there may be for the Blessed One’s life, or what dangers there may be for mine. Teach me the Dhamma, O Blessed One! Teach me the Dhamma, O One Well-Gone, that will be for my long-term benefit & happiness.”

A second time, the Blessed One said to him, “This is not the time, Bāhiya. We have entered the town for alms.”

A third time, Bāhiya said to the Blessed One: “But it is hard to know for sure what dangers there may be for the Blessed One’s life, or what dangers there may be for mine. Teach me the Dhamma, O Blessed One! Teach me the Dhamma, O One Well-Gone, that will be for my long-term benefit & happiness.”

“Then, Bāhiya, you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bāhiya, there is no you in connection with that. When there is no you in connection with that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress.”

Through hearing this brief explanation of the Dhamma from the Blessed One, the mind of Bāhiya of the Bark-cloth right then and there was released from fermentations through lack of clinging/sustenance. Having exhorted Bāhiya of the Bark-cloth with this brief explanation of the Dhamma, the Blessed One left. — Ud 1:10

Dependent Co-arising: Invalid Questions

§ 174. “Monks, there are these four nutriments for the maintenance of beings who have come into being or for the support of those in search of a place to be born. Which four? Physical food, gross or refined; contact as the second; intellectual intention the third; and consciousness the fourth. These are the four nutriments for the maintenance of beings who have come into being or for the support of those in search of a place to be born.”

When this was said, Ven. Moḷiya Phagguna said to the Blessed One, “Lord, who feeds on the consciousness-nutriment?“

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said. “I don’t say ‘feeds.’ If I were to say ‘feeds,’ then ‘Who feeds on the consciousness-nutriment?’ would be a valid question. But I don’t say that. When I don’t say that, the valid question is, ‘Consciousness-nutriment for what?’ And the valid answer is, ‘Consciousness-nutriment for the production of future coming-into-being. When that has come into being and exists, then the six sense media. From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact.’”

“Lord, who makes contact?”

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said. “I don’t say ‘makes contact.’ If I were to say ‘makes contact,’ then ‘Who makes contact?’ would be a valid question. But I don’t say that. When I don’t say that, the valid question is, ‘From what as a requisite condition comes contact?’ And the valid answer is, ‘From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling.’”

“Lord, who feels?”

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said. “I don’t say ‘feels.’ If I were to say ‘feels,’ then ‘Who feels?’ would be a valid question. But I don’t say that. When I don’t say that, the valid question is, ‘From what as a requisite condition comes feeling?’ And the valid answer is, ‘From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving.’”

“Lord, who craves?”

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said. “I don’t say ‘craves.’ If I were to say ‘craves,’ then ‘Who craves?’ would be a valid question. But I don’t say that. When I don’t say that, the valid question is, ‘From what as a requisite condition comes craving?’ And the valid answer is, ‘From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance.’”

“Lord, who clings?”

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said. “I don’t say ‘clings.’ If I were to say ‘clings,’ then ‘Who clings?’ would be a valid question. But I don’t say that. When I don’t say that, the valid question is, ‘From what as a requisite condition comes clinging?’ And the valid answer is, ‘From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging. From clinging as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.1

“Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of the six sense media2 comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering.” — SN 12:12

NOTE: 1. An alternative translation for this exchange—and one that, in light of the topic of nutriment, might actually be more apt—is:

“Lord, who takes sustenance?”

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said. “I don’t say ‘takes sustenance.’ If I were to say ‘takes sustenance,’ then ‘Who takes sustenance?’ would be a valid question. But I don’t say that. When I don’t say that, the valid question is, ‘From what as a requisite condition comes sustenance?’ And the valid answer is, ‘From craving as a requisite condition comes sustenance. From sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.”

2. This refers to the moment of awakening, when the six sense media are transcended. See §198 and §208, and the discussion of “consciousness without surface” in The Mind Like Fire Unbound, chapter 1.

§ 175. The Blessed One said, “From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications…. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.”

When this was said, a certain monk said to the Blessed One: “Which is the aging-&-death, lord, and whose is the aging-&-death?”

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said. “If one were to ask, ‘Which is the aging-&-death, and whose is the aging-&-death?’ and if one were to say, ‘Aging-&-death is one thing, and the aging-&-death is something/someone else’s,’ both of them would have the same meaning, even though their words would differ. When there is the view that the soul is the same as the body, there is no leading the holy life. And when there is the view that the soul is one thing and the body another, there is no leading the holy life. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathāgata teaches the Dhamma via the middle: From birth as a requisite condition comes aging-&-death.”

“Which is the birth, lord, and whose is the birth?”

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said…. “From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth.”

“Which is the becoming, lord, and whose is the becoming?”

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said…. “From clinging as a requisite condition comes becoming.”

“Which is the clinging, lord, and whose is the clinging?”

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said…. “From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging.”

“Which is the craving, lord, and whose is the craving?”

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said…. “From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving.”

“Which is the feeling, lord, and whose is the feeling?”

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said…. “From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling.”

“Which is the contact, lord, and whose is the contact?”

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said…. “From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact.”

“Which are the six sense media, lord, and whose are the six sense media?”

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said…. “From name-&-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media.”

“Which is the name-&-form, lord, and whose is the name-&-form?”

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said…. “From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form.”

“Which is the consciousness, lord, and whose is the consciousness?”

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said…. “From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness.”

“Which are the fabrications, lord, and whose are the fabrications?”

“Not a valid question,” the Blessed One said. “If one were to ask, ‘Which are the fabrications, and whose are the fabrications?’ and if one were to say, ‘Fabrications are one thing, and these fabrications are something/someone else’s,’ both of them would have the same meaning, even though their words would differ. When there is the view that the soul is the same as the body, there is no leading the holy life. And when there is the view that the soul is one thing and the body another, there is no leading the holy life. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathāgata teaches the Dhamma via the middle: From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications.

“Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance, every one of these writhings & wrigglings & wigglings—‘Which aging-&-death, and whose aging-&-death?’ or ‘Aging-&-death is one thing, and this aging-&-death is something/someone else’s’ or ‘The soul is the same as the body,’ or ‘The soul is one thing and the body another’—are abandoned, their root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising.

“From the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance, every one of these writhings & wrigglings & wigglings—‘Which is the birth…. Which is the becoming…. Which is the clinging…. Which is the craving…. Which is the feeling…. Which is the contact…. Which are the six sense media…. Which is the name-&-form…. Which is the consciousness…. Which are the fabrications, and whose are the fabrications?’ or ‘Fabrications are one thing, and these fabrications are something/someone else’s’ or ‘The soul is the same as the body,’ or ‘The soul is one thing and the body another’—are abandoned, their root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising.” — SN 12:35

The Ten Undeclared Issues

§ 176. Then, when it was evening, Ven. Māluṅkyaputta arose from seclusion and went to the Blessed One. On arrival, having bowed down, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One, “Lord, just now, as I was alone in seclusion, this train of thought arose in my awareness: ‘These view-standpoints that are undeclared, set aside, discarded by the Blessed One… I don’t approve, I don’t accept that the Blessed One has not declared them to me. I’ll go ask the Blessed One about this matter. If he declares to me that “The cosmos is eternal,” or “The cosmos is not eternal,” or “The cosmos is finite,” or “The cosmos is infinite,” or “The soul is the same thing as the body,” or “The soul is one thing and the body another,” or “After death a Tathāgata exists,” or “After death a Tathāgata does not exist,” or “After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist,” or that “After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist,” then I will live the holy life under him. If he doesn’t declare to me that “The cosmos is eternal,”… or that “After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist,” then I will renounce the training and return to the lower life.’

“Lord, if the Blessed One knows that ‘The cosmos is eternal,’ then may he declare to me that ‘The cosmos is eternal.’ If he knows that ‘The cosmos is not eternal,’ then may he declare to me that ‘The cosmos is not eternal.’ But if he doesn’t know or see whether the cosmos is eternal or not eternal, then, in one who is unknowing & unseeing, the straightforward thing is to admit, ‘I don’t know. I don’t see.’ …. If he doesn’t know or see whether ‘After death a Tathāgata exists… does not exist… both exists & does not exist… neither exists nor does not exist,’ then, in one who is unknowing & unseeing, the straightforward thing is to admit, ‘I don’t know. I don’t see.’”

“Māluṅkyaputta, did I ever say to you, ‘Come, Māluṅkyaputta, live the holy life under me, and I will declare to you that ‘The cosmos is eternal,’ or ‘The cosmos is not eternal,’ or ‘The cosmos is finite,’ or ‘The cosmos is infinite,’ or ‘The soul is the same thing as the body,’ or ‘The soul is one thing and the body another,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata exists,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist’?”

“No, lord.”

“And did you ever say to me, ‘Lord, I will live the holy life under the Blessed One and [in return] he will declare to me that ‘The cosmos is eternal,’ or ‘The cosmos is not eternal,’ or ‘The cosmos is finite,’ or ‘The cosmos is infinite,’ or ‘The soul is the same thing as the body,’ or ‘The soul is one thing and the body another,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata exists,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist’?”

“No, lord.”

“Then that being the case, foolish man, who are you to be claiming grievances?

“Māluṅkyaputta, if anyone were to say, ‘I won’t live the holy life under the Blessed One as long as he does not declare to me that “The cosmos is eternal,”… or that “After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist,”’ the man would die and those things would still remain undeclared by the Tathāgata.

“It’s just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a brahman, a merchant, or a worker.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me… until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short… until I know whether he was dark, ruddy-brown, or golden-colored… until I know his home village, town, or city… until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a long bow or a crossbow… until I know whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark… until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated… until I know whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird… until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, a langur, or a monkey.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.’ The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him.

“In the same way, if anyone were to say, ‘I won’t live the holy life under the Blessed One as long as he does not declare to me that “The cosmos is eternal,”… or that “After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist,”’ the man would die and those things would still remain undeclared by the Tathāgata.

“Māluṅkyaputta, it’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘The cosmos is eternal,’ there is the living of the holy life. And it’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘The cosmos is not eternal,’ there is the living of the holy life. When there is the view, ‘The cosmos is eternal,’ and when there is the view, ‘The cosmos is not eternal,’ there is still the birth, there is the aging, there is the death, there is the sorrow, lamentation, pain, despair, & distress whose destruction I make known right in the here & now.

“It’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘The cosmos is finite,’ there is the living of the holy life. And it’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘The cosmos is infinite,’ there is the living of the holy life. When there is the view, ‘The cosmos is finite,’ and when there is the view, ‘The cosmos is infinite,’ there is still the birth, there is the aging, there is the death, there is the sorrow, lamentation, pain, despair, & distress whose destruction I make known right in the here & now.

“It’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘The soul is the same thing as the body,’ there is the living of the holy life. And it’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘The soul is one thing and the body another,’ there is the living of the holy life. When there is the view, ‘The soul is the same thing as the body,’ and when there is the view, ‘The soul is one thing and the body another,’ there is still the birth, there is the aging, there is the death, there is the sorrow, lamentation, pain, despair, & distress whose destruction I make known right in the here & now.

“It’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘After death a Tathāgata exists,’ there is the living of the holy life. And it’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist,’ there is the living of the holy life. And it’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist,’ there is the living of the holy life. And it’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist’ there is the living of the holy life. When there is the view, ‘After death a Tathāgata exists’… ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist’… ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist’… ‘After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist,’ there is still the birth, there is the aging, there is the death, there is the sorrow, lamentation, pain, despair, & distress whose destruction I make known right in the here & now.

