Nibbàna Sermon 14
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 14 


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 four­teenth sermon in the series of sermons on Nibbàna.

In our last sermon we gave a description of the forms of imagin­ings or methinkings, which the Buddha had compared to an ex­treme­ly subtle bondage of Màra. The Yavakalàpisutta of the Saëàyatana­saü­yutta in the Saüyutta Nikàya has shown us that all kinds of thoughts concerning ex­istence that stem from this subtle conceit `am', asmimàna, are mere imaginings or methinkings, and that they are called a bondage of Màra, because they have the power to keep beings shackled to exis­tence.[2]

We have seen how they follow a dichotomy, even like the di­lemma posed by the fivefold bondage of Vepacitti, the king of de­mons. Whether one thinks `I shall be' or `I shall not be', one is in bondage to Màra. Whether one thinks `I shall be per­cipient' or `I shall be non-percipient', or `I shall be neither-percipient-nor-non-percipient', one is still in bondage to Màra.

There is a dichotomy involved here. The fact that these imagin­ings, which follow a dichotomy, must be transcended completely, as well as the way to transcend them, has been preached by the Buddha to Venerable Pukkusàti in the Dhàtu­vibhaïgasutta of the Majjhima Nikàya.

There is a pithy pas­sage, forming the grand finale of this dis­course, in which the Buddha gives a resume. We propose to quote this passage at the very outset as it scintillates with a majestic fervour of the Dhamma.

Yatthaññhitaü ma¤¤ussavà nappavattanti, ma¤¤ussave kho pana nappavattamàne muni santo ti vuccatãti, iti kho pan'etaü vuttaü. Ki¤ c`etaü pañicca vuttaü?

Asmãti bhikkhu ma¤¤itam etaü, ayam aham asmãti ma¤­¤i­tam etaü, bhavissan'ti ma¤¤itam etaü, na bhavissan'ti ma¤­¤itam etaü, råpã bhavissan'ti ma¤¤itam etaü, aråpã bha­vis­san'ti ma¤¤itam etaü, sa¤¤ã bhavissan'ti ma¤¤itam etaü, a­sa¤­¤ã bhavissan'ti ma¤¤itam etaü, nevasa¤¤ãnàsa¤¤ã bhavis­san'ti ma¤¤itam etaü.

Ma¤¤itaü, bhikkhu, rogo, ma¤¤itaü gaõóo, ma¤¤itaü sal­laü. Sab­bama¤¤itànaü tveva, bhikkhu, samatikkamà muni san­to ti vuc­cati.

Muni kho pana, bhikkhu, santo na jàyati na jiyyati na miy­yati na kuppati na piheti. Tam pi'ssa bhikkhu natthi yena jà­yetha, ajàya­màno kiü jiyyissati, ajiyyamàno kiü miyyissati, amiyyamàno kiü kuppissati, akuppamàno kissa pihessati?

Yatthaññhitaü ma¤¤ussavà nappavattanti, ma¤¤ussave kho pana nappavattamàne muni santo ti vuccatãti, iti yaü taü vut­taü, idam etaü pañicca vuttaü. [3]

In the Dhàtuvibhaïgasutta we find the Buddha presenting some points as the theme and gradually developing it, analys­ing, clarify­ing, and expatiating, as the discourse proceeds. The opening sentence in the above paragraph is a quotation of a part of that original state­ment of the Buddha, which forms the theme. Here is the rendering:

"`Steadied whereon the tides of imaginings no longer occur in him, and when the tides of imaginings occur no more in him, he is called a sage stilled', so it was said. And with refer­ence to what was this said?

`Am', monk, is something imagined; `I am this' is some­thing imagined; `I shall be' is something imagined; `I shall not be' is some­thing imagined; `I shall be possessed of form' is something imag­ined; `I shall be formless' is something imag­ined; `I shall be percipient' is something imagined; `I shall be non-percipient' is something imagined; `I shall be neither-per­cipient-nor-non-percipi­ent' is something imagined.

The imagined is a disease, the imagined is an abscess, the imag­ined is a dart. It is with the surmounting of all what is imag­ined, monk, that a sage is called `stilled'.

The sage who is stilled is not born, nor does he age, nor does he die, nor is he shaken, and he has no longing. Even that is not in him whereby he might be born. Not being born, how shall he age? Not ag­ing, how shall he die? Not dying, how shall he be shaken? Being un­shaken, what shall he long for?

So it was with reference to this, that it was said `steadied whereon the tides of imaginings no longer occur in him, and when the tides of imagining occur no more in him, he is called a sage stilled'."

All this goes to show how relevant the question of imagin­ings is to the path leading to Nibbàna. This pithy passage, which brings the discourse to a climax, portrays how the sage is at peace when his mind is released by stemming the tides of imaginings. He attains re­lease from birth, decay and death, here and now, because he has re­alized the cessation of exis­tence in this very world.

