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What is Nibbāna?
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........................................................................6 About the Milinda Pañha............3 The Realisation of Nibbāna .................................................................................................................................iii What is Nibbāna? ...............................................................................................................................9 ........................3 Description of Nibbāna..........................................iv The Uncaused...................................................6 How Can One Realise Nibbāna?..............................................................................................................................7 Key Points About the Way to Nibbāna...............................2 The Bliss of Nibbāna...........Contents Preface................................1 Modes of Production............................4 Where is Nibbāna? .......
We must awaken the thirst for understanding. since the so-called ‘self’ does not exist — though aaining nibbāna entails the annihilation of egoism. Only Noble Ones can know what nibbāna is really like. haed. worrying. However. as it usually is. and delusion. If you can gain good concenation for one or two hours you will be able to understand how blissful nibbāna would be. when the burn heals you don’t feel the pain any more. It is blissful. eing. Some people ask. When we are uly mindful. In fact. It is the spiritual quest that is latent in all human beings. which is the end of suﬀering. For example. To get the taste of nibbāna we should practise constant mindfulness. It is not a place like heaven or paradise. First.Preface Nibbāna is exemely subtle and hard to describe. you feel at ease. the mind is almost silent and puriﬁed to a great extent om mental deﬁlements. if you burn your hand it is very painful for some time aerwards. Nibbāna is not annihilation of the self. and how profoundly unsatisfactory sensual pleasures are. because there is no pain there now. but we can understand fairly well by inference and constant practise of insight meditation. etc. and all worldly ambitions. planning. The Arahants and Buddhas do not “enter” nibbāna when they die. One who practises constant mindfulness of the body knows the taste of nibbāna. The whole day we are busy with this and that: thinking. the beer we can appreciate the value of nibbāna. When the mind is racing out of conol. scheming. but there is no feeling associated with it. fantasising. The absence of pain is a subtle kind of happiness. and give up worldly ways of thinking. Then you will surely long to aain it. we must understand how desirable nibbāna is. The more we understand what suﬀering is. The desire for eedom is a wholesome iii . because there is no feeling in nibbāna it is uly peaceful. it is not. The desire for nibbāna means the desire to be ee om greed. “Isn’t the desire for nibbāna just another kind of craving?” No. we don’t experience any real peace. reminiscing.
at least in some form. Bhikkhu Pesala November 2012 . Below are some exacts about nibbāna om “The Debate of King Milinda” in which I abridged the anslation of the Milinda Pañha.iv What is Nibbāna? mental state called ‘chanda iddhipāda’. There is good reason to suppose that the dialogues described in the Milinda Pañha did actually take place. The Milinda Pañha is an ancient Pali book compiled in the form of a dialogue between a Buddhist Sage. and a Bacian Greek King. Nāgasena. which is opposed to desire. Milinda or Menander.
is there anything that does not fall into either of these three categories?” “There are two such things. O king. they ﬁnd delight in them and cling to them. that you speak to me thus?” “Venerable sir. or answer a question without knowing what you are saying!” “What have I said.” “Do not. As those who have not had their hands and feet cut oﬀ can know how painful a condition it is by the cries of those who have. perceives what should be perceived. he aains nibbāna. but with hundreds of reasons did the Blessed One proclaim to his 1 . develops what should be developed and realises what should be realised. Hence they are carried down by the ﬂood [of passion] and are not released om birth and suﬀering. lamentation. O king. death. grief. space and nibbāna. corrupt the words of the Conqueror.” “Does everyone aain nibbāna?” “Not all. and others are produced by season. sorrow and despair cease to exist. However. Venerable Nāgasena. Tell me. but whoever conducts himself rightly. All foolish worldlings take pleasure in the senses and their objects. abandons what should be abandoned.What is Nibbāna? “Is cessation nibbāna?” “Yes. so can those who have not aained nibbāna know it is blissful by hearing the joyful words of those who have aained it. becoming ceases. others are the result of a cause. Thence. pain.” “Can one who has not aained nibbāna know that it is blissful?” “Yes indeed. O king. it is right what you say about space.” The Uncaused “Nāgasena. O king. old age. birth ceases. there are things in the world that have come into existence through kamma. the wise disciple of the noble ones does not delight in those things. Thus it is that cessation is nibbāna. aachment ceases. O king. understands what should be understood. So craving ceases in him.
