Nibbàna Sermon 13
by Bhikkhu K. Ñänananda



Nibbana Sermons Part 1 - 7


Nibbàna Sermon 08

Nibbàna Sermon 09

Nibbàna Sermon 10

Nibbàna Sermon 11

Nibbàna Sermon 12

Nibbàna Sermon 13

Nibbàna Sermon 14

Nibbàna Sermon 15

Nibbàna Sermon 16

Nibbàna Sermon 17

Nibbàna Sermon 18

Nibbàna Sermon 19

Nibbàna Sermon 20

Nibbàna Sermon 21

Nibbàna Sermon 22

Nibbàna Sermon 23

Nibbàna Sermon 24

Nibbàna Sermon 25


Nibbàna Sermon 13

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

Etaü santaü, etaü paõãtaü, yadidaü sabbasaïkhàra­samatho sabbåpadhipañinissaggo taõhakkhayo viràgo nirodho nibbànaü.[1]

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

With the per­mission of the Most Venerable Great Preceptor and the assem­bly of the venerable medi­tative monks. 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.[2]

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.[3] But it is clear enough that the particle 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 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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]  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'".[9]

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 .[10] 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.[11] 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."[12] 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".[13]

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.[14] 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."[15]

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."[16] 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.[17] 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.[18] 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'."[19]

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".[20]

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,[21] though it has different connotations now. As exemplified by such quotations as àraddhaviriyo pa­ramatthapattiyà,[22] "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".[23] 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".[24]

Commentators seem to have interpreted this attitude as an index to the abstruseness of the discourse.[25] 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.[26] 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 ­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".[27] 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.[28] 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'.[29]

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.

Amosadhammaü Nibbànaü,

tad ariyà saccato vidå,

te ve saccàbhisamayà,

nicchàtà parinibbutà.

"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."[30]

The first verse makes it clear that imagining is at the root of ­¤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,[31]  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.[32] 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.[33] 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". [34] 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.[35]

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.[36] 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".[37]

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,

khãõàsavo antimadehadhàrã,

`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."[38]

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.[39] 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.   

[1] M I 436, MahàMàlunkyasutta. < back

[2] M I 1, Målapariyàyasutta. < back

[3] Ps I 41. < back

[4] A III 6, Kàmasutta; see also Dhp 379, Bhikkhuvagga. < back

[5] Ps I 28. < back

[6] E.g. D I 70, Sàma¤¤aphalasutta. < back

[7] See sermon 11. < back

[8] See sermon 1. < back

[9] M I 487, Aggivacchagottasutta. < back

[10] See sermon 12. < back

[11] Ps I 38. < back

[12] M I 266, MahàTaõhàsaïkhayasutta. < back

[13] M II 265, âne¤jasappàyasutta. < back

[14] See sermon 2. < back

[15] S I 54, Kakudhasutta. < back

[16] Vibh-a 53. < back

[17] See sermon 12. < back

[18] See sermons 9 and 12. < back

[19] A III 413, Nibbedhikasutta. < back

[20] Sn 874, Kalahavivàdasutta; see sermon 11. < back

[21] E.g. at S 219, Munisutta; and Th 748, TelakàniTheragàthà. < back

[22] Sn 68, Khaggavisàõasutta. < back

[23] E.g. at M I 12, Sabbàsavasutta. < back

[24] M I 6, Målapariyàyasutta. < back

[25] Ps I 56. < back

[26] S IV 201, Yavakalàpisutta. < back

[27] Dhp 33, Cittavagga. < back

[28] See sermons 11 and 12. < back

[29] See sermon 10. < back

[30] Sn 757-758, Dvayatànupassanàsutta. < back

[31] E.g. at D III 273, Dasuttarasutta < back

[32] M I 197, MahàSàropamasutta. < back

[33] See sermon 2. < back

[34] M II 265, âne¤jasappàyasutta. < back

[35] M I 145, Rathavinãtasutta; M I 130, Alagaddåpamasutta. < back

[36] See sermon 8; M I 329, Brahmanimantanikasutta. < back

[37] M I 251, CåëaTaõhàsaïkhayasutta. < back

[38] S I 14, Arahantasutta. < back

[39] D I 202, Poññhapàdasutta. < back



Source : http://www.beyondthenet.net/


Home | Links | Contact

Copy Right Issues  © What-Buddha-Taught.net