The Supreme Peace


Human beings encounter many trials and tribulations. The situation can be summed up in one word: suffering (dukkha). (See Note Translations of Dukkha.) Most people freely acknowledge that life, both on a personal and on a social level, involves facing problems. These problems affect their happiness and present moral dilemmas. A close inspection reveals that all of these problems stem from the same source, that is, by its very nature, human life is endowed with problems or it has the potential to cause problems.

Saying that the purpose of life is to pursue happiness implies suffering: the very search for happiness reveals an inner deficiency that drives people to seek fulfilment. This suffering has many consequences. The search for happiness gives rise to conflicts of interest and to social problems. What begins as a personal problem is magnified and spreads outwards.

Translations of Dukkha

Trans.: there are many English translations for dukkha, including: ’suffering’, ’unsatisfactoriness’, ’stress’, ’pain’, and ’misery’. The Buddha used this word in different contexts, most notably in:

  • (a) The Three Characteristics, referring to the stress and pressure inherent in conditioned phenomena (see Chapter 3);

  • (b) the Four Noble Truths, referring to human suffering caused by ignorance and craving (see chapter 19); and

  • (c) the three kinds of feeling (vedanā), referring to ’painful sensation’ (see chapter 1).

The author here is highlighting the overlap and connection between these meanings, especially (a) and (b).

Yet this description is still rather ambiguous; for the sake of clarity one needs to get to the heart of the matter. A basic truth of life is that it is characterized by dukkha; the very nature of human life is marked by this universal characteristic of dukkha. Human life is a conditioned phenomenon (saṅkhāra), subject to various causes and conditions. It is impermanent, unstable, fleeting, and devoid of any lasting self or substance. One is unable to sustain life or to shape it purely according to one’s desires; one must conform to causes and conditions. This is dukkha on a more fundamental level.

The dukkha fundamental to life can be summed up by the words ’aging’ (jarā) and ’death’ (maraṇa), or by the words ’decay’ and ’dissolution’. In the wake of this fundamental dukkha follows dukkha as a human feeling or emotion, for example: ’suffering’, ’distress’, ’grief’, and ’regret’.

Due to the fact that life is characterized by a basic form of dukkha, for people to truly solve problems, bring suffering to an end, and experience real happiness, they must firmly abide in the truth. To begin with they must come to terms with the fundamental characteristic of dukkha, by applying wisdom in order to be free from it or to live with it at ease and to not create problems around it. If one is unable to reach this state, one should at least gain insight into this fundamental dukkha and develop a proper mental attitude in regard to it. One thus acknowledges and faces the truth with understanding.

If people lack this stability and are unable to come to terms with the fundamental characteristic of dukkha, they allow it to become a hidden problem lying within. They then try to bury their problems and to turn a blind eye to suffering. They end up deceiving themselves, and the problems festering in the mind intensify and increase. {326}

People claim that they desire happiness and are averse to suffering, but they often create problems for themselves precisely through the means they use to achieve happiness. Instead of dispelling suffering and generating happiness, they evade suffering in order to pursue happiness. They do not attend to the underlying roots of suffering. Their problems then develop into more serious mental complexes. Instead of dispelling or reducing suffering, they increase and compound it, both within themselves and outwards in their conflicts with society.

For those people who attempt to cover over and conceal their suffering, their pursuit of happiness indicates a sense of lack, distress, anxiety, and unhappiness. They seek things in order to feel fulfilled or to dispel their agitation, yet in this search they come into conflict with others. Moral issues in society thus become intensified.

By attending to suffering incorrectly, people vent their frustrations outwards, increasing suffering both for themselves and others. As a consequence, the inherent stress which is part and parcel of the conditioned nature of life is neglected rather than addressed. With their singular ingenuity people concoct a whole host of problems, until the basic predicament of life (of inherent stress) is virtually forgotten.

People may even delude themselves by thinking that happiness results from turning a blind eye to suffering.1 To make matters worse, that inherent stress, which has been avoided, covertly incites people to search for and indulge in ever more passionate and restless forms of pleasure, depriving them of confidence and contentment. As a result, moral crises in society become more serious, for instance through the increase of competition and oppression, and suffering is exacerbated.

As long as people are unable to come to terms with this fundamental aspect of life – unable to reconcile themselves to the universal characteristic of dukkha – they will not succeed in resolving their problems. They will not escape the oppression of dukkha, no matter how much pleasure they experience, and they will not meet with true, constant happiness, which is intrinsically complete and fully satisfying.

Human life involves solving problems and seeking release from suffering. But if we do not know the correct way leading to freedom, our attempted solutions to these problems only bring about increased suffering. The greater the effort, the greater the affliction, becoming an ever more complex cycle: a whirlpool of suffering. This state of affairs is saṁsāra-vaṭṭa, the ’wandering around’ or round of rebirth, which the Buddha explained in the teaching of Dependent Origination (paṭiccasamuppāda) under the cycle of origination (samudaya-vāra) and the forward sequence (anuloma-paṭiccasamuppāda). There it is revealed how human suffering arises according to cause and effect.

If people are able to face the truth and to understand the true nature of dukkha, besides being free of mental disorders that create and compound problems, they will be able to develop wisdom and to free their minds, even from the fundamental dukkha inherent to life. {327} The stress and pressure inherent in nature is recognized simply for what it is. It then has no power to create suffering in the minds of these individuals.

Even before they have reached complete liberation, those people who are not deceived or obstructed by unhealthy mental complexes created from unresolved suffering are able to experience happiness in a full and satisfactory way. At the same time they have the opportunity to develop happiness, by accessing ever more refined, independent, spacious, replete, and pure forms of happiness, until they eventually realize the happiness that is completely free from suffering. Their pathway to happiness is unrestricted and limitless.

When the Buddha taught Dependent Origination, he did not end with the origin of suffering. He also taught the cycle of cessation (paṭiccasamuppāda-nirodhavāra), which is the process of turning back, or turning away (vivaṭṭa): the end of suffering. Human suffering can be remedied and there are ways to achieve this. The Buddha went on to reveal the supreme state, in which humans are able to live noble lives, enjoy genuine happiness, and bring true benefit and meaning to life. They become free, without having to rely on external things or to depend on the happiness determined by conditioned phenomena.

Conditioned phenomena cannot sustain themselves, let alone sustain our happiness. Happiness dependent on external things offers no true support, since it is continually reliant on these things. Seeking meaning in this insecure form of happiness results in losing freedom and independence.

Although one may not fully attain the state of ’turning away’ at first, to the extent that one correctly attends to problems – reducing the force of the origination cycle and increasing the force of the cessation cycle – suffering will gradually abate and one’s life will be enhanced. One will be able to experience the pleasures of the world with wisdom, not enslaved to them or harmed by their fluctuating currents. Worldly pleasures will not be a source of trouble to oneself or others, and this healthy relationship to pleasure will promote wellbeing within society.

The discussion here focuses on the cessation cycle and the end of suffering, which directly opposes the origination cycle with its resultant suffering.2 {328}

Cessation of Suffering

Long Format

Before we can solve problems, however large or trivial these problems may be, we must first understand them accurately. If not, they may become more complex and severe. To effectively resolve life’s dilemmas we must understand each dilemma as well as the conditions giving rise to it. This is especially true when dealing with life’s fundamental problem: we must know suffering and the causes that bring about suffering. We must have an understanding of the truth, which is the essential factor for bringing an end to all suffering. A misunderstanding of the truth, on the other hand, creates problems. It results in people’s attempted solutions having an effect counter to the desired effect and further intensifying suffering.

The origination cycle, i.e. the creation of suffering, begins with ignorance:

Ignorance (avijjā) → volitional activities (saṅkhāra) → consciousness (viññāṇa) → mentality and corporeality (nāma-rūpa) → 6 sense bases (saḷāyatana) → contact (phassa) → feeling (vedanā) → craving (taṇhā) → clinging (upādāna) → becoming (bhava) → birth (jāti) → aging and death (jarāmaraṇa), sorrow (soka), lamentation (parideva), pain (dukkha), grief (domanassa), and despair (upāyāsa) = origin of suffering (dukkha-samudaya).

The reverse form of this is the cessation cycle, which begins with the extinguishing or absence of ignorance:

Ignorance ceases → volitional activities cease → consciousness ceases → mentality and corporeality cease → 6 sense bases cease → contact ceases → feeling ceases → craving ceases → clinging ceases → becoming ceases → birth ceases → aging, death + sorrow … despair cease = cessation of suffering (dukkha-nirodha). (See Note Cycles of Paṭiccasamuppāda)

The word nirodha (cessation) does not merely mean that something comes to an end, but also that it cannot reappear or function in the future. It is prevented from arising; it is stilled or ’detoxified’. The term paṭiccasamuppāda-nirodhavāra means the ending of existent suffering and the prevention of further suffering; a process in which suffering does not arise. The expression ’ignorance ceases’ means both the end of existing ignorance and the non-arising of future ignorance. It refers to knowledge (vijjā): to freedom from ignorance. {329}

Cycles of Paṭiccasamuppāda

Traditionally, there are four formats for outlining paṭiccasamuppāda, both the samudayavāra and the nirodhavāra cycles:

  1. From beginning to end (the usual format): avijjāsaṅkhāraviññāṇanāmarūpasaḷāyatanaphassavedanātaṇhāupādānabhavajātijarāmaraṇa + soka … upāyāsa (e.g. S. II. 1-2).

  2. From the end to the beginning: jarāmaraṇa (dukkha)jātibhavaupādānataṇhāvedanāphassasaḷāyatananāmarūpaviññāṇasaṅkhāraavijjā (M. I. 261-2).

  3. From the middle to the beginning: 4 ahārataṇhāvedanāphassasaḷāyatananāmarūpaviññāṇasaṅkhāraavijjā (S. II. 11-12).

  4. From the middle to the end: (saḷāyatanaphassa) → vedanā(taṇhā)upādānabhavajātijarāmaraṇa + soka … upāyāsa (M. I. 266).

In the context of nirodhavāra, the long format beginning with the cessation of ignorance is most commonly used. When explaining nirodhavāra in the first three formats, the complete sequence is shown (from or up to avijjā), but in the fourth format a shorter sequence is presented, as will be discussed soon.

Short Format

Both the origination cycle and cessation cycle shown above are expressed in the long format, with all twelve constituent factors. Each cycle proceeds in consecutive order until all factors are complete. However, these cycles are not always shown in this way, with the entire sequence of twelve factors. In the Pali Canon there are passages where for practical application the Buddha presented a process observable in daily life. The structure of these shortened formats depends on the point at which a problem begins or on the aspect he wished to emphasize.

The short format of the origination cycle begins with cognition at the six sense bases (āyatana) and then proceeds as an unbroken chain to aging, death, sorrow and despair. The initial part of the process, from ignorance up to the six sense bases, is omitted as its inherent influence is understood. The short format of the cessation cycle begins at the cessation of craving – after initial contact and feeling.

Here are two examples from the Pali Canon of the origination cycle (short format):

Monks, a child grows up and his faculties mature still further; the youth enjoys himself provided and endowed with the five strands of sensual pleasure: with forms, sounds, odours, flavours, and tangibles that are wished for, desired, agreeable and endearing, connected with sensual desire, and provocative of lust.

On seeing a form with the eye, hearing a sound with the ear, smelling an odour with the nose, tasting a flavour with the tongue, touching a tangible with the body, cognizing a mind-object with the mind, he is fond of it if it is pleasing; he dislikes it if it is displeasing. He abides with mindfulness of the body unestablished, with an inferior (undeveloped) mind, and he does not understand as it actually is deliverance of mind and deliverance by wisdom wherein evil, unwholesome states cease without remainder. {330}

Engaged as he is in favouring and opposing, whatever feeling he feels, whether pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant, he is gratified by that feeling, he broods over and welcomes it, and submits to it. As he does so, delight (nandi; ’infatuation’) arises in him. Now delight in feelings is clinging. With his clinging as condition, becoming arises; with becoming as condition, birth; with birth as condition, aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair come to be. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.3

M. I. 266-7.

Bhikkhus, what is the origin of suffering? Dependent on the eye and form, eye-consciousness arises. The union of these three is contact. With contact as condition, there is feeling. With feeling as condition, there is craving. This is the origin of suffering. (The same for the ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind.)

S. II. 72-3; S. IV. 87.

Selecting the principal elements in the above texts the origination cycle can be shown as follows:

  1. (Six sense bases → contact →) feeling → delight (nandi) → clinging → becoming → birth → aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair = the arising of suffering.

  2. (Six sense bases →) contact→ feeling → craving (taṇhā) = the arising of suffering.

These two examples are essentially the same; they both begin with cognition at the sense bases. The first example presents the process up to the end. The second example presents the process only up to craving; the remainder is to be inferred.

Now, two examples of the cessation cycle (short format):

  1. The aforementioned child has studied and practised the Dhamma, consisting of moral conduct and sense restraint, and developed concentrative absorption (jhāna): On seeing a form with the eye … cognizing a mind-object with the mind, he is not fond of it if it is pleasing; he is not annoyed with it if it is displeasing. He abides with mindfulness of the body established, with a developed, immeasurable mind, and he understands as it actually is deliverance of mind and deliverance by wisdom wherein those evil, unwholesome states cease without remainder. Having thus abandoned favouring and opposing, whatever feeling he feels, whether pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant, he is not gratified by that feeling, he does not welcome it or submit to it. As he does not do so, delight (infatuation) in feelings ceases in him. With the cessation of his delight comes cessation of clinging; with the cessation of clinging, cessation of becoming; with the cessation of becoming, cessation of birth; with the cessation of birth – aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair cease. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering. {331}

    M. I. 270.

  2. Bhikkhus, what is the passing away of suffering? Dependent on the eye and form, eye-consciousness arises. The union of these three is contact. With contact as condition, there is feeling. With feeling as condition, there is craving. Because that craving ceases and is extinguished without remainder, clinging ceases. With the cessation of clinging, becoming ceases. With the cessation of becoming, birth ceases. With the cessation of birth – old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair cease. In this way the entire mass of suffering ceases. This is the passing away of suffering. (Same for the ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind.)

    S. II. 72-3; S. IV. 87.

Based on these two texts the cessation cycle can be depicted as follows:

  1. (6 senses bases → contact →) feeling → delight (nandi) ceases → clinging ceases → becoming ceases → birth ceases → aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and affliction cease = the cessation of suffering.

  2. (6 senses bases →) contact → feeling → craving (taṇhā); (but) craving ceases → clinging ceases → becoming ceases → birth ceases → aging and death, sorrow … affliction cease = the cessation of suffering.

The first example presents all components of the short format but in reversed form to the origination cycle. The second example begins the same way as example two of the origination cycle, above. But where the origination cycle ends at craving, here the process changes course and completes the cycle of cessation. These two examples are essentially the same; they both demonstrate a severance of the cycle following initial cognition and feeling. As a result, delight or craving is prevented from arising and suffering ceases.

Note that the meaning of nandi in the first passage is similar to that of taṇhā in the second. The meaning differs only slightly, suited to the context of the first passage. Note also that the expression ’delight ceases’ in example one indicates clearly that delight does not arise; there is no delight (infatuation). One can apply this to passage two: unlike the origination cycle where craving arises subsequent to initial cognition and feeling, craving is now uprooted; the cycle is broken and the subsequent factors do not arise. The cessation of suffering is accomplished.

Although the short formats of saṁsāra-vaṭṭa and vivaṭṭa do not mention ignorance, the notion of ignorance is integral to both the origination and cessation cycles. When a feeling is experienced in the origination cycle, craving arises as a result of not fully comprehending the truth about the object encountered: that it is impermanent (anicca), subject to stress (dukkha), and nonself (anattā), and that it cannot be truly held on to as one’s own. Also, a person does not know how the object is beneficial or harmful. He cognizes with ignorance: avijjā-samphassa.4 The feeling ensuing from such contact gives rise to craving. {332}

In contrast, when a feeling is experienced in the cycle of cessation, craving does not arise, because the conditioned nature of the object is fully understood. With knowledge (vijjā) as a basis, cognition occurs in a way not influenced by ignorance; contact and feeling then do not lead to craving. The expression ’craving ceases’ implies the cessation of ignorance. Here, the short format indirectly points to the cessation of ignorance by highlighting the cessation of craving. This is analogous to the Buddha’s concise definition of the second and third noble truths: craving is the cause of suffering, and the end of suffering occurs with the end of craving. The Buddha used this way of speaking for practical reasons, to illustrate the Path and its immediate benefits.

The key feature of cessation, in both the long and short formats, is the breaking of the sequence. Generally, the sequence is broken at one of two junctures: the primary break is at ignorance and the secondary break is at craving. Breaking the cycle is of two types: directly at ignorance, and indirectly at craving. In either case, the break that is made must include the elimination of ignorance.

Once the cycle is broken, the round of rebirths (saṁsāra-vaṭṭa) ends, the process of turning away (vivaṭṭa) is reached, and freedom from suffering is attained. A person thus vanquishes all of life’s troubles and is without sorrow and affliction. He or she has true happiness, arriving at knowledge (vijjā), liberation (vimutti), purity (visuddhi), peace (santi), and Nibbāna. This is the highest benefit that human beings can obtain, making life worthwhile.

State of Nibbāna

Etymologically, Nibbāna derives from the prefix ni- (’out’, ’without’, ’finished’, or ’ended’), and vāna, (’to blow’, ’to go’, ’to move’, or in another sense a ’restraint’). It can be used in relation to fire or burning, meaning extinguishing, quenching, cooling, or coolness – but not extinction. In reference to the mind, it means peaceful, refreshed, and happy: an absence of agitation and anxiety.5 Similarly, it refers to the end of defilements: of greed, hatred and delusion. The commentaries and subcommentaries usually define Nibbāna as the end of or escape from craving, which binds people to repeated existence. (See Note Definitions of Nibbāna)

Definitions of Nibbāna

Analyses of the word nibbāna occur at many scriptural passages, especially: Nd2. 33; VinA.: Pārājikaṇḍaṁ, Paṭhamapārājikaṁ, Sudinnabhāṇavāravaṇṇana; DA. II. 464; AA. II. 283; KhA. 151; ItA. I. 165; SnA. I. 253, 299; NdA. I. 82, 104; DhsA. 409; Vism. 293-4; VinṬ.: Paṭhamo Bhāgo, Verañjakaṇḍavaṇṇanā, Vinayapaññattiyācanakathā; VismṬ.: Paṭhamo Bhāgo, Samādhiniddesavaṇṇanā, Samādhi-ānisaṅsakathāvaṇṇanā; CompṬ.: Abhidhammatthavibhāvinīṭīkā, Paramatthadhammavaṇṇanā.

Most of these explanations are identical or similar.

Further definitions include:

  • ’free from the jungle’ (i.e. the tangle of impurities): A. III. 344; AA. III. 371; Dh. verse 283; DhA. III. 204; and

  • an ’end to the triad of dukkha’: dukkha-dukkha, vipariṇāma-dukkha, and saṅkhāra-dukkha: VismṬ.: Paṭhamo Bhāgo, Samādhiniddesavaṇṇanā, Samādhi-anisaṅsakathāvaṇṇanā.

