|Nibbàna Sermon 13|
|by Bhikkhu K. Ñänananda|
Sermons Part 1 - 7
|Nibbàna Sermon 08||
Nibbàna Sermon 17
Nibbàna Sermon 13
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammàsambuddhassa
Etaü santaü, etaü paõãtaü, yadidaü sabbasaïkhàrasamatho sabbåpadhipañinissaggo taõhakkhayo viràgo nirodho nibbànaü.
"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. This is the thirteenth sermon in the series of sermons on Nibbàna.
In our last sermon we attempted an exposition under the topic sabbadhammamålapariyàya, "the basic pattern of behaviour of all mind objects", which constitutes the theme of the very first sutta of the Majjhima Nikàya, namely the Målapariyàyasutta.
We happened to mention that the discourse describes three different attitudes regarding twenty-four concepts such as earth, water, fire and air. We could however discuss only two of them the other day, namely the world view, or the attitude of the untaught ordinary person, and the attitude of the noble one, who is in higher training.
So today, to begin with, let us bring up the third type of attitude given in the discourse, that is, the attitude of arahants and that of the Tathàgata, both being similar. It is described in these words:
Pañhaviü pañhavito abhijànàti, pañhaviü pañhavito abhi¤¤àya pañhaviü na ma¤¤ati, pañhaviyà na ma¤¤ati, pañhavito na ma¤¤ati, `pañhaviü me'ti na ma¤¤ati, pañhaviü nàbhinandati. Taü kissa hetu? `Pari¤¤àtaü tassà'ti vadàmi.
"The arahant (as well as the Tathàgata) understands through higher knowledge earth as `earth', having understood through higher knowledge earth as `earth', he does not imagine earth to be `earth', he does not imagine `on the earth', he does not imagine `from the earth', he does not imagine `earth is mine', he does not delight in earth. Why is that? I say, it is because it has been well comprehended by him."
Let us now try to compare and contrast these three attitudes, so that we can understand them in greater detail. The attitude of the untaught ordinary person in regard to any of the twenty-four concepts like earth, water, fire, air (the twenty-four cited being illustrations), is so oriented that he perceives it as such.
For instance in the case of earth, he perceives a real earth, that is, takes it as earth per se. It may sometimes be only a block of ice, but because it is hard to the touch, he grasps it as `earth'. Thus the ordinary person, the worldling, relies only on perception in his pursuit of knowledge. Having perceived earth as `earth', he imagines it to be `earth'. The peculiarity of ma¤¤anà, or `me'-thinking, is that it is an imagining in terms of `I' and `mine'.
So he first imagines it as `earth', then he imagines `on the earth', `from the earth', `earth is mine' and delights in the earth. Here we find various flexional forms known to grammar.
As a matter of fact, grammar itself is a product of the worldlings for purposes of transaction in ideas bound up with defilements. Its purpose is to enable beings, who are overcome by the personality view, to communicate with their like-minded fellow beings. Grammar, therefore, is something that caters to their needs. As such, it embodies certain misconceptions, some of which have been highlighted in this context.
For instance, pañhaviü ma¤¤ati could be interpreted as an attempt to imagine an earth - as a full-fledged noun or substantive. It is conceived as something substantial. By pañhaviyà ma¤¤àti, "he imagines `on the earth'", the locative case is implied; while `pañhaviü me'ti ma¤¤ati, "he imagines `earth is mine'", is an instance of the genitive case, expressing the idea of possession.
Due to such imaginings, a reality is attributed to the concept of `earth' and its existence is taken for granted. In other words, these various forms of imaginings go to confirm the notion already aroused by the concept of `earth'. Once it is confirmed one can delight in it, pañhaviü abhinandati. This, then, is the worldview of the untaught ordinary person.
The other day we mentioned that the monk who is in higher training understands through higher knowledge, not through perception, earth as `earth'. Though it is a higher level of understanding, he is not totally free from imaginings. That is why certain peculiar expressions are used in connection with him, such as pañaviü mà ma¤¤i, pañhaviyà mà ma¤¤i, pañhavito mà ma¤¤i, `pañhaviü me'ti mà ma¤¤i, pañhaviü mà abhinandi.
Here we have to call in question the commentarial explanation. According to the commentary, this peculiar expression had to be used as a dilly dally phrase, because the monk in higher training could not be said to imagine or not imagine. But it is clear enough that the particle mà in this context is used in its prohibitive sense. Mà ma¤¤i means "do not imagine!", and mà abhinandi means "do not delight!".
What is significant about the sekha, the monk in higher training, is that he is in a stage of voluntary training. In fact, the word sekha literally means a "learner". That is to say, he has obtained a certain degree of higher understanding but has not attained as yet full comprehension.
It is precisely for that reason that the section about him is summed up by the statement: Taü kissa hetu? Pari¤¤eyyaü tassà'ti vadàmi. "Why is that? Because, I say, that it should be comprehended by him." Since he has yet to comprehend it, he is following that course of higher training. The particle mà is therefore a pointer to that effect. For example, mà ma¤¤i "do not imagine!", mà abhinandi "do not delight!".
In other words, the monk in higher training cannot help using the grammatical structure in usage among the worldlings and as his latencies are not extinct as yet, he has to practise a certain amount of restraint. By constant employment of mindfulness and wisdom he makes an attempt to be immune to the influence of the worldling's grammatical structure.
