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How do we know attaining complete liberation from dukkha is possible?

Hi!

How do we know attaining complete liberation from dukkha is possible?

This is a question I’ve made to myself in multiple oportunities, especially after having explained the basics of (what I understand about) the Dhamma to people not acquainted with it. When in such circumstance, I interpret that thought (the question) not necessarily as doubt in the Dhamma, but as a question of “common-sense”.

I have my own arguments that I’ve been buiding over the years about why I think attaining Nibbana is possible, but ultimately, it seems to be just a statement coming from faith and from the extension of a principle that until now has proven to be true, logical, compatible with evidence and useful (namely, the idea of the dukkha as a consequence of tanha, and that the diminishing of the presence of tanha leads to the diminishing of the presence of dukkha).

But, what does assure us that such principle could be applied until the complete eradication of dukkha?

It’s like thinking that just because the scientific method has shown itself to be useful in -apparently- understanding some aspects of reality (based on our ability to use the information gained through the application of the method to predict outcomes, to built technology to achieve some ends, and the ever growing power to keep understanding more and subtler aspects of nature), that would necessarily mean that understanding everything about reality is possible. Personally, I don’t think that’s the case, because I consider the possibility of reaching a point where our technology does not “expand” enough the power of our senses (i.e., we reach a practical limit of detection of events or presence of some entity or phenomenon), or that there could be stuff in Reality that do not interact with the things we can effectively interact (no matter how subtle or indirect the degree of interaction with such phenomena).

Could it be the case that there is a physical, biological or spiritual (whatever that could mean) condition that could limit the application of the Buddhist method to the very end, just like what could happen with the application of the scientific method?

Just in case, I don’t see any problem admitting to myself that faith in -what the suttas tell us about- the Buddha and in my own experience is what keeps driving me forward in this path. I think that science is not that different in this regard: through inductive reasoning, and assuming the reality of an external world, the possibility of knowledge of (at least) some parts of it, and the regularity of events, faith (or confidence in the reality of the assumptions) seems to be an useful principle when investigating nature.

So, the question can be formulated as such: what is the epistemic justification for having confidence on the possibility of complete eradication of dukkha? One can have confidence, but based, for instance, on this definition of knowledge, how can we justify the belief about the possibility of Nibbana, beyond inductive reasoning and confidence?

I think this question could be particularly beneficial for putting to test the recurring idea of both Buddhism not contradicting knowledge gained (or possible to be eventually gained) through empirical means, and Buddhism as a “science of the mind”.

I’d love to here your thoughts on this.

Kind regards!

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Are you seeking a guarantee? :smile:

Well the Buddha can offer you this consolation…

AN 3.65
“It is enough, Kālāmas, for you to be doubting and uncertain. Doubt has come up in you about an uncertain matter.

Please, Kālāmas, don’t go by oral transmission, don’t go by lineage, don’t go by testament, don’t go by canonical authority, don’t rely on logic, don’t rely on inference, don’t go by reasoned contemplation, don’t go by the acceptance of a view after consideration, don’t go by the appearance of competence, and don’t think ‘The ascetic is our respected teacher.’ But when you know for yourselves: ‘These things are unskillful, blameworthy, criticized by sensible people, and when you undertake them, they lead to harm and suffering’, then you should give them up.

But when you know for yourselves: ‘These things are skillful, blameless, praised by sensible people, and when you undertake them, they lead to welfare and happiness’, then you should acquire them and keep them.

When that noble disciple has a mind that’s free of enmity and ill will, uncorrupted and purified, they’ve won four consolations in the present life. ‘If it turns out there is another world, and good and bad deeds have a result, then—when the body breaks up, after death—I’ll be reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm.’ This is the first consolation they’ve won.

If it turns out there is no other world, and good and bad deeds don’t have a result, then in the present life I’ll keep myself free of enmity and ill will, untroubled and happy.’ This is the second consolation they’ve won.

