|Nibbāna Sermon 19|
|by Bhikkhu K. Ņänananda|
Sermons Part 1 - 7
|Nibbāna Sermon 08||
Nibbāna Sermon 17
Nibbāna Sermon 19
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa
Etaü santaü, etaü paõãtaü, yadidaü sabbasaīkhārasamatho sabbåpadhipaņinissaggo taõhakkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānaü.
"This is peaceful, this is excellent, namely the stilling of all preparations, the relinquishment of all assets, the destruction of craving, detachment, cessation, extinction."
With the permission of the Most Venerable Great Preceptor and the assembly of the venerable meditative monks. This is the nineteenth sermon in the series of sermons on Nibbāna.
Towards the end of our last sermon, we started commenting on the two terms sa-upādisesā Nibbānadhātu and anupādisesā Nibbānadhātu. Our discussion was based on a discourse, which we quoted from the Itivuttaka. We also drew attention to a certain analogy found in the discourses, which shows that the two Nibbāna elements actually represent two stages of the extinguishment implicit in the term Nibbāna.
When no more firewood is added to a blazing fire, flames would subside and the logs of wood already burning go on smouldering as embers. After some time, they too get extinguished and become ashes. With regard to the arahant, too, we have to think in terms of this analogy. It can be taken as an illustration of the two Nibbāna elements. To the extent the living arahant is free from fresh graspings, lust, hate and delusions do not flare up. But so long as he has to bear the burden of this organic combination, this physical frame, the arahant has to experience certain afflictions and be receptive to likes and dislikes, pleasures and pains.
In spite of all that, mentally he has access to the experience of the extinguishment he has already won. It is in that sense that the arahant is said to be in the Nibbāna element with residual clinging in his everyday life, while taking in the objects of the five senses.
At the last moment of the arahant's life, even this organic body that had been grasped as upādiõõa has to be abandoned. It is at that moment, when he is going to detach his mind from the body, that anupādisesā parinibbānadhātu comes in. A brief hint to this effect is given in one of the verses occurring in the Nāgasutta referred to earlier. The verse runs thus:
sarãraü vijahaü nāgo
"The one who has abandoned lust,
Hate and delusion and is influx-free,
That elephant of a man, on giving up his body,
Will attain full appeasement, being influx-free."
If we define in brief the two Nibbāna elements this way, a more difficult problem confronts us relating to the sense in which they are called diņņhadhammika and samparāyika. Diņņhadhammika means what pertains to this life and samparāyika refers to what comes after death. What is the idea in designating sa-upādisesā Nibbānadhātu as diņņhadhammika and anupādisesā Nibbānadhātu as samparāyika?
In the context of kamma, the meaning of these two terms is easily understood. But when it comes to Nibbāna, such an application of the terms would imply two types of Nibbānic bliss, one to be experienced here and the other hereafter.
But that kind of explanation would not accord with the spirit of this Dhamma, because the Buddha always emphasizes the fact that Nibbāna is something to be realized here and now in toto. It is not a piecemeal realization, leaving something for the hereafter. Such terms like diņņhevadhamme, in this very life, sandiņņhika, here and now, and akālika, timeless, emphasize this aspect of Nibbāna.
In the context of Nibbāna, these two terms have to be understood as representing two aspects of a perfect realization attainable in this very life. Briefly stated, anupādisesā Nibbānadhātu is that which confers the certitude, well in time, that the appeasement experienced by an arahant during this life time remains unchanged even at death. To say that there is a possibility of realizing or ascertaining one's state after death might even seem contradictory. How can one realize one's after death state?
We get a clear-cut answer to that question in the following passage in the Dhātuvibhaīgasutta of the Majjhima Nikāya. Seyyathāpi, bhikkhu, tela¤ca paņicca vaņņi¤ca paņicca telappadãpo jhāyati, tasseva telassa ca vaņņiyā ca pariyādānā a¤¤assa ca anupahārā anāhāro nibbāyati, evameva kho, bhikkhu, kāyapariyantikaü vedanaü vediyamāno `kāyapariyantikaü vedanaü vedayāmã'ti pajānati, jãvitapariyantikaü vedanaü vediyamāno `jãvitapariyantikaü vedanaü vedayāmã'ti pajānati, `kāyassa bhedā paraü maraõā uddhaü jãvitapariyādānā idheva sabbavedayitāni anabhinanditāni sãtãbhavissantã'ti pajānati.
