Nibbāna Sermon 17
by Bhikkhu K. Ņänananda



Nibbana Sermons Part 1 - 7


Nibbāna Sermon 08

Nibbāna Sermon 09

Nibbāna Sermon 10

Nibbāna Sermon 11

Nibbāna Sermon 12

Nibbāna Sermon 13

Nibbāna Sermon 14

Nibbāna Sermon 15

Nibbāna Sermon 16

Nibbāna Sermon 17

Nibbāna Sermon 18

Nibbāna Sermon 19

Nibbāna Sermon 20

Nibbāna Sermon 21

Nibbāna Sermon 22

Nibbāna Sermon 23

Nibbāna Sermon 24

Nibbāna Sermon 25


Nibbāna Sermon 17

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Etaü santaü, etaü paõãtaü, yadidaü sabbasaīkhāra­sam­atho sabbåpadhipaņinissaggo taõhakkhayo virāgo nirodho nib­bānaü.[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 seventeenth sermon in the series of sermons on Nibbāna.

In our last sermon, we tried to analyse some dis­courses that give us a clue to understand what sort of an ex­perience an ara­hant has in his realization of the cessation of existence in the arahattaphalasamādhi.

We happened to mention that the arahant sees the cessa­tion of existence with a deeply penetrative vision of the void that may be compared to a gaze that knows no horizon. We also dropped the hint that the non-manifestative conscious­ness, endless and lustrous on all sides, we had spoken of in an earlier sermon,[2] is an explicit reference to this same experi­ence.

How the arahant, ranging in his triple pasture of the sign­less deliverance, the undirected deliverance and the void de­liv­erance, animitta vimokkha, appaõihita vimokkha and su¤­¤ata vi­mokkha, gets free from the latency to perception, transcends the duality of form and formless, and crosses over this ocean of existence unhindered by Māra, has been de­scribed in vari­ous ways in various discourses.

Let us now take up for discussion in this connection three significant verses that are found in the Itivuttaka.

Ye ca råpåpagā sattā

ye ca aråpaņņhāyino,

nirodhaü appajānantā

āgantāro punabbhavaü.

Ye ca råpe pari¤¤āya,

aråpesu asaõņhitā,

nirodhe ye vimuccanti,

te janā maccuhāyino.

Kāyena amataü dhātuü,

phusaytivā niråpadhiü,


sacchikatvā anāsavo,

deseti sammāsambuddho,

asokaü virajaü padaü.[3]

"Those beings that go to realms of form,

And those who are settled in formless realms,

Not understanding the fact of cessation,

Come back again and again to existence.

Those who, having comprehended realms of form,

Do not settle in formless realms,

Are released in the experience of cessation,

It is they that are the dispellers of death.

Having touched with the body the deathless element,

Which is asset-less,

And realized the relinquishment of assets,

Being influx-free, the perfectly enlightened one,

Proclaims the sorrow-less, taintless state."

The meaning of the first verse is clear enough. Those who are in realms of form and formless realms are reborn again and again due to not understanding the fact of cessation.

In the case of the second verse, there is some confusion as to the correct reading. We have mentioned earlier, too, that some of the deep discourses present considerable difficulty in determining what the correct reading is.[4] They have not come down with sufficient clarity. Where the meaning is not clear enough, there is a likelihood for the oral tradition to become corrupt. Here we accepted the reading asaõņhitā.

Ye ca råpe pari¤¤āya,

aråpesu asaõņhitā,

"Those who, having comprehended realms of form,

Do not settle in formless realms".

But there is the variant reading susaõņhitā, which gives the meaning "settled well". The two readings contradict each other and so we have a problem here. The commentary accepts the reading asaõņhitā.[5] We too followed it, for some valid reason and not simply because it accords with the commentary.

However, in several modern editions of the text, the read­ing asaõņhitā has been replaced by susaõņhitā, probably be­cause it seems to make sense, prima facie.

But, as we pointed out in this series of sermons, there is the question of the dichotomy between the form and the formless. The formless, or aråpa, is like the shadow of form, råpa. There­fore, when one comprehends form, one also understands that the formless, too, is not worthwhile settling in. It is in that sense that we brought in the reading asaõņhitā in this context.

Those who have fully comprehended form, do not depend on the formless either, and it is they that are released in the re­alization of cessation. They transcend the duality of form and formless and, by directing their minds to the cessation of ex­istence, attain emancipation.

In the last verse it is said that the Buddha realized the relin­quishment of assets known as nirupadhi, the "asset-less". It also says that he touched the deathless element with the body. In a previous sermon we happened to quote a verse from the Udāna which had the conclusive lines:

Phusanti phassā upadhiü paņicca,

Nirupadhiü kena phuseyyum phassā.[6]

"Touches touch one because of assets,

How can touches touch him who is asset-less?"

