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Nibbŗna Sermon 20
by Bhikkhu K. —šnananda

Content

 

Nibbana Sermons Part 1 - 7

 

Nibbŗna Sermon 08

Nibbŗna Sermon 09

Nibbŗna Sermon 10

Nibbŗna Sermon 11

Nibbŗna Sermon 12

Nibbŗna Sermon 13

Nibbŗna Sermon 14

Nibbŗna Sermon 15

Nibbŗna Sermon 16

Nibbŗna Sermon 17

Nibbŗna Sermon 18

Nibbŗna Sermon 19

Nibbŗna Sermon 20

Nibbŗna Sermon 21

Nibbŗna Sermon 22

Nibbŗna Sermon 23

Nibbŗna Sermon 24

Nibbŗna Sermon 25

 


Nibbŗna Sermon 20

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammŗsambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammŗsambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammŗsambuddhassa


EtaŁ santaŁ, etaŁ paű„taŁ, yadidaŁ sabbasaÔkhŗrasamatho sabbŚpadhipaŮinissaggo taűhakkhayo virŗgo nirodho nibbŗnaŁ.[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. This is the twentieth sermon in the series of sermons on Nibbŗna.

In our last sermon we described, as something of a marvel in the attainment of Nibbŗna, the very possibility of realizing, in this very life, as diŮŮhadhammika, one's after death state, which is samparŗyika. The phrase diŮŮheva dhamme sayaŁ abhi§§ŗ sacchikatvŗ, "having realized here and now by one's own higher knowledge",[2] occurs so often in the discourses because the emancipated one ascertains his after death state as if by seeing with his own eyes.

Natthi dŗni punabbhavo, "there is no re-becoming now",[3] kh„űŗ jŗti, "extinct is birth",[4] are some of the joyous utterances of the Buddha and the arahants, which were inspired by the realization of the cessation of existence in this very life. Through that realization itself, they experience a bliss devoid of feeling, which is called "the cooling off of feelings". That is why Nibbŗna as such is known as avedayita sukha, a "bliss devoid of feeling".[5]

At the end of their lives, at the moment when death approaches, those emancipated ones, the arahants, put forward their unshakeable deliverance of the mind, akuppŗ cetomivutti (which remains unshaken even in the face of death), and become deathless well before their death, not after it.

On many an occasion the Buddha has spoken highly of this unshakeable deliverance of the mind, describing it as the supreme bliss, the supreme knowledge and the supreme freedom from death. For instance, among the Sixes of the AÔguttara Nikŗya, we come across the following two verses:
Tassa sammŗ vimuttassa,
§ŗűaŁ ce hoti tŗdino,
`akuppŗ me vimutt„'ti,
bhavasaŁyojanakkhaye.
EtaŁ kho paramaŁ §ŗűaŁ,
etaŁ sukhamanuttaraŁ,
asokaŁ virajaŁ khemaŁ,
etaŁ ŗnaűyamuttamaŁ.[6]
"To that such like one, who is fully released,
There arises the knowledge:
`Unshakeable is my deliverance',
Upon his extinction of fetters to existence.
This is the highest knowledge,
This is the unsurpassed bliss,
This sorrow-less, taintless security,
Is the supreme debtless-ness."
Arahants are said to be debtless in regard to the four requisites offered by the laity out of faith, but when Nibbŗna is regarded as a debtless-ness, it seems to imply something deeper.

SaŁsŗra or reiterated existence is itself a debt, which one can never pay off. When one comes to think of kamma and its result, it is a debt that keeps on gathering an interminable interest, which can never be paid off.
But even from this debt the arahants have won freedom by destroying the seeds of kamma, by rendering them infertile. They are made ineffective beyond this life, as there is no rebirth. The meaningful line of the Ratanasutta, kh„űaŁ purŗűaŁ, navaŁ natthi sambhavaŁ,[7] "whatever is old is extinct and there is no arising anew", has to be understood in that sense. The karmic debt is paid off and there is no fresh incurring.

All this is in praise of that unshakeable deliverance of the mind. It is a kind of extraordinary knowledge, almost unimaginable, a `real'-ization of one's own after death state.

In almost all serious discussions on Nibbŗna, the subtlest moot point turns out to be the question of the after death state of the emancipated one. A brief answer, the Buddha had given to this question, we already brought up in our last sermon, by quoting the two concluding verses of the Udŗna, with which that collection of inspired utterances ends with a note of exceptional grandeur. Let us recall them.
Ayoghanahatass'eva,
jalato jŗtavedaso,
anupubbŚpasantassa,
yathŗ na §ŗyate gati.
EvaŁ sammŗvimuttŗnaŁ,
kŗmabandhoghatŗrinaŁ,
pa§§ŗpetuŁ gati natthi,
pattŗnaŁ acalaŁ sukhaŁ.[8]
"Just as in the case of a fire,
Blazing like a block of iron in point of compactness,
When it gradually calms down,
No path it goes by can be traced.
Even so, of those who are well released,
Who have crossed over the flux of shackles of sensuality,
And reached bliss unshaken,
There is no path to be pointed out."
The last two lines are particularly significant. There is no path to be pointed out of those who have reached bliss unshaken. AcalaŁ sukhaŁ, or "unshakeable bliss", is none other than that unshakeable deliverance of the mind. Akuppa means "unassailable" or "unshakeable". Clearly enough, what the verse says is that after their death the emancipated ones leave no trace of a path gone by, even as the flames of a raging fire.

The flame may appear as something really existing due to the perception of the compact, ghanasa§§ŗ, but when it goes down and disappears, no one can say that it went in such and such a direction.