It is in this light that we have to interpret the above state­ment "even that is not in him whereby he might be born". De­pendent on existence is birth. Due to whatever postulate of existence one can speak of a `birth', even that existence is not in him. Not being born, how can he age? How can he grow old or decay? This is because of the implicit interrelation between conditions.

Here we can flash back to our analogy of a tree, mentioned ear­lier.[4] In order to explain the mutual interrelation between the con­cepts of birth, decay and death, we brought up a simile, which how­ever is not canonical. That is to say, supposing there is some kind of a tree, the buds, the leaves, the flowers, the fruits and the wood of which could be sold for making one's livelihood.

If five men trading in those items respectively are made to line up at some particular stage in the growth of this tree and asked whether the tree is too young or too old, the answers given might differ ac­cord­ing to the individual standpoint grasped in each case.

It turns out to be a difference of viewpoint. For instance, the man who makes his living by selling the buds would reply that the tree is too old when the buds turn into leaves. Simi­larly, when it is the sea­son for the leaves to fall and the flow­ers to bloom, one who trades in leaves might say that the tree is too old. And when flowers turn into fruits, the florist's view­point would be similar. In this way one can understand how this concept changes according to what one grasps - that there is an implicit relativity about it.

Now, as for this sage, he has given up everything that he had grasped. Grasping has been given up completely. Imagin­ing, too, has been abandoned. Hence, not being `born', how shall he age? The sage has no postulate of existence. Since there is no existence, there is no `birth'. Because there is no birth, there is no decay.

It is a well known fact that the term jarà implies both growth and decay. It is after setting a limit that we speak of a process of `decay', after `growth'. This limit, however, varies according to our individ­ual standpoint grasped - according to our point of view. That is what we have tried to illustrate by this analogy.

Then we have the statement "not aging, how shall he die?" Since decay is an approach to death, where there is no decay, there is no death. The fact that there is no death we have al­ready seen in our ex­position of the significance of the verses quoted above from the Adhi­mutta Theragàthà.[5] When the ban­dits got round to kill the Ven­er­able Adhimutta, he declared:

Na me hoti ahosin'ti,

bhavissan'ti na hoti me,

saïkhàrà vibhavissanti,

tattha kà paridevanà? [6]

"It does not occur to me `I was',

Nor does it occur to me `I shall be',

Mere preparations will get destroyed,

What is there to lament?"

This declaration exemplifies the above statement. When all grasp­ings are given up, there is no `decay' or `death'.

Amiyyamàno kiü kuppissati, "not dying, how shall he be shaken?" The verb kuppati does not necessarily mean "getting an­noyed". Here it means to be "shaken up" or "moved". When one holds on to a standpoint, one gets shaken up if someone else tries to dislodge him from that standpoint.

The deliverance in Nibbàna is called akuppà cetovimutti, the un­shakeable deliverance of the mind.[7] All other deliver­ances of the mind, known to the world, are shakeable, kuppa. They are unsteady. They shake before the pain of death. Only Nibbàna is called akuppà cetovimutti, the unshakeable deliv­erance of the mind.

So this peaceful sage, the arahant, established in that con­centra­tion of the fruit of arahant-hood, arahatta phalasamàdhi, which is known as the influx-free deliverance of the mind, anàsavà cetovi­mut­ti, and is endowed with the wisdom proper to arahant-hood, pa¤­¤à­vi­mutti, "deliverance through wis­dom", is unshaken before death. His mind remains unshaken. That is why the arahant Thera Venerable Adhi­mutta fearlessly made the above declaration to the bandits.

Now as to the significance of the Buddha's statement amiy­ya­màno kiü kuppissati, akuppamàno kissa pihessati, "not dy­ing, how shall he be shaken, and being unshaken, what shall he long for?" When there is no shock, no agitation or trem­bling, what does one long for? Pihà means longing, de­siring for something or other. In this context it refers to that longing which arises at the moment of death in one who has not de­stroyed craving.

It is as a consequence of that longing that he enters some form of existence, according to his kamma. That longing is not there in this sage, for the simple reason that he is unshaken be­fore death. He has nothing to look forward to. No desires or longings. Akuppamàno kis­sa pihessati, "being unshaken, what shall he long for?"

It is obvious, therefore, that the concepts of birth, decay and death become meaningless to this sage. That is precisely why he is at peace, having transcended all imaginings.

All this goes to show, that Nibbàna is a state beyond decay and death. We can clearly understand from this discourse why Nibbàna is known as a decayless, deathless state, realizable in this very world. That sage has conquered decay and death here and now, because he has realized the cessation of existence, here and now.

This is something extremely wonderful about the arahant. He re­alizes the cessation of existence in his attainment to the fruit of ara­hant-hood. How does he come to realize the cessa­tion of existence? Craving is extinct in him, hence there is no grasping. Where there is no grasping, there is no existence. Because there is no ex­istence, birth, decay and death, along with sorrow and lamentation, cease al­to­gether.

