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Nature of Nibbana

Is Nibbana complete void/emptiness? Is there no experience of bliss? and if there was who is experiencing the bliss & how? Is it complete annihilation and if it is then what’s the difference between that & annihilationist view? and why do we read so many times in the suttas where “Nibbana element” is mentioned or 'Nibbana is the highest bliss", Nibbana is peace, Nibbana is eternal:

"Monks, non-compound nature exists; if the non-compound or purest nature were non-existent, there would be no detachment from that which is compound. It is due to the existence of the non-compound that detachment from the compound becomes possible. (Nibbana Sutta III.)

Please explain what you think is the nature of Nibbana according to Theravada doctrine.

the difference i think is in that annihilationist point of view isn’t related to soteriology, they simply don’t recognize the concept of transmigration, a being lives once irrespective of their spiritual accomplishment

according to SN 36.31 nibbanic state is rapture and happiness more spiritual than the spiritual

as far as annihilation is concerned, i’ll answer rhetorical, if nibbana is the end of birth in any shape or form, can there be anyone exisiting apart from birth?

and here’s Ven Sariputta’s explanation

The venerable Ānanda asked Śāriputra: “After the extinction of the six sense-spheres of contact, and the fading away of desire, after cessation, after ending, is there any remainder… is there no remainder… is there both remainder and no remainder or is there neither remainder nor no remainder?

SA 249

cont’d

[Sariputta:] “The statement, ‘With the remainderless stopping & fading of the six contact-media [vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, & intellection] is it the case that there is anything else?’ objectifies non-objectification. The statement, ‘… is it the case that there is not anything else … is it the case that there both is & is not anything else … is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else?’ objectifies non-objectification. However far the six contact-media go, that is how far objectification goes. However far objectification goes, that is how far the six contact media go. With the remainderless fading & stopping of the six contact-media, there comes to be the stopping, the allaying of objectification.

AN 4.173

and also

“In that case, Bāhiya, you should train yourself thus: In what is seen there must be only what is seen, in what is heard there must be only what is heard, in what is sensed there must be only what is sensed, in what is cognized there must be only what is cognized. This is the way, Bāhiya, you should train yourself.

“And since for you, Bāhiya, in what is seen there will be only what is seen, in what is heard there will be only what is heard, in what is sensed there will be only what is sensed, in what is cognized there will be only what is cognized, therefore, Bāhiya, you will not be with that; and since, Bāhiya, you will not be with that, therefore, Bāhiya, you will not be in that; and since, Bāhiya, you will not be in that, therefore, Bāhiya, you will not be here or hereafter or in between the two—just this is the end of suffering.”

Ud 1.10

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I understand it like this: Nibbana means extinguishment or going out so there is nothing to experience and no conciousness to experience with. When you see for yourself that any experience in any form of existence is more painful than Nibbana (because it changes and eventually ceases according to it’s conditions), you understand why it’s called the highest bliss. It’s pretty hard to take on board at first :stuck_out_tongue:

And as far as annihilation goes, there isn’t anything to be annihilated in the first place, just a bunch of ‘this causes that’ relationships. And when ‘this’ ceases because of it’s condition ceasing, ‘that’ also ceases.

Hi Dhammasamy, I’ve edited the formatting of your post a little, I hope you don’t mind! I try to keep things neat and tidy around here.

Also, it’s helpful if, when quoting suttas, you can mention the correct SuttaCentral ID. That way your post will automatically link up with the site, and your question will appear in the sidebar for anyone who reads the sutta. Sometimes you might not know it, so that’s okay, it’s just helpful to do when you can. In this case, I think you’re quoting Ud 8.3.

Just googling that translation, it seems it is one produced by Dhammakaya. You should know that they are a criminal cult, not a genuine Buddhist group. Quoting Dhammakaya on Buddhism is like quoting Scientology on science. All of their work, as with this quote, is tainted by their lack of basic integrity and adherence to common norms of decency and truthfulness. In particular, the phrase “purest nature”, or anything vaguely like it, does not occur in the text. It is simply inserted there to provide support for their core teaching, which is that their meditation leads to the realization of the higher self, and that nibbana itself is a transcendent cosmic self. It’s rank nonsense and doesn’t deserve any serious thought.