There is a possibility that he would be carried away by the implications of such concepts as earth, water, fire and air, in his communications with the world regarding them. So he strives to proceed towards full comprehension with the help of the higher understanding already won, keeping mindfulness and wisdom before him. That is the voluntary training implied here.
The monk in higher training is called attagutto, in the sense that he tries to guard himself. Such phrases like mà ma¤¤i indicate that voluntary training in guarding himself. Here we had to add something more to the commentarial explanation. So this is the situation with the monk in higher training.
Now as to the arahant and the Tathàgata, the world views of both are essentially the same. That is to say, they both have a higher knowledge as well as a full comprehension with regard to the concept of earth, for instance. Pari¤¤àtaü tassà'ti vadàmi, "I say it has been comprehended by him".
As such, they are not carried away by the implications of the worldlings' grammatical structure. They make use of the worldly usage much in the same way as parents do when they are speaking in their child's language. They are not swept away by it. There is no inner entanglement in the form of imagining. There is no attachment, entanglement and involvement by way of craving, conceit and view, in regard to those concepts.
All this goes to show the immense importance of the Målapariyàyasutta. One can understand why this sutta came to be counted as the first among the suttas of the Majjhima Nikàya. It is as if this sutta was intended to serve as the alphabet in deciphering the words used by the Buddha in his sermons delivered in discursive style. As a matter of fact the Majjhima Nikàya in particular is a text abounding in deep suttas. This way we can understand why both higher knowledge and full comprehension are essential.
We have shown above that this discourse bears some relation to the grammatical structure. Probably due to a lack of recognition of this relationship between the modes of imagining and the grammatical structure, the commentators were confronted with a problem while commenting upon this discourse.
Such phrases as pañhaviü ma¤¤ati and pañhaviyà ma¤¤ati occur all over this discourse in referring to various ways of imagining. The commentator, however, always makes it a point to interpret these ways of imagining with reference to craving, conceit and views. So when he comes to the phrase mà abhinandi, he finds it to be superfluous. That is why Venerable Buddhaghosa treats it as a repetition and poses a possible question as follows:
`Pañhaviü ma¤¤atã'ti' eteneva etasmiü atthe siddhe kasmà evaü vuttanti ce. Avicàritaü etaü poràõehi. Ayaü pana me attano mati, desanàvilàsato và àdãnavadassanato và.
Now this is how the commentator poses his own problem: When the phrase pañhaviü ma¤¤ati by itself fulfils the purpose, why is it that an additional phrase like pañhaviü abhinandati is brought in? That is to say, if the imagining already implies craving, conceit and views, what is the justification for the concluding phrase pañhaviü abhinandati, "he delights in earth", since craving already implies a form of delighting?
So he takes it as a repetition and seeks for a justification. He confesses that the ancients have not handed down an explanation and offers his own personal opinion on it, ayaü pana me attano mati, "but then this is my own opinion".
And what does his own explanation amount to? Desanàvilàsato và àdãnavadassanato và, "either as a particular style in preaching, or by way of showing the perils of the ways of imagining". He treats it as yet another way of preaching peculiar to the Buddha, or else as an attempt to emphasize the perils of imagining.
However, going by the explanation we have already given above, relating these modes of imagining to the structure of grammar, we can come to a conclusion as to why the phrase mà abhinandi was brought in. The reason is that each of those concepts crystallized into a real thing as a result of imagining, based on the framework of grammar. It received real object status in the world of imagination. Once its object status got confirmed, one can certainly delight in it. It became a thing in truth and fact. The purpose of these ways of imagining is to mould it into a thing.
Let us go deeper into this problem. There is, for instance, a certain recurrent passage in the discourses on the subject of sense restraint. The gist of that passage amounts to this: A person with defilements takes in signs and features through all the six sense doors, inclusive of the mind. Due to that grasping at signs and features, various kinds of influxes are said to flow in, according to the passages outlining the practice of sense restraint. From this we can well infer that the role of ma¤¤anà, or imagining, is to grasp at signs with regard to the objects of the mind.
That is to say, the mind apperceives its object as `something', dhammasa¤¤à. The word dhamma in the opening sentence of this sutta, sabbadhammamålapariyàyaü vo, bhikkhave, desessàmi, means a `thing', since every-thing is an object of the mind in the last analysis.
Pañhaviü ma¤¤ati, "he imagines earth as earth", is suggestive of a grasping at the sign in regard to objects of the mind. Thinking in such terms as pañhaviyà ma¤¤ati, pañhavito ma¤¤àti, and `pañhaviü me'ti ma¤¤ati, "he imagines `on the earth', he imagines `from the earth', he imagines `earth is mine'", are like the corroborative features that go to confirm that sign already grasped.
The two terms nimitta, sign, and anuvya¤jana, feature, in the context of sense restraint have to be understood in this way. Now the purpose of a nimitta, or sign, is to give a hazy idea like `this may be so'. It receives confirmation with the help of corroborative features, anuvya¤jana, all the features that are accessory to the sign. The corroboration comes, for instance, in this manner: `This goes well with this, this accords with this, therefore the sign I took is right'. So even on the basis of instructions on sense restraint, we can understand the special significance of this ma¤¤anà, or `me'-thinking.