According to this verse, it seems that here there is no touch. So what we have stated above might even appear as contra­dic­tory. The above verse speaks of a `touching' of the death­less element with the body. One might ask how one can touch, when there is no touch at all? But here we have an extremely deep idea, almost a paradox.

To be free from touch is in itself the `touching' of the death­less element.

What we mean to say is that, as far as the fear of death is concerned, here we have the freedom from the pain of death and in fact the freedom from the concept of death itself.

The Buddha and the arahants, with the help of that wis­dom, while in that arahattaphalasamādhi described as anāsa­vā cetovimutti pa¤¤āvimutti,[7] or akuppā cetovimutti,[8] let go of their entire body and realized the cessation of existence, there­by freeing themselves from touch and feeling. That is why Nib­­bāna is called a bliss devoid of feeling, avedayita sukha. [9]

This giving up, this letting go when Māra is coming to grab and seize, is a very subtle affair. To give up and let go when Māra comes to grab is to touch the deathless, because thereby one is freed from touch and feelings. Here, then, we have a para­dox. So subtle is this Dhamma!

How does one realize cessation? By attending to the cessa­tion aspect of preparations.

As we have already mentioned, to arise and to cease is of the nature of preparations, and here the attention is on the ceas­ing aspect. The worldlings in general pay attention to the arising aspect. They can see only that aspect. The Buddhas, on the other hand, have seen the cessation of existence in a subtle way. The culmination of the practice of paying attention to the cessation aspect of preparations is the realization of the cessa­tion of existence.

Bhava, or existence, is the domain of Māra. How does one escape from the grip of Māra? By going beyond his range of vision, that is to say by attending to the cessation of existence, bhavanirodha.

All experiences of pleasure and pain are there so long as one is in bhava. The arahant wins to the freedom from form and formless and from pleasure and pain, as it was said in a verse already quoted:

Atha råpā aråpā ca,

sukhadukkhā pamuccati.[10]

"And then from form and formless,

And from pleasure and pain is he freed."

We explained that verse as a reference to arahattaphala­samādhi. Here, too, we are on the same point. The concept of the cessation of existence is indeed very deep. It is so deep that one might wonder whether there is anything worthwhile in Nib­bāna, if it is equivalent to the cessation of existence.

As a matter of fact, we do come across an important dis­course among the Tens of the Aīguttara Nikāya, where Nib­bāna is explicitly called bhavanirodha. It is in the form of a dialogue between Venerable ânanda and Venerable Sāriputta. As usual, Venerable ânanda is enquiring about that extraordi­nary samādhi.

Siyā nu kho, āvuso Sāriputta, bhikkhuno tathāråpo sam­ādhi­paņi­lābho yathā neva pathaviyaü pathavisa¤¤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, - sa¤¤ã ca pana as­sa?[11]

"Could there be, friend Sāriputta, for a monk such an at­tainment of concentration wherein he will not be conscious 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 consciousness, 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 of a this world in this world, nor of a world beyond in a world beyond - and yet he will be conscious?"

Venerable Sāriputta's reply to it is: "There could be, friend ânanda." Then Venerable ânanda asks again: "But then, friend Sāriputta, in which manner could there be such an at­tainment of concentration for a monk?"

At that point Venerable Sāriputta comes out with his own experience, revealing that he himself once attained to such a samādhi, when he was at Andhavana in Sāvatthi. Venerable ânanda, however, is still curious to ascertain what sort of per­ception he was having, when he was in that samādhi. The ex­planation given by Venerable Sāriputta in response to it, is of utmost importance. It runs:

Bhavanirodho nibbānaü, bhavanirodho nibbānan'ti kho me, avuso, a¤¤ā'va sa¤¤ā uppajjati a¤¤ā'va sa¤¤ā nirujjhati.

Seyyathāpi, āvuso, sakalikaggissa jhāyamānassa a¤¤ā'va acci uppajjati, a¤¤ā'va acci nirujjhati, evam eva kho me āvuso bhavanirodho nibbānaü, bhavanirodho nibbānam 'ti a¤¤ā'va sa¤¤ā uppajjati a¤¤ā'va sa¤¤ā nirujjhati, bhavanirodho nib­bānaü sa¤¤ã ca panāhaü, āvuso, tasmiü samaye ahosiü.

"One perception arises in me, friend: `cessation of exis­tence is Nibbāna', `cessation of existence is Nibbāna', and an­other perception fades out in me: `cessation of existence is Nib­­bāna', `cessation of existence is Nibbāna'.

Just as, friend, in the case of a twig fire, when it is burning one flame arises and another flame fades out. Even so, friend, one perception arises in me: `cessation of existence is Nib­bāna', `cessation of existence is Nibbāna', and another per­ception fades out in me: `cessation of existence is Nibbāna', `cessation of existence is Nibbāna', at that time, friend, I was of the perception `cessation of existence is Nibbāna'."