Though this is the obvious meaning, some try to attribute quite a different meaning to the verse in question. The line pa§§ŗpetuŁ gati n'atthi, "there is no path to be pointed out", is interpreted even by the commentators (who take the word gati to mean some state of existence) as an assertion that, although such a bourne cannot be pointed out, the arahants pass away into some non-descript realm.

This kind of interpretation is prompted by an apprehension of the charge of annihilation. A clear instance of this tendency is revealed in the commentary to the following verse in the Dhammapada:
AhiŁsakŗ ye munayo,
niccaŁ kŗyena saŁvutŗ,
te yanti accutaŁ ŮhŗnaŁ,
yattha gantvŗ na socare.[9]
"Innocent are the sages,
That are ever restrained in body,
They go to that state unshaken,
Wherein they grieve no more."
The commentator, in paraphrasing, brings in the word sassataŁ, "eternal", for accutaŁ, thereby giving the idea that the arahants go to an eternal place of rest.[10] Because the verb yanti, "go", occurs there, he must have thought that this state unshaken, accutaŁ, is something attainable after death.
But we can give another instance in support of our explanation of the term accutaŁ. The following verse in the Hemakamŗűavapucchŗ of the Pŗrŗyanavagga in the Sutta Nipŗta clearly shows what this accutaŁ is:
Idha diŮŮhasutamutavi§§ŗtesu,
piyarŚpesu Hemaka,
chandarŗgavinodanaŁ,
nibbŗnapadaŁ accutaŁ.[11]
"The dispelling here in this world of desire and lust,
In pleasurable things,
Seen, heard, sensed and cognized,
Is Nibbŗna itself, O Hemaka."

This is further proof of the fact that there is no eternal immortal rest awaiting the arahants after their demise.
The reason for such a postulate is probably the fear of falling into the annihilationist view. Why this chronic fear? To the worldlings overcome by craving for existence any teaching that leads to the cessation of existence appears dreadful.

That is why they put forward two new parables, following the same commentarial trend. The other day we mentioned about those two parables, the parable of the tortoise and the parable of the frog.[12] When the fish and the toad living in water ask what sort of a thing land is, the tortoise and the frog are forced to say `no, no' to every question they put. Likewise the Buddha, so it is argued, was forced to give a string of negative terms in his discourses on Nibbŗna.

But we have pointed out that this argument is fallacious and that those discourses have to be interpreted differently. The theme that runs through such discourses is none other than the cessation of existence.

In the AlagaddŚpama Sutta of the Majjhima Nikŗya the Buddha declares in unmistakeable terms that some recluses and brahmins, on hearing him preaching the Dhamma for the cessation of existence, wrongly accuse him with the charge of being an annihilationist, sato sattassa ucchedaŁ vinŗsaŁ vibhavaŁ pa§§ŗpeti, "he is showing the way to the annihilation, destruction and non-existence of a truly existing being".[13]

He clearly states that some even grieve and lament and fall into despair, complaining ucchijjissŗmi nŗma su, vinassissŗmi nŗma su, na su nŗma bhavissŗmi, "so it seems I shall be annihilated, so it seems I shall perish, so it seems I shall be no more".[14]

Even during the lifetime of the Buddha there were various debates and controversies regarding the after death state of the emancipated person among recluses and brahmins. They were of the opinion that the after death state of the emancipated one in any particular religious system has to be explained according to a fourfold logic, or tetralemma. A paradigm of that tetralemma occurs quite often in the discourses. It consists of the following four propositions:
1) hoti tathŗgato paraŁ maraűŗ
2) na hoti tathŗgato paraŁ maraűŗ
3) hoti ca na ca hoti tathŗgato paraŁ maraűŗ
4) n'eva hoti na na hoti tathŗgato paraŁ maraűŗ
1) "The Tathŗgata exists after death"
2) "The Tathŗgata does not exist after death"
3) "The Tathŗgata both exists and does not exist after death"
4) "The Tathŗgata neither exists nor does not exist after
death".[15]
This four-cornered logic purports to round up the four possible alternatives in any situation, or four possible answers to any question.
The dilemma is fairly well known, where one is caught up between two alternatives. The tetralemma, with its four alternatives, is supposed to exhaust the universe of discourse in a way that one cannot afford to ignore it.

When it comes to a standpoint regarding a particular issue, one is compelled to say `yes' or `no', or at least to assert both standpoints or negate them altogether. The contemporary recluses and brahmins held on to the view that the Tathŗgata's after death state has to be predicated in accordance with the four-cornered logic.

When we hear the term Tathŗgata, we are immediately reminded of the Buddha. But for the contemporary society, it was a sort of technical term with a broader meaning. Those recluses and brahmins used the term Tathŗgata to designate the perfected individual in any religious system, whose qualifications were summed up in the thematic phrase uttamapuriso, paramapuriso, paramapattipatto,[16] "the highest person, the supreme person, the one who has attained the supreme state".

This fact is clearly borne out by the KutŚhalasŗlŗsutta in the Avyŗkata SaŁyutta of the SaŁyutta Nikŗya. In that discourse we find the wandering ascetic Vacchagotta coming to the Buddha with the following report.

Recently there was a meeting of recluses, brahmins and wandering ascetics in the debating hall. In that assembly, the following chance talk arose: `Now there is this teacher, PŚraűa Kassapa, who is widely acclaimed and who has a large following. When an ordinary disciple of his passes away, he predicates his destiny. So also in the case of a disciple who has attained the highest state of perfection in his religious system. Other well known teachers like Makkhali Gosŗla, NigaűŮha Nŗtaputta, Sa§jaya BelaŮŮhiputta, Pakudha Kaccŗyana and Ajita Kesakambali do the same. They all declare categorically the after death state of both types of their disciples.

