Here is a part of DN 23:

“Even though Master Kassapa says this, still I think that there’s no afterlife.”

“Can you prove it?”

“I can.”

“How, exactly, chieftain?”

“Suppose they were to arrest a bandit, a criminal and present him to me, saying, ‘Sir, this is a bandit, a criminal. Punish him as you will.’ I say to them, ‘Well then, sirs, place this man in a pot while he’s still alive. Close up the mouth, bind it up with damp leather, and seal it with a thick coat of damp clay. Then lift it up on a stove and light the fire.’ They agree, and do what I ask. When we know that that man has passed away, we lift down the pot and break it open, uncover the mouth, and slowly peek inside, thinking, ‘Hopefully we’ll see his soul escaping.’ But we don’t see his soul escaping. This is how I prove that there’s no afterlife.”

(Payasi argues there is no soul so no afterlife.)

However, Kassapa, one of the principal disciples of Gautama Buddha, argues there is a soul. He further says in DN 23:

“Well then, chieftain, I’ll ask you about this in return, and you can answer as you like. Do you recall ever having a midday nap and seeing delightful parks, woods, meadows, and lotus ponds in a dream?”

“I do, sir.”

“At that time were you guarded by hunchbacks, dwarves, midgets, and younglings?”

“I was.”

“But did they see your soul entering or leaving?”

“No, they did not.”

“So if they couldn’t even see your soul entering or leaving while you were still alive, how could you see the soul of a dead man? By this method, too, it ought to be proven that there is an afterlife, there are beings reborn spontaneously, and there is a fruit or result of good and bad deeds.”

In the above Sutta DN 23, Kassapa proves that there is a soul. Kassapa, who directly got knowledge from Buddha argues there is a soul and that is what travels to the afterlife. But we who have never seen or been taught by Buddha say there is no soul. We are furthermore down in a timeline than Kassapa. Knowledge might have changed and we must have interpreted something very simple in a complicated way. Why do we say there is no soul, while the direct disciple of Buddha says there is in fact a soul that goes to the afterlife. Remember that Kassapa was the third most liked disciple of Buddha after Sariputta and Ananda. I think today we have completely changed our point of view. There is also not any sutta where Buddha says no soul. But he says, this is not-self. The things in the physical world are not-self. Like feeling is not self, perception is not-self and all things that are created in the body are not-self.

What's your point of view on the soul? How can you argue with Kassapa who has seen and learned Suttas direct from Buddha?

3 Answers 3


You wrote ...

(Payasi argues there is no soul so no afterlife.)

However, Kassapa, one of the principal disciples of Gautama Buddha, argues there is a soul.

... but I don't think so. Instead I think the dialog or argument in the sutta is:

  • Payasi: there is no afterlife because we don't see a visible soul leaving the body at death
  • Kassapa: the existence of a visible soul is not necessary for there to be an afterlife (for example when you dream there's no visible soul living the body) -- the non-existence of a visible/separating soul doesn't prove there is no afterlife

That (saying "the existence of a soul isn't necessary, and needn't be assumed") is not the same thing as saying "there is a soul". The main argument is about "afterlife", it is not about "soul".

Secondly the argument in Pali uses various words like:

  • āyu
    life; vital power; duration of life, life-time; long life.

  • jīva

Those words are used in several suttas -- in MN 63 for example, where various questions about the body and soul are declared to by the Buddha to be "not declared":

And why haven’t I declared these things? Because they aren’t beneficial or relevant to the fundamentals of the spiritual life. They don’t lead to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment.

Thirdly, even if Buddhist doctrine did say that something like that existed, and if someone translated that statement or that word as "soul", I'd try to doubt whether the word "soul" there has the same kinds of meanings as is taught by other religions

  • Jiva is soul. During the time of Buddha, both Jainism and Buddhism used such term 'Jiva'. See Here
    – user17389
    Jun 30, 2020 at 13:03

The word "soul" translated here (DN 23) by Bhikkhu Sujato is "jīva". In the context of this sutta, this word means "life force", and not "self".

The sutta is trying to say that although you cannot see the soul leaving, still there is rebirth. That means that according to Kassapa, there is rebirth without the movement of a life force or soul.

So, it is this very sutta that says there is no soul.

How this may work is explained in Milindapanha 3.5.5. This means that rebirth without transmigration of the soul from one place to another, takes place like a transfer of information.

The king asked: "Venerable Nagasena, is it so that one does not transmigrate and one is reborn?" "Yes, your majesty, one does not transmigrate and one is reborn." "How, venerable Nagasena, is it that one does not transmigrate and one is reborn? Give me an analogy." "Just as, your majesty, if someone kindled one lamp from another, is it indeed so, your majesty, that the lamp would transmigrate from the other lamp?" "Certainly not, venerable sir." "Indeed just so, your majesty, one does not transmigrate and one is reborn." "Give me another analogy." "Do you remember, your majesty, when you were a boy learning some verse from a teacher?" "Yes, venerable sir." "Your majesty, did this verse transmigrate from the teacher?" "Certainly not, venerable sir." "Indeed just so, your majesty, one does not transmigrate and one is reborn."

So, this means that a person who lives then dies, has some information transferred elsewhere that results in the rebirth of the idea of the self.