“So, Māluṅkyaputta, remember what is undeclared by me as undeclared, and what is declared by me as declared. And what is undeclared by me? ‘The cosmos is eternal,’ is undeclared by me. ‘The cosmos is not eternal,’ is undeclared by me. ‘The cosmos is finite’… ‘The cosmos is infinite’… ‘The soul is the same thing as the body’… ‘The soul is one thing and the body another’… ‘After death a Tathāgata exists’… ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist’… ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist’… ‘After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist,’ is undeclared by me.

“And why are they undeclared by me? Because they are not connected with the goal, are not fundamental to the holy life. They do not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calm, direct knowledge, self-awakening, unbinding. That’s why they are undeclared by me.

“And what is declared by me? ‘This is stress,’ is declared by me. ‘This is the origination of stress,’ is declared by me. ‘This is the cessation of stress,’ is declared by me. ‘This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress,’ is declared by me. And why are they declared by me? Because they are connected with the goal, are fundamental to the holy life. They lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calm, direct knowledge, self-awakening, unbinding. That’s why they are declared by me.

“So, Māluṅkyaputta, remember what is undeclared by me as undeclared, and what is declared by me as declared.”

That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, Ven. Māluṅkyaputta delighted in the Blessed One’s words. — MN 63

§ 177. On one occasion Ven. Ānanda was staying near Rājagaha, at Tapoda monastery. Then, as night was ending, he got up & went to the Tapoda Hot Springs to bathe his limbs. Having bathed his limbs and having gotten out of the springs, he stood wearing only his lower robe, drying his limbs. Kokanuda the wanderer, as night was ending, also got up & went to the Tapoda Hot Springs to bathe his limbs. He saw Ven. Ānanda from afar, and on seeing him said to him, “Who are you, my friend?”

“I am a monk, my friend.”

“Which kind of monk?”

“A son-of-the-Sakyan contemplative.”

“I would like to ask you about a certain point, if you would give me leave to pose a question.”

“Go ahead and ask. Having heard [your question], I’ll inform you.”

“How is it, my friend: ‘The cosmos is eternal. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless.’ Is this the sort of view you have?”

“No, my friend, I don’t have that sort of view.”

“Very well then: ‘The cosmos is not eternal. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless.’ Is this the sort of view you have?”

“No, my friend, I don’t have that sort of view.”

“Very well then: ‘The cosmos is finite… ’… ‘The cosmos is infinite… ’ … ‘The soul is the same thing as the body… ’ … ‘The soul is one thing and the body another… ’ … ‘After death a Tathāgata exists… ’… ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist… ’ … ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist… ’ … ‘After death a Tathāgata neither does nor does not exist. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless.’ Is this the sort of view you have?”

“No, my friend, I don’t have that sort of view.”

“Then in that case, do you not know or see?”

“No, my friend. It’s not the case that I don’t know, I don’t see. I do know. I do see.”

“But on being asked, ‘How is it, my friend: “The cosmos is eternal. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless.” Is this the sort of view you have?’ you inform me, ‘No, my friend, I don’t have that sort of view.’ On being asked, ‘Very well then: “The cosmos is not eternal… ”… “The cosmos is finite… ”… “The cosmos is infinite… ” … “The soul is the same thing as the body… ” … “The soul is one thing and the body another… ” … “After death a Tathāgata exists… ” … “After death a Tathāgata does not exist… ” … “After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist… ” … “After death a Tathāgata neither does nor does not exist. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless.” Is this the sort of view you have?’ you inform me, ‘No, my friend, I don’t have that sort of view.’ But on being asked, ‘Then in that case, do you not know or see?’ you inform me, ‘No, my friend. It’s not the case that I don’t know or see. I do know. I do see.’ Now, how is the meaning of this statement to be understood?”

“‘The cosmos is eternal. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless,’ is a view-standpoint. ‘The cosmos is not eternal…’ … ‘The cosmos is finite… ’ … ‘The cosmos is infinite… ’ … ‘The soul is the same thing as the body… ’ … ‘The soul is one thing and the body another… ’ … ‘After death a Tathāgata exists… ’ … ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist… ’ … ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist… ’ … ‘After death a Tathāgata neither does nor does not exist. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless,’ is a view-standpoint. The extent to which there are view-standpoints, view-stances, the taking up of views, obsessions with views, the cause of views, & the uprooting of views: that’s what I know. That’s what I see. Knowing that, I say ‘I know.’ Seeing that, I say ‘I see.’ Why should I say ‘I don’t know, I don’t see’? I do know. I do see.”

“What is your name, my friend? What do your fellows in the holy life call you?”

“My name is Ānanda, my friend, and that’s what my fellows in the holy life call me.”

“What? Have I been talking with the great teacher without realizing that he was Ven. Ānanda? Had I recognized that he was Ven. Ānanda, I would not have cross-examined him so much. May Ven. Ānanda please forgive me.” — AN 10:96

§ 178. Then a certain monk went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One, “Lord, what is the cause, what is the reason, why uncertainty doesn’t arise in an instructed disciple of the noble ones over the undeclared issues?”

“Because of the cessation of views, monk, uncertainty doesn’t arise in an instructed disciple of the noble ones over the undeclared issues. The view-standpoint, ‘After death a Tathāgata exists,’ the view-standpoint, ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist,’ the view-standpoint, ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist,’ the view-standpoint, ‘After death a Tathāgata neither does nor does not exist’: The uninstructed run-of-the-mill person doesn’t discern view, doesn’t discern the origination of view, doesn’t discern the cessation of view, doesn’t discern the path of practice leading to the cessation of view, and so for him that view grows. He is not freed from birth, aging, & death; from sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, and despairs. He is not freed, I tell you, from suffering & stress.

“But the instructed disciple of the noble ones discerns view, discerns the origination of view, discerns the cessation of view, discerns the path of practice leading to the cessation of view, and so for him that view ceases. He is freed from birth, aging, & death; from sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, and despairs. He is freed, I tell you, from suffering & stress.

“Thus knowing, thus seeing, the instructed disciple of the noble ones doesn’t declare that ‘After death a Tathāgata exists,’ doesn’t declare that ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist,’ doesn’t declare that ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist,’ doesn’t declare that ‘After death a Tathāgata neither does nor does not exist.’ Thus knowing, thus seeing, he is thus of a nature not to declare the undeclared issues. Thus knowing, thus seeing, he isn’t paralyzed, doesn’t quake, doesn’t shiver or shake over the undeclared issues.

“‘After death a Tathāgata exists’—this craving-standpoint, this perception-standpoint, this product of conceiving, this product of objectification, this clinging-standpoint: That’s [an expression of] anguish.1After death a Tathāgata doesn’t exist’: That’s anguish. ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist’: That’s anguish. ‘After death a Tathāgata neither does nor does not exist’: That’s anguish.

“The uninstructed run-of-the-mill person doesn’t discern anguish, doesn’t discern the origination of anguish, doesn’t discern the cessation of anguish, doesn’t discern the path of practice leading to the cessation of anguish, and so for him that anguish grows. He is not freed from birth, aging, & death; from sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, and despairs. He is not freed, I tell you, from suffering & stress.

“But the instructed disciple of the noble ones discerns anguish, discerns the origination of anguish, discerns the cessation of anguish, discerns the path of practice leading to the cessation of anguish, and so for him that anguish ceases. He is freed from birth, aging, & death; from sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, and despairs. He is freed, I tell you, from suffering & stress.

“Thus knowing, thus seeing, the instructed disciple of the noble ones doesn’t declare that ‘After death a Tathāgata exists,’ doesn’t declare that ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist,’ doesn’t declare that ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist,’ doesn’t declare that ‘After death a Tathāgata neither does nor does not exist.’ Thus knowing, thus seeing, he is thus of a nature not to declare the undeclared issues. Thus knowing, thus seeing, he isn’t paralyzed, doesn’t quake, doesn’t shiver or shake over the undeclared issues.” — AN 7:51

NOTE: 1. “Anguish” here translates vippaṭisāra, which is usually rendered into English as “remorse” or “regret.” Here, however, the feeling of vippaṭisāra relates to concerns about the future, rather than the past, and so neither remorse nor regret are appropriate to the context. The anguish alluded to in this passage is based either on the fear that awakening would entail an end to existence or on the contrary fear that it wouldn’t.

§ 179. When the night had passed, the senior monks put on their robes in the early morning and—taking their bowls & outer robes—went to Citta’s residence. There they sat down on the appointed seats. Citta the householder went to them and, having bowed down to them, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the most senior monk:

“Venerable sir, concerning the various views that arise in the world: ‘The cosmos is eternal,’ or ‘The cosmos is not eternal,’ or ‘The cosmos is finite,’ or ‘The cosmos is infinite,’ or ‘The soul is the same thing as the body,’ or ‘The soul is one thing and the body another,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata exists,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist’; these along with the sixty-two views mentioned in the Brahmajāla [DN 1: §152, §184]—when what is present do these views come into being, and when what is absent do they not come into being?”

When this was said, the senior monk was silent. A second time… A third time Citta the householder asked, “Concerning the various views that arise in the world… when what is present do they come into being, and what is absent do they not come into being?” A third time the senior monk was silent.

Now on that occasion Ven. Isidatta was the most junior of all the monks in that Community. Then he said to the senior monk, “Allow me, venerable sir, to answer Citta the householder’s question.”

“Go ahead & answer it, friend Isidatta.”

“Now, householder, are you asking this: ‘Concerning the various views that arise in the world… when what is present do they come into being, and what is absent do they not come into being’?”

“Yes, venerable sir.”

“Concerning the various views that arise in the world, householder… when self-identity view is present, these views come into being; when self-identity view is absent, they don’t come into being.”

“But, venerable sir, how does self-identity view come into being?”

“There is the case, householder, where an ordinary uninstructed person—who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma—assumes form to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form. He assumes feeling to be the self, or the self as possessing feeling, or feeling as in the self, or the self as in feeling. He assumes perception to be the self, or the self as possessing perception, or perception as in the self, or the self as in perception. He assumes fabrications to be the self, or the self as possessing fabrications, or fabrications as in the self, or the self as in fabrications. He assumes consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness. This is how self-identity view comes into being.”

“And, venerable sir, how does self-identity view not come into being?”

“There is the case, householder, where a well-instructed disciple of the noble ones—who has regard for noble ones, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma; who has regard for men of integrity, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma—doesn’t assume form to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form. He doesn’t assume feeling to be the self…. He doesn’t assume perception to be the self…. He doesn’t assume fabrications to be the self…. He doesn’t assume consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness. This is how self-identity view doesn’t come into being.” — SN 41:3

§ 180. [Vacchagotta the wanderer:] “Now, Master Moggallāna, what is the cause, what is the reason why—when wanderers of other sects are asked in this way, they answer that ‘The cosmos is eternal,’ or ‘The cosmos is not eternal,’ or ‘The cosmos is finite,’ or ‘The cosmos is infinite,’ or ‘The soul is the same thing as the body,’ or ‘The soul is one thing and the body another,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata exists,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist,’ yet when Gotama the contemplative is asked in this way, he does not answer that ‘The cosmos is eternal,’ or ‘The cosmos is not eternal,’ or ‘The cosmos is finite,’ or ‘The cosmos is infinite,’ or ‘The soul is the same thing as the body,’ or ‘The soul is one thing and the body another,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata exists,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist’?”