From the foregoing we could well infer that all those con­cepts like birth, decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair, come about as a result of a heap of pervert per­ceptions, pervert thoughts and pervert views, based on the conceit of an existence, the conceit `am'.

These three kinds of perversions known as sa¤¤àvipallàsa, cit­ta­vi­­pallàsa and diññhivipallàsa give rise to a mass of con­cepts of an imagi­nary nature. [8] The entire mass of suffering, summed up by the terms birth, decay, death, sorrow, lamenta­tion, pain, grief and de­spair, are basically of a mental origin.

For an illustration of this fact, we can go back to our anal­ogy of winding some strands into a rope, mentioned earlier. [9] We pointed out that in the case of some strands that are being mistakenly wound in the same direction, it is the grasp in the middle that gives at least a semblance of a rope to it. So long as there is no such grasping, the strands do not become knotty or tense, as they go round and round. It is only when someone grasps it in the middle that the strands begin to get winded up, knotty and tense. What is called existence, or be­coming, bhava, follows the same norm.

True to the law of impermanence, everything in the world changes. But there is something innocent in this change. Im­perma­nence is innocuous in itself. We say it is innocuous be­cause it means no harm to anyone. It is simply the nature of this world, the suchness, the norm. It can do us harm only when we grasp, just as in the case of that quasi rope.

The tenseness between winding and unwinding, arising out of that grasp in the middle, is comparable to what is called bhavasaïkhàra, "preparations for existence". Saïkhàrà, or preparations, are said to be dependent on avijjà, or ignorance.

Now we can form an idea of the relationship between these two even from this analogy of the rope. The grasp in the mid­dle creates two ends, giving rise to a dilemma. In the case of existence, too, grasp­ing leads to an antinomian conflict. To become a thing, is to dis­integrate into another thing.

On a previous occasion we happened to discuss the signifi­cance of the term ma¤¤anà, me-thinking or imagining, with reference to the verse yena yena hi ma¤¤ati, tato taü hoti a¤­¤athà.[10] Ma¤¤anà it­self gives rise to a `thing', which from its very inception goes on disintegrating into another thing.

Just as much as grasping leads to the concept of two ends, to be­come a thing is to start changing into another thing, that is, it comes under the sway of the law of impermanence. Illus­trations of this norm are sometimes to be met with in the dis­courses, but their sig­nificance is often ignored.

The idea of the two ends and the middle sometimes finds expres­sion in references to an `above', `below' and `across in the middle', ud­dhaü, adho, tiriyaü majjjhe; or in the terms `be­fore', `behind' and `middle', pure, pacchà, majjhe. Such references deal with some deep aspects of the Dhamma, relat­ing to Nibbàna.

As a good illustration, we may take up the following two verses from the Mettagåmàõavapucchà in the Pàràyanavagga of the Sutta Nipàta.

Yaü ki¤ci sampajànàsi,

uddhaü adho tiriyaü càpi majjhe,

etesu nandi¤ca nivesana¤ca

panujja vi¤¤àõaü bhave na tiññhe.

Evaü vihàrã sato appamatto,

bhikkhu caraü hitvà mamàyitàni,

jàtijaraü sokapariddava¤ca

idh'eva vidvà pajaheyya dukkhaü.[11]

"Whatever you may know to be

Above, below and across in the middle,

Dispel the delight and the tendency to dwell in them,

Then your consciousness will not remain in existence.

A monk, endowed with understanding,

Thus dwelling mindful and heedful,

As he fares along giving up all possessions,

Would abandon even here and now

Birth, decay, sorrow, lamentation and suffering."

The word idh'eva occurring in the second verse is highly signifi­cant, in that it means the abandonment of all those things here and now, not leaving it for an existence to come.

In the MahàViyåhasutta of the Sutta Nipàta also a similar empha­sis is laid on this idea of `here and now'. About the ara­hant it is said that he has no death or birth here and now - cutåpapàto idha yassa natthi, "to whom, even here, there is no death or birth".[12] In this very world he has transcended them by making those two concepts mean­ingless.

The word nivesanaü, occurring in the first verse, is also signifi­cant. It means "dwelling". In consciousness there is a tendency to `dwell in'. That is why in some contexts it is said that form is the abode or dwelling place of consciousness, råpa­dhàtu kho, gahapati, vi¤­¤àõassa oko, "the form element, householder, is the abode of con­sciousness".[13] The terms oka, niketa and nivesana are synonymous, meaning "abode", "home", or "dwelling place".

The nature of consciousness in general is to abide or dwell in. That non-manifestative consciousness, anidassana vi¤­¤à­õa, how­ever, has got rid of the tendency to abide or dwell in.

