Nibbana -- A "dhamma", a "dhatu" -- or utter extinguishment?

Bhikkhu Bodhi, in his essay “Nibbana” (https://www.dhammatalks.net/Books16/Bhikkhu_Bodhi-Nibbana.pdf), wrote (bold typeface added):

"Nibbana is an existing reality

Regarding the nature of Nibbana, the question is often asked: Does Nibbana signify only extinction of the defilements and liberation from samsara or does it signify some reality existing in itself? Nibbana is not only the destruction of defilements and the end of samsara but a reality transcendent to the entire world of mundane experience, a reality transcendent to all the realms of phenomenal existence.
The Buddha refers to Nibbana as a ‘dhamma’. For example, he says "of all dhammas, conditioned or unconditioned, the most excellent dhamma, the supreme dhamma is, Nibbana". ‘Dhamma’ signifies actual realities, the existing realities as opposed to conceptual things. "

“…it is an actuality, and the Buddha refers to Nibbana as an unconditioned Dhamma.”
“The Buddha also refers to Nibbana as an ‘ayatana’. This means realm, plane or sphere.”
“The Buddha also refers to Nibbana as a ‘dhatu,’ an element, the ‘deathless element’
(amata-dhatu).”
“The Buddha also refers to Nibbana as a ‘state’ (pada), as ‘amatapada’ - the deathless state - or ‘accutapada’, the imperishable state.”
and
"So all these terms, considered as a whole, clearly establish that Nibbana is an actual
reality and not the mere destruction of defilements or the cessation of existence. "

So – I’m not taking a stand here but raise these points as they contrast with a number of points offered by other well-respected and knowledgeable Venerables about nibbana – at least parinibbana – being utter extinguishment (not of an underlying Self or self, of course).
It’s been described on this forum as (paraphrasing), “…not even nothing.”

And finally – Ven. Bodhi wrote that parinibbāna does not point to nibbana after death, but to the process of the dying of arahant. Interesting point…

I incline to one of these these “views”, but anyone want to offer further input on this? :slightly_smiling_face: :pray:

Ajahn Brahmali addresses much of this in his excellent paper What the Nikayas say and do not day about Nibbana

Definitely worth a read if you haven’t read it yet :smile:

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Thanks. I’ve read that paper and found it very helpful and interesting.

And yet, the discussion and controversy continues…

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In the suttas Nibbana is most often described in terms of the cessation of craving, aversion and delusion. That makes it sound more like a radically different state of mind than an independent reality of some sort.

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Where do the suttas say this? I have only read the suttas say: “Of all dhammas, conditioned or unconditioned, the most excellent dhamma, the supreme dhamma is, dispassion”.

However, yes, the above phrase refers to the ‘unconditioned’ as a ‘dhamma’.

The suttas say an Arahant does not die (MN 140). It seems ‘dying’ is not the ideal term to use in this context.

Also, the term ‘parinibbana’ seems used in the suttas in other contexts (MN 140).

In Pali, there is the word ‘adhivacana’, which is said to mean ‘designation, term, attrîbute, metaphor, metaphorical expression’. Therefore, it seems the cessation of the defilements may not literally refer to Nibbana.

“Mendicant, the removal of greed, hate and delusion is a term (“metaphor”) for the element of extinguishment.

“Nibbānadhātuyā kho etaṁ, bhikkhu, adhivacanaṁ: ‘rāgavinayo dosavinayo mohavinayo’ti.

SN 45.7

:sunny:

I agree with the above. :slightly_smiling_face:

Bhikkhu Bodhi did not provide references in the paper being quoted. However, given his stellar reputation, I personally have no doubt about the accuracy of his quotes.

A sotapanna has no doubt. :smiley:

Just for reference, here is the sutta that contains Ven. Bodhi’s quote:

Fading away is said to be the best of all things whether conditioned or unconditioned. That is, the quelling of vanity, the removing of thirst, the abolishing of clinging, the breaking of the round, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment.

Yāvatā, bhikkhave, dhammā saṅkhatā vā asaṅkhatā vā, virāgo tesaṁ aggamakkhāyati, yadidaṁ madanimmadano pipāsavinayo ālayasamugghāto vaṭṭupacchedo taṇhākkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānaṁ.

It’s AN 4.34 Aggappasādasutta

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I also agree with this statement by Ven. Bodhi. Nibbana is a reality explicitly declared by the Buddha in the 3rd Noble Truth.