But as for this ascetic Gotama, who also is a teacher widely acclaimed with a large following, the position is that he clearly declares the after death state of an ordinary disciple of his, but in the case of a disciple who has attained the highest state of perfection, he does not predicate his destiny according to the above mentioned tetralemma. Instead he makes such a declaration about him as the following:

Acchecchi taűhaŁ, vŗvattayi sa§§ojanaŁ, sammŗ mŗnŗbhisamayŗ antam akŗsi dukkhassa,[17] "he cut off craving, disjoined the fetter and, by rightly understanding conceit for what it is, made an end of suffering".

Vacchagotta concludes this account with the confession that he himself was perplexed and was in doubt as to how the Dhamma of the recluse Gotama has to be understood. The Buddha grants that Vacchagotta's doubt is reasonable, with the words ala§hi te, Vaccha, kaÔkhituŁ, alaŁ vicikicchituŁ, kaÔkhaniye ca pana te Ůhŗne vicikicchŗ uppannŗ, "it behoves you to doubt, Vaccha, it behoves you to be perplexed, for doubt has arisen in you on a dubious point".

Then the Buddha comes out with the correct standpoint in order to dispel Vacchagotta's doubt. Sa-upŗdŗnassa kvŗhaŁ, Vaccha, upapattiŁ pa§§ŗpemi, no anupŗdŗnassa, "it is for one with grasping, Vaccha, that I declare there is an occurrence of birth, not for one without grasping."

He gives the following simile by way of illustration. Seyyathŗpi, Vaccha, aggi sa-upŗdŗno jalati no anupŗdŗno, evam eva kvŗhaŁ, Vaccha, sa-upŗdŗnassa upapattiŁ pa§§ŗpemi, no anupŗdŗnassa, "just as a fire burns when it has fuel to grasp and not when it has no fuel, even so, Vaccha, I declare that there is an occurrence of birth for one with grasping, not for one without grasping."

As we have mentioned before, the word upŗdŗna has two meanings, it means both grasping as well as fuel. In fact fuel is just what the fire `grasps'. Just as the fire depends on grasping in the form of fuel, so also the individual depends on grasping for his rebirth.

Within the context of this analogy, Vacchagotta now raises a question that has some deeper implications: YasmiŁ pana, bho Gotama, samaye acci vŗtena khittŗ dŚrampi gacchati, imassa pana bhavaŁ Gotamo kim upŗdŗnasmiŁ pa§§ŗpeti, "Master Gotama, at the time when a flame flung by the wind goes even far, what does Master Gotama declare to be its object of grasping or fuel?"

The Buddha's answer to that question is: YasmiŁ kho, Vaccha, samaye acci vŗtena khittŗ dŚrampi gacchati, tamahaŁ vŗtupŗdŗnaŁ vadŗmi; vŗto hissa, Vaccha, tasmiŁ samaye upŗdŗnaŁ hoti, "at the time, Vaccha, when a flame flung by the wind goes even far, that, I say, has wind as its object of grasping. Vaccha, at that time wind itself serves as the object of grasping."

Now this is only an analogy. Vaccha raises the question proper only at this point: Yasmi§ca pana, bho Gotama, samaye ima§ca kŗyaŁ nikkhipati satto ca a§§ataraŁ kŗyam anuppatto hoti, imassa pana bhavaŁ Gotamo kim upŗdŗnasmiŁ pa§§ŗpeti, "at the time, Master Gotama, when a being lays down this body and has reached a certain body, what does Master Gotama declare to be a grasping in his case?"
The Buddha replies: Yasmi§ca pana, Vaccha, samaye ima§ca kŗyaŁ nikkhipati satto ca a§§ataraŁ kŗyam anuppatto hoti, tam ahaŁ taűhupŗdŗnaŁ vadŗmi; taűhŗ hissa, Vaccha, tasmiŁ samaye upŗdŗnaŁ hoti, "at the time, Vaccha, when a being lays down this body and has reached a certain body, I say, he has craving as his grasping. At that time, Vaccha, it is craving that serves as a grasping for him."

With this sentence the discourse ends abruptly, but there is an intricate point in the two sections quoted above. In these two sections, we have adopted the reading anuppatto, "has reached", as more plausible in rendering the phrase a§§ataraŁ kŗyam anuppatto, "has reached a certain body".[18] The commentary, however, seeks to justify the reading anupapanno, "is not reborn", which gives quite an opposite sense, with the following explanation cutikkhaűeyeva paŮisandhicittassa anuppannattŗ anuppanno hoti,[19] "since at the death moment itself, the rebirth consciousness has not yet arisen, he is said to be not yet reborn".

Some editors doubt whether the correct reading should be anuppatto.[20] The doubt seems reasonable enough, for even syntactically, anuppatto can be shown to fit into the context better than anuppanno. The word a§§ataraŁ provides us with the criterion. It has a selective sense, like "a certain", and carries definite positive implications. To express something negative a word like a§§aŁ, "another", has to be used instead of the selective a§§ataraŁ, "a certain".

On the other hand, the suggested reading anuppatto avoids those syntactical difficulties. A being lays down this body and has reached a certain body. Even the simile given as an illustration is in favour of our interpretation. The original question of Vaccha about the flame flung by the wind, reminds us of the way a forest fire, for instance, spreads from one tree to another tree some distance away. It is the wind that pushes the flame for it to catch hold of the other tree.