Now we can revert to the passage in the Dhatuvibhaïga­sutta, which speaks of an occurrence of tides of imaginings. The passage actually begins with the words yatthaññhitaü ma¤­¤ussavà nappavat­tanti, "steadied whereon the tides of imaginings occur no more in him". The idea behind this occur­rence of tides of imaginings is quite often represented by the concept of àsava, influx. Sensuality, kàma, existence, bhava, views, diññhi and ignorance, avijjà, are referred to as "in­fluxes", àsavà, or "floods", oghà. These are the four kinds of samsàric habits that continuously flow into the minds of be­ings.

The above mentioned sutta passage refers to a place stead­ied where­on the tides of imaginings do not occur or flow in, a place that is free from their `influence'. This is none other than Nibbàna, for which one of the epithets used is dãpa, or is­land.[14]

Since Nibbàna is called an island, some might take it liter­ally to mean some sort of a place in this world. In fact, this is the general concept of Nibbàna some are prone to uphold in their interpretation of Nibbàna.

But why it is called an island is clearly explained for us by a dis­course in the Pàràyanavagga of the Sutta Nipàta, namely the Kap­pa­màõavapucchà. In this sutta, the Brahmin youth Kap­pa poses the fol­lowing question to the Buddha:

Majjhe sarasmiü tiññhataü

oghe jàte mahabbhaye


dãpaü pabråhi, màrisa.

Tva¤ca me dãpam akkhàhi

yathayidaü nàparaü siyà.[15]

"To them that stand midstream,

When the frightful floods flow forth,

To them in decay and death forlorn,

An island, sire, may you proclaim.

An island which none else excels,

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

And this is the Buddha's reply to it:

Aki¤canaü anàdànaü

etaü dãpaü anàparaü

`nibbànam' iti naü bråmi


"Owning naught, grasping naught,

The isle is this, none else besides,

Nibbàna - that is how I call that isle,

Wherein Decay is decayed and Death is dead."

The Buddha's reply makes it clear that the term Nibbàna stands for the extinction of craving and grasping. The ideal of owning naught and grasping naught is itself Nibbàna, and nothing else. If the term had any other connotation, the Bud­dha would have mentioned it in this context.

It is indubitably clear, then, that the epithet dãpaü, or is­land, has to be understood in a deeper sense when it refers to Nibbàna. It is that owning nothing and grasping nothing, that puts an end to decay and death.

Though we have yet to finish the discussion of the Dhatu­vibhaï­gasutta, the stage is already set now to understand the significance of a certain brief discourse in the Udàna, which is very often quoted in discussions on Nibbàna. For facility of under­standing, we shall take it up now, as it somehow fits into the context.

Atthi, bhikkhave, ajàtaü abhåtaü akataü asaïkhataü. No ce taü, bhikkhave, abhavissa ajàtaü abhåtaü akataü asaï­khataü, na­yidha jàtassa bhåtassa katassa saïkhatassa nis­saraõaü pa¤¤àyetha. Yasmà ca kho, bhikkhave, atthi ajàtaü abhåtaü akataü asaïkhataü, tasmà jàtassa bhåtassa katassa saïkhatassa nissara­õaü pa¤¤àyati.[17]

"Monks, there is a not-born, a not-become, a not-made, a not-com­pounded. Monks, if that not-born, not-become, not-made, not-compounded were not, there would be no stepping out here from what is born, become, made and compounded. But since, monks, there is a not-born, a not-become, a not-made, a not-compounded, therefore there is a step­ping out from what is born, become, made and com­pounded."

The terms ajàtaü, not-born, abhåtaü, not-become, akataü, not-made, and asaïkhataü, not-compounded, are all epithets for Nib­bàna. The Buddha declares that if not for this not-born, not-become, not-made, not-compounded, there would be no possibility of step­ping out or release here, that is, in this very world, from the born, the become, the made and the com­pounded.

The second half of the passage rhetorically reiterates and em­pha­sises the same fact. Now as to the significance of this pro­found dec­laration of the Buddha, we may point out that the terms not-born, not-become, not-made, not-compounded, sug­gest the emancipation of the arahant's mind from birth, be­coming and preparations, saï­khà­. They refer to the cessation of birth, becoming and prepara­tions realized by the arahant. So then the significance of these terms is purely psychological.

But the commentator, the Venerable Dhammapàla, pays little at­tention to the word idha, "here", in this passage, which needs to be emphasized. The fact that there is a possibility here and now, of step­ping out from the state of being born, be­come, made and com­poun­ded, surely deserves emphasis, since, until then, release from decay and death was thought to be possible only in another dimen­sion of existence, that is, af­ter death.

The prospect of stepping out from decay and death here and now in this very world has to be asserted for its novelty, which is why the declaration opens with the word atthi, "there is". However, most of the scholars who tried to interpret this passage in their discussion on Nib­bàna, instead of laying stress on the word idha, "here", empha­size the opening word atthi, "there is", to prove that Nibbàna is some form of reality abso­lutely existing somewhere.