If it turns out that bad things happen to people who do bad things, then since I have no bad intentions, and since I’m not doing anything bad, how can suffering touch me?’ This is the third consolation they’ve won.

If it turns out that bad things don’t happen to people who do bad things, then I still see myself pure on both sides.’ This is the fourth consolation they’ve won.

And this guarantee…

MN60
A sensible person reflects on this matter in this way: ‘Some ascetics and brahmins say that there is no such thing as the total cessation of future lives, but I have not seen that. Some ascetics and brahmins say that there is such a thing as the total cessation of future lives, but I have not known that. Without knowing or seeing, it would not be appropriate for me to take one side and declare, ‚This is the only truth, other ideas are silly.’ If those ascetics and brahmins who say that there is no such thing as the total cessation of future lives are correct, it is possible that I will be guaranteed rebirth among the gods who are formless and made of perception. If those ascetics and brahmins who say that there is such a thing as the total cessation of future lives are correct, it is possible that I will be extinguished in the present life. The view of those ascetics and brahmins who say that there is no such thing as the total cessation of future lives is close to greed, approving, attachment, and grasping. The view of those ascetics and brahmins who say that there is such a thing as the total cessation of future lives is close to non-greed, non-approving, non-attachment, and non-grasping.’ Reflecting like this, they simply practice for disillusionment, dispassion, and cessation regarding future lives.

How do we know that the destination we have not seen exists? We must take the word of the Teacher who assures us that he has been there!

One takes the first step of the journey on faith, or even just out of curiosity. With the very first instance of the method being successful, that faith is confirmed- one knows that at least in this much, the Teacher told the truth. With every subsequent step further on the path, as one confirms the landmarks which had already been foretold… one’s faith becomes confirmed that one is on the right track.

Finally, there comes a time when the destination is glimpsed in the distance! At that time there is no more doubt… now we know for sure that the destination exists and one knows one is on the right path! One redoubles one’s effort, and finally arrives at the destination.

Can the Buddha guarantee that there is a destination or that you will arrive there even before you have begun? Of course not, and he has clearly asked you not to believe him! He can only tell you the way… the rest is up to you! The justification that there can be the complete eradication of dukkha will come from your own growing knowledge and actual lived experience once you have travelled down the path.

:pray:t2: :wink: :pray:t2:

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Nicely put! :slight_smile: I’ll take it to translate it to my language and’ll print it on a card, to put it on a wall of my rooms or share it with some interested relatives. Thanks for that nice exposition.

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Your statement is a contradiction of the quote of the Buddha from the Kalama sutta, which indicates direct personal experience as the only authority.
There are three initial sources of direct experience, the first being kamma and its results, which can be observed in this life. The second is knowledge of impermanence which is not generally recognized as being a life-changing insight in itself:

“Sustained contemplation of impermanence leads to a shift in one’s normal way of experiencing reality, which hitherto tacitly assumed the temporal stability of the perceiver and the perceived objects. Once both are experienced as changing processes, all notions of stable existence and substantiality vanish, thereby radically reshaping one’s paradigm of experience.”—Analayo

The third is direct experience of the second and third noble truths:

-Suffering is caused by craving (because the clung-to objects are impermanent)

-Removing craving removes suffering.

Through investigation, the suffering that arises from sensuality can be known, while on the other hand the freedom that arises from renunciation can also be known.

This is just as the Bodhisatta experienced these things prior to enlightenment:

“And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with sensuality arose in me. I discerned that 'Thinking imbued with sensuality has arisen in me; and that leads to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. It obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding.”
[…]
“And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with renunciation arose in me. I discerned that 'Thinking imbued with renunciation has arisen in me; and that leads neither to my own affliction, nor to the affliction of others, nor to the affliction of both. It fosters discernment, promotes lack of vexation, & leads to Unbinding.”—MN 19

Experience tells me that persistent coming back to awareness shortens the distance to this refuge. and that partly liberation will eventually be completed because fetters are weakening as time goes by.

