"This is peaceful, this is excellent, namely the
stilling of all prepa-rations, 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 twenty-third
sermon in the series of sermons on Nibbāna.
The other day, we brought up quotations to prove that Nibbāna, as the
cessation of becoming, carries no implications of a nihilist or
annihilationist view because the Tathāgata has transcended the concept
of a being.
It became evident, from those quotations, that to assert with an
eternalist bias, the proposition that the Tathāgata exists after death,
simply because he is referred to as a being, or a person, in the
discourses, is contrary to the spirit of the Dhamma. The fact that the
arahant, who has done away with the latencies to conceits of `I' and
`mine', still continues to use even the words `I' and `mine', only as a
concession to worldly conventions and common parlance, came to light
from the Arahantasutta of the Saüyutta Nikāya, quoted on an earlier
To remind ourselves of the relevant section of that quotation, we may
hark back to the following lines:
vadāmã'ti pi so vadeyya,
`Mamaü vadantã'ti pi so vadeyya,
Loke sama¤¤aü kusalo viditvā,
Vohāramattena so vohareyya.2
"He might still say: `I speak',
He might also say: `They speak to me',
Being skilful in knowing the worldly parlance,
He uses such terms merely as a convention."
philosophy of voidness that emerges from those discourses which declare
that in reality there is no Tathāgata, we compared to the blazing flames
arising from the fistfuls of a highly inflammable incense powder at the
end of an all-night's ceremony of devil dancing. Generally this fire
ordeal is horrifying to the onlookers. The Buddha also had to stage a
similar fire ordeal in the Dhammayāga, or the "Dhamma-sacrifice", he
administered to exorcize the malignant personality view, sakkāyadiņņhi,
ingrained in the minds of worldlings.
Of course there is no explicit reference to such a fire ordeal in the
discourses. However, we do come across a word somewhat suggestive of
this kind of exorcism. The word vidhåpeti, derived from the word dhåpa,
"incense", is suggestive of "fumigating" or "smoking out". For instance,
we find the following verse in the Bodhivagga of the Udāna with
reference to the stages of reflection on the law of dependent arising,
in direct and reverse order, that the Buddha had gone through just after
âtāpino jhāyato brāhmaõassa,
Vidhåpayaü tiņņhati Mārasenaü,
Suriyo 'va obhāsayam antalikkhaü.3
"When dhammas manifest themselves,
To the resolutely meditating Brahmin,
He stands fumigating the hordes of Māra,
Like the sun irradiating the firmament."
dispelling of the hordes of Māra is rather suggestive of a smoking out.
In some other discourses, this verb vidhåpeti is found contrasted with
sandhåpeti. The meaning of both these verbs, which have the dhåpa
element in common, is not quite clear. It is likely that the two words
imply two functions of the ritual associated with incense. While some
fragrant kinds of incense are used for propitiating benevolent spirits,
certain caustic types are utilized for exorcising evil spirits.
For instance in the Khajjanãyasutta of the Saüyutta Nikāya, with
reference to the noble disciple, the phrase vidhåpeti na sandhåpeti
occurs.4 Since the
implicit reference is again to the hordes of Māra, the phrase could be
rendered as "he exorcises and does not propitiate".
The ordinary worldling's mode of recognition of the Tathāgata is
comparable to the recognition of a vortex that has already ceased with
the help of the flotsam and jetsam lightly floating around it. Even
after the vortex has ceased, flotsam and jetsam could still go on
rotating, giving the wrong impression that the vortex is still there. If
one understands that the vortex has actually ceased deep down at its
centre, and that what remains there, now, is the great ocean,
undifferentiated and unique, one can get rid of the unfounded fear
arising from the statement that there is no Tathāgata in truth and fact.
The cessation of the puny centre of the whirlpool is equivalent to
inheriting an expansive great ocean. It is where a vortex ceases that
the great ocean prevails unhindered. To give up the limitations of a
vortex, is to inherit the limitless ocean. The irony arising from these
statements is already implicit in the term arahant. We use this term
with reference to the Buddha as well as the arahants. Though the
commentators later attributed various other meanings to the term, the
basic sense is "to be worthy of gifts". In fact, it is being worthy of
It is by giving up all that one becomes worthy of all.
we have a paradox. To become an arahant is to let go of everything.
Craving has to be fully abandoned. It is when all desires are gone, when
everything is given up, that one becomes worthy of receiving everything.
This is the deeper side of the significance of the term arahant.
There are six modes of measuring in accordance with the conceit `am',
asmimāna. What is known as saëāyatana, or the six sense-bases, comprise
the six scales of measurement, asserting the conceit `am'. At whatever
point of time the measuring, evaluating and assessing done by the six
sense-bases, such as the eye, ear, nose etc., ceases, the person
concerned thereby becomes immeasurable, invaluable and boundless. It is
here that the simile of the vortex and the ocean becomes meaningful. So
the only way of becoming immeasurable and boundless is to abandon all
those scales of measurement. This might sound extremely strange.
With the cessation of a vortex, the attention of one who has been
looking at it turns towards the depth, immeasurability and boundlessness
of the great ocean. This line of reflection might even enable one to get
a glimpse of an unworldly beauty in this philosophy of the void, which
drives an unfounded fear into the minds of the worldlings.
We do get positive proof of this fact in such sections of the
Dham-mapada as those entitled The Flowers, The Worthy, The Buddha and
The Brahmin, as well as in a number of discourses in the Sutta Nipāta,
where we come across marvellously scintillating verses. This is
understandable, since the dawn of that wisdom which sees the voidness of
a self and of everything belonging to a self, and the attainment of the
fruits of the path in the light of that wisdom, marks the efflorescence
as well as the fruition of the saüsāric existence of a being.