As that passage from the Dhatuvibhaïgasutta on ma¤¤anà, which we discussed, has shown us, the terms ajàtaü abhåtaü akataü and asaï­khataü have to be understood in a deeper sense.

Existence is a conceit deep rooted in the mind, which gives rise to a heap of pervert notions. Its cessation, therefore, has also to be ac­complished in the mind and by the mind. This is the gist of the Bud­dha's exhortation.

Let us now come back to the Dhatuvibhaïgasutta to dis­cuss an­other facet of it. We started our discussion with the grand finale of that discourse, because of its relevance to the question of ma¤¤anà. However, as a matter of fact, this dis­course preached by the Buddha to the Venerable Pukkusàti is an exposition of a systematic path of prac­tice for the emanci­pation of the mind from imaginings or ma¤­¤a­.

The discourse begins with the declaration chadhàturo ayaü, bhik­khu, puriso, "monk, man as such is a combination of six ele­ments".[18] The worldling thinks that a being, satta (San­skrit sattva), ex­ists at a higher level of reality than inani­mate objects.

Now what did the Buddha do to explode this concept of a being in his discourse to Venerable Pukkusàti? He literally thrashed out that con­cept, by breaking up this `man' into his ba­sic elements and de­fining him as a bundle of six elements, namely earth, water, fire, air, space and consciousness.

As the discourse proceeds, he explains in an extremely lu­cid manner how one can detach one's mind from each of these elements. We happened to mention at the very outset that the depth of the Dham­ma has to be seen through lucidity and not through compli­cated over-drawings. In fact, this discourse ex­hibits such lucidity.

The meditation subject of elements, which grew in com­plexity at the hands of later Buddhist philosophers, who took to atomistic analy­sis of a speculative sort, is presented here in this Dhatuvibhaï­gasutta with a refreshing clarity and lucidity. Here it is explained in such a way that one can directly experi­ence it.

For instance in describing the earth element, the Buddha gives as examples of the internal earth element such parts of the body as head hairs, body hairs, nails and teeth. Because the external earth element hardly needs illustration, nothing in particular has been mentioned as to that aspect. Anyone can easily understand what is meant by it. There is no attempt at atomistic analysis.

However, the Buddha draws special attention to a certain first principle of great significance. Yà c'eva kho pana ajjhat­tikà pañha­­dhàtu, yà ca bàhirà pañhavãdhàtu, pañhavãdhàtur ev'esà. Taü n'etaü mama, n'eso ham asmi, na me so attà ti evam etaü yathà­bhåtaü sam­­mappa¤¤àya daññhabbaü. Evam etaü yathàbhåtaü sammap­pa¤­¤à­ya disvà pañhavãdhàtuyà nibbindati, pañhavãdhàtuyà cittaü vi­ràje­ti.[19]

"That which is the internal earth element, and that which is the external earth element, they are both just the earth element itself. And that should be seen as it is with right wisdom, thus: `this is not mine', `I am not this', `this is not my self'. Having seen thus with right wisdom as it is, he becomes dejected with the earth element, he detaches his mind from the earth ele­ment."

It is this first principle that is truly important and not any kind of atomic theory. This resolution of the internal/external conflict has in it the secret of stopping the saüsàric vortex of reiterated becoming, saüsàravañña. It is due to the very dis­crimination between an `inter­nal' and an `external' that this saüsàric vortex is kept going.

Now in the case of a vortex, what is found inside and out­side is simply water. But all the same there is such a vehement speed and activity and a volley of changes going on there. So it is the case with this `man'. What is found in his body is the earth element. What is to be found outside is also the earth element. And yet, the ordinary per­son sees quite a wide dis­parity be­tween the two. Why is that? That is because of the il­lusory nature of consciousness.

We have devoted a number of sermons to explain the rela­tionship between consciousness and name-and-form. We hap­pened to speak of name-and-form as a reflection or a self-im­age.[20] Even as one who comes before a mirror, on seeing his re­flection on it, would say: `this is mine', `this am I', `this is my self', the worldling is in the habit of entertaining cravings, conceits and views.

In fact the purpose of cravings, conceits and views is to reinforce the distinction between an internal and an external. Already when one says `this is mine', one discriminates be­tween the `this' and `I', taking them to be separate realities. `This am I' and `this is my self' betray the same tacit assump­tion.

Just as by looking at a mirror one may like or dislike the image appearing on it, these three points of view give rise to various pervert notions. All this because of the perpetuation of the distinction be­tween an internal and an external, which is the situation with the or­di­nary worldling.

Since cravings, conceits and views thus reinforce the di­chotomy between an internal and an external, the Buddha has upheld this prin­ciple underlying the meditation on the four elements, to resolve this conflict.