Here is an accurate translation by Bhikkhu Anandajoti, as found on SuttaCentral.

There is, monks, an unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned. If, monks there were not that unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned, you could not know an escape here from the born, become, made, and conditioned. But because there is an unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned, therefore you do know an escape from the born, become, made, and conditioned.

People seem to latch on to the fact that this sutta begins with an emphatic assertion. But they overlook that it is an emphatic assertion of a series of negations. It is simply confirming that there is an end of rebirth, using a slight variation of phrasing found throughout the suttas.

To understand the Sutta teachings on extinguishment—which is what the word nibbāna means—it’s useful to bear in mind two perspectives. Extinguishment is ontologically negative but psychologically positive.

That is, when discussing the existence or otherwise of the end of suffering, the Buddha consistently used negative terms, undermining the possibility of any eternalist conception of nibbana as some transcendent reality. At the same time, he painted it in glowing terms psychologically—the highest bliss, the shelter, etc.—to draw people on and overcome their fear of annihilation.

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My answer & opinion.

In the terminology of ‘emptiness’, I have read Nibbana described as being empty of greed, hatred & delusion (MN 43); empty of sensuality, becoming & ignorance (MN 121); extinction of attachment, hate and delusion (Iti 44); the removal of lust, the removal of hatred, the removal of delusion (SN 45.7); or simply empty of self.

The Dhammapada (Dhp 202) states: ‘Nibbana is the supreme bliss’ however, in my opinion, the emphasis in describing Nibbana is best placed on liberation via non-attachment (MN 37) rather than bliss.

I would say there is no ‘who’ that experiences Nibbana (MN 1; SN 12.12). Instead, the mind (citta) experiences Nibbana (Dhp 154).

In my opinion, the difference between Nibbana & the annihilationist view is Nibbana is the ending of self-view while annihilationism a ‘self-view’ that believes a ‘self’ ends at death (Iti 49).

Nibbana is ‘bliss’ appears to be a translation of the Pali ‘sukkha’. ‘Sukkha’ can mean ‘ease’ rather than ‘bliss’. ‘Ease’ has the sense of relaxation, liberation or being unburdened & unworried.

In summary, I think the most important nature of Nibbana according to Theravada doctrine is that of non-craving, letting go, absence of I-making & my-making; end of suffering; at the termination of life, all that is sensed will grow cold (MN 140).

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Can I ask for a better quote than this? This verse doesn’t say that the mind sees nibbana.

Here is my translation, which I will render in a not very idiomatic way so as to bring out the sense of the original. I will translate it together with the previous verse, with which it forms a pair.

Transmigrating through countless rebirths,
I’ve journeyed without end
seeking the housebuilder:
painful is rebirth again and again!

Housebuilder, you’ve been seen!
You won’t build a house again.
All your beams are broken,
your ridgepole is deconstructed. (gahakūṭaṃ visaṅkhataṃ)
The mind is free of construction activity, (visaṅ­khā­ra­gataṃ cittaṃ)
with the attainment of the end of cravings.

As you can see, almost the identical term is used in two lines, visaṅkhata / visaṅ­khā­ra. Now, this is a somewhat unusual term, and it’s not the normal term for nibbāna as the “unconditioned” (asaṅkhata). It’s a poetic usage, and has to be understood in the context of the imagery used throughout the verse.

Vi- corresponds with English “dis-”, “de-”. It most characteristically has a sense like “de-constructing”, “dis-mantling”, “de-molishing”, all of which clearly work here, in the context of tearing down a house.

The point is that the house has been torn down and will not be rebuilt. This tells us what the word saṅ­khā­ra means in this context. By far the most common usage in Buddhist texts is “intention, volition, will, choice”, especially the “forces” or “constructive activities” that create future lives. The use in the sense of “all conditioned phenomena” is quite rare, and doesn’t apply here.

So these verses repeat what the prose suttas have already told us on countless times: when craving is ended, the mind no longer makes choices that lead to future lives.

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Thank you Sujato. I found your explanation here useful since I have always regarded the word ‘sankhara’ here to mean ‘mental proliferating, constructing or concocting’ (as it may also do in other contexts).