"Just as, monk, an oil lamp burns depending on oil and the wick, and when that oil and the wick are used up, if it does not get any more of these, it is extinguished from lack of fuel, even so, monk, when he feels a feeling limited to the body, he understands `I feel a feeling limited to the body', when he feels a feeling limited to life, he understands `I feel a feeling limited to life', he understands `on the breaking up of this body, before life becomes extinct, even here itself, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool."
The last sentence is particularly noteworthy in that it refers to an understanding well beforehand that all feelings, not being delighted in, will become cool at death. The futuristic ending signifies an assurance, here and now, as the word idheva, even here itself, clearly brings out. The delighting will not be there, because all craving for a fresh existence is extirpated.
The arahant has won this assurance already in his arahattaphalasamādhi, in which he experiences the cooling off of all feelings. That is why we find the arahants giving expression to their Nibbānic bliss in the words sãtibhåto'smi nibbuto, "gone cool am I, yea, extinguished".
Since for the arahant this cooling off of feelings is a matter of experience in this very life, this realization is referred to as anupādā parinibbāna in the discourses. Here we seem to have fallen into another track. We opened our discussion with an explanation of what anupādisesa parinibbāna is, now we are on anupādā parinibbāna. How are we to distinguish between these two?
Anupādisesa parinibbāna comes at the last moment of the arahant's life, when this organic combination of elements, grasped par excellence, upādiõõa, is discarded for good. But anupādā parinibbāna refers to the arahattaphalasamādhi as such, for which even other terms like anupādā vimokkha are also applied on occasion.
As the term anupādā parinibbāna signifies, the arahant experiences, even in this very life, that complete extinguishment, parinibbāna, in his arahatta phalasamādhi. This fact is clearly brought out in the dialogue between Venerable Sāriputta and Venerable Puõõa Mantāniputta in the Rathavinãtasutta of the Majjhima Nikāya.
Venerable Sāriputta's exhaustive interrogation ending with kim atthaü carahāvuso, bhagavati brahmacariyaü vussati?, "For the sake of what then, friend, is the holy life lived under the Exalted One?", gets the following conclusive answer from Venerable Puõõa Mantāniputta: anupādāparinibbānatthaü kho, āvuso, bhagavati brahmacariyaü vussati, "Friend, it is for the sake of perfect Nibbāna without grasping that the holy life is lived under the Exalted One".
As the goal of endeavour, anupādā parinibbāna surely does not mean the ending of life. What it implies is the realization of Nibbāna. It is that experience of the cooling off of feelings the arahant goes through in the arahattaphalasamādhi. It is sometimes also called nirupadhi, the "asset-less". Here we have a problem of a semantic type. At a later date, even the term nirupadhisesa seems to have come into vogue, which is probably a cognate formed after the term anupādisesa.
Nowhere in the discourses one comes across the term nirupadhisesa parinibbāna. Only such terms as nirupadhi, niråpadhiü, nirupadhi dhammaü are met with. They all refer to that arahattaphalasamādhi, as for instance in the following verse, which we had occasion to quote earlier too:
Kāyena amataü dhātuü,
asokaü virajaü padaü.
"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."
To proclaim, one has to be alive. Therefore nirupadhi is used in the discourses definitely for the arahattaphalasamādhi, which is a living experience for the arahant. Anupādā parinibbāna, anupādā vimokkha and nirupadhi all refer to that experience of the cooling off of feelings. This fact is clearly revealed by the following two verses in the Vedanāsaüyutta of the Saüyutta Nikāya:
sato Buddhassa sāvako,
vedanā ca pajānāti,
Yattha cetā nirujjhanti,
vedanānaü khayā bhikkhu,
In this couplet, the experience of the fruit of arahant-hood is presented under the heading of feeling. The disciple of the Buddha, concentrated, fully aware and mindful, understands feelings, the origin of feelings, and the point at which they surcease and the way leading to their extinction. With the extinction of feelings, that monk is hunger-less and perfectly extinguished. The reference here is to that bliss of Nibbāna which is devoid of feeling, avedayita sukha. It is hunger-less because it is free from craving.
The perfect extinguishment mentioned here is not to be understood as the death of the arahant. In the discourses the term parinibbuta is used as such even with reference to the living arahant. Only in the commentaries we find a distinction made in this respect. The parinibbāna of the living arahant is called kilesaparinibbāna, the perfect extinguishment of the defilements, while what comes at the last moment of an arahant's life is called khandhaparinibbāna, the perfect extinguishment of the groups or aggregates. Such a qualification, however, is not found in the discourses.
