Nibbàna Sermon 02

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammàsambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammàsambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammàsambuddhassa

Etaü santaü, etaü paõãtaü, yadidaü sabbasaïkhàrasamatho sabbåpadhipañinissaggo taõhakkhayo viràgo nirodho nibbànaü.[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.

The second sermon on Nibbàna has come up for today. To­wards the end of our sermon the other day we raised the point: Why is it im­proper to ask such questions as: `What is the pur­pose of Nibbàna? Why should one attain Nibbàna?'[2] Our explana­tion was that since the holy life or the No­ble Eightfold Path has Nib­bàna as its ultimate aim, since it gets merged in Nibbàna, any questions as to the ultimate purpose of Nibbàna would be inap­propriate.

In fact at some places in the canon we find the phrase anut­tara brahmacariyapariyosàna used with reference to Nib­bàna.[3] It means that Nibbàna is the supreme consummation of the holy life. The fol­lowing standard phrase announcing a new Arahant is very often found in the suttas:

Yassatthàya kulaputtà sammadeva agàrasmà anagàriyaü pab­bajanti, tadanuttaraü brahmcariya­pariyosànaü diññheva dhamme sayaü abhi¤¤à sacchikatvà upasampajja vihàsi.[4] "In this very life he realized by his own higher knowledge and at­tained to that supreme consummation of the holy life for the purpose of which clansmen of good family rightly go forth from home to homelessness."

Now what is the justification for saying that one attains to Nib­bàna by the very completion of the holy life? This Noble Eightfold Path is a straight path: Ujuko nàma so maggo, abhayà nàma sà disà.[5] "This path is called the `straight' and the direction it goes is called the `fearless'." In the Itivuttaka we come across a verse which ex­presses this idea more vividly:

Sekhassa sikkha­mànassa,

ujumaggànusàrino,

khayasmiü pañhamaü ¤àõaü,

tato a¤¤à anantarà.[6]

"To the learner, learning

In pursuit of the straight path,

First comes the knowledge of destruc­tion

And then immediately the certitude."

It is the fruit of Arahant-ship which gives him the certi­tude of the at­tainment of Nibbàna.

Here the word anantarà has been used. That concentration proper to the fruit of Arahant-ship is called ànantarikà samàdhi.[7] This means that the attainment of the fruit is immediate.

Though it may be so in the case of the Arahant, what about the stream-winner, the sotàpanna, one may ask. There is a gen­eral belief that in the case of a sotàpanna the vision of Nibbàna is like a glimpse of a distant lamp on a road with many bends and the sotà­panna has just negotiated the first bend.

But in accordance with the Dhamma it may be said that the norm of immediacy is applicable even to the knowledge of the first path. One who attains to the fruit of stream-winning may be a beggar, an illiterate person, or a seven year old child. It may be that he has heard the Dhamma for the first time. All the same, a long line of epithets is used with reference to him in the suttas as his qualifications: Diñ­ñhadhammo pattadhammo viditadhammo pariyogàëhadhammo tiõõa­vicikiccho vigatakathaükatho vesàraj­jap­patto aparappaccayo sat­thusàsane.[8]

Diññhadhammo, he is one who has seen the Dhamma, the truth of Nibbàna. It is said in the Ratanasutta that along with the vision of the first path, three fetters are abandoned, namely sak­kàyadiññhi, the self-hood view, vicikicchà, sceptical doubt, and sãlabbataparàmàsa, attachment to holy vows and ascetic prac­tices.[9] Some might argue that only these fetters are abandoned at this stage, because it is a glimpse of Nibbàna from a distance. But then there is this second epithet, pattadhammo, which means that he has reached the Dham­ma, that he has arrived at Nibbàna. Not only that, he is vidi­ta­dham­mo, he is one who has understood the Dhamma, which is Nibbàna. He is pariyogàëha­dhammo, he has plunged into the Dhamma, he has dived into the Dhamma, which is Nibbàna. He is tiõõavicikiccho, he has crossed over doubts. Vigatakathaükatho, his waverings are gone. Vesàrajjappatto, he has attained to proficiency. Aparappac­cayo sat­thusàsane, in regard to the dispensation of the teacher he is not de­pendent on others. And that is to say that he could at­tain to Nib­bàna even without another's help, though of course with the teacher's help he would attain it sooner.

So this string of epithets testifies to the efficacy of the realiza­tion by the first path. It is not a mere glimpse of Nibbàna from a distance. It is a reaching, an arrival or a plunge into Nibbàna. For purposes of illustration we may bring in a legend connected with the history of Sri Lanka. It is said that when King Gajabàhu invaded India, one of his soldiers, Nãla, who had Herculean strength, parted the seawater with a huge iron bar in order to make way for the king and the army. Now when the supramun­dane path arises in the mind the power of thought is as mighty as the blow of Nãla with his iron bar. Even with the first blow the sea-water parted, so that one could see the bot­tom. Similarly the sweeping influxes are parted for a moment when the transcen­dental path arises in a mind, enabling one to see the very bot­tom - Nibbàna. In other words, all preparations (saïkhàras) are sti­lled for a moment, enabling one to see the cessation of prepara­tions.

We have just given a simile by way of illustration, but inciden­tally there is a Dhammapada verse which comes closer to it:

Chinda sotaü parakkamma,

kàme panuda bràhmaõa,

saïkhàrànaü khayaü ¤atvà,

akata¤¤å'si bràhmaõa.[10]

"Strive forth and cut off the stream,

Discard, oh Brahmin, sense-desires,

Having known the destruction of preparations, oh Brahmin,

Become a knower of the un-made."

So this verse clearly indicates what the knowledge of the path does when it arises. Just as one leaps forward and cuts off a stream of water, so it cuts off, even for a moment, the prepara­tions connected with craving. Thereby one realizes the destruc­tion of preparations - saïkhàrànaü khayaü ¤atvà.