My original reference to Dhp 154 was to highlight that the mind (citta) experiences Nibbana (the end of cravings).

The mind (citta) is free of construction activity, (visaṅ­khā­ra­gataṃ cittaṃ)
with the attainment of the end of cravings.

Naturally, I was referring to what I take to be the ‘Nibbana-element with residue left’ (Iti 44) rather than what appears to be your emphasis on ending “all conditioned phenomena”, namely, the ‘Nibbana-element with no residue left’ (Iti 44).

My impression from the suttas is Nibbana & Vimutti (liberation) are concurrent & essentially the same in that both are described as ‘the goal’. Thus, the ultimate goal of liberation of mind - citta vimutti - (MN 29; MN 30; MN 43; etc) would equate with the ultimate goal of Nibbana (MN 37; etc).

If you are asking for references more concrete than those then the ‘Nibbana-element with residue left’ from Iti 44 seems unambiguous and possibly Ud 8.1 is applicable, where it appears Nibbana is described as a sense object/sphere (ayatana):

There is, bhikkhus, that base (ayatana) where there is no earth, no water, no fire, no air…Just this is the end of suffering.

MN 38 also concludes with a number of examples that describe the whole mass of suffering ending when ‘the eye sees a form’, ‘ear hears a sound’, etc. I can only conclude this refers to a conscious living experience of the ‘Nibbana-element with residue left’.

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Any question about the nature of Nibbana is to me suspiciously similar to the unanswrable questions about the post-mortal fate of the Tathagata.

I think Ven. Brahmali has quite succinctly summarized the most pragmatical approach to the nature of Nibbana in his article ‘What the Nikayas Say and do not Say about Nibbana’ (sorry, I was only able to find a Russian translation online here). His personal position is identical or nearly identical to that of Ven. Sujato. He notices, however, that absence of any of the five khandhas we are familiar with in a hypothetical Nibbana sphere means that we cannot say anything positive about it. Like, literally nothing. Even calling it a ‘bliss’ and ‘highest happiness’ means just ‘non-suffering’, something we have never experienced.

So, for us the hypothetical Nibbana element is in any case just as if it were non-existent, it can’t be described or approached in any way, because our descriptions would inevitably revolve around our experience formed by the five khandhas. Therefore, pragmatically the best way to deal with the hypothesis of the Nibbana element is to ignore it and focus on what we know for sure, i.e. that the Nibbana is the end of greed, hate, delusion and, consequently, suffering (this latter phrase is not Ven. Brahmali’s idea but rather my addition, so if he or you find it to be false the fault is entirely mine).

In other words, even if you don’t agree to Ven. Sujato or Ven. Brahmali because you don’t find their arguments convincing, the most beneficial way would be to adopt the agnostical stance on the Nibbana Dhatu and treat the Nibbana in pragmatical contexts as if it were just cessation of the five khandhas. That is eventually what you are seeking in the Dhamma, a thoroughly pragmatic teaching :slight_smile:

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What the Nikāyas Say and Do not Say about Nibbāna
Bhikkhu Brahmāli

Abstract

The only way of moving towards consensus on the controversial subject of the nature of Nibbāna is by appealing to the sole source of authority common to practically all Buddhists: the Nikāyas/āgamas. In the present paper I will first give an overview of the usage of the term Nibbāna in the Nikāyas.

I will then argue that, according to the Nikāyas, Nibbāna cannot be regarded as a self. Next, I will point out that the Nikāyas do not see Nibbāna as a form of consciousness, including such exceptional kinds of consciousness as anidassana viññāṇa and appatiṭṭhita viññāṇa. Nor can Nibbāna be regarded as equivalent to mind, or any particular state of mind.

In the final section I aim to show that the most reasonable interpretation of the Nikāyas is that final Nibbāna is no more than the cessation of the five khandhas.

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Yes, at one place the Venerable writes something like ‘if we can’t say anything about something, then this something is a fiction, non-sense. It’s just as if it didn’t exist.’ So, even if you don’t agree with his major theses, neatly summarized in the abstract, you can hardly deny this part does make a lot of sense. If the concept of the Nibbana Dhatu won’t make any sense to us anyway, just like ‘round triangles’ or ‘existence of inexistence of existence of inexistence (…)’, why should we talk about it at all?