  • free of ’piercing arrows’: included in the Dhammavicāraṇa of Somdet Phra Mahāsamaṇa Chao Krom Phraya Vajirañāṇavarorasa (Mahāmakuta University Press, 1958, p. 55).

[Trans.: this introductory paragraph is found at p. 385 of the Thai edition.]

When the round of rebirth (saṁsāravaṭṭa) ends, freedom from rebirth (vivaṭṭa) takes over immediately and automatically.6 One does not travel from a place of saṁsāravaṭṭa to a place of vivaṭṭa, unless one is speaking figuratively or comparatively. Ignorance, craving and clinging cease and Nibbāna appears simultaneously in their place. One can say that the cessation of ignorance, craving and clinging is Nibbāna.

Ignorance, craving and clinging disturb the minds of unenlightened people (puthujjana) and conceal wisdom; they entangle the mind with defilements (kilesa) and distort vision. When ignorance, craving and clinging cease, luminous wisdom (vijjā) arises. With such wisdom one sees all things accurately, not through the lens of one’s desires. A person’s perception, attitudes and personality change. A new knowledge and vision arises; things appear that one has never known, seen or conceived of because they were concealed in the shadows or because one was preoccupied with other objects. The mind unfolds and expands immeasurably; it is clear, free, resplendent, peaceful, and profound. {333} When the state of Nibbāna is reached one knows this for oneself:

Nibbāna is to be seen for oneself,7 timeless, inviting one to come and see, to be brought within and realized, to be experienced individually by the wise.8

A. I. 158-9.

Ordinary people are unable to comprehend or imagine the state of Nibbāna. When encountering new concepts people normally use previous knowledge as a basis for comparison, and in attempting to understand Nibbāna they create an image that is a composite of pre-existing perceptions.

Take for example a person who has never heard of an elephant. On hearing the word ’elephant’ he may think it is a foreign word or simply nonsense. Learning that an elephant is an animal, he may consider all animals, from ants to whales, irrespective of size or type. The image is clearer when he is told that an elephant is an enormous land animal with big ears, small eyes, tusks, and a trunk.

This image may be close to reality or far from it; if he were to draw a picture on paper of what he sees in his mind, it may resemble some bizarre, mythological beast. Having never seen the real thing, he uses familiar perceptions to create an elaborate new image. The image will depend both on the accuracy of the speaker’s descriptions of the object, and on the listener’s stored perceptions used as components for a new perception.

In the case of something utterly different from anything previously perceived, and thoroughly incomparable, the listener has no way to conceive of it. If he attempts to understand this thing by means of familiar concepts and perceptions, the only reasonable way for the speaker to respond is by negation. Further speculation by the listener, using stored perceptions for comparison, can easily lead to misunderstanding. He may even go so far as outright rejection, accusing the speaker of deception and claiming that the thing in question does not exist. {334} Such rejection, based on unfamiliarity and an inability to conceive of something, would be ungrounded.

Nibbāna is beyond everything known by ordinary people – beyond their sphere and range – surpassing cognition influenced by ignorance, craving and clinging. It is a state arrived at directly with the abandonment of defilements, like sliding back a screen and seeing the sky. Nibbāna has no properties similar to things known by ordinary people. But claiming Nibbāna does not exist is incorrect.

The following fable has been used to illustrate how the unknown is not necessarily the unreal:

A fish and a turtle were close friends. The fish had spent its entire life in a lake, whereas the amphibious turtle knew both land and lake. One day the turtle returned to the lake after a walk on land. He told the fish how refreshing it was to walk on land, among open fields and a pleasant breeze. The fish listened for a while perplexed and thought: ’What is walking?’ ’What is dry land?’ ’How can there be happiness without water? Certainly, it just spells death.’

The fish grew impatient and interrupted the turtle, seeking clarification. The turtle explained using earth terms; when the fish inquired with water terms, the turtle could only reject them. The turtle could not find any suitable comparisons and the fish thus concluded that the turtle was lying, that the story wasn’t true: dry land does not exist and nor do fields, pleasant breezes or happiness outside of water. The turtle spoke of something that does exist but it lay beyond the fish’s ken. Since the fish had never been on land it was unable to understand.

Consider the distinct experience and perception arising from each of the senses. Sense impressions differ absolutely from each other and are not comparable: sights cannot be compared with sounds, nor can sounds with smells. A person blind from birth cannot understand the nature of green, red, orange, pink, or other characteristics of sight, using perceptual knowledge from other sense bases. Words such as ’loud’, ’faint’, ’malodorous’, ’fragrant’, ’sour’ or ’sweet’ would all be inadequate. No one can accurately explain to a person born without the sense of smell the quality of fetid, fragrant, the smell of roses, citrus or jasmine. Words such as ’red’, ’blue’, ’heavy’, ’light’, ’fat’, ’thin’, ’bitter’ and ’salty’ would all be unsuitable. Human beings have five sense organs for cognizing the world’s properties, the sense objects (ārammaṇa). Knowledge surpassing the domain of mundane objects generally remains hidden. Even the five recognized sense objects are known according to disparate qualities. Lack of familiarity or an inability to conceive of something is therefore not a guarantee of its non-existence.

Soon after the Buddha’s enlightenment, before proclaiming the Dhamma, he had this thought:

The Dhamma9 that I have attained is profound, difficult to see, difficult to realize, peaceful, excellent, not accessible by reasoning,10 subtle, to be known by the wise. {335}

This is followed by the verse: I should not now teach what I have attained with such tribulation; this Dhamma cannot be easily realized by those overcome with greed and hatred. Beings dyed in lust, enveloped in darkness (ignorance), will not discern that which goes against the current, is subtle, profound, difficult to see, refined.

Vin. I. 5; M. I. 168.

Despite its complexity the Buddha did make great effort to teach and explain the Dhamma. However, Nibbāna cannot be penetrated by mere thought. No words or perceptions exist to accurately describe or define it. Conceptualizing and disputing the subject of Nibbāna only leads to misunderstanding. The correct way is to apply the teachings so as to arrive at Nibbāna and see it clearly for oneself. With proper determination, rather than being ’inconceivable’ or ’indescribable’, Nibbāna is merely ’difficult to see, difficult to realize’, as quoted by the Buddha above.

It is worth noting the expressions the Buddha used when he spoke about Nibbāna. The definitions of Nibbāna can be summarised in the following four ways:

  1. By negation: those expressions marking the renunciation and removal of some inferior, unlovely or disadvantageous condition belonging to the round of rebirth (vaṭṭa). For example: Nibbāna is the end of greed, hatred and delusion;11 Nibbāna is the cessation of becoming;12 Nibbāna is the end of craving;13 and, the end of suffering.14 Such descriptions also use terms revealing a quality directly opposite to an attribute of vaṭṭa. For example, Nibbāna is unconditioned (asaṅkhata), ageless (ajara), and deathless (amata).

  2. By synonym: those terms indicating completion or perfection. For example: santa (’peaceful’), paṇīta (’excellent’), suddhi (’pure’), and khema (’secure’).15 {336}

  3. By simile and metaphor: similes are more often used for explaining the state and traits of a person who has attained Nibbāna than for Nibbāna itself. For example, the comparison of an arahant to a bull, leading his herd across the river to arrive at the other side,16 or to a person crossing a great ocean filled with dangers and reaching the shore.17 The Buddha claimed that it is inaccurate to say an arahant is reborn (’reappears’) somewhere, or is not born; he compared an arahant to a fire that is extinguished because there is no more fuel.18

    There are some direct similes, for example: Nibbāna is like a tranquil, pleasant region;19 like the other shore, secure and free from danger;20 and like a message of truth.21 There are many metaphors, for example: ārogya (without illness; perfect health), dīpa (an island; freedom from danger), and leṇa (a cave; shelter from danger). In later scriptures composed by disciples there are metaphors referring to Nibbāna as a city, e.g. puramuttamaṁ (’magnificent city’)22 and nibbāna-nagara (’fortress of Nibbāna’)23 used as oratorical and literary terms. Thai idioms include ’great deathless citadel’ (amatamahānagara-nirvāna), and ’crystal city’, but these later words are not recognized as accurate terms revealing the true state of Nibbāna.

  4. By direct explanation: these explanations occur in only a few places, but they are of much interest to scholars, especially for those who consider Buddhism a philosophy. The varying interpretations have given rise to numerous debates. I have presented a selection below.

Epithets for Nibbāna are occasionally found grouped in a single passage. Examples of all four kinds of definition are listed below, in Pali alphabetical order.24

Akaṇha-asukka: ’not black, not white’ (not confined to social class or caste; neither good nor bad; neither puñña nor pāpa).

Akata: not made; not built.

Akiñcana: nothing lingering in the mind; free from anxiety.

Akuto-bhaya: fearless.

Accuta: immovable; undeparting.

Acchariya: marvellous.

Ajara, Ajajjara: ageless; undecaying.

Ajāta: not born.

Anata: not swayed; an absence of craving.

Ananta: limitless.

Anādāna: no grasping.

Anāpara: sublime; foremost.

Anālaya: without longing; an absence of clinging.

Anāsava: without āsava (effluents/taints).

Anidassana: not seen with the eye; signless.

Anītika: without calamity.

Anuttara: unsurpassed; supreme.

Apalokita (-na): not disintegrating; not dissolving.

Abhaya: free of danger.

Abbhūta: ’has not been before’; wonderful.

Abyādhi: without disease.

Abyāpajjha: without oppression; free from dukkha.

Abhūta: ’not coming to be’.

Amata: deathless.

Amosa-dhamma: not declining; immutable.

Asaṅkiliṭṭha: undefiled.

Asaṅkuppa: unshakeable.

Asaṅkhata: not constructed.

Asaṅhīra: unshifting.

Asoka: sorrowless.

Ārogya: without sickness; perfect health.

Issariya: freedom; mastership.

Khema: security; safety.

Taṇhakkhaya: the end of craving.

Tāṇa: defender; protection.

Dīpa: island; refuge.

Dukkhakkhaya: the end of suffering.

Duddasa: difficult to see.

Dhuva: enduring.

Nipuṇa: subtle.

Nippapañca: without obstructive defilements; without papañca.

Nibbāna: the cessation of defilements and all suffering.

Nibbuti: cooling; the allayment of affliction. {337}

Nirodha: cessation of suffering.

Paṇīta: excellent.

Paramattha: the supreme benefit.

Parama-sacca: the supreme truth.

Pāra: the other shore; safe destination.

Mutti: release; emancipation.

Mokkha: salvation.

Yogakkhema: freedom from bondage.

Leṇa: sanctuary; shelter from danger.

Vimutti: liberation; freedom.

Vimokkha: liberation.

Viraja: stainless.

Virāga: the fading, cooling off, and expiration of lust.

Visuddhi: purity; impeccable.

Sacca: truth.

Santa: peaceful; still.

Santi: peace.

Saraṇa: refuge.

Siva: highest bliss.

Suddhi: purity.

Sududdasa: exceedingly difficult to see.

There are many more references and descriptions for Nibbāna in the scriptures containing verses by disciples and in the commentaries (e.g. Niddesa, Paṭisambhidāmagga, Theragāthā, Therīgāthā, Apadāna), as well as in later scriptures, (e.g. Abhidhānappadīpikā). Examples are listed below:

Akkhara: imperishable; interminable.

Akhalita: unfaltering.

Acala: unwavering.

Anārammaṇa: free from constraints; independent of sense objects.

Anuppāda: not born.

Apavagga: without formations (saṅkhāra); final emancipation.

Amaraṇa: deathless.

Arūpa: without rūpa; formless.

Asapatta: without enemies.

Asambādha: unconfined; unoppressed.

Kevala: unadulterated; inherently complete.25

Nicca: constant; certain.

Nirupatāpa: free from distress.

Paṭipassaddhi: tranquillity; calm.

Pada: place to be reached; destination.

Para: the beyond; the ultimate.

Pariyosāna: conclusion; goal.

Pahāna: the abandonment of defilements.

Vivaṭṭa: deliverance from the round of rebirth (vaṭṭa); without vaṭṭa.

Vūpasama: stillness. {338}

Some of these terms are very important, since they are repeatedly used as definitions for Nibbāna, for example: asaṅkhata, nirodha, vimutti, virāga, santa and santi. Other words are used infrequently. Some are used in only one location, others in two or three locations, so they should not be regarded as highly significant. They are included here to increase understanding. The same is true for the translations; they provide some sense of the meaning, but they might not give a complete flavour as they lack the supportive context.

And very important, many terms were familiar to people in the specific time period, region, and community in which the Buddha taught, and the terms were associated with their personal values or religious beliefs. When the words were spoken, the listeners probably understood the meaning completely. Sometimes the Buddha used descriptive words for Nibbāna to facilitate communication while substituting a new meaning in accord with Buddha-Dhamma. People outside of those time periods, places, and groups may not completely understand the meaning of these words.

An important word for describing Nibbāna is asaṅkhata (’not constructed’). Nibbāna does not exist as a result of causes or conditions. It may be claimed that Nibbāna must arise from causes, since Nibbāna is the fruit of magga (the Path, the Way) or of practice in accordance with the Way. This doubt can be answered briefly by way of analogy: if we compare practice for reaching Nibbāna with travelling to the city of Chiang Mai, we see that Chiang Mai, which is the goal of the journey, is not the result of the path or the act of travelling. Regardless of the road or of travelling, Chiang Mai exists. The road and travelling are causes for reaching Chiang Mai, but not for Chiang Mai itself. It is the same with the Path and practice along the Path, which are causes for attaining Nibbāna, but not for Nibbāna itself.26

Apart from vimutti, there are many other synonyms that reveal facets of Nibbāna, as presented earlier. Of all these synonyms, there are two often-used words that represent important properties: visuddhi and santi. Visuddhi is purity or cleanness, the absence of defilements, which tarnish and obscure, and refers to the ability to see things clearly. Santi is peace, the absence of agitation and affliction, the end of turmoil; this state of mind is serene, deep, cool, settled, self-reliant, able to fully experience the fruits of practice, and ready to be employed for action.27

The few passages that explain the state of Nibbāna explicitly are presented below. In some cases a story is provided in order to give the context for the Buddha’s words:

At one time the Buddha gave a Dhamma discourse to the bhikkhus concerning Nibbāna. As the bhikkhus were listening intently, the Buddha uttered this exclamation:

Monks, there exists that sphere (āyatana) where there is neither the earth, water, fire, or air elements; nor the realm of infinite space; nor the realm of infinite consciousness; nor the realm of nothingness; nor the realm of neither perception nor non-perception; nor this world; nor the next world; nor the moon; nor the sun. I do not say that that sphere has going, coming, arising, staying, or passing away. It has neither foundation, nor movement, nor constraint (ārammaṇa). That is the end of suffering.

Ud. 80-81.

On another occasion, the Buddha gave a similar teaching to the bhikkhus, and uttered this verse:

Indeed, anata (the state of not inclining towards birth; being without craving, i.e. Nibbāna) is difficult to see. Truth (sacca) is not easily discerned. Having penetrated craving, and by knowing and seeing [the truth], there will be nothing lingering in the mind (nothing to cause mental anxiety).28

On a similar occasion:

Monks, there is the Not-born (ajāta), Not-become (abhūta), Not-made (akata), Not-constructed (asaṅkhata). If there were not the Not-born, Not-become, Not-made, Not-constructed, then there could not be known the escape here from the born, the become, the made and the constructed. But because there is the Not-born, Not-become, Not-made, Not-constructed, therefore the escape here can be known from the born, become, made and constructed.29 {339}

On a similar occasion:

Still being dependent, there is wavering. Not being dependent, there is no wavering. There being no wavering, there is tranquillity. With tranquillity, there is no favouring. With no favouring, no coming and going. With no coming and going, no passing away and arising. With no passing away and arising, there is neither this world, the other world, nor a between-the-two. This is the end of suffering.30

Another account describes the Buddha correcting the view of Brahma. In brief, at one time this pernicious view arose in the Brahma named Baka:

This abode of Brahma is permanent, enduring and eternal. It is absolute and imperishable. This abode of Brahma is not born; it does not originate, age, die, or pass away. A superior salvation cannot be found.

The Buddha, knowing Baka’s thought, went to him and said: Brahma, you have lapsed into ignorance. Therefore, you claim that which is impermanent as permanent, unstable as enduring, and uneternal as eternal … and there being a superior salvation, you claim there is none.

Then Māra possessed one of Brahma’s retinue, who spoke to the Buddha: Bhikkhu, bhikkhu, do not offend Brahma, do not offend Brahma. This is Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Lord (abhibhū), the Unvanquished, The All Seeing One, the Omnipotent, the Sovereign, the Maker, the Creator, Excellence, Providence, the Master, Father of those born and to be born….

The Buddha admonished Māra, finishing with: Brahma and all his company and retinue are in your hands, are in your power … but I have not fallen into your hands, nor am I under your power.

When Baka maintained: I have declared the permanent as permanent, the enduring as enduring, the eternal as eternal … the Buddha announced that there are many things that Brahma does not know, including:

The state that can be known (viññāṇa), not seen with the eyes (anidassana),31 limitless (ananta), and all radiant (sabbato-pabhā),32 which the solidity of earth cannot hold, the wetness of water … the heat of fire … the movement of wind cannot hold, the existence of beings … the divinity of devas … the rule of Pajāpati … the grandeur of Brahma … the brilliance of the Ābhassara Brahmas … the beauty of the Subhakiṇha Brahmas … the abundance of the Vehapphala Brahmas cannot hold, the lordship of the Lord cannot hold, the characteristics of all things cannot hold. {340}

Baka replied to this by saying that he would vanish from sight, but he was unable to do so. The Buddha in turn said he would vanish and did vanish. Brahma and his retinue could only hear his voice speaking: Having seen the danger in being, and seen the existence of those who seek non-being (vibhava), I do not praise any sort of being, nor cling to delight (i.e. bhava-taṇhā: the craving for being).

M. I. 327-8.

Another story tells of a bhikkhu who travelled through every realm until he reached the Brahma world, seeking an answer to a question:

This bhikkhu had the following doubt: Where are the four great elements – earth, water, fire and air – extinguished without remainder? He then entered a state of concentration and visited the various deities, beginning with the realm of the Four Great Kings, to pose his question. Unable to answer him, the gods suggested he go to progressively higher heaven realms until he arrived at the Brahma world. The Brahmas too could not answer but said that the Great Brahma, the Lord, would surely know. With a splendid radiance the Great Brahma revealed himself to that bhikkhu.

The bhikkhu posed his question to the Great Brahma, who prevaricated: I am Brahma, Great Brahma, the Lord, the Unvanquished, the All Seeing One, the Omnipotent, the Sovereign, the Maker, the Creator, Excellence, Providence, the Master, Father of those born and to be born.

The bhikkhu continued: I did not ask you if you are Brahma, Great Brahma, the Lord…. I asked you where the four great elements are extinguished without remainder.

Brahma replied again, that he is Great Brahma, the Lord, etc.

The bhikkhu asked again, for a third time, at which point Brahma took him by the arm and led him to one side, saying: Monk, these gods, followers of Brahma, recognize me as one for whom there is nothing not known, seen, experienced, or realized. Therefore, I did not answer in front of them. Monk, I also do not know where the four great elements are extinguished without remainder. It is thus your misdeed and mistake that you have abandoned the Blessed One, and come to search for an answer to this problem elsewhere. Go and approach the Blessed One to pose this question and accept whatever answer he gives.

