My question tag is similar to this one but I am asking a different question.

I am reading DN15 the mahanidana sutta where the Buddha says;

Suppose there were totally and utterly no rebirth for anyone anywhere. That is, there were no rebirth of sentient beings into their various realms—of gods, fairies, spirits, creatures, humans, quadrupeds, birds, or reptiles, each into their own realm. When there’s no rebirth at all, with the cessation of rebirth, would old age and death still be found?

"No, sir.” “That’s why this is the cause, source, origin, and condition of old age and death, namely rebirth. ‘Continued existence is a condition for rebirth’—that’s what I said. And this is a way to understand how this is so. Suppose there were totally and utterly no continued existence for anyone anywhere. That is, continued existence in the sensual realm, the realm of luminous form, or the formless realm. When there’s no continued existence at all, with the cessation of continued existence, would rebirth still be found?” “No, sir.”

Suppose in a hypothetical scenario in which all sentient beings which the Buddha mentions attain Nirvana and there is no rebirth here on planet Earth, wouldn't life as we know it vanish (Except for the trees)?

If there is no life, there is no Dhamma and no Buddhism. In that case wouldn't lifeforms emerge and evolve all over again on Earth or on some other habitable planet as they came to being in present form and all cycle of samsara and suffering and birth of Buddha all over again leading to absurdity of the whole endevour?

In that case wouldnt Buddhism be an effort to finish the sentient life and act against lifeforce as it is an effort to finish rebirth?

  • Related to or perhaps a duplicate of this question: Anti-natalist overtones in Buddhism
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 14:09
  • @ChrisW I went through the question and the answers provided but sorry that neither answers my question nor is it similar to what I am asking. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 14:32
  • interesting question; the hypothesis conflates several concepts and then extrapolates successive results that aren't necessarily direct consequences; maybe it could be interesting to hypothesise more about If certain suggested outcomes are implied, and what sorts of Profound Responses there might have been to those outcomes; Buddhism is Middle Way
    – M H
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 6:24
  • The translation selected to quote from for this passage is an example where the noncapitalisation of Sir not only is incorrect from the standpoint of correct English, but also results in ambiguity in shade of meaning: capitalised Sir in this sort of context implies a more pensive and attentive response than if the three letter word is noncapitalised, which in this passage reduces how much is shown to readers of the translator's impression of the attitude, manner, & engagement of the replying/ listening Student
    – M H
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 10:01

4 Answers 4


Why your question and all the other similar questions you linked are not getting a direct answer, but a shuffle is because the Buddha did not give an answer for such questions.

You may read many shuffles here, but the truth is questions such as Begining of life, end of life (i.e. beginner and end of Samsara); or hypothetical scenario in which all sentient beings attain Nirvana will receive a cold silence as an answer from the Buddha.

  • or a kindly silence :)
    – M H
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 6:32
  • 1
    Of course, the Buddha is kind, but I choose the word cold just to highlight that he was indifferent to these kinds of questions because he saw them as nonessential to end suffering which was his main goal. Please read the parable of the poisoned arrow, (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Poisoned_Arrow)
    – Jos
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 8:37
  • Thank you for your kindly comment; yes, considered that that is exactly what you meant, and added kindly for readers who mightn't; and His nondiscussion of many things was of compassion to effectively guide Beings & to share The Dharma with as many Beings as possible
    – M H
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 9:42

The ultimate cause of birth, death, disease and suffering is ignorance. Not rebirth. Not prevention of birth.

The way to end suffering is to end craving by ending ignorance through cultivation of virtue, concentration and wisdom.

For e.g. if you see a lot of foolish citizens who are not wearing face masks or social distancing in the time of the pandemic - the solution is not to prevent the birth of foolish people or to kill foolish people. The solution is to educate them.

Similarly, the solution to end suffering by ending craving and ignorance, is really by cultivating virtue, concentration and wisdom.

You can only end YOUR ignorance. You can help others reduce their ignorance. But there will always be ignorance somewhere. And because of that, there will be birth, death, disease and suffering.

Don't ask "whose suffering?", "whose craving?", "whose ignorance?"

Remember sabbe dhamma anatta - all phenomena is not self. There is suffering, not my suffering or your suffering. There is craving, not my craving or your craving. There is ignorance, not my ignorance or your ignorance.

One day, our Sun will grow hotter, expand and eventually explode. This will happen at least 5 to 8 billion years later. All life on Earth will eventually be destroyed.

But just as how life started on Earth through chemical interactions, it can start again somewhere on another planet. Perhaps it already has. With the start of life, followed by evolution, eventually, the mind will reemerge, and with it, ignorance will also return. With ignorance, we would have the birth, death and rebirth of sentient beings.

Rebirth here is the rebirth of ignorance, rebirth of the individual existence of a sentient being, and the rebirth of suffering. Not the rebirth of a specific countable and distinctively identifiable individual self that is permanent and standalone - that would violate the fact of anatta.

From SN 15.1 (translated by Ven. Sujato):

Transmigration has no known beginning. No first point is found of sentient beings roaming and transmigrating, hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving. For such a long time you have undergone suffering, agony, and disaster, swelling the cemeteries. This is quite enough for you to become disillusioned, dispassionate, and freed regarding all conditions.”

Or from another translation of this same paragraph in SN 15.3 (translated by Ven. Thanissaro):

“From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries—enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released.”

This stock paragraph is in most of the suttas of SN 15.


(Oddly, I am studying DN15 myself as of yesterday...)

Buddhism is not life denying and negative. Buddhism is craving denying and negative. Craving leads to suffering.

DN15:3.1: So: name and form are conditions for consciousness. Consciousness is a condition for name and form. Name and form are conditions for contact. Contact is a condition for feeling. Feeling is a condition for craving. Craving is a condition for grasping. Grasping is a condition for continued existence. Continued existence is a condition for rebirth. Rebirth is a condition for old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress to come to be. That is how this entire mass of suffering originates.

Your quote from DN15 is actually not denying life. Rather, it is part of a gentle discussion that guides the listener to this:

DN15:18.2: Suppose there were totally and utterly no craving for anyone anywhere.

Craving is the weak link in the chain of dependent origination and DN15 explores many nuances here (e.g., desire, lust, seeking, assessing, etc.). The other aspects of dependent origination keep happening. People keep being reborn. Contacts resume after immersion. Etc.

So my understanding of DN15 is that Buddhism affirms life and death without grasping at either. Denying and negativity are aversive dukkha.

DN15:18.3: That is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for continued existence, and craving to end existence. When there’s no craving at all, with the cessation of craving, would seeking still be found?”

The Buddha did not deny or negate life. After his enlightenment, he lived content, without wishes in this very life. He lived a full life and taught for about forty years. And here, 2500 years later, the Buddha's teachings have eased my own life and brought happiness. Relinquishing craving and rebirth is not life denying and negative. Relinquishing craving and rebirth is affirmative of gratitude for all that we are given without greediness for more.


Ok, do you believe rebirth is the cause of death or death the cause of rebirth? Sounds like the former. However the buddha was enlightened and he still died.


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