To understand the role of nibbidā in the origination of awakening I think it is crucial we refer to AN10.1 / AN11.1 and SN12.23
To me, these suttas are telling us that to really transform things and support progress along the path the sense of weariness, boredom and revulsion the term is all about needs to be deeply rooted in insight into and direct vision of how things come to be. It is not about a philosophical or impulsive rebellion towards one mode of living or course of things.
Also, it should occur in a gradual and reinforcing way as the spin of dependent origination gains bends less and less towards the perpetuation of suffering and more and more towards the cessation of it.
In practice and in realistic terms. It can be observed and cultivated as drops of “I had enough of this” or “I won’t go down that path again” when it comes to the usual painful habits of mind, body and speech.
The only way you can be sure you are really dealing with the true sense of nibbidā the Buddha refers to as an important element of the origination of awakening is to make sure you are working on its causes:
confidence and trust on the effectiveness of the Path,
There are many people who are disenchanted with this life.
Many of the commit suicide.
This is why it is important that you encounter a Kalyanamitta to guide in right direction.
Many stories like Patachara and Kisagotami are point in this direction.
Just to clarify, I’m answering a couple of questions here, from Brenna and Aminah, at the same time. Sorry, I’m not so great with the formatting and quotes.
In my experience, the nibbidā that I experienced from meditation is not depressing. I remember having my first glimpse of the body with wisdom, and seeing how disgusting it truly is; actually it was so incredibly disgusting that I felt delighted – it was funny!? Quite an odd experience. It’s like seeing the problem from a different mind than the one that created it. Of course, attachment returned very soon after that insight, the conditioning is so strong.
The perception of nibbidā in general, coming out of meditation, persists for some time along with mindfulness (after sitting in meditation). I don’t know if i have experienced the “exquisite” refinement that you refer to Aminah. The adjective that has come up for me at times, is “boring”; seeing how boring everything is (seeing “the gratification, “the drama” and the escape” ). I automatically let go, without effort. When the mindfulness fades, then it turns into aversion.
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.
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.”)
That kind of disenchantment certainly found me after ordaining. The degree of sexism in Buddhist monasteries - encoded and explicit - is more than you would imagine. It has been very difficult for me to experience the way it divides women, not to mention the witch-hunting from men. Actually, I was once accused of being a witch and practicing dark arts in a monastery – but that was by a woman.
How have I dealt with it? Badly. I have been depressed, very anxious, very angry – the full spectrum of aversive states. But I think, sometimes, it has at least partially burnt into ashes, because I’m not cynical about life in monasteries. Rather it has removed expectations and given me a lighter view of the world and the people in it. If I returned to lay-life, I’m sure I would be caught up in the drama, the worldy winds (as I am in monastic life as well) but I don’t think I would suffer the existential types of depression that I had before I ordained; I don’t think it would render me depressed because I saw the futility of it all. You know the scene in the matrix, where Neo talks to one of the programs who is self-aware, i.e. knows that he is “living” in the matrix, but he says (something like) “I love my wife and children”. I can’t really remember the scene all that well, but knowing it’s empty and still caring is the metaphor there.
I felt joy when the “yes” vote for same-sex marriage came through this week, I feel sad when I read about the extinction of species. There is love, compassion, a motivation to be kind and to help. Maybe my refuge is right intention and that’s the way I deal with the kind of nibbidā that you refer to Brena and Aminah. Lots of good advice in this thread about practicing metta
Hi Brenna, your post makes me think of AN 9.41, here’s an excerpt:
“So it is, Ananda. So it is. Even I myself, before my Awakening, when I was still an unawakened Bodhisatta, thought: ‘Renunciation is good. Seclusion is good.’ But my heart didn’t leap up at renunciation, didn’t grow confident, steadfast, or firm, seeing it as peace. The thought occurred to me: ‘What is the cause, what is the reason, why my heart doesn’t leap up at renunciation, doesn’t grow confident, steadfast, or firm, seeing it as peace?’ Then the thought occurred to me: ‘I haven’t seen the drawback of sensual pleasures; I haven’t pursued [that theme]. I haven’t understood the reward of renunciation; I haven’t familiarized myself with it. That’s why my heart doesn’t leap up at renunciation, doesn’t grow confident, steadfast, or firm, seeing it as peace.’