The reason for the occurrence of these different ways of me-thinking can also be understood. In this discourse the Buddha is presenting a certain philosophy of the grammatical structure. The structure of grammar is a contrivance for conducting the worldlings' thought process, characterised by the perception of permanence, as well as for communication of ideas arising out of that process.
The grammatical structure invests words with life, as it were. This mode of hypostasizing is revealed in the nouns and substantives implying such notions as `in it', `by it' and `from it'. The last of the flexional forms, the vocative case, he pañhavi, "hey earth", effectively illustrates this hypostasizing character of grammar. It is even capable of infusing life into the concept of `earth' and arousing it with the words "hey earth".
In an earlier sermon we had occasion to refer to a legend in which a tiger was reconstituted and resurrected out of its skeletal remains. The structure of grammar seems to be capable of a similar feat. The Målapariyàyasutta gives us an illustration of this fact.
It is because of the obsessional character of this ma¤¤anà, or me-thinking, that the Buddha has presented this Målapariyàyasutta to the world as the basic pattern or paradigm representing three types of world views, or the world views of three types of persons.
This discourse deals with the untaught ordinary person, who is obsessed by this grammatical structure, the disciple in higher training, who is trying to free himself from its grip, and the emancipated one, completely free from it, at the same time giving their respective world views as well.
The other day we enumerated the list of twenty-four concepts, presented in that discourse. Out of these concepts, we have to pay special attention to the fact that Nibbàna is counted as the last, since it happens to be the theme of all our sermons.
Regarding this concept of Nibbàna too, the worldling is generally tempted to entertain some kind of ma¤¤anà, or me-thinking. Even some philosophers are prone to that habit. They indulge in some sort of prolific conceptualisation and me-thinking on the basis of such conventional usages as `in Nibbàna', `from Nibbàna', `on reaching Nibbàna' and `my Nibbàna'. By hypostasizing Nibbàna they develop a substance view, even of this concept, just as in the case of pañhavi, or earth. Let us now try to determine whether this is justifiable.
The primary sense of the word Nibbàna is `extinction', or `extinguishment'. We have already discussed this point with reference to such contexts as Aggivacchagottasutta. In that discourse the Buddha explained the term Nibbàna to the wandering ascetic Vacchagotta with the help of a simile of the extinction of a fire. Simply because a fire is said to go out, one should not try to trace it, wondering where it has gone. The term Nibbàna is essentially a verbal noun. We also came across the phrase nibbuto tveva saïkhaü gacchati, "it is reckoned as `extinguished'".
As we have already pointed out in a previous sermon, saïkhà, sama¤¤à and pa¤¤atti, `reckoning', `appellation' and `designation' are more or less synonymous . Saïkhaü gacchati only means "comes to be reckoned". Nibbàna is therefore some sort of reckoning, an appellation or designation. The word Nibbàna, according to the Aggivacchagottasutta, is a designation or a concept.
But the commentator takes much pains to prove that the Nibbàna mentioned at the end of the list in the Målapariyàyasutta refers not to our orthodox Nibbàna, but to a concept of Nibbàna upheld by heretics. The commentator, it seems, is at pains to salvage our Nibbàna, but his attempt is at odds with the trend of this discourse, because the sekha, or the monk in higher training, has no need to train himself in refraining from delighting in any heretical Nibbàna. So here too, the reference is to our orthodox Nibbàna.
Presumably the commentator could not understand why the arahants do not delight in Nibbàna. For instance, in the section on the Tathàgata one reads: Nibbànaü nàbhinandati. Taü kissa hetu? Nandi dukkhassa målan'ti iti viditvà, bhavà jàti, bhåtassa jaràmaraõaü. "He does not delight in Nibbàna. Why so? Because he knows that delighting is the root of suffering, and from becoming comes birth and to the one become there is decay-and-death."
It seems, then, that the Tathàgata does not delight in Nibbàna, because delighting is the root of suffering. Now nandi is a form of grasping, upàdàna, impelled by craving. It is sometimes expressly called an upàdàna: Yà vedanàsu nandi tadupàdànaü, "whatever delighting there is in feeling, that is a grasping." Where there is delighting, there is a grasping. Where there is grasping, there is bhava, becoming or existence. From becoming comes birth, and to the one who has thus come to be there is decay-and-death.
It is true that we project the concept of Nibbàna as an objective to aim at in our training. But if we grasp it like the concept of earth and start indulging in me-thinkings or imaginings about it, we would never be able to realize it. Why? Because what we have here is an extraordinary path leading to an emancipation from all concepts, nissàya nissàya oghassa nittharaõà, "crossing over the flood with relative dependence".
Whatever is necessary is made use of, but there is no grasping in terms of craving, conceits and views. That is why even with reference to the Tathàgata the phrase Nibbànaü nàbhinandati, "he does not delight in Nibbàna", occurs in this discourse.
One might ask: `What is wrong in delighting in Nibbàna?' But then we might recall a pithy dialogue already quoted in an earlier sermon. A deity comes and accosts the Buddha: "Do you rejoice, recluse?" And the Buddha responds: "On getting what, friend?" Then the deity asks: "Well then, recluse, do you grieve?" And the Buddha retorts: "On losing what, friend?" The deity now mildly remarks: "So then, recluse, you neither rejoice nor grieve!" And the Buddha confirms it with the assent: "That is so, friend."
This then is the attitude of the Buddha and the arahants to the concept of Nibbàna. There is nothing to delight in it, only equanimity is there.