The commentarial explanation, however, envisages the situation in which a being lays down this body and is not yet reborn in another body. It is in the interim that craving is supposed to be the grasping or a fuel. Some scholars have exploited this commentarial explanation to postulate a theory of antarŗbhava, or interim existence, prior to rebirth proper.

Our interpretation, based on the reading anuppatto, rules out even the possibility of an antarŗbhava. Obviously enough, Vacchagotta's question is simple and straightforward. He is curious to know what sort of a grasping connects up the being that lays down the body and the being that arises in another body. That is to say, how the apparent gap could be bridged.

The answer given by the Buddha fully accords with the analogy envisaged by the premise. Just as the wind does the work of grasping in the case of the flame, so craving itself, at the moment of death, fulfils the function of grasping for a being to reach another body. That is precisely why craving is called bhavanetti, "the guide in becoming".[21] Like a promontory, it juts out into the ocean of saŁsŗra. When it comes to rebirth, it is craving that bridges the apparent gap. It is the invisible combustible fuel that keeps the raging saŁsŗric forest fire alive.

All in all, what transpired at the debating hall (KutŚhalasŗlŗ) reveals one important fact, namely that the Buddha's reluctance to give a categorical answer regarding the after death state of the emancipated one in his dispensation had aroused the curiosity of those recluses and brahmins. That is why they kept on discussing the subject at length.

However, it was not the fact that he had refused to make any comment at all on this point. Only, that the comment he had made appeared so strange to them, as we may well infer from Vacchagotta's report of the discussion at the debating hall.

The Buddha's comment on the subject, which they had quoted, was not based on the tetralemma. It was a completely new formulation. Acchecchi taűhaŁ, vŗvattayi sa§§ojanaŁ, sammŗ mŗnŗbhisamayŗ antam akŗsi dukkhassa, "he cut off craving, disjoined the fetter and, by rightly understanding conceit for what it is, made an end of suffering".

This then, is the correct answer, and not any one of the four corners of the tetralemma. This brief formula is of paramount importance. When craving is cut off, the `guide-in-becoming', which is responsible for rebirth, is done away with. It is as if the fetter binding to another existence has been unhooked. The term bhavasaŁyojanakkhaya, "destruction of the fetter to existence", we came across earlier, conveys the same sense.[22]

The phrase sammŗ mŗnŗbhisamaya is also highly significant. With the dispelling of ignorance, the conceit "am", asmimŗna, is seen for what it is. It disappears when exposed to the light of understanding and that is the end of suffering as well. The concluding phrase antam akŗsi dukkhassa, "made an end of suffering", is conclusive enough. The problem that was there all the time was the problem of suffering, so the end of suffering means the end of the whole problem.

In the Aggivacchagottasutta of the Majjhima Nikŗya the Buddha's response to the question of the after death state of the arahant comes to light in greater detail. The question is presented there in the form of the tetralemma, beginning with hoti tathŗgato paraŁ maraűŗ.[23]
While all the other recluses and brahmins held that the answer should necessarily take the form of one of the four alternatives, the Buddha put them all aside, Ůhapitŗni, rejected them, patikkhittŗni, refused to state his view categorically in terms of them, avyŗkatŗni. This attitude of the Buddha puzzled not only the ascetics of other sects, but even some of the monks like MŗluÔkyŗputta. In very strong terms, MŗluÔkyŗputta challenged the Buddha to give a categorical answer or else confess his ignorance.[24]

As a matter of fact there are altogether ten such questions, which the Buddha laid aside, rejected and refused to answer categorically. The first six take the form of three dilemmas, while the last four constitute the tetralemma already mentioned. Since an examination of those three dilemmas would reveal some important facts, we shall briefly discuss their significance as well.
The three sets of views are stated thematically as follows:
1) sassato loko, "the world is eternal"
2) asassato loko, "the world is not eternal"
3) antavŗ loko, "the world is finite"
4) anantavŗ loko, "the world is infinite"
5) taŁ j„vaŁ taŁ sar„raŁ, "the soul and the body are the same"
6) a§§aŁ j„vaŁ a§§aŁ sar„raŁ, "the soul is one thing and
the body another
These three dilemmas, together with the tetralemma, are known as abyŗkatavatthŚni, the ten undetermined points.[25] Various recluses and brahmins, as well as king Pasenadi Kosala, posed these ten questions to the Buddha, hoping to get categorical answers.
Why the Buddha laid them aside is a problem to many scholars. Some, like MŗluÔkyŗputta, would put it down to agnosticism. Others would claim that the Buddha laid them aside because they are irrelevant to the immediate problem of deliverance, though he could have answered them. That section of opinion go by the SiŁsapŗvanasutta in the SaccasaŁyutta of the SaŁyutta Nikŗya.[26]

Once while dwelling in a siŁsapŗ grove, the Buddha took up some siŁsapŗ leaves in his hands and asked the monks: "What do you think, monks, which is more, these leaves in my hand or those in the siŁsapŗ grove?" The monks reply that the leaves in the hand are few and those in the siŁsapŗ grove are greater in number. Then the Buddha makes a declaration to the following effect: "Even so, monks, what I have understood through higher knowledge and not taught you is far more than what I have taught you".

If we rely on this simile, we would have to grant that the questions are answerable in principle, but that the Buddha preferred to avoid them because they are not relevant. But this is not the reason either.

All these ten questions are based on wrong premises. To take them seriously and answer them would be to grant the validity of those premises. The dilemmas and the tetralemma seek arbitrarily to corner anyone who tries to answer them. The Buddha refused to be cornered that way.

