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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
    Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 1:56
  • incredible, thanks @OyaMistAeroponics good luck!
    – user2512
    Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 19:44

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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.

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  • So, in your opinion, is it the reification of entities and identifying with them what creates a particular scull/scope of identity which accounts for the experience of separateness? And when the habit of reification & identification (within that scope) are eliminated, you are instead left with what remains? And with what remains no habit of reification/identification applies and so no separate-ness applies. And with no separate-ness, there is no discrimination of this or that or here or there and therefore nothing for craving to arise?
    – Ryan Baker
    Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 18:35
  • Umm yeah I think that's pretty accurate
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 19:03
  • Great, Thank you!
    – Ryan Baker
    Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 20:17
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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
    – user2512
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 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.
    – user13579
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 10:29
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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.

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  • this is a repeat of the answer i said was poor because it assumes the question at hand :)
    – user2512
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 8:42
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Buddha said that it is not possible to understand 4 things, one of them was where a Buddha or Arahant goes 🙏 However, my feeling is that an Arahant state is like a child, pure in his heart, not identifying himself with a self, loving and feeling one with the whole universe, ready to help others without greed, aversion or craving... Like a child taught to see the truth and the virtue, taught about suffering and compassion, that learned the path to wisdom and understanding of everything in the universe... a child that, being Dhamma, can use what he learned and achieved to stop the roots of suffering, his own changement 🙏🙏🙏

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The word "death" ("marana") does not apply to Arahants. There are many suttas about this, such as Dhp 21, SN 22.85, MN 140, MN 38, etc.

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