The bhikkhu then went to ask the Buddha, who answered: You should not ask: ’Where are the four great elements – earth, water, fire and air – extinguished without remainder?’ You should ask: ’Where can earth, water, fire and air find no footing? Where can long and short, small and large, beautiful and repulsive find no firm ground? Where do mentality and corporeality terminate without remainder?’ He then explained as follows: {341}

The state that can be known (viññāṇa), is not seen with the eyes (anidassana),33 is limitless (ananta), and can be reached from every direction (sabbatopabhā)34 – here, earth, water, fire and air can find no footing; long and short, fine and coarse, beautiful and repulsive can find no firm ground; mentality and corporeality terminate without remainder. Because sense consciousness (viññāṇa) ceases, mentality and corporeality terminate here.

D. I. 215-23.

These descriptions of Nibbāna have resulted in various interpretations and debates. Some scholars interpret the last two passages as a Buddhist attempt to combat Brahmanism by assimilation, by incorporating the Brahmanic personification of God. Note that in all these passages the Buddha was either teaching bhikkhus, who had a basic knowledge of Dhamma, or was speaking to Brahma, who is a master theoretician. I will not elaborate upon these details here, but remember that this disparity of interpretation arises because Nibbāna cannot be conceived of; it must be known directly through spiritual practice.

Pali words are sometimes translated differently. The word āyatana in the first passage, for example, can be translated as ’sphere’, and some interpret this to mean a dwelling or place. Others interpret āyatana as another dimension. The term viññāṇa, in passages five and six, is considered by some to be identical with viññāṇa in the expressions eye-viññāṇa, ear-viññāṇa, etc. They thus interpret Nibbāna as some form of consciousness, defining Nibbāna as a consciousness that is not seen with the eyes, etc.

In the commentaries, however, viññāṇa is explained in this passage to be a name for Nibbāna – ’the state that can be known’ – as used above.35 We can see that in passage six the word viññāṇa occurs twice. The first viññāṇa refers to Nibbāna, with its own distinct translation (’the state that can be known’), while the latter viññāṇa, in the phrase ’viññāṇa ceases’, refers to the consciousness that is the condition for the arising of mentality and corporeality, as explained in Dependent Origination.

We should refrain from drawing conclusions about Nibbāna simply because an interpretation accords with our preferences and preconceptions. If we establish firm convictions about something we do not yet clearly know, we may be greatly deceived. Rather, we should emphasize those methods leading to Nibbāna, along with the benefits of gradual liberation. This is more practical. As our spiritual practice develops, we will clearly see the results for ourselves. {342}

The following quote is an affirmation by the Buddha that the realization of Nibbāna, and other sublime states, can truly occur, when the ’eye’ of wisdom opens. This is the Buddha’s conversation with the brahmin student Subha. The Buddha refutes the brahmin Pokkharasāti’s assertion that it is impossible for humans to experience superlative knowledge and vision (ñāṇadassana):

’Young man, suppose there were a person blind from birth who could not see black forms, white forms, green, yellow, red or pink forms. He could not see even and uneven forms, the stars, the moon or the sun. Were he to say that black and white forms do not exist, and beholders of black and white forms do not exist; that green forms do not exist, and beholders of green forms do not exist … that the moon and sun do not exist, and beholders of the moon and sun do not exist; were he to say ’I do not know or see those things, therefore they do not exist’; would he be speaking correctly?’

’Incorrectly,’ the young man replied.

The Buddha then continued: ’Just so, the brahmin Pokkharasāti of the Opamañña clan, lord of the Subhaga Grove, is blind and visionless. That he could know, see or realize outstanding knowledge and vision, which is competent, excellent and superhuman, is impossible.’36

M. II. 201-202.

Although we may have considered these explanations of Nibbāna, if we have not practised and arrived at this state, we should remember that all ideas of Nibbāna are comparable to the images the blind men formed after touching the elephant. The story from the Pali, in brief, is as follows:

At one time in the city of Sāvatthī, a large number of religious ascetics, wanderers, and brahmins, of various creeds, adhered to their own beliefs and doctrines as the only truth, while repudiating those of others. This gave rise to quarrelling: ’The truth is this way, not that way; the truth is not that way, it is this way.’ In response the Buddha told the following story:

In former times a king of Sāvatthī ordered his advisors to gather all those men in the city who were blind from birth and present them with an elephant. The advisors showed one group of blind men the elephant’s head; to another they showed the elephant’s ear. They showed the tusks to another group, the trunk, the abdomen, the legs, the back, the tail, the tip of the tail, to each respective group, saying each time that this is an elephant. They then informed the king that the blind men had become familiar with the elephant. {343} The king went to the gathering of the blind and asked them, ’Have you seen the elephant?’ They replied, ’We have, Your Majesty.’ The king inquired further: ’As you say you have seen an elephant, describe it to me.’

Those blind men who had touched the head said that an elephant is like a waterpot. Those who had felt the ears said an elephant is like a winnowing basket. Those who had touched the tusks – a ploughshare. Those who had touched the trunk – a plough shaft. Those who had touched the abdomen said an elephant is like a granary. Those who had touched the legs, claimed it is like a pillar. Those who touched the back – a mortar. Those who touched the tail – a pestle. Those who touched the tip of the tail said an elephant is like a broom. When this was finished, the blind men began to argue: ’An elephant is this way, not that way; an elephant is not that way, it is this way’, to the point of brawling.

At the end the Buddha uttered this verse:

Indeed, some ascetics and brahmins
cling to such views and doctrines;
people who see only one part,
being contentious, argue and quarrel.

Ud. 67-8.

Elements of Nibbāna

The discussion so far has focused on Nibbāna as an absolute and transcendent quality. It is possible, however, to distinguish different kinds of Nibbāna.

Essentially, only one Nibbāna exists; it is divided into categories in order to describe the characteristics of persons in contact with Nibbāna, or to describe various properties of Nibbāna itself.37 A widely known division of Nibbāna from the Itivuttaka is into the two ’elements of Nibbāna’ (nibbāna-dhātu):38 {386}

  1. Sa-upādisesa-nibbānadhātu: Nibbāna with remaining upādi (’fuel’).

  2. Anupādisesa-nibbānadhātu: Nibbāna with no remaining ’fuel’.

The commentaries define the distinguishing factor here – upādi – as the five aggregates (pañca-khandha), in the sense that they are governed by impure actions or are subject to grasping.39 The definitions of these terms based on this interpretation are:

  1. Sa-upādisesa-nibbānadhātu: Nibbāna linked with the five aggregates, or Nibbāna with the five aggregates still remaining.

  2. Anupādisesa-nibbānadhātu: Nibbāna free from the five aggregates.40

Here is the passage where these two terms appear in the Itivuttaka:

This was said by the Blessed and Fully Enlightened One, so I have heard: ’Bhikkhus, there are these two elements of Nibbāna, namely, Nibbāna with fuel remaining and Nibbāna with no fuel remaining.

And what is the Nibbāna with fuel remaining? Bhikkhus, there is the case of a monk who is an arahant with taints destroyed, who has lived the holy life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, reached the true goal, destroyed the fetters of being, and is completely liberated through final knowledge. His five sense faculties still remain, and owing to their being intact, he experiences the agreeable and the disagreeable, he feels both pleasure and pain. His ending of lust, hatred and delusion is termed the Nibbāna with fuel remaining.

And what is the Nibbāna with no fuel remaining? There is the case of an arahant with taints destroyed … who is completely liberated through final knowledge. For him, all that is felt (vedayita), not being delighted in (anabhinandita; ’not being infatuated with’), will become cool right here. This is termed Nibbāna with no fuel remaining. {387}


The One with Vision, secure and free,
Has proclaimed the dual elements of Nibbāna.
One element, present and visible (diṭṭhadhammika),
Is called Nibbāna with fuel remaining;
Exhausted are the taints,
Conduits to renewed existence.
The other, the supreme state,
Is Nibbāna with no remaining fuel;
In which all becoming totally ceases.

It. 38-9.

This passage introducing the two elements describes the quality of association with Nibbāna, that is, it describes Nibbāna in connection to enlightened beings. It uses enlightened beings as a means to understand Nibbāna; it does not attempt to explain Nibbāna in an absolute sense. This is because Nibbāna is sandiṭṭhika, ’to be seen for oneself’, and is paccattaṁ veditabbaṁ viññūhi, ’to be experienced individually by the wise’, as mentioned earlier. Therefore, this division of Nibbāna does not introduce anything different or mysterious into the earlier examination of the nature of Nibbāna. As the commentators say, Nibbāna is essentially indivisible; the division is a didactic tool.41 Before looking more closely at the two kinds of Nibbāna, let us familiarize ourselves with three important terms:

  1. Vedayita: this term stems from the same root as vedanā, and in some cases it is used as a substitute for vedanā. It refers to ’sense experience’ or to ’sense impressions’. Here, the plural is vedayitāni, which refers to all objects that have been sensed or cognized. It is equivalent to what people nowadays refer to as their whole range of ’experience’.

  2. Anabhinandita: this term, used above as a qualifying adjective for vedayita, is derived from abhinandita, which means ’pleasing’ or ’delightful’. In this context abhinandita implies infatuation and a heart adulterated by craving, and it applies to both positive and negative experiences, to delight and aversion. Adding the negating prefix an-, the meaning becomes ’not infatuated’; in this case, craving does not accompany sense impressions. Sense experience occurs in a pure, spacious, and unobstructed way, free from fretting and brooding. One does not distort or deviate from direct sense experience, because the mind is not controlled or overwhelmed by greed, hatred and delusion.

  3. Diṭṭhadhammika: literally, this word means ’visible’ or ’visible object’. In reference to time, it means ’in the present’ or ’in this life’. In reference to objects or mental states, it means ’common’, ’mundane’, ’basic’, ’material’, or ’exterior’. It is generally paired with samparāyika, which literally means ’further’ or ’beyond’. In relation to time it means ’future’, ’later’, ’beyond this life’, or ’in the next world’. In other contexts, it means ’transcendent’, ’supreme’, ’sacred’, ’spiritual’, or ’internal’.42 {388}

At this point, let us look more closely at the two kinds of Nibbāna:

Sa-upādisesa-nibbānadhātu refers to Nibbāna connected to the five aggregates. It is the Nibbāna of arahants as they cognize sense objects, pleasurable and painful, through the senses. Cognition is inextricably linked with the five aggregates; the five aggregates are directly involved in sense experience and the aggregates themselves become further objects of cognition.43 This aspect of Nibbāna highlights arahants’ contact with the world. It focuses on the end of greed, hatred and delusion,44 which leads to an unobstructed experience of life. Sa-upādisesa-nibbānadhātu is the arahant’s liberated state of mind, free from defilements. Arahants are not influenced by defilements and therefore sense contact does not give rise to craving, either as coveting or aversion. Additionally, no craving exists that leads to renewed existence (bhava-netti). An arahant with unimpaired sense faculties is thus able to receive sense impressions freely and with wisdom.

This free state of mind has two facets. The first is the ability to receive sense impressions as pure ’feeling’ (vedanā), since there are no residual attachments or obsessions to interfere. The second is not being overwhelmed by experience, and thus one does not form future habits of attachment or infatuation. For arahants this is the ordinary, usual state of mind. It is immediate and accessible in every moment of sense contact. Therefore, it is called diṭṭha-dhamma: visible or immediate. This type of Nibbāna is the state of arahants while they are still alive and in contact with the external world.

Anupādisesa-nibbānadhātu is the Nibbāna independent of the five aggregates. It is the Nibbāna beyond the process of experiencing phenomena through the five senses, or over and above the five aggregates engaged in cognition. It is the Nibbāna transcending mundane reality, transcending sense contact and experience.

In other words, anupādisesa-nibbānadhātu is the essential nature of Nibbāna which is revealed to arahants when experience by way of the five senses ceases, when cognition ceases, or when there is no involvement with sense contact (including input from the five senses still remaining in the mind).

An arahant receives sense impressions without craving-induced delight (abhinandita), without the inflaming influence of greed, hatred and delusion. {389} Sense impressions do not linger and smoulder; they ’become cool’ (sīti-bhavissanti); they become completely peaceful and ’detoxified’. And they are unable to lead to further birth or becoming. Arahants are capable of neutralizing any obstructive potential of sense experience, ’cooling’ and mastering it. They therefore acquire the epithet sīti-bhūta or sīta, meaning ’one who is cooled’.45

This state of clarity, absent of residual sense experience, is internal and personal. It is the state of ’non-becoming’ or of no renewed existence. In this state where the five aggregates are no longer objects of awareness, arahants thus have Nibbāna as their object; they realize Nibbāna as a dhammāyatana.46 This quality can only be discussed in its relational context, by saying that ordinary mundane experience ceases. The essential absolute nature of Nibbāna can only be seen and realized for oneself.

An analogy for this division of Nibbāna is to being shipwrecked in the ocean. An unenlightened person is swimming, struggling against the waves and currents. A person who has realized Nibbāna has reached dry land. The arrival at land, where one is perfectly satisfied and at ease, is like anupādisesa-nibbānadhātu. The absence of oppression and danger, not being battered by the waves, being able to engage with things freely, and being able to move about as one wishes, is like sa-upādisesa-nibbānadhātu.

One can also compare an unenlightened person to someone suffering a fever. An enlightened person is someone who has recovered from fever or is in perfect health. {390} Good health is inherently complete; when one is healthy one knows this state for oneself. The contentment, joy, ease and relief is purely subjective. Others observing from outside may conjecture on that state, but they are unable to experience it directly. This state of wellbeing is like anupādisesa-nibbānadhātu. The related condition, which affects behaviour and influences a person’s surroundings, that is, of not being oppressed or impeded by illness, and being able to act as one wishes, is like sa-upādisesa-nibbānadhātu.

To summarize, there is only one Nibbāna, but with two aspects. One aspect (sa-upādisesa-nibbānadhātu) focuses on the end of defilements, which has a bearing on the relationship to the outside world or on everyday life. The second (anupādisesa-nibbānadhātu) is limited to Nibbāna’s essential nature, which is realized solely by enlightened beings. It cannot be fathomed by way of the five senses, and is beyond experience confined to the five aggregates. In other words, in sa-upādisesa-nibbānadhātu arahants have the five aggregates as the object of attention; in anupādisesa-nibbānadhātu arahants have Nibbāna as the object of attention.

To say anupādisesa-nibbānadhātu is Nibbāna’s essential nature is compatible with the commentarial opinion found in the Paramatthadīpanī, which describes amatamahānibbāna-dhātu (’deathless Nibbāna element’) as anupādisesā (’with no remaining fuel’). It is also consistent with the Buddha’s words: ’Monks, there exists that sphere (āyatana), where there is neither the earth, water, fire, or air elements; nor the realm of infinite space….’47 Elsewhere, the commentaries and sub-commentaries point out that anupādisesa-nibbānadhātu is identical to anupādā-parinibbāna (’final, absolute Nibbāna’),48 which is the goal of Dhamma practice and comprises the highest realization in Buddhism. {391}

In most cases, cognition by way of the five senses and contact with the external world clearly and decisively ends at death.49 With the utter end of sense contact at death, arahants realize the indivisible aspect of Nibbāna, i.e. anupādisesa-nibbāna. Colloquially, the term anupādisesa-nibbāna is used as an expression for the death of an arahant. From a word denoting quality, anupādisesa-nibbāna came to refer to an action or event. Where this word is found elsewhere in the scriptures, it refers to the death of the Buddha or of the arahants.

As for the term sa-upādisesa-nibbāna, in the Tipiṭaka it is not used to describe an event and is found only in this one passage of the Itivuttaka. There are synonyms of sa-upādisesa-nibbāna that are used frequently.50

There are many passages in the Tipiṭaka where the term anupādisesa-nibbānadhātu is used alone. For example, in the Buddha’s comparison of the Dhammavinaya to the marvels of the ocean:

Just as in the great ocean neither a decrease nor an increase will appear though rain falls into it from the sky; even so, even if many monks attain final Nibbāna in the Nibbāna element that is without remainder, there is no decrease or increase in the Nibbāna element that is without remainder.

Vin. II. 239-40; A. IV. 202-203; Ud. 55.

The Mahāniddesa refers to anupādisesa-nibbāna as anabhinibbatti-sāmaggī, meaning ’fully prepared to not be reborn’.51

The accounts in the Pali Canon of the Buddha’s life frequently use the term anupādisesa-nibbānadhātu, each time in reference to the Buddha’s final Nibbāna at death. For example, the Buddha claimed that his complexion is particularly resplendent on two occasions, on the night of his enlightenment and on the day of his final Nibbāna in the Nibbāna element without remainder.52 Almsfood offered to the Buddha is exceptionally meritorious on two occasions: the meal offered before his enlightenment and the meal before his final Nibbāna in the Nibbāna element without remainder.53 {392}

There are further examples: the location of the Buddha’s final Nibbāna in the Nibbāna element without remainder is one of the four Buddhist holy places.54 The Buddha’s final Nibbāna in the Nibbāna element without remainder is one cause for the earth to quake.55 Another passage explains that the Buddha is called the ’Tathāgata’ because:

Between the night in which the Buddha gains supreme enlightenment and the night in which he attains the Nibbāna element without remainder, whatever he proclaims, says, or explains is so and not otherwise.

D. III. 135; It. 121-2; Nd2. 41.

There are many other scriptural passages with a similar theme and an identical sequence to the teaching on the two kinds of Nibbāna above. The only difference is that they do not distinguish these kinds of Nibbāna. For the sake of comparison, here are some examples:

A. When a bhikkhu has abandoned ignorance and aroused true knowledge, then, with the discarding of ignorance and the arising of true knowledge, he does not generate a meritorious volitional formation, or a demeritorious volitional formation, or an imperturbable volitional formation. Since he does not generate or fashion volitional formations he does not cling to anything in the world. Not clinging, he is not agitated.56 Not being agitated, he personally attains Nibbāna. He understands: ’Destroyed is birth, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more for this state of being.’

B. If he feels a pleasant feeling, he understands: ’It is impermanent’; he understands: ’It is not indulged in’; he understands: ’It is not delighted in’ (anabhinandita). If he feels a painful feeling, he understands: ’it is impermanent’; he understands: ’it is not indulged in’; he understands: ’it is not delighted in.’ If he feels a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he understands: ’it is impermanent’; he understands: ’It is not indulged in’; he understands: ’It is not delighted in.’ If he feels a pleasant feeling, he feels it detached; if he feels a painful feeling, he feels it detached; if he feels a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he feels it detached. If he feels a feeling limited by the body (by way of the five physical sense doors), he understands: ’I feel a feeling limited by the body.’ When he feels a feeling limited by life (by way of the mind door), he understands: ’I feel a feeling limited by life.’ He understands: ’With the breakup of the body, following the exhaustion of life, all that is felt (vedayitāni), not being delighted in (anabhinandita), will become cool right here (at the twelve sense spheres); mere bodily remains will be left.’