Like the sea water parted by the blow of the iron bar, prepa­rations part for a moment to reveal the very bottom which is `un­prepared', the asaïkhata. Akata, or the un-made, is the same as asaïkhata, the unprepared. So one has had a momentary vi­sion of the sea bottom, which is free from preparations. Of course, af­ter that experience, in­fluxes flow in again. But one kind of in­fluxes, namely diññhàsavà, in­fluxes of views, are gone for good and will never flow in again.

Now how was it that some with keen wisdom like Bàhiya at­tained Arahant-ship even while lis­tening to a short sermon from the Bud­dha? They had dealt four powerful blows in quick suc­ces­sion with the iron bar of the path-knowledge to clear away all possible in­fluxes.

What is called akata or asaïkhata, the un-made or the un-pre­pared, is not something out there in a distance, as an object of thought. It is not a sign to be grasped by one who wants to attain Nib­bàna.

Language encourages us to think in terms of signs. Very of­ten we find it difficult to get rid of this habit. The worldlings with their de­filements have to communicate with each other and the structure of the language has to answer their needs. So the sub­ject-object rela­tionship has become a very significant feature in a language. It al­ways carries the implication that there is a thing to be grasped and that there is someone who grasps, that there is a doer and a thing done. So it is al­most impossible to avoid such usages as: `I want to see Nibbàna, I want to attain Nibbàna'. We are made to think in terms of getting and attaining.

However sometimes the Buddha reminds us that this is only a con­ventional usage and that these worldly usages are not to be taken too seriously. We come across such an instance in the Sa­gàthavagga of the Saüyutta Nikàya where the Buddha re­torts to some questions put by a cer­tain deity.[11] The deity named Ka­kudha asks the Buddha: "Do you rejoice, oh recluse?" And the Buddha retorts: "On getting what, friend?" Then the deity asks: "Then, recluse, do you grieve?" And the Buddha quips back: "On losing what, friend?" So the deity concludes: "Well then, re­cluse, you neither rejoice nor grieve!" And the Buddha replies: "That is so, friend."

It seems, then, that though we say we `attain' Nibbàna there is nothing to gain and nothing to lose. If anything - what is lost is an ignorance that there is something, and a craving that there is not enough - and that is all one loses.

Now there are quite a number of synonyms for Nibbàna, such as akata and asaïkhata. As al­ready mentioned, there is even a list of thirty-three such epithets, out of which one is dãpa.[12] Now dãpa means an island. When we are told that Nibbàna is an is­land, we tend to imagine some sort of existence in a beautiful is­land. But in the Pàràyanavagga of the Sutta Nipàta the Buddha gives a good correc­tive to that kind of imagining in his reply to a question put by the Brahmin youth Kappa, a pupil of Bàvarã. Kap­pa puts his question in the following impressive verse:

Majjhe sarasmiü tiññhataü,

oghe jàte mahabbhaye,

jaràmaccuparetànaü,

dãpaü pabråhi màrisa,

tva¤ca me dãpam akkhàhi,

yathayidaü nàparaü siyà.[13]

"Unto them that stand midstream,

When the frightful floods flow forth,

To them in decay-and-death forlorn,

An island, sire, may you proclaim.

An island which non else excels,

Yea, such an isle, pray tell me sire."

And the Buddha gives his answer in two inspiring verses:

Majjhe sarasmiü tiññhataü,

oghe jàte mahabbhaye,

jaràmaccuparetànaü,

dãpaü pabråmi Kappa te.

Aki¤canaü anàdànaü,

etaü dãpaü anàparaü,

nibbànaü iti naü bråmi,

jaràmaccuparikkhayaü.

"Unto them that stand midstream,

When the frightful floods flow forth,

To them in decay-and-death forlorn,

An island, Kappa, I shall proclaim.

Owning naught, grasping naught,

The isle is this, none else besides.

Nibbàna, that is how I call that isle,

Wherein is decay decayed and death is dead."

Aki¤canaü means `owning nothing', anàdànaü means `grasp­ing nothing'. Etaü dãpaü an­àparaü, this is the island, nothing else. Nib­bànaü iti naü bråmi, jaràmaccuparikkhayaü, "and that I call Nib­bàna, which is the extinction of decay-and-death."

From this also we can infer that words like akata, asaïkhata and sabba-saïkhàrà-samatha are full fledged synonyms of Nib­bàna. Nib­bàna is not some mysterious state quite apart from them. It is not something to be projected into a distance.

Some are in the habit of getting down to a discussion on Nib­bàna by putting saïkhata on one side and asaïkhata on the other side. They start by saying that saïkhata, or the `prepared', is anicca, or impermanent. If saïkhata is anicca, they conclude that asaï­khata must be nicca, that is the unprepared must be permanent. Fol­lowing the same line of argument they argue that since saïkhata is dukkha, asaïkhata must be sukha. But when they come to the third step, they get into difficulties. If saïkhata is anattà, or not-self, then surely asaïkhata must be attà, or self. At this point they have to ad­mit that their argument is too facile and so they end up by saying that after all Nibbàna is something to be realized.

All this confusion arises due to a lack of understanding of the law of Dependent Arising, pañicca samuppàda. Therefore, first of all, we have to say something about the doctrine of pañicca sam­uppàda.

According to the Ariyapariyesanasutta of the Majjhima Ni­kàya, the Buddha, soon after his enlightenment, reflected on the profundity of the Dhamma and was rather disinclined to preach it. He saw two points in the doctrine that are difficult for the world to see or grasp. One was pañicca samuppàda:

Duddasaü idaü ñhànaü yadidaü idappaccayatà pañiccasam­up­pàdo.[14] "Hard to see is this point, namely dependent aris­ing which is a relatedness of this to that." And the second point was Nib­bàna: Idam­pi kho ñhànaü duddasaü yadidaü sabbasaï­khàra­samatho sab­båpadhi­pañinissaggo taõhakkhayo viràgo ni­rodho nib­bànaü. "And this point, too, is difficult to see, namely the still­ing of all prepara­tions, the relinquishment of all assets, the de­struc­tion of craving, de­tach­ment, cessation, extinc­tion."