This idea comes up, for instance, in the section on flowers in the
Padumaü tattha jāyetha,
top of a rubbish heap,
Dumped by the highway side,
There blossoms forth a lotus,
Pure in fragrance and charming.
the worldlings blind,
The Fully Awakened One's disciple,
Outshines them in marked contrast,
In point of wisdom bright."
So, then, the arahant is that charming lotus, arising out of the
cesspool of saüsāra. Surely there cannot be anything frightful about it.
There is nothing to get scared about this prospect.
In our last sermon we quoted from a discourse that gives some new
definitions and new concepts of the world.6
We brought up two statements from the Lokakāmaguõasutta (No. 1) of the
Saëāyatanavagga in the Saüyutta Nikāya. The first statement is somewhat
riddle-like. There the Buddha addresses the monks and declares:
Nāhaü, bhikkhave, gamanena lokassa antaü ¤ātayyaü, daņņhayyaü,
pattayyan'ti vadāmi. Na ca panāhaü, bhikkhave, appatvā lokassa antaü
dukkhassa antakiriyaü vadāmi.7
"Monks, I do not say that by travelling one can come to know or see or
reach the end of the world. Nor do I say that without reaching the end
of the world one can put an end to suffering."
We also mentioned, the other day, the explanation given by Venerable
ânanda to this cryptic statement at the request of those monks who
approached him to get it clarified. That explanation embodies the
definition given by the Buddha to the term world. It is not the common
concept of the world.
Yena kho, āvuso, lokasmiü lokasa¤¤ã hoti lokamānã, ayaü vuccati
ariyassa vinaye loko. Kena c'āvuso lokasmiü lokasa¤¤ã hoti lokamānã?
Cakkhunā kho, āvuso, lokasmiü lokasa¤¤ã hoti lokamānã, sotena ...
ghānena ... jivhāya ... kāyena ... manena kho, āvuso, lokasmiü lokasa¤¤ã
hoti lokamānã. Yena kho, āvuso, lokasmiü lokasa¤¤ã hoti lokamānã, ayaü
vuccati ariyassa vinaye loko.
"Friends, that by which one has a perception of the world and has a
conceit of the world, that in this discipline of the Noble Ones is
called `the world'. By what, friends, has one a perception of the world
and a conceit of the world?
By the eye, friends, one has a perception of the world and a conceit of
the world, by the ear ... by the nose ... by the tongue ... by the body
... by the mind ... That, friends, by which one has a perception of the
world and a conceit of the world, that in this discipline of the Noble
Ones is called `the world'."
That with which the world is measured, that itself is called `the
world'. The above-mentioned measuring rods, namely the eye, the ear, the
nose, the tongue, the body and the mind, give us a conceit of the world
and a perception of the world. Apart from these six there is no way of
knowing a world. All theories about the world are founded on these six
By way of a simple illustration, we alluded to the fact that in the
absence of any standard measuring rod, we resort to the primordial
scales based on this physical frame of ours, such as the inch, the span,
the foot and the fathom. The subtlest scale of measurement, however, is
that based on the mind. It is in this mode of measuring and reckoning
that concepts and designations play their part. But the Buddha's
philosophy of the void goes against all these mental modes. His exorcism
by the vision of the void fumigates all concepts and designations.
The six sense-bases are therefore so many scales of measurement. It is
with the help of these that the world is measured. So the above
definition of the world brings out the "prepared", saīkhata, nature of
the world. It is a thought-construct.
This does not amount to a negation of the role of materiality. All we
mean to say is that the concept of the world is actually an outcome of
these six sense bases. To that extent it is something prepared, a
While discussing the ten indeterminate points on a previous occasion, we
happened to mention that the first four among them concern the world.8
world is eternal".
2. "The world is not eternal".
3. "The world is finite".
4. "The world is infinite".
theorists meant by the term world in this context is none other than
that prepared world which is constructed by the six sense-bases. That is
to say, it is just the concept of the world.
However, they were not aware of the fact that their concept of the world
is a thought-construct, because they had no insight into the law of
dependent arising. They did not understand that these are mere pre-parations.
The fallacy involved here, that is, the inability to understand that
their concept of the world is the outcome of wrong attention, we
illustrated by the simile of the magic kettle.
In an exhibition a magic kettle is displayed from which water keeps on
flowing into a basin. One curious onlooker is waiting to see the kettle
empty, while the other is waiting to see the basin overflowing. Both are
unaware of the fact that a hidden tube conveys the water back again to
the kettle, unseen through the same flow of water.
The ordinary concept of the world carries with it the same fallacy. The
worldlings under the sway of defilements, which thrive on the perception
of the compact, ghanasa¤¤ā, have the habit of grasping everything. The
ordinary man of the world, fully overcome by craving and grasping,
entertains a perception of permanence since he has no insight. That is
why he regards the world as a unit due to his perception of the compact,
as he takes cognizance only of the arising aspect, ignoring the decaying
Whether such a world is eternal or not, is the point at issue in the
case of the first set of questions mentioned above, while the next set
poses the dilemma whether it is finite or infinite. What is at the root
of all those ill-conceived notions, is the premise that it is possible
to posit an absolute existence or an absolute non-existence. In other
words, the two extreme views `everything exists' and `nothing exists'.