The fact that with the resolution of this conflict between the inter­nal and the external concerning the four elements the mind becomes emancipated is put across to us in the following verse in the Tàlapuña Theragàthà.

Kadà nu kaññhe ca tiõe latà ca

khandhe ime `haü amite ca dhamme

ajjhattikàn' eva ca bàhiràni ca

samaü tuleyyaü, tad idaü kadà me? [21]

This verse gives expression to Venerable Tàlapuña Thera's aspi­ration to become an arahant. It says:

"When shall I weigh as equal all these

Limitless things both internal and external,

Twigs, grass, creepers and these aggregates,

O! when shall that be for me?"

It is at the stage of arahant-hood that the internal and the external appear alike. That is precisely why the Venerable Adhimutta Thera, whom we quoted earlier, uttered the lines:

Tiõakaññhasamaü lokaü,

yadà pa¤¤àya passati. [22]

"When one sees through wisdom,

The world to be comparable to grass and twigs."

The comparison is between the internal world of the five aggre­gates, or this conscious body, and the inanimate objects outside.

Just as in the case of the four elements earth, water, fire and air, the Buddha pointed out a way of liberating one's mind from the space element with the help of similar illustrations. In explaining the space element, too, he gave easily intelligible examples.

The internal space element is explained in terms of some aper­tures in the body that are well known, namely those in the ears, nose and the mouth. [23] Apart from such instances, he did not speak of any microscopic space element, as in scientific explanations, probably because it is irrelevant. Such an analy­sis is irrelevant for this kind of reflection.

Here we have to bear in mind the fact that perception as such is a mirage.[24] However far one may go on analysing, form and space are relative to each other like a picture and its background. A picture is viewed against its background, which is relative to it. So also are these two concepts of form and space. Consciousness provides the frame­work for the entire picture.

By way of clarification we may allude to the pre-Buddhis­tic at­tempts of Yogins to solve this problem, solely through the method of serenity, samatha, ignoring the method of insight, vipassanà. The pro­cedure they followed was somewhat on these lines:

They would first of all surmount the concept of form or matter through the first four mental absorptions, or jhànas. Then as they in­clined towards the formless, what confronted them first was space. A very appropriate illustration in this context would be the method of removing the sign of the kasiõa and attending to the space left by that removal as `infi­nite' or `boundless', in order to arouse the base of infinity of space.[25]

This mode of contemplation of space betrays the fact that space is also something made up, or prepared, saïkhata. Whatever is pre­pared, saïkhata, is thought out and mind made, abhisaïkhataü abhi­sa¤cetayitaü.

The Buddha proclaimed that there is only one asaïkhata, unpre­pared, that is Nibbàna.[26] But later philosophers con­founded the issue by taking space also to be asaïkhata.[27] They seem to have ignored its relation to the mind in regarding causes and conditions as purely ex­ternal things.

Here we see the relativity between form and space. Like the pic­ture and its background, form and space stand relative to each other. All this is presented to us by attention, manasi­kàrasambhavà sabbe dhammà, [28] "all things originate from at­tention".

Some of the later speculations about the nature of the space ele­ment are not in consonance with the basic principles out­lined in the Dhamma. Such confusion arose probably due to a lack of under­standing of the term asaïkhata.

Now if we are to say something more about this particular dis­course, what remains after detaching one's mind from these five elements, namely earth, water, fire, air and space, is a con­sciousness that is extremely pure.

The basic function of consciousness is discrimination. It distin­guishes between the bitter and the sweet, for instance, to say: `this is bitter', `this is sweet'. Or else it distinguishes be­tween the pleasant, the unpleasant and the neutral with re­gard to feelings: `this is pleas­ant', `this is unpleasant', `this is nei­ther-unpleasant-nor-pleasant'.

Now that the five elements earth, water, fire, air and space, which create discrete objects as the outward manifestations of conscious­ness, have been totally removed, the residual func­tion of conscious­ness amounts to a discrimination between the three grades of feel­ings.

The sage who has arrived at this stage of progress on the path to Nibbàna takes the next step by observing these three kinds of feel­ings, pleasant, unpleasant and neither-unpleasant-nor-pleasant, as they arise and cease dependent on specific contacts, thereby gradu­ally bringing the mind to equanimity.

He brings his mind to a stage of radiant equanimity. But even this equanimity he does not grasp by way of me-thinking or imagining. The phrase used in this connection is visaüyutto naü vedeti, "being detached he experiences it". [29] There is a detachment, an aloof­ness, even in going through those sen­sations. This is clearly ex­pressed in that context.

For instance, in the case of a pleasant feeling, it is said: aniccà ti pajànàti, anajjhosità ti pajànàti, anabhinandità ti pa­jànàti, "he un­derstands it to be impermanent, he understands it to be uninvolved, he understands it to be unrejoiced". With the understanding of im­permanence, conceit goes down. The non-involvement does away with the views. The absence of rejoic­ing suggests the extinction of craving.