Seen in this perspective, the word Nibbàna mentioned in the Målapariyàyasutta need not be taken as referring to a concept of Nibbàna current among heretics. The reference here is to our own orthodox Nibbàna concept. But the attitude towards it must surely be changed in the course of treading the path to it.
If, on the contrary, one grasps it tenaciously and takes it to be substantial, presuming that the word is a full fledged noun, and goes on to argue it out on the basis of logic and proliferate on it conceptually, it will no longer be our Nibbàna. There one slips into wrong view. One would never be able to extricate oneself from wrong view that way. Here then is an issue of crucial importance.
Many philosophers start their exposition with an implicit acceptance of conditionality. But when they come to the subject of Nibbàna, they have recourse to some kind of instrumentality. "On reaching Nibbàna, lust and delight are abandoned." Commentators resort to such explanations under the influence of ma¤¤anà. They seem to imply that Nibbàna is instrumental in quenching the fires of defilement. To say that the fires of defilements are quenched by Nibbàna, or on arriving at it, is to get involved in a circular argument. It is itself an outcome of papa¤ca, or conceptual prolificity, and betrays an enslavement to the syntax.
When one says `the river flows', it does not mean that there is a river quite apart from the act of flowing. Likewise the idiom `it rains' should not be taken to imply that there is something that rains. It is only a turn of speech, fulfilling a certain requirement of the grammatical structure.
On an earlier occasion we happened to discuss some very important aspects of the Poññhapàdasutta. We saw how the Buddha presented a philosophy of language, which seems so extraordinary even to modern thinkers. This Målapariyàyasutta also brings out a similar attitude to the linguistic medium.
Such elements of a language as nouns and verbs reflect the worldling's mode of thinking. As in the case of a child's imagination, a noun appears as a must. So it has to rain for there to be rain. The implicit verbal sense becomes obscured, or else it is ignored. A periphrastic usage receives acceptance. So the rain rains, and the river flows. A natural phenomenon becomes mystified and hypostasized.
Anthropomorphism is a characteristic of the pre-historic man's philosophy of life. Wherever there was an activity, he imagined some form of life. This animistic trend of thought is evident even in the relation between the noun and the verb. The noun has adjectives as attributes and the verb has adverbs to go with it. Particles fall in between, and there we have what is called grammar. If one imagines that the grammar of language must necessarily conform to the grammar of nature, one falls into a grievous error.
Now the commentators also seem to have fallen into such an error in their elaborate exegesis on Nibbàna, due to a lack of understanding of this philosophy of language. That is why the Målapariyàyasutta now finds itself relegated, though it is at the head of the suttas of the Majjhima Nikàya.
It is in the nature of concepts that nouns are invested with a certain amount of permanence. Even a verbal noun, once it is formed, gets a degree of permanence more or less superimposed on it. When one says `the river flows', one somehow tends to forget the flowing nature of the so-called river. This is the result of the perception of permanence.
As a matter of fact, perception as such carries with it the notion of permanence, as we mentioned in an earlier sermon. To perceive is to grasp a sign. One can grasp a sign only where one imagines some degree of permanence.
The purpose of perception is not only to recognize for oneself, but also to make it known to others. The Buddha has pointed out that there is a very close relationship between recognition and communication. This fact is expressly stated by the Buddha in the following quotation from the Sixes of the Aïguttara Nikàya:
Vohàravepakkaü ahaü, bhikkhave, sa¤¤aü vadàmi. Yathà yathà naü sa¤jànàti, tathà tathà voharati, evaü sa¤¤ã ahosin'ti. "Monks, I say that perception has linguistic usage as its result. In whatever way one perceives, so one speaks out about it, saying: `I was of such a perception'."
The word vepakka is a derivative from the word vipàka, which in the context of kamma, or ethically significant action, generally means the result of that action. In this context, however, its primary sense is evident, that is, as some sort of a ripening. In other words, what this quotation implies is that perception ripens or matures into verbal usage or convention.
So here we see the connection between sa¤¤à, perception, and saïkhà, reckoning. This throws more light on our earlier explanation of the last line of a verse in the Kalahavivàdasutta, namely sa¤¤ànidànà hi papa¤casaïkhà, "for reckonings born of prolificity have perception as their source".
So now we are in a better position to appreciate the statement that linguistic usages, reckonings and designations are the outcome of perception. All this goes to show that an insight into the philosophy of language is essential for a proper understanding of this Dhamma. This is the moral behind the Målapariyàyasutta.
Beings are usually dominated by these reckonings, appellations and designations, because the perception of permanence is inherent in them. It is extremely difficult for one to escape it. Once the set of such terms as milk, curd and butter comes into vogue, the relation between them becomes an insoluble problem even for the great philosophers.
Since we have been talking about the concept of Nibbàna so much, one might ask: `So then, Nibbàna is not an absolute, paramattha?' It is not a paramattha in the sense of an absolute. It is a paramattha only in the sense that it is the highest good, parama attha. This is the sense in which the word was used in the discourses, though it has different connotations now. As exemplified by such quotations as àraddhaviriyo paramatthapattiyà, "with steadfast energy for the attainment of the highest good", the suttas speak of Nibbàna as the highest good to be attained.
In later Buddhist thought, however, the word paramattha came to acquire absolutist connotations, due to which some important discourses of the Buddha on the question of worldly appellations, worldly expressions and worldly designations fell into disuse. This led to an attitude of dwelling in the scaffolding, improvised just for the purpose of constructing a building.