[Ven. MahāMoggallāna:] “Vaccha, the members of other sects assume of the eye that ‘This is mine, this is my self, this is what I am.’ They assume of the ear… the nose… the tongue… the body… the intellect that ‘This is mine, this is my self, this is what I am.’ That is why, when asked in this way, they answer that ‘The cosmos is eternal’… or that ‘After death Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist.’ But the Tathāgata, worthy and rightly self-awakened, doesn’t assume of the eye that ‘This is mine, this is my self, this is what I am.’ He doesn’t assume of the ear… the nose… the tongue… the body… the intellect that ‘This is mine, this is my self, this is what I am.’ That is why, when asked in this way, he does not answer that ‘The cosmos is eternal’… or that ‘After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist.’”

Then Vacchagotta the wanderer, getting up from his seat, went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he [addressed the same questions to the Blessed One and received exactly the same explanation].

“How amazing, Master Gotama! How astounding!—how the meaning and phrasing of the teacher and disciple agree, coincide, and do not diverge from one another with regard to the supreme teaching! Just now, Master Gotama, I went to Moggallāna the contemplative and, on arrival, asked him about this matter, and he answered me with the same words, the same phrasing, as Master Gotama. How amazing, Master Gotama! How astounding!—how the meaning and phrasing of the teacher and disciple agree, coincide, and do not diverge from one another with regard to the supreme teaching!” — SN 44:7

§ 181. [Vacchagotta the wanderer:] “Now, Master Gotama, what is the cause, what is the reason why—when wanderers of other sects are asked in this way, they answer that ‘The cosmos is eternal,’ or ‘The cosmos is not eternal,’ or ‘The cosmos is finite,’ or ‘The cosmos is infinite,’ or ‘The soul is the same thing as the body,’ or ‘The soul is one thing and the body another,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata exists,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist,’ yet when Master Gotama is asked in this way, he does not answer that ‘The cosmos is eternal,’ or ‘The cosmos is not eternal,’ or ‘The cosmos is finite,’ or ‘The cosmos is infinite,’ or ‘The soul is the same thing as the body,’ or ‘The soul is one thing and the body another,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata exists,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist,’ or ‘After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist’?”

“Vaccha, the members of other sects assume form to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form.

“They assume feeling to be the self…

“They assume perception to be the self…

“They assume fabrications to be the self….

“They assume consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness. That is why, when asked in this way, they answer that ‘The cosmos is eternal’… or that ‘After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist.’

“But the Tathāgata, worthy and rightly self-awakened, doesn’t assume form to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form.

“He doesn’t assume feeling to be the self….

“He doesn’t assume perception to be the self….

“He doesn’t assume fabrications to be the self….

“He doesn’t assume consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness. That is why, when asked in this way, he does not answer that ‘The cosmos is eternal’… or that ‘After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist.’”

Then Vacchagotta the wanderer, getting up from his seat, went to Ven. MahāMoggallāna and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he [addressed the same questions to Ven. MahāMoggallāna and received exactly the same explanation].

“How amazing, Master Moggallāna! How astounding!—how the meaning and phrasing of the teacher and disciple agree, coincide, and do not diverge from one another with regard to the supreme teaching! Just now, Master Moggallāna, I went to Gotama the contemplative and, on arrival, asked him about this matter, and he answered me with the same words, the same phrasing, as Master Moggallāna. How amazing, Master Moggallāna! How astounding!—how the meaning and phrasing of the teacher and disciple agree, coincide, and do not diverge from one another with regard to the supreme teaching!” — SN 44:8

§ 182. Then Anāthapiṇḍika the householder went to the wanderers of other sects. On arrival he greeted them courteously. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, the wanderers said to him, “Tell us, householder, what views Gotama the contemplative has.”

“Venerable sirs, I don’t know entirely what views the Blessed One has.”

“Well, well. So you don’t know entirely what views Gotama the contemplative has. Then tell us what views the monks have.”

“I don’t even know entirely what views the monks have.”

“So you don’t know entirely what views Gotama the contemplative has or even that the monks have. Then tell us what views you have.”

“It wouldn’t be difficult for me to expound to you what views I have. But please let the venerable ones expound each in line with his view-standpoint, and then it won’t be difficult for me to expound to you what views I have.”

When this had been said, one of the wanderers said to Anāthapiṇḍika the householder, “The cosmos is eternal. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless. This is the sort of view I have.”

Another wanderer said to Anāthapiṇḍika, “The cosmos is not eternal. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless. This is the sort of view I have.”

Another wanderer said, “The cosmos is finite…”…”The cosmos is infinite…”…”The soul is the same thing as the body…”…”The soul is one thing and the body another…”…”After death a Tathāgata exists…”…”After death a Tathāgata does not exist…”…”After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist…”…”After death a Tathāgata neither does nor does not exist. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless. This is the sort of view I have.”

When this had been said, Anāthapiṇḍika the householder said to the wanderers, “As for the venerable one who says, ‘The cosmos is eternal. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless. This is the sort of view I have,’ his view arises from his own inappropriate attention or in dependence on the words of another. Now this view has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently co-arisen. Whatever has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently co-arisen: That is inconstant. Whatever is inconstant is stressful. This venerable one thus adheres to that very stress, submits himself to that very stress.” [Similarly for the other view-standpoints.]

When this had been said, the wanderers said to Anāthapiṇḍika the householder, “We have each & every one expounded to you in line with our own view-standpoints. Now tell us what views you have.”

“Whatever has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently co-arisen: That is inconstant. Whatever is inconstant is stressful. Whatever is stressful is not me, is not what I am, is not my self. This is the sort of view I have.”

“So, householder, whatever has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently co-arisen: That is inconstant. Whatever is inconstant is stressful. You thus adhere to that very stress, submit yourself to that very stress.”

“Venerable sirs, whatever has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently co-arisen: That is inconstant. Whatever is inconstant is stressful. Whatever is stressful is not me, is not what I am, is not my self. Having seen this well with right discernment as it has come to be, I also discern the higher escape from it as it has come to be.”

When this was said, the wanderers fell silent, abashed, sitting with their shoulders drooping, their heads down, brooding, at a loss for words. Anāthapiṇḍika the householder, sensing that the wanderers were silent, abashed… at a loss for words, got up & went to the Blessed One. On arrival, having bowed down to the Blessed One, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he told the Blessed One the entirety of his discussion with the wanderers.

[The Blessed One said,] “Well done, householder. Well done. That is how you should periodically & righteously refute those foolish men.” Then he instructed, urged, roused, and encouraged Anāthapiṇḍika the householder with a talk on Dhamma. When Anāthapiṇḍika the householder had been instructed, urged, roused, and encouraged by the Blessed One with a talk on Dhamma, he got up from his seat, bowed down to the Blessed One and—keeping him to his right—departed. Not long afterward, the Blessed One addressed the monks: “Monks, even a monk who has long penetrated the Dhamma in this Dhamma & Vinaya would do well, periodically & righteously, to refute the wanderers of other sects in just the way Anāthapiṇḍika the householder has done.” — AN 10:93

§ 183. Then Vacchagotta the wanderer went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he asked the Blessed One, “How is it, Master Gotama, does Master Gotama hold the view, ‘The cosmos is eternal: Only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless’?”

“… no…”

“Then does Master Gotama hold the view, ‘The cosmos is not eternal: Only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless’?”

“… no…”

“Then does Master Gotama hold the view, ‘The cosmos is finite: Only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless’?”

“… no…”

“Then does Master Gotama hold the view, ‘The cosmos is infinite: Only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless’?”

“… no…”

“Then does Master Gotama hold the view, ‘The soul is the same thing as the body: Only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless’?”

“… no…”

“Then does Master Gotama hold the view, ‘The soul is one thing and the body another: Only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless’?”

“… no…”

“Then does Master Gotama hold the view, ‘After death a Tathāgata exists: Only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless’?”

“… no…”

“Then does Master Gotama hold the view, ‘After death a Tathāgata does not exist: Only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless’?”

“… no…”

“Then does Master Gotama hold the view, ‘After death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist: Only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless’?”

“… no…”

“Then does Master Gotama hold the view, ‘After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist: Only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless’?”

“… no…”

“How is it, Master Gotama, when Master Gotama is asked if he holds the view, ‘The cosmos is eternal…’ …. ‘After death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist: Only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless,’ he says ‘… no…’ in each case. Seeing what drawback, then, is Master Gotama thus entirely dissociated from each of these ten view-standpoints?”

“Vaccha, the view-standpoint that ‘the cosmos is eternal’ is a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. It is accompanied by suffering, distress, despair, & fever, and does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, self-awakening, unbinding.

“The view-standpoint that ‘the cosmos is not eternal’…

“…’the cosmos is finite’…

“…’the cosmos is infinite’…

“…’the soul is the same thing as the body’…

“…’the soul is one thing and the body another’…

“…’after death a Tathāgata exists’…

“…’after death a Tathāgata does not exist’…

“…’after death a Tathāgata both exists & does not exist’…

“…’after death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist’… does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, self-awakening, unbinding.”

“Does Master Gotama have any view-standpoint at all?”

“A ‘view-standpoint,’ Vaccha, is something that a Tathāgata has done away with. What a Tathāgata sees is this: ‘Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is perception… such are fabrications… such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.’ Because of this, I say, a Tathāgata—with the ending, fading, cessation, renunciation, & relinquishment of all conceivings, all excogitations, all I-making & mine-making & obsessions with conceit—is, through lack of clinging/sustenance, released.” — MN 72

View-standpoints from DN 1

§ 184. A categorical Yes to the eternity of the cosmos: “There is the case where a certain contemplative or brahman—as a result of ardency, exertion, commitment, heedfulness, & right attention—attains the sort of awareness-concentration whereby he recollects his manifold past lives, i.e., ten eons of cosmic contraction & expansion, twenty… thirty… forty eons of cosmic contraction & expansion, (recollecting,) ‘There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.’ Thus he recollects his manifold past lives in their modes & details. He says, ‘The self & the cosmos are barren, stable as a mountain-peak, standing firm like a pillar. And even though beings roam, wander, fall [die], & reappear, it will stay just like that as long as eternity. Why is that? Because I… recollect my manifold past lives in their modes & details. By means of that, I know that the self & the cosmos are barren, stable as a mountain-peak, standing firm like a pillar. And even though beings roam, wander, fall [die], & reappear, there is just that which will be like that as long as eternity.’”

Another categorical Yes: “There is the case where a certain contemplative or brahman is a logician, an inquirer. He states his own imagining, hammered out by logic, deduced from his inquiries: ‘The self & the cosmos are barren, stable as a mountain-peak, standing firm like a pillar. And even though beings roam, wander, fall [die], & reappear, there is just that which will be like that as long as eternity.’”

An analytical answer to the eternity/non-eternity of the cosmos: “There ultimately comes a time when, with the passing of a long stretch of time, this cosmos devolves. When the cosmos is devolving, beings for the most part head toward the Radiant (brahmās). There they stay: mind-made, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, coursing through the air, established in beauty for a long stretch of time. Then there ultimately comes a time when, with the passing of a long stretch of time, this cosmos evolves. When the cosmos is evolving, an empty Brahmā palace appears. Then a certain being—from the exhaustion of his life span or the exhaustion of his merit—falls from the company of the Radiant and re-arises in the empty Brahmā palace. And there he still stays mind-made, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, coursing through the air, established in beauty for a long stretch of time.