From this context we can gather that if there is any term we can use to define pañicca sam­uppàda, a term that comes closer to it in meaning, it is idappaccayatà. The Buddha himself has de­scribed pañicca samuppàda in this context as a relatedness of this to that, idappaccayatà. As a mat­ter of fact the basic principle which forms the noble norm of this doctrine of dependent aris­ing is this idappac­cayatà. Let us now try to get at its meaning by examining the doc­trine of pañicca sam­uppàda.

In quite a number of contexts, such as the Bahudhàtukasutta of the Majjhima Nikàya and the Bodhivagga of the Udàna the law of pañicca samuppàda is set out in the following manner:

Iti imasmiü sati idaü hoti,

imassuppàdà idaü uppajjati

imasmiü asati idaü na hoti,

imassa nirodhà idaü nirujjhati -

yadidaü avijjàpaccayà saïkhàrà, saïkhàrapaccayà vi¤¤àõaü, vi¤¤àõapaccayà nàmaråpaü, nàmaråpapaccayà saëàyatanaü, saëàyatanapaccayà phasso, phassapaccayà vedanà, vedanà­pac­cayà taõhà, taõhàpaccayà upàdànaü, upàdànapaccayà bhavo, bhavapac­cayà jàti, jàti­paccayà jaràmaraõaü sokaparideva­duk­kha­domanas­såpàyàsà sambhavanti. Evametassa kevalassa duk­khak­khandhassa samudayo hoti.

Avijjàyatveva as­e­saviràganiro­dhà saïkhàra­nirodho, saïkhàra­ni­rodhà vi¤¤àõanirodho, vi¤­¤à­õa­nirodhà nàmaråpanirodho, nàma­råpa­nirodhà saëàyatana­nirodho, saëàyatananirodhà phas­sani­rodho, phassanirodhà veda­nà­nirodho, vedanànirodhà taõhà­ni­rodho, taõhà­nirodhà upàdàna­nirodho, upàdànanirodhà bhava­ni­rodho, bhava­nirodhà jàtiniro­dho, jàtinirodhà jaràmaraõaü soka­paridevadukkha­domanass­åpàyàsà nirujjhanti. Evametassa keva­lassa dukkhakkhan­dhassa nirodho hoti.[15]

"Thus: -This being - this comes to be

With the arising of this - this arises

This not being - this does not come to be

With the cessation of this - this ceases.

- and that is to say, dependent on ignorance, preparations come to be; dependent on prepara­tions, consciousness; depend­ent on con­sciousness, name-and-form; dependent on name-and-form, the six sense-bases; dependent on the six sense-bases, contact; dependent on contact, feeling; dependent on feeling, craving; dependent on crav­ing, grasping; dependent on grasp­ing, becoming; dependent on be­coming, birth; dependent on birth, decay-and-death, sorrow, lamen­tation, pain, grief and de­spair come to be. Thus is the arising of this entire mass of suf­fer­ing.

But with the complete fading away and cessation of igno­rance, comes the cessation of prepa­rations; with the cessation of prepara­tions, the cessation of consciousness; with the cessation of con­sciousness, the cessation of name-and-form; with the ces­sation of name-and-form, the cessation of the six sense-bases; with the cessa­tion of the six sense-bases, the cessation of con­tact; with the cessa­tion of contact, the cessation of feeling; with the cessation of feeling, the cessation of craving; with the cessa­tion of craving, the cessation of grasping; with the cessation of grasping, the cessation of becom­ing; with the cessation of be­coming, the cessa­tion of birth; with the cessation of birth, the cessation of decay-and-death, sorrow, lamenta­tion, pain, grief and despair cease to be. Thus is the cessation of this entire mass of suffer­ing."

This is the thematic statement of the law of pañicca samup­pàda. It is set out here in the form of a fundamental principle. Imasmiü sati idaü hoti, "this being, this comes to be." Imassup­pàdà idaü uppaj­jati, "with the arising of this, this arises." Imas­miü asati idaü na hoti, "this not being, this does not come to be". Imassa nirodhà idaü nirujjhati, "with the cessation of this, this ceases." It resembles an al­gebraical formula.

And then we have the conjunctive yadidaü, which means "name­ly this" or "that is to say". This shows that the foregoing statement is axiomatic and implies that what follows is an illus­tra­tion. So the twelve linked formula beginning with the words avijjà­paccayà saï­khàrà is that illustration. No doubt the twelve-linked formula is im­pressive enough. But the important thing here is the ba­sic prin­ciple involved, and that is the fourfold state­ment beginning with imasmiü sati.

This fact is very clearly brought out in a certain sutta in the Nidàna­vagga of the Saüyutta Nikàya. There the Buddha ad­dres­ses the monks and says:

Pañiccasamuppàda¤ca vo, bhikkhave, desessàmi pañiccasam­up­panne ca dhamme.[16] "Monks, I will teach you dependent aris­ing and things that are dependently arisen."

In this particular context the Buddha makes a distinction be­tween dependent arising and things that are dependently arisen. In order to explain what is meant by dependent arising, or pañic­ca samuppàda, he takes up the last two links in the formula, in the words: jàtipac­cayà, bhikkhave, jaràmaraõaü, "monks, de­pend­ent on birth is de­cay-and-death." Then he draws attention to the importance of the ba­sic principle involved: Uppàdà và Tathà­gatànaü anuppàdà và Tathà­gatànaü, ñhità va sà dhàtu dham­maññhitatà dhammaniyàmatà idappaccayatà (etc.). Out of the long exhortation given there, this is the part relevant to us here.

