Nibbàna Sermon 01

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Etaü santaü, etaü paõãtaü, yadidaü sabbasaīkhārasamatho sabbåpadhipaņinissaggo taõhakkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānaü.[1]

"This is peaceful, this is excellent, namely the stilling of all prepa­rations, the relinquishment of all assets, the destruction of craving, detachment, cessation, extinction".

With the permission of the Most Venerable Great Preceptor and the assembly of the venerable meditative monks.

Recently we have had an occasion to listen to a series of ser­mons on Nibbāna and there have been differences of opinion re­garding the interpretation of some deep suttas on Nibbāna in those ser­mons. And so the venerable Great Preceptor suggested to me that it would be useful to this group if I would give a set of sermons on Nibbāna, touching on those controversial points.

At first, for many reasons, I hesitated to accept this invitation for a serious task, but then, as the venerable Great Preceptor re­peatedly encouraged me on this, I gave some thought as to how best I could set about doing it. And it occurred to me that it would be best if I could address these ser­mons directly to the task before us in this Nis­sarana Vanaya, and that is meditative attention, rather than dealing with those deep controversial sut­tas in academic isolation. And that is why I have selected the above quotation as the theme for the entire set of sermons, hop­ing that it would help create the correct atmos­phere of medita­tive attention.

Etaü santaü etaü paõãtaü, yadidaü sabbasaīkhārasamatho sabbåpadhipaņinissaggo taõhakkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānaü.

"This is peaceful, this is excellent, namely the stilling of all pre­pa­rations, the relinquishment of all assets, the destruction of craving, detachment, cessation, extinction".

This in fact is a meditation subject in itself, a kammaņņhāna. This is the reflection on the peace of Nibbāna, upasamānussati. So if we can successfully make use of this as both the heading and the theme of these sermons, we would be in a position to understand those six qualities of the Dhamma. We are told that the Dhamma is svākkhāta, that it is well-proclaimed, sandiņņhika, can be seen here and now, akālika, timeless, ehipassika, inviting one to come and see, opana­yika, leading one onwards, paccat­taü veditabbo vi¤¤åhi, that it can be understood by the wise each one by him­self.[2]

This set of sermons would have fulfilled its purpose if it drives home the true significance of these six qualities of the Dhamma.

Now at the very outset I would like to say a few things by way of preparing the background and I do hope that this assembly would bear with me for saying certain things that I will be com­pelled to say in this concern. By way of background something has to be said as to why there are so many complications with regard to the meaning of some of the deep suttas on Nibbāna.

There is a popular belief that the commentaries are finally trace­able to a miscellany of the Bud­dha word scattered here and there, as pakiõõakadesanā. But the true state of affairs seems to be rather dif­ferent. Very often the commentaries are unable to say something con­clusive regarding the meaning of deep suttas. So they simply give some possible interpretations and the reader finds himself at a loss to choose the correct one. Sometimes the commentaries go at a tangent and miss the correct interpreta­tion. Why the commentaries are silent on some deep suttas is also a problem to modern day scholars. There are some histori­cal reasons leading to this state of affairs in the com­mentaries.

In the âõisutta of the Nidānavagga in the Saüyutta Nikāya we find the Buddha making certain prophetic utterances regard­ing the dangers that will befall the Sāsana in the future. It is said that in times to come, monks will lose interest in those deep sut­tas which deal with matters transcen­dental, that they would not listen to those suttas that have to do with the idea of emptiness, su¤¤atā. They would not think it even worthwhile learning or pondering over the meanings of those suttas:

Ye te suttantā tathāgatabhāsitā gambhãrā gambhãratthā lokut­tarā su¤¤atappaņisaüyuttā, tesu bha¤¤amānesu na sussåssisanti na sotaü odahissanti na a¤¤ā cittaü upaņņhāpessanti na te dham­me uggahe­tabbaü pariyāpuõitabbaü ma¤¤issanti.[3]

There is also another historical reason that can be adduced. An idea got deeply rooted at a cer­tain stage in the Sāsana his­tory that what is contained in the Sutta Piņaka is simply the con­ven­tional teaching and so it came to imply that there is nothing so deep in these suttas. This notion also had its share in the pre­sent lack of interest in these suttas. According to Manoratha­påraõã, the Aīguttara com­mentary, already at an early stage in the Sāsana history of Sri Lanka, there had been a debate be­tween those who upheld the precept and those who stood for re­alization.[4] And it is said that those who upheld the pre­cept won the day. The final conclusion was that, for the con­ti­nuity of the Sāsana, precept itself is enough, not so much the reali­zation.

Of course the efforts of the reciter monks of old for the pres­erva­tion of the precept in the midst of droughts and famines and other calamitous situations are certainly praiseworthy. But the un­fortunate thing about it was this: the basket of the Buddha word came to be passed on from hand to hand in the dark, so much so that there was the risk of some valuable things slipping out in the process.