or body. cause. and can be cognised by the mind.” “Nibbāna. O king.” “Then explain by means of similes what the wind is. and wind are season‑born.” “Here.” “Then. if there is a cause for the realisation of nibbāna we would expect to ﬁnd a cause for its arising. present. Just so. or cognisable by the eye. or future. O king. It cannot be said of nibbāna that it has arisen or can arise. nibbāna is a condition that does not exist!” “Nibbāna does exist. we go om darkness to greater darkness. O king. it cannot be said that it is perceptible by the ﬁve senses. The disciple whose mind is pure. Nāgasena.” “Then explain by means of similes what nibbāna is. If there is a father of a child we would expect to ﬁnd a father of the father. nibbāna exists. therefore no cause has been pointed out for its production. but it exists all the same. nose.” “Is there such a thing as the wind?” “Yes there is. The earth.2 What is Nibbāna? disciples the way to the realisation of nibbāna and yet you say that nibbāna is not the result of any cause. Nāgasena. O king. and ee om obsuctions can perceive nibbāna” . sincere.” “It is ue. unobsucted and ee om craving can aain nibbāna. Space and nibbāna exist independently of kamma. tongue. O king. Of nibbāna. and season. is unconsucted. and all things growing out of seeds are cause‑born. but it is impossible to describe. ear. that in many ways did the Blessed One point out a way to the realisation of nibbāna. O king are kamma‑born. A noble disciple whose mind is pure. om uncertain to uer confusion. but it is perceptible by the mind. and what season‑born? What is it that is none of these?” “All beings.” “Just so. but he did not point out a cause for the arising of nibbāna. lo. water.” “It is not possible to explain what the wind is by means of similes.” Modes of Production “What is it that is kamma‑born. that it is past. what cause‑born. Fire.
Nāgasena.” “Just so. and iends. shape or duration of nibbāna by a simile?” “No it is not possible. O king. That bliss.Description of Nibbāna The Bliss of Nibbāna 3 “Is nibbāna entirely blissful or is it partly painful?” “It is entirely blissful.” “Is it mixed with pain?” “No. what you call pain is not nibbāna. venerable Nāgasena. It is ue that those who seek nibbāna experience pain and discomfort. resaint of the senses. but you resain and prevent such pleasures and so experience physical and mental discomfort and pain. O king. is not mixed with pain. O king. and engage in ﬁerce bales at the risk of their lives?” “That. that when the ontier provinces have revolted. but aerwards they experience the unalloyed bliss of nibbāna.” “O king. Those who seek it have to practise austeri and exertion of body and mind. to point out the size. kings have to set out om their palaces and march over uneven ground.” “But that I cannot accept. nibbāna has no pain.” “Is there then any aibute of nibbāna found in other things that can be demonsated by a simile?” . It is only the preliminary stage in the pursuit of that bliss. and they have to give up wealth. family. abstention om food at the wrong time. is not the bliss of sovereign. there is no other thing like it. such a thing as the bliss of the sovereign of kings?” “Yes there is. Is there. suppression of sleep. nibbāna is unalloyed bliss and there is no pain mixed in it. It is aer they have won it that they enjoy the bliss of sovereign. I will tell you a reason for that.” “But why is it then.” Description of Nibbāna “Is it possible. They are blissful who enjoy the pleasures of the senses. tormented by mosquitoes and hot winds. Nāgasena.
“As a lotus is unweed by water. nibbāna is emp of all deﬁlements. inaccessible to the deﬁlements. it increases the spiritual sength of beings.4 What is Nibbāna? “Yes that can be done. “Like a mountain peak. “As the ocean is emp of corpses. nor producible. its agrance is incomparable and it is praised by good men. immovable. it is the sphere of Noble Ones who are like birds in space. and nourishes like nectar. “Like space. neither arisen. nor present nor future. which sustains life. nibbāna has the delicious taste of eedom. it has no place where deﬁlements can grow. so nibbāna has special aibutes. “Like water. nibbāna drives away old age and death. as ghee has a delicious taste. cures the disease of suﬀering. In . it cools the fever of deﬁlements and quenches the thirst of craving. as ghee has a sweet agrance. it is the abode of great beings [the arahants]. as the ocean is not increased by all the rivers that ﬂow into it. causes delight and is lusous. it is hard to get. it does not pass away here and arise elsewhere. and it is without favouritism or prejudice. that nibbāna is neither past. it fulﬁls all desires. it removes the disess of the deﬁlements. Nāgasena. it is not born. it is unobsucted and it is inﬁnite. “Like a wish‑fulﬁlling gem. nibbāna has the sweet agrance of virtue. it is not aached to anything. “Like red sandalwood. “Like food. “Like medicine. thieves cannot steal it. nibbāna is unsullied by the deﬁlements. it is very high. so nibbāna is not increased by all the beings who aain it. it protects beings who are poisoned by the deﬁlements.” The Realisation of Nibbāna “You say. it is invincible. does not decay or perish. “As ghee is recognisable by its special aibutes. it relieves the exhaustion of all suﬀering. it gives the beau of virtue. nor not arisen. and it is decorated with the waves of knowledge and eedom.
