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Bhikkhu, ‘I am’ is a conceiving; ‘I am this’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall not be’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be possessed of form’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be formless’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be percipient’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be non-percipient’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be neither-percipient-nor-non-percipient’ is a conceiving. Conceiving is a disease, conceiving is a tumour, conceiving is a dart. By overcoming all conceivings, bhikkhu, one is called a sage at peace. And the sage at peace is not born, does not age, does not die; he is not shaken and does not yearn. For there is nothing present in him by which he might be born. Not being born, how could he age? Not ageing, how could he die? Not dying, how could he be shaken? Not being shaken, why should he yearn?

MN 140

Also has:

Then the venerable Pukkusāti, having delighted and rejoiced in the Blessed One’s words, rose from his seat, and after paying homage to the Blessed One, keeping him on his right, he departed in order to search for a bowl and robes. Then, while the venerable Pukkusāti was searching for a bowl and robes, a stray cow killed him.

Then a number of bhikkhus went to the Blessed One, and after paying homage to him, they sat down at one side and told him: “Venerable sir, the clansman Pukkusāti, who was given brief instruction by the Blessed One, has died. What is his destination? What is his future course?

“Bhikkhus, the clansman Pukkusāti was wise. He practised in accordance with the Dhamma and did not trouble me in the interpretation of the Dhamma. With the destruction of the five lower fetters, the clansman Pukkusāti has reappeared spontaneously in the Pure Abodes and will attain final Nibbāna there without ever returning from that world.”

And we have this alternative translation of the relevant passage from Bhikkhu Sujato:

"But while he was wandering in search of a bowl and robes, a stray cow took his life.

Then several mendicants went up to the Buddha, bowed, sat down to one side, and said to him, “Sir, the gentleman named Pukkusāti, who was advised in brief by the Buddha, has passed away. Where has he been reborn in his next life?”

“Mendicants, Pukkusāti was astute. He practiced in line with the teachings, and did not trouble me about the teachings. With the ending of the five lower fetters, he’s been reborn spontaneously and will become extinguished there, not liable to return from that world.”

What did the Buddha mean in MN 140 about what happened to clansman Pukkusāti after a cow killed him?

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  • the Buddha never said: "Where has he been reborn in his next life?” Jun 5 at 12:24
  • Yes, the emphasis was not meant to imply that he did. It was the who mendicants who asked this of the Buddha, and according to Bhikkhu Sujato the Buddha replied, "...he’s been reborn spontaneously..." Jun 5 at 15:20
  • I'm marking this as pali and theravada as I'm only interested in the answers from these perspectives. Thanks. Jun 5 at 23:21
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The highlighted translation in the question of "Tassa kā gati, ko abhisamparāyo" as "Where has he been reborn in his next life?” appears questionable or dodgy. "Gati" can simply mean "progress" and "samparāyo" simply means "future" (per Iti 44). Therefore, the question could simply be "what was Pukkusāti's path progress after being instructed by the Buddha?" (rather than "what was Pukkusāti's progress after being killed by a cow?").

In MN 68, the Buddha explains why he declares the "upapattīsu" (noun; locative case) of disciples who have deceased and passed away. While "upapattīsu" is often translated as "rebirth"; it appears it cannot mean "rebirth" because an Arahant disciple that passes away cannot have a "rebirth" (such as in Ud 1.10). Most literally, "upapattīsu" means "proceeded to state". Refer to this answer.

"Opapātikā" does not mean "reborn spontaneously". It means "spontaneously arisen". "Opapātikā" may derive from ‘upapatti’ or, otherwise, ‘upapāta’, which is said can mean ‘unusual’ or ‘unexpected occurrence’.

When the mind enters the stream and particularly when it flows non-volitionally through various jhanas, which occurs to the non-returner, then meaning of 'spontaneously arisen' may be comprehended in its reality. The common insertion into translations of "Pure Abodes" appears to refer to the 4th jhana.

The suttas appear to say the opapātikā of a non-returner occurs in the here-&-now, as follows:

Bhikkhus, living in this community there are bhikkhus who are Non-Returners through having ended the five lower fetters, who are spontaneously arisen, who will realize complete nibbana (parinibbāyī) there and by nature will never return from that world. Bhikkhus such as these are living in this community of bhikkhus.