Also there have been certain semantic developments in the com­mentarial period, and this will be obvious to anyone search­ing for the genuine Dhamma. It seems that there had been a ten­dency in the com­mentarial period to elaborate even on some lu­cid words in the suttas, simply as a com­mentarial requirement, and this led to the in­clusion of many complicated ideas. By too much over­drawing in the commentaries, the deeper meanings of the Dhamma got obscured. As a matter of fact, the depth of the Dhamma has to be seen through lu­cidity, just as much as one sees the bot­tom of a tank only when the water is lucid.

Dve nāma kiü?

Nāma¤ca råpa¤ca.[5]

"What is the `two'?"

"Name and form."

This is the second out of the ten questions Buddha had put to the Venerable sāmanera Sopāka who had attained Arahant-­ship at the age of seven. It is like asking a child: "Can you count up to ten?" All the ten questions were deep, the tenth being on Ara­hant-ship. But of course Venerable Sopāka gave the right answer each time. Now it is the second question and its answer that we are concerned with here: nāma¤ca råpa¤ca. In fact, this is a ba­sic teaching in insight training.

It is obvious that nāma means `name', and in the suttas also, nāma, when used by itself, means `name'. However when we come to the commentaries we find some kind of hesitation to recognize this obvious meaning. Even in the present context, the commentary, Paramatthajotikā, explains the word `name' so as to mean `bending'. It says that all immaterial states are called nāma, in the sense that they bend towards their respective ob­jects and also because the mind has the nature of incli­nation: ârammaõābhimukhaü namanato, cit­tassa ca natihetuto sab­bam­pi aråpaü `nāman'ti vuc­cati.[6]

And this is the standard definition of nāma in Abhidhamma com­pendiums and commentaries. The idea of bending towards an object is brought in to explain the word nāma. It may be that they thought it too simple an interpretation to explain nāma with reference to `name', particularly be­cause it is a term that has to do with deep in­sight. However as far as the teachings in the sut­tas are concerned, nāma still has a great depth even when it is understood in the sense of `name'.

Nāmaü sabbaü anvabhavi,

nāmā bhiyyo na vijjati,

nāmassa ekadhammassa,

sabbeva vasam­anvagå.[7]

"Name has conquered everything,

There is nothing greater than name,

All have gone un­der the sway

Of this one thing called name."

Also there is another verse of the same type, but unfortunately its original meaning is often ig­nored by the present day com­men­tators:

Akkheyyasa¤¤ino sattā,

akkheyyasmiü patiņņhitā,

akkhey­yaü apari¤¤āya,

yogam āyanti maccuno.[8]

"Beings are conscious of what can be named,

They are estab­lished on the nameable,

By not comprehending the nameable things,

They come under the yoke of death."

All this shows that the word nāma has a deep significance even when it is taken in the sense of `name'.

But now let us see whether there is something wrong in ren­dering nāma by `name' in the case of the term nāma-råpa. To begin with, let us turn to the definition of nāma-råpa as given by the Venerable Sāriputta in the Sammādiņņhisutta of the Majjhima Nikāya.

Vedanā, sa¤¤ā, cetanā, phasso, manasikāro - idaü vuc­catāvuso, nāmaü; cattāri ca mahā­bhåtāni, catunna¤ca mahā­bhåtānaü upādāyaråpaü - idaü vuccatāvuso, råpaü. Iti ida¤ca nāmaü ida¤ca råpaü - idam vuccatāvuso nāma-råpaü.[9] "Feel­ing, perception, inten­tion, contact, attention - this, friend, is called `name'. The four great primaries and form dependent on the four great pri­maries - this, friend, is called `form'. So this is `name' and this is `form' - this, friend, is called `name-and-form'."

Well, this seems lucid enough as a definition but let us see, whether there is any justification for regarding feeling, percep­tion, intention, contact and attention as `name'. Suppose there is a little child, a toddler, who is still unable to speak or understand language. Someone gives him a rubber ball and the child has seen it for the first time. If the child is told that it is a rubber ball, he might not under­stand it. How does he get to know that ob­ject? He smells it, feels it, and tries to eat it, and finally rolls it on the floor. At last he under­stands that it is a plaything. Now the child has recog­nised the rubber ball not by the name that the world has given it, but by those factors included un­der `name' in nāma-råpa, namely feeling, perception, intention, contact and at­tention.

This shows that the definition of nāma in nāma-råpa takes us back to the most fundamental no­tion of `name', to something like its prototype. The world gives a name to an object for pur­poses of easy communication. When it gets the sanction of oth­ers, it becomes a convention.

While commenting on the verse just quoted, the commenta­tor also brings in a bright idea. As an illustration of the sweeping power of name, he points out that if any tree happens to have no name at­tached to it by the world, it would at least be known as the `nameless tree'.[10] Now as for the child, even such a usage is not possible. So it gets to know an object by the aforesaid method. And the factors in­volved there, are the most elementary constituents of name.

