Is Nibbana an essence or some kind of thing?

The teachings of the Buddha are like a finger pointing at the moon!

We can think about the teachings. We can think (things) over - ruminate, contemplate etc. Things are proscribed by their ‘aspects and particulars’ whether they are things we think about or objects we identify in the world around us. Things arise and cease, they exist dependent on causes and supportive conditions. When the conditions are no longer amenable they cease!

Nibbana is the not-conditioned? It does not depend on supportive conditions because it does not fit into the categories of existence and nonexistence. Existent and nonexistent i.e things that arise and cease, can be said of things and processes?

This is why meditative absorptions were not what the Buddha was looking for in his noble search. Absorptions also arise and cease and he was looking for a permanent fix! The fix came with his final release (extinction without remainder).

I have always believed that the Buddha-Dhamma differed from the teachings available at the time - and since. The teachings about ‘not-self’ seem to be pointing to the emptiness of phenomena.

The Buddha did not seem to talk about awakening as a special some-thing that we get or identify with? Is Nibbana a special kind of thing that we can obtain through Dhamma inquiry - a special state or experience? Is it the realisation of an eternal essence or Self? Is it something we can know and possess? Is it the ending of all things and processes - the ending of the known and knowable?

Nibbana is the greatest discovery of all because it liberates. What kind of discovery is it? Is Nibbana found somewhere in the known universe, is it to be found outside or, is it hidden somewhere inside, in my heart-centre, my big-toe or, somewhere else?

We can think about Nibbana but the thing that we are thinking about is not the thing ‘itself’. Nibbana is not a mental formation therefore, when we think about it we are contemplating a simulacrum. We are in trouble if we cannot distinguish between our thoughts and actuality. The Nibbana we think about is not the ‘real deal’.

I don’t understand what you are trying to say.

So in contrast to nibbana my thought of a ‘chair’ is the chair itself?

Since when is a non-existent thing conditioned?

Oops, you just objectified it.


I have edited my original comment - is it any clearer? I am not trying to say that Nibbana is any kind of thing. When I referred to the ‘thing in itself’ in relation to Nibbana I was speaking metaphorically. It is difficult to talk about Nibbana because we take things for granted and our language is useful in describing things and actions - nouns and verbs. What do you think awakening is - or is not?

The term ‘nonexistent’ can be used in different ways. We can talk about nonexistent things in relation to fantasies and fictions e.g. a hare’s horn or, seeing a magical palace in the sky! Imaginary things like phantasms and hallucinations arise dependent on causes and supportive conditions that are found in the mind of the imaginer.

There is a difference between imaginary things that are nonexistent - like a pink elephant that can fly - and a sentient being that is nonexistent because their life has ended. They have been nibbana’d (blown out) extinguished. Their nonexistence is predicated upon their previous existence - conditioned by it!

A path-moment is an ‘opening’ - a discontinuity in the conditioned stream of chittas - it is the stilling of all formations. If there is awareness and no reactivity there is a movement towards stillness - cessation. We cannot bring this about wilfully as that would mean it was ‘produced’ by what we do. Its more about what we don’t do - we need to get out of the way for awakening to happen. When there is no reactivity everything calms down and vanishes.

A composite - a compounded thing - is produced by the coming together of its components. Nibbana cannot be a compounded thing as they are impermanent - they fall to pieces. Things change over time, they break up, disintegrate and disappear. The Buddha taught that the cause of death is birth and, if there is still the desire for being at the time of death a new birth is inevitable. An Arahant has finished with the process of becoming - there will be no more coming to any state of being.

The Arahant is free of the “taint of being” - the Buddha

That’s where I am driving at - it is quite meaningless to talk about it except in saying “it’s not this, and not this either, and no, this isn’t it as well”. MN 1 does a good job in that as it has a nice long list of what it’s not (coming from an anatta perspective).

In my opinion there is even too much in the EBT. The whole ‘existent, non-existent, both, neither-nor’ is more mystifying than clarifying. And like all mystical highest truths it’s easy to become a fan of it.

Since modern culture is constantly engaging in the emotion-industry and emotions are pretty much inexpressible (in the sense that ‘fear’ or ‘love’ are dead words) - the discourse of the ineffable has proliferated into daily culture.

“You just won the world cup - how do you feel?” “I can’t even describe it”
“I can’t even tell you how much I hate this person”

And contemporary epistemology (in fact since Kant) acknowledges that we don’t have any access to what any ‘thing’ really is. So compared to the good old days where discourse was circling around concrete objects and tangible ideas we have expanded the ’ ultimately inexpressible’ to encompass virtually everything.

Nibbana cannot be - in precise terms - positively talked about (only as negation). But neither can we actually talk about the ultimate status of anything else.

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Is it getting any clearer?

‘Kant’ may have benefited from a few semesters at Nalanda University.

I’m afraid it doesn’t get clearer, it shifts into other concepts. Nibbana is a ‘hole’ in the discourse, there is no way to approach it conceptually. What makes sense though is to use concepts in order to show the limits of conceptuality - i.e. talking about the limits of perception, of knowledge, of understanding, experience.

Seeing the now-existing limitation actually pushes the boundaries, also in meditation. But since this is a process it can’t lead to the goal (I guess). But it helps developing peace.

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Nibbana translates as ‘blown out’ (extinguished) as a candle is extinguished. I agree, we cannot talk about Nibbana in positive language only through negation - neti neti - not this, not this or, through the use of similes and metaphors. What can be said of that which is realised in the absence of an observer - no subject or object? However, we can talk about the prelude to awakening - the path.

To say that something is extinguished is not saying anything about what has happened post-extinction? The Buddha explained it through the use of a simile: the flame from a fire does not go anywhere - in any direction - once it is extinguished, it just goes out!

This good simile is at the same time not saying much about nibbana. It illustrates conditionality in general. For example where is the tooth-ache gone after the rotten tooth is pulled out - gone. Where is the cold of the night gone after the sun rises? Nowhere, it’s just gone, etc.

So as nicely as this simile seems for Buddhists to point to nibbana I’m afraid it’s not specific enough to justify a real “aaaha”-experience.

What can you say about the ending of desire - the fire is extinguished. No more fire and everything cools down. We can breatheasy! We can say what it is like when we are no longer feverish - we suffer less! When the life of an Arahant has run its course there is imperturbable peace. We can get a sense of where it is all going as we move towards our own liberation (without remainder). What more do we need to know about Nibbana?

The real “aaaha” happens when there is no more desire and, not before. Its not over until there has been an ‘actual’ and complete dissolution in emptiness. Then you express the poetry of liberation.

Important sutta here:

Bhikkhus, that bhikkhu who sees extinction as unpleasant, will be endowed with a gentle forbearing disposition is not a possibility. Not endowed with the gentle forbearing disposition, he would enter the correct path of righteousness is not a possibility. Without entering the correct path of righteousness, that he would realize the benefits of the entry into the stream of the Teaching, or the benefits of once returner, or the benefits of non-returner, or worthiness is not a possibility.
Bhikkhus, that bhikkhu who sees extinction as pleasnt, will be endowed with a gentle forbearing disposition is a possibility. Endowed with the gentle forbearing disposition, he would enter the correct path of righteousness is a possibility. Entering the correct path of righteousness, that he would realize the benefits of the entry into the stream of the Teaching, or the benefits of once returner, or the benefits of non-returner, or worthiness is a possibility.

With metta

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