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May I please clarify that the statement should be read in complete context…

It refers to the very first step taken. Why take that step to begin with? At that point there can be only two reasons… a bit of faith tempered by healthy skepticism or an innocent spirit of curiosity. There cannot be knowledge, as even the first step has not been taken. That comes, further down the path, once the very first result has been seen.

:pray:t2:

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Hi! Thanks for your answer.

I agree on almost everything you said, except maybe for the part about experience being the only authority. The text quoted explicitly states that one knows by oneself that “these things are […] praised by sensible people”. So, it seems that beside personal experience, there’s some relevance of “sensible people’s” judgement.

One question that can be derived from this is:
How can one know what constitutes a “sensible person”?

Personally, I’ve heard a lot of people with, for the most part, wise ways of life, but saying that what the Buddha says doesn’t make sense and that cannot be proved, and therefore, it’s no better than any other religion or personal intuition (which has no clear and explicit criteria except for “a feeling”).

Now, I know that such people are “sensitive”, indeed, but not enough to see the workings and logic of the Buddhadhamma. But before knowing what the Dhamma was, those people seem like absolutely “sensitive”.

Kind regards!

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Personally, my confidence in Buddhism comes from in-person interaction with advanced practitioners. There are all sorts of seemingly wise people in every religion. But those who have practiced the Buddha’s teachings their whole lives are very different. Most notably, the signs of greed, delusion and anger are absent. The rest of us display signs of these things all day every day. But they just don’t.

In the end, if you want absolute concrete scientific proof, you will not get it. You’ll die waiting. So the question is, what path do you think is the most likely to lead to good results? Which one seems the most worthy of investigation? Even if you choose to follow no particular path, that is a choice that will have its results. Just like any other choice.

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This is where good friends and acquaintances come in!

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Hi! Thanks for answering!

I concur with your analysis.

The motivation for my question was a recent conversation with a friend about some important differences between spiritual creeds, doctrines and practices. At some point, he asked me why do I take the possibility of Nibbana as an absolute truth. I gave some answers very similar as some of those posted here, but I felt that I could get deeper insights on this matter if I asked other practitioners.

I felt that my friend wasn’t asking about the efficacy and effectiveness of Dhamma practice. He seem to be questioning about the certainty of most practitioners have about Nibbana as a possibility. And, to be fair, it seems like a reasonable question from the outside (and it’d be useful, I think, to have some well-thought answers as well, especially in this time and era).

Kind regards!

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“… what is the epistemic justification…”

I might care about the ramifications of not achieving full epistemic justification when philosophers all agree on what knowledge is.

According to what I understand of what Lord Buddha taught, there’s a problem with dabbling wholly within conditioned existence. The questions it raises do not lead to satisfying answers. Currently I see that as true in both science and philosophy, and that’s a large part of what leads me to turn away from enquiring solely into conditioned existence to find a path which leads to a blameless happiness.

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I agree. Thanks for your enlightening answers.

As you said, those first step seem to be something out of the control and knowledge of the almost-sekha.

As I see it, I see Nibbana in a similar fashion as those who talk about the universe being a simulation: the closer we get towards developing some powerful enough hardware and some really complex software that could allow us to create a simulation of our universe, the more plausible (or less irrational) it seems the possibility of us being part of a simulation. I’m not saying that I necessarily agree with that idea, but I feel that this imperfect analogy could indicate how I perceive the idea of complete freedom from dukkha: every step given (and every encounter with advance practitioners) seem to confirm more and more the already logical (at least, according to my view on it) working hypothesis (or conviction) of Nibbana.

Kind regards!

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Thanks for your answer!

That’s a pretty good point: there doesn’t seem to be full agreement on it.

As I said in other answer, the purpose of this reflection is not so much to gain faith in the Dhamma, as to have a better thought answer if this question is made to me again in the future.

Kind regards!