Now it is this elementary name-and-form world that a medita­tor also has to understand, how­ever much he may be conversant with the conventional world. But if a meditator wants to under­stand this name-and-form world, he has to come back to the state of a child, at least from one point of view. Of course in this case the equanimity should be accompanied by knowledge and not by ignorance. And that is why a meditator makes use of mind­fulness and full awareness, satisam­paja¤¤a, in his attempt to understand name-and-form.

Even though he is able to recognize objects by their conven­tional names, for the purpose of comprehending name-and-form, a medita­tor makes use of those factors that are included under `name': feel­ing, perception, intention, contact and attention. All these have a spe­cific value to each individual and that is why the Dhamma has to be understood each one by himself - paccattaü veditabbo. This Dham­ma has to be realized by oneself. One has to understand one's own world of name-and-form by oneself. No one else can do it for him. Nor can it be defined or denoted by tech­nical terms.

Now it is in this world of name-and-form that suffering is found. According to the Buddha, suf­fer­ing is not out there in the conven­tional world of worldly philosophers. It is to be found in this very name-and-form world. So the ultimate aim of a medita­tor is to cut off the craving in this name-and-form. As it is said: acchecchi taõhaü idha nāmaråpe.[11]

Now if we are to bring in a simile to clarify this point, the Bud­dha is called the incomparable surgeon, sallakatto anut­taro.[12] Also he is sometimes called taõhāsallassa hantāraü, one who re­moves the dart of craving.[13] So the Buddha is the in­com­pa­rable surgeon who pulls out the poison-tipped arrow of crav­ing.

We may say therefore that, according to the Dhamma, nāma-råpa, or name-and-form, is like the wound in which the arrow is em­bedded. When one is wounded by a poison-tipped arrow, the ban­dage has to be put, not on the archer or on his bow-string, but on the wound itself. First of all the wound has to be well lo­cated and cleaned up. Similarly, the comprehension of name-and-form is the preliminary step in the treatment of the wound caused by the poison-tipped arrow of craving.

And it is for that purpose that a meditator has to pay special at­tention to those basic compo­nents of `name' - feeling, percep­tion, intention, contact and attention - however much he may be proficient in words found in worldly usage. It may even appear as a process of unlearning down to childlike simplicity. But of course, the equanim­ity implied there, is not based on ignorance but on knowledge.

We find ourselves in a similar situation with regard to the sig­nifi­cance of råpa in nāma-råpa. Here too we have something deep, but many take nāma-råpa to mean `mind and matter'. Like ma­terialists, they think there is a contrast between mind and matter. But according to the Dhamma there is no such rigid dis­tinction. It is a pair that is interrelated and taken together it forms an important link in the chain of paņicca samuppāda.

Råpa exists in relation to `name' and that is to say that form is known with the help of `name'. As we saw above, that child got a first-hand knowledge of the rubber ball with the help of contact, feel­ing, perception, intention and attention. Now in the definition of `form' as cattāri ca mahābhåtāni, catunna¤ca mahābhåtānaü upādāya råpaü the four great primaries are mentioned because they constitute the most primary notion of `form'. Just as much as feeling, perception, intention, contact and attention represent the most pri­mary notion of `name', conventionally so called, even so the four great primaries form the basis for the primary notion of `form', as the world understands it.

It is not an easy matter to recognize these primaries. They are evasive like ghosts. But out of their interplay we get the per­ception of form, råpasa¤¤ā. In fact what is called råpa in this con­text is råpasa¤¤ā. It is with reference to the behaviour of the four great elements that the world builds up its concept of form. Its perception, recognition and designation of form is in terms of that behav­iour. And that behaviour can be known with the help of those members representing name.

The earth element is recognized through the qualities of hardness and softness, the water ele­ment through the qualities of cohesiveness and dissolution, the fire element through hot­ness and coolness, and the wind element through motion and in­flation. In this way one gets acquainted with the nature of the four great primaries. And the per­ception of form, råpasa¤¤ā, that one has at the back of one's mind, is the net result of that acquaintance. So this is nāma-råpa. This is one's world. The re­lationship between råpa and råpasa¤¤ā will be clear from the following verse:

Yattha nāma¤ca råpa¤ca,

asesaü uparujjhati,

paņighaü råpasa¤¤ā ca,

etthesā chijjate jaņā.

This is a verse found in the Jaņāsutta of the Saüyutta Nikāya.[14] In that sutta we find a deity putting a rid­dle before the Buddha for solu­tion:

Anto jaņā bahi jaņā,

jaņāya jaņitā pajā,

taü taü Gotama puc­chāmi,

ko imaü vijaņaye jaņaü.

"There is a tangle within, and a tangle without,

The world is entan­gled with a tangle.

About that, oh Gotama, I ask you,

Who can disentangle this tangle?"

