With and Without Residue

อาจารย์ ถิรธัมโม

With and Without Residue

A more refined explanation of awakening or nibbāna is that there are two kinds: there is awakening ‘with residue’, meaning being awakened with a living body, or while still alive; and there is awakening ‘without residue’ when the awakened person dies and the body breaks up.

The first designation refers to the condition of awakening with the usual expressions of body/mind still intact. The awakened person still has the five aggregates – body, feeling, perception, mental formations, consciousness. If we translate ‘nibbāna’ as ‘extinction’ in this case, it could be interpreted as meaning that somebody who is awakened simply disappears as if by magic.

However, it really refers to the fact that although there still is a body/mind complex, there’s no self-identification with it. So in a way this normal designation of a person has ‘gone out’; it’s not manifesting anymore. But that doesn’t mean the total extinction of body and mind, just the extinction of the personal identification with body and mind as ‘me’ and ‘mine’.

We have to be careful to avoid falling into some form of eternalism, for example by thinking that when we realize awakening, we go to some eternal Buddha-realm, are whisked off into a non-manifest realm of Buddhahood. Indeed, some people have referred to nibbāna with residue in those terms.

However, I think that what the Buddha is trying to point out is that it’s something we can no longer designate, or which is non-manifest according to our usual terms of reference. It is very hard to define because it is the unconditioned, while we are only familiar with the conditioned. There is not the usual reference to a subject, a person who can know what the unconditioned is. The unconditioned can be experienced, but it can’t actually be demonstrated. It’s impossible to show someone the unconditioned. It doesn’t manifest in this self-referential realm.

This reflection by Ajahn Thiradhammo is from the book, Contemplations on the Seven Factors of Awakening, (pdf) pp. 139-140.