The unique norm of dependent arising, which the Buddha discovered,
dismisses both those extreme views. It is set forth in the
Kaccāya-nagottasutta of the Nidānasaüyutta in the Saüyutta Nikāya, which
we have quoted earlier too.9
We shall, however, bring up again the relevant section to elucidate this
Dvayanissito khvāyaü, Kaccāyana, loko yebhuyyena: atthita¤ceva
natthita¤ca. Lokasamudayaü kho, Kaccāyana, yathābhåtaü sam-mappa¤¤āya
passato yā loke natthitā sā na hoti. Lokanirodhaü kho, Kaccāyana,
yathābhåtaü sammappa¤¤āya passato yā loke atthitā sā na hoti.10
"This world, Kaccāyana, for the most part, bases its views on two
things: on existence and non-existence. Now, Kaccāyana, to one who with
right wisdom sees the arising of the world as it is, the view of
non-existence regarding the world does not occur. And to one who with
right wisdom sees the cessation of the world as it really is, the view
of existence regarding the world does not occur."
This is where our simile of the magic kettle becomes meaningful. Had
both onlookers understood that the magic kettle is getting filled at the
same time it gets emptied, and that the basin also gets filled while it
is being emptied, they would not have the curiosity to go on looking at
In contradistinction to both these viewpoints, the law of dependent
arising promulgated by the Buddha transcends them by penetrating into
the concept as such. The Buddha explained the arising of the world in
terms of the twelve factors, beginning with "dependent on ignorance
preparations", precisely because it cannot be presented in one word.
Usually, the formula of dependent arising is summed up with the words
ayaü dukkhasamudayo, "this is the arising of suffering", or with the
more conclusive statement evam etassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa
samudayo hoti, "thus is the arising of this entire mass of suffering".
There are also instances of explaining the arising of the world through
the principle underlying the norm of dependent arising. The world arises
in the six sense-bases. It is at the same time the arising of suffering.
The arising of suffering is almost synonymous with the arising of the
The law of dependent arising is an explanation of the way a concept of
the world comes about. This is an extremely subtle point. Since the
concept of the world is a product of wrong reflection, it is saīkhata,
or "prepared". It is like something imagined. The saīkhata, or the
"prepared", has a certain circularity about it.
In fact, the two dilemmas mentioned above involve the question of time
and space. The question whether the world is eternal or not eternal
concerns time, whereas the question whether the world is finite or
infinite relates to space. Both time and space involve a circularity.
The furthest limit of the forenoon is the nearest limit of the
afternoon, and the furthest limit of the afternoon is the nearest limit
of the forenoon. This is how the cycle of the day turns round. Where the
forenoon ends is the afternoon, where the afternoon ends is the
A similar time cycle is to be found even in one moment. Rise and fall
occur as a cycle even within a single moment. The same process goes on
within an aeon. That is why an aeon is said to have the two aspects
called saüvatta, "contraction", and vivaņņa, "expansion". World systems
go on contracting and expanding.
The so-called existence of the world is a continuous process of
contraction and expansion. Therefore it is impossible to find any
be-ginning or end. The very question of a first beginning is ill
conceived. It is like an attempt to find a starting point in a cycle. It
is a problem that cannot be solved by speculation.
Because of the cyclic nature of existence, rise and fall is
characteristic of every single moment. It is by ignoring the decaying
aspect inherent in one moment that wrong reflection gives rise to the
inference that there must be an absolute end of the world.
Because the visible world gets destroyed, one conceives of an absolute
end of the world. But when one world system gets destroyed, another
world system gets crystallized somewhere else. Speculative views and
standpoints about the universe, current among the worldlings, are of
such a misleading nature that any reasoning based on them leads to a
circularity of argument as is evident from the Lokāyatikābrāhmaõāsutta
among the Nines of the Aīguttara Nikāya.
This discourse is about two Lokāyatikābrāhmins. The term Lokāya-tika is
a derivative from lokāyata, which signifies a branch of knowledge
dealing with the length and breadth of the world, perhaps a prototype of
modern science, though it relied more on logic than on experiment. The
two Brahmins were probably students of such a branch of learning. One
day they came to the Buddha and posed this question:
"Sire Gotama, now there is this teacher Påraõa Kassapa who claims
omniscience, saying that he sees everything and has knowledge and vision
of everything while walking or standing, whether asleep or awake. With
these claims to omniscience, he makes the following declaration:"
Ahaü anantena ¤āõena anantaü lokaü jānaü passaü viharāmi.11
"I dwell knowing and seeing an infinite world with an infinite
"But then there is this teacher Nigaõņha Nāthaputta who also has
simi-lar claims to omniscience, but declares: Ahaü antavantena ¤āõena
antavantaü lokaü jānaü passaü viharāmi. "I dwell knowing and seeing a
finite world with a finite knowledge."
Then the two Brahmins ask the Buddha which of these two teachers
claiming omniscience in such contradictory terms is correct. But the
Buddha's reply was: Alaü brāhmaõā, tiņņhat' etaü ... Dhammaü vo
desissāmi, "enough, brahmins, let that question be ... I shall preach to
you the Dhamma."
The expression used here is suggestive of the fact that the question
belongs to the category of unexplained points. Terms like ņhapita, "left
aside", and ņhapanãya, "should be left aside", are used with reference
to indeterminate points.
Why did the Buddha leave the question aside? We can guess the reason,
though it is not stated as such. Now the standpoint of Påraõa Kassapa
is: "I dwell knowing and seeing an infinite world with an infinite
knowledge." One can question the validity of his claim with the
objection: You see an infinite world, because your knowledge is not
finite, that is to say, incomplete. If it is complete, there must be an
end. Therefore, going by the sense of incompleteness in the word anantaü,
one can refute the former view. Why you see the world as infinite is
because your knowledge lacks finality.