“After dwelling there alone for a long time, he experiences displeasure & agitation: ‘O, if only other beings would come to this world!’

“Then other beings, through the ending of their life span or the ending of their merit, fall from the company of the Radiant and reappear in the Brahmā palace, in the company of that being. And there they still stay mind-made, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, coursing through the air, established in beauty for a long stretch of time.

“Then the thought occurs to the being who reappeared first: ‘I am Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Sovereign Lord, the Maker, Creator, Chief, Appointer and Ruler, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be. These beings were created by me. Why is that? First the thought occurred to me, “O, if only other beings would come to this world!” And thus my direction of will brought these beings to this world.’ As for the beings who reappeared later, this thought occurs to them: ‘This is Brahmā… Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be. We were created by this Brahmā. Why is that? We saw that he appeared here before, while we appeared after.’ The being who reappeared first is of longer life span, more beautiful, & more influential, while the beings who reappeared later are of shorter life span, less beautiful, & less influential.

“Now, there is the possibility, monks, that a certain being, having fallen from that company, comes to this world. Having come to this world, he goes forth from the home life into homelessness. Having gone forth from the home life into homelessness, he—as a result of ardency, exertion, commitment, heedfulness, & right attention—attains the sort of awareness-concentration whereby he recollects that former life, but nothing beyond that. He says, ‘We were created by Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Sovereign Lord, the Maker, Creator, Chief, Appointer and Ruler, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be. He is constant, permanent, eternal, not subject to change, and will stay just like that as long as eternity. But we who have been created by him—inconstant, impermanent, short-lived, subject to falling—have come to this world.’”

Another analytical answer: “There is the case where a certain contemplative or brahman is a logician, an inquirer. He states his own imagining, hammered out by logic, deduced from his inquiries: ‘That which is called “eye” & “ear” & “nose” & “tongue” & “body”: That self is inconstant, impermanent, non-eternal, subject to change. But that which is called “mind” or “intellect” or “consciousness”: That self is constant, permanent, eternal, not subject to change, and will stay just like that as long as eternity.’”

A categorical No to the eternity of the cosmos: “There are Devas called Beings without Perception. But, with the arising of perception, they fall from that company of devas. Now, there is the possibility, monks, that a certain being, having fallen from that company, comes to this world. Having come to this world, he goes forth from the home life into homelessness. Having gone forth from the home life into homelessness, he—as a result of ardency, exertion, commitment, heedfulness, & right attention—attains the sort of awareness-concentration whereby he recollects the arising of perception, but nothing beyond that. He says, ‘The self & the cosmos are spontaneously arisen. Why is that? Because before I wasn’t, now I am. Not having been, I sprang into being.’”

Theories on the finitude/infinitude of the cosmos: “There is the case where a certain contemplative or brahman—as a result of ardency, exertion, commitment, heedfulness, & right attention—attains the sort of awareness-concentration whereby he remains with the perception of ‘finite’ with regard to the cosmos. He says, ‘This cosmos is finite, encircled. Why is that? Because I… have attained the sort of awareness-concentration whereby I remain with the perception of “finite” with regard to the cosmos. By means of that, I know that the cosmos is finite, encircled….’

“There is the case where a certain contemplative or brahman… attains the sort of awareness-concentration whereby he remains with the perception of ‘infinite’ with regard to the cosmos. He says, ‘This cosmos is infinite, unencircled. Those contemplatives & brahmans who say that this cosmos is finite, encircled, are lying. This cosmos is infinite, unencircled. Why is that? Because I… have attained the sort of awareness-concentration whereby I remain with the perception of “infinite” with regard to the cosmos. By means of that, I know that the cosmos is infinite, unencircled….’

“There is the case where a certain contemplative or brahman… attains the sort of awareness-concentration whereby he remains with the perception of ‘finite’ with regard to the cosmos above & below, but with the perception of ‘infinite’ all around. He says, ‘This cosmos is finite & infinite. Those contemplatives & brahmans who say that this cosmos is finite, encircled, are lying. Those contemplatives & brahmans who say that this cosmos is infinite, unencircled, are lying. This cosmos is finite & infinite. Why is that? Because I… have attained the sort of awareness-concentration whereby I remain with the perception of “finite” with regard to the cosmos above & below, but with the perception of “infinite” all around. By means of that, I know that the cosmos is finite & infinite….’

“There is the case where a certain contemplative or brahman is a logician, an inquirer. He states his own imagining, hammered out by logic, deduced from his inquiries: ‘The cosmos is neither finite nor infinite. Those contemplatives & brahmans who say that this cosmos is finite, encircled, are lying. Those contemplatives & brahmans who say that this cosmos is infinite, unencircled, are lying. Those contemplatives & brahmans who say that this cosmos is finite & infinite are lying. The cosmos is neither finite nor infinite.’”

Refrain: “This, monks, the Tathāgata discerns. And he discerns that these standpoints, thus seized, thus grasped at, lead to such & such a destination, to such & such a state in the world beyond. And he discerns what is higher than this. And yet discerning that, he does not grasp at that act of discerning. And as he is not grasping at it, unbinding [nibbuti] is experienced right within. Knowing, as they have come to be, the origination, ending, allure, & drawbacks of feelings, along with the emancipation from feelings, the Tathāgata, monks—through lack of clinging/sustenance—is released.”

Final analysis: “When those contemplatives & brahmans assert various types of theories… on 62 grounds, that is an agitation & vacillation to be felt by those contemplatives & brahmans who, not knowing, not seeing, are immersed in craving…. That comes from contact as a requisite condition…. That they would experience that other than through contact: That isn’t possible…. [Compare §168] They all experience that through repeated contact at the six sense media. For them, from feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.

“But when a monk discerns the origination, ending, allure, drawbacks of, & emancipation from the six sense media, he discerns what is higher than all of this.” — DN 1

The Tetralemma

§ 185. “Cunda, whatever in this world—with its deva, Māras, & Brahmās, its generations with their contemplatives & brahmans, their royalty & common people—is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought after, pondered by the intellect, that has been fully awakened to by the Tathāgata [§46]. Thus he is called the Tathāgata.

“From the night the Tathāgata fully awakens to the unsurpassed Right Self-awakening until the night he is totally unbound in the unbinding property with no fuel remaining, whatever the Tathāgata has said, spoken, explained is just so (tatha) and not otherwise. Thus he is called the Tathāgata.

“The Tathāgata is one who does in line with (tatha) what he teaches, one who teaches in line with what he does. Thus he is called the Tathāgata.

“In this world with its devas, Māras, & Brahmās, its generations with their contemplatives & brahmans, their royalty & common people, the Tathāgata is the unconquered conqueror, all-seeing, the wielder of power. Thus he is called the Tathāgata.

“It’s possible, Cunda, that wanderers of other sects might say, ‘How is it, friends? Is it the case that “after death a Tathāgata exists: Only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless”?’ The wanderers of other sects who say this should be told, ‘Friends, it is undeclared by the Tathāgata that “after death a Tathāgata exists: Only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless.”’

“It’s possible that wanderers of other sects might say, ‘How is it, friends? Is it the case that “after death a Tathāgata does not exist…”… “both exists & does not exist…”… “neither does nor doesn’t exist: Only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless”?’ The wanderers of other sects who say this should be told, ‘Friends, it is undeclared by the Tathāgata that “after death a Tathāgata neither does nor does not exist: Only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless.”’

“It’s possible that wanderers of other sects might say, ‘But why, friends, is this undeclared by Gotama the contemplative?’ The wanderers of other sects who say this should be told, ‘Friends, it isn’t connected with the goal, isn’t connected with the Dhamma, isn’t fundamental to the holy life. It doesn’t lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calm, direct knowledge, self-awakening, unbinding. That’s why it’s undeclared by the Blessed One.’

“It’s possible that wanderers of other sects might say, ‘But what, friends, is declared by Gotama the contemplative?’ The wanderers of other sects who say this should be told, ‘“This is stress,” is declared by the Blessed One. “This is the origination of stress,” is declared by the Blessed One. “This is the cessation of stress,” is declared by the Blessed One. “This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress,” is declared by the Blessed One.’

“It’s possible that wanderers of other sects might say, ‘And why, friends, is this declared by Gotama the contemplative?’ The wanderers of other sects who say this should be told, ‘This is connected with the goal, is connected with the Dhamma, is fundamental to the holy life. It leads to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calm, direct knowledge, self-awakening, unbinding. That’s why it’s declared by the Blessed One.’” — DN 29

§ 186. [Ven. MahāKoṭṭhita:] “Now, friend Sāriputta, when asked if the Tathāgata exists after death, you say, ‘That has not been declared by the Blessed One: “The Tathāgata exists after death.”’ When asked if the Tathāgata does not exist after death… both exists & does not exist after death… neither exists nor does not exist after death, you say, ‘That too has not been declared by the Blessed One: “The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.”’ Now, what is the cause, what is the reason, why that has not been declared by the Blessed One?”

[Ven. Sāriputta:] “‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ is [a view] immersed in form. ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ is immersed in form. ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ is immersed in form. ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death’ is immersed in form.

“‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ is immersed in feeling….

“‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ is immersed in perception….

“‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ is immersed in fabrication….

“‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ is immersed in consciousness. ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ is immersed in consciousness. ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ is immersed in consciousness. ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist death’ is immersed in consciousness.

“This is the cause, this is the reason, why that has not been declared by the Blessed One.” — SN 44:3

§ 187. [Ven. MahāKoṭṭhita:] “Now, friend Sāriputta, when asked if the Tathāgata exists after death, you say, ‘That hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One: “The Tathāgata exists after death.”’ When asked if the Tathāgata does not exist after death… both exists & does not exist after death… neither exists nor does not exist after death, you say, ‘That too hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One: “The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.”’ Now, what is the cause, what is the reason, why that hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One?”

[Ven. Sāriputta:] “For one who doesn’t know & see form as it has come to be, who does not know & see the origination of form… the cessation of form… the path of practice leading to the cessation of form as it has come to be, there occurs the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’

“For one who doesn’t know & see feeling as it has come to be….

“For one who doesn’t know & see perception as it has come to be….

“For one who doesn’t know & see fabrications as they have come to be….

“For one who doesn’t know & see consciousness as it has come to be, who does not know & see the origination of consciousness… the cessation of consciousness… the path of practice leading to the cessation of consciousness as it has come to be, there occurs the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’

“But for one who knows & sees form as it has come to be, who knows & sees the origination of form… the cessation of form… the path of practice leading to the cessation of form as it has come to be, the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death’ doesn’t occur.

“For one who knows & sees feeling as it has come to be….

“For one who knows & sees perception as it has come to be….

“For one who knows & sees fabrications as they have come to be….

“For one who knows & sees consciousness as it has come to be, who knows & sees the origination of consciousness… the cessation of consciousness… the path of practice leading to the cessation of consciousness as it has come to be, the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death’ doesn’t occur.

“This is the cause, this is the reason, why that hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One.” — SN 44:4

§ 188. [Ven. MahāKoṭṭhita:] “Now, friend Sāriputta, when asked if the Tathāgata exists after death, you say, ‘That hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One: “The Tathāgata exists after death.”’ When asked if the Tathāgata does not exist after death… both exists & does not exist after death… neither exists nor does not exist after death, you say, ‘That too hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One: “The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.”’ Now, what is the cause, what is the reason, why that hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One?”

