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In SN 24.5, the Lord Buddha criticized the following doctrine called "natthikavādaṃ":

There is no benefit in giving, sacrifice or offerings. There’s no fruit or result of good and bad deeds. There is not this world or the other world. There are no duties to mother and father. No beings are reborn spontaneously. And there’s no ascetic or brahmin who is well attained and practiced, and who describes this world and the other world after realizing it with their own insight.

This person is made up of the four primary elements. When they die, the earth in their body merges and coalesces with the main mass of earth. The water in their body merges and coalesces with the main mass of water. The fire in their body merges and coalesces with the main mass of fire. The air in their body merges and coalesces with the main mass of air.

The faculties are transferred to space. Four men with a bier carry away the corpse. Their footprints show the way to the cemetery. The bones become bleached. Offerings dedicated to the gods end in ashes. Giving is a doctrine of morons. When anyone affirms a positive teaching (atthikavādaṃ) it’s just baseless, false nonsense. Both the foolish and the astute are annihilated and destroyed when their body breaks up and don’t exist after death.

According to SN 24.5, why did the Lord Buddha criticize natthikavādaṃ (the doctrine of disbelief)?

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    Hi @Dhammadhatu, assuming you don't find any of the answers posted here adequate, I would be interested in understanding what you believe to be a correct answer. Maybe post a chat here for it? – Yeshe Tenley May 9 '18 at 15:56
  • @Dhammadhatu I guess you have read my answer. Is there anything which is missing from the answer? In which way the answer is inadequate ? I would be glad to help. – Dheeraj Verma May 16 '18 at 10:18
  • Please refrain from editing my question. Thanks – Dhammadhatu May 18 '18 at 10:30
  • @Dhammadhatu How does the word "moral" get into (or come from) natthikavāda? – ChrisW May 18 '18 at 11:47
  • Its disbelief in kamma & results. Its not "annihilationism". The term "nihilism" is a Western term. Disbelief in the efficacy of kamma (natthikavādaṃ) is "moral nihilism". refer to MN 60: Regardless, that individual is still criticized by sensible people in the present life as being an immoral individual of wrong view, a nihilist. atha ca panāyaṃ bhavaṃ purisapuggalo diṭṭheva dhamme viññūnaṃ gārayho—dussīlo purisapuggalo micchādiṭṭhi natthikavādo’ti. – Dhammadhatu May 18 '18 at 12:38
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The answer is present in the same sutta:

“When form exists, because of grasping form and insisting on form, the view arises: ‘There’s no meaning in giving, sacrifice, or offerings. … Both the foolish and the astute are annihilated and destroyed when their body breaks up, and don’t exist after death.’ When feeling … perception … choices … consciousness exists, because of grasping consciousness and insisting on consciousness, the view arises: ‘There’s no meaning in giving, sacrifice, or offerings. … Both the foolish and the astute are annihilated and destroyed when their body breaks up, and don’t exist after death.’

In other words when self identification with forms,feelings,perception,consciousness and/or volitional formations occur such a view as highlighted by you also occurs.

I think the the wrong view of moral nihilism gets generated when we say that every self ceases to exist after death(i.e body and self are same) or that every self lives for eternity(i.e body and self are different). In both the case following holds true :

‘There’s no meaning in giving, sacrifice, or offerings. There’s no fruit or result of good and bad deeds. There’s no afterlife. There are no duties to mother and father. No beings are reborn spontaneously. And there’s no ascetic or brahmin who is well attained and practiced, and who describes the afterlife after realizing it with their own insight. This person is made up of the four primary elements. When they die, the earth in their body merges and coalesces with the main mass of earth. The water in their body merges and coalesces with the main mass of water. The fire in their body merges and coalesces with the main mass of fire. The air in their body merges and coalesces with the main mass of air. The faculties are transferred to space. Four men with a bier carry away the corpse. Their footprints show the way to the cemetery. The bones become bleached. Offerings dedicated to the gods end in ashes. Giving is a doctrine of morons. When anyone affirms a positive teaching it’s just baseless, false nonsense. Both the foolish and the astute are annihilated and destroyed when their body breaks up, and don’t exist after death’?”

The truth there is that there is no permanent , unchanging self. What is happening is Clinging to forms,feelings,perceptions,consciousness and/or volitional formations. These Clingings are not unconditional. Craving gives rise to clinging. This is the midddle way. Depending upon conditions clinging ceases. Depending upon conditions clinging arises. This is the Dhamma. To those who believe in Self it would appear Self arises and ceases which is self contradictory as self is permanent and unchanging. Morality based upon the assumption that Self and body are the same results in moral nihilism. Morality based upon assumption that Self and body are different leads to moral nihilism.

