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On Encountering Nibbida

I have heard and read a lot of stories from monks and nuns about how they came to ordain, but the stories often seem to skip over or largely condense the part between their encounter with nibbidā and their ordination. For instance, sometimes it seems like monks become disenchanted with the world and then hop on a plane to Thailand. I know this isn’t actually how it works, but I’d like to hear from monastics (and non-monastics) about how they dealt with the nibbidā that arose before they were able to take ordination.

In the Tipitaka, the path from disenchantment to ordination seems somewhat more complex, as there are multiple stories of laypeople who encountered obstacles (such as their parents) despite their fervor to ordain. There is one story in particular (that I can’t remember where it is) in which a layperson very strongly feels such nibbidā and the impermanence of his life, but is prevented from ordaining. Basically my question is, what does one do with that nibbidā when it arises? Obviously mindfulness is the key to seeing that it is also dukkha, anicca, & anatta; but at least for me as of late it has been a very strong emotion, one that has been inspiring depression (why can’t I run off to a monastery!) rather than further disillusionment from sense pleasures or an increased mindfulness.

Any sutta passages about nibbida or personal thoughts/experiences would be helpful. :pray:

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Not sure if that would meet all the criteria but the story of how Ven. Sariputta came to ordain is a very powerful and beautiful one:

The Life of Sariputta, compiled and translated from the Pali texts byNyanaponika Thera
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel090.html

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Dear Brenna,

What a wonderful question!

I hope it isn’t a terribly nitpicky detail to pick up on, but your use of the word nibbidā caught my interest. If my perusing this point distracts from the more important inquiry your making please just let me know and I’ll delete the post.

A few years ago I took an interest in nibbidā and ended up writing to Piya Tan:

I was wondering if you would be so kind as to help me with a little question that has occurred to me in relation to the Cūḷa Māluṅkyāputta Sutta (MN 63): when in section 10 the Buddha says he teaches the four ennobling truths because “it leads to revulsion, to dispassion, to cessation [of suffering], to inner peace, to direct knowledge, to awakening, to nirvana”, is the Buddha pointing towards seven distinct qualities, or are these words being used as synonyms?

The confusion has arisen for me as, on the one hand I understand that because of the oral tradition there are places where many words are given where one would do and here, a number of the words really do seem to be the same (cessation, inner peace, awakening, nirvana). On the other hand, some of the words appear to be easily differentiable, and, more significantly, I know the Buddha in many places makes very precise, subtle distinctions between qualities in his explanations and it would be a mistake to overlook them.

He replied:

The nibbidaa formula is very interesting. It basically lists one’s progress from just before attaining the supramundane path to arhathood. So it describes a process, and is not a string of synonyms. Please see the essay, SD 20.1 esp (2.2.2) …

Another interesting point came up. That is the translation of sa,upanisaa and its opposite, anupanisaa, found in the Kathaa,vatthu Sutta (A 3.67), SD 46.11. Apparently, none of the translators so far have rendered these terms correctly in this sutta: please see Intro (2.5) for details.

Following this, and from the impressions I got from the suttas, I’d generally taken nibbidā to refer to something quite specific within the end stages of the ‘process of extinguishment’, so it’s interesting to me to reframe it in more ‘everyday’ terms if there is enough flexibility in the term.

There are a lot of metta threads floating around these parts atm. :slight_smile:

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  1. Nibbida nana
    This is, “Knowledge of dispassion.” It has the following characteristics:

I think Aminah is talking about the sixteen stages of insight.

http://www.vipassanadhura.com/sixteen.html#sevenb

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Thanks, Gabriel! It is a beautiful story indeed. One of my favorite moments is this section:

“Oh teacher! When a Buddha has appeared in the world, people flock to him in large crowds and pay homage to him, carrying incense and flowers. We too shall go there. And then what will happen to you?”

To which Sañjaya replied: “What do you think, my pupils: are there more fools in this world, or more wise people?”

“Fools there are many, O teacher, and the wise are few.”

"If that is so, my friends, then the wise ones will go to the wise recluse Gotama, and the fools will come to me, the fool. You may go now, but I shall not."

No worries, Aminah, you are always welcome to nitpick my diction all you want. Perhaps nibbidā wasn’t the correct term, I meant more along the line of disenchantment. But I didn’t know that nibbidā is (perhaps?) used canonically more for pre-nibbana experiences - so that’s interesting! :slight_smile:

Thank you. :heart: I’m so terrible at metta meditation…might try and give it a go.

Thanks, Sarath! So maybe for my purposes just remove the “knowledge” part. :sweat_smile:

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Don’t worry, I know exactly what your question is about.

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@Brenna , if it is causing you depression, it isn’t nibbidā—it is aversion (dosa).

Nibbidā (disenchantment) towards lay life, for one who is to ordain, is about the same feeling as you might have in the idea of going to a party with lots of booze, drunk people and loud music. Or scouting for foodie places to indulge in incredibly tasty foods. Maybe in your teens, such events might have been interesting (maybe not, though), but I am guessing you quickly became disenchanted with such activities.