[Ven. Sāriputta:] “For one whose passion for form has not been removed, whose desire… affection… thirst… fever… craving for form has not been removed, there occurs the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’

“For one whose passion for feeling has not been removed.…

“For one whose passion for perception has not been removed.…

“For one whose passion for fabrication has not been removed.…

“For one whose passion for consciousness has not been removed, whose desire… affection… thirst… fever… craving for consciousness has not been removed, there occurs the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’

“But for one whose passion for form has been removed, whose desire… affection… thirst… fever… craving for form has been removed, the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death’ doesn’t occur.

“For one whose passion for feeling has been removed.…

“For one whose passion for perception has been removed.…

“For one whose passion for fabrication has been removed.…

“For one whose passion for consciousness has been removed, whose desire… affection… thirst… fever… craving for consciousness has been removed, the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death’ doesn’t occur.

“This is the cause, this is the reason, why that hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One.” — SN 44:5

§ 189. [Ven. Sāriputta:] “Now, friend Koṭṭhita, when asked if the Tathāgata exists after death, you say, ‘That hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One: “The Tathāgata exists after death.”’ When asked if the Tathāgata does not exist after death… both exists & does not exist after death… neither exists nor does not exist after death, you say, ‘That too hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One: “The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.”’ Now, what is the cause, what is the reason, why that hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One?”

[Ven. MahāKoṭṭhita:] “For one who loves form, who is fond of form, who cherishes form, who does not know or see, as it has come to be, the cessation of form, there occurs the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’

“For one who loves feeling.…

“For one who loves perception.…

“For one who loves fabrication.…

“For one who loves consciousness, who is fond of consciousness, who cherishes consciousness, who does not know or see, as it has come to be, the cessation of consciousness, there occurs the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’

“But for one who doesn’t love form, who isn’t fond of form, who doesn’t cherish form, who knows & sees, as it has come to be, the cessation of form, the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death’ doesn’t occur.

“For one who doesn’t love feeling.…

“For one who doesn’t love perception.…

“For one who doesn’t love fabrication.…

“For one who doesn’t love consciousness, who isn’t fond of consciousness, who doesn’t cherish consciousness, who knows & sees, as it has come to be, the cessation of consciousness, the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death’ doesn’t occur.

“This is the cause, this is the reason, why that hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One.”

“But, my friend, would there another line of reasoning, in line with which that hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One?”

“There would, my friend. For one who loves becoming, who is fond of becoming, who cherishes becoming, who does not know or see, as it has come to be, the cessation of becoming, there occurs the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’

“But for one who doesn’t love becoming, who isn’t fond of becoming, who doesn’t cherish becoming, who knows & sees, as it has come to be, the cessation of becoming, the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death’ doesn’t occur.

“This too is a line of reasoning in line with which that hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One.”

“But, my friend, would there another line of reasoning, in line with which that hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One?”

“There would, my friend. For one who loves clinging/sustenance, who is fond of clinging/sustenance, who cherishes clinging/sustenance, who does not know or see, as it has come to be, the cessation of clinging/sustenance, there occurs the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’

“But for one who doesn’t love clinging/sustenance, who isn’t fond of clinging/sustenance, who doesn’t cherish clinging/sustenance, who knows & sees, as it has come to be, the cessation of clinging/sustenance, the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death’ doesn’t occur.

“This too is a line of reasoning in line with which that hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One.”

“But, my friend, would there another line of reasoning, in line with which that hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One?”

“There would, my friend. For one who loves craving, who is fond of craving, who cherishes craving, who does not know or see, as it has come to be, the cessation of craving, there occurs the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’

“But for one who doesn’t love craving, who isn’t fond of craving, who doesn’t cherish craving, who knows & sees, as it has come to be, the cessation of craving, the thought, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death’ doesn’t occur.

“This too is a line of reasoning in line with which that hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One.”

“But, my friend, would there another line of reasoning, in line with which that hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One?”

“Now, what more do you want, friend Sāriputta? When a monk has been freed from the classification of craving, there exists no cycle for describing him.” — SN 44:6

The Tetralemma Declared Meaningless

§ 190. [Vacchagotta the wanderer:] “Does Master Gotama have any view-standpoint at all?”

“A ‘view-standpoint,’ Vaccha, is something that a Tathāgata has done away with. What a Tathāgata sees is this: ‘Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is perception… such are fabrications… such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.’ Because of this, I say, a Tathāgata—with the ending, fading, cessation, renunciation, & relinquishment of all conceivings, all excogitations, all I-making & mine-making & obsessions with conceit—is, through lack of clinging/sustenance, released.”

“But, Master Gotama, the monk whose mind is thus released:1 Where does he reappear?”

“‘Reappear,’ Vaccha, doesn’t apply.”

“Very well then, Master Gotama, does he not reappear?”

“‘Does not reappear,’ Vaccha, doesn’t apply.”

“Very well then, Master Gotama, does he both reappear & not reappear?”

“‘Both reappears & does not reappear,’ Vaccha, doesn’t apply.”

“Very well then, Master Gotama, does he neither reappear nor not reappear?”

“‘Neither reappears nor does not reappear,’ Vaccha, doesn’t apply.”

“How is it, Master Gotama, when Master Gotama is asked if the monk reappears… does not reappear… both does & does not reappear… neither does nor does not reappear, he says, ‘… doesn’t apply’ in each case? At this point, Master Gotama, I am befuddled; at this point, confused. The modicum of clarity coming to me from your earlier discussion is now obscured.”

“Of course you’re befuddled, Vaccha. Of course you’re confused. Deep, Vaccha, is this phenomenon, hard to see, hard to realize, tranquil, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. For those with other views, other practices, other satisfactions, other aims, other teachers, it is difficult to know. That being the case, I will counter-question you on this matter. Answer as you see fit. What do you think, Vaccha? If a fire were burning in front of you, would you know that ‘This fire is burning in front of me’?”

“… yes…”

“And if someone were to ask you, Vaccha, ‘This fire burning in front of you: Dependent on what is it burning?’ Thus asked, how would you reply?”

“… I would reply, ‘This fire burning in front of me is burning dependent on grass & timber as its sustenance.’”

“If the fire burning in front of you were to go out, would you know that ‘This fire burning in front of me has gone out’?”

“… yes…”

“And if someone were to ask you, ‘This fire that has gone out in front of you: In which direction from here has it gone? East? West? North? Or south?’ Thus asked, how would you reply?”

“That doesn’t apply, Master Gotama. Any fire burning dependent on a sustenance of grass & timber, being unnourished—from having consumed (that sustenance) and not being offered any other—is classified simply as ‘out’ [unbound].”

“In the same way, Vaccha, any form by which one describing the Tathāgata would describe him: That form the Tathāgata has abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. Freed from the classification of form, Vaccha, the Tathāgata is deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the ocean. ‘Reappears’ doesn’t apply. ‘Does not reappear’ doesn’t apply. ‘Both does & does not reappear’ doesn’t apply. ‘Neither reappears nor does not reappear’ doesn’t apply.

“Any feeling…. Any perception…. Any fabrication….

“Any consciousness by which one describing the Tathāgata would describe him: That consciousness the Tathāgata has abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. Freed from the classification of consciousness, Vaccha, the Tathāgata is deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the ocean. ‘Reappears’ doesn’t apply. ‘Does not reappear’ doesn’t apply. ‘Both does & does not reappear’ doesn’t apply. ‘Neither reappears nor does not reappear’ doesn’t apply.” — MN 72

NOTE: 1. The fact that the terminology here switches from the Tathāgata to a monk whose mind is released shows that, in this context at least, the two terms are interchangeable. This is one of the few passages in the Canon where the term Tathāgata has this meaning. (For another, see §193.)

§ 191. On one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Sāvatthī at Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery. And on that occasion the bhikkhunī Khemā, wandering on tour among the Kosalans, had taken up residence between Sāvatthī and Sāketa at Toraṇavatthu. Then King Pasenadi Kosala, while traveling from Sāketa to Sāvatthī, took up a one-night residence between Sāvatthī and Sāketa at Toraṇavatthu. Then he addressed a certain man, “Come, now, my good man. Find out if in Toraṇavatthu there’s the sort of contemplative or brahman I might visit today.”

“As you say, sire,” the man replied to the king, but having roamed all over Toraṇavatthu he did not see the sort of contemplative or brahman the king might visit. But he did see the bhikkhunī Khemā residing in Toraṇavatthu. On seeing her, he went to King Pasenadi Kosala and on arrival said to him, “Sire, in Toraṇavatthu there is no contemplative or brahman of the sort your majesty might visit. But there is a bhikkhunī named Khemā, a disciple of the Blessed One, worthy and rightly self-awakened. And of this lady, this admirable report has spread about: ‘She is wise, competent, intelligent, learned, a fluent speaker, admirable in her ingenuity.’ Let your majesty visit her.”

Then King Pasenadi Kosala went to the bhikkhunī Khemā and, on arrival, having bowed down to her, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to her, “Now then, lady, does the Tathāgata exist after death?”

“That, great king, hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One: ‘The Tathāgata exists after death.’”

“Well then, lady, does the Tathāgata not exist after death?”

“Great king, that too hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One: ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death.’”

“Then does the Tathāgata both exist and not exist after death?”

“That hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One: ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death.’”

“Well then, does the Tathāgata neither exist nor not exist after death?”

“That too hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One: ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’”

“Now, lady, when asked if the Tathāgata exists after death, you say, ‘That hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One: “The Tathāgata exists after death.”’ When asked if the Tathāgata does not exist after death… both exists & does not exist after death… neither exists nor does not exist after death, you say, ‘That too hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One: “The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.”’ Now, what is the cause, what is the reason, why that hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One?”

“Very well then, great king, I will cross-question you on this matter. Answer as you see fit. What do you think, great king? Do you have an accountant or calculator or mathematician who can count the grains of sand in the river Ganges as ‘so many grains of sand’ or ‘so many hundreds of grains of sand’ or ‘so many thousands of grains of sand’ or ‘so many hundreds of thousands of grains of sand’?”

“No, lady.”

“Then do you have an accountant or calculator or mathematician who can count the water in the great ocean as ‘so many buckets of water’ or ‘so many hundreds of buckets of water’ or ‘so many thousands of buckets of water’ or ‘so many hundreds of thousands of buckets of water’?”

“No, lady. Why is that? The great ocean is deep, boundless, hard to fathom.”

“Even so, great king, any form by which one describing the Tathāgata would describe him: That form the Tathāgata has abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. Freed from the classification of form, great king, the Tathāgata is deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the ocean. ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ doesn’t apply. ‘The Tathāgata doesn’t exist after death’ doesn’t apply. ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ doesn’t apply. ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death’ doesn’t apply.

“Any feeling…. Any perception…. Any fabrication….

“Any consciousness by which one describing the Tathāgata would describe him: That consciousness the Tathāgata has abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. Freed from the classification of consciousness, great king, the Tathāgata is deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the ocean. ‘The Tathāgata exists after death’ doesn’t apply. ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death doesn’t apply. ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’ doesn’t apply. ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death’ doesn’t apply.”

Then King Pasenadi Kosala, delighting in & approving of the bhikkhunī Khemā’s words, got up from his seat, bowed down to her and—keeping her to his right—departed.

