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After attaining Nirvana, what happens to the person(conscious) after death?

Does the person cease to exist?

If not, does the person go to some peaceful place?

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4 Answers 4

In one sense he continues just as we do. Once he attained nirvana under the Bodhi tree he carried on teaching for another 50 years. It was only on the death of his physical body that he underwent parinirvana, that is to say final release. However this just pushes the question on from nirvana to parinirvana.

The question of what happens to an enlightened being after death is one of the unanswered questions i.e. does the Tathagata (Buddha) exist after death. The Buddha refused to address metaphysical issues such as these. He teaches one thing and that thing is liberation. He views other issues such as this, the nature of the universe, the nature of the 'soul' as a distraction.

It's not to say that this isn't a good question but it is one that is deliberately unanswered by the Buddha. As such I'm probably not going to be able to do it either.

It's the answer of no answer


This answer is based on Theravada teachings and is not the stance of all Buddhist schools. Other answers here will be from different perspectives and should be considered along with this answer.

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Could you make a note that your answer is based on Theravada teachings? In Vajrayana, for example, it is very clear and well-defined what happens to an enlightened being after death. –  Rabbit Aug 5 at 17:04
@Rabbit very fair point. I'm not the expert on vajrayana so I'm very happy to take your expertise on this. It is a very pali canon answer –  Crab Bucket Aug 5 at 18:23
@Rabbit would you perhaps consider putting your own answer from the vajrayana perspective or do you think it merits a question of its own? –  Crab Bucket Aug 5 at 18:34
Posting an answer from Vajrayana perspective should be just fine, I believe. However, could I ask you to edit your answer so that readers know it is not a general stance of all Buddhist schools? Your answer is nicely upvoted so it might mislead some people. –  Rabbit Aug 5 at 19:06
@Rabbit no problem. I hope that clarifies things –  Crab Bucket Aug 5 at 19:52

There was no person existing in the 1st place to cease to exist. What you mistake as a person is just the 5 aggregates of clinging. They are just natural processes of causes and effects. Once you attain Nibbana, the causes for continuation of the 5 aggregates are removed. Hence no continuation.

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This answer seems self-contradictory. You say there was no person, but then you say that a person is the 5 aggregates of clinging -- natural processes of causes and effects. Those -- 5 aggregates, and natural processes -- are things to which we apply, apparently, the term "person". In other words, even if "person" is an illusion, illusions are still things. –  tkp Jul 10 at 4:55
It's similar to someone pointing at a mirage in the desert and calling it a lake. Then I say it is not a lake! In reality, it is an optical illusion caused by light refracting differently through air at different temperatures. If you apply the same line of thought to my answer, you wouldn't find it self-contradictory. Illusions are illusions! But they are caused by things. –  Sankha Kulathantille Jul 10 at 17:39
Right, but there you have two things: the "real" thing -- the lake; and the illusion -- the mirage. For that to work as an analogy, we need those two things things to correspond with two things in the "person" question. Presumably you consider "mirage" to correspond to "person"; so what corresponds to "lake"? As far as I understand it, the analogy is invalid, because there aren't two things -- there's simply a misunderstanding about what the one thing -- "person" -- is. But that thing still "is" (whatever "is" means). –  tkp Jul 10 at 17:52
Lake isn't real. Lake itself is the illusion. The real thing there is just light refracting through air. The word 'mirage' is merely a pointer to that. A misunderstanding or an illusion is not a thing. It's simply a product of ignorance. –  Sankha Kulathantille Jul 10 at 18:01
"An existing person" is a false thought caused by ignorance. It does not point to the 5 aggregates. It only points to ignorance. Only thoughts that perceive the 5 aggregates as they are points to a thing or reality. –  Sankha Kulathantille Jul 10 at 18:12

As I understand it, Crab Bucket is correct that this is a question to which an answer is never given. I will contribute some source and try to flesh out this answer a bit:

  • According to the Avyakata Sutta, the Buddha says that holding a viewpoint about what happens to an enlightened one after death is 'anguish' [Pāli: 'vippatisara'] and that well-instructed, noble disciples don't declare an answer to it.
  • According to the Culamalunkya Sutta, the Buddha does not declare any of the ten 'speculative views' about the cosmos, the soul/body, or parinibbāna:

"Why have I left that undeclared? Because it is unbeneficial, it does not belong to the fundamentals of the holy life, it does not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna. That is why I have left it undeclared."

  • According to the Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta, the Buddha says that he doesn't declare an answer to the question and that the four positions (does exist, doesn't exist, both does and doesn't exist, neither exists nor doesn't) are a 'thicket of views'.

    He then uses an analogy to illustrate why these positions don't apply to him, namely, to try to describe him after death would be like trying to pin down a fire that has gone out--where did it go? Where is it now? He then uses another simile, describing himself as 'deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the sea.' The second simile may be intended to prevent the development of an annihilation view. (cf. Bodhi, 320, 2005)

    Bodhi, B. In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pāli Canon, 2005.

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Athma or soul gives life to the Body. A body is simply a tool for achieving the duties of an Athma, or Karma. Every time when someone or something is born, it is to do a set of duties. Salvation or nirvana is attained once and forever when a soul completes all its duties and free itself of its responsibilities. When a person fails to do its duties and roles, he is reborn and the circle of life, death and rebirth goes on till the soul achieves the same. The athma is assigned a new body and a new set of duties.

After attaining eternal salvation/nirvana the soul joins a circle of souls called pithru-athmas. Meaning athma of forefathers. The reason why the souls stand or sit in a circle is because among souls, nobody is greater or smaller, just like a circle has no end or beginning. Once the salvation is achieved the soul takes its rightfully earned position among the Pithru-athmas. Peace. :)

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Welcome to Buddhism SE. Your answer does not appear to be answering the question from the Buddhist perspective and might be considered off topic for this site. –  Robin111 Jul 10 at 10:50
Welcome to Buddhism SE. Please consider formatting the answer in a format with sources quoted. If you are comparing concepts of Nirvana between religious traditions, please quote sources and relate how your answer addresses the question by comparing religious traditions with Buddhism. –  DharmaEater Jul 10 at 13:41
Welcome to Buddhism SE. Please be aware that we're a new site and we're all trying to help each other figure stuff out, and as a result new members often find themselves the recipient of multiple "Welcome to Buddhism SE" comments, and critiques of their questions! Please consider all advice as friendly, and, as we're all saying (incessantly, but genuinely), WELCOME!! :-D –  tkp Jul 10 at 19:56
Hinduism and Buddhism are both closely related. Buddhism also has its origin from Hinduism. I would also like to invite all the members of this community to visit the Ajanta and Ellora caves. And also that i find @Sankha Kulathantille's answer all the more convincing than mine. And i must confess my answer is more of a Hindu Perspective of the cycle. :) peace. –  user384 Jul 11 at 4:20

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