As a postscript to our exposition of the Målapariyàyasutta we may add the following important note: This particular discourse is distinguished from all other discourses in respect of one significant feature. That is, the concluding statement to the effect that the monks who listened to the sermon were not pleased by it.
Generally we find at the end of a discourse a more or less thematic sentence like attamanà te bhikkhå Bhagavato bhàsitaü abhinanduü, "those monks were pleased and they rejoiced in the words of the Exalted One". But in this sutta we find the peculiar ending idaü avoca Bhagavà, na te bhikkhå Bhagavato bhàsitaü abhinanduü, "the Exalted One said this, but those monks did not rejoice in the words of the Exalted One".
Commentators seem to have interpreted this attitude as an index to the abstruseness of the discourse. This is probably why this discourse came to be neglected in the course of time. But on the basis of the exposition we have attempted, we might advance a different interpretation of the attitude of those monks. The declaration that none of the concepts, including that of Nibbàna, should be egoistically imagined, could have caused displeasure in monks, then as now. So much, then, for the Målapariyàyasutta.
The Buddha has pointed out that this ma¤¤anà, or egoistic imagining, or me-thinking, is an extremely subtle bond of Màra. A discourse which highlights this fact comes in the Saüyutta Nikàya under the title Yavakalàpisutta. In this discourse the Buddha brings out this fact with the help of a parable. It concerns the battle between gods and demons, which is a theme that comes up quite often in the discourses.
In a war between gods and demons, the gods are victorious and the demons are defeated. The gods bind Vepacitti, the king of the demons, in a fivefold bondage, that is, hands and feet and neck, and bring him before Sakka, the king of the gods.
This bondage has a strange mechanism about it. When Vepacitti thinks `gods are righteous, demons are unrighteous, I will go to the deva world', he immediately finds himself free from that bondage and capable of enjoying the heavenly pleasures of the five senses. But as soon as he slips into the thought `gods are unrighteous, demons are righteous, I will go back to the asura world', he finds himself divested of the heavenly pleasures and bound again by the fivefold bonds.
After introducing this parable, the Buddha comes out with a deep disquisition of Dhamma for which it serves as a simile. Evaü sukhumaü kho, bhikkhave, Vepacittibandhanaü. Tato sukhumataraü Màrabandhanaü. Ma¤¤amàno kho, bhikkhave, baddho Màrassa, ama¤¤amàno mutto pàpimato. Asmã'ti, bhikkhave, ma¤¤itaü etaü, `ayaü ahaü asmã'ti ma¤¤itaü etaü, `bhavissan'ti ma¤¤itaü etaü, `na bhavissan'ti ma¤¤itaü etaü, `råpã bhavissan'ti ma¤¤itaü etaü, `aråpã bhavissan'ti ma¤¤itaü etaü, `sa¤¤ã bhavissan'ti ma¤¤itaü etaü, `asa¤¤ã bhavissan`ti ma¤¤itaü etaü, `nevasa¤¤ãnàsa¤¤ã bhavissan'ti ma¤¤itaü etaü. Ma¤¤itaü, bhikkhave, rogo, ma¤¤itaü gaõóo, ma¤¤itaü sallaü. Tasmàtiha, bhikkhave, `ama¤¤amànena cetasà viharissàmà'ti eva¤hi vo, bhikkhave, sikkhitabbaü.
"So subtle, monks, is the bondage of Vepacitti. But more subtle still is the bondage of Màra. Imagining, monks, one is bound by Màra, not imagining one is freed from the Evil One. `Am', monks, is an imagining, `this am I' is an imagining, `I shall be' is an imagining, `I shall not be' is an imagining, `I shall be one with form' is an imagining, `I shall be formless' is an imagining, `I shall be percipient' is an imagining, `I shall be non-percipient' is an imagining, `I shall be neither-percipient-nor-non-percipient' is an imagining. Imagining, monks, is a disease, imagining is an abscess, imagining is a barb, therefore, monks, should you tell yourselves: `We shall dwell with a mind free from imaginings, thus should you train yourselves'."
First of all, let us try to get at the meaning of this exhortation. The opening sentence is an allusion to the simile given above. It says that the bondage in which Vepacitti finds himself is of a subtle nature, that is to say, it is a bondage connected with his thoughts. Its very mechanism is dependent on his thoughts.
But then the Buddha declares that the bondage of Màra is even subtler. And what is this bondage of Màra? "Imagining, monks, one is bound by Màra, not imagining one is freed from that Evil One." Then comes a list of nine different ways of imaginings.
In the same discourse the Buddha goes on to qualify each of these imaginings with four significant terms, namely i¤jitaü, agitation phanditaü, palpitation, papa¤citaü, proliferation, and mànagataü, conceit.
I¤jitaü is an indication that these forms of imaginings are the outcome of craving, since ejà is a synonym for taõhà, or craving.
Phanditaü is an allusion to the fickleness of the mind, as for instance conveyed by the first line of a verse in the Dhammapada, phandanaü capalaü cittaü, "the mind, palpitating and fickle". The fickle nature of the mind brings out those imaginings.
They are also the products of proliferation, papa¤cita. We have already discussed the meaning of the term papa¤ca. We happened to point out that it is a sort of straying away from the proper path.