“So at a later time, having seen the drawback of sensual pleasures, I pursued that theme; having understood the reward of renunciation, I familiarized myself with it. My heart leaped up at renunciation, grew confident, steadfast, & firm, seeing it as peace. Then, quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities, I entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.
It seems to me that some of the challenge is converting life dissatisfaction into heart-leaps up at renunciation. If done in the right way, it seems it can be a basis for entering the first jhana, and the subsequent non-sensual happiness.
Personally, I keep coming back to this sutta and realizing precicely that, even though I feel stronger than ever “renunciation is good, seclusion is good” my heart doesn’t really leap up at renunciation, I don’t yet see it as peace. So it’s up to me to contemplate the drawbacks of this sensuality I’m mired in, and get familiar with the rewards of renouncing it
Wow! What a reply! It really made me grin with great gladness. Thank you so much.
All I can say is that I most definitely haven’t! What I do know, however, is the hazards of trying to describe something based on the the accounts of others and intellectual deduction (we can only use the tools available to us at any given time). My basic point was that by the descriptions I have yet come across nibbidā appears to arise in a very calm mind which seems to be quite apart from a mind that is shaking (and blurry) with frustration and resentment and so on.
I find this so entirely marvellous! It reminds me of a discussion I had a while ago with someone who practices in one of the Tibetan traditions. We were exchanging our impressions of the teachings, and she appeared to want to brush passed the First Noble Truth, feeling it was a bit grim and dour, onto all the lovely, pleasant stuff. I was utterly perplexed as the truth of suffering can make me so happy even as seen through a highly wobbly, ‘run-of-the-mill’, mundane mind.
Anyway, my main point was just to make a note of humble thanks!
Thank you for this valuable and encouraging reminder.
There are probably many stories like that. In MN 82. Raṭṭhapāla Sutta, he goes on a hunger strike and refuses to eat unless his parents allow him to ordain. In the vinaya, there’s an almost identical story with a different monk.
Here’s a nice sutta. “nibbida” is not used, but similar in in principle.
(bodhi trans.)AN 3.108 (6) No Satiation
873“Bhikkhus, there are three things that give no satiation by indulging in them. What three? (1) There is no satiation by indulging in sleep. (2) There is no satiation by indulging in liquor and wine. (3) There is no satiation by indulging in sexual intercourse. These are the three things that give no satiation by indulging in them.”
There’s at least one sutta where the Buddha says something to the effect, I’m not remembering the exact details correctly, if you don’t do your practice as a monk effectively, you miss out on the joys of the holy life, and you miss out on the joys of a householder. At least a householder can still enjoy the householder joy.
Anyone know the exact sutta?
Maybe that’s a curse rather than a blessing? There’s no greater motivation to find a way out of suffering than when we experience great suffering in the conventional sense.
I hope all of you with even the slightest inclination to ordain give it a try. You can always disrobe if it doesn’t work out. Being a layperson, even a lay person who frequently stays at monasteries, is a different experience.
I guess they are commentarial terms? [Edit: actually they are found in the suttas, see post 32, thank you Venerable Dhammanando]
What I noted is that these feelings are their ebbs and flows, but my pratice was at its best when the feelings were the strongest. And they have been induced by some undesired changes in my life. This is when I really understood how ‘dukkha’ can lead to ‘faith’ and help us to go in the right direction and give us energy. Now these feelings are fading away… I am trying to find ways to cultivate them (the feelings of samvega), to rekindle them, but it’s not easy.
I used to be depressed by the amount of all kinds of suffering in the world, but it changed over time. The depression arises as a result of feeling futility and frustration, that one cannot DO anything to reduce the suffering or stupidity of people, that one has no power to effect change and must helplessly observe… It took a long time to accept that that is just the nature of life - that that is the way humans behave, and that there is nothing to change, but that the Noble 8FP, is the way to cease suffering.
This was all related to EXPECTATIONS… As Ajahn Brahm often says - lower your expectations… At fist it sounded crazy…but expectations come from view of self and conditioned beliefs as to how things should be. When one realises that the ideals we had are just conditioned then one can start to disentangle. I think it is actually a great opportunity for moving along the path. To be able to abide with equanimity is a sublime state
For me it’s really difficult to experience dispassion with regards to sensual pleasures without making myself suffer. I think that in order to see dispassion without becoming depressed one needs to have a really solid foundation of sila, samadhi, and panna (which other people have mentioned in this thread), which is why I think that most people who experience such disenchantment go to monasteries.