The true significance of the simile of the twig fire is that Venerable Sāriputta was attending to the cessation aspect of preparations. As we mentioned in connection with the formula etaü santaü, etaü paõãtaü, "this is peaceful, this is excel­lent", occurring in a similar context, we are not to conclude that Venerable Sāriputta kept on repeating 'cessation of exis­tence is Nibbāna'.

The insight into a flame could be different from a mere sight of a flame. Worldlings in general see only a process of burning in a flame. To the insight meditator it can appear as an intermittent series of extinctions. It is the outcome of a pene­trative vision. Just like the flame, which simulates compact­ness, existence, too, is a product of saīkhāras, or preparations.

The worldling who attends to the arising aspect and ignores the cessation aspect is carried away by the perception of the compact. But the mind, when steadied, is able to see the phe­nomenon of cessation: ōhitaü cittaü vippamuttaü, vaya¤cas­sānu­passati,[12] "the mind steadied and released contem­plates its own passing away".

With that steadied mind the arahant attends to the cessa­tion of preparations. At its climax, he penetrates the gamut of existence made up of preparations, as in the case of a flame, and goes beyond the clutches of death.

As a comparison for existence, the simile of the flame is quite apt. We happened to point out earlier, that the word upā­dāna can mean "grasping" as well as "fuel".[13] The totality of ex­istence is sometimes referred to as a fire.[14] The fuel for the fire of existence is grasping itself. With the removal of that fuel, one experiences extinction.

The dictum bhavanirodho nibbānam clearly shows that Nibbāna is the cessation of existence. There is another signifi­cant discourse which equates Nibbāna to the experience of the cessation of the six sense-bases, saëāyatananirodha. The same experience of realization is viewed from a different angle. We have already shown that the cessation of the six sense-bases, or the six sense-spheres, is also called Nibbāna.[15]

The discourse we are now going to take up is one in which the Buddha presented the theme as some sort of a riddle for the monks to work out for themselves.

Tasmātiha, bhikkhave, se āyatane veditabbe yattha cak­khu¤­ca nirujjhati 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, se āyatane veditabbe.[16]

"Therefore, monks, that sphere should be known wherein the eye ceases and perceptions of form fade away, that sphere should be known wherein the ear ceases and perceptions of sound fade away, that sphere should be known wherein the nose ceases and perceptions of smell fade away, that sphere should be known wherein the tongue ceases and perceptions of taste fade away, that sphere should be known wherein the body ceases and perceptions of the tangible fade away, that sphere should be known wherein the mind ceases and percep­tions of mind objects fade away, that sphere should be known, that sphere should be known."

There is some peculiarity in the very wording of the pas­sage, when it says, for instance, that the eye ceases, cakkhu¤ca nirujjhati and perceptions of form fade away, råpasa¤¤ā ca vi­rajjati. As we once pointed out, the word virāga, usually ren­dered by "detachment", has a nuance equivalent to "fading away" or "decolouration".[17] Here that nuance is clearly evi­dent. When the eye ceases, perceptions of forms fade away.

The Buddha is enjoining the monks to understand that sphere, not disclosing what it is, in which the eye ceases and perceptions of form fade away, and likewise the ear ceases and perceptions of sound fade away, the nose ceases and percep­tions of smell fade away, the tongue ceases and perceptions of taste fade away, the body ceases and perceptions of the tangi­ble fade away, and last of all even the mind ceases and per­ceptions of mind objects fade away. This last is particularly note­­worthy.

Without giving any clue to the meaning of this brief ex­hor­tation, the Buddha got up and entered the monastery, leav­ing the monks perplexed. Wondering how they could get it ex­plained, they approached Venerable ânanda and begged him to comment at length on what the Buddha had preached in brief. With some modest reluctance, Venerable ânanda com­plied, urging that his comment be reported to the Buddha for confirmation. His comments, however, amounted to just one sentence:

Saëāyatananirodhaü, kho āvuso, Bhagavatā sandhāya bhā­si­taü. "Friends, it is with reference to the cessation of the six sense-spheres that the Exalted One has preached this ser­mon."

When those monks approached the Buddha and placed Ven­erable ânanda's explanation before him, the Buddha rati­fied it. Hence it is clear that the term āyatana in the above pas­sage refers not to any one of the six sense-spheres, but to Nib­bāna, which is the cessation of all of them.

The commentator, Venerable Buddhaghosa, too accepts this position in his commentary to the passage in question. Saëāyatananirodhan'ti saëāyatananirodho vuccati nibbānam, tam sandhāya bhāsitan ti attho, "the cessation of the six sense-spheres, what is called the cessation of the six sense-spheres is Nibbāna, the meaning is that the Buddha's sermon is a refer­ence to it".[18]

The passage in question bears testimony to two important facts. Firstly that Nibbāna is called the cessation of the six sense-spheres. Secondly that this experience is referred to as an āyatana, or a `sphere'.

