The wanderer vacchagotta once asked the Buddha what became of the Tathagata (the “Enlightened One”) after death. But no matter how Vacchagotta phrased the inquiry, the Buddha explained that his question did not apply. Finally, he asked Vacchagotta to imagine a fire.

“Suppose someone where to ask you, Vaccha, ‘This fire burning in front of you, on what does it depend for its burning?’”

Vacchagotta answered, “I would reply that it is dependent upon the wood.”

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“And suppose that the fire were to go out. What would you answer the person who asked you, ‘This fire that was burning in front of you—in which direction has it gone? East? West? North? South?’ How would you reply?”

“That question does not apply, Master Gotama. The fire, having consumed the fuel which allowed it to burn, and not being offered any other, would be called ‘out’ [literally, ‘unbound’].’”

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