Nigaõņha Nāthaputta, on the other hand, is asserting that he sees a
finite world with a finite knowledge. But the followers of Påraõa
Kassapa can raise the objection: you are seeing the world as finite
because your knowledge is limited. Your knowledge has an end, that is
why you see a finite world. So here, too, we have a circle, or rather a
circularity of argument. The two terms anta and ananata are ambiguous.
That must be the reason why the Buddha rejected the two standpoints in
Then he declares: "I shall preach to you the Dhamma", and brings up as a
simile an illustration which could be summed up as follows. Four persons
endowed with the highest ability to walk, the highest speed and the
widest stride possible, stand in the four directions. Their speed is
that of an arrow and their stride is as wide as the distance between the
eastern ocean and the western ocean. Each of them tells himself: `I will
reach the end of the world by walking' and goes on walking for hundred
years, that being his full life-span, resting just for eating, drinking,
defecating, urinating and giving way to sleep or fatigue, only to die on
the way without reaching the end of the world.
`But why so?', asks the Buddha rhetorically and gives the following
explanation. "I do not say, O! Brahmins, that the end of the world can
be known, seen or reached by this sort of running. Nor do I say that
there is an ending of suffering without reaching the end of the world."
Then he declares: "Brahmins, it is these five strands of sense pleasures
that in the Noble One's discipline are called `the world'".
In this particular context, the Buddha calls these five kinds of
sense-pleasures `the world' according to the Noble One's terminology.
This does not contradict the earlier definition of the world in terms of
the six sense-bases, for it is by means of these six sense-bases that
one enjoys the five strands of sense-pleasures. However, as an art of
preaching, the Buddha defines the world in terms of the five strands of
sense-pleasures in this context.
Then he goes on to proclaim the way of transcending this world of the
five sense pleasures in terms of jhānic attainments. When one attains to
the first jhāna, one is already far removed from that world of the five
sense-pleasures. But about him, the Buddha makes the following
Aham pi, brāhmaõā, evaü vadāmi: `ayam pi lokapariyāpanno, ayam pi
anissaņo lokamhā'ti, "and I too, O! Brahmins, say this: `This one, too,
is included in the world, this one, too, has not stepped out of the
world'". The Buddha makes the same pronouncement with regard to those
who attain to the other jhānic levels. But finally he comes to the last
step with these words:
Puna ca paraü, brāhmaõā, bhikkhu sabbaso nevasa¤¤ānāsa¤¤āya-tanaü
samatikkama sa¤¤āvedayitanirodhaü upasampajja viharati, pa¤¤āya c' assa
disvā āsavā parikkhãõā honti. Ayaü vuccati, brāhmaõā, bhikkhu lokassa
antam āgamma lokassa ante viharati tiõõo loke visattikaü.
"But then, O! Brahmins, a monk, having completely transcended the sphere
of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, attains to and abides in the
cessation of perceptions and feelings, and in him, having seen with
wisdom, the influxes are made extinct. This one, O! Brahmins, is known
as one who, on reaching the end of the world, is dwelling at its very
end, having crossed over the agglutinative craving".
Going by these discourses, one might conclude that the cessation of
perceptions and feelings is actually Nibbāna itself. But the most
important part of the above quotation is the statement pa¤¤āya c' assa
disvā āsavā parikkhãõā honti, "having seen with wisdom, the influxes are
made extinct in him". While in the attainment of the cessation of
perceptions and feelings, all preparations subside and it is on rising
from it that all influxes are made extinct by the vision of wisdom.
This fact comes to light in the following answer of Venerable
Dhammadiõõā Therã to the question raised by the lay-follower Visākha,
her former husband, in the Cåëavedalla Sutta.
Sa¤¤āvedayitanirodhasamāpattiyā vuņņhitaü, kho āvuso Visākha, bhikkhuü
tayo phassā phusanti: su¤¤ato phasso, animitta phasso, ap-paõihito
Visākha, when a monk has emerged from the attainment of the cessation of
perceptions and feelings, three kinds of contact touch him: voidness
contact, signless contact, desireless contact."
On this point, the commentary too, gives the explanation su¤¤atā nāma
means the attainment of the fruit of arahant-hood".
In answer to another question, Venerable Dhammadiõõā Therã says, Sa¤¤āvedayitanirodhasamāpattiyā
vuņņhitassa, kho āvuso Visākha, bhikkhuno vivekaninnaü cittaü hoti
vivekapoõaü vivekapabbhāraü, "Friend Visākha, when a monk has emerged
from the attainment of the cessation of perceptions and feelings, his
mind inclines to seclusion, slants to seclusion, tends to seclusion".
Here the commentary explains nibbānaü viveko nāma, "what is called
seclusion is Nibbāna".
So it is on emerging from the attainment of the cessation of perceptions
and feelings, that is in the arahattaphalasamādhi, references to which
we have cited earlier,14
that Nibbāna is realized. It is then that one actually sees the end of
So from this we can well infer that in advancing a new definition of the
world, in introducing a new concept of the world, the Buddha was not
trying to sidetrack the moot point of the worldlings by bringing in
something totally irrelevant. He was simply rejecting for some sound
reason the worldlings' concept of the world, which is born of wrong
reflection, and illustrating the correct measuring rod, the true
criterion of judgement regarding the origin of the concept of the world
according to radical reflection.
Out of all the discourses dealing with the question of the end of the
world and the end of suffering, perhaps the most significant is the
Rohitassa Sutta, which is found in the Sagāthakasaüyutta of the Saüyutta
Nikāya, as well as in the section of the Fours in the Aīguttara Nikāya.