The Buddha answers the riddle in three verses, the first of which is fairly well known, because it happens to be the opening verse of the Visuddhimagga:

Sãle patiņņhāya naro sapa¤¤o,

cittaü pa¤¤a¤ca bhāvayaü,

ātāpã nipako bhikkhu,

so imaü vijaņaye jataü.

This means that a wise monk, established in virtue, developing con­centration and wisdom, being ardent and prudent, is able to disentan­gle this tangle. Now this is the second verse:

Yesaü rāgo ca doso ca,

avijjā ca virājitā,

khãõāsavā arahanto,

tesaü vijaņitā jaņā.

"In whom lust, hate

And ignorance have faded away,

Those influx-free Arahants,

It is in them that the tangle is disentangled."

It is the third verse that is relevant to our topic.

Yattha nāma¤ca råpa¤ca,

asesaü uparujjhati,

paņighaü råpasa¤¤ā ca,

etthesā chijjate jaņā.

"Where name and form

As well as resistance and the perception of form

Are completely cut off,

It is there that the tangle gets snapped."

The reference here is to Nibbāna. It is there that the tangle is disen­tangled.

The coupling of name-and-form with paņigha and råpasa¤¤ā in this context, is significant. Here paņigha does not mean `re­pugnance', but `resistance'. It is the resistance which comes as a reaction to inert matter. For instance, when one knocks against something in passing, one turns back to recognize it. Sense re­action is something like that.

The Buddha has said that the worldling is blind until at least the Dhamma-eye arises in him. So the blind worldling recog­nizes an ob­ject by the very resistance he experiences in knock­ing against that object.

Paņigha and råpasa¤¤ā form a pair. Paņigha is that experience of resistance which comes by the knocking against an object, and råpa­sa¤¤ā, as perception of form, is the resulting recogni­tion of that ob­ject. The perception is in terms of what is hard, soft, hot or cold. Out of such perceptions common to the blind worldlings, arises the con­ventional reality, the basis of which is the world.

Knowledge and understanding are very often associated with words and concepts, so much so that if one knows the name of a thing, one is supposed to know it. Because of this misconception the world is in a tangle. Names and concepts, particularly the nouns, perpetuate the ignorance in the world. Therefore insight is the only path of release. And that is why a meditator practi­cally comes down to the level of a child in order to understand name and form. He may even have to pretend to be a patient in slowing down his movements for the sake of developing mind­fulness and full awareness.

So we see that there is something really deep in nāma-råpa, even if we render it as `name-and-form'. There is an implicit con­nection with `name' as conventionally so called, but unfortu­nately this con­nection is ignored in the commentaries, when they bring in the idea of `bending' to explain the word `name'. So we need not hesitate to render nāma-råpa by `name-and-form'. Simple as it may appear, it goes deeper than the worldly con­cepts of name and form.

Now if we are to summarise all what we have said in this connec­tion, we may say: `name' in `name-and-form' is a formal name. It is an apparent name. `Form' in `name-and-form' is a nominal form. It is a form only in name.

We have to make a similar comment on the meaning of the word Nibbāna. Here too one can see some unusual semantic de­velopments in the commentarial period. It is very common these days to explain the etymology of the word Nibbāna with the help of a phrase like: Vāna­saīkhātāya taõhāya nikkhantattā.[15] And that is to say that Nib­bāna is so called because it is an exit from craving which is a form of weaving.

To take the element vāna in the word to mean a form of weaving is as good as taking nāma in nāma-råpa as some kind of bending. It is said that craving is a kind of weaving in the sense that it connects up one form of existence with another and the prefix ni is said to sig­nify the exit from that weaving.

But nowhere in the suttas do we get this sort of etymology and in­terpretation. On the other hand it is obvious that the suttas use the word Nibbāna in the sense of `extinguishing' or `extinc­tion'. In fact this is the sense that brings out the true essence of the Dhamma.

For instance the Ratanasutta, which is so often chanted as a paritta, says that the Arahants go out like a lamp: Nibbanti dhãrā yathāyaü padãpo.[16] "Those wise ones get extin­guished even like this lamp."

The simile of a lamp getting extinguished is also found in the Dhātu­vibhaīgasutta of the Majjhima Nikāya.[17] Sometimes it is the fig­ure of a torch going out: Pajjotass'eva nibbānaü, vi­mokho cetaso ahu, "the mind's release was like the extinguishing of a torch."[18]

The simile of the extinction of a fire is very often brought in as an illustration of Nibbāna and in the Aggivacchagottasutta of the Maj­jhima Nikāya we find the Buddha presenting it as a sus­tained simile, giving it a deeper philosophical dimension.[19] Now when a fire burns, it does so with the help of firewood. When a fire is burning, if some­one were to ask us: "What is burning?" - what shall we say as a re­ply? Is it the wood that is burning or the fire that is burning? The truth of the matter is that the wood burns because of the fire and the fire burns because of the wood. So it seems we already have here a case of relatedness of this to that, idappaccayatā. This itself shows that there is a very deep significance in the fire simile.

