I've been wondering if it's possible to "progress" towards enlightenment if one has certain set of beliefs which may (or may not) be false (or illogical), but which do not generate conflict between expectations and experience. If we understand dukkha as the result of a dissonance between worldview and experience, one could a priori think that unfalsifiable theories may not generate such dissonances (and therefore, may not contribute to the perpetuation of the conditions of dukkha), because there's no experience that can disprove such notions.

For example, if one says that "our true self is formless, without comprehensible features", how could this view be a hindrance in the path? After all, that belief does not seem to necessarily contradicts the essence of anattā, because no khandha can be considered that alleged "true self", and so, non-attachment to khandhas may also be the path to attain that "true self".

Being more general: can someone attain Nibbana while still holding some false notions about self or reality?

Kind regards!


5 Answers 5


The Buddhist problematic isn't about whether beliefs are true or false, or provable or unprovable. It's about whether we cling to beliefs, because the clinging itself creates dukkha.

So for instance, let's take your statement: "Our true self is formless, without comprehensible features." You adopt this belief, and like it, and it doesn't seem to interfere with your meditation or other practices. Fine. But then along comes another Buddhist, who says: "No, no no: that's not right. What I believe is this...". Suddenly you find yourself involved in an intellectual dispute, wrestling (good-naturedly) with another practitioner about whose perspective is better, and which of you has more experience to back up their view. One way or another (unless you're very careful) someone's ego is going to get bruised. And then along comes some decidedly less enlightened person who says: "You two are a pair of blowhards and it's all a crock of sh*t anyway, so stop pretending you're so high and mighty." So not only did your statement make you a target for abuse, it gave this poor guy something concrete to vent about.

Fixed beliefs — even innocuous-seeming ones, and particularly ones that are not otherwise decidable — are focal points for conflict. Just think about the Christian faith, where a fixed, undecidable belief in a loving God indirectly fills the world with anger, resentment, and hate. I'm not going to go so far as to say that a belief like this is an obstacle, because beliefs like this are useful tools at certain stages of spiritual development. But in the end, even beliefs like this will have be released.


“ Being more general: can someone attain Nibbana while still holding some false notions about self or reality?”

No, in the same way and for the same reason that one cannot wake up from a dream without being entirely sure that the experience is a dream. If you still have some doubt or hold some false notion that the experience is not a dream you simply cannot wake up to the fact that it is. In just the same way one cannot “wake up” from this waking life without being thoroughly convinced and sure - even more directly perceiving it! - that this is just like a dream, a mirage, the flame of a lamp, an illusion, a drop of dew, a bubble, a flash of lightning. This is the teaching of the Buddha.


The answer to your question is specific to the person in yr example. We could weigh the amount of damage this being produced by maintaining this view. For instance if this being took sentient beings money to help them but doesnt deliver or isnt accountable and causes someone to stumble or kill themself this should lead to distress in the being. This would assume the being has had initial enlightenment and is at minimum bodhisattva. How the being deals with the consequences of his actions is his karma so he could still attain full enlightenment at death.

  • That I am a woman is my wrongview and false belief right? I'm trans and I was assigned male at birth. So in a sense I am a man. But a judge declared that I am female. This government views me as female. 99% of people who interact with me on a given day claim I am female! But sometimes my mom uses male pronouns! The horror! The dissonance! The dysphoria!! How I deal with this pain is my karma I work toward complete and perfect enlightenment motivated by love for The Great Buddha and compassion for all who love Him.
    – 4N4G4M1N
    Feb 16, 2020 at 2:42

I'm not sure I can answer this well; but to attempt an answer, in note form:

  • It's difficult for me personally (e.g. given my training) to see an unfalsifiable belief as being even a belief at all. It seems that it isn't "right view", nor "wrong view" -- that instead it is "not even wrong".

  • We're told in MN 22 (this was Dharmafarer's translation of that):

    Bhikshus, you may well cling to the self-doctrine that would not cause sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair to arise in one who clings to it. But do you see any such possession, bhikshus?”

    “No, bhante.”

    “Good, bhikshus. I, too, do not see any doctrine of self that would not arouse sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair in one who clings to it.

  • We might be meant to beware of clinging to views perhaps especially in later stages of enlightenment (see e.g. the parable of the raft)

  • Buddhist doctrine often seems to judge a view by its effect -- does it lead to morality and to unbinding? If so then good and if not then not -- which is a circular answer to the question.

  • This might be an orthodox answer here -- i.e. that some inchoate sense-of-self might continue to arise occasionally until a person becomes fully and finally enlightened, but that (perhaps by definition) a semi-enlightened person will not "hold" that as a "view".


I've been wondering if it's possible to "progress" towards enlightenment if one has certain set of beliefs which may (or may not) be false (or illogical), but which do not generate conflict between expectations and experience.

That's why the Dhamma is not an armchair philosophy. One doesn't make progress toward enlightenment by starting out with all the correct views and beliefs. The validity of the particular view will need to be tested over and over again by applying it in real life. So, using your example, "true self is formless, without comprehensive features", ok, sounds good in theory. But one'd need to do a lot more to see how it fares when the rubber meets the road, ie. does it still hold when one's being touched by the soft and warm body of a young voluptuous woman? or being showered with all kinds of flowery words? with wealth, fame, beauty, or prestige? So right view will be attained, developed, AND re-inforced as one makes the actual climb toward the mountain top. For a right view without implementation can quickly and easily slide back toward the wrong side. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YbMqcQK0k4

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