The reason for this distinction was probably the semantic development the term parinibbāna had undergone in the course of time. The fact that this perfect extinguishment is essentially psychological seems to have been ignored with the passage of time. That is why today, on hearing the word parinibbāna, one is immediately reminded of the last moment of the life of the Buddha or of an arahant. In the discourses, however, parinibbāna is clearly an experience of the living arahant in his arahattaphalasamādhi.
This fact is clearly borne out by the statement in the Dhātuvibhaīgasutta already quoted: idheva sabbavedayitāni anabhinanditāni sãtãbhavissantã'ti pajānati, "he understands that all what is felt will cool off here itself". It is this very understanding that is essential. It gives the certitude that one can defeat Māra at the moment of death through the experience of the cooling off of feelings.
The phrase jãvitapariyantikaü vedanaü refers to the feeling which comes at the termination of one's life. For the arahant, the arahattaphalasamādhi stands in good stead, particularly at the moment of death. That is why it is called akuppā cetovimutti, the unshakeable deliverance of the mind. All other deliverances of the mind get shaken before the pain of death, but not this unshakeable deliverance of the mind, which is the REAL-ization of extinguishment that is available to the arahant already in the arahattaphalasamādhi, in the experience of the cooling off of feelings. It is this unshakeable deliverance of the mind that the Buddha and the arahants resort to at the end of their lives, when Māra comes to grab and seize.
So now we can hark back to that verse which comes as the grand finale in the long discourse from the Itivuttaka we have already quoted.
Ye etad a¤¤āya padaü asaīkhataü,
te dhammasārādhigamā khaye ratā,
pahaüsu te sabbabhavāni tādino.
This verse might appear problematic, as it occurs at the end of a passage dealing with the two Nibbāna elements. Ye etad a¤¤āya padaü asaīkhataü, "those who having fully comprehended this unprepared state", vimuttacittā bhavanettisaīkhayā, "are released in mind by the cutting off of tentacles to becoming, te dhammasārādhigamā khaye ratā, "taking delight in the extirpation of feelings due to their attainment to the essence of dhamma", that is the unshakeable deliverance of the mind, pahaüsu te sabbabhavāni tādino, "being steadfastly such like, they have given up all forms of becoming".
The last line is an allusion to the experience of the cessation of existence here and now, which in effect is the realization of Nibbāna, true to the definition bhavanirodho nibbānaü, "cessation of existence is Nibbāna". It is that very cessation of existence that is called asaīkhata dhātu, the "unprepared element". If bhava, or existence, is to be called saīkhata, the `prepared', the cessation of existence has to be designated as asaīkhata, the `unprepared'. Here lies the difference between the two.
So we have here two aspects of the same unprepared element, designated as sa-upādisesā parinibbānadhātu and anupādisesā parinibbānadhātu. The mind is free even at the stage of sa-upādisesa, to the extent that the smouldering embers do not seek fresh fuel. Anupādisesa refers to the final experience of extinguishment. There the relevance of the term parinibbāna lies in the fact that at the moment of death the arahants direct their minds to this unshakeable deliverance of the mind. This is the `island' they resort to when Māra comes to grab.
The best illustration for all this is the way the Buddha faced death, when the time came for it. Venerable Anuruddha delineates it beautifully in the following two verses:
yaü kālamakarã muni.
vimokkho cetaso ahu.
"Adverting to whatever peace,
The urgeless sage reached the end of his life span,
There were no in-breaths and out-breaths,
For that steadfastly such-like one of firm mind.
With a mind fully alert,
He bore up the pain,
The deliverance of the mind was like
The extinguishment of a torch."
The allusion here is to the deliverance of the mind. This is a description of how the Buddha attained parinibbāna. Though there is a great depth in these two verses, the commentarial exegesis seems to have gone at a tangent at this point. Commenting on the last two lines of the first verse, the commentary observes: Buddhamuni santiü gamissāmãti, santiü ārabbha kālamakari, "the Buddha, the sage, passed away for the sake of that peace with the idea `I will go to that state of peace'".
There is some discrepancy in this explanation. Commentators themselves usually give quite a different sense to the word ārabbha than the one implicit in this explanation. Here it means "for the sake of". It is for the sake of that peace that the Buddha is said to have passed away.
In such commentaries as Jātaka-aņņhakathā and Dhammapada-aņņhakathā, commentators do not use the word ārabbha in the introductory episodes in this sense. There it only means "in connection with", indicating the origin of the story, as suggested by the etymological background of the word itself. When for instance it is said that the Buddha preached a particular sermon in connection with Devadatta Thera, it does not necessarily mean that it was meant for him. He may not have been there at all, it may be that he was already dead by that time. The term ārabbha in such contexts only means that it was in connection with him. It can refer to a person or an incident, as the point of origin of a particular sermon.