The fact that Nibbāna is sometimes called āyatana is fur­ther corroborated by a certain passage in the Saëāyatan­vi­bhaī­gasutta, which defines the term nekkhammasita doma­nas­sa.[19] In that discourse, which deals with some deeper aspects of the Dhamma, the concept of nekkhammasita domanassa, or "un­happiness connected with renunciation", is explained as fol­lows:

If one contemplates with insight wisdom the sense-objects like forms and sounds as impermanent, suffering-fraught and transient, and develops a longing for Nibbāna, due to that long­ing or expectation one might feel an unhappiness. It is such an unhappiness which, however, is superior to an unhap­piness connected with the household life, that is called nek­kham­ma­­sita domanassa, or "unhappiness connected with re­nun­ciation".

How such an unhappiness may arise in a monk is described in that discourse in the following manner:

`Kudāssu nāmāhaü tadāyatanaü upasampajja viharissāmi yadariyā etarahi āyatanaü upasampajja viharanti?' iti anut­ta­­resu vimokkhesu pihaü upaņņhāpayato uppajjati pihāpac­ca­yā domanassaü. Yaü evaråpaü domanassaü idaü vuccati nek­khammasitadomanassaü.

"`O, when shall I attain to and dwell in that sphere to which the Noble Ones now attain and dwell in?' Thus, as he sets up a longing for the incomparable deliverances, there arises an un­hap­piness due to that longing. It is such an unhappiness that is called unhappiness connected with renunciation."

What are called "incomparable deliverances" are the three doorways to Nibbāna, the signless, the undirected and the void. We can therefore conclude that the sphere to which this monk aspires is none other than Nibbāna. So here we have a second instance of a reference to Nibbāna as a `sphere' or ā­ya­tana.

Now let us bring up a third:

Atthi, bhikkhave, tad āyatanaü, yattha n'eva pathavã na āpo na tejo na vāyo na ākāsāna¤cāyatanaü na vi¤¤āõāna¤­cāyatanaü na āki¤ca¤¤āyatanaü na nevasa¤¤ānā­sa¤¤ā­ya­tanaü na ayaü loko na paraloko na ubho candimasåriyā. Ta­tra p'ahaü bhikkhave, n'eva āgatiü vadāmi na gatiü na ņhi­tiü na cutiü na upapattiü, appatiņņhaü appavattaü anāram­ma­õaü eva taü. Es'ev'anto dukkhassā'ti.[20]

Incidentally, this happens to be the most controversial pas­sage on Nibbāna. Scholars, both ancient and modern, have put forward various interpretations of this much vexed passage. Its riddle-like presentation has posed a challenge to many a phi­loso­pher bent on determining what Nibbāna is.

This brief discourse comes in the Udāna as an inspired ut­terance of the Buddha on the subject of Nibbāna, Nibbāna­paņi­samyuttasutta. To begin with, we shall try to give a somewhat literal translation of the passage:

"Monks, there is that sphere, wherein there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor air; neither the sphere of infinite space, nor the sphere of infinite consciousness, nor the sphere of nothingness, nor the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-per­ception; neither this world nor the world beyond, nor the sun and the moon. There, monks, I say, is no coming, no going, no staying, no passing away and no arising; it is not established, it is not continuing, it has no object. This, itself, is the end of suf­fering."

Instead of getting down to the commentarial interpretation at the very outset, let us try to understand this discourse on the lines of the interpretation we have so far developed. We have already come across two references to Nibbāna as an āyatana or a sphere. In the present context, too, the term āyatana is an allusion to arahattaphalasamādhi. Its significance, therefore, is psychological.

First of all we are told that earth, water, fire and air are not there in that āyatana. This is understandable, since in a num­ber of discourses dealing with anidassana vi¤¤āõa and ara­hat­ta­phalasamādhi we came across similar statements. It is said that in anidassana vi¤¤āõa, or non-manifestative conscious­ness, earth, water, fire and air do not find a footing. Similarly, when one is in arahattaphalasamādhi, one is said to be devoid of the perception of earth in earth, for instance, because he does not attend to it. So the peculiar negative formulation of the above Udāna passage is suggestive of the fact that these elements do not exercise any influence on the mind of one who is in arahattaphalasamādhi.

The usual interpretation, however, is that it describes some kind of a place or a world devoid of those elements. It is gen­erally believed that the passage in question is a description of the `sphere' into which the arahant passes away, that is, his after death `state'. This facile explanation is often presented only as a tacit assumption, for fear of being accused of hereti­cal views. But it must be pointed out that the allusion here is to a certain level of experience of the living arahant, namely the realization, here and now, of the cessation of existence, bha­va­nirodha.

The four elements have no part to play in that experience. The sphere of infinite space, the sphere of infinite conscious­ness etc. also do not come in, as we have already shown with reference to a number of discourses. So it is free from both form and formless.