Once when the Buddha was staying at the Jetavana monastery at Sāvatthã,
a deity named Rohitassa visited him in the night and asked the following
question: "Where Lord one does not get born, nor grow old, nor die, nor
pass away, nor get reborn, is one able, Lord, by travelling to come to
know that end of the world or to see it or to get there?"
The Buddha replies: "Where, friend, one does not get born, nor grow old,
nor die, nor pass away, nor get reborn, that end of the world, I say,
one is not able by travelling to come to know or to see or to arrive
When the Buddha gave this brief answer, the deity Rohitassa praised him
with the following words of approbation: Acchariyaü bhante, abbhutaü
bhante, yāva subhāsitam idaü bhagavatā,15
"it is wonderful, Lord, it is marvellous, Lord, how well it is said by
the Exalted One."
Why did he express his approbation? Because he had already realized the
truth of the Buddha's statement by his own experience. Then he goes on
to relate the whole story of his past life.
"In times past, Lord, I was a seer, Rohitassa by name, son of Bhoja,
gifted so that I could fly through the air, and so swift, Lord, was my
speed that I could fly just as quickly as a master of archery,
well-trained, expert, proficient, a past master in his art, armed with a
strong bow, could without difficulty send a light arrow far past the
area coloured by a palm tree's shadow; and so great, Lord, was my stride
that I could step from the eastern to the western ocean. In me, Lord,
arose such a wish as this: `I will arrive at the end of the world by
walking'. And though such, Lord, was my speed and such my stride, and
though with a life span of a century, living for a hundred years, I
walked continuously for hundred years, except for the times spent in
eating, drinking, chewing or tasting, or in answering calls of nature,
and the time I gave to way to sleep or fatigue, yet I died on the way,
without reaching the end of the world. Wonderful is it, O! Lord,
marvellous is it, Lord, how well it is said by the Exalted One:
Where, friend, one does not get born, nor grow old, nor die, nor pass
away, nor get reborn, that end of the world, I say, one is not able by
travelling to come to know or to see or to arrive at."
It is at this point, that the Buddha comes out with a momentous
declaration, while granting Rohitassa's approbation.
Yattha kho, āvuso, na jāyati na jãyati na mãyati na cavati na upapajjati,
nāhaü taü `gamanena lokassa antaü ¤āteyyaü daņņheyyaü patteyyan'ti
vadāmi. Na cāhaü, āvuso, appatvā lokassa antaü dukkhassantakiriyaü
vadāmi. Api c'āhaü, āvuso, imasmiü yeva byāmamatte kaëevare sasa¤¤imhi
samanake loka¤ca pa¤¤āpemi lokasamudaya¤ca lokanirodha¤ca
"Where, friend, one does not get born, nor grow old, nor die, nor pass
away, nor get reborn, that end of the world, I say, one is not able by
travelling to come to know or to see or to arrive at. But neither do I
say, friend, that without having reached the end of the world there
could be an ending of suffering. It is in this very fathom-long physical
frame with its perceptions and mind, that I declare lies the world, the
arising of the world, the cessation of the world, and the path leading
to the cessation of the world."
This momentous declaration, which is comparable to a fearless lion's
roar that puts all religious and philosophical systems to flight, has
been misinterpreted by some who have not grasped its true significance.
They say that according to this discourse the cessation of the world is
not here and that only the other three are to be found in this
Such misinterpretations are the result of taking seriously various
far-fetched speculations of later origin about Nibbāna. According to
them, Nibbāna is some mysterious non-descript place of rest for the
arahants after their demise. One who goes by that kind of speculation is
not ready to accept the Buddha's declaration that it is in this very
fathom-long body with its perceptions and mind that a cessation of the
world can be realized.
The commentary in this context simply observes that the four noble
truths are to be found not in grass and twigs outside, but in this body
consisting of the four elements.16
It has nothing more to add. A certain modern scholar has rightly pointed
out that the commentator has missed a great opportunity for exegesis.17
The reason for the commentator's lack of interest, in the case of such a
discourse of paramount importance, is probably his predilection for
these later speculations on Nibbāna.
All what we have so far stated in explaining the significance of dis-courses
dealing with the subject of Nibbāna, could even be treated as a fitting
commentary to the Rohitassasutta.
The point of relevance is the couple of words sasa¤¤imhi samanake,
occurring in the discourse in question. This fathom-long physical frame
is here associated with perceptions and mind. The expression used by the
Buddha in this context is full of significance.
As we saw above, Venerable ânanda defines the term `world' as follows:
yena kho, āvuso, lokasmiü lokasa¤¤ã hoti lokamānã, ayaü vuc-cati
ariyassa vinaye loko. "Friends, that by which one has a perception of
the world and has a conceit of the world that in the discipline of the
Noble Ones is called `the world'." The conceit of the world is a form of
measuring with the mind. So the two words sasa¤¤imhi samanake are
suggestive of the concept of the world in the Noble Ones' discipline.