Mànagataü is suggestive of a measuring. Asmi, or `am', is the most elementary standard of measurement. It is the peg from which all measurements take their direction. As we pointed out in an earlier sermon, the grammatical structure of language is based on this peg `am'.
In connection with the three persons, first person, second person and third person, we happened to mention that as soon as one grants `I am', a `here' is born. It is only after a `here' is born, that a `there' and a `yonder' come to be. The first person gives rise to the second and the third person, to complete the basic framework for grammar.
So asmi, or `am', is itself a product of proliferation. In fact, the deviation from the proper path, implied by the proliferation in papa¤ca, is a result of these multifarious imaginings.
It is in the nature of these imaginings that as soon as an imagining or a me-thinking occurs, a thing is born as a matter of course. And with the birth of a thing as `something', impermanence takes over. That is to say, it comes under the sway of impermanence. This is a very strange phenomenon. It is only after becoming a `something' that it can become `another thing'. A¤¤athàbhàva, or otherwiseness, implies a change from one state to another. A change of state already presupposes some state or other, and that is what is called a `thing'.
Now where does a `thing' arise? It arises in the mind. As soon as something gets hold of the mind, that thing gets infected with the germ of impermanence.
The modes of imagining listed above reveal a double bind. There is no freedom either way. Whether one imagines `I shall be with form' or `I shall be formless', one is in a dichotomy. It is the same with the two ways of imagining `I shall be percipient', `I shall be non-percipient'.
We had occasion to refer to this kind of dichotomy while explaining the significance of quite a number of discourses. The root of all this duality is the thought `am'.
The following two verses from the Dvayatànupassanàsutta throw light on some subtle aspects of ma¤¤anà, or imagining:
Yena yena hi ma¤¤anti,
tato taü hoti a¤¤athà,
taü hi tassa musà hoti,
mosadhammaü hi ittaraü.
tad ariyà saccato vidå,
te ve saccàbhisamayà,
"In whatever way they imagine,
Thereby it turns otherwise,
That itself is the falsity
Of this puerile deceptive thing.
Nibbàna is unfalsifying in its nature,
That they understood as the truth,
And indeed by the higher understanding of that truth
They have become hungerless and fully appeased."
The first verse makes it clear that imagining is at the root of a¤¤athàbhàva, or otherwiseness, in so far as it creates a thing out of nothing. As soon as a thing is conceived in the mind by imagining, the germ of otherwiseness or change enters into it at its very conception.
So a thing is born only to become another thing, due to the otherwiseness in nature. To grasp a thing tenaciously is to exist with it, and birth, decay and death are the inexorable vicissitudes that go with it.
The second verse says that Nibbàna is known as the truth, because it is of an unfalsifying nature. Those who have understood it are free from the hunger of craving. The word parinibbuta in this context does not mean that those who have realized the truth have passed away. It only conveys the idea of full appeasement or a quenching of that hunger.
Why is Nibbàna regarded as unfalsifying? Because there is no `thing' in it. It is so long as there is a thing that all the distress and misery follow. Nibbàna is called animitta, or the signless, precisely because there is no-thing in it.
Because it is signless, it is unestablished, appaõihita. Only where there is an establishment can there be a dislodgement. Since it is not liable to dislodgement or disintegration, it is unshakeable. It is called akuppà cetovimutti, unshakeable deliverance of the mind, because of its unshaken and stable nature. Due to the absence of craving there is no directional apsiration, or paõidhi.
Similarly su¤¤ata, or voidness, is a term implying that there is no essence in Nibbàna in the substantial sense in which the worldlings use that term. As mentioned in the MahàSàropamasutta, deliverance itself is the essence. Apart from that, there is nothing essential or substantial in Nibbàna. In short, there is no thing to become otherwise in Nibbàna.
On an earlier occasion, too, we had to mention the fact that there is quite a lot of confusion in this concern. Saïkhata, the compounded, is supposed to be a thing. And asaïkhata, or the uncompounded, is also a thing. The compounded is an impermanent thing, while the uncompounded is a permanent thing. The compounded is fraught with suffering, and the uncompounded is blissful. The compounded is not self, but the uncompounded is ... At this point the line of argument breaks off.
Some of those who attempt this kind of explanation find themselves in a quandary due to their lack of understanding of the issues involved. The two verses quoted above are therefore highly significant.
Because of ma¤¤anà, worldlings tend to grasp, hold on and adhere to mind-objects. The Buddha has presented these concepts just for the purpose of crossing over the flood, desità nissàya nissàya oghassa nittharaõà, "the process of crossing over the flood with relative dependence has been preached".  All the dhammas that have been preached are for a practical purpose, based on an understanding of their relative value, and not for grasping tenaciously, as illustrated by such discourses like the Rathavinãtasutta and the Alagaddåpamasutta.
Let alone other concepts, not even Nibbàna as a concept is to be grasped. To grasp the concept of Nibbàna is to slip into an error. So from the couplet quoted above we clearly understand how subtle this ma¤¤anà is and why it is called an extremely subtle bondage of Màra.
It might be recalled that while discussing the significance of the Brahmanimantanikasutta we mentioned that the non-manifestative consciousness described in that discourse does not partake of the earthiness of earth. That is to say, it is not under the sway of the earth quality of earth.