Granted this, we have to explain the verse in question not as an allusion to the fact that the Buddha, the sage, passed away for the sake of that peace with the idea `I will attain to that state of peace'. It only means that the Buddha, the sage, passed away having brought his mind into that state of peace. In other words, according to the commentary the passing away comes first and the peace later, but according to the sutta proper, peace comes first and the passing away later.
There is a crucial point involved in this commentarial divergence. It has the presumption that the Buddha passed away in order to enter into `that Nibbāna element'. This presumption is evident quite often in the commentaries. When hard put to it, the commentaries sometimes concede the sutta's standpoint, but more often than otherwise they follow a line of interpretation that comes dangerously close to an eternalist point of view, regarding Nibbāna.
Here too the commentarial exegesis, based on the term ārabbha, runs the same risk. On the other hand, as we have pointed out, the reference here is to the fact that the Buddha adverted his mind to that peace well before the onset of death, whereby Māra's attempt is foiled, because feelings are already cooled off. It is here that the unshakeable deliverance of the mind proves its worth.
As a `real'-ization it is already available to the Buddha and the arahants in the arahattaphalasamādhi, and when the time comes, they put forward this experience to beat off Māra. That is why we find a string of epithets for Nibbāna, such as tāõaü, leõaü, dãpaü, saraõaü, parāyanaü, khemaü and amataü. When faced with death, or the pain of death, it gives `protection', tānaü. It provides shelter, like a `cave', leõaü. It is the `island', dãpaü, within easy reach. It is the `refuge', saraõaü, and the `resort', parāyanaü. It is the `security', khemaü, and above all the `deathless', amataü. This deathlessness they experience in this very world, and when death comes, this realization stands them in good stead.
Why Venerable Anuruddha brought in the profane concept of death with the expression kālamakari into this verse, describing the Buddha's parinibbāna, is also a question that should arrest our attention. This particular expression is generally used in connection with the death of ordinary people. Why did he use this expression in such a hallowed context? It is only to distinguish and demarcate the deliverance of the mind, couched in the phrase vimokkho cetaso ahu, from the phenomenon of death itself.
The Buddhas and arahants also abandon this body, like other beings. The expression kālamakari, "made an end of time", is an allusion to this phenomenon. In fact, it is only the Buddhas and arahants who truly make an `end' of time, being fully aware of it. Therefore the most important revelation made in the last two lines of the first verse, anejo santimārabbha, yaü kālamakarã muni, is the fact that the Buddha passed away having brought his mind to the peace of Nibbāna.
All this goes to prove that an arahant, even here and now in this very life, has realized his after death state, which is none other than the birthless cessation of all forms of existence that amounts to deathlessness itself.
In all other religions immortality is something attainable after death. If one brings down the Buddha's Dhamma also to that level, by smuggling in the idea of an everlasting Nibbāna, it too will suffer the same fate. That would contradict the teachings on impermanence, aniccatā, and insubstantiality, anattatā.
But here we have an entirely different concept. It is a case of overcoming the critical situation of death by directing one's mind to a concentration that nullifies the power of Māra. So it becomes clear that the two terms sa-upādisesā parinibbānadhātu and anupādisesā parinibbānadhātu stand for two aspects of the same asaīkhatadhātu, or the unprepared element.
As a matter of fact, arahants have already directly realized, well in time, their after death state. That is to say, not only have they gone through the experience of extinguishment here and now, but they are also assured of the fact that this extinguishment is irreversible even after death, since all forms of existence come to cease.
This is an innovation, the importance of which can hardly be overestimated. Here the Buddha has transcended even the dichotomy between the two terms sandiņņhika and samparāyika. Generally, the world is inclined to believe that one can be assured only of things pertaining to this life. In fact, the word sandiņņhika literally means that one can be sure only of things visible here and now. Since one cannot be sure of what comes after death, worldlings are in the habit of investing faith in a particular teacher or in a god.
To give a clearer picture of the principle involved in this statement, let us bring up a simple episode, concerning the general Sãha, included among the Fives of the Aīguttara Nikāya. It happens to centre on dānakathā, or talks on liberality. Let it be a soft interlude - after all these abstruse discourses.