MN 118

How is a person like a good horse with speed but not beauty or the right proportions. With the destruction of five fetters, a bhikkhu becomes one of spontaneous birth... This is his speed. But when asked questions about Dhamma, he falters or does not answer. This is his lack of beauty. Or he does not gain requisites (food, clothing, shelter, medicine). This is his lack of right proportions.

AN 3.141

In addition, MN 12 says:

What is egg-born generation? There are these beings born by breaking out of the shell of an egg; this is called egg-born generation. What is womb-born generation? There are these beings born by breaking out from the caul; this is called womb-born generation. What is moisture-born generation? There are these beings born in a rotten fish, in a rotten corpse, in rotten porridge, in a cesspit, or in a sewer; this is called moisture-born generation. What is spontaneous generation? There are gods and denizens of hell and certain human beings and some beings in the lower worlds; this is called spontaneous generation (opapātikā yoni). These are the four kinds of generation.

MN 12

Since MN 12 differentiates 'opapātikā' from womb birth and since people are born from a womb, obviously spontaneous generation as a gods, denizen of hell, certain human beings and in the lower worlds does not refer to physical birth but, instead, the birth of a psychological state.

As for the common non-returner translation (above) of "parinibbāyī" as "who will realize complete/final nibbana", this appears questionable to me. Refer to the 2nd answer to this question, below. In my opinion, 'parinibbāyī' here may simply refer to the 'complete extinguishment' of the five lower fetters, rendering the lower lower fetters incapable of ever arising again.

To add, the word "return" means to return to sensuality, as follows:

Bhikkhus, one bound by the bond of sensual desire and by the bond of being is a returner, one who comes back to this state.

One freed from the bond of sensual desire but still bound by the bond of being is a non-returner, one who does not come back to this state

Iti 96

In conclusion, it appears possible the Buddha said nothing in MN 140 about what happened to clansman Pukkusāti after a cow killed him. Instead, it appears, in MN 140, the Buddha said non-returner happened to clansman Pukkusāti after the Buddha instructed him.

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  • i finished my answer. It is unorthodox. Jun 7 at 1:55
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I decided to provide a second answer to this question because the definition of a non-returner has never been clear to me. I personally do not believe a non-returner attains Nibbana in a future life. Therefore, this second answer to the question, whilst unorthodox, is as follows:

  1. Iti 96 says the word "return" means to return to sensuality, as follows:

Bhikkhus, one bound by the bond of sensual desire and by the bond of being is a returner, one who comes back to this state.

One freed from the bond of sensual desire but still bound by the bond of being is a non-returner, one who does not come back to this state

Iti 96

  1. The Arahant & Non-Returner are defined in the suttas (from MN 118) as follows:

For in this Saṅgha there are Arahant monks, who have ended the fermentations (khīṇāsavā), completed the spiritual journey, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, achieved their own goal, utterly ended the fetters of becoming and are rightly freed through perfect understanding (sammadaññā) .

In this Saṅgha there are monks who, with the ending of the five lower fetters are spontaneously arisen. They are extinguished there (parinibbāyī) and are not liable to return from that world.

Examining the above, I am skeptical "parinibbāyī" refers to final Nibbana because:

  • The monk has spontaneously arisen in "a world".

  • The monk is not "liable to return [to sensuality] from that world".

  • Nibbana cannot be attained in "a world" because Nibbana is the cessation of all "worlds" (SN 12.44) and "transcends all worlds" ("lokuttara").

  1. "Parinibbāyī" does not necessarily mean a Nibbana without fuel because MN 37 uses the term "parinibbāyati" to refer to here & now Nibbana with fuel.

  2. Also, AN 4.123-125 use the term the "parinibbāyati" in relation to the extinguishing of godly lifespans arising from jhana & metta.

  3. MN 43 includes the 4th jhana as a liberation of mind (cetovimuttiyā); albeit not unshakeable (akuppā) thus not final Nibbana.

It follows I doubt "parinibbāyī" is referring to a future Final Nibbana but merely to some type of lesser "complete extinguishment" of only certain defilements; possibly referring to the final extinguishment of the five lower fetters; where the five lower fetter can never arise again.

Note: this answer is work in progress.

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