Does the Buddha Live in Nibbāna?
Many people believe that the Buddha is alive and living in some sort of transcendental realm called Nibbāna where he can hear your prayers and eat and drink the food and water that you offer to Him. We Buddhist monks smile when we hear that people have such beliefs because nobody lives in Nibbāna, not even a Buddha.
This is wrong view, and any teacher or monk who believes and teaches this is surely not enlightened because permanently removing wrong view is part of enlightenment (in Theravāda). “So where is The Buddha then?” you might ask. The Buddha as far as a “being” is concerned dead and gone. There is only (dead) material form from his bodily remains that exist today. When The Buddha died, He did not take another birth. He achieved the final goal of Buddhism, which is to not be reborn ever again. His Arahant disiples have also achieved that goal too. There is no difference between a Buddha and an Arahant disciple after death. Any trace of them, is nowhere to be found. However, their physical remains may have been saved to represent the power of those who have achieved the final goal. There is no remainder other than that dead and lifeless material.
So what do you worship when you worship a Buddha?
The Buddha is dead and gone. It is like an atheist Physicist who has a picture of Einstein on his wall. It is inspiring to him even though he believes that Einstein does not exist*. He might even talk to Einstein’s picture while looking for solutions to his own physics research. Einstein discovered some natural laws of physics. His new laws are his teaching, and those who can understand his laws on a deep level (like a PhḌ.), are his true disciples.
The Buddha is sort of like this Einstein analogy. The Buddha is the one who discovered the natural laws of the Four Noble Truths. The laws he discovered are his teachings or Dhamma. Those who come to know these laws on a deep level (Enlightenment), are the true disciples or Saṅgha. The general saying is, “As long as the teaching is alive, the Buddha is alive.” Right now, there is no real Buddha in terms of what many conventionally want to believe in. They want to relate it to some sort of god or being that they can talk to and be heard. It does not happen because The Buddha died without any remainder. Dead I say. Like a hunk of wood. No life. It is not sacrilegious to say this either. When a flame goes out, does it go anywhere? No. It is gone.
Isn’t that a Nihilistic view to say he is dead and gone and completely gone?
There are two types of wrong view; Eternalism and Nihilism. Eternalism is a belief that there is a Soul that can exist forever. If you believe that a “you” will exist in Heaven for ever and ever, this is Eternalism. If you believe that a “you” or a “soul” will be reborn again and again and it will never end, this is also Eternalism. If you believe that your “True Self” should be known and once you know it, you can merge with the infinite collective soul, this is also Eternalism. Eternalism is quite wide and most religions fall into this category.
Nihilism is more simple and there is only one type of Nihilist. If you believe that when you die you die, finish, kaput, no cause and effect, no more birth no matter what you have done in this life, good or bad, then this is Nihilism. Lights out. It is that simple.
Buddhism asserts that there is no “person” to be reborn. It is only a moment to moment mind and matter that is continuously arising and passing away. There is no inherent self to be reborn, yet there is a force of continuation from one moment to the next. That is why we prefer the term rebirth-linking over the conventional term, reincarnation. Reincarnation implies a “soul” that gets a new bodily form. In Buddhism we believe that a momentary mind and matter will be a result of the actions done in this and previous lives, and rebirth linking is inevitable for as long as this force is present to cause relinking. It is only until one attains full enlightenment that this force for rebirth linking is removed… permanently. When there is no longer a force that can create a new rebirth linking consciousness after death, the mind of the mind and matter duo is dead and stops and no longer exists. Dead, kaput, lights out, finished. No More. Only a hunk of wood remains. Only when you think in this way, is one on the track to have right view in Buddhist Philosophy.
So while we believe in rebirth and countless lives in the past and future, the lives do eventually end but only when one sees the true nature of mind and matter and removes the force that causes rebirth. Seeing the true nature of mind and matter is not discovering a “True Self.” In contrast, it is seeing that there is no true self that can ever exist. Conventionally, it sounds near to Eternalism and near to Nihilism and a combination of both. However, since there is no real self to exist or stop existing, we would be more likely to say that the Buddhist view is very far away from both views. Right view is not close to wrong view.