Then at another time he went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to the Blessed One, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, [he asked the Blessed One the same questions he had asked the bhikkhunī Khemā, and received precisely the same responses and analogies. Then he exclaimed:]

“How amazing, lord! How astounding!—how the meaning and phrasing of the teacher and disciple agree, coincide, and do not diverge from one another with regard to the supreme teaching! Recently, lord, I went to the bhikkhunī Khemā and, on arrival, asked her about this matter, and she answered me with the same words, the same phrasing, as the Blessed One. How amazing, lord! How astounding!—how the meaning and phrasing of the teacher and disciple agree, coincide, and do not diverge from one another with regard to the supreme teaching!

“Now, lord, we must go. Many are our duties, many our responsibilities.”

“Then do, great king, what you think it is now time to do.”

So King Pasenadi Kosala, delighting in and approving of the Blessed One’s words, got up from his set, bowed down to the Blessed One and—keeping him to his right—departed. — SN 44:1

§ 192. Then Ven. Anurādha went to the Blessed One and on arrival, having bowed down to the Blessed One, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One, “Just now I was staying not far from the Blessed One in a wilderness hut. Then a large number of wandering sectarians came and…. said to me, ‘Friend Anurādha, the Tathāgata—the supreme person, the superlative person, attainer of the superlative attainment—being described, is described with [one of] these four positions: After death the Tathāgata exists; after death he does not exist; after death he both exists & does not exist; after death he neither exists nor does not exist.’

“When this was said, I said to them, ‘Friends, the Tathāgata—the supreme person, the superlative person, attainer of the superlative attainment—being described, is described otherwise than with these four positions: After death the Tathāgata exists; after death he does not exist; after death he both exists & does not exist; after death he neither exists nor does not exist.’

“When this was said, the wandering sectarians said to me, ‘This monk is either a newcomer, not long gone forth, or else an elder who is foolish & inexperienced.’ So, addressing me as they would a newcomer or a fool, they got up from their seats and left.

“Then not long after the wandering sectarians had left, this thought occurred to me, ‘If I am questioned again by those wandering sectarians, how will I answer in such a way that will I speak in line with what the Blessed One has said, will not misrepresent the Blessed One with what is unfactual, will answer in line with the Dhamma, so that the legitimate implications of what I say give no grounds for criticism?’”

“What do you think, Anurādha? Is form constant or inconstant?”

“Inconstant, lord.”

“And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?”

“Stressful, lord.”

“And is it proper to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: ‘This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am’?”

“No, lord.”

“Is feeling constant or inconstant?”

“Inconstant, lord”….

“Is perception constant or inconstant?”

“Inconstant, lord”….

“Are fabrications constant or inconstant?”

“Inconstant, lord”….

“Is consciousness constant or inconstant?”

“Inconstant, lord.”

“And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?”

“Stressful, lord.”

“And is it proper to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: ‘This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am’?”

“No, lord.”

“Now, what do you think, Anurādha? Do you regard form as the Tathāgata?”

“No, lord.”

“Do you regard feeling as the Tathāgata?”

“No, lord.”

“Do you regard perception as the Tathāgata?”

“No, lord.”

“Do you regard fabrications as the Tathāgata?”

“No, lord.”

“Do you regard consciousness as the Tathāgata?”

“No, lord.”

“Now, what do you think, Anurādha? Do you regard the Tathāgata as being in form?… Elsewhere than form?… In feeling?… Elsewhere than feeling?… In perception?… Elsewhere than perception?… In fabrications?… Elsewhere than fabrications?… In consciousness?… Elsewhere than consciousness?”

“No, lord.”

“What do you think, Anurādha? Do you regard the Tathāgata as form-feeling-perception-fabrications-consciousness?”

“No, lord.”

“What do you think, Anurādha? Do you regard the Tathāgata as that which is without form, without feeling, without perception, without fabrications, without consciousness?”

“No, lord.”

“And so, Anurādha—when you can’t pin down the Tathāgata as a truth or reality even in the present life—is it proper for you to declare, ‘Friends, the Tathāgata—the supreme person, the superlative person, attainer of the superlative attainment—being described, is described otherwise than with these four positions: After death the Tathāgata exists; after death he does not exist; after death he both exists & does not exist; after death he neither exists nor does not exist’?”

“No, lord.”

“Very good, Anurādha. Very good. Both formerly & now, it is only stress that I describe, and the cessation of stress.” — SN 44:2

§ 193. Then in the evening Ven. Sāriputta left his seclusion, went to Ven. Yamaka, and on arrival exchanged courteous greetings. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to Ven. Yamaka, “Is it true, my friend Yamaka, that this evil supposition has arisen to you: ‘As I understand the Teaching explained by the Blessed One, a monk with no more fermentations, with the breakup of the body, is annihilated, destroyed, & does not exist after death.’

“Yes, my friend. As I understand the Teaching explained by the Blessed One, a monk with no more fermentations, with the breakup of the body, is annihilated, destroyed, & does not exist after death.”

“Now, what do you think, my friend Yamaka? Is form constant or inconstant?”

“Inconstant, my friend.”

“And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?”

“Stressful, my friend.”

“And is it proper to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: ‘This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am’?”

“No, my friend.”

“Is feeling constant or inconstant?”

“Inconstant, my friend”….

“Is perception constant or inconstant?”

“Inconstant, my friend”….

“Are fabrications constant or inconstant?”

“Inconstant, my friend”….

“Is consciousness constant or inconstant?”

“Inconstant, my friend.”

“And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?”

“Stressful, my friend.”

“And is it proper to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: ‘This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am’?”

“No, my friend.”

“Now, what do you think? Do you regard form as the Tathāgata?”1

“No, my friend.”

“Do you regard feeling as the Tathāgata?”

“No, my friend.”

“Do you regard perception as the Tathāgata?”

“No, my friend.”

“Do you regard fabrications as the Tathāgata?”

“No, my friend.”

“Do you regard consciousness as the Tathāgata?”

“No, my friend.”

“Now, what do you think? Do you regard the Tathāgata as being in form?…. Elsewhere than form?… In feeling?… Elsewhere than feeling?… In perception?… Elsewhere than perception?… In fabrications?… Elsewhere than fabrications?… In consciousness?… Elsewhere than consciousness?”

“No, my friend.”

“What do you think? Do you regard the Tathāgata as form-feeling-perception-fabrications-consciousness?”

“No, my friend.”

“What do you think? Do you regard the Tathāgata as that which is without form, without feeling, without perception, without fabrications, without consciousness?”

“No, my friend.”

“And so, my friend Yamaka—when you can’t pin down the Tathāgata as a truth or reality even in the present life—is it proper for you to declare, ‘As I understand the Teaching explained by the Blessed One, a monk with no more fermentations, with the breakup of the body, is annihilated, destroyed, & does not exist after death’?”

“Previously, my friend Sāriputta, I did foolishly hold that evil supposition. But now, having heard your explanation of the Dhamma, I have abandoned that evil supposition and have broken through to the Dhamma.”

“Then, friend Yamaka, how would you answer if you are asked, ‘A monk, a worthy one, with no more fermentations: What is he with the breakup of the body, after death?’”

“Thus asked, my friend, I would answer, ‘Form is inconstant… Feeling… Perception… Fabrications… Consciousness is inconstant. That which is inconstant is stressful. That which is stressful has ceased and gone to its end.”

“Very good, my friend Yamaka. Very good.” — SN 22:85

NOTE: 1. The fact that the terminology here switches from the monk whose mind is released to the Tathāgata shows that, in this context at least, the two terms are interchangeable. This is one of the few passages in the Canon where the term Tathāgata has this meaning. (For another, see §190.)

§ 194. [Vacchagotta the wanderer:] “Now, Master Kaccāyana, when asked if the Tathāgata exists after death, you say, ‘That hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One: “The Tathāgata exists after death.”’ When asked if the Tathāgata does not exist after death, you say, ‘That too hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One: “The Tathāgata does not exist after death.”’ When asked if the Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death, you say, ‘That hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One: “The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death.”’ When asked if the Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death, you say, ‘That too hasn’t been declared by the Blessed One: “The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.”’ Now, what is the cause, what is the reason, why that hasn’t been declared by Gotama the contemplative?”

[Ven. Sabhiya Kaccāyana:] “Vaccha, whatever cause, whatever reason there would be for describing him as ‘possessed of form’ or ‘formless’ or ‘percipient’ or ‘non-percipient’ or ‘neither percipient nor non-percipient’: If that cause, that reason, were to cease totally everywhere, totally in every way without remainder, then describing him by what means would one describe him as ‘possessed of form’ or ‘formless’ or ‘percipient’ or ‘non-percipient’ or ‘neither percipient nor non-percipient’?”

“How long has it been since you went forth, Master Kaccāyana?”

“Not long, my friend. Three years.”

“Whoever has gained just this much in this much time has gained a great deal, my friend—to say nothing of what he has thus gone beyond.” — SN 44:11

§ 195. “Now, Ānanda, insofar as a monk doesn’t assume feeling to be the self, nor the self as oblivious, nor that ‘My self feels, in that my self is subject to feeling,’ then, not assuming in this way, he is not sustained by anything [does not cling to anything] in the world. Unsustained, he is not agitated. Unagitated, he is totally unbound right within. He discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’

“If anyone were to say with regard to a monk whose mind is thus released that ‘The Tathāgata exists after death,’ is his view, that would be mistaken; that ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death’… that ‘The Tathāgata both exists & does not exist after death’… that ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death’ is his view, that would be mistaken. Why? Having directly known the extent of designation and the extent of the objects of designation, the extent of expression and the extent of the objects of expression, the extent of description and the extent of the objects of description, the extent of discernment and the extent of the objects of discernment, the extent to which the cycle revolves: Having directly known that, the monk is released. The view that, ‘Having directly known that, the monk released does not see, does not know’: That would be mistaken.”1 — DN 15

NOTE: 1. The various readings for this sentence all seem corrupt. The sense of the paragraph, read in light of AN 10:96 [§177], demands that the view expressed in the last sentence be about the monk released, unlike the four earlier views, which are wrongly attributed to the monk released. In other words, the monk released has no opinion on the question of whether the Tathāgata does, doesn’t, etc., exist after death. This might lead to the supposition that his lack of opinion comes from a lack of knowledge or vision. The description of what he comes to know in the course of gaining release shows that this supposition is inappropriate. He does know, he does see, and what he knows and sees about the limitations of language and concepts shows him that the question of the existence of the Tathāgata after death should be set aside.

Thus I would reconstruct the Pali of the final sentence in this paragraph as: Tad-abhiññā vimutto bhikkhu na jānāti na passati iti sā diṭṭhi tad-akallaṁ.

§ 196. This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: “There are these three times. Which three? Past time, future time, & present time. These are the three times.”

Perceiving in terms of signs, beings

take a stand on signs.

Not fully comprehending signs, they

come into the bonds

of death.

But fully comprehending signs, one

doesn’t construe a signifier.

Touching liberation with the heart,

the state of peace unsurpassed,

consummate in terms of signs,

peaceful,

enjoying the peaceful state,

judicious,

an attainer-of-wisdom

makes use      of classifications

but can’t      be classified.1 — Iti 63

NOTE: 1. At first glance, the verses here don’t bear much relationship to the prose introduction. However, when viewed in the context of MN 2 [§25], their relationship becomes clear: The person who applies appropriate attention to the notion of past, present, and future time does not define him or herself in those terms, and so does not cling to any sense of self in those terms. Without clinging, one is liberated from birth and death.

This verse is almost identical with one in SN 1:20:

Perceiving in terms of signs, beings

take a stand on signs.

Not fully comprehending signs, they

come into the bonds

of death.

