I was just looking at the connected discousres (Bhikkhu Bodhi) and it said

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Sorry for the rushed question, but I wondered if arhats can be said to exist or not after death? Does the Buddha say the same of arhats here as himself: refusing to answer

I would like an answer in the Pali tradition, and something which explicitly mentions arhats.

If, as suggested in comments, there's no answer, may I ask if the equivocation in the quote is in the Pali original? To be specific, whether Vacchagotta (I think is the interlocutor) is praising master Kaccana for not speaking of the Buddha beyond "this", or suggesting that Master Kaccana has "surpassed this".

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    "The state of Nibbana after the death of the arahant is nowhere discussed in the Paali Canon. " -- accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/desilva/wheel407.html BTW please do tell me how pursuing this further may make me a better person? – OyaMist Jul 1 '18 at 1:56
  • incredible, thanks @OyaMistAeroponics good luck! – user3293056 Jul 1 '18 at 19:44
  • still no explanation of the downvotes. it's fine, just – user3293056 Jul 3 '18 at 23:03

If you want to see what the authoritative figures have to say on the topic, here's a quote from What Happens to an Arahant at Death? A Dialogue between Bhikkhu Bodhi and B. Alan Wallace:

BB: The problem then is how nibbāna after the death of the arahant can be a real element (a real entity, a real dimension, a real state, whatever term one uses) describable as “ultimate bliss” etc. yet without being identifiable with viññāṇa. [...] I take such terms as “unborn, deathless, etc.” to be referential, not mere metaphors for absolute extinction. The problem is how to bring together this ultimate reality of nibbāna, conceived as a state that (even post-mortem) is “peaceful, blissful, auspicious,” etc., with the denial that consciousness or mind is present. It’s a problem I haven’t been able to solve.

If you want to know my opinion, here it goes:

"By & large, Kaccayana, this world lives by duality, that between existence & non-existence. [...] Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle.

What does this mean? When we say something exists, we assume that something is a distinct object that goes through time. We say, in some way it changes but in some ways it stays essentially the same. And then when it falls apart we assume that essence is irretrievably gone. But in reality that's a huge simplification, rather like the mythical geocentric model that people have learned to carry on without questioning. The geocentric model used to posit existence of "celestial sphere" to which the stars are attached, because that's how it looks indeed.

Entities are abstractions, simplifications. Not just sentient beings, but even relatively static objects like chairs are cross-sections of multiple streams, if you trace their lifecycle and the lifecycles of their parts. And when chairs are not used as chairs they are strictly speaking not even chairs, they are just oddly shaped stuff. Things exit in a certain way only in relation to processes they participate in.

So entities are a simplified way to talk about what really is a bunch of dynamic processes and many, many nested contexts. Matter, energy, and information are always in flux, on many levels.

When we say Andrei, there's this rice and milk, there are these books, these questions, these squirrels and birds, this heat, this job, these people, this country - and tomorrow these will continue in similar combinations. Andrei is not something static and concrete. It has never been something static and concrete. Because it's not something static and concrete, the labels like existing and not existing do not apply. Since labels like that do not apply, birth and death do not apply.

Mind is not "inside". My awareness is not mine. You asked a question - it became my thoughts for a day. Now as you are reading this answer, my thoughts are your thoughts. Then you'll read a tweet, then you will watch a movie, then you will hear some news about Trump. Get it? Our thoughts come from the environment, our memories come from the environment, our feelings come from the environment, our choices come from the environment, our bodies come from the environment. There is nothing you can pinpoint and say "this is an arhat". Or I guess you can of course, but doing that is exactly the framework that leads to suffering. And when you stop pinpointing you see that in fact it has always been rather loose. Then you transcend the framework that operates in terms of "entities", "exists" and "death" and by doing that un-base all passion, aversion, confusion, and suffering associated with that. That's what's called "an arhat".

Because mind is not "inside" (and life in general is not inside) - it will go on "like a rolling stream", just not always going through this particular scull. Hopefully one day, with all the efforts put in making Buddhism mainstream, the bad habit of reifying entities and identifying with them will be outgrown.


This is one of questions left unanswered by the Buddha.