The statement that there is neither this world nor a world be­yond could be understood in the light of the phrase, na idha­loke idhalokasa¤¤ã, na paraloke paralokasa¤¤ã, "percipient neither of a this world in this world, nor of a world beyond in a world beyond" that came up in a passage discussed above.

The absence of the moon and the sun, na ubho candima såri­yā, in this sphere, is taken as the strongest argument in fa­vour of concluding that Nibbāna is some kind of a place, a place where there is no moon or sun.

But as we have explained in the course of our discussion of the term anidassana vi¤¤āõa, or non-manifestative conscious­ness, with the cessation of the six sense-spheres, due to the all lustrous nature of the mind, sun and moon lose their lustre, though the senses are all intact. Their lustre is superseded by the lustre of wisdom. They pale away and fade into insignifi­cance before it. It is in this sense that the moon and the sun are said to be not there in that sphere.

Why there is no coming, no going, no staying, no pass­ing away and no arising, can be understood in the light of what we have observed in earlier sermons on the question of rela­tive con­cepts. The verbal dichotomy characteristic of worldly con­cepts is reflected in this reference to a coming and a going etc. The arahant in arahattaphalasamādhi is free from the limi­ta­tions imposed by this verbal dichotomy.

The three terms appatiņņhaü, appavattaü and an­āram­ma­õaü, "not established", "not continuing" and "objectless", are suggestive of the three doorways to deliverance. Appatiņņhaü refers to appaõihita vimokkha, "undirected deliverance", which comes through the extirpation of craving. Appavattaü stands for su¤¤ata vimokkha, the "void deliverance", which is the ne­gation of continuity. Anārammaõaü is clearly enough a refer­ence to animitta vimokkha, the "signless deliverance". Not to have an object is to be signless.

The concluding sentence "this itself is the end of suffering" is therefore a clear indication that the end of suffering is reached here and now. It does not mean that the arahant gets half of Nibbāna here and the other half `there'.

Our line of interpretation leads to such a conclusion, but of course, in case there are shortcomings in it, we could perhaps improve on it by having recourse to the commentarial inter­pre­tation.

Now as to the commentarial interpretation, this is how the Udāna commentary explains the points we have discussed:[21] It paraphrases the term āyatana by kāraõa, observing that it means reason in this context. Just as much as forms stand in relation of an object to the eye, so the asaīkhata dhātu, or the "unprepared element", is said to be an object to the arahant's mind, and here it is called āyatana.

Then the commentary raises the question, why earth, water, fire and air are not there in that asaīkhata dhātu. The four ele­ments are representative of things prepared, saīkhata. There can­not be any mingling or juxtaposition between the saī­khata and the asaīkhata. That is why earth, water, fire and air are not supposed to be there, in that āyatana.

The question why there are no formless states, like the sphere of infinite space, the sphere of infinite consciousness, the sphere of nothingness, the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, is similarly explained, while asserting that Nibbāna is nevertheless formless.

Since in Nibbāna one has transcended the sensuous sphere, kāmaloka, the concepts of a this world and a world beyond are said to be irrelevant. As to why the sun and the moon are not there, the commentary gives the following explanation:

In realms of form there is generally darkness, to dispel which there must be a sun and a moon. But Nibbāna is not a realm of form, so how could sun and moon come in?

Then what about the reference to a coming, a going, a stay­ing, a passing away and an arising? No one comes to Nib­bāna from anywhere and no one goes out from it, no one stays in it or passes away or reappears in it.

Now all this is mystifying enough. But the commentary goes on to interpret the three terms appatiņņhaü, appa­vat­taü and anārammaõaü also in the same vein. Only that which has form gets established and Nibbāna is formless, therefore it is not established anywhere. Nibbāna does not continue, so it is ap­pavattaü, or non-continuing. Since Nibbāna takes no ob­ject, it is objectless, anārammaõaü. It is as good as saying that, though one may take Nibbāna as an object, Nibbāna itself takes no object.

So this is what the traditional interpretation amounts to. If there are any shortcomings in our explanation, one is free to go for the commentarial. But it is obvious that there is a lot of confusion in this commentarial trend. Insufficient appreciation of the deep concept of the cessation of existence seems to have caused all this confusion.

More often than otherwise, commentarial interpretations of Nibbāna leaves room for some subtle craving for existence, bha­va­­taõhā. It gives a vague idea of a place or a sphere, āya­ta­na, which serves as a surrogate destination for the arahants after their demise. Though not always explicitly asserted, it is at least tacitly suggested. The description given above is ample proof of this trend. It conjures up a place where there is no sun and no moon, a place that is not a place. Such confounding trends have crept in probably due to the very depth of this Dham­­ma.