EDIT: I have found another Sutta(saṃyuktāgama 297) to support my answer. Following quote illustrates the point I have been trying to make:

“What is the great discourse on the emptiness of dharmas? It is this: Because this exists, that exists; because this arises, that arises. That is to say: Conditioned by ignorance, activities arise; because of activities, consciousness arises, and so on …, and thus arises this whole mass of suffering.

“Regarding the statement conditioned by birth, aging-and-death arises, someone may ask: Who is it that ages-and-dies? To whom does aging-and-death belong?

“And he may answer: It is the self that ages-and-dies. Aging-and-death belongs to the self; aging-and-death is the self.

“To say that soul is the same thing as body, or to say that soul is one thing and body another, these have the same meaning, though they are expressed differently. For one who has the view which says that soul is the same thing as body, there is no point in the noble life. And for one who has the other view which says that soul is one thing and body another, there is also no point in the noble life. Following neither of these two extremes, the mind should move rightly toward the Middle Way.

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There is a related sutta, SN44.6 that says:

"For one who loves form (and the rest of the five aggregates), who is fond of form, who cherishes form, who does not know or see, as it actually is present, the cessation of form, there occurs the thought, 'The Tathagata exists after death' or 'The Tathagata does not exist after death' or 'The Tathagata both exists and does not exist after death' or 'The Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death.'

"But for one who doesn't love form (and the rest of the five aggregates), who isn't fond of form, who doesn't cherish form, who knows & sees, as it actually is present, the cessation of form, the thought, 'The Tathagata exists after death' or 'The Tathagata does not exist after death' or 'The Tathagata both exists and does not exist after death' or 'The Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death' doesn't occur.

"For one who loves becoming, who is fond of becoming, ...

"But for one who doesn't love becoming, who isn't fond of becoming ...

"For one who loves clinging/sustenance ...

"But for one who doesn't love clinging/sustenance ...

"For one who loves craving ...

"But for one who doesn't love craving ...

I have heard another story about a master saying "think about monkeys", and the meditator thinks about monkeys with his eyes closed. After this, the master says "don't think about monkeys", and again, the meditator never fails to think about monkeys with his eyes closed. Why? Because in both cases, he has an obsession with monkeys.

Similarly, views about whether 'The Tathagata exists after death' or 'The Tathagata does not exist after death' or 'The Tathagata both exists and does not exist after death' or 'The Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death' all occur only if one has an obsession with the five aggregates, becoming, craving and clinging.

Similarly, having views about whether one (the self) 'exists after death' or 'does not exist after death' or 'both exists and does not exist after death' or 'neither exists nor does not exist after death' are all due to obsession with the five aggregates, becoming, craving and clinging.

The Acela Sutta shows that the Buddha teaches the Right View using dependent origination, rather than eternalism or annihilationism. (This comes from here but the full text can be found here):

Again, when the Buddha was asked by the naked ascetic Kassapa whether suffering was of one's own making or of another's or both or neither, the Buddha replied "Do not put it like that." When asked whether there was no suffering or whether the Buddha neither knew nor saw it, the Buddha replied that there was, and that he both knew and saw it. He then said "Kassapa, if one asserts that 'He who makes (it) feels (it): being one existent from the beginning, his suffering is of his own making,' then one arrives at eternalism. But if one asserts that one makes (it), another feels (it); being one existent crushed out by feeling, his suffering is of another's making,' then one arrives at annihilationism. Instead of resorting to either extreme a Tathaagata teaches the Dhamma by the middle way (by dependent origination)" (S. XII, 17/vol. ii, 20).

The Yamaka Sutta also speaks of an interesting notion:

"Then, friend Yamaka, how would you answer if you are thus asked: A monk, a worthy one, with no more mental effluents: what is he on the break-up of the body, after death?"

"Thus asked, 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.

So, rather than saying that after Parinibbana, the Buddha exists or does not exist, it's better to say suffering has ceased and gone to its end.

In a similar way, rather than saying that after death, whether an unenlightened person is non-existent or existent or reborn or not reborn, it's better to say that suffering has not ceased. And what happens when suffering has not ceased, is understood using dependent origination.

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Why did the Buddha criticize natthika (moral nihilism)?