Nibbāna as a term for the ultimate aim of this Dhamma is equally significant because of its allu­sion to the going out of a fire. In the Asaīkhatasaüyutta of the Saüyutta Nikāya as many as thirty-three terms are listed to denote this ultimate aim.[20] But out of all these epi­thets, Nibbāna became the most widely used, probably because of its significant allusion to the fire. The fire simile holds the answer to many questions relating to the ulti­mate goal.

The wandering ascetic Vacchagotta, as well as many others, ac­cused the Buddha of teaching a doctrine of annihilation: Sato sat­tassa ucchedaü vināsaü vibhavaü pa¤¤āpeti.[21] Their accusa­tion was that the Buddha proclaims the annihilation, destruction and non-existence of a being that is existent. And the Buddha answered them fairly and squarely with the fire simile.

"Now if a fire is burning in front of you dependent on grass and twigs as fuel, you would know that it is burning dependently and not independently, that there is no fire in the abstract. And when the fire goes out, with the exhaustion of that fuel, you would know that it has gone out because the conditions for its existence are no more."

As a sidelight to the depth of this argument it may be men­tioned that the Pāli word upādāna used in such contexts has the sense of both `fuel' as well as `grasping', and in fact, fuel is some­thing that the fire grasps for its burning. Upādānapaccayā bhavo, "dependent on grasping is existence".[22] These are two very im­por­tant links in the doctrine of dependent arising, paņicca sam­uppāda.

The eternalists, overcome by the craving for existence, thought that there is some permanent essence in existence as a reality. But what had the Buddha to say about existence? He said that what is true for the fire is true for existence as well. That is to say that exis­tence is dependent on grasping. So long as there is a grasping, there is an existence. As we saw above, the firewood is called upādāna be­cause it catches fire. The fire catches hold of the wood, and the wood catches hold of the fire. And so we call it firewood. This is a case of a relation of this to that, idappaccayatā. Now it is the same with what is called `exis­tence', which is not an absolute reality.

Even in the Vedic period there was the dilemma between `be­ing' and `non-being'. They won­dered whether being came out of non-being, or non-being came out of being. Katham asataū sat jāyeta, "How could being come out of non-being?"[23] In the face of this di­lemma regarding the first be­ginnings, they were some­times forced to conclude that there was neither non-being nor being at the start, nāsadāsãt no sadāsãt tadānãm.[24] Or else in the confusion they would sometimes leave the matter unsolved, say­ing that perhaps only the creator knew about it.

All this shows what a lot of confusion these two words sat and asat, being and non-being, had created for the philosophers. It was only the Buddha who presented a perfect solution, after a complete reappraisal of the whole problem of existence. He pointed out that existence is a fire kept up by the fuel of grasp­ing, so much so that, when grasping ceases, existence ceases as well.

In fact the fire simile holds the answer to the tetralemma in­cluded among the ten unexplained points very often found men­tioned in the suttas. It concerns the state of the Tathāgata after death, whether he exists, does not exist, both or neither. The presumption of the ques­tioner is that one or the other of these four must be and could be an­swered in the affirmative.

The Buddha solves or dissolves this presumptuous tetra­lemma by bringing in the fire simile. He points out that when a fire goes out with the exhaustion of the fuel, it is absurd to ask in which direction the fire has gone. All that one can say about it, is that the fire has gone out: Nibbuto tveva saīkhaü gacchati, "it comes to be reckoned as `gone out'."[25]

It is just a reckoning, an idiom, a worldly usage, which is not to be taken too literally. So this illustration through the fire sim­ile drives home to the worldling the absurdity of his presumptu­ous tetra­lemma of the Tathāgata.

In the Upasãvasutta of the Pārāyaõavagga of the Sutta Nipāta we find the lines:

Accã yathā vātavegena khitto,

atthaü paleti na upeti saīkhaü,

"Like the flame thrown out by the force of the wind

Reaches its end, it cannot be reckoned."[26]

Here the reckoning is to be understood in terms of the four proposi­tions of the tetralemma. Such reckonings are based on a total mis­con­ception of the phe­nomenon of fire.

It seems that the deeper connotations of the word Nibbāna in the context of paņicca samuppāda were not fully appreciated by the com­mentators. And that is why they went in search of a new etymol­ogy. They were too shy of the implications of the word `extinction'. Proba­bly to avoid the charge of nihilism they felt compelled to rein­terpret certain key passages on Nibbāna. They con­ceived Nibbāna as something existing out there in its own right. They would not say where, but sometimes they would even say that it is everywhere. With an undue grammatical em­phasis they would say that it is on coming to that Nibbāna that lust and other defilements are aban­doned: Nibbānaü āgamma rāgādayo khãõāti ekameva nibbānaü rāgakkhayo dosakkhayo mohakkhayo ti vuccati.[27]

But what do we find in the joyous utterances of the theras and therãs who had realized Nibbāna? As recorded in such texts as Thera- and Therã-gāthā they would say: Sãtibhåto'smi nibbuto, "I am grown cool, extinguished as I am."[28] The words sãtibhåta and nibbuta had a cooling effect even to the listener, though later scholars found them inadequate.