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“Faith, monks, also has a supporting condition, I say, it does not lack a supporting condition. And what is the supporting condition for faith? ‘Suffering’ should be the reply.”—SN 12.23

The recognition of suffering is the first motivation for undertaking the path, and when it is undertaken it is because of the doctrine’s promise to remove suffering, not the teacher.

This answers the OP question, we know complete liberation from dukkha is possible because it is stated in the four noble truths.

Suffering results in search in some cases:

“And what is the result of stress? There are some cases in which a person overcome with pain, his mind exhausted, grieves, mourns, laments, beats his breast, & becomes bewildered. Or one overcome with pain, his mind exhausted, comes to search outside, ‘Who knows a way or two to stop this pain?’ I tell you, monks, that stress results either in bewilderment or in search. This is called the result of stress.”—AN 6.63

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But, according to the above mentioned (but not agreed upon completely) question for the justification of knowledge, do we really know in an strict sense, or are we just believing it, although with more or less reasons and evidence to do so?

I say the word ‘just’ before ‘believing’ could be unfair. But I’m trying to point out to the fact that most of us (on Earth) probably aren’t arahants, and in consequence (and due to the restrictions in revealing ones status to lay people), probably most of us don’t know any arahant personally, or at least, we don’t know with complete certainty.

I think it could be the source of another discussion whether one can know with certainty such internal phenomena, but based on the criteria given by the suttas to have an informed idea on who could be an arahant, we have some measure to do at least a partial, but useful guess.

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Here’s my simplistic 2c: my direct experience with certain individuals is that they are of a level of non-suffering and radiate joy. I can’t know their internal experience directly (I’m not psychic) but I empathically feel more joy and happiness in their presence. When I follow their advice (dhamma from the Buddha) my suffer lessens. As I continue to follow the dhamma my suffering continues to lessen. Can I know that if I continue this path there will come a time it will end completely that is through pure logic? No, I don’t think so. But if the practice is working and the Buddha talked about applying faith and energy to our practice, and I directly experienced the benefits of that practice, it seems I am still mid-scientific-experiment and might as well keep going! :joy:

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Well, we seem to be holding on to two adjacent links of the chain of dependent liberation and debating if it starts with Suffering or if it starts with Faith. :slightly_smiling_face:

IMHO, recognizing suffering is necessary, otherwise one won’t be motivated to investigate it. Yet countless beings suffer and even though they recognize their suffering, they search fruitlessly without ever finding the Path.

When the Buddha suggests that there is a way out of Suffering, some bit of Faith is necessary, otherwise why should one believe him?

The Jains too say that there is a way out of suffering, after all. Yet their way is completely different.

Having heard both out, someone chooses to trust the Buddha. Why? Because their view is conditioned by their friends and associates and by what they have experienced and understood in the past…so yes, there has to be good Karma.

This is of course, at complete variance with others who presented with the exact same evidence choose to trust Mahavira or perhaps even Devadatta!

So there has to be an element of Faith/ trust/ belief in the Buddha to start with. And that is confirmed further to be correct, the further we progress on the path.

:smiley:

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This is another pertinent sutta to reflect on. How can we know, before starting, that Rajagaha exists? Once shown the way and having begun the journey in good faith, how do we know that we are indeed on the correct path? And when will we be certain of the existence of Rajagaha?

MN107
When he had spoken, Moggallāna the Accountant said to the Buddha, “When his disciples are instructed and advised like this by Master Gotama, do all of them achieve the ultimate goal, extinguishment, or do some of them fail?”

“Some succeed, while others fail.”

“What is the cause, Master Gotama, what is the reason why, though extinguishment is present, the path leading to extinguishment is present, and Master Gotama is present to encourage them, still some succeed while others fail?”

“Well then, brahmin, I’ll ask you about this in return, and you can answer as you like. What do you think, brahmin? Are you skilled in the road to Rājagaha?”

“Yes, I am.”