While discussing the significance of arahattaphalasamāpatti, also known
as a¤¤āphalasamādhi, and a¤¤āvimokkha, we had occasion to bring up such
quotations as the following:
Siyā nu kho, bhante, bhikkhuno tathāråpo samādhipaņilābho yathā neva
paņhaviyaü paņhavãsa¤¤ã assa, na āpasmiü āposa¤¤ã assa, na tejasmiü
tejosa¤¤ã assa, na vāyasmiü vāyosa¤¤ã assa, na ākāsāna¤-cāyatane ākāsāna¤cāyatanasa¤¤ã
assa, na vi¤¤āõa¤cāyatane vi¤-¤āõancāyatanasa¤¤ã assa, na āki¤ca¤¤āyatane
āki¤ca¤¤āyatanasa¤¤ã assa, na nevasa¤¤ānāsa¤¤āyatane nevasa¤¤ānāsa¤¤āyatanasa¤¤ã
assa, na idhaloke idhalokasa¤¤ã assa, na paraloke paralokasa¤¤ã assa,
yam p`idaü diņņhaü sutaü mutaü vi¤¤ātaü pattaü pariyesitaü anuvicaritaü
manasā tatrāpi na sa¤¤ã assa, sa¤¤ã ca pana assa?18
"Could there be, Lord, for a monk such an attainment of concentration
wherein he will not be conscious (literally: `percipient') of earth in
earth, nor of water in water, nor of fire in fire, nor of air in air,
nor will he be conscious of the sphere of infinite space in the sphere
of infinite space, nor of the sphere of infinite consciousness in the
sphere of infinite con-sciousness, nor of the sphere of nothingness in
the sphere of nothingness, nor of the sphere of
neither-perception-nor-non-perception in the sphere of
neither-perception-nor-non-perception, nor will he be conscious of a
this world in this world, nor of a world beyond in a world beyond,
whatever is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought after,
traversed by the mind, even of that he will not be conscious - and yet
he will be conscious?"
The arahattaphalasamādhi is so extraordinary that while in it one has no
perception of earth, water, fire and air, or of this world, or of the
other world, of whatever is seen, heard, sensed and cognized, but one is
all the same percipient or conscious, sa¤¤ã ca pana assa.
To the question: `Of what is he percipient?', kiü sa¤¤ã?, once
Ven-erable Sāriputta gave the answer that the perception is of Nibbāna
as the cessation of existence, bhavanirodho nibbānaü.19
In another discourse that we happened to quote, the mode of ques-tioning
has the following sequence: "Could there be, Lord, for a monk such an
attainment of concentration wherein he will not be attending to the eye,
nor to form, nor to the ear, nor to sound" etc., but ends with the
riddle like phrase "and yet he will be attending", manasi ca pana
When the Buddha grants the possibility of such a concentration,
Venerable ânanda rejoins with an inquisitive "how could there be,
Lord?", and the Buddha explains that what a monk attends to while in
that attainment could be summed up in the stereotyped phrase:
Etaü santaü, etaü paõãtaü, yadidaü sabbasaīkhārasamatho
sabbåpadhipaņinissaggo taõhakkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānaü, "this is
peaceful, this is excellent, namely the stilling of all preparations,
the relinquishment of all assets, the destruction of craving,
detachment, cessation, extinction."
It is Nibbāna, then, that one attends to while in that attainment. So we
find even the terms "perception", sa¤¤ā, and "attention", manasikāra,
being used in the context of arahattaphalasamāpatti, or "attainment to
the fruit of arahant-hood".
Therefore, Nibbāna is not an experience as dry as a log of wood, but a
state of serene awareness of its true significance. It is a
transcendence of the world by realization of its cessation. That is why
the two words sasa¤¤imhi samanake, "with its perceptions and mind", have
been used to qualify, kaëevare, "physical frame", or "body", in the
We also came across some instances in the discourses where the Buddha
calls the cessation of the six sense-spheres itself Nibbāna. The most
notable instance is perhaps the Kāmaguõasutta we had already quoted.21
As we saw, even its presentation is rather enigmatic. It runs.
Tasmātiha, bhikkhave, se āyatane veditabbe yattha cakkhu¤ca
niruj-jhati råpasa¤¤ā ca virajjati, se āyatane veditabbe yattha sota¤ca
nirujjhati saddasa¤¤ā ca virajjati, se āyatane veditabbe yattha ghāna¤ca
nirujjhati gandhasa¤¤ā ca virajjati, se āyatane veditabbe yattha jivhā
ca nirujjhati rasasa¤¤ā ca virajjati, se āyatane veditabbe yattha kāyo
ca nirujjhati phoņņabbasa¤¤ā ca virajjati, se āyatane veditabbe yattha
mano ca nirujjhati dhammasa¤¤ā ca virajjati, se āyatane veditabbe.22
"Therefore, monks, that sphere should be known wherein the eye ceases
and the perception of forms fades away, the ear ceases and the
perception of sounds fades away, the nose ceases and the perception of
smells fades away, the tongue ceases and the perception of tastes fades
away, the body ceases and the perception of tangibles fades away, the
mind ceases and the perception of ideas fades away, that sphere should
Venerable ânanda, commenting on this riddle-like sermon of the Buddha,
concludes that the Buddha is here referring to the cessation of the six
sense-spheres, saëāyatananirodhaü, āvuso, Bhagavatā sandhāya bhā-sitaü.
"Friends, it is with reference to the cessation of the six sense-spheres
that the Exalted One has preached this sermon." The cessation of the six
sense-spheres is Nibbāna.
All this goes to show that the concept of a world is the product of the
six sense-spheres. Those six measuring rods have measured out a world
Since the world is built up by the six sense-spheres, it has also to
cease by the cessation of those six sense-spheres. That is why Nibbāna
is defined as the cessation of the six sense-spheres, saëāyatananirodho
Nibbānaü. All those measuring rods and scales lose their applicability
with the cessation of the six sense-spheres.
How can there be an experience of cessation of the six sense-spheres?
The cessation here meant is actually the cessation of the spheres of
contact. A sphere of contact presupposes a duality. Contact is always
between two things, between eye and forms, for instance. It is because
of a contact between two things that one entertains a perception of
permanence in those two things. Dependent on that contact, feelings and
perceptions arise, creating a visual world. The visual world of the
humans differs from that of animals. Some things that are visible to
animals are not visible to humans. That is due to the constitution of
the eye-faculty. It is the same with regard to the ear-faculty. These
are the measuring rods and scales which build up a world.