In fact as many as thirteen out of the twenty-four concepts mentioned in the Målapariyàyasutta come up again in the Brahmanimantanikasutta. The implication therefore is that the non-manifestative consciousness is not subject to the influence of any of those concepts. It does not take any of those concepts as substantial or essential, and that is why it is beyond their power.
For the same reason it is called the non-manifestative consciousness. Consciousness as a rule takes hold of some object or other. This consciousness, however, is called non-manifestative in the sense that it is devoid of the nature of grasping any such object. It finds no object worthy of grasping.
What we have discussed so far could perhaps be better appreciated in the light of another important sutta in the Majjhima Nikàya, namely the Cåëataõhàsaïkhayasutta. A key to the moral behind this discourse is to be found in the following dictum occurring in it: sabbe dhammà nàlaü abhinivesàya, "nothing is worth entering into dogmatically".
The word abhinivesa, suggestive of dogmatic adherence, literally means "entering into". Now based on this idea we can bring in a relevant metaphor.
We happened to mention earlier that as far as concepts are concerned, the arahants have no dogmatic adherence. Let us take, for instance, the concept of `a house'. Arahants also enter a house, but they do not enter into the concept of `a house'. This statement might appear rather odd, but what we mean is that one can enter a house without entering into the concept of `a house'.
Now leaving this as something of a riddle, let us try to analyse a certain fairy tale-like episode in the Cåëataõhàsaïkhayasutta, somewhat as an interlude.
The main theme of the Cåëataõhàsaïkhayasutta is as follows: Once Sakka, the king of the gods, came to see the Buddha when he was staying at Pubbàràma and asked the question: `How does a monk attain deliverance by the complete destruction of craving?' The quintessence of the Buddha's brief reply to that question is the above mentioned dictum, sabbe dhammà nàlaü abhinivesàya, "nothing is worth entering into dogmatically".
Sakka rejoiced in this sermon approvingly and left. Venerable MahàMoggallàna, who was seated near the Buddha at that time, had the inquisitive thought: `Did Sakka rejoice in this sermon having understood it, or did he rejoice without understanding it?' Being curious to find this out he vanished from Pubbàràma and appeared in the Tàvatiüsa heaven as quickly as a strong man might stretch out his bent arm and bend back his outstretched arm.
At that time Sakka was enjoying heavenly music. On seeing Venerable MahàMoggallàna coming at a distance he stopped the music and welcomed the latter, saying: `Come good sir Moggallàna, welcome good sir Moggallàna! It is a long time, good sir Moggallàna, since you found an opportunity to come here.'
He offered a high seat to Venerable MahàMoggallàna and took a low seat at one side. Then Venerable MahàMoggallàna asked Sakka what sort of a sermon the Buddha had preached to him on his recent visit, saying that he himself is curious on listening to it.
Sakka's reply was: `Good sir Moggallàna, we are so busy, we have so much to do, not only with our own business, but also with the business of other gods of Tàvatiüsa. So it is not easy for us to remember such Dhamma discussions.' Then Sakka goes on to relate some other episode, which to him seems more important: `After winning the war against the asuras, I had the Vejayanti palace built. Would you like to see it, good sir Moggallàna?'
Probably as a part of etiquette, binding on a visitor, Venerable MahàMoggallàna agreed and Sakka conducted him around the Vejayanti palace in the company of his friend, king Vessavaõa. It was a wonderful palace with hundreds of towers. Sakka's maids, seeing Venerable MahàMoggallàna coming in the distance, were embarrassed out of modest respect and went into their rooms. Sakka was taking Venerable MahàMoggallàna around, saying: `See, good sir, how lovely this palace is.'
Venerable MahàMoggallàna also courteously responded, saying that it is a fitting gift for his past merit. But then he thought of arousing a sense of urgency in Sakka, seeing: how negligent he has become now. And what did he do? He shook the Vejayanti palace with the point of his toe, using his supernormal power.
Since Sakka had `entered into' the Vejayanti palace with his craving, conceit and views, he also was thoroughly shaken, along with the palace. That is to say, a sense of urgency was aroused in him, so much so that he remembered the sermon the Buddha had preached to him.
It was then that Venerable MahàMoggallàna asked Sakka pointedly: `How did the Exalted One state to you in brief the deliverance through the destruction of craving?' Sakka came out with the full account, creditably.
So after all it seems that the Venerable MahàMoggallàna took all this trouble to drive home into Sakka the moral of the sermon sabbe dhammà nàlaü abhinivesàya, "nothing is worth clinging onto".
If one goes through this discourse ignoring the deeper aspects of it, it appears merely as a fairy tale. Even as those heavenly maidens entered their rooms, Sakka also had entered into this Vejayanti palace of his own creation, while showing his distinguished visitor around, like a rich man these days after building his mansion.
So from this we can see the nature of these worldly concepts. For instance, in the case of the concept of `a house', entering the house physically does not necessarily mean that one is `in it'. Only if one has entered into the concept of a house is he `in it'.
Let us take a simply analogy. Little children sometimes build a little hut, out of fun, with a few sticks and shady leaves. They might even invite their mother for the house-warming. When the mother creeps into the improvised hut, she does not seriously entertain the concept of `a house' in it, as the children would do.
It is the same in the case of Buddhas and arahants. To the Emancipated Ones, who have fully understood and comprehended the true meaning of concepts like `house', `mansion' and `palace', the sandcastles of adults appear no better than the playthings of little children. We have to grant it, therefore, that Tathàgatas, or Such-like Ones, cannot help making use of concepts in worldly usage.
