It is said by the bhikkhuni Vajira:

“Just as, with an assemblage of parts,

The word ‘chariot’ is used,
So, when the aggregates exist,
There is the convention ‘a being.’

SN 5.10

However, in the Yamaka Sutta:

“What do you think, friend Yamaka, do you regard form, feeling, perception, volitional formations, and consciousness taken together as the Tathagata?”—“No, friend.”

“But, friend, when the Tathagata is not apprehended by you as real and actual here in this very life ...”

SN 22.85

Yamaka denies the aggregates taken together as the Tathagata is real and actual. On the other hand, Vajira seems to be affirming that the aggregates taken together is a convention.

The words in pali for this phrase of real and actual are saccato thetato and for convention the word is sammuti.

When he performed an analysis - as the Buddha advised Yamaka to do - he tried to find the saccato thetato self, but came up empty. Does that mean that Vajira erred in naming 'a being' as a convention?

Is this a true contradiction? Why did the Buddha advise Yamaka to try and find a self through analysis? Wasn't this leading Yamaka into a thicket of views?


This was too close to a seeded question. Although it was asked sincerely in that I was curious to know others responses (particular users on this site who I respect and admire) I do have my own idea of how I would answer this question (at least I do now and I'm not totally convinced I didn't have that idea already when I first opened it) so I should not have opened it out of mere curiosity. I was going to delete it given it goes against the site moderation guidelines, but then there are good answers and we are discouraged to delete questions where people have attempted to give good and thoughtful answers so I will leave it, but I do regret opening it in the first place.

  • So, why can't Tathagata be real and actual temporary bundle of aggregates?
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 14:05
  • Are you asking for the reasoning behind Yamaka answering negatively or are you asking why a "temporary bundle of aggregates" is not a real and actual thing?
    – user13375
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 17:51
  • The first one, of course. The text does not qualify for the real and actual, it just asks whether the skandhas taken together are what we "regard as" Tathagata, and Yamaka's negative answer is approved by Shariputra. But isn't Tathagata a conventional designation made on the basis of aggregates, as in the chariot metaphor? Wouldn't that make "no" an invalid answer, because the aggregates taken together is what we "regard as" Tathagata?
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 17:54
  • Shariputra's questions are directing Yamaka through an ultimate analysis to see if the Tathagata is ultimately findable as real and actual. The questions are not qualified as such, but this formula of analysis is found throughout the suttas and I suppose that Yamaka is well aware that the qualification 'real and actual' is the crux when Shariputra walks him through the formulaic analysis. IOW, I suppose that Yamaka and Shariputra are in agreement that the object of negation - as well as the difference between it and conventional designation - is the subject of the questions.
    – user13375
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 19:03
  • 1
    I'm not trying to point out anything, I'm just thinking that language used in Yamaka Sutta is way too sloppy for such an important subject :)
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 19:29

2 Answers 2


Where's the contradiction?

When you sit down, you have a lap by convention. When you stand up, you don't have a lap by convention.

The lap is not a specific real and actual thing by itself. You cannot isolate a thing by itself that you can call a lap.

When you clench your fingers, you have a fist by convention. When you unclench your fingers, you don't have a fist by convention.

The fist is not a specific real and actual thing by itself.You cannot isolate a thing by itself that you can call a fist.

The being (satta), the person (puggala) and the self (atta) are such conventions, similar to the lap and the fist.

  • Lap i& fist are not convention in Pali. This post is solipsism Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 20:20

SN 5.10 says, for the unenlightened, the belief in "a being" or "sentient beings" is a wrong view. The unenlightened believe "beings" or "sentiment beings" are true & real and require salvation by bodhisattvas postponing enlightenment over countless lifetimes.

SN 5.10 also says, for the enlightened, the notion of "a being" is merely a convention. SN 5.10 does not say the five aggregates are a convention.

Similarly, SN 22.85 says, for the enlightened, (the convention of) The Tathagata is not true & real. SN 22.85 does not say the five aggregates are not true & real.

SN 22.85 begins with the following wrong view of Yamaka:

As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed is annihilated and perishes with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death.

In the Pali, terms such as "annihilated" ("ucchijjati"; verb of "uccheda"; refer to DN 1) and "death" ("maraṇā"; refer to SN 12.2) refer to self-views of an "existent being". This is why Yamaka had wrong view. Yamaka believed an Arahant was a type of "being" or "self".

If in doubt, again, MN 72 says:

“But Master Gotama, when a mendicant’s mind is freed like this, where are they reborn?”

“Evaṁ vimuttacitto pana, bho gotama, bhikkhu kuhiṁ upapajjatī”ti?

“‘They’re reborn’ doesn’t apply, Vaccha.”

“Upapajjatīti kho, vaccha, na upeti”.

“Well then, are they not reborn?”

“Tena hi, bho gotama, na upapajjatī”ti?

“‘They’re not reborn’ doesn’t apply, Vaccha.”

“Na upapajjatīti kho, vaccha, na upeti”.

These common Pali words, such as "uccheda", "maraṇā" & "upapajjatī" are related to "self-views" of "a being". Most Buddhists are caught up in materialism, believing "marana" & "upapajjatī" refer to biological death & a biological rebirth.

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