Jàtipaccayà, bhikkhave, jaràmaraõaü, "dependent on birth, oh monks, is decay-and-death", and that is to say that decay-and-death has birth as its condition. Uppàdà và Tathàgatànaü anup­pàdà và Tathàgatànaü, "whether there be an arising of the Tathà­gatàs or whether there be no such arising". òhità va sà dhàtu dhammaññhitatà dhammaniyàmatà idappaccayatà, "that elementary na­ture, that or­derliness of the Dhamma, that norm of the Dhamma, the relatedness of this to that does stand as it is."

So from this it is clear that the underlying principle could be un­derstood even with the help of a couple of links. But the com­mentary seems to have ignored this fact in its definition of the term idappac­cayatà. It says: Imesaü jaràmaraõàdãnaü pac­cayà idappaccayà, idap­paccayàva idappaccayatà.[17] The word ime­saü is in the plural and this indicates that the commentator has taken the dependence in a collective sense. But it is because of the fact that even two links are suf­ficient to illustrate the law, that the Bud­dha follows it up with the declaration that this is the pañicca samuppàda. And then he goes on to explain what is meant by `things dependently arisen':

Katame ca, bhikkhave, pañiccasamuppannà dhammà? Jarà­mara­õaü, bhikkhave, aniccaü saõkhataü pañicca­samup­pannaü khaya­dhammaü vayadhammaü viràgadhammaü ni­rodhadham­maü. "What, monks, are things dependently arisen?" And then, taking up just one of the last links, he declares: "de­cay-and-death, monks, is impermanent, prepared, dependently arisen, of a nature to get de­stroyed, to pass away, fade away and cease."

By the way, the word viràga usually means detachment or dis­pas­sion. But in such contexts as avijjàviràgà and pãtiyà ca viràgà one has to render it by words like `fading away'. So that avijjà­viràga could be rendered as: `by the fading away of igno­rance', and pãtiyà viràgà would mean `by the fading away of joy'.

It seems, then, that decay-and-death themselves are imper­ma­nent, that they are prepared or made up, that they are depen­dent­ly arisen. Decay-and-death themselves can get destroyed and pass away. De­cay as well as death can fade away and cease.

Then the Buddha takes up the preceding link jàti, or birth. And that too is given the same quali­fications. In the same man­ner he takes up each of the preceding links up to and including igno­rance, avijjà, and applies to them the above qualifications. It is significant that every one of the twelve links, even ignorance, is said to be depen­dently arisen.

Let us try to understand how, for instance, decay-and-death them­selves can get destroyed or pass away. Taking the idappac­cayatà formula as a paradigm, we can illustrate the relationship be­tween the two links birth and decay-and-death. Instead of say­ing: this being, that comes to be (and so forth), now we have to say: birth being, de­cay-and-death comes to be. With the arising of birth, decay-and-death arises. Birth not being, decay-and-death does not come to be. With the cessation of birth, decay-and-death ceases.

Now birth itself is an arising. But here we can't help saying that birth `arises'. It is like saying that birth is born. How can birth get born? Similarly death is a passing away. But here we have to say that death itself `passes away'. How can death pass away? Perhaps, as we proceed, we might get the answers to these questions.

Now at this point let us take up for discussion a certain sig­nificant passage in the MahàNidàna­sutta of the Dãgha Nikàya. In the course of an exposition of the law of pañicca samuppàda, ad­dressed to Ven­erable ânanda, the Buddha makes the following statement:

Ettàvatà kho, ânanda, jàyetha và jãyetha và mãyetha và cave­tha và upapajjetha và. Ettàvatà adhivacanapatho, ettàvatà nirut­tipatho, ettàvatà pa¤¤attipatho, ettàvatà pa¤¤àvacaraü, ettàvatà vaññaü vattati itthattaü pa¤¤àpanàya yadidaü nàmaråpaü saha vi¤­¤à­õena.[18] "In so far only, ânanda, can one be born, or grow old, or die, or pass away, or reappear, in so far only is there any pathway for verbal expres­sion, in so far only is there any pathway for termi­nology, in so far only is there any pathway for des­ignation, in so far only is the range of wisdom, in so far only is the round kept going for there to be a designation as the this-ness, that is to say: name-and-form together with conscious­ness."

We have rendered the term itthatta by `this-ness', and what it means will become clear as we go on. In the above quotation the word ettàvatà, which means `in so far only', has as its point of refer­ence the concluding phrase yadidaü nàmaråpaü saha vi¤­¤àõena, "that is to say: name-and-form together with con­scious­ness". So the statement, as it is, expresses a complete idea. But some edi­tions have an additional phrase: a¤¤ama¤¤apaccayatà pavattati, "exists in a mutual relation­ship". This phrase is obvi­ously superfluous and is probably a commentarial addition.

What is meant by the Buddha's statement is that name-and-form together with consciousness is the rallying point for all con­cepts of birth, decay, death and rebirth. All pathways for ver­bal expres­sion, terminology and designation converge on name-and-form together with consciousness. The range of wisdom ex­tends only up to the re­lationship between these two. And it is be­tween these two that there is a whirling round so that one may point out a this-ness. In short, the secret of the entire saüsàric existence is to be found in this whirl­pool.

Vañña and àvañña are words used for a whirlpool. We shall be bringing up quotations in support of that meaning. It seems, how­ever, that this meaning has got obscured in the course of time. In the commentaries and in some modern translations there is quite a lot of confusion with regard to the meaning of the phrase vaññaü vattati. In fact one Sinhala translation renders it as `saüsàric rain'. What rain has to do with saüsàra is a matter for conjecture. What is actually meant by vaññaü vattati is a whirl­ing round, and saüsàra, even liter­ally, is that. Here we are told that there is a whirling round between name-and-form and consciousness, and this is the saüsàric whirl­pool to which all the aforesaid things are traceable.