This is why the Buddha does not live in Nibbāna. There was no longer force to push a rebirth-linking consciousness in any other realm. Although Nibbāna can be directly known by the mind, nobody goes to or lives in Nibbāna. Anyone who says otherwise is not a True Buddhist. The Buddha as far as a conventional being goes, is dead and gone, yet alive through His Teachings which still survive today. Eventually, the Teachings which keep the Buddha “alive” will perish too. This is the Law that was discovered by the Buddha that not even He could bypass. His Final Death is celebrated as a confirmation that all beings are subject to these laws.
Strive with diligence. Rare is the appearance of the Buddha.
*This analogy about Einstein is taken from an Atheist viewpoint only.
11 thoughts on “Does The Buddha live in Nibbana”
Where in scripture does it say that the mind can “know” nibbana?
My understanding is that the mind’s function is to percieve, while nibbana is a state of non-perception. 🙂
Do you mean that the mind can infer nibbana?
On another note, when people speak of a “True Self” which is eternal, it does not always indicate wrong view. In some cases, the idea of “True Self” is identical to the idea of Ultimate Nature in the same sense as impemanence, and non-self, can be said to be ultimate characteristics of phenomena. In the traditions where the idea of Ultimate Self is used, the truth of the concept is discovered through a process of negation. The person negates all changing phenomena and arrives at an eternal and unchanging principle akin to nibbana. Or akin to the idea that impermanence is permanent and eternal in principle and law.
It’s largely a matter of semantics. Language is complex and people mean different things by the same words all the time.
It is very clear in the Abhidhamma. There are 40 cittas that can know the object of Nibbana. Just like the mind knows the object of the anapana nimitta, it can also know the object of Nibbana. Unfortunately, people believe that “blanking out” is Nibbana. Be warned about traditions which encourage you to stay up all night and also confirm that “blanking out” is Nibbana. It is likely to be debunked as Bhavanga.
As for “true self”, I think that if you think this negation is a “you”, then it is an eternalistic view. Otherwise, yes, it could be language. I have researched this a little bit with the idea of “citta” in the Thai tradition. It seems that people who are well spoken in English have written clearly about this (in the wrong way). Google citta, pure mind, thai forest tradition
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“Nihilism” is a view that nothing matters and while this is certainly wrong view it doesn’t fit within the context presented here. The extreme view that the Buddha rejected in contrast to eternalism is called “annihilationism” a view that the self/soul/attan is destroyed (annihilated) at death.
I am not sure if you are supporting my article or debating it. The idea of a self to exist or not exist is not within the Buddhist scope. The “self” is made up of parts. There is one material and four mental aggregates. When the “Arahant” dies, only the material form remains. There is no rebirth linking. The mental aggregates does not re-arise. The only thing to remain is dead materialty .. just a hunk of dead wood. Nothing goes anywhere. It does not go to Nibbāna. Just to be clear in case you are not with me on this. Ask any learned monk what the real Buddhism is. There are many monasteries littered through many countries especially America. Google one and pick up the phone. Do not formulate your own ideas.
He was not commenting on your understanding of the Dharma but on your definition of the Western philosophical term, Nihilism. Nihilism is a belief that arose in Russia and that states that there is no God and no immortal soul. As a result of these two points, they necessarily conclude that there is no Truth and no purpose (telios) to life. In otherwords, life is meaningless.
No Buddhist is a true Nihilist because all Buddhists believe in the universal Truth of the Dharma and the purpose, of a sort, that it provides by offering a way to liberated oneself from suffering. Buddhists also avoid much of the philosophical necessity that Nihilists grapple with because the idea of dependent origination solves those dilemmas.
However, there are many Buddhists who reject eternalist claims. Therefore, a Buddhist might be an Annihilationist but will never be a Nihilist.