As a matter of fact, once a certain deity even raised the question whether the emancipated arahant monks, when they use such expressions as `I speak' and `they speak to me', do so out of conceit. The Buddha's reply was:
Yo hoti bhikkhu arahaü katàvã,
`ahaü vadàmã'ti pi so vadeyya,
`mamaü vadantã`ti pi so vadeyya
loke sama¤¤aü kusalo viditvà,
vohàramattena so vohareyyà.
"That monk, who is an arahant, who has finished his task,
Whose influxes are extinct and who bears his final body,
Might still say `I speak',
He might also say `they speak to me',
Being skilful, knowing the world's parlance,
He uses such terms merely as a convention."
In the case of an arahant, who has accomplished his task and is influx-free, a concept like `house', `mansion', or `palace' has no influence by way of craving, conceit and views. He might say `I speak' or `I preach', he might even say `they speak to me', but since he has understood the nature of worldly parlance, he uses such expressions as mere turns of speech. Therefore the Buddhas and arahants, though they may enter a house, do not entertain the concept of `a house' in it.
Some might think that in order to destroy the concept of `a house', one has to break up the tiles and bricks into atoms. But that is not the way to deliverance. One has to understand according to the law of dependent arising that not only is a house dependent on tiles and bricks, but the tiles and bricks are themselves dependent on a house. Very often philosophers forget about the principle of relativity involved here.
Tiles and bricks are dependent on a house. This is a point worth considering. One might think that a house is made up of tiles and bricks, but tiles and bricks themselves come to be because of a house. There is a mutual relationship between them.
If one raises the question: `What is a tile?', the answer will be: `It is an item used for building the roof of a house'. Likewise a brick is an item used in building a wall. This shows the relativity between a house and a tile as well as between a house and a brick. So there is no need to get down to an atomistic analysis like nuclear physicists. Wisdom is something that enables one to see this relativity penetratively, then and there.
Today we happened to discuss some deep sections of the Dhamma, particularly on the subject of ma¤¤anà. A reappraisal of some of the deep suttas preached by the Buddha, now relegated into the background as those dealing with conventional truth, will be greatly helpful in dispelling the obsessions created by ma¤¤anà. What the Målapariyàyasutta offers in this respect is of utmost importance.
In fact, the Buddha never used a language totally different from the language of the worldlings. Now, for instance, chemists make use of a certain system of symbolic formulas in their laboratories, but back at home they revert to another set of symbols. However, both are symbols. There is no need to discriminate between them as higher or lower, so long as they serve the purpose at hand.
Therefore it is not proper to relegate some sermons as discursive or conventional in style. Always it is a case of using concepts in worldly parlance. In the laboratory one uses a particular set of symbols, but on returning home he uses another. In the same way, it is not possible to earmark a particular bundle of concepts as absolute and unchangeable.
As stated in the Poññhapàdasutta, already discussed, all these concepts are worldly appellations, worldly expressions, worldly usages, worldly designations, which the Tathàgata makes use of without tenacious grasping. However philosophical or technical the terminology may be, the arahants make use of it without grasping it tenaciously.
What is of importance is the function it fulfils. We should make use of the conceptual scaffolding only for the purpose of putting up the building. As the building comes up, the scaffolding has to leave. It has to be dismantled. If one simply clings onto the scaffolding, the building would never come up.
 M I 436, MahàMàlunkyasutta. < back
 M I 1, Målapariyàyasutta. < back
 Ps I 41. < back
 A III 6, Kàmasutta; see also Dhp 379, Bhikkhuvagga. < back
 Ps I 28. < back
 E.g. D I 70, Sàma¤¤aphalasutta. < back
 See sermon 11. < back
 See sermon 1. < back
 M I 487, Aggivacchagottasutta. < back
 See sermon 12. < back
 Ps I 38. < back
 M I 266, MahàTaõhàsaïkhayasutta. < back
 M II 265, âne¤jasappàyasutta. < back
 See sermon 2. < back
 S I 54, Kakudhasutta. < back
 Vibh-a 53. < back
 See sermon 12. < back
 See sermons 9 and 12. < back
 A III 413, Nibbedhikasutta. < back
 Sn 874, Kalahavivàdasutta; see sermon 11. < back
 E.g. at S 219, Munisutta; and Th 748, TelakàniTheragàthà. < back
 Sn 68, Khaggavisàõasutta. < back
 E.g. at M I 12, Sabbàsavasutta. < back
 M I 6, Målapariyàyasutta. < back
 Ps I 56. < back
 S IV 201, Yavakalàpisutta. < back
 Dhp 33, Cittavagga. < back
 See sermons 11 and 12. < back
 See sermon 10. < back
 Sn 757-758, Dvayatànupassanàsutta. < back
 E.g. at D III 273, Dasuttarasutta < back
 M I 197, MahàSàropamasutta. < back
 See sermon 2. < back
 M II 265, âne¤jasappàyasutta. < back
 M I 145, Rathavinãtasutta; M I 130, Alagaddåpamasutta. < back
 See sermon 8; M I 329, Brahmanimantanikasutta. < back
 M I 251, CåëaTaõhàsaïkhayasutta. < back
 S I 14, Arahantasutta. < back
 D I 202, Poññhapàdasutta. < back
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