Extinction is something that occurs within an individual and it brings with it a unique bliss of appeasement. As the Ratana­sutta says: Laddhā mudhā nibbutiü bhu¤jamānā, "they experi­ence the bliss of appeasement won free of charge."[29] Nor­mally, appeasement is won at a cost, but here we have an ap­peasement that comes gratis.

From the worldly point of view `extinction' means annihila­tion. It has connotations of a precipice that is much dreaded. That is why the commentators conceived of it as something out there, on reaching which the defilements are abandoned, nib­bānaü āgamma rāgādayo khãõāti. Sometimes they would say that it is on seeing Nibbāna that craving is destroyed.

There seems to be some contradiction in the commentarial defini­tions of Nibbāna. On the one hand we have the definition of Nibbāna as the exit from craving, which is called a `weaving'. And on the other it is said that it is on seeing Nibbāna that crav­ing is destroyed. To project Nibbāna into a distance and to hope that craving will be destroyed only on seeing it, is something like trying to build a stair­case to a palace one cannot yet see. In fact this is a simile which the Buddha had used in his criticism of the Brahmin's point of view.[30]

In the Dhammacakkappavattanasutta we have a very clear state­ment of the third noble truth. Having first said that the sec­ond noble truth is craving, the Buddha goes on to define the third no­ble truth in these words: Tassāyeva taõhāya asesa­virāganirodho cāgo paņinis­sag­go mutti anālayo.[31]

This is to say that the third noble truth is the complete fading away, cessation, giving up, relin­quishment of that very craving. That it is the release from and non-attachment to that very crav­ing. In other words it is the destruction of this very mass of suf­fering which is just before us.

In the suttas the term taõhakkhayo, the destruction of craving, is very often used as a term for Nibbāna.[32] But the commentator says that destruction alone is not Nibbāna: Khayamattaü na nib­bānaü.[33] But the destruction of craving itself is called the high­est bliss in the following verse of the Udāna:

Ya¤ca kāmasukhaü loke,

yaü c'idaü diviyaü sukhaü,

taõhakkhaya sukhass'ete,

kalaü n'agghanti soëasiü.[34]

"Whatever bliss from sense-desires there is in the world,

Whatever divine bliss there is,

All these are not worth one-sixteenth

Of the bliss of the destruction of craving."

Many of the verses found in the Udāna are extremely deep and this is understandable, since udāna means a `joyous utter­ance'. Gen­erally a joyous utterance comes from the very depths of one's heart, like a sigh of relief. As a matter of fact one often finds that the con­cluding verse goes far deeper in its implica­tions than the narrative concerned. For instance, in the Uda­pāna­sutta, we get the following joyous utterance, coming from the Buddha himself:

Kiü kayirā udapānena,

āpā ce sabbadā siyuü,

taõhāya målato chetvā,

kissa pariyesanaü care.[35]

"What is the use of a well,

If water is there all the time,

Having cut craving at the root,

In search of what should one wander?"

This shows that the destruction of craving is not a mere destruc­tion.

Craving is a form of thirst and that is why Nibbāna is some­times called pipāsavinayo, the dispel­ling of the thirst.[36] To think that the de­struction of craving is not sufficient is like trying to give wa­ter to one who has already quenched his thirst. But the destruction of crav­ing has been called the highest bliss. One who has quenched his thirst for good, is aware of that blissful experience. When he sees the world running here and there in search of water, he looks within and sees the well-spring of his bliss.

However to most of our scholars the term taõhakkhaya ap­peared totally negative and that is why they hesitated to recog­nize its value. In such conventional usages as Nibbānaü āgam­ma they found a gram­matical excuse to separate that term from Nibbāna.

According to the Buddha the cessation of existence is Nib­bāna and that means Nibbāna is the realization of the cessation of exis­tence. Existence is said to be an eleven-fold fire. So the entire ex­is­tence is a raging fire. Lust, hate, delusion - all these are fires. There­fore Nibbāna may be best rendered by the word `extinction'. When once the fires are extinguished, what more is needed?

But unfortunately Venerable Buddhaghosa was not prepared to appreciate this point of view. In his Visuddhimagga as well as in the commentaries Sāratthappakāsinã and Sammohavinodanã, he gives a long discussion on Nibbāna in the form of an argu­ment with an imagi­nary heretic.[37] Some of his arguments are not in keeping with ei­ther the letter or the spirit of the Dhamma.