Now this world, which is a product of the spheres of sense-contact, is a
world of papa¤ca, or "proliferation". Nibbāna is called nippapa¤ca
because it transcends this proliferation, puts an end to proliferation.
The end of proliferation is at the same time the end of the six
There is a discourse in the section of the Fours in the Aīguttara Nikāya
which clearly brings out this fact. There we find Venerable Mahākoņņhita
putting a question to Venerable Sāriputta on this point. Venerable
Mahākoņņhita and Venerable Sāriputta are often found discussing
intricate points in the Dhamma, not because they are in doubt, but in
order to clarify matters for us. They are thrashing out problems for our
sake. In this particular instance, Venerable Mahākoņņhita puts the
following question to Venerable Sāriputta:
Channaü, āvuso, phassāyatanānaü asesavirāganirodhā atth'a¤¤aü ki¤ci?23
"Friend, with the remainderless fading away and cessation of the six
spheres of sense-contact, is there something left?"
Venerable Sāriputta's response was: Mā hevaü āvuso, "do not say so,
friend." Venerable Mahākoņņhita follows it up with three other possible
alternatives, all of which Venerable Sāriputta dismisses with the same
curt reply. The three alternatives are:
Channaü, āvuso, phassāyatanānaü asesavirāganirodhā natth' a¤-¤aü ki¤ci?
"Friend, with the remainderless fading away and cessation of the six
spheres of sense-contact, is there nothing left?"
Channaü, āvuso, phassāyatanānaü asesavirāganirodhā atthi ca natthi ca
a¤¤aü ki¤ci? "Friend, with the remainderless fading away and cessation
of the six spheres of sense-contact, is it the case that there is and is
not something left?"
Channaü, āvuso, phassāyatanānaü asesavirāganirodhā nev'atthi no natth'a¤¤aü
ki¤ci? "Friend, with the remainderless fading away and cessation of the
six spheres of sense-contact, is it the case that there neither is nor
is not something left?"
The mode of questioning takes the form of a tetralemma and Venerable
Sāriputta dismisses all the four alternatives as inapplicable. Then
Venerable Mahākoņņhita asks why all these four questions were ruled out,
and Venerable Sāriputta explains:
`Channaü, āvuso, phassāyatanānaü asesavirāganirodhā atth' a¤¤aü ki¤cã'ti,
iti vadaü appapa¤caü papa¤ceti. `Channaü, āvuso, phassāyatanānaü
asesavirāganirodhā natth'a¤¤aü ki¤cã'ti, iti vadaü appapa¤caü papa¤ceti.
`Channaü, āvuso, phassāyatanānaü asesavirāganirodhā atthi ca natthi ca
a¤¤aü ki¤cã'ti, iti vadaü ap-papa¤caü papa¤ceti. `Channaü, āvuso,
phassāyatanānaü asesavi-rāganirodhā nev'atthi no natth'a¤¤aü ki¤cã'ti,
iti vadaü appapa¤caü papa¤ceti.
Yāvatā, āvuso, channaü phassāyatanānaü gati tāvatā papa¤cassa gati,
yāvatā papa¤cassa gati tāvatā channaü phassāyatanānaü gati. Channaü,
āvuso, phassāyatanānaü asesavirāganirodhā papa¤-canirodho papa¤cavåpasamo.
"Friend, he who says: `With the remainderless fading away and cessation
of the six spheres of sense-contact, there is something left' is
conceptually proliferating what should not be proliferated conceptually.
Friend, he who says: `With the remainderless fading away and cessation
of the six spheres of sense-contact, there is nothing left' is
conceptually proliferating what should not be proliferated conceptually.
Friend, he who says: `With the remainderless fading away and cessation
of the six spheres of sense-contact, there is and is not something left'
is conceptually proliferating what should not be proliferated
conceptually. Friend, he who says: `With the remainderless fading away
and cessation of the six spheres of sense-contact, there neither is nor
is not something left' is conceptually proliferating what should not be
Friend, whatever is the range of the six spheres of sense-contact, that
itself is the range of conceptual proliferation, and whatever is the
range of conceptual proliferation, that itself is the range of the six
spheres of sense-contact. By the remainderless fading away and cessation
of the six spheres of sense-contact, there comes to be the cessation and
appeasement of conceptual proliferation."
The commentator gives the following explanation to the expression atth'
a¤¤aü ki¤ci, "is there something left?": `tato paraü koci appamattako pi
kileso atthã'ti pucchati.24
According to him, Venerable Mahākoņņhita is asking whether there is even
a little defilement left after the cessation of the six spheres of
sense-contact. But the question is obviously not about the remaining
defilements, in which case even a categorical negative could have been
the correct answer. The question here is about the very usage of the
expressions `is' and `is not'.
With the cessation of the six spheres of sense-contact all four
pro-positions of the tetralemma, based on the two standpoints `is' and
`is not', lose their applicability. They are rejected in toto. Here the
papa¤ca, or "conceptual proliferation", implied, is the very
discrimination between `is' and `is not'.
The entire world is built up on the two concepts `is' and `is not'.
Being unaware of the saīkhata, or "prepared", nature of these concepts,
we are accustomed to say `this is' as occasion demands. This recording
machine before us `is there'. So also are the things which we presume to
exist. We ourselves do exist, do we not? One could say `I am'.