Deep indeed is this Dhamma and hard to comprehend, as the Buddha once confided in Venerable Sāriputta with a trace of tiredness:

Saīkhittenapi kho ahaü, Sāriputta, dhammaü deseyyaü, vit­thārenapi kho ahaü, Sāriputta, dhammaü deseyyaü, saī­khittenavitthārenapi kho ahaü, Sāriputta, dhammaü desey­yaü, a¤¤ātāro ca dullabhā.[22]

"Whether I were to preach in brief, Sāriputta, or whether I were to preach in detail, Sāri­put­ta, or whether I were to preach both in brief or in detail, Sāri­putta, rare are those who under­stand."

Then Venerable Sāriputta implores the Buddha to preach in brief, in detail and both in brief and in detail, saying that there will be those who understand. In response to it the Buddha gives the following instruction to Venerable Sāriputta:

Tasmātiha, Sāriputta, evaü sikkhitabbaü: `Imasmi¤ca sa­vi¤­¤āõake kāye ahaīkāramamaīkāramānānusayā na bhavis­santi, bahiddhā ca sabbanimittesu ahaīkāramamaīkāra­mān­ānusayā na bhavis­santi, ya¤ca cetovimuttiü pa¤¤āvimuttiü upasampajja viharato ahaīkāramamaīkāramānānusayā na honti, ta¤ca cetovimuttiü pa¤¤āvimuttiü upasampajja vi­ha­ris­sāmā'ti. Eva¤hi kho, Sāriputta, sikkhitabbaü,

"If that is so, Sāriputta, you all should train yourselves thus: In this conscious body and in all external signs there shall be no latencies to conceits in terms of I-ing and my-ing, and we will attain to and dwell in that deliverance of the mind and that deliverance through wisdom whereby no such laten­cies to conceits of I-ing and my-ing will arise. Thus should you all train yourselves!"

The Buddha goes on to declare the final outcome of that training: Ayaü vuccati, Sāriputta, bhikkhu acchecchi taõhaü vāvattayi saüyojanaü sammā mānābhisamayā antam akāsi dukkhassa.

"Such a monk, Sāriputta, is called one who has cut off craving, turned back the fetters, and by rightly under­stand­ing conceit for what it is, has made an end of suffering."

We find the Buddha summing up his exhortation by quot­ing two verses from a Sutta in the Pārāyanavagga of the Sutta Ni­pāta, which he himself had preached to the Brahmin youth Uda­ya. We may mention in passing that among canonical texts, the Sutta Nipāta was held in high esteem so much so that in a number of discourses the Buddha is seen quoting from it, particularly from the two sections Aņ­ņha­ka­vag­ga and Pārā­ya­na­vagga. Now the two verses he quotes in this instance from the Pārāyanavagga are as follows:

Pahānaü kāmacchandānaü,

domanassāna cåbhayaü,

thãõassa ca panådanaü,

kukkuccānaü nivāraõaü,



a¤¤āvimokhaü pabråmi,


"The abandonment of both sensuous perceptions,

And unpleasant mental states,

The dispelling of torpidity ,

And the warding off of remorse,

The purity born of equanimity and mindfulness,

With thoughts of Dhamma forging ahead,

And blasting ignorance,

This I call the deliverance through full understanding."

This is ample proof of the fact that the arahatta­phala­sam­ādhi is also called a¤¤āvimokkha. Among the Nines of the Aī­gut­tara Nikāya we come across another discourse which throws more light on the subject. Here Venerable ânanda is addressing a group of monks.

Acchariyaü, āvuso, abbhutam, āvuso, yāva¤cidaü tena Bhagavatā jānatā passatā arahatā sammāsambuddhena sam­bādhe okāsādhigamo anubuddho sattānaü visuddhiyā soka­pariddavānaü samatikkamāya dukkhadomanassānaü at­thaī­gamāya ¤āyassa adhigamāya nibbānassa sacchikiriyāya.

Tadeva nāma cakkhuü bhavissati te råpā ta¤cāyatanaü no paņisaüvedissati. Tadeva nāma sotaü bhavissati te saddā ta¤­cāyatanaü no paņisaüvedissati. Tadeva nāma ghānaü bhavis­sati te gandhā ta¤cāyatanaü no paņisaüvedissati. Sā ca nāma jivhā bhavissati te rasā ta¤cāyatanaü no paņisaüvedissati. So ca nāma kāyo bhavissati te phoņņhabbā ta¤cāyatanaü no paņi­saü­vedissati.[24]

"It is wonderful, friends, it is marvellous, friends, that the Exalted One who knows and sees, that Worthy One, fully en­lightened, has discovered an opportunity in obstructing cir­cumstances for the purification of beings, for the transcending of sorrow and lamentation, for the ending of pain and unhap­piness, for the attainment of the right path, for the realization of Nibbāna.