C. Suppose, bhikkhus, a person would remove a hot clay pot from a potter’s kiln and set it on smooth ground: its heat would be dissipated right there and the fired pot would be left. So too, when he feels a feeling limited to the body … limited to life … he understands: ’With the breakup of the body, following the exhaustion of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here; mere bodily remains will be left.’ {393}

Paragraphs A., B. and C.: S. II. 82-3.

D. Bhikkhus, just as an oil lamp burns in dependence on the oil and the wick, and with the exhaustion of the oil and the wick it is extinguished through lack of fuel, so too, when a bhikkhu feels a feeling limited to the body … limited to life … he understands: ’With the breakup of the body, following the exhaustion of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here.’57

M. III. 244-5; S. III. 126; S. IV. 213; S. V. 319-20.

There is, however, one passage with a varying description and analogy:

The monk whose heart is perfectly released attains six constant abiding states. Seeing a form with the eye, he is neither elated nor depressed, but rests equanimous, mindful, and clearly comprehending. Hearing a sound with the ear … smelling a scent with the nose … tasting a savour with the tongue … contacting a tangible object with the body … cognizing mental states with the mind, he is neither elated nor depressed, but rests equanimous, mindful, and clearly comprehending.58 When he feels a feeling limited by the body, he understands: ’I feel a feeling limited by the body.’ When he feels a feeling limited by life, he understands: ’I feel a feeling limited by life.’ He understands: ’With the breakup of the body, following the exhaustion of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here.’

Suppose that a shadow is cast by a tree. Along comes a man with an axe and basket, and cuts the tree at the trunk. He then digs and pulls out the roots, even the rootlets and root fibres. He chops that tree into logs, and having done so chops the logs into chips. The chips he dries in wind and sun, then burns them with fire and makes an ash-heap. The ashes he winnows in a strong wind or lets them be carried away by a swiftly flowing river. That shadow cast by the tree is cut off by the root, made like a palm tree stump, made not to become again, of a nature not to arise again. In the same way, a monk whose heart is perfectly released attains six constant abiding states … all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here.’59

A. II. 198-9.

For a thorough understanding of the two kinds of Nibbāna, let us go back and examine the commentarial explanations. {394} As mentioned earlier, the term anupādisesa-nibbāna is used in the Pali Canon to describe an event – the death of an arahant – in particular of the Buddha. However, the commentaries began to use the term sa-upādisesa-nibbāna to describe an event as well, as can be seen by comparing two passages describing the same event:

Pali Canon:

These two alms-givings are of very great fruit, of very great result, more fruitful and advantageous than any other. Which two? The one is the alms-giving after eating which the Tathāgata attains supreme enlightenment, the other that after which he attains the Nibbāna element without remainder at his final passing.

D. II. 135-6; Ud. 85.


The Buddha, having eaten the almsfood offered by Sujātā, attained the supreme enlightenment of the Nibbāna element with remainder. Having eaten the almsfood offered by Cunda, he attained the Nibbāna element without remainder at his final passing.60

DA. II. 571; UdA. 405.

Constant Nibbāna

In a manner of speaking one can say that anupādisesa-nibbāna is the state of Nibbāna that is constant, both throughout an arahant’s life and after death. Sa-upādisesa-nibbāna is the ’superficial’ state of Nibbāna (as if overlapping), existing between the time of full enlightenment and death. When an arahant dies only anupādisesa-nibbāna remains. This explanation, however, may be deviating from the practical emphasis of Buddha-Dhamma, veering in the direction of philosophical reasoning.

With the development of meaning of these two terms, they were applied in many commentarial passages to indicate events in the life of the Buddha or the arahants. They are used to emphasize the realization of certain states, rather than the nature of the states themselves.61 From the commentarial perspective, the meaning of these two kinds of Nibbāna is restricted. Sa-upādisesa-nibbāna here refers to the extinguishing of defilements with the five aggregates remaining, to the Nibbāna of an arahant while still alive, that is, to the attainment of arahantship. Anupādisesa-nibbāna refers to the ending of defilements with no aggregates remaining, that is, to the death of an arahant. The commentators define anupādisesa-nibbāna, in particular, by applying the principle of ’final mind’ or ’final consciousness’,62 limiting the meaning to refer to an arahant’s death.63

The commentaries interpret canonical passages relating to arahants by distinguishing between sa-upādisesa-nibbāna and anupādisesa-nibbāna. For example, from the Canon: {395}

Because of the utter end of craving, its remainderless fading away and cessation, [this is] Nibbāna. For a monk who has thus been quenched, free from grasping, there is no renewed birth.

Ud. 33.

The commentaries assert that the first sentence of this passage refers to the Nibbāna element with remainder, and the second sentence refers to the Nibbāna element without remainder.64 This interpretation accords with the canonical passages presented earlier.

Combining these commentarial explanations, we can summarize the meaning of these two kinds of Nibbāna as follows:

The Nibbāna element with remainder is the end of defilement and craving, leading to harmless, peaceful and beneficial interaction with the world, and relates to awakening or arahantship. The Nibbāna element without remainder is the end of being bound to the five aggregates, of mental proliferation, of birth and continued existence, and it relates to the end of life in the world. The Nibbāna relating to the activity of the five sense faculties is sa-upādisesa-nibbāna; the Nibbāna free from the five sense faculties is anupādisesa-nibbāna. In short, the end of defilement is sa-upādisesa-nibbāna, the end of birth is anupādisesa-nibbāna (see Note Constant Nibbāna).

The first term refers to the Nibbāna of an arahant who is still alive; all mental impurities have been removed, but the five aggregates still exist. This corresponds with the term coined by the commentators: kilesa-parinibbāna (eradication of defilements). The second term refers to the Nibbāna of an arahant after death, corresponding with the commentarial term khandha-parinibbāna (release from the aggregates).65

In fact, the evidence in the Pali Canon shows that not much significance was given to these two kinds of Nibbāna. What are highlighted are the things that can be applied to realize Nibbāna clearly for oneself. Lengthy theorizing on these two kinds of Nibbāna is likely to complicate a matter that is actually straightforward, and may lead to students of Buddhism overemphasizing their importance.

If the examination of the nature of Nibbāna becomes too technical, there is the risk that people will form misleading conceptions. This is because the person presenting the explanation may not translate important words accurately and clearly, and the person receiving the teaching may have limited understanding about terms or points of Dhamma. The misunderstanding may be reinforced by people’s emotions; for example, one may read the technical terms above and form an impression of an arahant as someone heartless and indifferent. {396}

Therefore, to prevent such misunderstandings, it is important to accompany the study of theoretical teachings with practical application, to see how theory and practice complement one another. An examination into the essential meaning of the theoretical teachings and their expression as real human attributes reveals how these teachings, which may at first seem contradictory, are compatible and mutually supportive.

Jhāna, Nirodha and Nibbāna

At this point, let us examine another way of distinguishing kinds of Nibbāna.

Besides stating that the attainment of jhāna66 is a good basis for realizing Nibbāna, the Buddha sometimes used the term jhāna to imply Nibbāna or to show related features. For example, the Buddha referred to the four fine-material jhānas, the four immaterial jhānas, and the ’cessation of perception and feeling’ (saññāvedayita-nirodha)67 as ’temporary Nibbāna’ (tadaṅga-nibbāna; alternatively, ’Nibbāna by substitution of opposites’), ’visible Nibbāna’ (diṭṭhadhamma-nibbāna), and ’Nibbāna to be seen by oneself’ (sandiṭṭhika-nibbāna), respectively.68 Further examples of Nibbāna being used in connection with spiritual attainments include:

A bhikkhu, secluded from sensual pleasure, secluded from unwholesome states, attains the first jhāna. Even this much the Blessed One calls direct Nibbāna by representation….69 {401} Going beyond the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception, attaining the cessation of perception and feeling, by seeing with wisdom, all cankers are destroyed. Even this much the Blessed One calls direct, immediate Nibbāna.70

[A practitioner of insight meditation] understands form, feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness as impermanent, subject to stress, and subject to change. He abandons sorrow, lamentation, (etc.), is free from agitation and worry, and dwells happily. He is said to be quenched in that respect (tadaṅga-nibbāna).71

S. III. 43.

When a person is overwhelmed by lust … hatred … and delusion, then he plans for his own harm, for the harm of others, for the harm of both; and he experiences in his mind suffering and grief. But when lust, hatred and delusion have been abandoned, he neither plans for this own harm, nor for the harm of others, not for the harm of both; and he does not experience in his mind suffering and grief. In this way, Nibbāna is directly visible, timeless, inviting one to come and see, to be brought within and realized, to be personally experienced by the wise.

A. I. 158-9.

The Paṭisambhidāmagga divides nirodha, which is an important synonym for Nibbāna, into five categories:72

  1. Vikkhambhana-nirodha: the suppression of the five hindrances in the first jhāna. (In fact, all eight concentrative attainments – samāpatti – i.e. the four fine-material and the four immaterial jhānas count as vikkhambhana-nirodha, because, while abiding in all of these states, unwholesome qualities, e.g. the hindrances, are temporarily stilled.)

  2. Tadaṅga-nirodha: the stage at which concentration (samādhi) begins to dispel the defilements;73 wrong views are vanquished by the substitution of opposite qualities. This stage implies the dispelling of defilements through insight and the use of wisdom to examine the true nature of things, for example the nature of impermanence. Whatever truth is focused on, knowledge arises to eliminate antagonistic views and attachments. For example, seeing oneself or others as merely mind and body (nāma-rūpa) dispels the view of fixed identity (sakkāya-diṭṭhi), observing impermanence dispels the perception of permanence (nicca-saññā), acknowledging dukkha dispels the perception of unchanging happiness (sukha-saññā), and reflecting on selflessness dispels the perception of a fixed self (atta-saññā). This cessation is similar to turning on a light and dispelling darkness, but it is still a temporary cessation – as soon as the light is extinguished darkness returns.

  3. Samuccheda-nirodha: the cutting off of defilements by one who develops the supermundane paths (lokuttara-magga), i.e. the paths of stream-entry (sotāpatti-magga), once-returning (sakadāgāmi-magga), non-returning (anāgāmi-magga), and arahantship (arahatta-magga). The defilements, e.g. the ten fetters, cease irrevocably, never to return, like a tree that has been uprooted or shattered by lightening. {402}

  4. Paṭipassaddhi-nirodha: the utter stilling of defilements at the moment of supermundane fruition (lokuttara-phala): the noble fruition of stream-entry, once-returning, non-returning and arahantship. This is a state of profound tranquillity, due to the complete removal of mental impurity.

  5. Nissaraṇa-nirodha: the release from defilements; an abiding untouched by defilement. This cessation is equivalent to Nibbāna, also called amata-dhātu (’deathless element’), the state of deliverance.

The first two qualities, vikkhambhana- and tadaṅga-nirodha, are mundane; the remaining three are supermundane. The first four qualities are called Nibbāna ’indirectly’ or ’in some respects’ (pariyāya). The fifth quality refers to Nibbāna directly (nippariyāya), in its full and true meaning.

The Paṭisambhidāmagga divides pahāna (abandoning), viveka (seclusion), virāga (dispassion), and vossagga (release) each into the five identical qualities as with nirodha above, with identical definitions and meanings.74 The commentaries divide vimutti (liberation) in the same way.75

A well-known division into realizations of Nibbāna is the division into path (magga) and fruit (phala), or into the four paths and four fruits, i.e. sotāpatti-magga, sotāpatti-phala, sakadāgāmi-magga, sakadāgāmi-phala, anāgāmi-magga, anāgāmi-phala, arahatta-magga, and arahatta-phala. This division, however, is made in connection with enlightened beings, who will be discussed in the next chapter. At this point, let me simply remind the reader that magga and phala are not Nibbāna, but rather stages or levels of realization.

Anattā and Nibbāna

{440} Several misunderstandings exist about Nibbāna and its relationship to the principle of nonself (anattā). The word anattā often becomes linked with beliefs from other religious traditions. There are two such beliefs in particular: first, the theory of union with a supreme reality or being, for example with Brahma, God, or a higher consciousness. This theory propounds the inseparable dissolving into or joining of the self with a supreme reality. This state of union is then called nonself.

The second belief is the resolute dedication of service to a divinity with no concern for oneself, with no selfish desire. A person practising this way is said to be ’selfless’, and such practice is seen as identical to the anattā of Buddhism.

In truth, these two beliefs are alien to the Buddhist teaching of nonself. As there are almost no common features, comparing them with the Buddhist understanding of nonself is flawed.

Anattā in Buddhism is a characteristic of all things, a truth pertaining to all existence. This principle is to be investigated with wisdom and understood, that essentially all things are insubstantial. Things exist and proceed according to their own nature; they possess no core, hidden essence, overlapping reality, or controlling agent, which can validly be clung to as a self. A lucid understanding (ñāṇa or vijjā) of this leads to a liberated heart, which is not encumbered or enslaved by anything. This is liberation by way of wisdom (paññā-vimutti).

In this sense, anattā is not a matter of an existent self dissolving into or unifying with anything.

Some people equate a union with a Supreme Being or higher consciousness with Nibbāna. Putting these claims aside, even some idiomatic phrases in Buddhist circles can cause confusion and lead to misunderstanding, for example: ’attaining final Nibbāna’76 and ’reaching the great deathless citadel of Nibbāna’. Why introduce abstruse and ambiguous theories from other sources to make one’s understanding even more muddled?

Normally, the Buddhist teachings use simple, easy to understand expressions when explaining Nibbāna, for example: ’the end of impurity’, ’the end of agitation’, and ’a heart that is free, unrestricted, griefless, bright, and joyous’. These descriptions are sufficient – one need not merge or unify with anything.

An arahant’s heart is spacious, limitless, and perfectly free; no thought arises about becoming one with anything. On the contrary, it is unenlightened people who conjecture on an arahant’s state of mind, which more likely reveals their longing for certainty, fear of extinction, and lingering doubt.

The equation of Nibbāna with losing oneself into a supreme entity that involves the mind ceasing to consciously engage and entering a trance-like state is also false. For even in the correct practice of jhāna, in which the mind is deeply concentrated and one-pointed, mindfulness is still clearly established and mental agility is enhanced; it is not a trance. The fourth jhāna, in particular, is endowed with the attribute: ’equanimity that purifies mindfulness’ (upekkhā-satipārisuddhiṁ). And in relation to penetrative knowledge, descriptions of the fourth jhāna end with this passage:

With mind concentrated, purified and cleansed, unblemished, free from impurities, malleable, workable, established, and having gained imperturbability one directs and inclines one’s mind towards knowing and seeing.77

D. I. 76.

There is a general criterion one can use in light of this discussion. Regardless of how deeply absorbed the mind is in an exalted state, or to what level it has merged with a supreme truth, as long as the mental impurities have not been eradicated by wisdom, which discerns conditionality and the true nature of the world, that is, as long as one has not reached ’deliverance by wisdom’ (paññā-vimutti), one can not yet claim to have attained Nibbāna. Without this deliverance, the profound and absorptive states remain confined to psychic or concentrative achievements, and the release from the clutches of defilement is merely a temporary suppression or abeyance, lasting only so long as the force of mind can be maintained.

The principle of selfless or altruistic conduct is also not the same as anattā. There is a similarity, in that a clear discernment of anattā brings about an end of selfishness. Indeed, selfishness is only truly uprooted with insight into the nature of nonself. Both understanding selflessness and humble submission to a deity lead to selfless conduct. The similarity extends this far. {441} The first is a wise investigation of truth leading to liberation. The second is an application of faith, leading to intense devotion to the object of that faith, not distracted by personal concerns. We may then ask the question: Which of these practices is a temporary self-abandonment, and which an utter and complete removal of self-preoccupation?

The term anattā can be applied in a practical context regarding selfless behaviour. Here, the term refers to the possession of mindfulness and clear comprehension, leading to thorough self-understanding. The mind is fully aware of the activity in which it is engaged, to the extent that no opportunity arises for concepts of a fixed identity to impinge and hijack the process of awareness. In this context, anattā means ’knowing the insubstantiality of all things’.

Finally, it is common for contemporary Buddhists to use expressions relating to the self (attā) and nonself in an ethical context. For example: ’this person has a strong ego’, ’deflate (or annihilate) your ego’, ’he acts to boost his ego’, These colloquial expressions simply refer to a fixed belief in self or to an adherence to a self-image, and are used for convenience. They are not meant to imply an actual existing self. The common and widespread use of these expressions, however, leads some people to confuse or distort the meaning of anattā, to the extent that it strays entirely from its original Buddhist connotation.

Value and Unique Attributes of Nibbāna

Nibbāna is Attainable in this Lifetime

{487} Nibbāna, the highest goal of Buddhism, can be realized by people in this present life, when they apply effort and are endowed with the necessary spiritual qualities. One need not wait until the next life, as revealed by the dual attributes of Nibbāna: sandiṭṭhiko (seen clearly by oneself; realizable in this life) and akāliko (not subject to time; timeless; immediate).78 The Buddha offered ways of practice for realizing Nibbāna in this present life,79 as confirmed in this passage:

I tell you this: let a wise person come to me who is sincere, honest and straightforward, and I will instruct him, I will teach him Dhamma. If he practises what he is taught, then within seven years by realizing for himself here and now through direct knowledge he will enter upon and abide in that supreme goal of the holy life for the sake of which clansmen rightly go forth from the home life into homelessness. Let alone seven years – in six years, five years … in a fortnight, in seven days he can achieve that goal.80

D. III. 55-6.

Nibbāna Is Attainable By All

Every person with determination and spiritual aptitude can realize Nibbāna. No restrictions exist concerning race, class, caste, wealth, gender, or whether one is a householder or monastic, as verified by the Buddha’s verses:

’The straight way’ that path is called,
And ’fearless’ is its destination.
The chariot is called ’silent,’
Fitted with wheels of righteousness.

A sense of shame is its rearguard,
Mindfulness its armour;
I say this Dhamma vehicle,
Has right view guiding as charioteer.

One who has such a vehicle,
Whether a woman or a man,
Has, by means of this vehicle,
Arrived at the abode of Nibbāna. {488} S. I. 33.

The Buddha permitted women to be ordained as bhikkhunis (bhikkhunī) despite the opposition by elements of Indian society at that time; he claimed that women who follow the Dhammavinaya are capable of realizing supermundane states, from stream-entry to arahantship, equally as men.81

At one time, Somā Bhikkhunī was sitting at the foot of a tree when Māra approached, and wanting to disturb and frighten her, exclaimed in verse:

That state so hard to achieve
Which is to be attained by the seers,
Cannot be attained by a woman
With her two-fingered wisdom.

Somā Therī replied:

What does womanhood matter at all
When the mind is concentrated well,
When knowledge flows on steadily,
Seeing correctly into Dhamma.

One to whom it might occur,
’I am a woman’ or ’I am a man’,
Or I am anything at all, Is fit for Māra to address.

S. I. 129; Thīg. verses 60-62.

In relation to householders and monastics the Buddha had this to say:

I do not praise the wrong way of practice on the part either of a householder or one gone forth; for whether it be a householder or one gone forth, one who has entered on the wrong way of practice, by reason of his wrong way of practice, is not accomplishing the true way, the Dhamma that is wholesome. I praise the right way of practice on the part either of a householder or one gone forth; for whether it be a householder or one gone forth, one who has entered on the right way of practice, by reason of his right way of practice, is accomplishing the true way, the Dhamma that is wholesome.