Sãha, the general, is a wealthy benefactor, endowed with deep faith in the Buddha. One day he approaches the Buddha and asks the question: sakkā nu kho, bhante, sandiņņhikaü dānaphalaü pa¤¤āpetuü?"Is it possible, Lord, to point out an advantage or fruit of giving visible here and now?"
What prompted the question may have been the usual tendency to associate the benefits of giving with the hereafter. Now the Buddha, in his answer to the question, gave four advantages visible here and now and one advantage to come hereafter. The four fruits of giving visible here and now are stated as follows:
1) dāyako, sãha, dānapati bahuno janassa piyo hoti manāpo, "Sãha, a benevolent donor is dear and acceptable to many people".
2) dāyakaü dānapatiü santo sappurisā bhajanti, "good men of integrity resort to that benevolent donor".
3) dāyakassa dānapatino kalyāõo kittisaddo abbhuggacchati, "a good report of fame goes in favour of that benevolent donor".
4) dāyako dānapati yaü yadeva parisaü upasaīkamati, yadi khattiyaparisaü yadi brāhmaõaparisaü yadi gahapatiparisaü yadi samaõaparisaü, visārado va upasaīkamati amaīkubhåto, "whatever assembly that benevolent donor approaches, be it an assembly of kings, or brahmins, or householders, or recluses, he approaches with self confidence, not crestfallen".
These four fruits or advantages are reckoned as sandiņņhika, because one can experience them here and now. In addition to these, the Buddha mentions a fifth, probably by way of encouragement, though it is outside the scope of the question.
5) dāyako, sãha, dānapati kāyassa bhedā paraü maraõā sugatiü saggaü lokaü upapajjati, "the benevolent donor, Sãha, when his body breaks up after death is reborn in a happy heavenly world."
This is a fruit of giving that pertains to the next world, samparāyikaü dānaphalaü. Then Sãha the general makes a comment, which is directly relevant to our discussion:
Yānimāni, bhante, bhagavatā cattāri sandiņņhikāni dānaphalāni akkhātāni, nāhaü ettha bhagavato saddhāya gacchāmi, ahaü petāni jānāmi. Ya¤ca kho maü, bhante, bhagavā evamāha `dāyako, sãha, dānapati kāyassa bhedā paraü maraõā sugatiü saggaü lokaü upapajjatã'ti, etāhaü na jānāmi, ettha ca panāhaü bhagavato saddhāya gacchāmi.
"Those four fruits of giving, visible here and now, which the Lord has preached, as for them, I do not believe out of faith in the Exalted One, because I myself know them to be so. But that about which the Exalted One said: `Sãha, a benevolent donor, when the body breaks up after death is reborn in a happy heavenly world', this I do not know. As to that, however, I believe out of faith in the Exalted One."
Regarding the first four advantages of giving, Sãha says "I do not believe out of faith in the Exalted One, because I myself know them to be so", nāhaü ettha bhagavato saddhāya gacchāmi, ahaü petāni jānāmi. It is because he knows out of his own experience that they are facts that he does not believe out of faith in the Exalted One. There is something deep, worth reflecting upon, in this statement.
Then with regard to the fruit of giving, mentioned last, that is to say the one that concerns the hereafter, samparāyika, Sãha confesses that he does not know it as a fact, but that he believes it out of faith in the Exalted One, etāhaü na jānāmi, ettha ca panāhaü bhagavato saddhāya gacchāmi. It is because he does not know, that he believes out of faith in the Exalted One.
Here then we have a good illustration of the first principle we have outlined earlier. Where there is knowledge born of personal experience, there is no need of faith. Faith is displaced by knowledge of realization. It is where one has no such experiential knowledge that faith comes in. That is why Sãha confesses that he has faith in the fifth fruit of giving. With regard to the first four, faith is something redundant for him.
Now that we have clarified for ourselves this first principle, there is a certain interesting riddle verse in the Dhammapada, to which we may apply it effectively, not out of a flair for riddles, but because it is relevant to our topic.
Assaddho akata¤¤å ca,
sandhicchedo ca yo naro,
sa ve uttamaporiso.
This is a verse attributed to the Buddha that comes in the Arahantavagga of the Dhammapada, which puns upon some words. Such riddle verses follow the pattern of a figure of speech called double entendr, which makes use of ambiguous words. The above verse sounds blasphemous on the first hearing. The Buddha is said to have employed this device to arrest the listener's attention. The surface meaning seems to go against the Dhamma, but it provokes deeper reflection.