answer this question by making it obscure! Make it clear and elucidate it. by his wisdom. would be relieved and blissful when he had escaped to a safe place. and he who practises rightly and who rightly comprehends the formations according to the teachings of the Conqueror. “How is nibbāna to be shown? By eedom om disess and danger. It is a point on which people are bewildered and lost in doubt. by puri and by coolness. honours. he sees nothing pleasant or agreeable in any part of it. If only there could be an end to it.” “The element of nibbāna does exist. Break this dart of uncertain. To him who sees the terror of the eadmill of life the thought arises. his mind overﬂows with discontent and a fever takes hold of his body. and fame. old age. disease. yet nibbāna does exist. or as one fallen into a pit of ﬁlth would be at ease and glad when he had got out of the pit and cleaned up. O king. full of suﬀering and despair. that would be excellent. as hot and searing should you regard the three‑fold ﬁre of desire. “How does he who is practising rightly realise nibbāna? He rightly grasps the cyclic nature of formations and therein he sees only birth. and death. and death. As a man. haed. O king. that would be peaceful. he.The Realisation of Nibbāna 5 that case does the man who realises nibbāna realise something already produced. or as one apped in a forest ﬁre would be calm and cool when he had reached a safe spot. and delusion. the cessation of all mental . ‘On ﬁre and blazing is this wheel of life. realises nibbāna. disease. old age. hopeless and without a refuge he becomes disgusted with repeated lives.” “Do not. as on a red‑hot iron ball. aaid and terriﬁed at having fallen among enemies. Seeing nothing there to be taken hold of. or does he himself produce it ﬁrst and then realise it?” “Neither of these. as ﬁlth should you regard gain. As fearful and terriing should you regard the anxie that arises again and again on account of birth. Nāgasena.
” Where is Nibbāna? “Is there a place. the one who practises rightly realises nibbāna.” “Very good. you have praised the qualities of virtue. not very long aer the time of the Buddha.” “But is there any place on which a man might stand and realise nibbāna?” “Yes there is. and with reasoning. ‘A refuge has been found at last!’ He sives along the path for the cessation of formations. energy and joy. the renunciation of grasping. develops it. yet it does exist. you have taught about nibbāna. not barren nor without uit are the eﬀorts of those with right aims!” About the Milinda Pañha The Milinda Pañha was wrien over two thousand years ago. where nibbāna is stored up?” “No there is not. then does he exult and rejoice at the thought. To that end he stirs up his mindfulness. in Kashmir or Gandhāra. on a mountain top or in the highest heavens. having anscended the eadmill of life. and makes much of it. As there is no place where ﬁre is stored up yet it may be produced by rubbing two dry sticks together. whether in the land of the Scythians or the Bacians. standing on that. Nāgasena. searches it out. virtue is the place. dispassion. Nāgasena. cessation.6 What is Nibbāna? formations. One who stops the eadmill is said to have realised nibbāna. and om aending again and again to that thought [of disgust with mental formations]. you have explained about the realisation of nibbāna. the desuction of craving. raised alo the banner of the Dhamma. Then has he found peace. shown the right way of practice. nibbāna!’ “Therewith his mind leaps forward into the state where there is no becoming. wherever he might be. Venerable Nāgasena was reputed to be an Arahant. though I suppose that . established the Dhamma as a leading principle. he brings the cycle to a halt. whether in China or Tibet.
The Milinda Pañha could have been compiled by a Buddhist scholar to please the Greek king. for long periods — for several months. was a non-Buddhist om birth. How Can One Realise Nibbāna? All ue Buddhists want to know the answer to this question. as taught by Venerable Mahāsī Sayādaw of Burma or other great teachers. Those who were successful practised mindfulness throughout the whole day and late into the night without a break. both young and old. it is included in the Pali Canon. will have a good chance to realise it.How Can One Realise Nibbāna? 7 Milinda (Menander). Many people in modern times have realised nibbāna. but mature insight requires deep concenation and senuous eﬀort. Many lay people. one will enjoy very signiﬁcant beneﬁts that will radically alter one’s outlook on life. but neither should one . have been successful in their practice. not just a few weeks. Aer that. so only a few will succeed. Whatever its origin may be. Those who practise meditation intensively with systematic mindfulness. If anyone claimed to have aained nibbāna aer practising for only a week or two. Though the dialogues probably did take place — it may not have been in the form that we now have. it is rare to ﬁnd people with such great abili nowadays. but they must be exceptionally diligent. I would be very sceptical. insight will begin to arise. One should take the practice of meditation seriously. Nevertheless. being a Bacian Greek king. and is regarded by Theravādins as a masterly exposition of the Buddha Dhamma. Although there are plen of accounts in the Tipiṭaka of rapid and sudden aainment when conditions were ripe. It is apparent om the range of his questions that he had a thorough knowledge of Buddhist teachings. if one gains mental puri and the early stages of insight. perhaps being based on conversations in the Greek king’s court. Most people will have to suggle for several days just to gain mental puri. One should not underestimate the task. unless they had done a lot of meditation previously.