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Well, “death” here is referring to the final extinguishing of the khandas which remain present until the physical death of an arahant.
From Ven. Brahmali’s paper, cited in a post above: " ‘Non-provisional Nibbāna’ is reached at arahant-ship, and ‘final Nibbāna’ at the death of the arahant (see below). In each case something is extinguished (either temporarily or permanently): in first jhāna the five hindrances and the five senses are temporarily extinguished, in the second jhāna vitakka-vicāra etc… At final Nibbāna all five aggregates are permanently extinguished."

The main topic of this thread is the continuing controversy about whether “final nibbāna” is utter extinguishment or whether, per Ven. Bodhi, a “dhamma”, a “dhatu”, an “unconditioned reality” is attained – words get dicey at this point… :slightly_smiling_face:

Also, in his paper Ven. Bodhi states parinibbana refers not to nibbana after death, with the dissolution of the khandas and all conditional dhammas, but to the act or process of an arahant’s passing.
There are also differences of interpretations regarding this, too.
:pray:

Fading away (dispassion) is said to be the best of all things whether conditioned or unconditioned. That is, the quelling of vanity, the removing of thirst, the abolishing of clinging, the breaking of the round, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment.

Yāvatā, bhikkhave, dhammā saṅkhatā vā asaṅkhatā vā, virāgo tesaṁ aggamakkhāyati, yadidaṁ madanimmadano pipāsavinayo ālayasamugghāto vaṭṭupacchedo taṇhākkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānaṁ

I highlighted extinguishment which was translated by Ven. Sujato from nibbānaṁ

That’s Nibbana as translated in Ven. Bodhi’s version.

Bhikkhu Bodhi said: “of all dhammas, conditioned or unconditioned, the most excellent dhamma, the supreme dhamma is, Nibbana

The sutta says: “of all dhammas, conditioned or unconditioned, the most excellent dhamma, the supreme dhamma is, dispassion

Therefore, the question arises, is ‘dispassion’ a conditioned dhamma or an unconditioned dhamma?

It seems ‘dispassion’ may be ‘conditioned’ therefore the Buddha has said this conditioned dhamma is supreme or superior in comparison to the unconditioned dhamma. :face_with_monocle:

So how do you explain the word " yadidaṁ"? The whole list madanimmadano pipāsavinayo ālayasamugghāto vaṭṭupacchedo taṇhākkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānaṁ go together to explain the fading away at the beginning.

Bhikkhu Bodhi translated this as:

To whatever extent there are phenomena conditioned or unconditioned, dispassion is declared the foremost among them ( virāgo tesaṁ aggamakkhāyati), that is, the crushing of pride, the removal of thirst, the uprooting of attachment, the termination of the round, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, nibbāna. Those who have confidence in the Dhamma have confidence in the foremost, and for those who have confidence in the foremost, the result is foremost.

SuttaCentral

I guess dispassion is said to be the foremost because if there is no dispassion there will be no experience of Nibbana. Instead, Nibbana would exist as an phenomena/element but never experienced.

Per Dependent Origination, “death” (“marana”) arises from ignorance. SN 22.85 is exactly a sutta on this topic, where “death” of an Arahant is wrong view.

Now at that time a mendicant called Yamaka had the following harmful misconception:

Tena kho pana samayena yamakassa nāma bhikkhuno evarūpaṁ pāpakaṁ diṭṭhigataṁ uppannaṁ hoti:

“As I understand the Buddha’s teaching, a mendicant who has ended the defilements is annihilated and destroyed when their body breaks up, and doesn’t exist after death.”

tathāhaṁ bhagavatā dhammaṁ desitaṁ ājānāmi, yathā khīṇāsavo bhikkhu kāyassa bhedā ucchijjati vinassati, na hoti paraṁ maraṇā”ti.

SN 22.85

It’s too much forcing upon the meaning here. If you can convince yourself by such interpretation then I have no further comment. Good night :sleeping:

Similar to Bhikkhu Bodhi, the specific comment made seems not related to the suttas.