However, according to MN 38, there is no permanent consciousness that moves throughout one's life and then is reborn after death:

Then the Blessed One addressed a certain bhikkhu thus: “Come, bhikkhu, tell the bhikkhu Sāti, son of a fisherman, in my name that the Teacher calls him.”—“Yes, venerable sir,” he replied, and he went to the bhikkhu Sāti and told him: “The Teacher calls you, friend Sāti.”

“Yes, friend,” he replied, and he went to the Blessed One, and after paying homage to him, sat down at one side. The Blessed One then asked him: “Sāti, is it true that the following pernicious view has arisen in you: ‘As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is this same consciousness that runs and wanders through the round of rebirths, not another’?”

“Exactly so, venerable sir. As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is this same consciousness that runs and wanders through the round of rebirths, not another.”

“What is that consciousness, Sāti?”

“Venerable sir, it is that which speaks and feels and experiences here and there the result of good and bad actions.”

“Misguided man, to whom have you ever known me to teach the Dhamma in that way? Misguided man, have I not stated in many ways consciousness to be dependently arisen, since without a condition there is no origination of consciousness? But you, misguided man, have misrepresented us by your wrong grasp and injured yourself and stored up much demerit; for this will lead to your harm and suffering for a long time.”

MN 38 continues with a discussion on dependent origination.

  • 1
    Thanks for the part about MN 38.
    – user17389
    Jun 13, 2020 at 14:29
  • Please don't cite Nagasena, he is not from EBT. Now regarding MN 38, the 'same consciousness does not run and wander through the round of rebirths.' Here you need to understand rebirth is not reincarnation. Rebirth is 'punnabhava' in another words it also means rebecoming, while reincarnation is 'punarjanma'. So, in this very life when you go from one moment to another moment, your state of mind is not the same. We continuously strive to become a great person, or through our action we become low life person, that is called becoming. And when we go from one phase of life to another, we gain..
    – user17389
    Jun 14, 2020 at 2:47
  • ..the new state of mind, and that is called re-becoming. So, it is not the same consciousness that goes through from moment to moment. It is dependently arisen on what we ought it to be. It passes through different realms and we consider that it to be the self, which we are not. This is the root teaching of Buddha.
    – user17389
    Jun 14, 2020 at 2:47

"Soul" for most Westerners is a Christian loaded term, implying that something of the self survives after physical death in immortal (unchangeable) form. Since Buddhism does not subscribe to this perished self being real, by consequence what most people mean by "soul" is also an illusion. In Buddhism, the term anattā (Pali) or anātman (Sanskrit) refers to the doctrine of "non-self", that there is no unchanging, permanent self, soul or essence in phenomena. Because there is no unchanging permanent essence, Buddhists sometimes talk about energy being reborn, rather than souls.

The Buddha criticized the doctrine that posited an unchanging soul as a subject as the basis of rebirth and karmic moral responsibility, which he called "atthikavāda". He also criticized the materialistic doctrine that denied the existence of both soul and rebirth, and thereby denied karmic moral responsibility, which he calls "natthikavāda". Instead, the Buddha asserted that there is no soul, but there is rebirth for which karmic moral responsibility is a must. In the Buddha's framework of karma, right view and right actions are necessary for liberation.

  • I am sorry to say this but you have wrong information about 'Anatta'. Anatta simply means 'not-self' and not 'no self or non-self.' There is a whole chapter about self in Dhammapada. Also, It looks like in Pali there is a same word for soul and self. As people interpret Anatta. Therefore, Chapter 12 is about soul as well. Atta Vagga ( Vagga means chapter or part, as in part 1, part 2) , therefore a chapter about Atta or soul or Dhammapada 12. "160- Your own self is your own mainstay, for who else could your mainstay be? With you, yourself well-trained you obtain the mainstay hard to obtain."
    – user17389
    Jun 13, 2020 at 12:17
  • Sanskrit अनात्मन् (anātman, “no self/soul”), from an- + atman (“soul/self”). One of the Three characteristics of all phenomena: anicca (“impermanence”), dukkha (“suffering”) and anatta (“non-self”).
    – Codosaur
    Jun 13, 2020 at 12:25
  • You misread Anatta. In Anatta-lakkhana Sutta. Buddha says -"Bhikkhus, feeling is not-self, perception is not-self, determinations are not-self." According to you it is "feeling is no soul, perception is no soul and determination is no soul." Doesn't sound right. Now 3 marks of existence: 1. All things are impermanent (Anicca) , 2. All things are unsatisfactory (dukkha), and 3. All (physical) things are not-self. (Anatta). According to you All things are no soul which is a misread. Even Kassapa argues there is a soul even if you cannot see. Long has been this wandering.
    – user17389
    Jun 13, 2020 at 12:36
  • I literally started by pointing out that the use of the word "soul" is laden with Western preconceptions. The definition I used is agreed upon by most scholars who study Buddhist texts professionally. You are of course free to disagree with it.
    – Codosaur
    Jun 13, 2020 at 12:41
  • Can you please cite me one sutta from Budhha where he himself says, 'there is no soul.' There is a whole chapter called Atta in Dhammapada. Now not through your understanding but through Buddha's own word, please cite me one Sutta where he says 'there is no soul.' Now if Buddha himself has not cited such thing, why are you implying such knowledge through your own understanding, which is absurd. There is a self that can only realize a not-self. Even Kassapa, a direct disciple of Buddha says there is soul. Simply do not attach your soul with a worldly affliction which is not yours. That's it.
    – user17389
    Jun 13, 2020 at 12:47

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