Does seeing people partying, or foodie youngsters indulging in food give rise to depression in you? Or do you see similar activities as being pointless?

I would say an advanced practitioner views lay life similarly to tasty restaurant food and parties. :slight_smile:

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Snap! I think it’s actually possible I’ve gotten worse at it and I was horrible to begin with. I’ve more or less hated it for basically as long as I’ve been trying to practice it right to this very day - I take this as a very clear indication of how important it is. :laughing:

Really, in my own extremely perverse way, I’m a metta evangelist (sans actual evangelism), I have the sense that not much else will work without it.

Most gracious! So I can just be a wretched pendant (I was just born that way :cry:), but in this case I think I was hoping there might be something at least a teeeeeny bit fruitful (with respect to your enquiry) in taking up that line.

Being reminded of Tan’s essay, I went back to check it out, and got as far as the beginning before bing prompted into that possible more worthwhile point.

He opens the essay with a nice quote from Ajahn Chah, who frames nibbidā with in the context of a very calm mind (attained to samādhi). He (Aj. Chah) writes:

Seeing the way the body truly is, clearly and beyond doubt from within the calm of samādhi, leads to the mind experiencing a strong sense of weariness and detachment (nibbidā). This weariness comes from the sense of sadness and dispassion that is the natural result of seeing the way things are. It’s not the same as ordinary worldly moods such as fear, revulsion or other unwholesome qualities like envy or aversion. It’s not coming from the same root as those defiled mental states.

Point being that if the teaching is pointing towards a very ‘refined’ (much as it is extremely powerful), exquisite kind of disillusionment, free of hatred, might be worth keeping in mind and seeing how well aligned a ‘to hell with this stinkin’ worldly world’ attitude might be with it.

As I think of it now, an interesting follow on question to the one you posed in the OP is whether or not those who do renounce lay life find that the world still sucks (or to use your phrasing; how might monastics have “dealt with the nibbidā that arose after they were able to take ordination.”)

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Bhante @Dhammanando Please advice me if I have to remove this.
An inspiration to everyone here.
YouTube

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IMO, the point of turning away from all worldly life becomes really deep and personal at some point when the futility and misery involved in life becomes very clear. Sometime ago, my aged dad was in the hospital and I was there was several days, wandering through the corridors and seeing person after person, struggling to stay alive.

I became more and more depressed and after my dad was discharged and I came back to my flat, I sunk into a mental fever, loathing the endless effort required to maintain one’s body. Sometimes fear would overwhelm my mind when I forced myself to think about horrible diseases that could afflict my body in the future, in addition to the ones I am already enduring - in such times, I tried to remove the notion of self-attachment regarding the body. But, over time, I became fed up with the noise generated by the world regarding body-maintenance and just wanted the ‘formless escape’ described in ITI 72.

Bhikkhus, there are these three elements of escape. What three? The escape from sensual desires, that is, renunciation; the escape from form, that is, the formless; and the escape from whatever has come to be, from whatever is conditioned and dependently arisen, that is, cessation.

Sorry if this doesn’t help much, it’s just a personal anecdote…

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Yeah it’s probably a bit of both.

But I think, as per the Ajahn Chah quote that Aminah has provided, a sense of sadness can arise due to not gaining the contentment previously acquired through sense pleasures, which can then lead to a fuller experience of nibbidā.

:joy: This is my experience as well.

Love this!

:grin: Yes, I would be interested in hearing our monastic friends answer this as well.

I have seen this before and loved it – I think I’m going to watch it again. (Ajahn @Dhammanando you’ve had an extrordinary life!).

It helps tremendously! It’s useful to remember that there are different levels of disenchantment, and that some are much coarser and finer than others. For instance, in the verse you quoted the Buddha also says, “Such a bhikkhu who sees rightly / Is thereby well released.” Thus, one can react and respond to disenchantment in a poor and un-beneficial way. (I do this all the time!).

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This is such a great question Brenna, which I have also had too, and I am so glad you asked!

I have been in and out of staying in monasteries/monastic settings and lay life for the past 4 years, and I have certainly noticed a profound disillusionment with many aspects of lay life as time has gone on. I’d be happy to share these with you in private!

I think one of the reasons to stay in lay life is because you still derive some pleasure, and have some attachment to sense pleasures. Didn’t the Buddha even say at some point that you are foolish not to enjoy them as a lay person?!

The problem comes, doesn’t it, when you can’t help but see the suffering in those pleasures. How can you ever enjoy them again? That’s what has happened to me around a couple of things (and it seems you too) and it’s been an interesting, surprising journey.

How often I’ve felt this! I always used to fantasize about running off to the monastery, until I realized that that is what it was - a fantasy. Monastic life, as you know, has some extreme challenges and difficulties. Contemplating these I have noticed that there may only be small practical benefits to ordaining over remaining in lay life in terms of actually having good conditions to practice. But that is only my view, my opinion, based on my circumstances. Not everyone has such a fortunate lay life as me.