M. II. 197; cf. S. V. 18-19.

I say there is no difference between a lay follower who is [thus] liberated in mind and a bhikkhu who has been liberated in mind for a hundred years, that is, the one liberation is the same as the other.82

S. V. 410.

The Buddha frequently discussed the issue of caste, which was an important point of debate and controversy in India at that time. One example is the discussion between the Buddha and the brahmin Esukārī:

’Master Gotama, the brahmins prescribe four types of wealth: … they prescribe wandering for alms as the wealth of a brahmin … the bow and the quiver as the wealth of a noble … farming and cattle-breeding as the wealth of a merchant … the sickle and carrying-pole as the wealth of a worker…. What does Master Gotama say about this?’ {489}

’Well, brahmin, has all the world authorized the brahmins to prescribe these four types of wealth?’ – ’No, Master Gotama.’ – ’Suppose, brahmin, they were to force a cut of meat upon a poor, penniless, destitute man and tell him: “Good man, you must eat this meat and pay for it”; so too, without the consent of those [other] recluses and brahmins, the brahmins nevertheless prescribe these four types of wealth.

’I, brahmin, declare the noble supermundane Dhamma as a person’s own wealth…. What do you think, brahmin? Suppose a head-anointed noble king were to assemble here a hundred men of different birth and say to them: “Come, sirs, let any here who have been born into a noble clan or a brahmin clan or a royal clan take a fire-stick of teak, sal-wood, pine, sandal-wood, or pomegranate wood and light a fire and produce heat. And also let any who have been born into an outcast clan, a trapper clan, a wicker workers’ clan, a cartwrights’ clan, or a scavengers’ clan take a fire–stick made from a dog’s drinking trough, from a pig’s trough, from a dying vat, or from castor-oil wood and light a fire and produce heat.”

’What do you think, brahmin? When a fire is lit and heat is produced by someone in the first group, would that fire have a flame, a colour, and a radiance, and would it be possible to use it for the purposes of fire, while when a fire is lit and heat is produced by someone of the second group, that fire would have no flame, no colour, and no radiance, and it would not be possible to use it for the purposes of fire?’

’No, Master Gotama…. For all fire has a flame, a colour, and a radiance, and it is possible to use all fire for the purposes of fire.’

’So too, brahmin, if anyone from a clan of nobles goes forth from the home life into homelessness, and relying on the Dhamma and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathāgata … holds right view, he is one who fulfils the wholesome qualities that are the way of deliverance. If anyone from a clan of brahmins goes forth … from a clan of merchants … from a clan of workers goes forth from the home life into homelessness, and relying on the Dhamma and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathāgata … holds right view, he is one who fulfils the wholesome qualities that are the way of deliverance.’ {490}

Esukārī Sutta: M. II. 180-84.

Nibbāna Is the Highest Spiritual Attainment

Although the attainment of Nibbāna is dependent on mental deliverance (cetovimutti), that is, it relies on a particular achievement of jhāna, and this achievement has a bearing on the everyday life of enlightened beings, Nibbāna is distinct from jhāna. Nibbāna is a release even from these psychic achievements and is accessible when one is able to transcend them. There are some unique aspects to the attainment of Nibbāna:

The realization of Nibbāna is decisive, final and irreversible. In regard to moral conduct, for example, true spontaneous selflessness arises. This selfless conduct stems from eradication by wisdom of selfish hankering, to the point that all self-obsession is abolished.

As this selflessness arises naturally and of its own accord, it is not the result of willpower or force; one need not seize one opinion or habit in order to let go of another. One need not hold up some ideal, sacrifice oneself to an object of faith, suppress one’s passions by calm or insight, or get absorbed in jhāna.

No matter how lofty a person’s mental achievements, one must see into their causal nature and let go of attachment to these achievements before realization of Nibbāna is possible.

This letting go ultimately supports, consolidates, and perfects further spiritual development, even for enlightened beings.

For example, such beings can benefit from proficiency in jhāna in order to abide in a state of ease and happiness (diṭṭhadhamma-sukhavihāra) when they are not engaged in other activities. If originally they accessed the eight levels of jhāna, with the realization as a non-returner or an arahant, they may achieve ’cessation of perception and feeling’ (saññāvedayita-nirodha).

Some spiritual accomplishments can suspend defilements and suffering for a long period, but not yet irrevocably. The defilements and suffering can return, and therefore these heightened mental states are temporary; they are a means to suppress other conditions or to engage the mind in something else. The realization of Nibbāna, however, puts an absolute end to suffering and mental impurities. And through this realization, only harmful conditions cease, for example: greed, craving, anger, woe, confusion, fixed views of self, and ignorance; all goodness remains.

Furthermore, the vices are automatically replaced by the exceptional wholesome qualities of a life guided by wisdom and compassion, which surpass ordinary happiness and cannot be securely accessed by other spiritual achievements. {491}

Therefore, although a person who has realized Nibbāna may not have experienced the most refined states of jhāna, he or she is still superior to someone who has these experiences but is as yet not fully enlightened.

The realization of Nibbāna brings about a fundamental transformation of a person’s heart, personality, thinking process, worldview and behaviour. There are two principal aspects to this mental transformation. The first involves knowledge, understanding, opinions, and beliefs, which pertain to ignorance and wisdom. The second involves a person’s sense of values or relationship to desire, which pertains to craving and wholesome enthusiasm (chanda).

A student who believes her teacher will criticize and punish her may tremble at the thought of meeting the teacher, whereas if she knows that the teacher is kind she will feel happy and at ease. People who see others as enemies and those who see others as friends will behave differently. A person finding a map that shows the location of a hidden diamond may risk his life and even kill others for that treasure, while another person may not give it much thought. People desiring pleasurable sights, tastes, fragrances, sounds, and tangible objects tend to be engrossed with these things. If they believe that they can truly possess these objects then their happiness is dependent on their acquisition.

In contrast, fully enlightened beings understand the world as it really is, they see nothing that can be truly owned or controlled, they go beyond the search for pleasurable sensations, and they recognize how to act in harmony with truth. They do not yearn for sense impressions. As a consequence, a new understanding arises of one’s relationship to the world, including material possessions, other people, nature, and even one’s own life. One is of the world but not bound to or tarnished by it.

This liberation and inner transformation is difficult to describe and therefore the scriptures explain it with similes, for example: recovering from an illness, sobering up, cooling down, clearing out refuse, escaping from a snare or chain, and crossing over an expanse of water to a safe haven.

Many of these similes depict the happiness of relieving an original entanglement, inconvenience, confinement and struggle. The release from these constraints to a state of freedom and safety is Nibbāna. Enlightened persons can move about as they please, without worrying about self-protection. Some of the above similes can be used for other spiritual achievements; the difference lies in the fact that jhāna, for instance, provides only temporary results. {492}

In every time period, at least a small percentage of human beings will seek the meaning and ultimate goal of life, beyond merely being born, searching for sense pleasure, and dying. Sometimes material difficulties or a struggle for survival will cause them to temporarily neglect or interrupt their search, but when circumstances permit and as long as doubt persists people will concern themselves with these matters. Therefore any creed or philosophy that merely answers to material comfort and does not meet people’s spiritual needs is incomplete and unable to offer adequate satisfaction. To use Buddhist terminology, responding to ’mundane welfare’ (diṭṭhadhammikattha) alone is insufficient; one must also attend to ’spiritual welfare’ (samparāyikattha) and ’supreme welfare’ (paramattha).83 The teachings on Nibbāna and other spiritual achievements fulfil this requirement. Some psychic attainments, however, although surpassing mundane phenomena, are still classified as subordinate, that is, one is encouraged to reach the final stage of Nibbāna, the supreme benefit and true perfection.

Common Misunderstandings about Nibbāna

Attaching To Non-attachment

The origin of suffering can be identified with its two primary agents: ignorance (avijjā) and craving (taṇhā). Likewise, the cessation of suffering can be identified with two essential qualities: knowledge (vijjā) and deliverance (vimutti). The former process may be described as ’ignorance leading to attachment’, and the latter as ’deliverance through knowledge’.

In the former process, the link which leads to birth and becoming is upādāna, translated as ’grasping’, ’clinging’, or ’attachment’. In the latter process, the link which leads out of the round of rebirth (saṁsāra-vaṭṭa) is nibbidā, translated as ’disenchantment’ or ’dispassion’: the end of craving and attachment. As a pair upādāna and nibbidā are polar opposites.

Upādāna stems indirectly from not knowing the true nature of things. This not-knowing opens the door to craving – the wish to possess and consume things. Craving leads to getting tied up and investing in things being a certain way, which is upādāna.

In contrast, nibbidā springs from a thorough understanding of those things formerly attached to; one understands their faults and dangers, and one sees the harm of getting obsessed with them. This gives rise to disenchantment; one is no longer fascinated by these things and is willing to relinquish them. Disenchantment arises from knowing the true nature of things; this knowledge is called yathābhūta-ñāṇadassana. {493}

It is important to note that both the arising of disenchantment and the eradication of clinging are due to knowledge. With a true understanding of things, nibbidā arises and upādāna ceases automatically; it is a natural causal process or a state that arises following causes and conditions.84

One sometimes hears the injunction ’don’t be attached’, ’let go’, or ’all that is necessary is non-clinging’.85 This teaching is laudable, but one should bear in mind that non-attachment needs to arise correctly in line with a natural process. If it does not, one’s practice may be incorrect and even harmful. The risk is that one attaches to non-attachment, which can have the same detrimental effects as clinging to anything else.

Imagine that a beautifully wrapped bundle has been placed within a locked glass case. A man sees the bundle and is convinced that it contains something valuable. He is fixated on obtaining that object, but is unable to get at it. Later, someone whom he respects tells him that there is nothing of value in that bundle and that coveting it is harmful. One part of the man wants to believe this advice and realizes the damaging effects of his actions, but on a deeper level he is still convinced the bundle contains a treasure. He is unable to sever his longing through will-power, although he tries to prove to others that he has let go. His outward behaviour displays a disinterest for the bundle, but even if he were to loudly broadcast this, his heart is still bound. Moreover, in his attempt to show others he does not care, he may behave oddly and inappropriately.

Later the contents of the bundle are revealed to the man and he sees that they are indeed worthless. Knowing this clearly for himself the hankering then ceases immediately. Even if he were to try and convince himself to desire the object he would remain disinterested. His mind is prepared to engage fully with other things. {494}

The behaviour above can be compared to that of unawakened persons, whose desires and attachments are influenced by craving. They may have been told that their desired objects are essentially undesirable and that their attachment is potentially harmful. They may agree through reasoning that the desire and attachment is harmful and want to believe that the longed for objects are of no value, but they do not yet truly see it this way. Deep down the desire and attachment remains. They may seemingly be disinterested in those pleasurable things, but this disinterest or non-attachment is not genuine and is a form of posturing. They are simply conforming behaviour to an idea of non-attachment. Their non-attachment is a form of attachment and their actions are dictated by this attachment. This can result in disingenuous or eccentric behaviour.

In contrast, when one understands the true nature of conditioned phenomena, that specific conditions bring about inevitable results, the heart is delivered and grasping ceases of its own accord. One’s behaviour is then natural and uncontrived. {495}

Returning to the former example of the man who desires the bundle, his friend may explain the entire sequence of how the bundle and its worthless contents were prepared. Following this reasoning the man may be convinced that the contents are indeed valueless. This firm conviction may have a strong bearing on his thoughts and actions. Although he is not yet completely free of desire, only a mild longing remains, quite different from his initial passion. This is similar to the knowledge and state of mind of persons who have achieved the first three stages of enlightenment, from stream-enterers to non-returners – those ranked between ordinary people and arahants.86

Examples from everyday life that reveal a person’s true level of non-attachment are the emotions of worry and fear. Some people feel nervous, seemingly for no reason. Even scolding themselves for this feeling does not help. A person may be in a safe place with no cause for fear, but as soon as he hears the cry of a wild animal or a siren he involuntarily gets frightened. Rational thought alone cannot uproot these emotions – one must get to the heart of the matter.

Ordinary people, without deep insight, may ask if they should practise non-attachment. Because the recognition of the dangers of attachment is beneficial, they are advised to practise in this way. They should bear in mind, however, that they still abide at one level of attachment and that it is detrimental to believe prematurely that they have attained true non-attachment. By acting judiciously and wisely, the harmful consequences of excessive and deceptive behaviour are avoided. This virtuous conduct and self-discipline creates a foundation for genuine non-attachment in the future.

Although attaching to non-attachment is usually well-intentioned, there are those with ill intent who may argue that since all things are insubstantial and people are made up of component parts, no one exists in any real sense; therefore it is acceptable to harm others. This is simply an extreme form of attachment; they are selecting an aspect of truth to justify their own desires. If they were not in some way obsessed with the victim and had no evil intent, why would they wish to cause the person harm?


Most people are preoccupied by material concerns. When they experience subtle, unfamiliar spiritual events, they are easily impressed. But because they lack a fundamental understanding of the workings of the mind, they are unable to distinguish between the different experiences and get confused. Even skilled practitioners can have this problem. An analytical or reflective ability goes a long way to prevent misunderstanding and misguided effort.

People who are fascinated with miracles and the supernatural tend to praise those with psychic powers and believe they have reached the highest spiritual goal. Likewise, someone who is keen on solitude, develops the mind, and has tasted the joy of seclusion will often instil faith in others, even if he or she has not yet reached any exceptional states of mind. {496}

People who have attained the fruits of serenity practice (samatha) – the jhānas – will appear even more impressive. They themselves may mistake serenity for insight, or they may overestimate their achievements and believe to be enlightened. They may attain the ’joy of insight’ (vipassanā-sukha), which is technically classified as an impurity (upakkilesa), and mistake this for Nibbāna. They may get carried away by the praise lavished by others. This is not to say that one should be suspicious or find fault, since it is suitable to respect those who are worthy, but one should know clearly what other people have to offer. This way the rewards of Dhamma practice for both practitioners and their admirers will not lead to ill-effects, and they will avoid getting stuck in extreme asceticism or another form of wrong practice.

Happiness and Readiness for Happiness

Happiness is an essential ingredient for Dhamma practice. Buddhism encourages people to experience the different levels of happiness, in particular the refined happiness independent of material things, which provides a great benefit to practice. (Delight in sensual pleasures needs no encouraging as people are preoccupied enough with this already.) Buddhism, does not promote attachment to any kind of happiness,87 and is more interested in cultivating a readiness in people to experience happiness than in the various states of happiness themselves. When this state of readiness is developed, a person can choose at will from those levels of happiness already established. This readiness is itself an inherent form of happiness, which surpasses all other happiness. For realized persons, who have developed this readiness, no source of suffering remains, permitting them to experience all forms of happiness without causing harm to themselves or others. This inherent happiness is one vital feature of Nibbāna.

Points of Controversy

Nibbāna and the Self

Let us look once more at the questions about self (attā):

  • In the final analysis, does Buddhism acknowledge the existence of a self?

  • Does the Buddha’s rejection of the five aggregates as self indicate that he wished us to discover a true self beyond the body/mind?

  • Is Nibbāna the ultimate self? {497}

There are several points here to bear in mind:

All beliefs about the self or soul spring from bhava-taṇhā: the desire for eternal life. This desire incites one to seize something as stable and lasting, leading to suppositions, beliefs and theories on self. Initially, one takes the body as self, but as soon it is clear that the body cannot satisfy one’s desire one searches for something else. When even the mind cannot fulfil one’s desire, one goes further, grasping, for instance, to exalted states encountered in jhāna as the true self. Some define attā in a broader sense than the ego, as the source of all things or an immortal spirit. But no matter how refined these concepts of self, they are essentially the same, in that they satisfy the craving for eternal life.

The error here does not lie with the objects identified with or grasped onto as self. These phenomena exist according to their own nature. In the case that they are conditioned phenomena (saṅkhata-dhamma), for example, they proceed according to specific causes and conditions. They require no self, no core, no essence to interfere with, overlap, or control their natural process. Any such fixed ’self’ would create chaos and conflict with the insubstantial nature of things.

The belief in such a fixed self is thus misguided and erroneous. It is the creation of an image or idea of something that does not in fact truly exist. How do people fall into this error? Its root cause is the craving for being (bhava-taṇhā; alternatively, ’craving for becoming’), which gives rise to grasping (upādāna). When people identify with things by way of grasping, regardless of whether that object is real or purely imaginary, they create a distorted perception of that thing. This distorted perception then becomes an image of ’self’, which is cherished and falsely believed to be real.

Ideas of self depend on the relationship between craving and the object taken to be self. The self is associated with such an object, but it does not exist separate from the craving for being – the source of these beliefs. {498}

Self-perceptions (atta-saññā), self-views (atta-diṭṭhi), and the grasping that leads to repeated assertions of self (atta-vādupādāna) are accumulated so habitually that they become deeply lodged in the mind. When these views are contradicted, people tend to look for a loophole and search for something else to call self.

The search for a replacement is proof of the urgency in maintaining a self. When the original perception of self is threatened or ruled out, the person fears annihilation and reaches for a new concept of self. The basic craving for existence and self-views are still fully intact, and nothing essentially changes by attaching to a new object. The idea of self is merely expressed in a more elaborate and detailed way. One may grasp onto an aspect of truth in this way, but it will result in a misrepresentation of that truth.

Grasping at Nibbāna as self results in a distorted image of Nibbāna that is masked by desire, indicating that one has not yet realized true Nibbāna. (See Note Nibbāna is Not a Self.) Any viable solution to this problem is prevented by the inability to abandon craving. One may acknowledge that one’s self-view is false, but deep down this idea still conflicts with craving and the acceptance of it is therefore not complete. When one belief is invalidated the tendency is to search for another belief to take its place. One may also swing to the opposite extreme: the theory of nihilism.

Nibbāna is Not a Self

This is a very important distinction between Buddhism and religions that avow a soul or an eternal God. The absolute truth as presented by some religions and branches of theology can appear almost identical to that of Buddhism. The difference is that these faiths define the highest reality in terms of a Self or Supreme Being.

Although adherents of these faiths may reach profound states of consciousness, they are still caught up with the latent yet insistent need for a self. When discussing one of these profound states, they look for an angle or reference to label it as self in the hope that they will continue to exist in some enduring, constant way, which indicates that they still harbour bhava-taṇhā.

In Buddhism this mechanism is called the ’master-ensnaring net’ (brahma-jāla: ’the net that traps Brahma’; see the Brahmajāla-Sutta, D. I. 12-46). More important than any concept of self is the desire for self, which breeds all pursuit for and debates over self.

Solving this dilemma is not a matter of identifying the true self, but rather correcting the very belief in self and addressing the root of the problem: the craving which creates ever more elaborate ideas of self. One must uproot self-view (atta-diṭṭhi or attānudiṭṭhi), reject the belief in an enduring self or soul (atta-vāda), and abandon the craving for existence (bhava-taṇhā). When this craving and grasping are abandoned, the self or the ideas of self in which one invests so much importance are also relinquished. With this relinquishment the question of self is concluded; one need not affix a concept of self onto something else. The self ceases automatically with the destruction of this native craving.88 Nothing more needs to be said about the self; the self becomes meaningless.

