[Buddha-l] Not being able to imagine annihilation [confused]

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Wed Jun 2 01:50:25 MDT 2010

> The presupposition is that there is a tathagata at all. Once that 
> presupposition is challenged, then all questions about whether he 
> continues to exist or stops existing are unanswerable.
> Richard Hayes

That's an unhelpful dodge -- historically, doctrinally, and philosophically 

The historico-doctrinal reason the avyakata questions take the Tathagata as 
their example is simple. Since the view of rebirth was virtually ubiquitous 
at the time among anyone who would be exposed to such suttas, such questions 
about the "continuity" post-death of individuals never involved 
annihilationalism, as would be the case in a culture like ours that does not 
unquestioningly embrace the idea of rebirth. So the question of what happens 
after *final* death only arises in the case of a Tathagata who, by Buddhist 
definition, is the one no longer subject to recycling in samsara. What 
happens when he dies, thus, becomes a seemingly serious question.

Buddha doesn't deny he is a tathagata. That is not the fiction causing the 
trouble. The fiction is the notion of self.

Luke is trying to figure out whether Buddhism condones continuity of some 
sort after death -- and if so, then whether the avyakata questions are a 
plea for ineffability rather than rejection of annhilationalism simplicitur. 
Citing William James, or quasi-Daoist mergings with the universe, etc., 
don't help, except to show that many people who take Buddhism seriously on 
many other matters remain uncomfortable with Buddhist ideas about death and 
final deaths. They are in good company, since Buddhist doctrinal history 
demonstrates that Buddhists themselves were as well, and never could quite 
suppress eternalistic urges (since none of them would even consider 
annhilationalism an option, there was no extended response to that -- little 
did they know what 19th-20th c. Europeans and Americans would do with 
Buddhist ideas of nirvana).

There is a reason that Buddhists have to be constantly reminded of how 
deeply entrenched and pernicious atma-drsti really is.


More information about the buddha-l mailing list