Well, it is wrong on many levels:

  1. objectively, moral nihilism leads to careless behavior, which often leads to conflict and suffering.
  2. subjectively, adhering to good morals is a nice rule of thumb for reducing mental afflictions - while moral nihilism would give free reign to the blinding passions.
  3. Right Dharma by its very nature has to be based on reality of how things work - and being based on how things work means its principles can be observed throughout a wide range of human activities - which is why worldly ethics and Buddhism go along 90% of the way. Moral nihilism goes contrary to worldly ethics, which means it's not in accord with how things work.
  4. the entire Buddhist path is based on the idea that some states of existence are "better" (more peaceful) then others, Nirvana being "the best", with better behavior leading to better states, and better views leading to better behavior. Dharma is that "better view". To claim that moral nihilism is the right teaching would imply that moral nihilism is a better view, which is logically inconsistent, since from the standpoint of moral nihilism there cannot be such thing as "better view".
  5. our ideas and results of our actions continue to exist after our death. So whatever we do has influence beyond this life, just like we have inherited actions of previous generations. Moral nihilism denies this factor, this denial being obviously false.

How is this reconciled with the highest (Mahayana's) teaching of emptiness? Emptiness, or groundlessness as it is sometimes called, does NOT mean there is no good & bad. It does NOT mean there's no skillful & unskillful behavior. It means good/bad and skillful/unskillful cannot be simply generalized and reified. This is known even from the modern ethics with its infamous trolley problem. Good & bad is not something you can decide once-and-for-all and always go by the same rule. Same goes for skillful/unskillful. If being wise and skillful were as simple as learning a rule of thumb, everyone would be a buddha by now.

It also involves clear understanding that, in any kind of dispute, to be too attached to one position as "the only good" - is not good, because it leads to trouble. Attachment to reified morals, aversion based on that attachment, and conflict it generates - is not the most skillful approach. It is better than having no clue, sure - but not as good as seeing the situation from all perspectives at once.

So from Mahayana perspective, moral categories are not tangible, they cannot be grasped. Morals and wisdom is a skill one has to master, and the more someone masters it, the more nuanced and less stereotyped it gets, until it's almost like it has no definite shape - and yet you can see it working with clarity.

At the very end of this progression of mastery is what Mahayana calls groundlessness or positionlessness of a great master. Nothing can be further away from the moral nihilism.

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The views presented above belong to the ancient Indian materialist Ajita Kesakambalin of the Charvaka or Lokayata school. Ajita Kesakambalin is introduced in the Samaññaphala Sutta: The Fruits of the Contemplative Life.

The Buddha criticized the materialist world view for many reasons including its amoral (at best) or immoral (at worst) consequences. In contradistinction he taught the Dharma to dissuade those who would harm themselves and others believing that with the breakup of the body at death one could escape the consequences of negative actions in this very life. The Buddha explicitly criticized and put his own teachings in contradistinction to this by teaching the truth of rebirth and that one cannot escape the negative fruit of ones actions with the breakup of the body at death. As Thanissaro Bhikkhu skillfully cites in The Truth of Rebirth:

[The Buddha then cites similar cases where some people are rewarded for stealing, engaging in illicit sex, and lying, whereas other people are punished.]

"Now, what do you think, headman: Have you ever seen or heard of such a case?"

"I have seen this, lord, have heard of it, and will hear of it [again in the future]."

"So, headman, when those contemplatives & brahmans who hold a doctrine & view like this say: 'All those who kill living beings [etc.] experience pain & distress in the here-&-now,' do they speak truthfully or falsely?"

"Falsely, lord."

"And those who babble empty falsehood: Are they moral or immoral?"

"Immoral, lord."

"And those who are immoral and of evil character: Are they practicing wrongly or rightly?"

"Wrongly, lord."

"And those who are practicing wrongly: Do they hold wrong view or right view?"

"Wrong view, lord."

"And is it proper to place confidence in those who hold wrong view?"

"No, lord."

— SN 42.13

  • FWIW I think the OP wanted the answer "According to SN 24.5 ..." (and that the argument you quoted would be classified as the "mundane right view"). – ChrisW May 9 '18 at 15:24
  • Yeah, I have no pretension to understanding OP's mind or what he thinks the right answer is :) I know the rhetorical question is frowned upon, but maybe we could have a chat if OP wants as I would like to understand what he's after... – Yeshe Tenley May 9 '18 at 15:37
  • Sure: if you don't understand a question you can post a query (as a comment) under the question. – ChrisW May 9 '18 at 15:44
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The true meaning of life is helping others achieve freedom from suffering.I think that somebody can't undergo all the hardships of the right path without having a full compassionate heart.