Out of the two rapid processes going on within us every moment, namely
arising and passing away, we are most of the time dwelling on the side
of arising. The two concepts `is' and `is not' are structured on the six
spheres of sense-contact. Not only `is' and `is not', but also the
entire logical structure connecting these two postulates is founded on
these six spheres. Here, then, we see the fistfuls of inflammable
incense powder the Buddha had directed towards language and logic,
setting all that ablaze.
What this discourse highlights is the fact that by the very cessation of
the six spheres of sense-contact the cessation of conceptual
proliferation is brought about. With reference to speculative views,
particularly to those wrong views that were put aside as unexplained
points, the Buddha uses the term diņņhipariëāha, "delirium of views".25
Pariëāha means "delirious fever".
Patients in delirium cry out for water. The worldlings, in general, are
in high delirium. Even such teachers like Påraõa Kassapa and Nigaõņha
Nātaputta, who were trying to solve these speculative problems about the
world by logic, were also in delirium. Their views, based on wrong
reflec-tions, were mere hallucinations. They kept on raising such
questions, because they had no insight into the nature of saīkhāras, or
The worldlings spend their whole lifetime running in search of the
world's end. All that is papa¤ca, conceptual proliferation. In fact, the
term papa¤ca is so pervasive in its gamut of meaning that it encompasses
the entire world. Usually, the term is glossed over by explaining it
with reference to taõhā, māna and diņņhi, bringing in craving, conceits
and views as illustrations of papa¤ca. But that does not amount to an
explanation proper. It is only a definition in extension by giving three
instances of papa¤ca. To rattle off the three instances is not a fit
answer to the question `what is papa¤ca'.
The primary significance of papa¤ca is traceable to the linguistic
medium. We have already shown how the network of grammar spreads as soon
as the peg `am' is driven down to earth, as it were.26
The reality in the first person in grammar beckons a second and a third
person to complete the picture. In logic, too, a similar legerdemain
takes place. The interminable questions of identity and difference lead
the logician up the garden path.
The `world' is precariously perched on a fictitious network of grammar
It is as a solution to all this that the Buddha came out with the ex-traordinary
prospect of a cessation of the six spheres of sense-contact. This, then,
is a level of experience realizable here and now. That is why the Buddha
declared that the world is in this very fathom-long body with its
perceptions and mind.
Now as to the questions about the world, we have already pointed out
that there is a circularity involved. Though one cannot find an end in
something of a cyclic nature, there is still a solution possible. There
is only one solution, that is, to break the cycle. That is what the term
vaņņupaccheda means. One can breach the cycle. The cycle cannot be
discovered by travelling. It is not out there, but in this very stream
of consciousness within us. We have already described it as the vortex
between consciousness and name-and-form. An allusion to the breach of
the vortex is found in the following verse, which we have already
discussed in connection with Nibbāna.
anantaü sabbato pabhaü,
ettha āpo ca paņhavã,
tejo vāyo na gādhati.
aõuü thålaü subhāsubhaü,
ettha nāma¤ca råpa¤ca,
"Consciousness, which is non-manifestative,
Endless, lustrous on all sides,
Here it is that earth and water,
Fire and air no footing find.
Here it is that long and short,
Fine and coarse, pleasant, unpleasant,
And Name-and-form are cut off without exception,
When consciousness has surceased,
These are held in check herein."
can see how name-and-form are cut off. Vi¤¤āõaü anidassanaü, anantaü
sabbato pabhaü, "consciousness, which is non-manifestative, infinite and
lustrous on all sides". In this consciousness even the four great
primaries earth, water, fire and air, do not find a footing. Cakkavāla,
or a world-system, is supposed to be made up of these four primary
elements. Even the term cakkavāla implies something cyclic. The world is
a product of these primary elements, but these are not there in that
Such relative distinctions as long and short, subtle and gross, have no
place in it. Name-and-form cease there, leaving no residue. Like an
expert physician, who treats the germ of a disease and immunizes the
patient, the Buddha effected a breach in the saüsāric vortex by
concentrating on its epicycle within this fathom-long body.
The ever recurrent process of mutual interrelation between con-sciousness
and name-and-form forming the epicycle of the saüsāric vortex was
breached. With the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of
name-and-form. With the cessation of name-and-form comes the cessation
of consciousness. That is the dictum of the Naëaka-lāpãsutta.28
Out of the two bundles of reeds left standing, supporting each other,
when one is drawn the other falls down. Even so, with the cessation of
consciousness comes the cessation of name-and-form. With the cessation
of name-and-form comes the cessation of consciousness. That is how the
Buddha solved this problem.
M I 436, MahāMālunkyasutta.
 S I 14, Arahantasutta,
see sermon 13.
 Ud 3, Bodhivagga.
 S III 89,
 Dhp 58-59, Pupphavagga.
 See sermon 22.
 S IV 93,
 See sermon 20.
 See sermons 4 and 22.
 S II 17,
 A IV 428,
 M I 302,
 Ps II 367.
 See sermons 16 and
 S I 61 and A II 49
 Spk I 118 and Mp
 Mrs. Rhys Davids:
The Book of the Kindred Sayings, PTS 1979, p 86 n 3.
 A V 318, Sa¤¤āsutta,
see also sermon 16.
 A V 9,
Sāriputtasutta, see also sermon 17.
 A V 321,
Manasikārasutta, see also sermon 16
 See sermon 17.
 S IV 98,
 A II 161,
 Mp III 150.
 A II 11, Yogasutta.
 See sermons 13 and
 D I 223,
Kevaķķhasutta, see also sermon 6.
 S II 114,
Naëakalāpãsutta, see also sermon 3.