Read here

All of the following are amongst incorrect views.

  1. A Buddha (read Arahant or Enlightened being) does exist after death.
  2. A Buddha does not exist after death.
  3. A Buddha both exists and doesn't exist after death.
  4. A Buddha neither exists nor doesn't exists after death.

In my opinion, the problem being whatever happens to the energy/consciousness/entropy/field of the Buddha must be such that it cannot be expressed in words and not even be able to be grasped as an idea or any kind of mental construct. So the Buddha left it unanswered.

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    yes that's what the discourse said, the question is what you have perfunctorily assumed – user3293056 Jun 28 '18 at 7:05
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    The question can't be answered because the question itself is already wrong. The premise assumes the existence of someone or something that simply isn't there. Since the premise is wrong to begin with, nothing else has or can be said. – Medhiṇī Jun 28 '18 at 10:29

I once read a story (perhaps based on a Sutra) and Lord Buddha used this analogy when asked about existence after death of enlightened beings:

Fire exist due to air, burning substance, etc. As in lives are being born and therefore exist.

When the substances are lacking, Fire are extinguished. As in you your attachment and ignorance are the substance fueling your existence. By reaching Nirvana, your substance are "gone" and you will no longer be born once your body fails to function.

Does that mean Fire doesn't exist? Does that mean the consciousness doesn't exist? Ultimately, it not a matter of Yes or No. Nor a matter of Yes and No. Nor a matter of not Yes not No.

  • this is a repeat of the answer i said was poor because it assumes the question at hand :) – user3293056 Jun 28 '18 at 8:42

Yes, Arhats exist after death. Yes, the Buddha exists after death.

Or more appropriately, the continuity of mental consciousness - that was associated with the being that is an Arhat/Buddha - upon which the mere I is designated will continue to exist conventionally after death in this very life. That's still an imperfect description, but hopefully people will be able to grok the gist.

The break up of the body does not end the existence of the mere I. What is important to understand is how it can be said that Arhats and Buddhas and sentient beings exist after the break up of the body. The answer is they exist in precisely the same way as before the break up of the body: they exist relatively and conventionally and without any inherent existence.

Another way of putting it... The question could be restated, “Does the Arhat who exists in moment A continue to exist in moments subsequent to A?” Death and the break up of the body is nothing special. It is just another moment in the continuum of existence. What is important to understand is how that continuum of existence exists... it exists as mere convention without the slightest shred of inherent or real existence.

The reason the Buddha refused to answer the question is because sentient beings come preloaded with the utterly false assumption that the Buddha exists inherently. Even before death. That is not so. But death is not some special state that leads to annihilation of the self. If it were then it would be true that a substantially existent person existed before death. Which is entirely contrary to the doctrine of anatman.

There is no sutta which records the Buddha answering this explicit question, but nevertheless the answer can be known through reason and logic.

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    I think you're saying that death changes nothing ("is nothing special"), and that the Arhat is not less existent (nor more existent) after the break-up of the body than they were before. – ChrisW Jun 28 '18 at 13:02
  • Doesn't the "conventional existence" of a person include their body (and physical actions, personal property, interpersonal relationships) -- and so isn't their conventional existence changed (or even ended) by death? – ChrisW Jun 28 '18 at 13:05
  • Yes, that is why "Yeshe Tenley", that mere label, is designated based upon a valid basis. When that valid basis is not apparent, then the label no longer applies. At the break-up of the body "Yeshe Tenley" will no longer conventionally exist. The "mere I" however will continue to exist as that is designated based upon the continuity of the mental consciousness. The breakup of the body does not alter that one whit. – Yeshe Tenley Jun 28 '18 at 14:38
  • That's why it is more appropriate to say that the continuity of mental consciousness - that was associated with the being that is an Arhat- upon which the mere I is designated will continue to exist conventionally after death in this very life. Could probably be stated even more carefully than that, but I was hoping that the gist would come through in my imperfect words :) – Yeshe Tenley Jun 28 '18 at 14:40
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    @yeshetenley when you say "continuity of mental consciousness" - what do you mean? – Andrei Volkov Jul 1 '18 at 23:05

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