I understood all phenomena of life’s round and transcendence to be interdependent. I further ascertained that the underlying basis of mind is free from biases. Life’s round is the result of the path conditioned by wrong views. Transcendence is the result of the path conditioned by insight. The essence of both is emptiness and luminosity.

The Buddhist notion of emptiness is often misunderstood as nihilism. Nihilism and the teaching of emptiness can be said to have in common is a skeptical outset. Nihilism concludes that reality is unknowable, that nothing exists, that nothing meaningful can be communicated about the world. The Buddhist notion of emptiness is just the opposite. It states that the ultimate reality is knowable, there is a clear-cut ontological basis for phenomena and we can communicate and derive useful knowledge from it about the world.

This concept of emptiness may easily lead to the negative thought of nihilism. Mahayana Buddhism takes us back out of this extremist concept of emptiness to the middle way.This middle way still commits to the idea that “life is emptiness”; however emptiness here is not different from existence--emptiness is existence, existence is emptiness. This middle way definitely takes away any inkling of nihilist negativism. It is realistic and positive about life.[1]

The very purpose of fertile soil is to cultivate seeds into a fully manifest, healthy plant. Thus the development of our innate compassion is intimately and interdependently linked to the fertile soil-17 Karmapa

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It appears the Lord Buddha criticized natthikavādaṃ (moral nihilism) because it is doctrine based on grasping (upadana). In other words, the Lord Buddha appeared to not criticize natthikavādaṃ because of disbelief in an afterlife.

  • The translation of the sutta says that the view arises "because of grasping consciousness and insisting on consciousness", and wouldn't arise by not grasping ... and that a noble disciple has given up doubt about the six cases (the five skandhas plus all sense objects) and the four noble truths. – ChrisW May 18 '18 at 11:46
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The write-up “There’s No Meaning in Giving” by Bhikku Sujato, is still at a draft stage as its proofreading is not complete. But it is in keeping with ‘The Connected Discourses of the Buddha’ 24-5 (There Is Not), of the Book of Aggregates (Khandhavagga).

It talks primarily of the third kind of ‘Tanha’ that exists, namely the vibhava tanhā. Tanhā is “getting attached to things in this world”. Due to greed, hate, and ignorance, Kāma tanhā, bhava tanhā, and vibhava tanhā arises. It is because of the ignorance that we are grasping things and insisting on things, in thinking that they can provide lasting happiness. This attachment first manifests in greed. But when someone or something gets in the way, we generate hate.

Vibhava tanhā arises from the wrong view that there’s no afterlife. One believes that at death one ceases to exist, i.e., one believes that the mind is a by-product of the body (brain), and thus when the body dies, that is the end of story.

Many immoral acts are done with natthikavādaṃ (nihilism) because one believes that everything in this world is for one’s enjoyment, and all ends with this life. The logic is that If this birth is the one and the last, there is no need for giving, sacrifice or offerings, as there’s no fruit or result of good and bad deeds.

This type of tanhā is removed as one progresses on the Path and at Stream Entry. Vibhava tanhā is removed at Sōtapanna stage, since only someone with micca ditthi can have vibhava tanhā. At Stream Entry one sees the truth in the rebirth process.

Tanhā arise due to asāva: One gets “attached” because one has deeply- embedded cravings. In this instance it is due to vibhavāsava. Vibhavāsava is split in to two: ditthāsava (ditthi asāva) and avijjāsava (avijja āsava). This is because vibhavāsava arises due to wrong views and ignorance. Āsava are “mental fermentations” that lie deep down in us. That can be compared to mud sitting at the bottom of a glass of water. “Asava” are the things we have liked for long, long times through uncountable lives in the samsāra or the rebirth process. They are the deep-seated cravings we have for certain things. .

Getting attached to things in this world due to greed, hate, and ignorance, lessen gradually with the deeper understanding of the message of the Buddha. This means ridding oneself of the three bonds that tie one down to this plane. Namely Raga, Dvesha and moha (greed, hate, and ignorance). The only way to do this is by eradicating Tanha (Kāma tanhā, bhava tanhā, vibhava tanhā). Ditthāsava is the craving or attachment to certain views. This is why sometimes it is hard to accept or even consider other views. This is why Buddha criticized natthikavādaṃ (nihilism).

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