The first two alternatives, presented in the form of a dilemma, are sassato loko, "the world is eternal", and asassato loko, "the world is not eternal". This is an attempt to determine the world in temporal terms. The next set of alternatives seeks to determine the world in spatial terms.

Why did the Buddha refuse to answer these questions on time and space? It is because the concept of `the world' has been given quite a new definition in this dispensation.

Whenever the Buddha redefined a word in common usage, he introduced it with the phrase ariyassa vinaye, "in the discipline of the noble ones".

We have already mentioned on an earlier occasion that according to the discipline of the noble ones, `the world' is said to have arisen in the six sense-spheres, chasu loko samuppanno.[27] In short, the world is redefined in terms of the six spheres of sense. This is so fundamentally important that in the SaŽŗyatanasaŁyutta of the SaŁyutta Nikŗya the theme comes up again and again.

For instance, in the Samiddhisutta Venerable Samiddhi poses the following question to the Buddha: `Loko, loko'ti, bhante, vuccati. Kittŗvatŗ nu kho, bhante, loko vŗ assa lokapa§§atti vŗ?[28] "`The world, the world', so it is said Venerable sir, but how far, Venerable sir, does this world or the concept of the world go?"

The Buddha gives the following answer: Yattha kho, Samiddhi, atthi cakkhu, atthi rŚpŗ, atthi cakkhuvi§§ŗűaŁ, atthi cakkhuvi§§ŗűavi§§ŗtabbŗ dhammŗ, atthi tattha loko vŗ lokapa§§atti vŗ, "where there is the eye, Samiddhi, where there are forms, where there is eye-consciousness, where there are things cognizable by eye-consciousness, there exists the world or the concept of the world".
A similar statement is made with regard to the other spheres of sense, including the mind. That, according to the Buddha, is where the world exists. Then he makes a declaration concerning the converse: Yattha ca kho, Samiddhi, natthi cakkhu, natthi rŚpŗ, natthi cakkhuvi§§ŗűaŁ, natthi cakkhuvi§§ŗűavi§§ŗtabbŗ dhammŗ, natthi tattha loko vŗ lokapa§§atti vŗ, "where there is no eye, Samiddhi, where there are no forms, where there is no eye-consciousness, where there are no things cognizable by eye-consciousness, there the world does not exist, nor any concept of the world".

From this we can well infer that any attempt to determine whether there is an end of the world, either in temporal terms or in spatial terms, is misguided. It is the outcome of a wrong view, for there is a world so long as there are the six spheres of sense. That is why the Buddha consistently refused to answer those questions regarding the world.

There are a number of definitions of the world given by the Buddha. We shall cite two of them. A certain monk directly asked the Buddha to give a definition of the world: Loko, loko'ti bhante, vuccati. Kittŗvatŗ nu kho, bhante, loko'ti vuccati? "`The world, the world', so it is said. In what respect, Venerable sir, is it called a world?"

Then the Buddha makes the following significant declaration: Lujjat„'ti kho, bhikkhu, tasmŗ loko'ti vuccati. Ki§ca lujjati? Cakkhu kho, bhikkhu, lujjati, rŚpŗ lujjanti, cakkhuvi§§ŗűaŁ lujjati, cakkhusamphasso lujjati, yampidaŁ cakkhusamphassapaccayŗ uppajjati vedayitaŁ sukhaŁ vŗ dukkhaŁ vŗ adukkhamasukhaŁ vŗ tampi lujjati. Lujjat„'ti kho, bhikkhu, tasmŗ loko'ti vuccati.[29]

"It is disintegrating, monk, that is why it is called `the world'. And what is disintegrating? The eye, monk, is disintegrating, forms are disintegrating, eye-consciousness is disintegrating, eye-contact is disintegrating, and whatever feeling that arises dependent on eye-contact, be it pleasant, or painful, or neither-pleasant-nor-painful, that too is disintegrating. It is disintegrating, monk, that is why it is called `the world'."

Here the Buddha is redefining the concept of the world, punning on the verb lujjati, which means to "break up" or "disintegrate". To bring about a radical change in outlook, in accordance with the Dhamma, the Buddha would sometimes introduce a new etymology in preference to the old. This definition of `the world' is to the same effect.

Venerable ‚nanda, too, raises the same question, soliciting a redefinition for the well-known concept of the world, and the Buddha responds with the following answer: YaŁ kho, ‚nanda, palokadhammaŁ, ayaŁ vuccati ariyassa vinaye loko.[30] "Whatever, ‚nanda, is subject to disintegration that is called `the world' in the noble one's discipline".

He even goes on to substantiate his statement at length: Ki§ca, ‚nanda, palokadhammaŁ? CakkhuŁ kho, ‚nanda, palokadhammaŁ, rŚpŗ palokadhammŗ, cakkhuvi§§ŗűaŁ palokadhammaŁ, cakkhusamphasso palokadhammo, yampidaŁ cakkhusamphassapaccayŗ uppajjati vedayitaŁ sukhaŁ vŗ dukkhaŁ vŗ adukkhamasukhaŁ vŗ tampi palokadhammaŁ. YaŁ kho, ‚nanda, palokadhammaŁ, ayaŁ vuccati ariyassa vinaye loko.

"And what, ‚nanda, is subject to disintegration? The eye, ‚nanda, is subject to disintegration, forms are subject to disintegration, eye-consciousness is subject to disintegration, eye-contact is subject to disintegration, and whatever feeling that arises dependent on eye-contact, be it pleasant, or painful, or neither-pleasant-nor-painful, that too is subject to disintegration. Whatever is subject to disintegration, ‚nanda, is called `the world' in the noble one's discipline."

