DN 1 states the view of nihilist wanderers, as follows:

Herein, bhikkhus, a certain recluse or a brahmin asserts the following doctrine and view: ‘The self, good sir, has material form; it is composed of the four primary elements and originates from father and mother. Since this self, good sir, is annihilated and destroyed with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death, at this point the self is completely annihilated.’ In this way some proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being.

Is the word 'self' used here in conventional language?

Or does the word 'self' here actually represent a belief in self by those nihilist wanderers?

If those nihilist wanderers did not believe in 'self' ( and thus used 'conventional language'), why were they not considered to be enlightened?


4 Answers 4


It appears to me those Brahmins believed in none existence. It appears they did not believe in kamma and rebirth. What Buddha taught was the dependent origination. It is not enough to understand the not self. That has to be realised through dependent origination.

  • In his 2nd sermon, all listeners become fully enlightened by realising not-self. Realising dependent origination was not necessary. Aug 8, 2017 at 18:24
  • Dependent origination is covered in the first sermon. Second noble truth is the understanding of Dependent Origination.
    – SarathW
    Aug 9, 2017 at 1:58
  • it is still not relevant. not-self can be realised without knowing the noble truths Aug 9, 2017 at 3:11
  • Yes.But it is not enough to attain Nibbana.
    – SarathW
    Aug 9, 2017 at 3:14
  • 1
    Yes, but these people are already progress in the path.
    – SarathW
    Aug 9, 2017 at 3:21

This hypothetical person regards the 'self' as the individuality physically distinguishable -- the physical body composed of the elements, born from mother/father.

Then, arguably such 'self' as used by this person might be the same 'self' as used in conventional language by the Buddha and the Arahats. The word, then, could have the same function for both groups, in this context.

While such person likely denies the existence of an enduring self -- which would be in agreement with the Buddha -- the quote suggests the view that death marks the end of experiencing, that death is the end of experience. And this, according to the Buddha, is wrong view.

The best argument I know of in the suttas for this stance is that, if such was the case, then karma (and, consequently, morality) would be fiction: there would be no results of actions according to their moral nature (and consequently, morality would be an unnecessary obstacle to gains and benefits, to happiness). Or, more precisely, such results could only occur during this very life -- so one better do all evil things as fast and careful as possible and enjoy the benefits of it while avoiding any bad external outcomes (outcomes that are not really governed by karma law, but exclusively by social conventions of a given time and given culture, e.g. criminal laws and law enforcement).

Another argument against this view can be inferred from the suttas around Nirvana. That is, under this view, Nirvana would have a doubtful value. Why would anyone spend a lifetime avoiding worldly pleasures, enduring hardship, for the promise of an hypothetical "best pleasure" that would only last for a few years? That is, until the person dies. And yet, such person would still suffer physical pain, just like anyone else. Under this view then, once he/she dies, it doesn't matter who attained Nirvana and who didn't, since the same thing happens to everyone equally: the end happens.

  • Please provide links to your opinions here from suttas. Where is death marks the end of experiencing, that death is the end of experience. And this, according to the Buddha, is wrong view. Aug 9, 2017 at 3:21
  • Your answer is the very opposite of what is written the sutta. No where does the sutta say nihilism refers to the ending of experience. The sutta states nihilism is the death of a self. Aug 9, 2017 at 3:36
  • It's written "the quote suggests" -- that's one of the usual forms to express an interpretation. The interpretation is based solely on the quote and the characterization of such person as nihilist -- in extreme opposition to eternalists. If a nihilist believes death is not "the end", then that raises the question "what is a nihilist? And what makes it the extreme opposite of eternalist?"
    – user382
    Aug 9, 2017 at 3:51
  • Both nilhists & eternalist have self-views according to the texts. This is what seems to distinguish them from Buddha. Aug 9, 2017 at 3:58
  • Sure, of course. But I can't make sense of a nihilist believing "life continues" after death (specially without "his self", supposedly annihilated upon physical death). Hence the inference sounds reasonable to me.
    – user382
    Aug 9, 2017 at 4:02

No where in that quote show nihilist wanderers not see 5 khandha as self.

That context mean " nihilist wanderers think about 5 khandha (with avijjā and taṇhā that nihilist wanderers never known) as self. And they think that when self die, self will never born again".

But the truth is "where is taṇhā, there is born (paṭiccasamuppāda)". However they can't think like that because they never enlighten paṭiccasamuppāda.

Every question of yours look like my view at 12 years ago, when I was an innocent buddhist and before I have learn pali and try to recite tipitaka-pali.

So I never support study system of western's buddhism, because I never want to take anyone jump to conclusions as alike as I never want to take anyone just believe in tipitaka.


In the translation of DN 1 that I'm reading, after the description of the 7 types of annihilation-belief, the Tathagata says (I paraphrase),

The Tathagata understands these views, and knows the result of these views (i.e. the next existence in which those who hold these views will be reborn). He knows the dhamma that's better than these views, doesn't have false view, therefore rids himself of the three poisons, because he understands cessation of sensation and liberation from attachment to sensation (i.e. realizes nibanna).

You asked, "If those nihilist wanderers did not believe in 'self' ( and thus used 'conventional language'), why were they not considered to be enlightened?"

It seems to me that no matter how they talk about "self", and no matter what kind of "self" or body is annihilated at death, the Buddha's definition of "right view" is something else: e.g. it includes knowledge of cessation of sensation (from the jhanas, I suppose) and liberation from attachment to sensation.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .