I read "Anatta and Rebirth" by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (let's call this explanation B) and I also read similar explanations by Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu from this answer, this comment and this answer (let's call this explanation Y).

First I need to make some definitions and assumptions, before asking my questions:

  1. The birth and death of a moment in Y is equivalent to the birth and death of selfhood in B i.e. a moment of selfhood.
  2. The definition of birth (jati) and existence (bhava) comes from SN 12.2, while the definition of being (satta) comes from SN 5.10.
  3. Sammuti-marana or conventional death or conceptual death is equivalent to the event of physical death (according to this answer).
  4. "At the moment of conceptual death, this process of momentary birth and death continues unimpeded unless one has experienced 'death by cutting off'" in Y is what I will call "continuity of suffering beyond physical death" (that is, without rebirth).
  5. The fact that the Buddha taught that there is no rebirth whatsoever is proven in the story of Bhikkhu Sati in MN 38, where Sati describes his understanding of rebirth, "it is this same consciousness that runs and wanders through the round of rebirths, not another" and consciousness as "it is that which speaks and feels and experiences here and there the result of good and bad actions". This is a kind of self view associating consciousness and self.
  6. The fact that the Buddha taught that suffering can continue beyond physical death is proven in many suttas: MN 4 ("with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared"), SN 15.3 (ocean of tears), SN 44.9, Dhp 400 (last body), MN 57, SN 42.3, DN 2, Dhp 153-154 and many more.
  7. Explanation Y supports both #5 and #6 above.
  8. Explanation B supports #5 above, but does not explicitly reject #6 above.
  9. There are some Buddhists (sometimes describing themselves as Secular Buddhists) who reject rebirth and also reject continuity of suffering beyond physical death. They claim to reconcile Buddhism with science using explanation B, and say that any kind of continuity beyond physical death is superstition.
  10. Those who support (Bhikkhu Sati's version of) rebirth are eternalists, while those who reject continuity of suffering beyond physical death are annihilationists according to DN 1 and SN 12.17. Both are false views.


  1. Am I right to say that Buddhadasa Bhikkhu in "Anatta and Rebirth" (explanation B), while correctly rejecting rebirth, did not explicitly reject the continuity of suffering beyond physical death?
  2. Are there any other sources, from speeches or writings of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, that prove that he had explicitly rejected the continuity of suffering beyond physical death?
  3. Am I right to say that those who support (Bhikkhu Sati's version of) rebirth are eternalists, while those who reject continuity of suffering beyond physical death are annihilationists according to DN 1 and SN 12.17?
  • you may not like the question which i have typically worded in a convoluted way – user3293056 Dec 23 '18 at 9:26
  • @ChrisW this is another one of "here's my analysis, is this right?" kind of questions. In my opinion, these are beyond the site's format. What do you think? – Andrei Volkov Dec 23 '18 at 16:37
  • 1
    @AndreiVolkov In principle the kind of question may be on-topic. "Am I right in thinking X means Y? What about Z then, is Z compatible with X?" In practice this particular question is hard to take in: it references 3 answers, makes 10 claims, references a dozen suttas, and compares views from three source (i.e. B and Y and S), -- before it even asks any question -- so it's not at all easy to read, it's arguably "unclear what you're asking", too much detail. – ChrisW Dec 25 '18 at 0:55
  • And it's not clear to me why the assumptions exist. Are you asking, "I'm assuming this but if I'm wrong please tell me"? Or "I'm assuming this so take these assumptions as true when you answer"? – ChrisW Dec 25 '18 at 0:59
  • Because I find the question hard to follow I can't tell whether either of the existing answers are on-topic. I guess that Mishu's is (answering the question) though it may have some unnecessary extra asides, and that Dhammadhatu's isn't (and is as he writes only repeating what he usually posts). – ChrisW Dec 25 '18 at 1:08

My comments are as follows. I have posted these basic matters many times:

  1. Existence (bhava) is a defilement (asava). It does not mean life existence. This matter of "bhava" is the most basic & unambiguous here. "Bhava" is officially defined as one of three asava, the other two being "sensual desire" and "ignorance". There is absolutely no scope to regard "bhava" as "rebirth", as Sujato does, or life existence, as Bhikkhu Bodhi does.

  2. The definition of birth (jati) in SN 12.2 includes the word "beings" ("sattanam") but does not define it. Therefore, it is a ordinary scholarly practise to find definitions of words. The definition of 'satta' is found SN 23.2 & also SN 5.10. If alternative definitions are not found, we should follow the official definition in SN 23.2. We need to respect the suttas rather than engage in our own personal defiled interpretations. We need to be honest and not misrepresent the suttas.

  3. The word "kaya" does not necessarily mean "physical body" ("rupa"); such as when used in "sakkaya" and "Nikaya". There are many suttas, such as SN 12.19, where "kaya" does not mean "physical body". It means "collection" or "group". Therefore, when the suttas say: "with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared", this does not necessarily refer to the physical body. We should not insist "kaya" means "physical body"; and we should also not insist it means "collection of aggregates". In these mundane teachings about kamma, each person can choose the interpretation they wish.

  4. "Eternalism" & "Annihilationism" are defined in DN 1, Iti 49, etc, as 'self-views', that is, beliefs that a self will continue after death or a self will end at death. They are not about the continuity or discontinuity of consciousness or suffering at the termination of life. If Annihilationism meant the ending of consciousness at the termination of life then the teaching of anicca (impermanence) would be wrong. SN 22.85 is about why a Buddha is not annihilated with death. SN 22.85 clearly says the ending of the life of a Buddha is merely the ending of the aggregates. The words "annihilation" and "death" have no relevance to an Arahant, as explained in many suttas. "Death" does not mean the termination of life. It means the "death of a self".

  5. As for Buddhadasa, he is famous for his rejection of post-mortem rebirth (however, I heard him personally but reluctantly say in a private discussion to a young German monk who kept asking him the same question that rebirth view can help people maintain morality). Some quotes of Buddhadasa are:

Therefore, there being no one born here, there is no one who dies and is reborn. So, the whole Question of rebirth is utterly foolish and nothing to do with Buddhism at all.

Whenever there arises the mistaken idea "I," the "I" has been born; its parents are ignorance and craving. The kind of birth that constitutes a problem for us is mental birth. Anyone who falls to grasp this point will never succeed in understanding anything of the Buddha teaching. The word "birth" refers to the arising of the mistaken idea "I," "myself". It does not refer to physical birth, as generally supposed. The mistaken assumption that this word "birth" refers to physical birth is a major obstacle to comprehending the Buddha's teaching.

Now, going a little higher, we come to the word "birth". In everyday language, the word "birth" refers to physically coming into the world from the mother's womb. A person is the born physically only once. Having been born, one lives in the world until one dies and enters the coffin. Physical birth happens to each of us only once. This birth from the mother's womb is what is meant by "birth" in everyday language. In Dhamma language, the word "birth" refers to the birth of the idea "I" or "ego" that arises in the mind throughout each day. In this sense, the ordinary person is born very often, time and time again; a more developed person is born less frequently; a person well advanced in practice (ariyan, noble one) is born less frequently still, and ultimately ceases being born altogether. Each arising in the mind of "I" in one form or another is called a "birth". Thus, birth can take place many times over in a single day. As soon as one starts thinking like an animal, one is born as an animal in that same moment. To think like a human being is to be born a human being. To think like a celestial being is to be born a celestial being. Life, the individual, pleasure and pain, and the rest-all these were identified by the Buddha as simply momentary states of consciousness. So the word "birth" means in Dhamma language the arising of the idea of "I" or "me," and not, as in everyday language, physical birth from the mother's womb. The word "birth'' is very common in the Buddha's discourses. When he was speaking of everyday things, he used the word "birth" with its everyday meaning. But when he was expounding Higher Dhamma-for instance, when discussing conditioned arising - he used the word "birth" with the meaning it has in Dhamma language. In his description of conditioned arising, he wasn't talking about physical birth. He was talking about the birth of attachment to ideas of "me" and "mine," "myself" and "my own".