So the attainment of arahant-hood is in effect the cessation of that consciousness itself. That consciousness is divested of its most pri­mary function of discriminating between the three grades of feeling, pleasant, unpleasant and neither-unpleasant-nor-pleasant.

The term visaüyutto connotes disjunction, suggestive of dispas­sion and detachment. In this way, the Dhatuvibhaïga­sutta clearly brings out the relevance of the question of ma¤­¤anà to the path leading to Nibbàna.

In some contexts, this practice of desisting from me-think­ing or imagining is called atammayatà, non-identification. This is the term used by the Buddha throughout the Sappurisa­sutta of the Majjhima Nikàya. For instance we read there:

Sappuriso ca kho, bhikkhave, iti pañisa¤cikkhati: neva­sa¤­¤ànà­sa¤­¤àyatanasamàpattiyà pi kho atammayatà vuttà Bha­gavatà. Yena yena hi ma¤¤anti, tato taü hoti a¤¤athà ti. [30] "The good man re­flects thus: the principle of non-identifica­tion has been recommended by the Buddha even with regard to the attainment of the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception thus: in whatever way they imagine about it, there­by it turns otherwise."

The `good man' referred to here is the noble disciple on the su­pramundane path.

This term tammaya needs to be clarified in order to under­stand the significance of this statement. It is derived from tad maya, liter­ally "made of that" or "of that stuff". It is on a par with such terms as sovaõõamaya, golden, and rajatamaya, sil­very.

When one has cravings, conceits and views about some­thing, he practically becomes one with it due to that very grasping. In other words, he identifies himself with it. That is why the person who has imaginings about the sphere of nei­ther-perception-nor-non-percep­tion, which he has attained, thinks `I am one who has attained the sphere of neither-per­ception-nor-non-perception'.

He thereby has conceit, which is a defilement in itself. As a result, when he loses his mastery of that attainment, he be­comes discon­certed. It is for that reason that the Buddha had enjoined that one should cultivate the attitude of atammayatà, or non-identification, even with regard to the attainment of the sphere of neither-percep­tion-nor-non-perception.

The arahant is called atammayo in the sense that he does not iden­tify himself with anything. An arahant cannot be iden­tified with what he appears to possess. This is well ex­pressed by the following verse in the Devadåtavagga of the Aïguttara Nikàya.

Pasayha Màraü abhibhuyya antakaü

yo ca phusã jàtikkhayaü padhànavà

sa tàdiso lokavidå sumedho

sabbesu dhammesu atammayo muni.[31]

"That ardent sage who has touched the extinction of birth,

Having overpowered Màra and conquered the Ender,

That Such-like one, the wise sage, the knower of the world,

Is aloof in regard to all phenomena."

The idea of this aloofness can be presented in another way, that is as detachment from the seen, the heard, the sensed and the cognized, diññha, suta, muta, vi¤¤àta. One of the most im­portant suttas that merits discussion in this respect is the Bàhi­yasutta in the Bodhivagga of the Udàna. It is generally ac­claimed as an extremely profound discourse.

The ascetic Bàhiya Dàrucãriya came all the way from far off Sup­pàraka to see the Buddha. When he reached Jetavana monastery at Sàvatthi, he heard that the Buddha had just left on his alms-round. Due to his extreme eagerness, he ran be­hind the Buddha and, on meeting him, fell prostrate before him and begged: "May the Exalted One preach to me the Dham­ma."

The Buddha, however, seemed not so responsive, when he re­marked: "Now it is untimely, Bàhiya, we are on our alms-round." Some might be puzzled by this attitude of the Buddha. But most probably it is one of those skilful means of the Bud­dha, suggestive of his great compassion and wisdom. It served to tone down the over­enthusiastic haste of Bàhiya and to arouse a reverential respect for the Dhamma in him.

Bàhiya repeated his request for the second time, adding: "I do not know whether there will be a danger to the Exalted One's life or to my own life." For the second time the Buddha refused.

It was when Bàhiya made his request for the third time that the Buddha acceded to it by giving a terse discourse, saïkhitta Dham­ma­desanà, of extraordinary depth. The exhortation, brief and deep as it is, was quite apt, since Bàhiya Dàrucãriya be­longed to that rare cate­gory of persons with quick under­stand­ing, khippàbhi¤¤à.[32]

Tasmàtiha te, Bàhiya, evaü sikkhitabbaü: diññhe diññha­mat­taü bhavissati, sute sutamattaü bhavissati, mute muta­mat­taü bhavissati, vi¤¤àte vi¤¤àtamattaü bhavissati. Evaü hi te, Bàhiya,, sikkhitab­baü.