But fully comprehending signs, one

doesn’t construe

a signifier.

Yet nothing exists for him

by which one would say,

‘To him no thought occurs.’

The point of this version of the verse is that the mind of the awakened one is so unknowable that one cannot say whether he or she thinks or not. See AN 11:10.

§ 197. “Monks, I will teach you the all. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak.”

“As you say, lord,” the monks responded.

The Blessed One said, “What is the all? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the all.1 Anyone who would say, ‘Repudiating this all, I will describe another,’ if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range.” — SN 35:23

NOTE: 1. The Commentary’s treatment of this discourse is very peculiar. To begin with, it delineates three additional “all’s,” one of them supposedly larger in scope than the one defined here: the allness of the Buddha’s omniscience (literally, All-knowingness). This, despite the fact that the discourse says that the description of such an all lies beyond the range of explanation.

Secondly, the Commentary includes nibbāna (unbinding) within the scope of the all described here—as a dhamma, or object of the intellect—even though many other discourses in the Canon specifically state that nibbāna lies beyond the range of the six senses and their objects. Sn 5:6 [§202], for instance, indicates that a person who has attained nibbāna has gone beyond all phenomena (sabbe dhammā), and therefore cannot be described. MN 49 [§204] discusses a “consciousness without surface” (viññāṇaṁ anidassanaṁ) that does not partake of the “allness of the all.” AN 9:36 [§139] states that full awakening occurs only when passion and delight for the dhamma of deathlessness—i.e., the perception of the deathless as a dhamma—is abandoned. Furthermore, SN 35:24 says that the “all” is to be abandoned. At no point does the Canon say that nibbāna is to be abandoned. Nibbāna follows on cessation (nirodha), which is to be realized. Once nibbāna is realized, there are no further tasks to be done.

Thus a better interpretation would be to read this discourse’s discussion of “all” as intended to limit the use of the word “all” throughout the Buddha’s teachings to the six sense spheres and their objects. As SN 35:24 and SN 35:28 both show, this would also include the consciousness, contact, and feelings connected with the sense spheres and their objects. Nibbāna would lie outside of the word, “all.” This interpretation coincides with another point made several times in the Canon: that dispassion is the highest of all dhammas (Iti 90), while the arahant has gone beyond even dispassion (Sn 4:6; Sn 4:10).

This raises the question, if the word “all” does not include nibbāna, does that mean that one may infer from the statement, “all phenomena are not-self” that nibbāna is self? The answer is No. As AN 4:173 [§208] states, even to ask if there is anything remaining or not remaining (or both, or neither) after the cessation of the six sense spheres is to objectify what is by nature not objectified. The range of objectification goes only as far as the “all.” Perceptions of self or no self, which would count as objectification, would not apply beyond the “all.” When the cessation of the “all” is experienced, all objectification is allayed.

§ 198. “Monks, that dimension should be experienced where the eye ceases and the perception of form fades. That dimension is to be experienced where the ear ceases and the perception of sound fades… where the nose ceases and the perception of aroma fades… where the tongue ceases and the perception of flavor fades… where the body ceases and the perception of tactile sensation fades… where the intellect ceases and the perception of idea/phenomenon fades: That dimension should be experienced.” — SN 35:117

§ 199. As he was sitting there, Ven. Rādha said to the Blessed One: “‘A being,’ lord. ‘A being,’ it’s said. To what extent is one said to be ‘a being’?”

“Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for form, Rādha: When one is caught up [satta] there, tied up [visatta] there, one is said to be ‘a being [satta].’

“Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for feeling… perception… fabrications…

“Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for consciousness, Rādha: When one is caught up there, tied up there, one is said to be ‘a being.’

“Just as when boys or girls are playing with little sand castles [lit: dirt houses]: As long as they are not free from passion, desire, love, thirst, fever, & craving for those little sand castles, that’s how long they have fun with those sand castles, enjoy them, treasure them, feel possessive of them. But when they become free from passion, desire, love, thirst, fever, & craving for those little sand castles, then they smash them, scatter them, demolish them with their hands or feet and make them unfit for play.

“In the same way, Rādha, you too should smash, scatter, demolish form, and make it unfit for play. Practice for the ending of craving for form.

“You should smash, scatter, demolish feeling, and make it unfit for play. Practice for the ending of craving for feeling.

“You should smash, scatter, demolish perception, and make it unfit for play. Practice for the ending of craving for perception.

“You should smash, scatter, demolish fabrications, and make them unfit for play. Practice for the ending of craving for fabrications.

“You should smash, scatter, demolish consciousness, and make it unfit for play. Practice for the ending of craving for consciousness—because the ending of craving, Rādha, is unbinding.” — SN 23:2

§ 200. Then a certain monk went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One: “It would be good, lord, if the Blessed One would teach me the Dhamma in brief such that, having heard the Dhamma from the Blessed One, I might dwell alone, secluded, heedful, ardent, & resolute.”

“Monk, whatever one stays obsessed with, that’s what one is measured by. Whatever one is measured by, that’s how one is classified. Whatever one doesn’t stay obsessed with, that’s not what one is measured by. Whatever one isn’t measured by, that’s not how one is classified.”

“I understand, O Blessed One! I understand, O One Well-gone!”

“And how, monk, do you understand the detailed meaning of what I have said in brief?”

“If one stays obsessed with form, lord, that’s what one is measured by. Whatever one is measured by, that’s how one is classified.

“If one stays obsessed with feeling….

“If one stays obsessed with perception….

“If one stays obsessed with fabrications….

“If one stays obsessed with consciousness, that’s what one is measured by. Whatever one is measured by, that’s how one is classified.

“But if one doesn’t stay obsessed with form, lord, that’s not what one is measured by. Whatever one isn’t measured by, that’s not how one is classified.

“If one doesn’t stay obsessed with feeling….

“If one doesn’t stay obsessed with perception….

“If one doesn’t stay obsessed with fabrications….

“If one doesn’t stay obsessed with consciousness, that’s not what one is measured by. Whatever one isn’t measured by, that’s not how one is classified.

“Lord, this is how I understand the detailed meaning of what you have said in brief.”

“Good, monk. Very good. It’s good that this is how you understand the detailed meaning of what I have said in brief.

“If one stays obsessed with form, monk, that’s what one is measured by. Whatever one is measured by, that’s how one is classified.

“If one stays obsessed with feeling….

“If one stays obsessed with perception….

“If one stays obsessed with fabrications….

“If one stays obsessed with consciousness, that’s what one is measured by. Whatever one is measured by, that’s how one is classified.

“But if one doesn’t stay obsessed with form, monk, that’s not what one is measured by. Whatever one isn’t measured by, that’s not how one is classified.

“If one doesn’t stay obsessed with feeling….

“If one doesn’t stay obsessed with perception….

“If one doesn’t stay obsessed with fabrications….

“If one doesn’t stay obsessed with consciousness, that’s not what one is measured by. Whatever one isn’t measured by, that’s not how one is classified.

“This is how the detailed meaning of what I have said in brief should be seen.”

Then the monk, delighting in and approving of the Blessed One’s words, got up from his seat and bowed down to the Blessed One, circled around him, keeping the Blessed One to his right, and departed. Then, dwelling alone, secluded, heedful, ardent, & resolute, he in no long time reached & remained in the supreme goal of the holy life for which clansmen rightly go forth from home into homelessness, knowing & realizing it for himself in the here & now. He knew, “Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for the sake of this world.” And thus he became another one of the arahants. — SN 22:36

§ 201. “Freed, disjoined, & released from ten things, Bāhuna, the Tathāgata dwells with unrestricted awareness. Which ten? Freed, disjoined, & released from form, the Tathāgata dwells with unrestricted awareness. Freed, disjoined, & released from feeling… Freed, disjoined, & released from perception… Freed, disjoined, & released from fabrications… Freed, disjoined, & released from consciousness… Freed, disjoined, & released from birth… Freed, disjoined, & released from aging… Freed, disjoined, & released from death… Freed, disjoined, & released from stress… Freed, disjoined, & released from defilement, the Tathāgata dwells with unrestricted awareness.

“Just as a red, blue, or white lotus born in the water and growing in the water, rises up above the water and stands with no water adhering to it, in the same way the Tathāgata—freed, disjoined, & released from these ten things—dwells with unrestricted awareness.” — AN 10:81

§ 202.

Upasīva:

One free from passion

for all sensual pleasures

relying on nothingness, letting go of all else,

released in the highest emancipation of perception:

Does he stay there unaffected?

The Buddha:

One free from passion

for all sensual pleasures

relying on nothingness, letting go of all else,

released in the highest emancipation of perception:

He stays there unaffected.

Upasīva:

If he stays there, O All-around Eye,

unaffected for many years,

right there

would he be cooled & released?

Would his consciousness be like that?

The Buddha:

As a flame overthrown by the force of the wind

goes to an end

that cannot be classified,

so the sage free from naming activity

goes to an end

that cannot be classified.

Upasīva:

He who has reached the end:

Does he not exist,

or is he for eternity

free from dis-ease?

Please, sage, declare this to me

as this phenomenon [dhamma]

has been known by you.

The Buddha:

One who has reached the end

has no criterion

by which anyone would say that—

for him it doesn’t exist.

When all phenomena are done away with,

all means of speaking

are done away with as well. — Sn 5:6

Different Responses to Similar Questions

§ 203.

Māra:

“By whom      was this being created?

Where            is the being’s maker?

Where            has the being originated?

Where            does the being cease?”

Sister Vajirā:

“What? Do you assume a ‘being,’ Māra?

Have you gone to a view-standpoint?

This is purely a pile of fabrications.

Here no being

can be pinned down.

Just as when, with an assemblage of parts,

there’s the word,

chariot,

even so when aggregates are present,

there’s the convention of

a being.

For only stress            is what comes to be;

stress,      what remains & falls away.

Nothing but stress      comes to be.

Nothing ceases      but stress.”

Then Māra the Evil One—sad & dejected at realizing, “Vajirā the bhikkhunī knows me”—vanished right there. — SN 5:10

§ 204. Then Vacchagotta the wanderer went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One, “Master Gotama, a few days ago a large number of contemplatives, brahmans, & wanderers of various sects were sitting together in the Debating Hall when this discussion arose among them: ‘This Pūraṇa Kassapa—the leader of a community, the leader of a group, the teacher of a group, honored and famous, esteemed as holy by the mass of people—describes a disciple who has died and passed on in terms of places of rebirth: “That one is reborn there; that one is reborn there.” Even when the disciple is a supreme person, a superlative person, attained to the superlative attainment, Pūraṇa Kassapa describes him, when he has died and passed on, in terms of places of rebirth: “That one is reborn there; that one is reborn there.”

“‘This Makkhali Gosāla… This Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta… This Sañjaya Velaṭṭhaputta… This Pakudha Kaccāyana… This Ajita Kesakambalin—the leader of a community, the leader of a group, the teacher of a group, honored and famous, esteemed as holy by the mass of people—describes a disciple who has died and passed on in terms of places of rebirth: “That one is reborn there; that one is reborn there.” Even when the disciple is a supreme person, a superlative person, attained to the superlative attainment, Ajita Kesakambalin describes him, when he has died and passed on, in terms of places of rebirth: “That one is reborn there; that one is reborn there.”