If a question raised by a Theravadin, normally I don't bother. However, since I learnt the Dharma from Chinese Tripitaka, with Mahayana doctrines the main teaching while basic doctrines listed in the Agamas, I have the knowledge to understand Theravadin doctrines as well. For Pali Canon is roughly equivalent to the Agamas. In this respect I think I can contribute to this question.

I didn't read Buddhadasa Bhikkhu's Anatta and Rebirth, consciously choose to spend time reading the most superior writings, for life is short, time is pricey. I've read Bhikkhu Yuttadhammo's answer by accident, and for writing this post I read his comment and another answer linked by OP, briefly. Therefore, my answer should just be regarded as some highlights to help solving questioned topics.

  1. Explanation Y supports both #5 and #6 above.

No. My reading OP's links of Y doesn't support 5, nor 6.

Y rejecting 6 in this writing:

There isn't in fact any such thing as rebirth, in ultimate reality... Rebirth is a concept used to describe the change between one artificial framework of experiences (e.g. a human life) to another.

In another answer, Y clearly stated he rejected "rebirth", he accepted "birth" only. Rejecting 5 in this answer:

The ultimate reality is that the mind simply arises and ceases at the last moment of life and then a new mind arises at the first moment of rebirth based on the last one, very similar to as has been occurring throughout one's life, except this time there is no old physical phenomena for it to be based on, so it is based solely on one's final state of mind in the last life.

However, it seemed Y is contradicting himself, quite confusing wordings. For on one hand he stated there is only "birth", no "rebirth", on the other he said the new mind is based on the last one.

If you plant a new tree, does it based on the last tree to plant? No, if you based on the last it's called grafting plant - joining two or more into one plant. Even planting a new tree, you need the seeds from the old tree, therefore there isn't any "new mind" can arise independently, as Y wishes. Using the word "birth" or "rebirth" doesn't give Y any edge to defend his view.

Y further confused his concept with this wordings:

Every experience that is made up of the five aggregates arises and ceases without remainder.

This is a questionable explanation, perhaps Bhikkhu Yuttadhammo is limited by language to explain his meaning. Simply, memory remains, isn't it? Also the experience of previous conditions the response of next experience, and the effect of previous also affects the successive experience. This can be proven in daily life, by common sense.

OP's question 1 & 2:

No. Bhikkhu Buddhadasa (wrongly) rejected the continuity of suffering beyond physical death. I procured his view from my "scanning", and reading titles, his article(s) on rejecting the existence of heaven and hell is the proof.

And perhaps likely B was bearing the fruit of his own incorrect understanding that led many followers astray. I read some articles on the internet about B's final moments. He suffered extreme pain, lost consciousness; against his last wish to abandon medical means to continue his life, he was put to surgery, and many different treatments that only gave him severe pain, without reviving or relieving him from his suffering state.

It made me recall what I learnt from other Sutras, that a being reappeared in hell doesn't take physical birth, just manifested as a body-less (consciousness) being. In this sense you can say it not a "rebirth", for it directly appears in another realm. Because it doesn't have physical property, it can't die, no matter how terrible the suffering or mutilations it went through millions times. (One can understand this by inferring to the suffering or mutilation happened in dream, in dream there is no physical body too.) Usually one's most strong belief, or defilement, will manifest as the most prominent scenario.

OP's question 3:

I suspected Bhikkhu Sati is limited by the terminologies he could choose from the Pali Canon, therefore he used the confusing word "consciousness". I infer he was trying to explain the Theravadin doctrine of no-Self in terms of Five Aggregates and the consciousness to give proper explanation of how rebirth should be understood/ could happen. Good try, but unfortunately short of resources to support him in the Pali Canon.