Already in the first sermon we tried to show that name in name-and-form has to do with names and concepts.[19] Now from this con­text it becomes clear that all pathways for verbal expres­sion, ter­mi­nology and designation converge on this whirlpool between name-and-form and consciousness.

Now that we have attached so much significance to a whirl­pool, let us try to understand how a whirlpool is formed. Let us try to get at the natural laws underlying its formation. How does a whirlpool come to be?

Suppose a river is flowing downward. To flow downward is in the nature of a river. But a certain current of water thinks: "I can and must move upstream." And so it pushes on against the main stream. But at a certain point its progress is checked by the main stream and is thrust aside, only to come round and make a fresh attempt, again and again. All these obstinate and unsuc­cess­ful attempts gradually lead to a whirling round. As time goes on, the run-away current un­derstands, as it were, that it cannot move forward. But it does not give up. It finds an alternative aim in moving towards the bottom. So it spirals downward, funnel-like, digging deeper and deeper towards the bottom, until an abyss is formed. Here then we have a whirlpool.

While all this is going on, there is a crying need to fill up the chasm, and the whirlpool develops the necessary force of attrac­tion to cater to it. It attracts and grasps everything that comes within its reach and sends it whirling down, funnel like, into the chasm. The whirling goes on at a tre­mendous speed, while the circumference grows larger and larger. At last the whirlpool be­comes a centre of a tremendous amount of activity.

While this kind of activity is going on in a river or a sea, there is a possibility for us to point it out as `that place' or `this place'. Why? Because there is an activity going on. Usually, in the world, the place where an activity is going on is known as a `unit', a `centre', or an `institution'. Since the whirlpool is also a centre of activity, we may designate it as a `here' or `there'. We may even person­ify it. With reference to it, we can open up pathways for verbal expression, ter­minology and desig­nation.

But if we are to consider the form of activity that is going on here, what is it after all? It is only a perversion. That obstinate current thought to itself, out of delusion and ignorance: I can and must move upstream. And so it tried and failed, but turned round only to make the same vain attempt again and again. Ironically enough, even its progress towards the bottom is a stagnation.

So here we have ignorance on one side and craving on the other, as a result of the abyss formed by the whirlpool. In order to satisfy this craving there is that power of attraction: grasping. Where there is grasping, there is existence, or bhava. The en­tire whirlpool now ap­pears as a centre of ac­tivity.

Now the basic principle underlying this whirlpool is to be found in our bodies. What we call `breathing' is a continuous process of emptying and filling up. So even the so-called `life-principle' is not much different from the activity of a whirlpool. The functioning of the lungs and the heart is based on the same principle and the blood circulation is in fact a whirling round. This kind of ac­tivity is very often known as `automatic', a word which has connotations of self-sufficiency. But at the root of it there is a perversion, as we saw in the case of the whirlpool. All these activities are based on a conflict between two opposite forces.

In fact existence in its entirety is not much different from the con­flict of that obstinate current of water with the main stream. This characteristic of conflict is so pervasive that it can be seen even in the basic laws governing the existence of a society. In our social life, rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. We can enjoy certain privileges, provided we fulfil our duties. So here too we have a tan­gle within and a tangle without.[20]

Now this is about the existence of the society as such. And what about the field of economics? There too the basic princi­ples show the same weakness. Production is governed by laws of supply and de­mand. There will be a supply so long as there is a demand. Between them there is a conflict. It leads to many com­plications. The price mechanism is on a precarious balance and that is why some wealthy countries are forced to the ridicu­lous position of dumping their sur­plus into the sea.

All this shows that existence is basically in a precarious posi­tion. To illustrate this, let us take the case of two snakes of the same size, trying to swallow up each other. Each of them tries to swallow up the other from the tail upwards and when they are half way through the meal, what do we find? A snake cycle. This snake cycle goes round and round, trying to swallow up each other. But will it ever be suc­cessful?

The precarious position illustrated by the snake cycle, we find in our own bodies in the form of respiration, blood circula­tion and so forth. What appears as the stability in the society and in the econ­omy, is similarly precarious. It is because of this con­flict, this unsat­isfactoriness, that the Buddha concluded that the whole of existence is suffering.

When the arising aspect is taken too seriously, to the neglect of the cessation aspect, instead of a conflict or an unsatisfactori­ness one tends to see something automatic everywhere. This body as well as machines such as water pumps and electrical appliances seem to work on an automatic principle. But in truth there is only a conflict between two opposing forces. When one comes to think of it, there is no `auto'-ness even in the auto­matic.

All that is there, is a bearing up with difficulty. And this in fact is the meaning of the word dukkha. Duþ stands for `difficulty' and kha for `bearing up'. Even with difficulty one bears it up, and though one bears it up, it is difficult.

Now regarding the question of existence we happened to men­tion that because of a whirlpool's ac­tivity, one can point out a `here' with reference to it. We can now come back to the word itthattaü, which we left out without comment in the quotation et­tàvatà vaññaü vattati itthattaü pa¤¤àpanàya, "in so far only does the whirlpool whirl for the designation of an itthatta." Now what is this itthatta? Ittha means `this', so itthattaü would mean `this-ness'. The whirling of a whirl­pool qualifies itself for a desig­nation as a `this'.