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Eternalism is the belief in an eternal AND unchanging soul. Anhihhilationism is the belief that because the soul changes it must therefore also be impermanent. Buddha denies both. But by doing so what is he trying to affirm? Obviously that the soul is eternal YET changing. But how can this be the case? Where Buddha fails as a teacher is in explaining that. Surely he was enlightened and understood it, but could not put it into words very well. Unlike Mahavira who was able to explain it well. As a result, to understand Buddha one must look at the Jain tradition. There the distinction between substance and mode is explained. Eternalism is the belief that the soul is permanent in substance and unchanging in mode; anhihilationism is the belief that the soul because it is changing in mode is also impermanent in substance; the position of the enligtened (both Mahavira and Buddha, although only one could find the best words to explain it) is that the soul is permanent in substance but changing in mode. In other words, the soul is a permanent substance but the personality with in changing. So, yes Buddha and Mahavira live in nibbana and to say otherwise is either to deny they reached enlightenment or to be a nihilist.
This is where Zen comes in handy: if there is an eternal soul, please bring it to me and show it to me.
Of course, you can’t. All that is known is consciousness and its objects, ie the five aggregates. That’s all that is present in this moment. Tables, carpet, breath, and thoughts all appear but no souls.
What you’re equating “soul” with is really just consciousness/citta: the subject having an experience. Since it’s subject, not an object, it seems unchanging. But what this view fails to account for is that consciousness only arises with its objects and objects only with consciousness. To say consciousness is requisite for object but not the other way around is to make the idealist’s mistake. To say object is requisite for consciousness but not the other way around is to make the materialist’s mistake. Thus, consciousness is constantly changing as its objects constantly change. The two are one in this sense.
Nibbana is the blowing out of the whole thing. It’s not that consciousness becomes blank, it’s that it’s undone (blankness would be an arupajhana, as blankness is still a subtle object for consciousness to exist with). Such a state of undoing is literally inconceivable to a mind still endowed with consciousness…like describing living on land to a fish. The mind has no reference point to contrast. Even “blankness” is conceivable as just the negation of diversity of objects. But not Nibbana. It has no contrasting point.
This is where Zen comes in handy: if there is a soul, please find one and show it to me.
Of course, there isn’t one to show. All that’s present in this moment is consciousness and its objects, ie the five aggregates. There’s tables, a phone, fingers tapping, thoughts appearing, and the consciousness that experiences it all…but I looked around my room thoroughly and I found no souls.
When people use the word soul, they’re either reifying it or they’re talking about consciousness. The former case is easy to see through for any experienced meditator so I won’t get into reification.
The latter is more interesting. Consciousness/citta appears unchanging and eternal since it’s not an object, but is instead the subject. Thus all the anicca of objects doesn’t seem to apply to it. From there you get Advaita Vedanta, Thai Forest, et al equating it with the unchanging and permanent.
But this view fails to account for the co-arising/co-dependence of consciousness and its objects. The two arise together in dependence on each other. To say objects precede consciousness, consciousness is dependent on objects, objects exist independently of consciousness is to make the materialist’s mistake. To say consciousness precedes objects, objects are dependent on consciousness, consciousness exists independently of objects is to make the idealist’s mistake.
Both sides are wrong view. Mahavira and Advaita are certainly wrong view on this. They make the idealist mistake. Consciousness and its objects co-arise and are dependent on each other.
So what are we to make of the “Nibbana is a blank citta” belief? It’s wrong view as well. A blank citta/blank consciousness is just an arupajhana. Blankness is a subtle object that consciousness is still arising with. Same with taking the psychedelic 5-MeO-DMT, which will catapult a human mind strait into a formless, unchanging nothingness. But all the folks I’ve talked to say there was still a sense of “I am” present there. Nothingness is still an object, just a formless one.
Nibbana is beyond objects and beyond consciousness. It’s the complete blowing out of the entire thing. It’s not nothingness; it’s not any object, not any consciousness. And for conscious beings such as us, it’s thus completely inconceivable. Even nothingness is conceivable as the opposite of diversity in forms, but there’s nothing in consciousness, which by definition is all we know and all we experience, to contrast not-consciousness with. It’s like describing living on land to a fish, except the difference is even greater.
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