First of all he gets the heretic to put forward the idea that the de­struction of lust, hate and de­lusion is Nibbāna. Actually the heretic is simply quoting the Buddha word, for in the Nib­bāna­sutta of the Asaīkhata­saüyutta the destruction of lust, hate and delusion is called Nibbāna: Rāgakkhayo, dosakkhayo, mohak­khayo - idaü vuccati nib­bānaü.[38]

The words rāgakkhaya, dosakkhaya and mohakkhaya together form a synonym of Nibbāna, but the commentator interprets it as three synonyms. Then he argues out with the imaginary here­tic that if Nibbāna is the extinguishing of lust it is something common even to the animals, for they also extinguish their fires of lust through en­joyment of the corresponding objects of sense.[39] This argument ig­nores the deeper sense of the word ex­tinction, as it is found in the Dhamma.

In the Māgaõķiyasutta of the Majjhima Nikāya the Buddha gives the simile of a man with a skin disease sitting beside a pit of hot em­bers to explain the position of lustful beings in the world.[40] That man is simply trying to assuage his pains by the heat of the fire. It is an attempt to warm up, not to cool down. Similarly what the lustful be­ings in the world are doing in the face of the fires of lust is a warm­ing up. It can in no way be com­pared to the extinction and the cool­ing down of the Arahants.

As the phrase nibbutiü bhu¤jamānā implies, that extinction is a blissful experience for the Ara­hants. It leaves a permanent effect on the Arahant, so much so that upon reflection he sees that his influxes are extinct, just as a man with his hands and feet cut off, knows upon reflection that his limbs are gone.[41] It seems that the deeper implica­tions of the word Nibbāna have been obscured by a set of arguments which are rather mislead­ing.

In fact I came forward to give these sermons for three rea­sons: Firstly because the venerable Great Preceptor invited me to do so. Secondly in the hope that it will be of some benefit to my co-dwell­ers in the Dhamma. And thirdly because I myself felt rather con­cerned about the inadequacy of the existing interpre­tations.

What we have said so far is just about the word Nibbāna as such. Quite a number of suttas on Nibbāna will be taken up for discussion. This is just a preamble to show that the word Nib­bāna in the sense of `extinction' has a deeper dimension, which has some relevance to the law of depend­ent arising, paņicca samuppāda.

By bringing in an etymology based on the element vāna, much of the original significance of the word Nibbāna came to be under­mined. On quite a number of occasions the Buddha has de­clared that the cessation of suffering is Nibbāna, or else that the destruction of craving is Nibbāna. Terms like dukkhanirodho and taõhakkhayo have been used as synonyms. If they are syno­nyms, there is no need to make any discrimination with regard to some of them, by insisting on a peri­phrastic usage like āgam­ma.

Yet another important aspect of the problem is the relation of Nibbāna to the holy life or brahma­cariya. It is said that when the holy life is lived out to the full, it culminates in Nibbāna.

In the Rādhasaüyutta of the Saüyutta Nikāya we find the Vener­able Rādha putting a series of questions to the Buddha to get an ex­planation.[42] First of all he asks:

Sammādassanaü pana, bhante, kimatthiyaü? "For what pur­pose is right vision?" And the Buddha gives the answer: Sammā­dassanaü kho, Rādha, nibbidatthaü, "Rādha, right vision is for purposes of disgust or dejection". And that is to say, disgust for saüsāra.

The next question is: for what purpose is disgust? And the Bud­dha answers: disgust is for dis­passion. What is the purpose of dispas­sion? The purpose of dispassion is release. What is the pur­pose of release? The purpose of release is Nibbāna. Last of all Venerable Rādha puts the question:

Nibbānaü pana, bhante, kimatthiyaü? "For what purpose is Nib­bāna?" And the Buddha gives this answer: Accasarā, Rādha, pa¤­haü, nāsakkhi pa¤hassa pariyantaü gahetuü. Nib­bān­oga­dha¤hi, Rādha, brahmacariyaü vussati, nibbāna­parāyanaü nibbānapari­yosānaü. "Rādha, you have gone beyond the scope of your ques­tions, you are unable to grasp the limit of your ques­tions. For, Rādha, the holy life is merged in Nibbāna, its con­sum­mation is Nibbāna, its culmination is Nibbāna."

This shows that the holy life gets merged in Nibbāna, just as riv­ers get merged in the sea. In other words, where the holy life is lived out to the full, Nibbāna is right there. That is why Venerable Nanda, who earnestly took up the holy life encouraged by the Buddha's prom­ise of heavenly nymphs, attained Arahant-hood almost in spite of himself. At last he approached the Bud­dha and begged to relieve him of the onus of his promise. This shows that when one com­pletes the training in the Holy Life, one is already in Nibbāna. Only when the training is incomplete, can one go to heaven.

Here, then, is a result which comes of its own accord. So there is no justification for a periphrastic usage like, "on reach­ing Nibbāna". No glimpse of a distant object is necessary. At whatever moment the Noble Eightfold Path is per­fected, one at­tains Nibbāna then and there. Now, in the case of an examina­tion, after answering the ques­tion paper, one has to wait for the results - to get a pass.

