According to the Brahmajala Sutta, Ajita propounded Ucchedavada (the Doctrine of Annihilation after death) and Tam-Jivam-tam-sariram-vada (the doctrine of identity of the soul and body), which denied the separate existence of an eternal soul.

Annihilationism is usually thought of as one extreme, which assumes an atman. But if atman is permanent, I don't easily see the error here.

  1. Why is it a self view?
  2. Can you support Ucchedavada as well as anatman?
  3. If not why not? if it's because Ucchedavada explicitly posits a self, what happens when you remove that from the teaching, and is it still Ucchedavada?
  • I don't understand the last sentence. I guess that if "atman" means "self" then "positing an atman" means "positing a self", whether that atman is assumed to be permanent ("eternalist") or finite ("annihilationist").
    – ChrisW
    Mar 29, 2022 at 12:01
  • NOTE: "atman" is not used in the DN, MN, KN, SN, AN Pali Nikayas. Atman is a Hindu term.
    – OyaMist
    Mar 29, 2022 at 12:14
  • that's interesting thanks. do you understand the question @OyaMist
    – user23322
    Mar 29, 2022 at 12:29
  • Yes. Ruben2020's answer makes total sense to me. DN1 is the reference to study. DN1 explores all the variations of your question and explains the issues thoroughly.
    – OyaMist
    Mar 29, 2022 at 13:06
  • 1
    Annihilationism is like saying Santa Claus exists now but would cease to exist later. Anatta is like saying there's really no Santa Claus, although it may appear at times to exist, albeit falsely. Eternalism and annihilationism are two variant views that are like asserting the truth of Santa Claus, while anatta denies it.
    – ruben2020
    Mar 29, 2022 at 18:36

4 Answers 4


There's a very detailed description in DN 1.

Eternalism is the view that the self, atta or atman, is different from the body, and is eternal. When the body is destroyed, the self moves on to another body. But the self is never destroyed, is permanent and eternal.

Annihilation is the view where the self is identical with the body, and so it exists while the body exists and it is destroyed when the body is destroyed.

Or if someone holds the view that the self is a subtler body that exists when the physical body exists and will be destroyed with the destruction of the physical body, then that's also annihilationism.

Partial-eternalism is the view that either some beings are eternal (like God) while others are not, or some beings are eternal but could lose their immortality by corruption, or that consciousness or mind is eternal while body is not.

The above are all variants of self-view.

The Buddha taught that the self is a dependently originated emergent phenomena, a mental idea, that changes from time to time, depending on conditions. It's neither permanent nor standalone. Other things like body, mind, consciousness are all dependently originated conditioned phenomena.

  • yes but why does Ajita posit an atman? i'm not saying he doesn't. i'm confused why he is meant to
    – user23322
    Mar 29, 2022 at 6:18
  • @again_insane_buddhist atman here just means "self". The self can be imposed on anything. For e.g. if I hit you, you may say "why do you hit me?" instead of "why do you hit my body?" You could make body identical with self. When body is destroyed, self is destroyed. A person could think that he will cease to exist when he dies. The Buddha did not want to confuse Vacchagotta in SN 44.10: "And if I were to answer that there is no self, (he) would become even more bewildered: 'Does the self I used to have now not exist?'"
    – ruben2020
    Mar 29, 2022 at 6:28
  • so annihiltionism etc. need not posit a self?
    – user23322
    Mar 29, 2022 at 6:56
  • @again_insane_buddhist Annihilationism posits a self that exists now and will cease to exist in the future.
    – ruben2020
    Mar 29, 2022 at 7:01
  • what is it about the annihilationist belief which must posit the self?
    – user23322
    Mar 29, 2022 at 7:02

In the context of Buddhist teachings, however, what matters is not the permanence or impermanence of the object of self-identification but the very fact of self-identification. Thus Buddhists view both sassatavada and ucchedavada as two varieties of atmavada... due to craving for non-being (vibhava-tanha), the desire to be completely annihilated at death. From the Buddhist point of view the reasoning for this may be conjectured as follows: because ucchedavada rejects survival, it tends to encourage man to lead a life without being burdened by a sense of moral responsibility or tormented by moral inhibitions. Therefore it abhors any prospect of after-death existence, as it implies the possibility of moral retribution


Seems fair. I don't become nothing when I die, because I cannot identify it as "my" death.

Whether we can conventionally believe in self annihilation is not clear to me.


This is a better answer

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I should just google these things. This source adds that annihilationists believe in a self now, and the eternalists one in the future.

  • nb i have not read this book, and it may go on at some length about the difference with madhyamaka etc.
    – user23322
    Mar 30, 2022 at 2:33

It's because they hold that something existed for some time, 'a person'. The body is not the same now as what the body was when one was an infant but they say it's the same 'person'.

They posit an annihilation of the existent self only, the body they say will break up, heat will dissipate and consciousness is but a conditional property of matter which begins when person begins and ends when person ends.

They use the idea of self or 'person' to tie mind & body together in a messed up way where they treat mentality as if it is like smoke produced of rubbing two sticks but they don't conserve this property in any way unlike conservation of other material properties such as heat, mass, motion & etc and it apparently is made out of nothing and becomes nothing.

Of course it's philosophically impossible to somehow conserve or transform what only you could observe to something measurable by another person when you no longer exist...

Therefore they are called 'annihilationists, those who posit annihilation of an existent being', they make body & mind personable but won't be able to pin down the being as a truth & reality.

Without the idea of self they will have to admit that body & mind change as they persist and that cessation of mind is not evident and that it ought to be assumed to change as it persists even through the breakup of the body.

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