In this instance, the play upon the word loka is vividly apt in that it brings out the transcendence of the world. If the world by definition is regarded as transient, it cannot be conceived substantially as a unit. How then can an eternity or infinity be predicated about it? If all the so-called things in the world, listed above, are all the time disintegrating, any unitary concept of the world is fallacious.

Had the Buddha answered those misconceived questions, he would thereby concede to the wrong concept of the world current among other religious groups. So then we can understand why the Buddha refused to answer the first four questions.

Now let us examine the next dilemma, taŁ j„vaŁ taŁ sar„raŁ, a§§aŁ j„vaŁ a§§aŁ sar„raŁ, "the soul and the body are the same, the soul is one thing and the body another". To these questions also, the other religionists insisted on a categorical answer, either `yes' or `no'.
There is a `catch' in the way these questions are framed. The Buddha refused to get caught to them. These two questions are of the type that clever lawyers put to a respondent these days. They would sometimes insist strictly on a `yes` or `no' as answer and ask a question like `have you now given up drinking?'. If the respondent happens to be a teetotaller, he would be in a quandary, since both answers tend to create a wrong impression.

So also in the case of these two alternatives, "the soul and the body are the same, the soul is one thing and the body another". Either way there is a presumption of a soul, which the Buddha did not subscribe to. The Buddha had unequivocally declared that the idea of soul is the outcome of an utterly foolish view, kevalo paripŚro bŗladhammo.[31] That is why the Buddha rejected both standpoints.

A similar `catch', a similar misconception, underlies the tetralemma concerning the after death state of the Tathŗgata. It should be already clear to some extent by what we have discussed so far.

For the Buddha, the term Tathŗgata had a different connotation than what it meant for those of other sects. The latter adhered to the view that both the ordinary disciple as well as the perfected individual in their systems of thought had a soul of some description or other.

The Buddha never subscribed to such a view. On the other hand, he invested the term Tathŗgata with an extremely deep and subtle meaning. His definition of the term will emerge from the Aggivacchagottasutta, which we propose to discuss now.

In this discourse we find the wandering ascetic Vacchagotta trying to get a categorical answer to the questionnaire, putting each of the questions with legal precision one by one, as a lawyer would at the courts of law.

KiŁ nu kho, bho Gotamo, `sassato loko, idam eva saccaŁ, mogham a§§an'ti, evaŁ diŮŮhi bhavaŁ Gotamo?[32] "Now, Master Gotama, `the world is eternal, this only is true, all else is false', are you of this view, Master Gotama?" The Buddha replies: na kho ahaŁ, Vaccha, evaŁ diŮŮhi, "no, Vaccha, I am not of this view".

Then Vacchagotta puts the opposite standpoint, which too the Buddha answers in the negative. To all the ten questions the Buddha answers `no', thereby rejecting the questionnaire in toto. Then Vacchagotta asks why, on seeing what danger, the Buddha refuses to hold any of those views. The Buddha gives the following explanation:

`Sassato loko'ti kho, Vaccha, diŮŮhigatam etaŁ diŮŮhigahanaŁ diŮŮhikantŗraŁ diŮŮhivisŚkaŁ diŮŮhivipphanditaŁ diŮŮhisaŁyojanaŁ sadukkhaŁ savighŗtaŁ sa-upŗyŗsaŁ sapariŽŗhaŁ, na nibbidŗya na virŗgŗya na nirodhŗya na upasamŗya na abhi§§ŗya na sambodhŗya na nibbŗnŗya saŁvattati.

"Vaccha, this speculative view that the world is eternal is a jungle of views, a desert of views, a distortion of views, an aberration of views, a fetter of views, it is fraught with suffering, with vexation, with despair, with delirium, it does not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to tranquillity, to higher knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbŗna." So with regard to the other nine views.

Now here we find both the above-mentioned reasons. Not only the fact that these questions are not relevant to the attainment of Nibbŗna, but also the fact that there is something wrong in the very statement of the problems. What are the dangers that he sees in holding any of these views?

Every one of them is just a speculative view, diŮŮhigataŁ, a jungle of views, diŮŮhigahanaŁ, an arid desert of views, diŮŮhikantŗraŁ, a mimicry or a distortion of views, diŮŮhivisŚkaŁ, an aberration of views, diŮŮhivipphanditaŁ, a fetter of views, diŮŮhisaŁyojanaŁ. They bring about suffering, sadukkhaŁ, vexation, savighŗtaŁ, despair, sa-upŗyŗsaŁ, delirium, sapariŽŗhaŁ. They do not conduce to disenchantment, na nibbidŗya, to dispassion, na virŗgŗya, to cessation, na nirodhŗya, to tranquillity, na upasamŗya, to higher knowledge, na abhi§§ŗya, to enlightenment, na sambodhŗya, to extinguishment, na nibbŗnŗya.

From this declaration it is obvious that these questions are ill founded and misconceived. They are a welter of false views, so much so that the Buddha even declares that these questions simply do not exist for the noble disciple, who has heard the Dhamma. They occur as real problems only to the untaught worldling. Why is that?

Whoever has a deep understanding of the four noble truths would not even raise these questions. This declaration should be enough for one to understand why the Buddha refused to answer them.

Explaining that it is because of these dangers that he rejects them in toto, the Buddha now makes clear what his own stance is. Instead of holding any of those speculative views, he has seen for himself the rise, samudaya, and fall, atthagama, of the five aggregates as a matter of direct experience, thereby getting rid of all `I'-ing and `my'-ing and latencies to conceits, winning ultimate release.