One should go to a quiet place or a meditation . Each time one puts down the burden of contemplation. ﬁve precepts are not enough. If one assumes that realisation is impossible. Diligent meditators must sleep very lile (less than six hours). For serious meditation. but practising for the whole night is not recommended. but avoiding exemes like complete abstinence om food and sleep. regardless of concerns for comfort. To aain nibbāna while still indulging in and aached to sensual pleasures is impossible. it takes time to pick it up again.8 What is Nibbāna? assume that nibbāna is beyond one’s reach. Wakefulness is the second essential requirement. and progress will slow down dramatically. Then one must practise sictly according to the insuctions given. and moderation in eating. Although meditation should be practised at home whenever possible. one will not make senuous eﬀorts. which is conducive to concenation. One must be willing to bear physical discomfort caused by hunger. one will not gain deep concenation. if one makes a sincere commitment to observe the precepts perfectly when taking up meditation. etc. Eﬀort must be continuous and uninterrupted. which includes chasti. then nibbāna will be unaainable. Most people break one or more of the ﬁve precepts om time to time. It is barely possible to gain continuous mindfulness while practising at home. Impeccable morali is the ﬁrst. However. A meditator must practise with a “do or die” eﬀort. but you are also very likely to be interrupted. Continui is the third essential requirement. If one changes one’s siing posture every time pain arises. Several requirements are indispensable to aain nibbāna. One must observe eight precepts. it is not the right environment to develop insight. or life itself. The middle path does not mean a moderate amount of eﬀort — it means a senuous eﬀort. health. loss of sleep. abstention om entertainments. without hiding any moral lapses om the teacher. In your own home you will be at ease. Momentum will be lost. moral puri is established.
“This. and even within Buddhism there are many diﬀerent aditions and meditation methods. The Buddha’s most important discourse on mindfulness. Right understanding is indispensable to success in meditation. monks. 2. A ten-day course should be suﬃcient to gain signiﬁcant insight. the Satipaṭṭhāna Sua.Key Points About the Way to Nibbāna 9 cene to practise continuously for as long as one can manage. so a beginner is sure to be perplexed.” Yet the same discourse contains at least six diﬀerent meditation techniques. A supportive environment is the fourth essential requirement. so the way to it opposes deﬁlements. At the higher stages of insight one must become thoroughly weary of the mental and physical processes. We should note several key points about the way to nibbāna: Key Points About the Way to Nibbāna 1. One should also have the guidance of a skilled teacher. is the only way for the puriﬁcation of beings. for the extinction of pain and sorrow. begins by saying. Nibbāna is the cessation of craving. but to aain nibbāna one should practise continuously. for the anscendence of grief and lamentation. Twen-four hours is long enough to gain concenation. Other discourses describe diﬀerent ways to aain concenation. and know the distinction between a meditation technique. for the realisation of nibbāna. or aend regular ten-day courses. The Middle Way is not the easy way. though one will experience plen of joy and bliss if one practises energetically. One should understand the diﬀerence between concenation and insight. for aaining the right method. Progress may be relatively pain ee for an individual with very lile . and the comprehensive method of mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna). until the goal is reached. but they all revert to the Satipaṭṭhāna method to develop insight. Only such world weariness can lead to nibbāna. There are so many spiritual paths. The purpose of insight meditation is not to get ‘blissed out’.
If meditation does not reveal these three characteristics. not for the ﬂustered. iv. Thinking must be observed with bare awareness to realise its ue nature. it is not insight meditation.10 What is Nibbāna? aachment. not for the vague or for one who delights in diﬀuseness. and it may be swi for someone of keen intellect. “This Dhamma [nibbāna] is for one who wants lile. but for the average person it will require prolonged and senuous eﬀort. 3. for one who is precise and who delights in precision. Insight meditation must focus on realities that can be known in the present moment. for the mindful. not for the unmindful. 6. not for one who wants much. unsatisfactory. for the composed. and not-self. 4. not for the unwise. Thinking and theory are far away om direct insight knowledge. Reading and listening to discourses are only an aid to practice. All mental and physical phenomena must be investigated as soon as they occur within one’s mind to realise their ue nature. 227) . All conditioned things are impermanent. not for the discontented. One should expect to encounter diﬃculties on the way. Be wary of teachers who claim that it there is an easy route. 5. not for one fond of socie. for the energetic. for the wise. the Buddha said. In the discourse on the Eight Thoughts of a Great Man to Venerable Anuruddha.” (A. and does not lead to nibbāna. for the secluded. for the contented. not for the lazy.
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