Instead of entangling in the arguments of the two Theravadin Bhikkhus for trying to understand the doctrine of rebirth and no-Self, here I would like to contribute by giving resources from the Chinese Tripitaka. From my study, Mahayana (excl. Tibetan) is the complete teaching of the Buddha. Rebirth should be understood with reference to the Alaya-vijana; and no-Self should be understood, in particular, with the Mano-vijana. We understood Alaya, or Tathagatagarbha, is the essence that doesn't birth, nor die. It never arises, nor ceases. (I think Bhikkhu Yuttadhammo was trying the words "ultimate reality" but his lack of Mahayana resources made him confusing in his understanding). And this 8th consciousness is not the Self, because a Self by definition has attributes, cannot be universal. It is by this meaning the no-Self (Anatman, Pali: Anatta) is realized. However, it is neither not the Self, for every sentient has the Alaya, it is by this definition Alaya conjoined with Mano-vijana to create the conventional self - the "I, me, mine". This two vijanas will not be cut off when physical death happened.

Since this forum the majority are Theravadins, I felt it is futile to let most readers understand therefore I will not give further explanation.

It is incorrect to dilute the doctrine of no-Self replaced it with the term "self-view". It is important to understand that though in Ultimate it is no-Self, there is "me-self" for any unenlightened being. It is this false "me-self" that traversing in death-rebirth. Those who wanted to reject rebirth by the doctrine of no-Self, they should ask themselves, if they cut their fingers do they feel the pain? If they do, then they are far away from getting rid of this "me-self". (Because if an entity is just a pile of Five Aggregates, it won't feel; if it is consciousness, since the Theravadin consciousness is momentarily mind-contiuum, it will not feel pain either. How can a moment pass information to another moment? Isn't the time of cut and pain occurred in two different moments? If they occurred in same moment, it will be there is no cut but there is pain, or there is pain but there is no cut, isn't it?) They will be reborn after physical death, no matter they accept it or not. It is definite, guaranteed. Another inference, simply, by universal law, if a thing doesn't have a beginning it will not have an end. Can anyone recall when the moment the notion of "I" begins?

Now let's deal with why Theravadin doctrine so easily interpreted by sincere followers to reject rebirth. My assertion is, the main reason that Theravadin doctrine teaches the Five Aggregates no-Self, the consciousness are momentarily continuum also no-Self. Now problem, what gives to keep the continuity of a being by the time of death? They conclude the no-Self should be the final truth therefore rebirth is a myth, or a mean simply to strengthen morality, or to appease the ancient Indian audiences... etc. etc. I do sympathize these followers and reckon their sincerity in following the doctrines. Though they wrongly interpret the literal word "rebirth" of the Buddha due to their lack of comprehensive resources. If they have the minds for studying Mahayana Sutras, their questions stirred up by the conflict of no-Self with rebirth will be answered by themselves satisfactorily.

The above infers this: it is unfortunate many taken and conditioned by the views invented by those scholar-Buddhists, advocating the so-called "Early Buddhist Text" or "Early Buddhism". These views never appear until late 200 years, when the world was taken by colonialism. Bhikkhu Buddhadasa (he had correspondences with some associated with Anagarika Dharmapala) was one of those suspected groomed (secretly) by the Theosophical Society that established the Southern Church (Theravada School) in South East Asia during colonization of Sri Lanka. The Northern Church was established based on the Tibetan doctrines. And the Sri Lankan Bhikkhu Anagarika Dharmapala, after receiving the helps from the Theosophical Society to re-establish the Sanghas, he had chosen to break with them before he submitted to their purpose of creating a "universal religion", combining Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism... etc. into one religion. Brave fellow!

As I'd been confused by many statements of those who disparaging Mahayana Sutras when I first joint this forum, I did quite in depth studies and readings to clarify what really is the truth. Unlike some Sri Lankan who's quite patriotic, I have no difficulty of taking any school as my personal preference and reference, as long as it is the Buddha's authentic teaching, or even taken more than one. But my researches lead me learnt the above facts regarding how Buddhism was shaped in recent 200 years.