Even after this explanation Vacchagotta resorts to the fourfold logic to satisfy his curiosity about the after death state of the monk thus released in mind. EvaŁ vimuttacitto pana, bho Gotamo, bhikkhu kuhiŁ uppajjati? "When a monk is thus released in mind, Master Gotama, where is he reborn?" The Buddha replies: Uppajjat„'ti kho, Vaccha, na upeti, "to say that he is reborn, Vaccha, falls short of a reply".
Then Vacchagotta asks: Tena hi, bho Gotama, na uppajjati? "If that is so, Master Gotama, is he not reborn?" - Na uppajjat„'ti kho, Vaccha, na upeti, "to say that he is not reborn, Vaccha, falls short of a reply".

Tena hi, bho Gotama, uppajjati ca na ca uppajjati? "If that is so, Master Gotama, is he both reborn and is not reborn?" - Uppajjati ca na ca uppajjat„'ti kho, Vaccha, na upeti, "to say that he is both reborn and is not reborn, Vaccha, falls short of a reply".

Tena hi, bho Gotama, neva uppajjati na na uppajjati? "If that is so, Master Gotama, is he neither reborn nor is not reborn?" - Neva uppajjati na na uppajjat„'ti kho, Vaccha, na upeti, "to say that he is neither reborn nor is not reborn, Vaccha, falls short of a reply".

At this unexpected response of the Buddha to his four questions, Vacchagotta confesses that he is fully confused and bewildered. The Buddha grants that his confusion and bewilderment are understandable, since this Dhamma is so deep and subtle that it cannot be plumbed by logic, atakkŗvacaro.

However, in order to give him a clue to understand the Dhamma point of view, he gives an illustration in the form of a catechism.
TaŁ kiŁ ma§§asi, Vaccha, sace te purato aggi jaleyya, jŗneyyŗsi tvaŁ `ayaŁ me purato aggi jalat„'ti? "What do you think, Vaccha, suppose a fire were burning before you, would you know `this fire is burning before me'?" - Sace me, bho Gotama, purato aggi jaleyya, jŗneyyŗhaŁ `ayaŁ me purato aggi jalat„'ti. "If, Master Gotama, a fire were burning before me, I would know `this fire is burning before me'."
Sace pana taŁ, Vaccha, evaŁ puccheyya `yo te ayaŁ purato aggi jalati, ayaŁ aggi kiŁ paŮicca jalat„'ti, evaŁ puŮŮho tvaŁ, Vaccha, kinti byŗkareyyŗsi? "If someone were to ask you, Vaccha, `what does this fire that is burning before you burns in dependence on', being asked thus, Vaccha, what would you answer?"- EvaŁ puŮŮho ahaŁ, bho Gotama, evaŁ byŗkareyyaŁ `yo me ayaŁ purato aggi jalati, ayaŁ aggi tiűakaŮŮhupŗdŗnaŁ paŮicca jalat„'ti. "Being asked thus, Master Gotama, I would answer `this fire burning before me burns in dependence on grass and sticks'."

Sace te, Vaccha, purato so aggi nibbŗyeyya, jŗneyyŗsi tvaŁ `ayaŁ me purato aggi nibbuto'ti? If that fire before you were to be extinguished, Vaccha, would you know `this fire before me has been extinguished'?" - Sace me, bho Gotamo, purato so aggi nibbŗyeyya, jŗneyyŗhaŁ `ayaŁ me purato aggi nibbuto'ti. If that fire before me were to be extinguished, Master Gotama, I would know `this fire before me has been extinguished'."

Sace pana taŁ, Vaccha, evaŁ puccheyya `yo te ayaŁ purato aggi nibbuto, so aggi ito katamaŁ disaŁ gato, puratthimaŁ vŗ dakkhiűaŁ vŗ pacchimaŁ vŗ uttaraŁ vŗ'ti, evaŁ puŮŮho tvaŁ, Vaccha, kinti byŗkareyyŗsi? "If someone were to ask you, Vaccha, when that fire before you were extinguished, `to which direction did it go, to the east, the west, the north or the south', being asked thus, what would you answer?" - Na upeti, bho Gotama, ya§hi so, bho Gotama, aggi tiűakaŮŮhupŗdŗnaŁ paŮicca jalati, tassa ca pariyŗdŗnŗ a§§assa ca anupahŗrŗ anŗhŗro nibbuto tveva saÔkhaŁ gacchati. "That wouldn't do as a reply, Master Gotama, for that fire burnt in dependence on its fuel of grass and sticks. That being used up and not getting any more fuel, being without fuel, it is reckoned as extinguished."

At this point a very important expression comes up, which we happened to discuss earlier too, namely saÔkhaŁ gacchati.[33] It means "to be reckoned", or "to be known as", or "to be designated". So the correct mode of designation in this case is to say that the fire is reckoned as `extinguished', and not to say that it has gone somewhere.

If one takes mean advantage of the expression `fire has gone out' and insists on locating it, it will only be a misuse or an abuse of linguistic usage. It reveals a pervert tendency to misunderstand and misinterpret. Therefore, all that can be said by way of predicating such a situation, is nibbuto tveva saÔkhaŁ gacchati, "it is reckoned as `extinguished'".

Now comes a well-timed declaration in which the Buddha, starting right from where Vacchagotta leaves off, brings the whole discussion to a climactic end.