In as much as that same eye will be there, those forms will be there, but one will not be experiencing the appropriate sense-sphere. That same ear will be there, those sounds will be there, but one will not be experiencing the appropriate sense-sphere. That same nose will be there, those smells will be there, but one will not be experiencing the appropriate sense-sphere. That same tongue will be there, those flavours will be there, but one will not be experiencing the appropriate sense-sphere. That same body will be there, those tangibles will be there, but one will not be experiencing the appropriate sense-sphere."

What is so wonderful and marvellous about this newly dis­covered opportunity is that, though apparently the senses and their corresponding objects come together, there is no experi­ence of the appropriate spheres of sense contact. When Vener­able ânanda had described this extraordinary level of experi­ence in these words, Venerable Udāyã raised the following ques­tion:

Sa¤¤ãmeva nu kho āvuso ânanda, tadāyatanaü no paņi­saü­­vedeti udāhu asa¤¤ã? "Friend, is it the fact that while be­ing conscious one is not experiencing that sphere or is he un­conscious at that time?"

Venerable ânanda affirms that it is while being conscious, sa¤­¤ãmeva, that such a thing happens. Venerable Udāyã's cross-question gives us a further clue to the riddle like verse we discussed earlier, beginning with na sa¤¤a sa¤¤ã na vi­sa¤­¤a sa¤¤ã.

It is indeed puzzling why one does not experience those sense-objects, though one is conscious. As if to drive home the point, Venerable ânanda relates how he once answered a re­lated question put to him by the nun Jaņilagāhiyā when he was staying at the Deer park in A¤janavana in Sāketa. The ques­tion was:

Yāyaü, bhante ânanda, samādhi na cābhinato na cāpanato na ca sasaīkhāraniggayhavāritavato, vimuttattā ņhito, ņhitattā santusito, santusitattā no paritassati. Ayaü, bhante, sam­ādhi kiü­phalo vutto Bhagavatā?

"That concentration, Venerable ânanda, which is neither turned towards nor turned outwards, which is not a vow con­strained by preparations, one that is steady because of free­dom, contented because of steadiness and not hankering be­cause of contentment, Venerable Sir, with what fruit has the Exalted One associated that concentration?"

The question looks so highly compressed that the key words in it might need some clarification. The two terms abhi­nata and apanata are suggestive of lust and hate, as well as introversion and extroversion. This concentration is free from these extreme attitudes. Whereas in ordinary concentration saī­­khāras, or preparations, exercise some degree of control as the term vikkhambhana, "propping up", "suppression", sug­gests, here there is no implication of any forcible action as in a vow. Here the steadiness is born of freedom from that very constriction.

Generally, the steadiness characteristic of a level of con­centration is not much different from the apparent steadi­ness of a spinning top. It is the spinning that keeps the top up. But here the very freedom from that spinning has brought about a steadiness of a higher order, which in its turn gives rise to contentment.

The kind of peace and contentment that comes with sam­ādhi in general is brittle and irritable. That is why it is some­times called kuppa paņicca santi, "peace subject to irritabil­ity".[25] Here, on the contrary, there is no such irritability.

We can well infer from this that the allusion is to akuppā ceto­­vimutti, "unshakeable deliverance of the mind". The kind of contentment born of freedom and stability is so perfect that it leaves no room for hankering, paritassanā.

However, the main point of the question posed by that nun amounts to this: What sort of a fruit does a samādhi of this de­scription entail, according to the words of the Exalted One? After relating the circumstances connected with the above question as a flash back, Venerable ânanda finally comes out with the answer he had given to the question:

Yāyaü, bhagini, samādhi na cābhinato na cāpanato na ca sasaīkhāraniggayhavāritavato, vimuttattā ņhito, ņhitattā san­tu­sito, santusitattā no paritassati, ayaü, bhagini, samādhi a¤­¤āphalo vutto Bhagavatā.

"Sister, that concentration which is neither turned towards nor turned outwards, which is not a vow constrained by prepa­rations, one that is steady because of freedom, contented be­cause of steadiness and not hankering because of contentment, that concentration, sister, has been declared by the Buddha to have full understanding as its fruit."

A¤¤ā, or full understanding, is one that comes with realiza­tion conferring certitude and it is the fruit of the concentration described above. Then, as if coming back to the point, Vener­able ânanda adds: Evaü sa¤¤ãpi kho, āvuso, tad āya­ta­naü no paņisaüvedeti. "Being thus conscious, too, friend, one does not experience an appropriate sphere of sense."

So now we have garnered sufficient evidence to substanti­ate the claims of this extraordinary arahatta­phala­sam­ādhi. It may also be mentioned that sometimes this realization of the arahant is summed up in a sentence like anāsavaü cetovi­mut­tiü pa¤¤āvimuttiü diņņheva dhamme sayaü abhi¤¤ā sacchi­kat­­vā upasampajja viharati,[26] "having realized by himself through higher knowledge here and now the influx-free deliv­erance of the mind and deliverance through wisdom, he dwells having attained to it."