For instance, assaddho means faithless, to be akata¤¤å is to be ungrateful, sandhicchedo is a term for a housebreaker, hatāvakāso is a hopeless case with no opportunities, vantāso means greedy of vomit. So the surface meaning amounts to this:
"That faithless ungrateful man,
Who is a housebreaker,
Who is hopeless and greedy of vomit,
He indeed is the man supreme."
For the deeper meaning the words have to be construed differently. Assaddho implies that level of penetration into truth at which faith becomes redundant. Akata, the unmade, is an epithet for Nibbāna, and akata¤¤å is one who knows the unmade. Sandhicchedo means one who has cut off the connecting links to saüsāra. Hatāvakāso refers to that elimination of opportunities for rebirth. Vantāso is a term for one who has vomited out desires. The true meaning of the verse, therefore, can be summed up as follows:
"That man who has outgrown faith, as he is a knower of the unmade,
Who has sundered all shackles to existence and destroyed all possibilities of rebirth,
Who has spewed out all desires,
He indeed is the man supreme."
The description, then, turns out to be that of an arahant. Assaddho as an epithet for the arahant follows the same norm as the epithet asekho. Sekha, meaning "learner", is a term applied to those who are training for the attainment of arahant-hood, from the stream-winner, sotāpanna, upwards. Literally, asekha could be rendered as "unlearned" or "untrained". But it is certainly not in that sense that an arahant is called asekha. He is called asekha in the sense that he is no longer in need of that training, that is to say, he is an adept. Assaddho, too, has to be construed similarly.
As we have mentioned before, the arahant has already realized the cessation of existence in his arahattaphalasamādhi, thereby securing the knowledge of the unmade, akata, or the unprepared, asaīkhata. The term akata¤¤å highlights that fact of realization. The most extraordinary and marvellous thing about the realization of Nibbāna is that it gives an assurance not only of matters pertaining to this life, sandiņņhika, but also of what happens after death, samparāyika - in other words, the realization of the cessation of existence.
Nibbāna as the realization here and now of the cessation of existence, bhavanirodho nibbānaü, carries with it the assurance that there is no more existence after death. So there is only one asaīkhatadhātu. The verse we already quoted, too, ends with the words pahaüsu te sabbabhavāni tādino, "those steadfastly such like ones have given up all forms of existence".
One thing should be clear now. Though there are two Nibbāna elements called sa-upādisesā Nibbānadhātu and anupādisesā Nibbānadhātu, there is no justification whatsoever for taking anupādisesā Nibbānadhātu as a place of eternal rest for the arahants after death - an everlasting immortal state. The deathlessness of Nibbāna is to be experienced in this world itself. That is why an arahant is said to feast on ambrosial deathlessness, amataü paribhu¤jati, when he is in arahattaphalasamādhi. When it is time for death, he brings his mind to this samādhi, and it is while he is partaking of ambrosial deathlessness that Māra quietly takes away his body.
An arahant might even cremate his own body, as if it is another's. Now we are at an extremely deep point in this Dhamma. We have to say something in particular about the two terms saīkhata and asaīkhata. In our last sermon, we happened to give a rather unusual explanation of such pair-wise terms like the `hither shore' and the `farther shore', as well as the `mundane' and the `supramundane'. The two terms in each pair are generally believed to be far apart and the gap between them is conceived in terms of time and space. But we compared this gap to that between the lotus leaf and the drop of water on it, availing ourselves of a simile offered by the Buddha himself.
The distance between the lotus leaf and the drop of water on it is the same as that between the hither shore and the farther shore, between the mundane and the supramundane. This is no idle sophistry, but a challenge to deeper reflection.
The Dhammapada verse we quoted earlier beginning with yassa pāraü apāraü vā, pārāpāraü na vijjati, "to whom there is neither a farther shore nor a hither shore nor both", is puzzling enough. But what it says is that the arahant has transcended both the hither shore and the farther shore. It is as if he has gone beyond this shore and the other shore as well, that is to say, he has transcended the dichotomy.
We have to say something similar with regard to the two terms saīkhata and asaīkhata. Saīkhata, or the prepared, is like a floral design. This prepared floral design, which is bhava, or existence, is made up, as it were, with the help of the glue of craving, the tangles of views and the knots of conceits. If one removes the glue, disentangles the tangles and unties the knots, the saīkhata, or the prepared, itself becomes asaīkhata, the unprepared, then and there. The same floral design, which was the saīkhata, has now become the asaīkhata. This itself is the cessation of existence, bhavanirodho. When one can persuade oneself to think of Nibbāna as an extinguishment, the term parinibbāna can well be understood as `perfect extinguishment'.