But it’s a good reminder that ‘all forms of existence are suffering’. Putting on robes or living at the monastery won’t fix that. Suffering will find you there. In contemplating ordaining I’ve set a strict standard for myself to give up all hope that it will be a ‘better life’ if I do it! :laughing:

I’d always hoped the monastery would be where I’d find solace and finally ‘fit in’. Of course, that’s ridiculous. That’s the point of samsara, we’re never satisfied, never secure. Finding the ultimate escape from suffering in this world is the most important thing, whether that happens in lay life or ordained life.

In the meantime, finding less or no satisfaction in the world, we need to find other sources of ‘hope’ and joy. I put another hand up for metta meditation because its a practice that allows you access to a lot of joy fairly quickly. This provides great satisfaction in a spiritual aspect. Also, to remind yourself when you feel it whether in lay or ordained life “Well, of course I’m suffering! Of course I’m disenchanted! This is samsara. It is my kamma that brought me here and my kamma that can get me out. There is an ending of suffering” Then we have more energy to strive too!

Well, nevertheless, I’m with ya, I feel ya :blush:

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Keep in mind, that one who is Enlightened or is advanced on the path has neither attachment nor aversion towards the world. :wink:

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As far as Metta goes, I listened to a Dhamma talk (can’t remember by which Bhikkhu) and they said that even if you don’t get the big blissful feeling of Metta, it’s perfect to still practice it because the intention is important.

On the point of generating a feeling of Metta, I think it can take time sometimes. I went to a Vipassana retreat, and I found that after focusing on the forehead area, after the buzzing vibrations would begin, eventually, if I stuck with the feeling, it would descend to encompass the heart.

I highly recommend Leigh Brasington’s book Right concentration. It is by far the most detailed explanation of how to practice Jhanas and what they are that I’ve read, however I am interested in reading and learning more, along with practice if anyone has any recommendations for me.

http://rc.leighb.com/index.html

Leigh describes the feeling of the Jhanas as descending as you go up in the Jhanas and that has been my experience as well.

As far as a feeling of dispassion goes. I think it is definitely possibly to slip into depression if metta is not counter-balancing the knowing that all worldly pleasures are essentially worthless.

The thing is, if the focus is on knowing that worldly pleasures and contact are pointless and it brings depression, in my opinion, it is because the Brahmaviharas have not been cultivated sufficiently. The more I listen to monastics (Sujato, Bhante Vimilaramsi) and others, as well as seeing how it works in my own experience, I am realizing that joy is super super duper important to meditation. The state we bring to the cushion is important.

However, all this being said, with enough time (and I do mean in minutes and hours) all of unwholesome mind states can be overcome, even though it is far more beneficial to recall joyful events, thoughts and feelings (aka recalling ones merits, good deeds or practicing metta) than to just meditate and try to push through.

As the Buddha taught, the mind will continue in whatever direction we incline it towards and so it is important to use Right Effort and arouse wholesome feelings and thoughts so that we can lean into what arises in the 1st Jhana, namely Piti and Sukkha.

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Hi Cara! Thanks so much for this!

Yes, please!

Yeah, this is exactly what I’ve been going through for quite some time. The trouble is that I see so much suffering in sense pleasures, and then it’s like…what now? What do I do with all of this suffering I’ve accumulated?

Yeah I know. :pensive: But Cara, Amaravati has actual alpaca neighbors and surely that must be taken into consideration!

For me the shift from lay life to monastery life is somewhat more significant; in lay life I’m a couch potato, in monastery life there are no couches and thus I am less of a couch potato. I genuinely feel exceptionally more productive when I’m in monasteries, and also that my day-to-day existence is more meaningful (which is probably not a super healthy worldview).

:pray:

:heart:

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Yes, quite. The mind needs to be steered in the right direction. If circumstances allow it and one’s mind arrives at the realization, 'Laylife is dusty, suppose I don the robes and seek Nibbana…’, it would be a perfect combination. :slight_smile:

Now, these days, I just try to negate the effects of the poison I drank in earlier times and seek a tempered, middle way, accepting limitations but not overly accepting of all the views and notions that abound in this world - the Dhamma remains the beacon. It’s rather hard, but I am sure you know this… :slight_smile: Good luck !

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Use it to show you the way to Nibbana? I guess! :grin:

:laughing: That is compelling.

No, I don’t think that’s bad. I think it’s extremely healthy that you recognize and understand that you might work that way. We’re all different, there’s no one right answer. It doesn’t have to be the reason you join the monastery, but it does give evidence to the fact that it may be an overall beneficial move for you and you mind/personality. Knowing yourself is really important!!! :pray:
:heart: :heart: :heart:

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Agree, but suffering is the beginning point of the transcendental Dependent Origination.

Suffering (dukkha)
Faith (saddha)
Joy (pamojja)
Rapture (piti)
Tranquillity (passaddhi)
Happiness (sukha)
Concentration (samadhi)
Knowledge and vision of things as they are (yathabhutañanadassana)
Disenchantment (nibbida)
Dispassion (viraga)
Emancipation (vimutti)
Knowledge of destruction of the cankers (asavakkhaye ñana)
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel277.html

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Suffering (dukkha) and aversion (dosa) are two different things.

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Agree.
If you find a Kalyanamitta aversion change to Metta.

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