I already raised the issue/question of what is “supreme”? Is conditioned dispassion supreme? Or is unconditioned Nibbana supreme? The sutta seems to say the conditioned dispassion is supreme. This is an important matter for clarification, in my opinion. :neutral_face: Enjoy your sleep. :slightly_smiling_face:

Dispassion is the best of things,
Virāgo seṭṭho dhammānaṁ,

Dhp 273 SuttaCentral

The practitioner should be able to discern they are heading towards nibbana (ultimate release) through the taste of progressive release:

"“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.”—Majhima Nikaya 19

In the period of pre-awakening the Buddha-to-be was pursuing this kind of image:

"the Vedas — ancient Indian religious texts that predate Buddhism by many thousands of years — describe fire as immortal: Even when extinguished it simply goes into hiding, in a latent, diffused state, only to be reborn when a new fire is lit.

" when teaching his own disciples, the Buddha used nibbana more as an image of freedom. Apparently, all Indians at the time saw burning fire as agitated, dependent, and trapped, both clinging and being stuck to its fuel as it burned. To ignite a fire, one had to “seize” it. When fire let go of its fuel, it was “freed,” released from its agitation, dependence, and entrapment — calm and unconfined. This is why Pali poetry repeatedly uses the image of extinguished fire as a metaphor for freedom. In fact, this metaphor is part of a pattern of fire imagery that involves two other related terms as well. Upadana, or clinging, also refers to the sustenance a fire takes from its fuel. Khandha means not only one of the five “heaps” (form, feeling, perception, thought processes, and consciousness) that define all conditioned experience, but also the trunk of a tree. Just as fire goes out when it stops clinging and taking sustenance from wood, so the mind is freed when it stops clinging to the khandhas.

Thus the image underlying nibbana is one of freedom. The Pali commentaries support this point by tracing the word nibbana to its verbal root, which means “unbinding.”—Thanissaro

But that’s really not that hard to do in the early stages of process of elimination.

Obviously going to a movie theater or playing video games isn’t in the direction of nibbana. Violence and self torture isn’t in the direction of nibbana. Media consumption, newspapers and politics isn’t in the direction of nibbana. Craving food or any sensual thing…

You could say about 90% of householder lifestyle activies isn’t in the direction of nibbana.

It only starts to get subtle when you’re an ascetic living an austere lifestyle without any gadgets or convenience then you may wonder if you’re reaching Arahantship or even on the path to begin with (properly understood dependent origination).

But until then, for most of us, we know we’re not heading towards nibbana here and now, unless you’re wondering if you have attained stream entry path and contemplating right view, but the suttas show that even Ariyans like Mahanama worried about not having mindfulness at the time of death and their rebirth being bad, implying they didn’t know directly they were at least sotapannas.

In that article it is said:

“But if the illusion of personal identity is seen through, if the perceived solid core is seen not to exist, there is nothing to be concerned about anymore. When it is seen that all a being is made up of are the ever-impermanent khandhas, utterly tied up with suffering, then cessation becomes the most desirable thing possible”

Who does really experience and know it that way that khandha’s are utterly tied up with suffering?

Lets be real…this is only a theory, an idea for us… because beings/we delight in khandha’s because they are in our perception not utterly tied up with suffering, but also tied up with pleasure, satisfaction, happiness, joy.

That is our reality. That is our knowledge, right? Do we really have a direct knowledge or experience that the body, feelings, perception, volition and vinnana are really only utterly tied up with suffering? I say…NO.

Because of satsifaction, joy, pleasure, happiness of the khandha’s we/beings delight in khandha’s and long for it. If khandha’s would really only be utterly tied up with suffering we really would not delight in them, desire them etc.

So it is not our real perception nor knowledge that khandha’s are utterly tied up with suffering. Please ask yourself…do i really know and see in a non-theoretical way…that khandha’s are utterly tied up with suffering?

For example…do you really experience pleasant feeling as utterly tied up with suffering or joy or happiness? Do you experience neutral feelings as utterly tied up with suffering?

The only way (i believe) that we can really know, in a non-theoretical way, that khandha’s are utterly tied up with suffering, is, if we know a happiness that does not belong to the khandha’s!
For example a happiness that is no part of vedana khandha.

One must have that reference otherwise one can never establish that, for example, even pleasant feeling is utterly tied up with suffering.

Yes, this reference is, i believe, the ultimate peace, Nibbana.

So, in fact one cannot say that khandhas are utterly tied up with suffering without seeing and personally tasting the supreme peace of Nibbana as reality, and as something one can know and taste here and now.

Without seeing Nibbana as a reality the statement–.khandha’s are utterly tied up with suffering— is only a metaphysical claim, a theory. It cannot be what one knows.