In this sense, yes, for sure.

Oh, okay, i misunderstood.

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A deep bow to all here, who so clearly cherish the dharma. _/|_.

I (yes, I, sigh…) notice in my practice (Vipassana la Ajah Chah) that words seem perpetually to be dividing all into two… table vs. All that is not table or peaceful vs. all that is not peaceful. The world of Aristotelian Logic, where all propositions are either A or null A (not A).

I have a belief (again this ‘I’)… that among other things Nibbana extinguishes this as well. I conceive of it as the cessation of all of the ego’s agendas, even (or, perhaps, especially) our desire to elucidate ‘Nibbana’ with yet more words. Not so much an answer to our questioning minds as an end to our impetus to question. Perhaps an ultimate relaxing into what is without any urge to change it in any way. Beyond all words.

I sometimes wonder if compassion is the last nexus of energy to be released.

Please forgive the ramblings of this old fella, I see I have not quoted the Dhamma once. Perhaps Noble Silence would be more appropriate for a very-new comer as I appear to be. The issues raised here, are very old ones, though, and I find that very worthwhile.

Meta to all present.

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Not at all! I really loved your comment, it was as if you just read my mind and formulated some of the more obscure ideas in clear and simple words. You don’t need to quote the Dhamma if what you are saying is the Dhamma :slight_smile: Thanks a lot and always feel free to share your thoughts and ideas! :anjal:

Thank you so much for your warm and gracious reply, Vstakan. It is deeply appreciated.

For me, perhaps, Dhamma is as much an affair of the heart as it is of the intellect (my focus for my first 50-odd years). At 69 my viewpoint is just beginning to relax. I take to heart, now http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn45/sn45.002.than.html (Ref, ATI article on Kalyanamittata). I must learn to properly reference sutras here. Soon…

Anjali.

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And I also thank you. Keep relaxing!

Simple words, so beautifully expressed! :ok_hand:

My understanding of the sutta referencing here is that one simply writes the sutta reference into the post box as text, and it will automatically become a link to the suttas within Sutta Central.
So for your reference of Samyutta Nikaya 45.2 one can simply write the abbreviation - SN 45.2 < and there you go!
Hope this works/was what you were looking for, or perhaps a more savvy user can help! :laughing:
:anjal:

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Wonderful in its simplicity! A deep bow to all who crafted it thus.

Thank you, Cara. Works for me.

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Hi Sujato, I would appreciate it if you don’t edit my responses as that disrupts my own unique style and could inherently change the very idea I am trying to give. Regarding your comment on Dhammakaya, I am following their case closely, and so far i’ve seen only blind accusations and dirty Thai politics involved but no concrete evidence to convict the abbot. I am greatly thankful for Dhammakaya’s work and for being the first to introduce me to the dhamma and to convert me to Buddhism.

I thank you all for your insightful responses. I have to say this is one of the most difficult topics in the dhamma for me and one that I feel brings the intellect to its’ knees. Which brings me to my next question, is it even possible for the intellect to accept non-self, emptiness, Nibbana as emptiness, void, etc… isn’t that against the nature of ego/intellect? Aren’t we supposed to ‘realize’ Nibbana through our own experience? and if it is so, how do we develop the motivation to attain a Nibbana that scares the hell out of our own ego? In other words, why the hell would I want to disappear from existence? And why should we value emptiness over the suffering/pleasure tandem?
P.s. Please excuse my bad quoting/presentation method as I learn my way through your website (I have just started to interact on here recently). Thank you for your understanding

doesn’t the ego bring nothing but troubles? it may be said this is what the entire affair of dukkha hinges on

maybe that’s why

This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.

AN 9.36

of course one needs to realize at least on an intellectual level whether and how disadvantageous and dreary are dukkha and samsara
and once the realization is at hand, there’s simply no other way out than through nibbana (if we’re to accept the Buddhadhamma), that’s how the system is designed

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My apologies.

If you personally find the idea of nibbana threatening, then that is a sign that it is starting to sink in. This is why people feel compelled to turn Buddhism into a form of eternalism. But the solution to this is not to explain it away, but to deepen the sense of calm, acceptance, and happiness in the mind.

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