Hi Ayya, thanks so much for your response. I’m so sorry that you’ve encountered this reaction in monasteries.
This reminds of a passage from MN 14, trans. Bhikkhu Bodhi:
Even though a noble disciple has seen clearly as it actually is with proper wisdom how sensual pleasure provide little gratification, much suffering, and much despair, and how great is the danger in them, as long as he still does not attain to the rapture and pleasure that are apart from from sensual pleasures, apart from unwholesome states, or to something more peaceful than that, he may still be attracted to sensual pleasures. But when a noble disciple has seen clearly as it actually is with proper wisdom how sensual pleasure provide little gratification, much suffering, and much despair, and how great is the danger in them, and he attains to the rapture and pleasure that are apart from sensual pleasures … apart from unwholesome states, or to something more peaceful than that, then he is no longer attracted to sensual pleasures.
Ehrrmm. Not a massive one other than familial and societal pressures. I am, indeed, going to spend January at a monastery, and might spend more time elsewhere after that. But actually deciding, ‘ok, I’m going to go stay at a monastery long-term without any plan to leave’ isn’t something that I’ve been able to do yet.
I agree @Aranya So Brenna, I hope you don’t mind but I added “metta” as a tag under the title.
Ayya Aranya, thank you very much for your honesty and heartfelt comment. It’s beautiful.
These are the sorts of things I grapple with too.
In particular I also feel myself struggling with the following:
The thing that helps me deal with this at present is this sense of walking on two parallel paths. The first one leads me to the 8 Fold Path as it ought to be practised. The second one is firmly rooted in samsara.
Both have different aspects that are automatic habit. Both have suffering. Both can offer relief. Neither are sure things - they’re both prone to change right now.
Currently one has a great deal of power and influence over my choices. But the other is gaining ground and as a consequence the samsaric path is losing some of its ability to give me pleasure.
Thus I feel myself in this middle place…where I’m not getting enough pleasure from the samsaric path and I’m not getting enough pleasure from the Dhamma path. It can be a grimy, boring, irritating, grey sort of place.
What do I do? Well…not much. I try and see it as an opportunity to cultivate patience. I carry on with my Practise best I can and with a sense of faith that it will begin to take over and provide me with the power to let go happily. I also make a big deal about even the smallest shreds of joy etc. that my Practice provides me with and I allow myself to notice the lack of fulfillment in the other path - this is scary sometimes because it means trusting that this place of limbo won’t stay this way forever.
It is also an opportunity to grow Metta but as @Aminah said, this can be an unpleasant experience, particularly in these sorts of circumstances.
But sometimes desperation can do wonders for one’s metta practice! I remember once being in a situation where I had to be with a particular group of people for a while and I was constantly feeling irritable and angry and I was terrified of losing my cool. I recognised that my speech was oozing out of my habituated thoughts, so out of desperation, for a period of a couple months or so, I kept repeating the words “may all beings be happy”, over and over again in my head. Even if I was thinking of something else, these words were there in between other thoughts; my last thoughts before I went to bed, the first when I woke up. Sometimes it was very difficult and tedious…but I was frightened enough of my own anger to continue. It was a very worthwhile experiment! I learned quite a bit - mainly because I felt quite a bit - of both anger and metta.
Right now in my life, I don’t feel the need for this. Right now, I feel more a sense of being patient. I am a bit cranky but it’s not bad enough for me to go over the top and practice in that way - which can be a rather controlling way to go about things…but desperate times…
When I first started practising Metta I hated it. Because it felt so alien. And then when it started to feel nice, I paradoxically started to notice how much non-metta like emotion I had been repressing and not feeling and therefore not being honest about!! The mistake I made was not carrying on with the thing!! I should’ve kept going regardless - but I identified too much with those negative emotions and not enough with the positive metta ones. This would be my advice to my younger self!
Nowadays, metta is just a low level pleasant hum most of the time and I am okay with that. I understand this won’t always be like this…sometimes it will feel worse and other times better.