There is another significant discourse in the section of  the Fours in the Aīguttara Nikāya which throws some light on how one should look upon the arahant when he is in arahatta­phala­samādhi. The discourse deals with four types of persons, namely:

1) anusotagāmã puggalo "downstream bound person"

2) paņisotagāmã puggalo "upstream bound person"

3) ņhitatto puggalo "stationary person"

4) tiõõo pāragato thale tiņņhati brāhmaõo "the Brahmin

stand­ing on dry ground having crossed over and gone be-


The first type of person indulges in sense pleasures and com­mits evil deeds and is thus bound downstream in saüsāra. The second type of person refrains from indulgence in sense pleasures and from evil deeds. His upstream struggle is well expressed in the following sentence: Sahāpi dukkhena sahāpi domanassena assumukhopi rudamāno paripuõõaü pa­ri­sud­dhaü brahmacariyaü carati, "even with pain, even with dis­pleasure, with tearful face and crying he leads the holy life in its fullness and perfection."

The third type, the stationary, is the non-returner who, after death, goes to the Brahma world and puts and end to suffering there, without coming back to this world.

It is the fourth type of person who is said to have crossed over and gone to the farther shore, tiõõo pāragato, and stands there, thale tiņņhati. The word brahmin is used here as an epi­thet of an arahant. This riddle-like reference to an arahant is explained there with the help of the more thematic descrip­tion āsavānaü khayā anāsavaü cetovimuttiü pa¤¤ā­vi­muttiü diņ­ņheva dhamme sayaü abhi¤¤ā sacchikatvā upa­sam­paj­ja vi­harati, "with the extinction of influxes he attains to and abides in the influx free deliverance of the mind and deliverance through wisdom".

This brings us to an extremely deep point in our discussion on Nibbāna. If the arahant in arahattaphalasamādhi is sup­posed to be standing on the farther shore, having gone beyond, what is the position with him when he is taking his meals or preaching in his every day life? Does he now and then come back to this side?

Whether the arahant, having gone to the farther shore, comes back at all is a matter of dispute. The fact that it in­volves some deeper issues is revealed by some discourses touching on this question.

The last verse of the Paramaņņhakasutta of the Sutta Ni­pā­ta, for instance, makes the following observation:

Na kappayanti na purekkharonti,

dhammā pi tesaü na paņicchitāse,

na brāhmaõo sãlavatena neyyo,

pāraügato na pacceti tādi.[28]

"They, the arahants, do not formulate or put forward


They do not subscribe to any views,

The true Brahmin is not liable to be led astray by ceremo­-

nial rites and ascetic vows,

The Such like One, who has gone to the farther shore,

comes not back."

It is the last line that concerns us here. For the arahant it uses the term tādã, a highly significant term which we came across earlier too. The rather literal rendering "such-like" stands for steadfastness, for the unwavering firmness to stand one's ground. So, the implication is that the arahant, once gone beyond, does not come back. The steadfastness associ­ated with the epithet tādã is reinforced in one Dham­ma­pada verse by bringing in the simile of the firm post at the city gate: Indakhãlåpamo tādi subbato,[29] "who is steadfast and well con­ducted like the pillar at the city gate."

The verse in question, then, points to the conclusion that the steadfast one, the arahant, who has attained supramundane freedom, does not come back.  

[1] M I 436, MahāMālunkyasutta.

[2] See especially sermon 7.

[3] It 62, Santatara Sutta.

[4] See sermon 7.

[5] It-a II 42.

[6] Ud 12, Sakkārasutta; see sermon 16.

[7] This expression occurs e.g. at M I 35, âkaīkheyyasutta.

[8] This expression occurs e.g. at S IV 297, Godattasutta.

[9] Ps III 115, aņņhakathā  on the Bahuvedanãyasutta.

[10] Ud 9, Bāhiyasutta; see sermon 15.

[11] A V 8, Sāriputtasutta.

[12] A III 379, Soõasutta.

[13] See sermon 1.

[14] S IV 19, âdittasutta.

[15] See sermons 9 and 15.

[16] S IV 98, Kāmaguõasutta.

[17] See sermon 5.

[18] Spk II 391.

[19] M III 217, Saëāyatanavibhaīgasutta.

[20] Ud 80, Paņhamanibbānapaņisaüyuttasutta.

[21] Ud-a 389.

[22] A I 133, Sāriputtasutta.

[23] Sn 1106-1107, Udayamāõavapucchā.

[24] A IV 426, ânandasutta.

[25] Sn 784, Duņņhaņņhakasutta.

[26] E.g. D I 156, Mahālisutta.

[27] A II 5, Anusotasutta.

[28] Sn 803, Paramaņņhakasutta.

[29] Dhp 95, Arahantavagga.


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