There are a couple of verses in the Dvayatànupassanàsutta of the Sutta Nipàta which bring out the meaning of this word more clearly:

Jàti maraõa saüsàraü,

ye vajanti punappunaü,

ittha­bhàva¤¤athàbhàvaü,

avijjàyeva sà gati.[21]

Taõhà dutiyo puriso,

dãgham addhàna saüsàraü,

ittha­bhàva¤¤athàbhàvaü,

saüsàraü nàtivattati.[22]

Ye jàti maraõa saüsàraü punappunaü vajanti, "they that go on again and again the round of birth and death". Itthabhàva¤­¤a­thà­bhàvaü "which is a this-ness and an otherwise-ness", or "which is an alternation between a this-ness and an otherwise-ness". Sà gati avij­jàya eva, "that going of them, that faring of them, is only a journey of ignorance." Taõhà dutiyo puriso, "the man with crav­ing as his second" (or his companion). Dãgham addhàna saüsàraü, "faring on for a long time in saüsàra". It­thabhàva¤¤athàbhàvaü, saüsàraü nàtivattati, "does not get away from the round which is a this-ness and an otherwise-ness", or "which is an alternation between a this-ness and an otherwise-ness". What is meant by it, is the transcen­dence of saüsàra.

We saw above how the concept of a `here' arose with the birth of a whirlpool. In fact one's birth is at the same time the birth of a `here' or `this place'. And that is what is meant by it­thabhàva in the two verses quoted above. Itthabhàva and it­thatta both mean `this-ness'. In both verses this `this-ness' is coupled with an otherwise-ness, a¤¤athàbhàva. Here too we see a con­flict between two things, this-ness and otherwise-ness. The cycle of saüsàra, represented by birth and death, jàti maraõa saü­sàraü, is equivalent to an alterna­tion between this-ness and oth­erwise-ness, itthabhàva¤¤athàbhàva. And as the first verse says, this recurrent alternation between this-ness and otherwise-ness is nothing but a journey of ignorance itself.

Though we have given so much significance to the two terms itthabhàva and a¤¤athàbhàva, the commentary to the Sutta Nipàta treats them lightly. It explains itthabhàvaü as imaü manussa­bhàvaü, which means "this state as a human being", and a¤¤athà­bhàvaü as ito avasesa a¤¤a­nikàyabhàvaü, "any state of be­ing other than this".[23] This explanation misses the deeper signifi­cance of the word itthatta.

In support of this we may refer to the Pàñikasutta of the Dãgha Nikàya. There we are told that when the world system gets de­stroyed at the end of an aeon, some being or other gets reborn in an empty Brahma mansion, and after being there for a long time, thinks, out of a feeling of loneliness: Aho vata a¤¤epi sattà itthattaü àgacchey­yuü.[24] "How nice it would be if other beings also come to this state". In this context the word itthatta refers to the Brahma world and not the human world. From the point of view of the Brahmas, itthatta re­fers to the Brahma world and only for us here, it means the human world.

However this is just a narrow meaning of the word itthatta. When the reference is to the entire round of existence or saü­sàra, itthatta does not necessarily mean `this human world'. The two terms have a generic sense, because they represent some basic principle. As in the case of a whirlpool, this-ness is to be seen together with an other­wise-ness. This illustrates the con­flict characteristic of existence. Wher­ever a this-ness arises, a possibility for an otherwise-ness comes in. Itthabhàva and a¤¤a­thàbhàva go together.

Aniccatà, or impermanence, is very often explained with the help of the phrase vipariõàma­¤¤athàbhàva.[25] Now here too we have the word a¤¤athàbhàva. Here the word preced­ing it, gives a clue to its true significance. Vipariõàma is quite suggestive of a process of evolution. Strictly speaking, pariõàma is evolution, and pariõata is the fully evolved or mature stage. The prefix vi stands for the anti-climax. The evolution is over, now it is be­coming other. Ironically enough, this state of `becoming-other' is known as otherwise-ness, a¤¤athàbhàva. And so this twin, ittha­bhàva and a¤¤athàbhàva, tell us the nature of the world. Be­tween them, they explain for us the law of impermanence.

In the Section-of-the-Threes in the Aïguttara Nikàya the three characteristics of a saïkhata are explained in this order: Uppàdo pa¤­¤àyati, vayo pa¤¤àyati, ñhitassa a¤¤athattaü pa¤­¤à­yati,[26] "an aris­ing is manifest, a passing away is manifest and an otherwise-ness in the persisting is manifest."

This implies that the persistence is only apparent and that is why it is mentioned last. There is an otherwise-ness even in this appar­ently persistent. But later scholars preferred to speak of three stages as uppàda, ñhiti, bhaïga,[27] "arising, persis­tence and breaking up". However the law of impermanence could be suffi­ciently understood even with the help of two words, itthabhàva and a¤¤athàbhàva, this-ness and otherwise-ness. Very often we find the Buddha summing up the law of impermanence in the two words samudaya and vaya, "arising" and "passing away".[28]

There is an apparent contradiction in the phrase ñhitassa a¤­¤a­that­ta, but it reminds us of the fact that what the world takes as static or persisting is actually not so. The so-called `static' is from begin­ning to end an otherwise-ness. Now if we are to relate this to the two links jàti and jarà­maraõaü in pañicca samup­pàda, we may say that as soon as one is born the process of oth­er­wise-ness sets in. Wher­ever there is birth, there is death. One of the traditional Pàli verses on the reflec­tions on death has the following meaningful lines:

Uppattiyà sahevedaü, maraõam àgataü sadà,[29] "always death has come, even with the birth itself." Just as in a conjoined pair, when one is drawn the other follows, even so when birth is drawn in, decay-and-death follow as a matter of course.

Before the advent of the Buddha, the world believed in the possi­bility of a birth devoid of decay-and-death. It believed in a form of existence devoid of grasping. Because of its ignorance of the pair-wise relatedness of this-to-that, idappaccayatà, it went on with its deluded search. And that was the reason for all the con­flict in the world.

According to the teaching of the Buddha, the concept of birth is equivalent to the concept of a `here'. As a matter of fact, this birth of a `here' is like the first peg driven for the measurement of a world. Because of the pair-wise relationship, the very first `birthday-pre­sent' that one gets as soon as one is born, is - death. The inevitable death that he is entitled to. This way we can understand the deeper significance of the two words ittha­bhàva and a¤¤athàbhàva, this-ness and otherwise-ness.