The extreme and controversial interpretation that Buddhism rejects the five aggregates as self, yet claims that Nibbāna is the true self, is an error resulting from misdirected focus. Proponents of this view pay too much attention to what the Buddha rejected as self, rather than how he rejected the self and how he rejected the attachment that gives rise to the self.

The reason the Buddha chose the five aggregates as the focus in the Three Characteristics, asserting that they are insubstantial and not truly controllable, is because the aggregates are all that ordinary people are able to know and conceive of.89 They comprise all things that are generally held to be self, including experiences in jhāna. The Buddha’s rejection of the aggregates as self was not an encouragement to find something else to grasp onto. The aim of his teaching is precisely to eradicate self-view, self-attachment, and craving for existence, not merely to know the insubstantiality of the aggregates.

If the Buddha wanted us to reject the aggregates as self in order to adopt something else as the true self, he would have made it amply clear what that is. He would not have left us guessing and disputing. {499}

Nonself as part of the Three Characteristics is usually referred to in the scriptures in the phrase: All conditioned phenomena are impermanent, all conditioned phenomena are dukkha, all things are nonself (anattā).

This passage by the Buddha shows that anattā has a range of meaning broader than anicca and dukkha. The first two clauses state that all conditioned phenomena (saṅkhāra or saṅkhata-dhamma) are impermanent and subject to stress, whereas the third clause states that all ’dhammas’ – all things – both conditioned phenomena and the Unconditioned (saṅkhata-dhamma and asaṅkhata-dhamma, or saṅkhāra and visaṅkhāra), are nonself.

And the following passage in the Parivāra of the Vinaya Piṭaka clearly reiterates that Nibbāna is included in the clause ’all things are nonself’: All formations are impermanent, dukkha, and nonself; Nibbāna and designations are nonself.90

Although evidence shows that the Parivāra is a later text in the Tipiṭaka, one must concede that this is a consensus from early, pre-commentarial Buddhism. In any case, although such text material exists one ought to define anattā with caution.

Even the Buddha showed caution when discussing attā/anattā. His approach can be summarized as follows: firstly, when the listener had an adequate basis of understanding, the Buddha would explain the nature of the object held to be self and the grasping that needs to be abandoned, as can be seen in his references to the five aggregates and twelve sense bases in the teaching of the Three Characteristics. Secondly, if someone asked him the isolated metaphysical question whether the self exists or does not exist, the Buddha remained silent and would not answer:

At one time the wanderer Vacchagotta approached the Buddha and asked: Is there a self? The Buddha was silent. Vacchagotta resumed: Then, is there no self? The Buddha remained silent. Vacchagotta then rose from his seat and departed. Later, Ven. Ānanda said to the Buddha: Why is it that when the Blessed One was questioned by the wanderer, he did not answer? The Buddha replied: If I had answered, ’There is a self’, this would have been siding with those who are eternalists. If I had answered, ’There is no self’, this would have been siding with those who are annihilationists.91 {500}

S. IV. 400.

In the first manner of teaching about nonself stated above, the Buddha points out how the things a person identifies with as self cannot be held in any real way. When a person recognizes this misapprehension, the dangers of grasping and the advantages of letting go become apparent. One understands the meaning of freedom and knows how to conduct oneself appropriately in the world, living with purpose rather than drifting aimlessly and allowing craving to develop into a more serious mental complex. By gaining understanding, a practitioner removes self-views and reduces craving for existence. At the same time questions about self gradually dissolve.

This way of explaining differs greatly from trying to answer metaphysical questions about the self, which spring from people’s craving for existence (bhava-taṇhā) or craving for extinction (vibhava-taṇhā). The craving is tied up with fixed views: either a variant of eternalism (sassata-diṭṭhi) or of annihilationism (uccheda-diṭṭhi).

Answering or repudiating these kinds of questions to someone with fixed beliefs is risky and leads to confusion. No matter how one answers, the person will base his conceptions upon established beliefs. If the answer is consistent with his views, he will take this as confirmation of his specific understanding. If inconsistent, he will conclude the opposite. For example, if one answers that the self exists the view of a listener biased towards eternalism will be reinforced. If one negates the self he will go to the opposite extreme and interpret this as a form of annihilationism. He may then develop the misguided idea that since no self exists, persecution of others has no consequences; since no one acts, no one receives the fruits of action and therefore why should one perform good deeds? People form conclusions according to their cravings and fixed opinions; these biased conclusions inevitably result in the extreme views of eternalism or annihilationism, neither of which is espoused by Buddhism.

Moreover, some people may develop a phobia of extinction. Some may conclude that Nibbāna equals extinction and give up practising the Dhamma out of fear. Such reactions and views are extremely unfortunate. {501}

When someone asks whether things exist or do not exist, if one is not careful, both answers ’they exist’ and ’they do not exist’ may potentially cause problems, because such answers may maintain the views of eternalism and annihilationism. One should not answer categorically; instead, one should explain that those things people refer to as existing come into being as a result of causes and conditions. They are conditioned phenomena (saṅkhāra; saṅkhata-dhamma); they exist temporarily or momentarily, continually arising and passing away. They arise mutually dependent on one another (paṭicca-samuppanna), in the form of a stream or a conditioned process.

The Buddha therefore did not answer with a simple affirmative or negative; he referred to the process of origination. This form of response aims to dispel our misconceptions of things.

The teachings on anattā function to remove self-concepts fabricated by craving and wrong view. With the release of attachment, the self or self-concepts cease automatically. If one comprehends anattā as the common (i.e. unawakened) belief of ’no self’, however, then one falls into the wrong view of annihilationism.

In the Suttanipāta the Buddha often characterizes enlightened beings as having neither attā nor nirattā: having neither ’a self’ nor ’an absence of self’.92 They have no thirst for being (bhava-taṇhā) which hankers after a self, nor do they hold a view of existence (bhava-diṭṭhi), which leads to a view of self (atta-diṭṭhi) or a view of self-extinction (uccheda-diṭṭhi). Another definition is that they believe neither in an ’existing self’ nor an ’expired self’: they avoid the misinterpretation of a fixed self-identity followed by the belief that the self has vanished. (See Note No Doer of a Deed.)

No Doer of a Deed

Note the teaching in the Visuddhimagga:

There is no doer of a deed, or one who reaps the deed’s results…. For here there is no Creator God, no Creator of the round of births; phenomena alone flow on, dependent on the marriage of conditions.

This matches the teaching in the Sammohavinodanī:

When no being can be found, there is neither substantiality nor extinction

Vism. 602-3; VbhA. 194

The use of expressions such as ’inflated ego’ and ’destroy the ego’ are simply idioms of speech. They are often used in the context of intensified levels of clinging to self. It is the clinging which should be eradicated rather than the self, since no self exists to eradicate. The thought of eradicating the self is linked to an annihilationist view. The self is merely a mental concept fabricated by bhava-taṇhā and superimposed on something which occurs naturally on its own. The self does not exist independently and therefore has no inherent reality. Furthermore, the term attavādupādāna suggests clearly that clinging exists merely to the word (or idea of) ’self’, since no real self exists to be clung to.

Vism. 569; VismṬ.: Dutiyo Bhāgo, Paññābhuminiddesavaṇṇanā, Taṇhāpaccaya-upādānapadavitthārakathāvaṇṇanā Taṇhāpaccaya-upādānapadavitthārakathāvaṇṇanā>

In conclusion, although the Buddha declared the truth, the truth must always be linked to practical application. He wished that those who receive his teachings apply and benefit from them.

The way of explaining anattā by examining the objects a person identifies with, and by examining people’s relationship to craving, intends to free the listeners from harmful views and attachments, enabling them to have a liberated heart and to prosper.

Metaphysical responses, when indulged in, add to confusion and deepen wrong view. The Buddha therefore remained silent when asked such metaphysical questions.

Now let us turn to the specific question of whether Nibbāna constitutes a form of self (attā), or whether Nibbāna is endowed with some form of substantial essence that could be described as ’self’. {502}

First, all existing phenomena, which can be defined by the terms dhamma (’thing’), sabhāva (’existing phenomenon’), or sabhāva-dhamma (’natural phenomenon’), exist according to their own inherent nature. In respect to conditioned things (saṅkhāra; saṅkhata-dhamma), they exist in line with their causes and conditions. Nibbāna, on the other hand, is the Unconditioned (visaṅkhāra; asaṅkhata-dhamma). It also exists according to its own nature and is endowed with its own inherent attributes, say of purity and independence, as confirmed many times by the Buddha.

As Nibbāna exists according to its own nature, it is impossible for a ’self’ to interfere with, rule over, control, or dictate it. If a ’self’ – some form of static, ruling essence – were to exist, Nibbāna would not be able to exist as it does.

Second, some people who discuss these questions about Nibbāna and its relationship to the self do not understand these terms adequately. They lack a scholarly clarity within themselves and cause confusion for others.

Until we ourselves are awakened, we can rely on the words the Buddha used to describe and explain Nibbāna. As for the term attā (’self’), one should define it in the context of the traditional philosophical questions posed by others to the Buddha, rather than create one’s own definition or rely on ambiguous contemporary definitions of this term.

Some people misunderstand this topic of the self versus selflessness (anattā), and begin to wonder, for example, whether they themselves exist or not.

Ultimately, the concept of ’self’ (attā) should be understood as the belief in ’me’, in the ’I’, in ’him’ and ’her’, etc., as distinct, fixed entities. In the Pali language, however, the term attā is also used to refer to the conventional sense of self, as is clearly evident in the Buddha’s teaching: ’One is one’s own refuge’ (attā hi attano nātho; literally: ’the self is the refuge of the self.’) Although the teachings state that in truth there is no abiding, fixed essence or substantial entity, the conventional designation of a self is valid and useful. In the discussion of Nibbāna, however, one is examining the true nature of phenomena, and asking the questions: Does Nibbāna constitute a self? Is Nibbāna my true self? Is the realization of Nibbāna the attainment of one’s true self?

Were Nibbāna to be one’s true self, it would have the power to control and dictate things according to one’s desires. And the only things it would be able to direct and control are conditioned phenomena or the five aggregates. Nibbāna would thus pass over the threshold of the Unconditioned and get caught up in conditioned phenomena. Were this to be true, Nibbāna would utterly lose its status as the Unconditioned; it would no longer correspond with Nibbāna as described by the Buddha. It would no longer be Nibbāna, at least not the Nibbāna of the Buddha.

Third, the claim that Nibbāna is the self is necessarily connected to grasping and clinging.93 For Nibbāna to be self, there must be grasping (upādāna). Yet this is in conflict with reality, because the realization of Nibbāna only occurs with the end of grasping (upādāna). The end of grasping constitutes the realization of Nibbāna. The arahants who have realized Nibbāna harbour no conception of ’my Nibbāna’, let alone ’Nibbāna is the self’. The belief in Nibbāna as the self is completely incompatible with Nibbāna. {503}

Fourth, if Nibbāna were to exist as a separate, supreme self, it would act as the master and principal agent, controlling and dictating all things. In this sense it would be similar to Paramātman (’Supreme Self’; ’Primordial Self’), Brahmā, or God, who in theistic religions is claimed to have created the world, rules over all human beings, and is Lord of the universe. Yet Nibbāna is a state of purity, happiness, and independence; it is the Unconditioned (visaṅkhāra); it does not engage in any way with conditioned things (saṅkhata-dhammā). It pertains to a completely different matter, to a completely different reality, which one may describe as diametrically opposed to the conditioned world. It is thus impossible for Nibbāna to exist as a self.

Fifth, the Buddhist teachings clearly state that the belief in or attachment to self is a form of mental defilement (kilesa) – a form of ’grasping’ (upādāna; ’clinging’, ’incorrect adherence’). In this context the specific term attavādupādāna is used, translated as ’grasping to the belief in self’.

The craving (for the self) to endure and exist eternally – bhavataṇhā – is the cause for this form of grasping. If this craving manifests by itself, one has not yet reached the full-blown problem. But if one steps beyond craving, one arrives at grasping (upādāna), which lies at the crux of the matter being discussed here.

Note that the specific term for this grasping does not merely refer to a grasping to the ’self’ (attā), but also includes the term vāda. Here, there is not grasping to the self, but rather grasping to the belief in self.

In fact, no self (as a permanent, stable entity) exists. For this reason, strictly speaking, it is impossible to grasp onto a self, for essentially no such self exists. The term vāda (’belief’, ’idea’, ’doctrine’, ’assertion’) is added here for the sake of clarity. Any attachment to the belief in self, including attachment to language indicating a mistaken identification with self, is a form of mental impurity.

(Note that in some scriptural passages this grasping is described in a non-specific, general sense, for example in the statement: ’abandon the self’. Here, it should be understood that what is meant is ’abandon any attachment to the belief in self’.)

The grasping to a belief in self (attavādupādāna) is a crucial mental defilement, listed among the four kinds of grasping (upādāna) completely relinquished by fully awakened beings (arahants). Those who are free from any attachment to the belief in self, who do not identify with anything as a self, are, by definition, arahants. Those who realize Nibbāna – the fully awakened arahants – do not appropriate anything as self. Even in regard to Nibbāna itself, they do not consider it to be a self.

Those who still grasp onto a belief in self, or who still recognize something to exist as ’self’, are still tainted by defilement; they lack ’true vision’; they have not yet realized Nibbāna, the Unconditioned. No matter what these people believe to be ’self’, even if it is Nibbāna, because they have not directly realized Nibbāna, their knowledge and vision is still confined to the conditioned world. Therefore, whatever concept of self they create, even if they identify Nibbāna with the self, is still bound to and comprised of conditioned phenomena; they still spin around in the realm of the five aggregates. If they claim that Nibbāna is the self, they are grasping onto a mental image or concept of Nibbāna, and such concepts are ’mental formations’ (saṅkhāra), which are part of the five aggregates.

To sum up with the Buddha’s words:

I do not see any doctrine of self that would not arouse sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair in one who clings to it.94 {504}

M. I. 137.

What Happens After an Arahant’s Death?

An inevitable question that arises in the discussion of Nibbāna is: ’What happens to an arahant after death?’ or: ’Does a person who has realized Nibbāna exist after death or not?’ In truth, this question is centred around self-view: the devotion to self is acting as a catalyst in posing the question. This attachment to self or to the label of self (attavādupādāna) – a doctrine of self – is firmly embedded in the hearts of unenlightened people, supported by the thirst for being (bhava-taṇhā) and based on ignorance (avijjā). The Buddha did not encourage debating this question if one has not eliminated ignorance and craving. He encouraged knowledge through application rather than conjecture.

No matter how one responds to these inquiries, the latent root attachment to self will inevitably lead to a biased understanding. The questioner will incline towards a wrong view of Nibbāna as either an enduring self or an eradication of self. It is easy for annihilationists to view Nibbāna as extinction, because Buddhism emphasizes disentangling from the widespread belief in eternalism.95 As for eternalists, when their idea of self is invalidated, they search for a substitute to compensate for the sense of void or to restore the idea of a stable self. When they encounter a teaching that advocates uprooting the fixed belief in self, it can seem to them that the self vanishes. They may then seize Nibbāna as a haven for the self or equate Nibbāna as eternal life or the Promised Land.

Many esteemed and wise individuals who are free from almost all forms of attachment get caught up in these views. The escape from this net leads to complete liberation. The Buddhist teachings admit that such freedom is extremely difficult to achieve and refer to this subtle attachment to views as ’the Brahma-ensnaring web’ (brahma-jāla): an entanglement for the virtuous and wise.

As mentioned in the chapter on the Three Characteristics, an arahant may be referred to as one who has ’abandoned the self’ (attañjaha). This expression is used for the sake of convenience, say in poetic verses, yet it would have been expected that the listener understood this in the sense of ’abandoning an attachment to the concept of self’. {505}

This is also the case with such expressions as ’boost the ego’, ’self-preservation’, or similar references to self, which are used for the sake of simplicity. The term ’self’ here should be understood as ’self-image’ or an ’attachment to the concept of self’.

Nibbāna and the practice for Nibbāna have nothing to do with destroying the self because there is no self to destroy.96 It is the attachment to concepts of self that must be destroyed. One must remove the attachment to self-assertions, self-views and self-perceptions. Nibbāna is the end of these misunderstandings and the end of the suffering caused by attachment. When the yearning for self ceases, all theories of self automatically lose their significance. When the attachment to self is uprooted, things will be seen as they truly are; there is no need for further speculation about self. When the craving and grasping which gives rise to self ceases, the matter of self vanishes of its own accord. Nibbāna is the cessation of suffering, not the cessation of self, since there is no self that ceases. Reflect on the Buddha’s words: I teach only suffering and the end of suffering.97 In order to shift the emphasis from the preoccupation with Nibbāna and philosophical debate, the Buddha usually referred to Nibbāna in the context of practical application or to the related benefits for everyday life, as demonstrated in passages of the Tipiṭaka.

Rather than give lengthy explanations on the subject of what happens to arahants after they die, some teachings of the Buddha are included below for consideration.

This teaching offers a basic understanding on the subject of self, presenting the two extreme views of eternalism and extinction. It also elucidates the meaning of bhava-taṇhā and vibhava-taṇhā:

Bhikkhus, both devas and humans are subjected to the hold of two views. Some are bogged down, some overreach, while those with vision see. And how, monks, are some bogged down?

Devas and humans delight in becoming (bhava), rejoice in becoming, take pleasure in becoming. When the Dhamma is being taught for the cessation of becoming (bhava-nirodha), the hearts of those devas and humans do not leap forward, do not gain confidence, do not become settled, do not yield. Thus are some bogged down.

And how, monks, do some overreach?

Some devas and humans are afflicted, depressed, and disgusted by becoming. They delight in non-becoming (vibhava: extinction), saying: ’My good sir, with the breaking up of the body at death, this self is annihilated, destroyed, and no longer exists. This state is supreme, excellent and true.’ Thus do some overreach.

And how, monks, do those with vision see?

In this case, a monk sees becoming as becoming.98 When he sees becoming as becoming, he practises for disenchantment (nibbidā), dispassion (virāga), and cessation (nirodha) in regard to becoming. Thus do those with vision see. {506}


Whoever sees becoming as becoming,
And sees the state beyond becoming,
Surrenders to the Truth,
Through the exhaustion of lust for existence.
With full understanding of becoming,
One is free from craving,
For both existence and extinction (abhava).
With the end of what has come to be,
A monk comes not to further birth.99

It. 43-4; Ps. 1. 159.

The Buddha’s repudiation of the view that consciousness leaves the body and takes a new birth is of particular interest in the study of rebirth. Although the subject of rebirth is not directly linked to Nibbāna, examining the teachings on rebirth may add to an understanding of Nibbāna.

On that occasion a wrong view had arisen in a bhikkhu named Sāti, son of a fisherman, thus: ’As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is this same consciousness that runs and wanders through the round of rebirths, not another….’

The bhikkhus were unable to detach him from that pernicious view, so they went to the Buddha and told him all that had occurred….

(The Buddha then called the bhikkhu Sāti) and asked him: ’Sāti, is it true that the following pernicious view has arisen in you: “As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is this same consciousness that runs and wanders through the round of rebirths, not another?”