I remember something Bhante Sujato said once: metta is simple. And he also said something like: if you notice unpleasant feelings/thoughts/emotions, don’t go to them, this time (in this current meditation) is not the place for solving your problems. I hope I’m not misrepresenting him in saying this but at anyrate, that is what I remember and while I was stunned and challenged by the latter, I took it on board. As for the former, well, it took me a whole lot longer to begin to feel what it meant.
Brenna, thanks for this lovely thread! It’s so useful for all of us. It’s lovely to hear from monastics too. You might, perhaps, want to tag a few in if you want more responses from them - but it’s up to you, it’s your party and a very nice one it is too.
Wishing you all the best, with much metta and also mudita - because this is not a bad place to be in, think of it as growing pains and you’re not alone…a bunch of us, all over the planet probably, are going through this with you.
The one thing that I find which really helps, is smiling. I did a Bhante Vimalaramsi retreat online and another one with Doug Kraft through his Easing Awake retreat on his youtube channel and they teach that we can smile to help lean the mind in a positive and happy direction to get the mind into a bright and happy state before and during meditation and all day.
Here is Doug Kraft’s channel if you haven’t come across it. It’s a really really great retreat that we can all do at home along with the end of day dhamma talks. It’s 8 days and one of the best things I’ve ever done. Much different than Goenka Vipassana retreats and there are unique challenges of doing a retreat at home by yourself. I can personally attest to many of the 11 benefits of Metta that the Buddha espoused. I noticed my complexion became serene and my eyes became incredibly white, bright, clear and just open and peaceful looking. I was able to wake up early and feel incredibly rested, for the first time in decades and went to bed peacefully with peaceful dreams if I had them.
Sounds like a great avenue of investigation… I did not really ponder that aspect of things yet. Promising, thanks.
The balance is indeed tricky to find. Sense pleasures can be abandoned more easily once one has access to spiritual pleasures (e.g. MN14). But spiritual pleasures can be accessed only when desires for sense pleasures are put aside for a while (e.g. AN6.73 or first jhana pericope). So this create a situation when we are temporarily without sense pleasures but not yet with spiritual pleasures! And the problem of lay life is that sense pleasures are so easily accessible that we go for them as soon as things get tough… Hence, one of the goal of the holy life is to reduce access to sense pleasures and the desire for them:
SN38.16 Difficult to Do
"Friend Sariputta, what is difficult to do in this Dhamma and Discipline?"
“Going forth, friend, is difficult to do in this Dhamma and Discipline.”
“What, friend, is difficult to do by one who has gone forth?”
“To find delight, friend, is difficult to do by one who has gone forth.”
“What, friend, is difficult to do by one who has found delight?”
“Practice in accordance with the Dhamma, friend, is difficult to do by one who has found delight.”
“But, friend, if a bhikkhu is practising in accordance with the Dhamma, would it take him long to become an arahant?”
“Not long, friend.”
Great news that they come from the suttas! Thanks Bhante
I hope you don’t mind if I say that what stood out for me in this passage, was the desire to have ‘enough’ pleasure, either from Samsara or Dhamma. Why would this be so? It may well just be me, but whenever I hear people are searching for happiness as a result of their practice, I wonder if this isn’t just reinforcing our conditioned mind. After all the Buddha taught the means to be free of suffering - this doesn’t necessarily equate to being happy as is generally understood in western cultures. ( I do recognise that what you wrote are only words that arose quickly and that I may have attributed meaning that you never intended.)
I know this gets a bit pedantic, but the type or flavour of happiness is very important. The active, tumultuous happiness of Samsara leads to suffering. Even the rapturous delight that can come from deep meditation can lead to suffering if one craves for it with the conditioned mind afterward and doesn’t achieve it and is therefore trapped in conditional thoughts. The ‘happiness’ (in my opinion and understanding) that results from being free of suffering is calm, peaceful, and even as Aranya says in the below quote - boredom. It’s a type of being fed up, watching the turmoil and chaos of Samsara…
For myself, the positive side of Nibbida is the relief of not being constantly subject to the conditions that are Samsara. The ‘joy’ that comes from knowing that there is an escape from suffering. Even if these glimpses only happen infrequently… the memory of knowing how things really are and knowing that escape is possible is enough. Even knowing that everything in our conditioned reality is impermanent, is enough. So no matter where one is on the path to liberation… just knowing that there is an end to all conditioned things, just as there is an arising of all conditioned things… I’m sorry if I’m not being clear and concise… but knowing this constant arising and passing away, and the suffering inherent in Samsara , is enough to arouse compassion for all conditioned things (physical, feelings, thoughts) is enough to negate the averse feelings towards them - and of course ourselves/myself as one of those same conditioned phenomena. Even my quite disgusting body gets my compassion as it is the vehicle that allows my mind to understand the 4 Noble Truths and to follow the Noble 8fold Path.