“‘This contemplative Gotama—the leader of a community, the leader of a group, the teacher of a group, honored and famous, esteemed as holy by the mass of people—describes a disciple who has died and passed on in terms of places of rebirth: “That one is reborn there; that one is reborn there.” But when the disciple is a supreme person, a superlative person, attained to the superlative attainment, Gotama the contemplative does not describe him, when he has died and passed on, in terms of places of rebirth: “That one is reborn there; that one is reborn there.” Instead, he describes him thus: “He has cut through craving, severed the fetter, and by rightly breaking through conceit has made an end of suffering & stress.”’

“So I was simply befuddled. I was uncertain: How is the teaching of Gotama the contemplative to be understood?”

“Of course you’re befuddled, Vaccha. Of course you’re uncertain. When there is a reason for befuddlement in you, uncertainty arises. I designate the rebirth of one who has clinging/sustenance, Vaccha, and not of one without clinging/sustenance. Just as a fire burns with clinging/sustenance and not without clinging/sustenance, even so I designate the rebirth of one who has clinging/sustenance and not of one without clinging/sustenance.”

“But, Master Gotama, at the moment a flame is being swept on by the wind and goes a far distance, what do you designate as its clinging/sustenance then?”

“Vaccha, when a flame is being swept on by the wind and goes a far distance, I designate it as wind-sustained, for the wind is its clinging/sustenance at that time.”

“And at the moment when a being sets this body aside and is not yet reborn in another body, what do you designate as its clinging/sustenance then?”

“Vaccha, when a being sets this body aside and is not yet reborn in another body, I designate it as craving-sustained, for craving is its clinging/sustenance at that time.” — SN 44:9

§ 205. “[Baka Brahmā:] ‘Well, monk, how do you discern my sphere, how do you discern my splendor: “Baka Brahmā has this much great power. Baka Brahmā has this much great might. Baka Brahmā has this much great influence”?’

“[The Buddha:] ‘As far as suns & moons revolve,

shining, illuminating the directions,

over a thousand-fold world

your control holds sway.

There you know those above & below,

those with lust & those without,

the state of what is as it is,

the state of what becomes otherwise,

the coming & going of beings.

“‘That, brahmā, is how I discern your sphere, that is how I discern your splendor: “Baka Brahmā has this much great power. Baka Brahmā has this much great might. Baka Brahmā has this much great influence.” There are, brahmā, groups other than yours that you don’t know, don’t see, but that I know, I see. There is, brahmā, the group named Ābhassara [Radiant/Luminous] from which you fell away & reappeared here. From your having lived here so long, your memory of that has become muddled. That is why you don’t know it, don’t see it, but I know it, I see it. Thus I am not your mere equal in terms of direct knowing, so how could I be inferior? I am actually superior to you.

“‘There is, brahmā, the group named Subhakiṇha [Beautiful Black/Refulgent Glory]…. the group named Vehapphala [Sky-fruit/Great Fruit], {….the group named Abhibhū [Conqueror]}1 which you don’t know, don’t see, but that I know, I see. Thus I am not your mere equal in terms of direct knowing, so how could I be your inferior? I am actually superior to you.

“‘Having directly known earth as earth, and having directly known the extent of what has not been experienced through the earthness of earth,2 I wasn’t earth, I wasn’t in earth, I wasn’t coming from earth, I wasn’t “Earth is mine.” I didn’t affirm earth.3 Thus I am not your mere equal in terms of direct knowing, so how could I be inferior? I am actually superior to you.

“‘Having directly known liquid as liquid… fire as fire… wind as wind… beings as beings… devas as devas… Pajāpati as Pajāpati… brahmā as brahmā… the radiant as radiant… the beautiful black as the beautiful black… the sky-fruit as the sky-fruit… the conqueror as the conqueror…

“‘Having directly known the all as the all, and having directly known the extent of what has not been experienced through the allness of the all, I wasn’t the all, I wasn’t in the all, I wasn’t coming forth from the all, I wasn’t “The all is mine.” I didn’t affirm the all. Thus I am not your mere equal in terms of direct knowing, so how could I be inferior? I am actually superior to you.’

“‘If, good sir, you have directly known the extent of what has not been experienced through the allness of the all, may it not turn out to be actually vain and void for you.’

“‘Consciousness without surface,

without end, luminous all around,

has not been experienced through the earthness of earth… the liquidity of liquid… the fieriness of fire… the windiness of wind… the allness of the all.’4

“‘Well then, good sir, I will disappear from you.’

“‘Well then, brahmā, disappear from me if you can.’

“Then Baka Brahmā, (thinking,) ‘I will disappear from Gotama the contemplative. I will disappear from Gotama the contemplative,’ was not able to disappear from me. When this was said, I said to Baka Brahmā, ‘Well then, brahmā, I will disappear from you.’

“‘Well then, good sir, disappear from me if you can.’

“So then, monks, I fabricated a fabrication of psychic power to the extent that Brahmā, the Brahma-assembly, and the attendants of the Brahma-assembly heard my voice but did not see me. Having disappeared, I recited this verse:

‘Having seen

danger

right in becoming,

and becoming

searching for non-becoming,

I didn’t affirm

any kind of becoming,

or cling to any delight.’

“Then in Brahmā, the Brahma-assembly, and the attendants of the Brahma-assembly there arose a sense of amazement & astonishment: ‘How amazing! How astounding!—the great power, the great might of Gotama the contemplative! Never before have we seen or heard of any other contemplative or brahman of such great power, such great might as that of this Gotama the contemplative, who went forth from a Sakyan clan! Living in a generation that so delights in becoming, so rejoices in becoming, is so fond of becoming, he has pulled out becoming by the root!’” — MN 49

NOTES

1. The phrase in braces is from the Burmese edition of the Canon.

2. What is not experienced through the earthness of earth (and so on through the list of categories up through the allness of the all) is nibbāna, or unbinding. It is described in these terms because it is directly known, without intermediary of any sort.

3. These statements can be read in two ways. The first way is to regard them in light of the standard definition of self-identity view [§179] in which one defines self either as identical with an aggregate, as possessing an aggregate, as being contained in an aggregate, or as containing an aggregate within it. The second way is to regard the statements in light of the parallel passage from MN 1, in which one engages in metaphysical speculation as to whether one’s being is identical with something, lies within something, or comes from something. For more on this topic, see the introduction to the Mūlapariyāya Sutta (MN 1) in Handful of Leaves, volume one.

4. Consciousness without surface (viññāṇaṁ anidassanaṁ): This term appears to be related to the following image from SN 12:64:

“Just as if there were a roofed house or a roofed hall having windows on the north, the south, or the east. When the sun rises, and a ray has entered by way of the window, where does it land?”

“On the western wall, lord.”

“And if there is no western wall, where does it land?”

“On the ground, lord.”

“And if there is no ground, where does it land?”

“On the water, lord.”

“And if there is no water, where does it land?”

“It doesn’t land, lord.”

“In the same way, where there is no passion for the nutriment of physical food… contact… intellectual intention… consciousness, where there is no delight, no craving, then consciousness does not land there or grow. Where consciousness does not land or grow, name-&-form does not alight. Where name-&-form does not alight, there is no growth of fabrications. Where there is no growth of fabrications, there is no production of renewed becoming in the future. Where there is no production of renewed becoming in the future, there is no future birth, aging, & death. That, I tell you, has no sorrow, affliction, or despair.”

In other words, normal sensory consciousness is experienced because it has a “surface” against which it lands: the sense organs and their objects, which constitute the “all.” For instance, one experiences visual consciousness because of the eye and forms of which one is conscious. Consciousness without surface, however, is directly known, without intermediary, free from any dependence on conditions at all. In terms of the above image, it is a paradoxical luminosity that does not reflect off of anything at all.

This consciousness thus differs from the consciousness factor in dependent co-arising, which is defined in terms of the six sense media. Lying outside of time and space, it would also not come under the consciousness-aggregate, which covers all consciousness near and far; past, present, and future. And, as SN 35:23 [§197] notes, the word “all” in the Buddha’s teaching covers only the six sense media, which is another reason for not including this consciousness under the aggregates. However, the fact that it is outside of time and space—in a dimension where there is no here, there, or in between [§173], no coming, no going, or staying [§206]—means that it cannot be described as permanent or omnipresent, terms that have meaning only within space and time.

Some have objected to the equation of this consciousness with nibbāna, on the grounds that nibbāna is nowhere else in the Canon described as a form of consciousness. Thus they have proposed that consciousness without surface be regarded as an arahant’s consciousness of nibbāna in meditative experience, and not nibbāna itself. This argument, however, contains two flaws: (1) The term viññāṇaṁ anidassanaṁ also occurs in DN 11 [§161], where it is described as “where name & form are brought to an end”: surely a synonym for nibbāna. (2) If nibbāna is an object of mental consciousness (as a dhamma), it would come under the all, as an object of the intellect. There are passages in the Canon [§139] that describe meditators experiencing nibbāna as a dhamma, but these passages seem to indicate that this description applies up through the level of non-returning. Other passages, however, describe nibbāna as the ending of all dhammas. For instance, Sn 5:6 [§202] quotes the Buddha as calling the attainment of the goal the transcending of all dhammas. Sn 4:6 and Sn 4:10 state that the arahant has transcended dispassion, said to be the highest dhamma. Thus, for the arahant, nibbāna is not an object of consciousness. Instead it is directly known without mediation. Because consciousness without surface is directly known without mediation, there seems good reason to equate the two.

§ 206. Now at that time the Blessed One was instructing, urging, rousing, & encouraging the monks with Dhamma-talk concerned with unbinding. The monks—receptive, attentive, focusing their entire awareness, lending ear—listened to the Dhamma.

Then, on realizing the significance of that, the Blessed One on that occasion exclaimed:

“There is that dimension where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor staying; neither passing away nor arising: unestablished, unevolving, without support [mental object]. This, just this, is the end of stress.” — Ud 8:1

§ 207.

It’s hard to see the unaffected,

for the truth is not easily seen.

Craving is pierced

in one who knows;

for one who sees,

there is nothing. — Ud 8:2

§ 208. Then Ven. MahāKoṭṭhita went to Ven. Sāriputta and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to Ven. Sāriputta, “With the remainderless cessation & fading of the six contact-media [vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, & intellection], is it the case that there is anything else?”

[Ven. Sāriputta:] “Don’t say that, my friend.”

[Ven. MahāKoṭṭhita:] “With the remainderless cessation & fading of the six contact-media, is it the case that there is not anything else?”

[Ven. Sāriputta:] “Don’t say that, my friend.”

[Ven. MahāKoṭṭhita:] “…is it the case that there both is & is not anything else?”

[Ven. Sāriputta:] “Don’t say that, my friend.”

[Ven. MahāKoṭṭhita:] “…is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else?”

[Ven. Sāriputta:] “Don’t say that, my friend.”

[Ven. MahāKoṭṭhita:] “Being asked if, with the remainderless cessation & fading of the six contact-media, there is anything else, you say, ‘Don’t say that, my friend.’ Being asked if… there is not anything else… there both is & is not anything else… there neither is nor is not anything else, you say, ‘Don’t say that, my friend.’ Now, how is the meaning of your words to be understood?”

[Ven. Sāriputta:] “The statement, ‘With the remainderless cessation & fading of the six contact-media is it the case that there is anything else?’ objectifies the non-objectified. The statement, ‘… is it the case that there is not anything else… is it the case that there both is & is not anything else… is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else?’ objectifies the non-objectified. However far the six contact-media go, that is how far objectification goes. However far objectification goes, that is how far the six contact media go. With the remainderless fading & cessation of the six contact-media, there comes to be the cessation, the allaying of objectification.” — AN 4:173