Yato kho te, Bàhiya, diññhe diññhamattaü bhavissati, sute suta­mat­taü bhavissati, mute mutamattaü bhavissati, vi¤¤àte vi¤¤àta­mat­taü bhavissati, tato tvaü Bàhiya na tena. Yato tvaü Bàhiya na tena, tato tvaü Bàhiya na tattha. Yato tvaü Bàhiya na tattha, tato tvaü Bàhiya nev'idha na huraü na ubhayamantarena. Es'ev'anto duk­khas­sa.[33]

No sooner had the Buddha finished his exhortation, the as­cetic Bàhiya attained arahant-hood then and there. Let us now try to un­ravel the meaning of this abstruse discourse.

The discourse starts off abruptly, as if it had been wrested from the Buddha by Bàhiya's repeated requests. Tasmàtiha, Bàhiya, evaü sikkhitabbaü, "well then, Bàhiya, you had better train yourself thus". And what is that training?

"In the seen there will be just the seen, in the heard there will be just the heard, in the sensed there will be just the sensed, in the cog­nized there will be just the cognized. Thus, Bàhiya, should you train yourself."

It is as if the Buddha had addressed the ascetic Bàhiya in the ter­minology of the Ariyans and established him on the path to Nibbàna. Here the term muta, or "sensed", stands for what­ever is experienced through the tongue, the nose, and the body.

The basic principle in this training seems to be the disci­pline to stop short at bare awareness, diññhe diññhamattaü, sute sutamattaü, etc. The latter half of the discourse seems to indi­cate what happens when one goes through that training. The entire discourse is a pres­entation of the triple training of mo­rality, concentration and wisdom in a nutshell.

"And when to you, Bàhiya, there will be in the seen just the seen, in the heard just the heard, in the sensed just the sensed, in the cog­nized just the cognized, then, Bàhiya, you are not by it. And when you are not by it, you are not in it. And when, Bàhiya, you are not in it, then, Bàhiya, you are neither here, nor there, nor in between. This itself is the end of suffering."

As a literal translation this appears cryptic enough to de­mand an explanation. Let us first of all give a few clues to un­ravel the puzzle.

The terms "by it", tena, and "in it", tattha, are rather ellipti­cal. Though unexpressed, they seem to imply the relevance of ma¤¤anà to the whole problem.

As we happened to mention earlier, imaginings or methink­ings by way of craving, conceit and views, lead to an identifi­cation, for which the term used is tammayatà. Such an identi­fication makes one unsteady, for when the thing identi­fied with is shaken, one also gets shaken up.

This kind of imagining `in terms of' is indicated by the el­liptical tena, for we get a clear proof of it in the following two lines from the Jaràsutta in the Aññhakavagga of the Sutta Ni­pàta.

Dhono na hi tena ma¤¤ati

yad idaü diññhasutaü mutesu và.[34]

Dhona is a term for the arahant as one who has "shaken off" all defilements. So these lines could be rendered as fol­lows:

"The arahant, the one who has shaken off,

Does not imagine `in terms of'

Whatever is seen, heard and sensed." 


[1]      M I 436, MahàMàlunkyasutta.

[2]      S IV 201, Yavakalàpisutta.

[3]      M III 246, Dhàtuvibhaïgasutta.

[4]      See sermon 4.

[5]      See sermon 8.

[6]      Th 715, Adhimutta Theragàthà.

[7]      E.g. at D III 273, Dasuttarasutta

[8]      The vipallàsas occur at A II 52, Vipallàsasutta.

[9]      See sermon 8.

[10]     See sermon 2; Ud 32, Lokasutta.

[11]     Sn 1055-1056, Mettagåmàõavapucchà

[12]     Sn 902, MahàViyåhasutta.

[13]     S III 9, Hàliddikànisutta.

[14]     S IV 372, Asaïkhatasaüyutta.

[15]     Sn 1092, Kappamàõavapucchà.

[16]     Sn 1094, Kappamàõavapucchà.

[17]     Ud 80, Tatiyanibbànapañisaüyuttasutta.

[18]     M III 239, Dhàtuvibhaïgasutta.

[19]     M III 240, Dhàtuvibhaïgasutta.

[20]     See sermons 6 and 7.

[21]     Th 1101, Tàlapuña Theragàthà

[22]     Th 717, Adhimutta Theragàthà, see sermon 8.

[23]     M III 244, Dhàtuvibhaïgasutta.

[24]     S III 141, Pheõapiõóåpamasutta.

[25]     Vism 327.

[26]     Cf. Asaïkhatasaüyutta, S IV 359-373.

[27]     Mil 268.

[28]     A IV 338, Kiümålakasutta.

[29]     M III 244, Dhàtuvibhaïgasutta.

[30]     M III 44, Sappurisasutta.

[31]     A I 150, âdhipateyyasutta.

[32]     A I 24, Etadaggavagga.

[33]     Ud 8, Bàhiyasutta.

[34]     Sn 813, Jaràsutta.



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