Here it is different. As soon as you have answered the paper cor­rectly, you have passed im-mediately and the certificate is al­ready there. This is the significance of the term a¤¤ā used in such contexts. A¤¤ā stands for full certitude of the experience of Nibbāna.

The experience of the fruit of Arahant-ship gives him the final certificate of his attainment, a¤¤ā­phalo.[43] That is why Nibbāna is called something to be realized. One gets the certitude that birth is extinct and that the holy life is lived out to the full, khãõā jāti, vusi­taü brahmacariyaü.[44]

Of course there are some who still go on asking: what is the pur­pose of Nibbāna? And it is to answer this type of question that many scholars go on hair splitting. Normally in the world, what­ever one does has some purpose or other. All occupations, all trades and busi­nesses, are for gain and profit. Thieves and burglars also have some purpose in mind. But what is the pur­pose of trying to attain Nibbāna? What is the purpose of Nib­bāna? Why should one attain Nibbāna?

It is to give an answer to this question that scholars brought in such phrases as Nibbānaü pana āgamma, `on reaching Nib­bāna'. They would say that `on reaching Nibbāna', craving would be de­stroyed. On closer analysis it would appear that there is some fallacy in this question. For if there is any aim or purpose in attaining Nib­bāna, Nibbāna would not be the ultimate aim. In other words, if Nib­bāna is the ultimate aim, there should be no aim in attaining Nib­bāna. Though it may well sound a tautology, one has to say that Nib­bāna is the ultimate aim for the simple reason that there is no aim beyond it.

However, this might need more explanation. Now as far as crav­ing is concerned, it has the na­ture of projection or inclina­tion. It is something bent forward, with a forward view, and that is why it is called bhavanetti, the leader in becoming.[45] It leads one on and on in existence, like the carrot before the donkey. So that is why all objects presented by craving have some object or purpose as a projection. Craving is an inclination.

But what is the position if one makes the destruction of crav­ing itself one's object? Now craving because of its inclining na­ture is always bent forward, so much so that we get an infinite progres­sion. This is for that, and that is for the other. As the phrase taõhā pono­bhavikā implies, craving brings up existence again and again.[46]

But this is not the case when one makes the destruction of craving one's aim. When that aim is attained, there is nothing more to be done. So this brings us to the conclusion that the term taõhakkhayo, destruction of craving, is a full-fledged syno­nym of Nibbāna.

Well, this much is enough for today. Time permitting and life per­mitting, I hope to continue with these sermons. I suppose the most Ven­erable Great Preceptor made this invitation with the idea of see­ing one of his children at play. For good or for bad, I have taken up the invitation. Let the future of the Sāsana be the final judge of its merits. 


[1] M I 436, MahāMālunkyasutta.

[2] D II 93, MahāParinibbānasutta.

[3] S II 267, âõisutta.

[4] Mp I 92.

[5] Khp 2.

[6] Pj I 78.

[7] S I 39, Nāmasutta.

[8] S I 11, Samiddhisutta.

[9] M I 53, Sammādiņņhisutta.

[10] Spk I 95 commenting on S I 39.

[11] S I 12, Samiddhisutta.

[12] Sn 560, Selasutta.

[13] S I 192, Pavāraõāsutta.

[14] S I 13, Jaņāsutta.

[15] Abhidh-s VI Ą 30.

[16] Sn 235, Ratanasutta.

[17] M III 245, Dhātuvibhaīgasutta.

[18] D II 157, MahāParinibbānasutta.

[19] M I 487, Aggivacchagottasutta.

[20] S IV 368-373.

[21] M I 140, Alagaddåpamasutta.

[22] D II 57, MahāNidānasutta.

[23] Chāndogya-Upaniųad 6.2.1,2.

[24] čgveda X.129, Nāsadãya Såkta.

[25] M I 487, Aggivacchagottasutta.

[26] Sn 1074, Upasãvamāõavapucchā.

[27] Vibh-a 53.

[28] Th 298, Rāhula Thera.

[29] Sn 228, Ratanasutta.

[30] E.g. at D I 194, Poņņhapādasutta.

[31] E.g. at S V 421, Dhammacakkappavattanasutta.

[32] E.g. at It 88, Aggappasādasutta.

[33] Abhidh-av 138.

[34] Ud 11, Rājasutta.

[35] Ud 79, Udapānasutta.

[36] A II 34, Aggappasādasutta.

[37] Vism 508; Spk III 88; Vibh-a 51.

[38] S IV 371, Nibbānasutta.

[39] Vibh-a 53.

[40] M I 507, Māgaõķiyasutta.

[41] M I 523, Saõķakasutta.

[42] S III 189, Mārasutta.

[43] The term a¤¤āphalo occurs at A IV 428, ânandasutta.

[44] E.g. at D I 84, Sāma¤¤aphalasutta.

[45] D II 90, MahāParinibbānasutta.

[46] E.g. at S V 421, Dhammacakkappavattanasutta.