’Exactly so, venerable sir….’

’What is that consciousness, Sāti?’

’Venerable sir, it is that which speaks and feels and experiences here and there the result of good and bad actions.’

’Misguided man, to whom have you ever known me to teach the Dhamma in that way? In many discourses have I not stated consciousness to be dependently arisen, since without a condition there is no origination of consciousness? But you, misguided man, have misrepresented us by your wrong grasp and injured yourself and stored up much demerit; for this will lead to your harm and suffering for a long time.’

Then the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus thus: ’Bhikkhus, consciousness is reckoned by the particular condition dependent upon which it arises. When consciousness arises dependent on the eye and forms, it is reckoned as eye-consciousness; when consciousness arises dependent on the ear and sounds, it is reckoned as ear-consciousness; when consciousness arises dependent on the nose and odours, it is reckoned as nose-consciousness; when consciousness arises dependent on the tongue and flavours, it is reckoned as tongue-consciousness; when consciousness arises dependent on the body and tangibles, it is reckoned as body-consciousness; when consciousness arises dependent on the mind and mind-objects, it is reckoned as mind-consciousness. Just as fire is reckoned by the particular condition dependent on which it burns … it is reckoned as a log fire … a woodchip fire … a grass fire … a cowdung fire … a chaff fire … a rubbish fire…. {507}

Mahātaṇhāsaṅkhaya Sutta: M. I. 256-60.

This teaching corrects the misguided view that arahants are annihilated after death:

On one occasion the following wrong view had arisen in a bhikkhu named Yamaka: ’As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed is annihilated and perishes with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death.’

A number of bhikkhus unsuccessfully tried to rid him of this wrong view. They therefore asked the Ven. Sāriputta for assistance. Sāriputta approached Yamaka and conducted the following conversation:

’Is it true, friend Yamaka, that such a pernicious view as this has arisen in you: “As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed is annihilated and perishes with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death”?’

’Exactly so, friend.’

’What do you think, friend Yamaka, is form permanent or impermanent?’

’Impermanent, friend.’

’Is feeling … perception … volitional formations … consciousness permanent or impermanent?’

’Impermanent, friend.’

’Therefore, any kind of form … feeling … perception … volitional formations … consciousness whatsoever, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near … should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: “This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.” Seeing thus, [one’s mind] is liberated….

’What do you think, friend Yamaka, do you regard form as the Tathāgata?’100 ’No, friend.’

’Do you regard feeling … perception … volitional formations … consciousness as the Tathāgata?’ ’No, friend.’

’What do you think, friend Yamaka, do you regard the Tathāgata as in form?’ ’No, friend.’

’Do you regard the Tathāgata as apart from form?’ ’No, friend.’

’Do you regard the Tathāgata as in feeling … apart from feeling … as in perception … apart from perception … as in volitional formations … as apart from volitional formations … as in consciousness … as apart from consciousness?’ ’No, friend.’

’What do you think, friend Yamaka, do you regard form, feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness [taken together] as the Tathāgata?’ ’No, friend.’

’What do you think, friend Yamaka, do you regard the Tathāgata as one who is without form, without feeling, without perception, without volitional formations, without consciousness?’ {508}

’No, friend.’

’But friend, when the Tathāgata is not apprehended by you as real and actual here in this very life, is it fitting for you to declare: “As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed is annihilated and perishes with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death”?’

’Formerly, friend Sāriputta, when I was ignorant, I did hold that pernicious view, but now that I have heard this Dhamma teaching of the Venerable Sāriputta I have abandoned that pernicious view and have made the breakthrough to the Dhamma.’

’If, friend Yamaka, people were to ask you: “Friend Yamaka, when a bhikkhu is an arahant, one whose taints are destroyed, what happens to him with the breakup of the body, after death?” – being asked thus, what would you answer?’

’If they were to ask me this, friend, I would answer thus: “Friends, form is impermanent; what is impermanent is dukkha; what is dukkha has ceased and passed away. Feeling … perception … volitional formations … consciousness is impermanent; what is impermanent is dukkha; what is dukkha has ceased and passed away.” Being asked thus, friend, I would answer in such a way.’

’Good, good, friend Yamaka.’101

S. III. 109-112.

In this teaching the Buddha, while conversing with the wanderer Vacchagotta, compares the death of an arahant with the extinguishing of a fire:

’When a bhikkhu’s mind is liberated thus, Master Gotama, where does he reappear [after death]?’

’The term “reappears” does not apply,102 Vaccha.’

’Then he does not reappear, Master Gotama?’

’The term “does not reappear” does not apply, Vaccha.’

’Then he both reappears and does not reappear, Master Gotama?’

’The term “both reappears and does not reappear” does not apply, Vaccha.’

’Then he neither reappears nor does not reappear, Master Gotama?’

’The term “neither reappears nor does not reappear” does not apply, Vaccha.’

’Here I have fallen into bewilderment, Master Gotama, here I have fallen into confusion, and the measure of confidence I had gained through previous conversation with Master Gotama has now disappeared.’ {509}

’It is enough to cause you bewilderment, Vaccha, enough to cause you confusion. For this Dhamma, Vaccha, is profound, hard to see and hard to understand, peaceful and sublime, unattainable by mere reasoning, subtle, to be experienced by the wise. It is hard for you to understand it when you hold another view, accept another teaching, approve of another teaching, pursue a different training, and follow a different teacher. So I shall question you about this in return, Vaccha. Answer as you choose.

’What do you think, Vaccha? Suppose a fire were burning before you. Would you know: “This fire is burning before me?’ “

’I would, Master Gotama.’

If someone were to ask you, Vaccha: “What does this fire burning before you burn in dependence on?” – being asked thus, what would you answer?’

’Being asked thus, Master Gotama, I would answer: “This fire burning before me burns in dependence on grass and sticks.” ’

’If that fire before you were to be extinguished, would you know: “This fire before me has been extinguished?” ’

’I would, Master Gotama.’

If someone were to ask you, Vaccha: “When that fire before you was extinguished, to which direction did it go: to the east, the west, the north, or the south?” – being asked thus, what would you answer?

’That does not apply, Master Gotama. The fire burned in dependence on its fuel of grass and sticks. When that is used up, if it does not get any more fuel, being without fuel, it is reckoned as extinguished.

’So too, Vaccha, the Tathāgata has abandoned that material form … feeling … perception … volitional formations … consciousness by which one describing the Tathāgata might describe him; he has cut it off at the root, made it like a palm stump, done away with it so that it is no longer subject to future arising. The Tathāgata is liberated from reckoning in terms of material form … feelings … perception … volitional formations … consciousness, Vaccha, he is profound, immeasurable, unfathomable like the ocean. The term “reappears” does not apply, the term “does not reappear” does not apply, the term “both reappears and does not reappear” does not apply, the term “neither reappears nor does not reappear” does not apply.

Following this conversation faith arose in the wanderer Vacchagotta and he declared himself a lay follower.103 {510}

Aggivacchagotta Sutta, especially the concluding sections (M. I. 486-9)

The Ratana Sutta describes arahants as follows:

With previous [birth] exhausted,
and no new birth arising,
the mind disengaged from future birth,
the seeds of existence destroyed,
with no impulse to grow again.
Those wise ones are extinguished even as this lamp.

Sn. 41-42.

At the final passing away (parinibbāna) of Ven. Dabba-Mallaputta, the Buddha uttered this verse:

Broken is the body, all perception has ceased,
Feelings are stilled, volitional formations calmed,
And consciousness has reached its end.

Ud. 93.

The Buddha recounted the events of this passing away to the monks and uttered this verse:

Just as the destination of a blazing spark of fire
Struck from the anvil, gradually fading,
Cannot be known – so in the case of those
Who have rightly won release and crossed the flood
Of binding lusts, and reached unshakeable bliss,
Their destination cannot be defined.

Ud. 93.

Appendix 1: Sa-upādisesa and Anupādisesa

{420} Some scholars interpret the passages in the Aṅguttara-Nikāya,104 which classify enlightened beings into two kinds, i.e. sa-upādisesa-puggala (sekha – stream-enterers, once-returners and non-returners – who are still subject to grasping and defilement), and anupādisesa-puggala (asekha – arahants – who are freed from grasping and defilement), by translating upādi as upādāna (’grasping’), and thus define the two kinds of Nibbāna this way:

  1. Sa-upādisesa-nibbānadhātu: Nibbāna with grasping remaining, or Nibbāna of those with latent defilement, i.e. Nibbāna of stream-enterers, once-returners, and non-returners.

  2. Anupādisesa-nibbānadhātu: Nibbāna with no grasping remaining, or Nibbāna of those freed from grasping, i.e. Nibbāna of arahants.

Translating this way springs from a confusion between ’states’ (bhava), i.e. sa-upādisesa-nibbāna and anupādisesa-nibbāna, and ’persons’ (puggala), i.e. sa-upādisesa-puggala and anupādisesa-puggala. The two kinds of Nibbāna describe the relationship between Nibbāna and awakened beings. The two persons describe the attributes of those in contact with Nibbāna. To avoid confusion these two pairs should be clearly distinguished. The distinguishing word in this case is upādi, which has a different meaning when referring to either Nibbāna or to enlightened beings. Note, however, that some commentarial passages reinforce this misunderstanding that sa-upādisesa-nibbāna is the Nibbāna of sa-upādisesa-puggala.105

A clear development of the meanings of the two terms sa-upādisesa-nibbāna and anupādisesa-nibbāna, stressing an activity or event, is the establishment of the terms kilesa-parinibbāna and khandha-parinibbāna. The former corresponds to sa-upādisesa-nibbāna, while the latter corresponds to anupādisesa-nibbāna. Despite the frequent use of these terms in this way, the commentators and sub-commentators were well aware of the meaning of sa-upādisesa-nibbāna as denoting the quality of a state, as can be seen by these examples:

The Buddha abided in the Nibbāna element with remainder, conducting his life for the benefit of all beings, faring well in this world until he attained the Nibbāna element without remainder.

VismṬ.: Dutiyo Bhāgo, Paññābhuminiddesavaṇṇanā, Avijjāpaccayāsaṅkhārapadavitthārakathāvaṇṇanā.

With the fruit of arahantship, [the arahants] are completely dispassionate, abiding in the Nibbāna element with remainder, wise, diligent all day and night. With the end of their final mind, they attain the Nibbāna element without remainder with their final passing.

ItA. II. 119.

Appendix 2: Diṭṭhadhammika and Samparāyika

As noun forms, diṭṭhadhammika and samparāyika exist as diṭṭhadhamma and samparāya, respectively. These four words are used extensively, both in the Pali Canon and in the commentaries, and generally have the meaning of ’present’ or ’this life’ on the one hand, and ’future’, ’next life’, or ’next world’, on the other.106 The compounds with atthadiṭṭhadhammikattha (’present welfare’) and samparāyikattha (’future welfare’) – are especially familiar to scholars. Later, in the commentaries, one occasionally finds paramattha (’supreme welfare’) included to form a triad.107 In the original scriptures, however, one only finds the pair of diṭṭhadhammikattha and samparāyikattha.108 In this context samparāyikattha refers to the welfare that surpasses or transcends that of diṭṭhadhammikattha, and includes the definition of paramattha. Paramattha was originally used on its own as a synonym for Nibbāna.109 In later contexts the definition of samparāyikattha was narrowed to mean ’future welfare’, ’of the next world’, or ’heavenly’, which was a welfare below the supreme, that is, not yet of Nibbāna.

An example of samparāyikattha being used in its original context is the story of the old brahmin Brahmāyu, who visited the Buddha:

Then the brahmin Brahmāyu thought: ’Permission has been granted me by the recluse Gotama. Which should I ask him about: good in this life or the supreme good?’ Then he thought: ’I am skilled in the good of this life, and others too ask me about good in this life. {421} Why shouldn’t I ask him only about the supreme good?’ Then he addressed the Blessed One in stanzas:

’How does one become a brahmin?
And how does one attain to knowledge?
How has one the triple knowledge?
And how does one become a holy scholar?
How does one become an arahant?
And how does one attain completeness?
How is one a silent sage?
And how can one be called a Buddha?’

M. II. 144.

In its original sense, samparāyika too encompasses the meaning of paramattha, as seen in the Kaṇṇakatthala Sutta, where King Pasenadi asks the Buddha about the distinction between members of the four castes.110 The Buddha replied that, concerning the present life, nobles and brahmins are held to be superior since people pay homage to them, but concerning a person’s spiritual attainments caste plays no role; here only the quality of a person’s effort is important. As for deliverance, the Buddha claimed there is no difference between that achieved by members of various social classes.

Similarly, in the Mahāniddesa:

One sees two benefits, mundane and transcendent, from personal beliefs. What is the mundane benefit stemming from belief? Here, whatever is the doctrine of the teacher, the disciples share this doctrine. They honour, respect, worship and hold in awe the teacher of this doctrine, and as a consequence they receive robes, almsfood, lodgings and medicine. And what is the transcendent benefit stemming from belief? Those disciples wish for the future: ’May this doctrine lead to birth as a nāga, garuḍa … as Indra, Brahma or as a god. This doctrine is sufficient for purity and deliverance. This view leads to purity and deliverance.’

Nd1. 73-4.

The commentators tended to restrict the definitions, diṭṭhadhammika referring to this existence and life, and samparāyika referring to the next life or world.111 Some commentaries on the two elements of Nibbāna use these same restricted definitions, i.e. diṭṭhadhammika meaning ’in this life’, and samparāyika meaning ’in the future’ or ’after death’.112

Appendix 3: Final Mind

Carima-citta, carimaka-citta, carima-viññāṇa and carimaka-viññāṇa all mean the same thing, that is ’last mind’, ’final consciousness’, or more explicitly, ’last mind in existence’. It refers to the passing away (cuti) of an arahant’s mind. Also called parinibbāna-citta, it is the mind of an arahant at death, or the mind at the moment of final passing.113

The term carima-viññāṇa is first used in the Cūḷaniddesa, a secondary text of the Tipiṭaka, for example:

At the final passing of an arahant, attaining the Nibbāna element without remainder, due to the cessation of final consciousness, right here wisdom and mindfulness, materiality and mentality, also cease; they are stilled, made tranquil and no longer established.

Nd2. 8, explaining Sn. 198-9, and referred to at DhsA. 236.

In the commentaries, the terms carima-viññāṇa and carima-citta are frequently used; they sometimes associate carima-citta with attainment of the Nibbāna element without remainder. Equally, they associate the attainment of or initial abiding in sa-upādisesa-nibbāna with the fruit of arahantship.114 Note that in many Thai editions carima-citta and carima-viññāṇa are printed as purima-citta and purima-viññāṇa (’preceding mind/consciousness’).115 Examples of such inconsistency include canonical texts that use purima and the explanatory commentarial text that uses carima, or a passage in one volume using one term and the identical passage in another volume using the other. The evidence, however, confirms that the correct term is carima.

Appendix 4: ’Attaining’ Nibbāna

{481} I have occasionally used the expression ’attaining Nibbāna’ because it is familiar and easy to understand, although the term that is more accurate or specific to this context is sacchikiriyā (its verb form is sacchikaroti; later texts sometimes use sacchikaraṇa), which literally means ’realization’. The commentaries explain it as ’to experience or see clearly for oneself’. Although ’attaining Nibbāna’ may be more convenient, using ’realizing Nibbāna’ probably has less risk of misunderstanding. ’Attainment’ is closer to the Pali words adhigama (verb: adhigacchati) and patti (past participle used with Nibbāna: patta). Both of these words are frequently used with Nibbāna, but in secondary contexts and usually in verses.116

The following words used with Nibbāna are scattered throughout the scriptures and are mainly used in verse: ārādheti (’attain’, ’accomplish’), phusati (’reach’, ’touch’), gacchati (’arrive at’), and labhati (’obtain’).

Appendix 5: Anupāda-parinibbāna

MA. II. 155 states that anupādā-parinibbāna equals appaccaya-parinibbāna (’complete unconditioned Nibbāna’), and the Majjhima Nikāya Ṭīkā117 states that appaccaya-parinibbāna equals anupādisesa-parinibbāna.118 It follows therefore that anupādisesa-parinibbāna is identical to both anupādā-parinibbāna and appaccaya-parinibbāna, i.e. identical to the essential nature of Nibbāna as discussed earlier in this chapter. DhA. I. 286, ItA. I. 170, and BvA. 227 substitute the term anupādā-parinibbāna for anupādisesa-parinibbāna.

Anupādā-parinibbāna is an important term denoting Nibbāna; it always stands on its own and is often used to express the goal of Buddhism, e.g.:

’Bhikkhu, the Dhamma is taught by me for the sake of final Nibbāna without fuel’,119 and: ’It is for the sake of final Nibbāna without fuel that the holy life is lived under the Blessed One.’120

The commentaries generally define anupādā-parinibbāna as appaccaya-parinibbāna – the Unconditioned – i.e. not conditioned by any ’fuel’,121 which can be realized in this very life. Some teachers claim that anupādā-parinibbāna translates as ’final Nibbāna without clinging (upādāna)’, referring to the fruit of arahantship, but the commentators reject this opinion.122

Furthermore, the Vimuttimagga, composed by Upatissa before Buddhaghosa composed the Visuddhimagga, explains nissaraṇa-vimutti as anupādisesa-parinibbāna.123 Interestingly, this opinion conforms to the meaning expressed above. See the following discussion on deliverance.


Trans.: ’Ignorance is bliss’.


For further information on Dependent Origination see chapter 4.


Trans.: this passage and several others are based with permission on Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translations.


Literally: ’ignorance-contact’ (S. III. 46, 96).


In this context, the verb and adjective form nibbuta is most often used, e.g.: A. I. 162, 197; A. II. 212; Sn. 153; AA. II. 259, 307; AA. III. 184; NdA. I. 199; in particular: DhA. I. 85; JatA. I. 60; BudA. 280.


The words saṁsāravaṭṭa and vivaṭṭa are used here corresponding to the evolution of language; they are not the original specific terms. In the Canon, the preferred terms for saṁsāravaṭṭa are saṁsāra (e.g. S. II. 178; A. II. 12) and vaṭṭa (e.g. S. III. 64; S. IV. 52; Ud. 75). In later texts the two were used as a compound (e.g. Nd1. 343; Nd2. 17). As for vivaṭṭa, it was not generally used in the Canon in this sense, except in the Paṭisambhidāmagga (e.g. Ps. I. 2, 107-11.) Later, in the commentaries and sub-commentaries it was frequently used (e.g. Vism. 694; VinA.: Pācittiyakhaṇḍaṁ, Musāvādavaggo, Padasodhammasikkhāpadavaṇṇanā; AA. III. 337; VismṬ.: Paṭhamo Bhāgo, Sīlaniddesavaṇṇanā, Dutiyasīlapañcakavaṇṇanā.)


Alternatively, ’realizable in this lifetime’.


Note that these five qualities are identical to the last five qualities of the Dhamma. This is consistent with the explanation that the first quality of the Dhamma (svākkhāto) is the teaching, later called pariyatti-dhamma, the Dhamma that should be studied. Qualities 2-6 (sanditthiko to paccattaṁ veditabbo viññūhi) are attributes specific to lokuttara-dhamma, the Transcendent (Vism. 215-18).