In fact, it is with plenty evidences and references the Mahayana Sutras in Chinese Tripitaka are authentic Buddha's own words. These Mahayana Sutras, together with the Four Agamas, were written down at the gathering in the Cave of Seven Leaves after Buddha entered Nirvana, called the 1st Buddhist Council. The teachings, consisted the 12 sections of Sutras with large portion are Mahayana Sutras, were written on plain cloth to be kept and transmitted, instead of the commonly and widely spread Theravadin saying - by oral recitation. The more interesting fact is, the original Sri Lankan School were Mahayanist, the Sthaviravāda were Mahayanist (who Theravadins claimed and associated to be their inheritor). Interested readers may read the details, records, and quotes of evidences regarding the 500 Arhats collecting the teachings, the 1st Buddhist Council.

By saying the above I don't mean Pali Canon unauthentic, it is good enough for teaching the basic doctrines, and very suitable for beginners, if they can interpret it correctly. I only want to give confidence to those who ready to receive the Mahayana teachings, that Mahayana Sutras are Buddha's own words. The other point I want to make is, without getting the complete teaching of the Buddha, particularly the doctrines on Alaya and Tathagatagarbha, it is almost impossible to understand the doctrine of no-Self and rebirth, in its comprehensiveness. From my study and understanding, the teaching of Alaya and Tathagatagarbha has already mentioned in the Agamas. But it is not elaborating as so profoundly in the Mahayana Sutras.

To conclude, rebirth is a fact for unenlightened sentient. It can only be rid off when enlightened. Enlightened is one realized no-Self. One realized no-Self is an Arhat. An Arhat has no rebirth. In Ultimate, there is no birth-death, i.e., no rebirth, Ultimate is the Alaya and Tathagatagarbha. The Chán School (Jap: Zen) may put aside or play down the doctrine of rebirth, for they focus on realizing the Tathagatagarbha, the self-Nature.

  • If a person injures his physical brain or has brain surgery, he may have insomnia (memory loss) and/or changes in his personality and tendencies. There are many such medical examples. Doesn't this imply that memory and impressions of this life is stored in the physical nervous system, instead of a metaphysical storehouse consciousness? Even Theravada Abhidhamma has a similar concept of bhavanga and some people give it a storehouse function but some others don't, as I have seen – ruben2020 Dec 23 '18 at 15:30
  • Likewise, there are also medical case that someone injured their brain, but they don't suffer from memory loss. If memory are stored in brain, how can they keep this data from dispatched? Another example, a computer can have it's monitor broken with the display of data truncated, but if you insert a working monitor it will just display the data as usual. There are also cases someone has brain damage and lost memory but later recovered, how do you explain? I haven't learnt concept of bhavanga in detail, but Buddhaghosa is a Mahayanist, read the historical facts. – Mishu 米殊 Dec 23 '18 at 15:43
  • @Mishu, excuse my word choice, but it's ignorant from you to believe that memory is elsewhere stored than in the brain. Obviously if there was an injury and memory wasn't affected then it is due to the fact that certain parts were damaged and others were not. This is no rocket science. But I believe that brain injuries are often connected with memory loss, (sometimes more severely than at other times) since memory is stored in the limbic system, in particular in the Hippocampi. – Val Dec 23 '18 at 15:56
  • No worries @Val :). I think it is also ignorant from you to believe that memory is stored only in the brain. For example, medical case has someone cut off part of brain causing him lost the knowledge of language, say, his can't write English essay - the part of brain has memory of language by your assertion. After treatment and recovery, this patient suddenly regain the ability to write English essay, as before. Where is this memory coming from? The brain contained it - in your assertion, has already been cut off – Mishu 米殊 Dec 23 '18 at 16:27
  • To Mishu: The brain can have backup copies just as your computer harddisk can have backup copies. As the brain heals from injuries, it can connect the backup copies. To Val: Actually, in all schools of Buddhism, the mind is not a subset of the physical body. Rather, the mind and the body can influence each other. They are not completely independent of each other. So I guess not everything is inside the brain, yet not everything is outside the brain either. – ruben2020 Dec 23 '18 at 16:31

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