We have to say the same thing with regard to the whirlpool. Ap­parently it has the power to con­trol, to hold sway. Seen from a dis­tance, the whirlpool is a centre of activity with some control­ling power. Now, one of the basic meanings of the concept of self is the ability to control, to hold sway. And a whirlpool too, as seen from a distance, seems to have this ability. Just as it ap­pears auto­matic, so also it seems to have some power to control.

But on deeper analysis it reveals its not-self nature. What we have here is simply the conflict be­tween the main stream and a run-away current. It is the outcome of the conflict between two forces and not the work of just one force. It is a case of related­ness of this-to-that, idappaccayatà. As one verse in the Bàlavagga of the Dham­mapada puts it:

Attà hi attano natthi,[30] "even oneself is not one's own."

So even a whirlpool is not its own, there is nothing really auto­matic about it. This then is the dukkha, the suffering, the con­flict, the unsatisfactoriness. What the world holds on to as existence is just a process of otherwise-ness, as the Buddha viv­idly portrays for us in the following verses of the Nandavagga of the Udàna.

Ayaü loko santàpajàto, phassapareto

rogaü vadati attato,

yena yena hi ma¤¤ati,

tato taü hoti a¤¤athà.

A¤¤athàbhàvã bhavasatto loko,

bhavapareto bhavam evàbhinandati,

yad'abhinandati taü bhayaü,

yassa bhàyati taü dukkhaü,

bhava vippahànàya kho panidaü brahmacariyaü vussati.[31]

"This anguished world, fully given to contact,

Speaks of a disease as self.

In whatever terms it con­ceives of,

Even thereby it turns otherwise.

The world, attached to becoming,

Given fully to becom­ing,

Though becoming otherwise,

Yet delights in becoming.

What it delights in is a fear

What it fears from

Is a suffering.

But then this holy life is lived for the abandoning of that very be­coming."

Just a few lines - but how deep they go! The world is in anguish and is enslaved by contact. What it calls self is nothing but a disease. Ma¤¤ati is a word of deeper significance. Ma¤¤a­ is conceiv­ing under the influence of craving, conceit and views. Whatever be­comes an object of that conceiv­ing, by that very conception it be­comes otherwise. That is to say that an op­por­tunity arises for an oth­erwise-ness, even as `death' has come together with `birth'.

So conceiving, or conception, is itself the reason for other­wise-ness. Before a `thing' becomes `otherwise', it has to be­come a `thing'. And it becomes a `thing' only when attention is focussed on it under the influence of craving, conceit and views and it is sepa­rated from the whole world and grasped as a `thing'. And that is why it is said:

Yaü ya¤hi lokasmim upàdiyanti,

teneva Màro anveti jantuü.[32]

"Whatever one grasps in the world,

By that itself Màra pursues a being."

The world is attached to becoming and is fully given to be­com­ing. Therefore its very nature is otherwise-ness, a¤¤athà­bhàvã. And then the Buddha declares the inevitable out­come of this con­tradictory position: yad abhinandati taü bha­yaü, what­ever one delights in, that is a fear, that is a danger. What one de­lights in, is `becoming' and that is a source of fear. And yassa bhàyati taü dukkhaü, what one fears, or is afraid of, that is suf­fering. And of what is one afraid? One is afraid of the otherwise-ness of the thing that one holds on to as ex­isting. So the other­wise-ness is the suffer­ing and the thing grasped is a source of fear.

For instance, when one is walking through a town with one's pockets full of gems, one is afraid because of the valuables in one's pockets. Even so, the existence that one delights in is a source of fear. What one fears is change or otherwise-ness, and that is suffer­ing. Therefore it is that this holy life is lived for the abandonment of that very becoming or existence.

So from this quotation it becomes clear that the nature of ex­is­tence is `otherwise-ness'. It is the insight into this nature that is basic in the understanding of idappaccayatà. What is known as the arising of the Dhamma-eye is the understanding of this pre­dicament in world­ly existence. But that Dhamma-eye arises to­gether with a solu­tion for this predicament:

Yaü ki¤ci samudayadhammaü sabbaü taü nirodhadham­maü.[33] "Whatever is of a nature to arise, all that is of a nature to cease".

As far as the arising aspect is concerned, this whirlpool is formed due to the grasping through craving, conceit and views. Once this saüsàric whirlpool is formed, it keeps on attracting all that is in the world, all that is within its reach, in the form of craving and grasping. But there is a cessa­tion to this process. It is possible to make it cease. Why? Because it is something arisen due to causes and conditions. Because it is a process based on two things, without a self to hold sway. That is why we have mentioned at the very outset that every­thing is imperma­nent, prepared and dependently arisen, aniccaü, saïkhataü, pañicca samuppannaü.

Everyone of the twelve links in the formula, including igno­rance, is dependently arisen. They are all arisen due to causes and condi­tions, they are not permanent, aniccaü. They are only made up or prepared, saïkhataü. The word saïkhataü is ex­plained in various ways. But in short it means something that is made up, prepared, or concocted by way of intention. Pañicca sam­uppannaü means condi­tionally arisen and therefore it is of a nature to get destroyed, khaya­dhamma. It is of a nature to pass away, vayadhamma. It is of a nature to fade away, viràga­dham­ma. It is of a nature to cease, nirodha­dham­ma.

It seems that even the colour or shade of decay-and-death can fade away and that is why we have pointed out their relevance to the question of concepts. This nature of fading away is under­stood by one who has had an insight into the law of arising and cessation.

Saüsàra is a whirlpool as far as the ordi­nary beings caught up in it are concerned. Now what about the Arahants? How is the idea of this whirlpool presented in the case of the Arahants? It is simply said that for them there is no whirling round for there to be a designation: vaññaü tesaü natthi pa¤¤àpanàya.[34] So in their case, there is no whirl­ing round to justify a desig­na­tion.