The word Dhamma here refers to Dependent Origination, Nibbāna, or the Four Noble Truths – the essential meaning is the same.


’Not within the realm of reasoning’.


S. IV. 251, 261.


S. II. 117.


S. III. 190.


This last is an indirect rather than an explicit definition. See e.g. S. IV. 43; Ud. 80; It. 47.


Trans.: note also the passage from the chapter in Buddhadhamma on happiness: ’Finally, the highest goal of Buddhism – Nibbāna – is described as a form of happiness, the supreme form of happiness (parama-sukha)’. M. I. 508-509; Dh. verse 204; (this passage is found on p. 1023 of the original Thai edition of Buddhadhamma).


M. I. 226.


S. IV. 157, 174.


M. I. 486-7; S. IV. 399.


S. III. 108-109.


S. IV. 174.


S. IV. 195.


Ap. 530.


Miln.: Book IV, Aṭṭhamavaggo, no. 5: The Gift of Vessantara (dilemma 71).


From many sources, the important ones being: S. IV. 359-73; M. I. 173; S. IV. 210; A. II. 247-8; Ud. 80-81.


Kevala (Sanskrit: kaivalya) is a word expressing the ultimate goal of the Jain religion. In the Buddhist Pali Canon this word is not used as a direct reference to Nibbāna, but rather as a name for someone who has attained Nibbāna, e.g. kevalī or kebalī. In many locations, e.g.: M. II. 144; S. I. 167; A. I. 162; A. V. 16; Sn. 88.


This matter is discussed in the Milindapañhā: Book IV, Sattamo vaggo, no. 8: Nibbānassa Atthibhāvapañho (dilemma 65). [Trans.: this paragraph is brought forward from pp. 341-42 of the original text.]


Trans.: this paragraph is brought forward from p. 382 of the original text.








Another translation is ’incomparable’.


Another translation is, ’can be reached from every direction’, or ’can be reached by every method’, i.e. it can be attained by every method of formal meditation (kammaṭṭhāna).


Alternatively, ’incomparable’.


Another translation is ’all radiant’.


DA. II. 393; MA. II. 412.


Trans.: note that Bhikkhu Bodhi uses the spelling ’Upamañña clan’.


ItA. I. 164 states that ultimately Nibbāna is indivisible; the division is merely figurative.


It. 38; the Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha claims this division is a causal representation (kāraṇa-pariyāya), and presents another division, which is a qualitative representation: suññata-nibbāna, animitta-nibbāna, and appaṇihita-nibbāna (Comp.: Rūpaparicchedo, Nibbānabhedo).


E.g.: ItA. I. 164; SnA. II. 410; NdA. 6; PsA. I. 323; VinṬ.: Paṭhamo Bhāgo, Paṭhamamahāsaṅgītikathāvaṇṇanā; VismṬ.: Dutiyo Bhāgo, Dukkhaniddesakathāvaṇṇanā, Ekavidhādivinicchayakathāvaṇṇanā; CompṬ.: Rūpaparicchedavaṇṇanā, Nibbānabhedavaṇṇanā.


See Appendix 1.


ItA. I. 164.


For more on diṭṭhadhammika see Appendix 2.


For the five aggregates as objects of cognition, see chapter 2 on the sense faculties.


The end of greed, hatred and delusion is called Nibbāna (S. IV. 251, 261); the removal of greed, hatred and delusion is an epithet for nibbāna-dhātu (S. V. 8).


For example in the passages: ’The Tathāgata, perfectly quenched, is cool like a deep lake’ (Sn. 83); and ’(One whose heart is liberated) is here and now hungerless, extinguished, and cooled, and abides experiencing bliss, having become holy’ (M. I. 349, 412; M. II. 162). See also: Vin. I. 8; Vin. II. 156; D. III. 232-3; M. I. 171; S. I. 141, 178; A. I. 138, 197; A. II. 212; A. V. 65; Sn. 101, 122.


Dhammāyatana (= dhammarammaṇa) are the sixth of the six external sense objects, the objects that the mind is conscious of, which includes the five aggregates and Nibbāna. Nibbāna is a dhamma beyond the five aggregates, as confirmed by the commentarial expression for Nibbāna khandha-vimutti, meaning ’free of the five aggregates’, i.e. unable to be classified within the five aggregates (PañcA. 61; see also: Comp.: Samuccayaparicchedo, Sabbasaṅgaho; CompṬ.: Samuccayaparicchedavaṇṇanā, Sabbasaṅgahavaṇṇanā). Nonetheless, Nibbāna is included within the dhammāyatana; see VbhA. 51 and chapter 2 of Buddhadhamma on the sense faculties.


Ud. 80. (See the earlier discussion on Nibbāna); also referred to at UdA. 151; ItA. I. 135.


For more on anupādā-parinibbāna see Appendix 5.


The Paramatthamañjusā (VismṬ.: Dutiyo Bhāgo, Paññābhāvanānisaṁsaniddesavaṇṇanā, Nirodhasamāpattikathāvaṇṇanā) states that arahants realize a virtual anupādisesa-nibbāna during their lives when they enter saññāvedayita-nirodha, called in short nirodha-samāpatti (someone in nirodha-samāpatti outwardly resembles someone who has died). See: M. I. 296, 302, 333.


The use of anupādisesa-nibbāna and sa-upādisesa-nibbāna to show the dual nature of Nibbāna is found only once in the Tipiṭaka, as quoted above. Otherwise, one finds anupādisesa-puggala and sa-upādisesa-puggala, or anupādisesa-nibbāna on its own to depict the death of an arahant (see below). Note also that the recently devised division of the term nibbāna for the Buddha and the arahants while they are still alive, and the word parinibbāna for the death of the Buddha and the arahants, is technically incorrect as it conflicts with scriptural terminology.


Nd1. 132.


D. II. 134.


D. II. 135-6; Ud. 85.


D. II. 140; A. II. 120-21.


D. II. 108-109; A. IV. 313.


Paritassati (noun: paritassanā) has a range of meaning, including: ’to fear’, ’to tremble’, ’to be agitated’, ’to be anxious’, ’to be disturbed’.


Paragraphs B. and D. occur at M. III. 244-5; S. III. 126; S. IV. 213; S. V. 319-20, although paragraph B. does not contain the phrase: mere bodily remains will be left. The initial paragraph (A.) differs in each passage, because different ways of practice are being described. Following the explanation at MA. V. 57, the phrase, will become cool right here means an end of ’poisonous influence’, specifically at the twelve sense spheres. ItA. I. 166, SA. II. 80, and AA. III. 178, however, interpret it as: will become cool here in this very self, meaning one does not take renewed birth.


Note that equanimity is accompanied by mindfulness and clear comprehension; it is not a state of foolish or absent-minded indifference.


The preceding paragraph of this passage (not included above) reveals the practice of eradicating the defilements; the definitive results of this practice are seen in this lifetime. This teaching refutes that of the Jains, who claim that previous evil deeds which have not yet borne fruit will ripen in the next life.


See related material at: AA. III. 2, 373; SnA. I. 129; NdA. 150 (expanding on: Sn. 12).


See related material at: ItA. II. 190; SnA. I. 41, 257. For more on the meanings of these two terms see Appendix 1.


For more on the ’final mind’ see Appendix 3.


See Appendix 1.


UdA. 216; some supporting passages: SnA. I. 215 states that the end of nandi (= taṇhā) equals sa-upādisesa, and the end of bhava equals anupādisesa; SA. I. 21 equates sa-upādisesa-nibbāna with the end of the four anupādinnaka-khandha, and anupādisesa-nibbāna with the end of the five upādinnaka-khandha; VismṬ. (Paṭhamo Bhāgo, Cha-anussatiniddesavaṇṇanā, Dhammānussatikathāvaṇṇanā) equates sa-upādisesa-nibbāna with arahatta-phala, and anupādisesa-nibbāna with Nibbāna.


Kilesa-parinibbāna: e.g. DA. II. 565; DA. III. 842, 872, 1046; MA. II. 282; SA. I. 20, 315; SA. II. 391; AA. II. 128, 174; AA. III. 4, 373; AA. IV. 52, 116, 159, 207; SnA. I. 365; SnA. II. 506; khandha-parinibbāna: e.g. SA. I. 224; SnA. I. 364; the two terms appearing together: e.g. UdA. 407; DA. III. 899; MA. IV. 116; VibA. 433; VinṬ.: Paṭhamo Bhāgo, Acariyaparamparakathāvaṇṇanā.


A state of deep, refined concentration; ’concentrative absorption’.


These nine states as a group are called the nine anupubba-vihāra (’successive refined abidings’) or the nine anupubbavihāra-samāpatti (’abidings to be gradually attained’).


However, believing that the attainment of jhāna is equivalent to Nibbāna is wrong view (M. II. 228, 237); and see: D. I. 36-7; Vbh. 379-80.


Or: ’direct Nibbāna in one respect’.


See A. IV. 410-14, 453-5.


This passage does not mention the quality of ’not-self’ (anattā). The commentators state that it refers to insight meditation (vipassanā), and that the mental defilements cease due to the opposing spiritual factor of insight meditation.


Ps. II. 221; at PsA. I. 323 these items are called vikkhambhana-parinibbāna, tadaṅga-parinibbāna, and samuccheda-parinibbāna, respectively.


Nibbedhabhāgiya-samādhi = vipassanā-samādhi. Nibbedhabhāgiya-samādhi is customarily translated as ’truth-penetrating concentration’; vipassanā-samādhi means ’insight-accompanying concentration’ or ’concentration applied to insight’; see: Vism. 88-9; VismṬ.: Paṭhamo Bhāgo, Kammaṭṭhānaggahaṇaniddesavaṇṇanā, Samādhicatukkavaṇṇanā; Dutiyo Bhāgo, Ñāṇadassanavisuddhiniddesavaṇṇanā, Pariññādippabhedakathāvaṇṇanā.


Ps. I. 26-7; Ps. II. 220-22.


E.g.: Vism. 410; DA. II. 427; SA. III. 209; MA. IV. 168; DhA. I. 158, 433; UdA. 32; see also the explanations at Vism. 693-4 and VismṬ: Dutiyo Bhāgo, Ñāṇadassanavisuddhiniddesavaṇṇanā, Pariññādippabhedakathāvaṇṇanā.


See Appendix 4.


This passage occurrs frequently in almost every volume of the Tipiṭaka; for an explanation see: Vbh. 261, Vism. 167-8.


A. I. 158-9. Sandiṭṭhika means the same as diṭṭhadhammika, e.g. at KhA. 124; SnA. I. 71; see also A. III. 40 and the Aṅguttara sub-commentaries, referred to in the Maṅgalatthadīpanī (Sumanavaggo, Sīhasenāpatisuttādivaṇṇanā).


E.g.: S. II. 18, 115 = S. III. 164 = S. IV. 141; A. IV. 351-3, 454-5.


Related passages at Vin. I. 9-10; M. I. 172; M. II. 44. (See the chapters in Buddhadhamma on cetovimutti/paññāvimutti and satipaṭṭhāna which pertain to realization in the present lifetime. See also D. II. 314-5; M. I. 62-3.)


Vin. II. 254-5.


The Thai translated edition renders the phrase ’the one liberation is the same as the other’ as ’they are both liberated by deliverance’, since the Thai Pali edition reads: yadidaṁ vimuttiyā vimuttanti. The Burmese and Roman editions read: yadidaṁ vimuttiyā vimuttinti. The phrase also occurs at A. III. 34, for which the Thai edition translates it differently. The commentaries (SA. III. 292 and AA. III. 244 explain ’vimutti’ as arahattaphala-vimutti. The scriptures from around the first century B.C. onwards, for example the Milindapañhā (Miln.: Book IV, Chaṭṭhavaggo, no. 3, Gihī-arahattapañho, dilemma 62), assert that a layperson realizing arahantship must take higher ordination (upasampadā) on that very day or else attain parinibbāna. On the question of why an enlightened householder would take ordination, see Miln: Book IV, Chaṭṭhavaggo, no. 9, Gihipabbajitasammāpaṭipattipañho (dilemma 54).


See Appendix 2.


Yathābhūta-ñāṇadassana is knowledge of the severance point (i.e. at upādāna), but it is not yet the final knowledge of vimutti-ñāṇadassana; it is natural that nibbidā follows the arising of yathābhūta-ñāṇadassana (see: A. V. 3, 313); see the Buddha’s teaching that with the fading of ignorance, knowledge arises and clinging ceases: M. I. 67; for how much knowledge is necessary to end grasping, see, e.g.: M. II. 237-8.


A much quoted passage by the Buddha on non-attachment is: sabbe dhammā nālaṁ abhinivesāya, meaning ’nothing is worth adhering to’ or ’nothing can be seized’ (M. I. 251, 254; S. IV. 50, 88); abhinivesa is a synonym of upādāna (e.g.: Vbh. 149).


In this context compare the Buddha’s words on knowing but not yet fully awakening, that is, having an insufficient understanding of causality and therefore not yet being utterly released (S. III. 160-61; M. I. 234-5). An anāgāmī has abandoned sakkāya-diṭṭhi but still retains some asmimāna and a fine residue of craving. He or she may have abandoned self-conceptions but a latent sense of ’me’ and ’mine’ has not yet been purified (see S. II. 117-18; S. III. 127).


For non-attachment to immaterial happiness see: M. II 237; for not indulging in Nibbāna see: M. I. 6.


On the apparent contradiction between intentional action (kamma) and nonself (anattā) see chapter 5 on kamma, especially the Buddha’s statements quoted there.


The 12 sense spheres (āyatana) are also frequent topics of analysis in this context.


Vin. VI. 86.


If the Buddha had answered, ’There is a self’, this would have been inconsistent with the arising of the knowledge that ’all things are nonself’. If he had answered, ’There is no self’, Vacchagotta, already confused, would have fallen into even greater confusion, thinking, ’It seems that the self I formerly had no longer exists.’


See: Sn. 154, 157, 168, 180; elucidated at: Nd1. 82, 107-8, 247, 352-3.


The customary claim ’this is my self’ (eso me attā) is usually stated in reference to conditioned phenomena or to the five aggregates; here it is stated in reference to Nibbāna.


Here, the ’doctrine of self’ is precisely an attachment to the belief in self (attavādupādāna).


Note the Buddha’s remark that despite annihilationism (vibhava-diṭṭhi) being wrong view, it is closer to Buddhism than other views (A. V. 63).


Westerners with an inadequate study on the subject of Nibbāna tend to conclude that Nibbāna is self-extinction, which is an annihilationist perspective.


S. III. 119 = S. IV. 384.


That is, he sees its true nature. The term for ’becoming’ here is bhūta, meaning ’what has become’, ’what exists’, or ’what has come into being’. It shares the same root as bhava (’becoming’, ’being’). The commentaries define it as the five aggregates (ItA. I. 179).


Although the closing verses seem to complement the main passage, the commentaries render them as follows: Noble disciples, who see the true nature of the five aggregates and see the Path transcending the aggregates, find release in Nibbāna, the Absolute, through the exhaustion of lust for existence. By fully understanding the aggregates, they are free from lust for planes of existence, both high and low. Free of the aggregates, they come to no further birth. (ItA. I. 180); compare the Buddha’s words on the two extremes at Ud. 71-72.


The commentaries interpret the term tathāgata here as meaning a being or person (SA. II. 310).


This dialogue is followed by a lengthy simile.


Na upeti (the commentaries use na yujjati): ’does not “go with” or is “incongruent” with this subject.’


Later, the wanderer Vacchagotta was ordained as a bhikkhu and became one of the arahants (M. I. 497); the Buddha and Vacchagotta have another interesting discussion in which the Buddha says: Just as a fire burns with fuel, but not without fuel, so I declare rebirth for one with fuel, not for one without fuel…. Craving is [the] fuel (S. IV. 398-400).


A. IV. 75, 380.


See: ItA. I. 166.


E.g.: M. I. 87; Sn. 24.


Nd2. 57, 66.


See: Vin. I. 181; D. II. 240; M. II. 144; S. I. 82, 87; A. III. 49, 364; It. 16-17.


E.g.: Sn. 11, 38; M. II. 173.


M. II. 128-30.


E.g.: AA. II. 88; ItA. I. 79.


ItA. I. 167.


See VinṬ.: Dutiyo Bhāgo, Pārājikakaṇḍaṁ, Paṭhamapārājikaṁ, Sudinnabhāṇavāravaṇṇanā, and the Burmese sub-commentary on the Dīgha-Nikāya [1/364; 2/161, 419]; the Thai edition is not yet in print.


See: DhA. II. 163; ItA. II. 119; SnA. I. 257; related material at: NdA. 5; VinA. I. 203; DA. I. 180 = MA. III. 289 = SA. II. 179 = AA. III. 187 = UdA. 308 = PañcA. 235 = VinṬ.: Tatiyo Bhāgo, Cammakkhandakaṁ, Soṇakuṭikaṇṇavathukathāvaṇṇana; AA. II. 352; AA. IV. 1; DA. I. 226 = UdA. 175 = MA. I. 128 = AA. II. 264 = VinṬ.: Tatiyo Bhāgo, Mahāvaggaṭīkā, Anattalakkhaṇasuttavaṇṇana; SnA. II. 518; KhA. 195 = SnA. I. 277; PsA. I. 172; DA. II. 394; NdA. 6; SA. II. 81; UdA. 216; Vism. 509, 688-9; some Thai editions are not yet available, but Burmese and Roman alphabet editions are.


E.g.: Nd2. 8; SA. II. 81; KhA. 195.


Sacchikiriyā and sacchikaroti, e.g.: M. I. 56, 63; M. II. 242; M. III. 136; S. IV. 252, 262; S. V. 11, 49, 141, 167, 185; A. I. 8, 221; A. II. 196; A. III. 314, 326, 423; A. IV. 427; D. II. 290, 315; Kh. 3; Sn. 47; Ps2. 200; sacchikaraṇa, e.g.: AA. II. 333; AA. IV. 67; KhA. 151; SnA. I. 299; DA. III. 1044; MA. II. 234; MA. IV. 60; VbhA. 510.

Adhigacchati, e.g.: in prose: M. I. 173; in verse, S. I. 22; S. II. 279; A. I. 163; A. III. 214; It. 104; Thag. verse 1165; Vv. verse 841; Thīg. verse 113.

Patta in verse, e.g.: D. III. 272; M. I. 227; S. I. 189, 214; Dh. verse 134; Sn. 33, 79; Thag. verse 1230; Thīg. verses 21, 45, 477.


Referred to in Maṅgal.2, Rathavinītasuttavaṇṇanā, Sattavisuddhipañhavaṇṇanā.


[Trans.: the material in this appendix is part of a footnote on page 390 of the Thai edition of Buddhadhamma.]


S. IV. 48.


M. I. 148; S. V. 29. See also: Vin. V. 164; A. I. 44; A. IV. 74; A. V. 65.


SA. II. 335; SA. III. 133; AA. II. 80; AA IV. 38; AA. V. 27; ItA. II. 106.


Discussed at MA. II. 156.


English version, translated from the Chinese, p. 2.