The parinibbāna of the arahant Dabba Mallaputta is recorded in the Udāna as a special occasion on which the Buddha uttered a paean of joy. Venerable Dabba Mallaputta was an arahant, gifted with marvellous psychic powers, specializing in miracles performed by mastering the fire element, tejo dhātu. His parinibbāna, too, was a marvel in itself.
When he found himself at the end of his life span, he approached the Buddha and informed him of it, as if begging permission, with the words: parinibbāna kālo me dāni, sugata, "it is time for me to attain parinibbāna, O well-gone one". And the Buddha too gave permission with the words: yassa dāni tvaü, Dabba, kālaü ma¤¤asi, "Dabba, you may do that for which the time is fit".
As soon as the Buddha uttered these words, Venerable Dabba Mallaputta rose from his seat, worshipped the Buddha, circumambulated him, went up into the sky and, sitting cross-legged, aroused the concentration of the fire element and, rising from it, attained parinibbāna. As his body thus miraculously self-cremated burnt in the sky, it left no ashes or soot.
This was something significant that fits in with the definition of Nibbāna so far given. That is probably why the Buddha is said to have uttered a special verse of uplift or paean of joy at this extinguishment, which was perfect in every sense.
Abhedi kāyo, nirodhi sa¤¤ā,
vedanā sãtirahaüsu sabbā,
vi¤¤ānaü attham agamā.
"Body broke up, perceptions ceased,
All feelings cooled off,
Preparations calmed down,
Consciousness came to an end."
This event was of such a great importance that, though it occurred at Veëuvana ārāma in Rājagaha, the Buddha related the event to the congregation of monks when he returned to Sāvatthã. It was not an incidental mention in reply to a particular question, but a special peroration recounting the event and commemorating it with the following two Udāna verses, which so aptly constitute the grand finale to our Udāna text.
yathā na ¤āyate gati.
pa¤¤āpetuü gatã n'atthi,
pattānaü acalaü sukhaü.
"Just as in the case of a fire
Blazing like a block of iron in point of compactness,
When it gradually calms down,
No path it goes by can be traced.
Even so of those who are well released,
Who have crossed over the floods of shackles of sensuality,
And reached Bliss Unshaken,
There is no path to be pointed out."
We have deviated from the commentarial interpretation in our rendering of the first two lines of the verse. The commentary gives two alternative meanings, probably because it is in doubt as to the correct one. Firstly it brings in the idea of a bronze vessel that is being beaten at the forge with an iron hammer, giving the option that the gradual subsidence mentioned in the verse may apply either to the flames or to the reverberations of sound arising out of it. Secondly, as a `some say so' view, kecidvāda, it gives an alternative meaning, connected with the ball of iron beaten at the forge.
In our rendering, however, we had to follow a completely different line of interpretation, taking the expression ayoghanahatassa as a comparison, ayoghanahatassa + iva, for the blazing fire, jalato jātavedaso. On seeing a fire that is ablaze, one gets a notion of compactness, as on seeing a red hot block of solid iron.
In the Dhammapada verse beginning with seyyo ayogulo bhutto, tatto aggisikhåpamo, "better to swallow a red hot iron ball, that resembles a flame of fire", a cognate simile is employed somewhat differently. There the ball of iron is compared to a flame of fire. Here the flame of fire is compared to a block of iron.
All in all, it is highly significant that the Buddha uttered three verses of uplift in connection with the parinibbāna of the arahant Venerable Dabba Mallaputta. The most important point that emerges from this discussion is that Nibbāna is essentially an extinction or extinguishment.
An extinguished fire goes nowhere. In the case of other arahants, who were cremated after their parinibbāna, there is a left over as ashes for one to perpetuate at least the memory of their existence. But here Venerable Dabba Mallaputta, as if to drive a point home, through his psychic powers based on the fire element, saw to it that neither ashes nor soot will mar his perfect extinguishment in the eyes of the world. That is why the Buddha celebrated it with these special utterances of joy.
So then the cessation of existence is itself Nibbāna. There is no everlasting immortal Nibbāna awaiting the arahants at their parinibbāna.
That kind of argument the commentaries sometimes put forward is now and then advanced by modern day writers and preachers, too, in their explanations. When it comes to Nibbāna, they resort to two pet parables of recent origin, the parable of the tortoise and the parable of the frog.