Evameva kho, Vaccha, yena rŚpena tathŗgataŁ pa§§ŗpayamŗno pa§§ŗpeyya, taŁ rŚpaŁ tathŗgatassa pah„naŁ ucchinnamŚlaŁ tŗlŗvatthukataŁ anabhŗvakataŁ ŗyatiŁ anuppŗdadhammaŁ. RŚpasaÔkhavimutto kho, Vaccha, tathŗgato, gambh„ro appameyyo duppariyogŗho, seyyathŗpi mahŗsamuddo. Uppajjat„'ti na upeti, na uppajjat„'ti na upeti, uppajjati ca na ca uppajjat„'ti na upeti, neva uppajjati na na uppajjat„'ti na upeti.

"Even so, Vaccha, that form by which one designating the Tathŗgata might designate him, that has been abandoned by him, cut off at the root, made like an uprooted palm tree, made non-existent and incapable of arising again. The Tathŗgata is free from reckoning in terms of form, Vaccha, he is deep, immeasurable and hard to fathom, like the great ocean. To say that he is reborn falls short of a reply, to say that he is not reborn falls short of a reply, to say that he is both reborn and is not reborn falls short of a reply, to say that he is neither reborn nor is not reborn falls short of a reply."

This declaration, which a fully convinced Vacchagotta now wholeheartedly hailed and compared to the very heartwood of a Sŗla tree, enshrines an extremely profound norm of Dhamma.
It was when Vacchagotta had granted the fact that it is improper to ask in which direction an extinguished fire has gone, and that the only proper linguistic usage is simply to say that `it is extinguished', that the Buddha came out with this profound pronouncement concerning the five aggregates.

In the case of the Tathŗgata, the aggregate of form, for instance, is abandoned, pah„naŁ, cut off at the root, ucchinnamŚlaŁ, made like an uprooted palm tree divested from its site, tŗlŗvatthukataŁ, made non existent, anabhavakataŁ, and incapable of arising again, ŗyatiŁ anuppŗdadhammaŁ.

Thereby the Tathŗgata becomes free from reckoning in terms of form, rŚpasaÔkhŗvimutto kho tathŗgato. Due to this very freedom, he becomes deep, immeasurable and unfathomable like the great ocean. Therefore he cannot be said to be reborn, or not to be reborn, or both or neither. The abandonment of form, referred to above, comes about not by death or destruction, but by the abandonment of craving.
The fact that by the abandonment of craving itself, form is abandoned, or eradicated, comes to light from the following quotation from the RŗdhasaŁyutta of the SaŁyutta Nikŗya.

RŚpe kho, Rŗdha, yo chando yo rŗgo yŗ nand„ yŗ taűhŗ, taŁ pajahatha. EvaŁ taŁ rŚpaŁ pah„naŁ bhavissati ucchinnamŚlaŁ tŗlŗvatthukataŁ anabhŗvakataŁ ŗyatiŁ anuppŗdadhammaŁ.[34] "Rŗdha, you give up that desire, that lust, that delight, that craving for form. It is thus that form comes to be abandoned, cut off at the root, made like an uprooted palm tree, made non-existent and incapable of arising again."
Worldlings are under the impression that an arahant's five aggregates of grasping get destroyed at death. But according to this declaration, an arahant is like an uprooted palm tree. A palm tree uprooted but left standing, divested of its site, might appear as a real palm tree to one who sees it from a distance. Similarly, an untaught worldling thinks that there is a being or person in truth and fact when he hears the term Tathŗgata, even in this context too.

This is the insinuation underlying the above quoted pronouncement. It has some profound implications, but time does not permit us to go into them today.


[1] M I 436, MahŗMŗlunkyasutta.

[2]E.g. at M I 35, ‚kaÔkheyya Sutta.

[3] E.g. at M I 167, Ariyapariyesana Sutta.

[4] E.g. at M I 23, Bhayabherava Sutta.

[5] Ps III 115, aŮŮhakathŗ on the Bahuvedan„yasutta.

[6] A III 354, Iűasutta.

[7] Sn 235, Ratanasutta.

[8] Ud 93, Dutiyadabbasutta.

[9] Dhp 225, Kodhavagga.

[10] Dhp-a III 321.

[11] Sn 1086, Hemakamŗűavapucchŗ.

[12] See sermon 19.

[13] M I 140, AlagaddŚpamasutta.

[14] M I 137, AlagaddŚpamasutta.

[15] E.g. at M I 484, Aggivacchagottasutta.

[16] S III 116, Anurŗdhasutta.

[17] S IV 399, KutŚhalasŗlŗsutta.

[18] This suggestion finds support in the Chinese parallel to the KutŚhalasŗlŗsutta, SaŁyukta ‚gama discourse 957 (Taishļ II 244b2), which speaks of the being that has passed away as availing himself of a mind-made body. (Anŗlayo)

[19] Spk III 114.

[20] Feer, L. (ed.): SaŁyutta Nikŗya, PTS 1990 (1894), p 400 n 2.

[21] E.g. S III 190, Bhavanettisutta.

[22] It 53, Indriyasutta; see sermon 16,

[23] M I 484, Aggivacchagottasutta.

[24] M I 427, CŚŽa-MŗluÔkyŗputtasutta.

[25] The expression abyŗkatavatthu occurs e.g. at A IV 68, Abyŗkatasutta.

[26] S V 437, S„sapŗvanasutta.

[27] S I 41, Lokasutta; see sermon 4.

[28] S IV 39, Samiddhisutta.

[29] S IV 52, Lokapa§hŗsutta.

[30] S IV 53, Palokadhammasutta.

[31] M I 138, AlagaddŚpamasutta.

[32] M I 484, Aggivacchagottasutta.

[33] See sermons 1, 12 and 13.

[34] S III 193, Chandarŗgasutta.

 


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