“What do you think, brahmin? Suppose a person was to come along who wanted to go to Rājagaha. He’d approach you and say: ‘Sir, I wish to go to Rājagaha. Please point out the road to Rājagaha.’ Then you’d say to them: ‘Here, mister, this road goes to Rājagaha. Go along it for a while, and you’ll see a certain village. Go along a while further, and you’ll see a certain town. Go along a while further and you’ll see Rājagaha with its delightful parks, woods, meadows, and lotus ponds.’ Instructed like this by you, they might still take the wrong road, heading west. But a second person might come with the same question and receive the same instructions. Instructed by you, they might safely arrive at Rājagaha. What is the cause, brahmin, what is the reason why, though Rājagaha is present, the path leading to Rājagaha is present, and you are there to encourage them, one person takes the wrong path and heads west, while another arrives safely at Rājagaha?”

“What can I do about that, Master Gotama? I am the one who shows the way.”

“In the same way, though extinguishment is present, the path leading to extinguishment is present, and I am present to encourage them, still some of my disciples, instructed and advised like this, achieve the ultimate goal, extinguishment, while some of them fail. What can I do about that, brahmin? The Realized One is the one who shows the way.”

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ye dhammā hetuppabhavā

Well, the answer seems to be present in the OP itself -

The thing is, we can’t justify the belief in Nibbana / complete eradication of suffering. Nobody can. But isn’t it a worthwhile goal where all unskillfull states like greed, aversion and delusion are gotten rid of ? Doesn’t everyone want everlasting happiness, whether they believe in an afterlife or not ? There’s never been a need to justify seeking happiness and peace of mind!
The Buddha has so many times been compared to a skilled physician who adminsters the medicine of Dhamma, that I thought its better to give a corresponding example -
When we suffer from illness and go to a doctor for medicine, we act out of faith that it’s possible to recover from the illness, that the doctor’s medicine works and even that we have gone to a knowledgeable doctor. These are just working hypotheses that we try and confirm.
I have mentioned a few times on this forum about how useful I’ve found Ven. Thanissaro’s essay on Faith and these excerpts might give you some guidance -

If we dig even deeper into the psychology of decision-making, we run into an area for which no scientific evidence can offer any proof: Do we actually act, or are actions an illusion? Are our acts already predetermined by physical laws or an external intelligence, or do we have free will? Are the results of our acts illusory? Are causal relationships real, or only a fiction? Even the most carefully planned scientific experiment could never settle any of these issues, and yet once we become aware of them we have to take a stand on them if we want to continue putting any energy into our thoughts, words, and deeds.
These were the areas where the Buddha focused his teachings on empiricism and faith. Although his first noble truth requires that we observe suffering until we comprehend it, we have to take on faith his assertion that the facts we observe about suffering are the most important guide for making decisions, moment by moment, throughout life. Because his third noble truth, the cessation of suffering, is a truth of the will, we have to take it on faith that it’s a possible goal, a worthwhile goal, and that we’re capable of attaining it. And because the fourth noble truth — the path to the cessation of suffering — is a path of action and skill, we have to take it on faith that our actions are real, that we have free will, and yet that there’s a causal pattern to the workings of the mind from which we can learn in mastering that skill. As the Buddha said, the path will lead to a direct experience of these truths, but only if you bring faith to the practice will you know this for yourself. In other words, “faith” in the Buddhist context means faith in the ability of your actions to lead to a direct experience of the end of suffering.

And, one of the most important parts-

The Buddha offered these teachings to people seeking advice on how to find true happiness. That’s why he was able to avoid any coercion of others: His teachings assumed that his listeners were already involved in a search. When we understand his views on what it means to search — why people search, and what they’re searching for — we can understand his advice on how to use faith and empiricism in a successful search.

I would encourage you to read it once if you haven’t already! It would most likely answer your question too !


(I wish I could better formulate my answer , hope this helps :))

Edit:

Here’s are a couple of examples of how to make people themselves confirm that the Dhamma is well-taught and worthwhile :wink:


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