In the former, a tortoise goes down into the water and the fishes ask him where he came from. The tortoise replies that he came from land. In order to determine what sort of a thing land is, the fishes go on asking the tortoise a number of questions based on various qualities of water. To each question the tortoise has to reply in the negative, since land has none of the qualities of water.
The parable of the frog is much the same. When it gets into water it has to say `no no' to every question put by the toad, still unfamiliar with land. To make the parables convincing, those negative answers, the `no-nos', are compared to the strings of negative terms that are found in the sutta passages dealing with the arahattaphalasamādhi, which we have already quoted.
For instance, to prove their point those writers and teachers would resort to the famous Udāna passage beginning with:
`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 ...' "There is, monks, that sphere, in which 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 ...".
But we have reasonably pointed out that those passages do not in any way refer to a non-descript realm into which the arahants enter after their demise, a realm that the tortoise and the frog cannot describe. Such facile explanations contradict the deeper teachings on the cessation of existence, dependent arising and not self. They create a lot of misconceptions regarding Nibbāna as the ultimate aim.
The purpose of all those arguments is to assert that Nibbāna is definitely not an annihilation. The ideal of an everlasting Nibbāna is held out in order to obviate nihilistic notions. But the Buddha himself has declared that when he is preaching about the cessation of existence, those who held on to eternalist views wrongly accused him for being an annihilationist, who teaches about the annihilation, destruction and non-existence of a truly existing being, sato satassa ucchedaü vināsaü vibhavaü pa¤¤āpeti.
On such occasions, the Buddha did not in any way incline towards eternalism in order to defend himself. He did not put forward the idea of an everlasting Nibbāna to counter the accusation. Instead, he drew attention to the three signata and the four noble truths and solved the whole problem. He maintained that the charge is groundless and utterly misconceived, and concluded with the memorable declaration: pubbe cāhaü, bhikkhave, etarahi ca dukkha¤ceva pa¤¤āpemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaü, "formerly as well as now, I point out only a suffering and a cessation of that suffering".
Even the term tathāgata, according to him, is not to be conceived as a self. It is only a mass of suffering that has come down through saüsāra, due to ignorance. The so-called existence, bhava, is an outcome of grasping, upādāna. When grasping ceases, existence comes to an end. That itself is the cessation of existence, bhavanirodha, which is Nibbāna.
As the term anupādā parinibbāna suggests, there is no grasping in the experience of the cessation of existence. It is only when one is grasping something that he can be identified with it, or reckoned by it. When one lets go of everything, he goes beyond reckoning. Of course, even the commentaries sometimes use the expression apa¤¤attikabhāvaü gatā, "gone to the state beyond designation" with regard to the parinibbāna of arahants.
Nevertheless, they tacitly grant a destination, which in their opinion defies definition. Such vague arguments are riddled with contradictions. They obfuscate the deeper issues of the Dhamma, relating to paņicca samuppāda and anattā, and seek to perpetuate personality view by slanting towards eternalism.
It is to highlight some extremely subtle aspects of the problem of Nibbāna that we brought out all these arguments today.
1. M I 436, MahāMālunkyasutta.
2. A III 347, Nāgasutta.
3. M III 245, Dhātuvibhaīgasutta.
4. Th 298, Rāhulatheragāthā.
5. E.g. M II 265, âne¤jasappāyasutta.
6. M I 147, Rathavinãtasutta.
7. S I 194, Moggallānasutta.
8. Bv-a 252.
9. It 62, Santatara Sutta, see sermon 17.
10. S IV 204, Samādhisutta.
11. Ps III 115, aņņhakathā on the Bahuvedanãyasutta.
12. E.g. at Mp I 91.
13. M III 245, Dhātuvibhaīgasutta.
14. It 39, Nibbānadhātusutta, see sermon 18.
15. A V 9, Sāriputtasutta.
16. D II 157, Mahāparinibbānasutta.
17. Sv II 595.
18. Devadattaü ārabbha at Dhp-a I 133 and Ja I 142.
19. S IV 371, Asaīkhatasaüyutta.
20. A III 39, Sãhasenāpattisutta.
21. Dhp 97, Arahantavagga.
22. It 39, Nibbānadhātusutta.
23. Dhp 385, Brāhmaõavagga; see sermon 18.
24. Ud 92, Paņhamadabbasutta.
25. Ud 93, Dutiyadabbasutta.
26. Ud-a 435.
27. Dhp 308, Nirayavagga.
28. Ud 80, Paņhamanibbānapaņisaüyuttasutta, see sermon 17.
29. M I 140, Alagaddåpamasutta.
30. Sv II 635.
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