This, then, is something deeper than the whirlpool itself. The whirl­pool can be pointed out because of its activity. But not so easily the emancipated ones and that is why there is so much controversy regarding the nature of the Tathàgatha. The image of the whirlpool in its relation to the emanci­pated ones is beauti­fully presented in the following verse from the Cåëavagga of the Udàna:

Acchecchi vaññaü byagà niràsaü,

visukkhà sarità na sandati,

chinnaü vaññaü na vattati,

es' ev' anto dukkhassa.[35]

"He has cut off the whirlpool

And reached desirelessness,

The stream dried up now no longer flows.

The whirlpool cut off whirls no more.

This, even this, is suffering's end."

What has the Arahant done? He has cut off the whirlpool. He has breached it and has reached the desireless state. The stream of crav­ing is dried up and flows no more. The whirlpool cut off at the root no more whirls. And this is the end of suffering. The cut­ting off of the whirlpool is the realization of cessation, which is Arahant-hood.

It is because of the accent on the arising aspect that the cur­rent tries to move against the main stream. When that attempt is given up, the rest happens as a matter of course. This idea is even more clearly brought out by the following two verses in the Sagàthavagga of the Saüyutta Nikàya. They are in the form of a dialogue between a deity and the Buddha. The deity asks:

Kuto sarà nivattanti,

kattha vaññaü na vattati,

kattha nàma¤ca råpa¤ca

asesaü uparujjhati?[36]

"From where do currents turn back,

Where whirls no more the whirlpool,

Where is it that name-and-form

Is held in check in a way complete?"

The Buddha gives the answer in the following verse:

Yattha àpo ca pañhavã,

tejo vàyo na gàdhati,

ato sarà nivattanti,

ettha vaññaü na vattati,

ettha nàma¤ca råpa¤ca,

asesaü uparujjhati.

"Where earth and water, fire and wind no footing find,

From there it is that currents turn back.

There the whirlpool whirls no more

And there it is that name-and-form

Is held in check in a way complete."

The reference here is to Nibbàna. Whether it is called sabba­saï­khàrasamatha, the stilling of all preparations, or asaï­khata­dhàtu, the unprepared element, it means the state of cessa­tion. And when the Arahant's mind is in that state, the four ele­ments, which are like ghosts, do not haunt him. They do not get a `foot­ing' in that con­sciousness. When they fade away, due to de­tach­ment, those currents do not flow and the whirlpool whirls no more. Name and form are fully held in check there.

Now as far as the meaning of råpa in nàma-råpa in this refer­ence is concerned, its definition as cattàri ca mahà­bhåtàni, ca­tunna¤ca mahàbhåtànaü upàdàyaråpaü is quite significant .[37] It draws atten­tion to the fact that the four great primaries underlie the concept of form. This is something unique, since before the advent of the Bud­dha the world thought that in order to get away from råpa one has to grasp aråpa. But the irony of the situation is that, even in aråpa, råpa is implicit in a subtle form. Or in other words, aråpa takes råpa for granted.

Supposing someone, walking in the darkness of the night, has a hallucination of a devil and runs away to escape from it. He thinks he is running away from the devil, but he is taking the devil with him. The devil is in his mind, it is something imag­ined. Similarly, until the Buddha came into the scene, the world­lings grasped aråpa in or­der to get away from råpa. But because of the di­chotomy between råpa and aråpa, even when they swung as far as the highest formless realms, they were still in bondage to saïkhàras, or preparations. As soon as the momen­tum of their swing of saïkhàras got fully spent, they swung back to råpa. So here too we see the question of duality and dichot­omy.

This sermon has served its purpose if it has drawn attention to the importance of the questions of duality, dichotomy and the relatedness of this to that, idappaccayatà. So this is enough for today.    


[1] M I 436, MahàMàlunkyasutta.

[2] See sermon 1.

[3] D I 203, Poññhapàdasutta.

[4] D I 177, Kassapasãhanàdasutta.

[5] S I 33, Accharàsutta.

[6] It 53, Indriyasutta.

[7] Peñ 188.

[8] D I 110, Ambaññhasutta.

[9] Sn 231, Ratanasutta.

[10] Dhp 383, Bràhmaõavagga.

[11] S I 54, Kakudhosutta.

[12] S IV 372.

[13] Sn 1092, Kappamàõavapucchà.

[14] M I 167, Ariyapariyesanasutta.

[15] M III 63, Bahudhàtukasutta, and Ud 1, the Bodhisuttas.

[16] S II 25, Paccayasutta.

[17] Spk II 40.

[18] D II 63, MahàNidànasutta.

[19] See sermon 1.

[20] S I 13, Jañàsutta.

[21] Sn 729, Dvayatànupassanàsutta.

[22] Sn 740, Dvayatànupassanàsutta.

[23] Pj II 505.

[24] D III 29, Pàñikasutta.

[25] E.g. at M II 110, Piyajàtikasutta.

[26] A I 152, Saïkhatalakkhaõasutta.

[27] E.g. at Ps IV 88.

[28] E.g. at M I 56, Satipaññhànasutta.

[29] This is found in the set of verses on maraõasati among the
        caturàrakkhà-gàthà (four protective kamaññhànas) in standard Paritta books.

[30] Dhp 62, Bàlavagga.

[31] Ud 32, Lokasutta.

[32] Sn 1103, Bhadràvudhamàõavapucchà.

[33] S V 423, Dhammacakkapavattanasutta.

[34] M I 141, Alagaddåpamasutta.

[35] Ud 75, DutiyaLakuõóakabhaddiyasutta.

[36] S I 15, Sarasutta.

[37] M I 53, Sammàdiññhisutta.