I sincerely hope that I haven’t acted against the spirit of this forum by the directness and unguardedness of this post - especially as I am new here. Please delete or edit as seen appropriate.
You’re welcome and in turn, I thank you too Your post is quite lovely too.
Lol yes, but I think it’s good to clarify things with each other and because we can’t see each other and are not in each others’ presence and it is so easy to use the same words and mean different things. Also because we are basically words on a screen and we don’t know each other, I think it’s more important to be extra gentle. Which you have been and beautifully so…thank you for this.
In answering this question I am drawing on EBTs, my (limited) experience and teachings from monastics whom I respect (like Ajahn Brahm for instance).
If I don’t have some kind of pleasure to keep me going, I think I would fall into a pile of inactive depressed goo… And thus end, with great gooeyness, my Buddhist Practice.
There are a couple of things I want to say here:
The first is in reference to this
I agree with this but would like to add that, as I’ve heard from reliable sources, true neutrality and true calm are to be experienced in true equanimity; which is to be experienced somewhere around the 3rd and 4th Jhanas! Thus when I feel calm and happy in my ordinary life, it’s generally more on the side of happiness (or sadness) than neutrality.
Our minds are hard wired to look for happiness. And because of conditionality, because of anatta, we are not in control of our minds as much as we think we are. We can’t help looking for happiness - whether it be through contentment, peace or whatever other form.
Happiness is a necessary prerequisite to usefully deep meditation. The more one engages in a gradual training that climbs up the slope of ever increasing wholesomeness, the more one becomes happy (admittedly, the higher up you go, the subtler the flavours of happiness are). Thus Buddha in the EBTs did make certain kinds of wholesome mental happiness, not just allowable, but necessary.
Happiness born of wholesomeness is incredibly energising and empowering to the mind. Deep meditation doesn’t just become possible, it just happens. And then you come out and feel even happier - only it’s subtler and more refined - and even more energised.
Sure for most of us these states aren’t sustainable and recognising their impermanence and conditionality is a key part of understanding how to make them return again and again… So that they inform our sila, they continue to arise (instead of all the other things that normally arise in our minds!) and so that we can finally get somewhere worthwhile - like Stream Entry!! - in our Practise.
I don’t equate boredom with happiness. I see it as a negative emotional state that sometimes arises along the way. It is related to aversion, because we don’t appreciate whatever it is we are bored by. We are drawn away from, but not powerfully enough and generally with dullness instead of clarity. For me, boredom ought to be replaced with a more useful positive emotion, but if this doesn’t feel possible, then it is to be borne patiently and with whatever kindness is possible. Generally this patient kindness seems to trick the mind into a more postive and useful emotional state!
My Practice, in a general sense (not in the specific sense of experiencing boredom for instance) and sometimes in a quite specific positive sense is breathtakingly fascinating. Even the boredom, put within context of everything else interests me greatly. This is what makes me take up the happiness of the 8 fold path and put aside the boredom inducing, unfulfilling happinesses of samsara.
I remember Ajahn Brahm saying something along the lines of: happiness is the glue that keeps the mind in deep meditation, and it is essential to the deep letting go experienced in entering Jhana.
So going back to
…@Brenna, personally, if I was in your shoes, this is exactly what I would do. Samsara is not going to easily let you off the hook…monastic life might give you the type of container you need to climb up that happy, wholesome incline of the gradual training with more safety and stability. You don’t have to stay forever, but there’s a good chance your experiences and time there will inform your life and Practice forever. Whatever you decide to do, I’m sure I can confidently speak for everyone here in saying that, we all wish you well.
mpac, with thanks and please do feel free to question anything else…you do it so skilfully. It’s impossible with just a few posts here and there (even if one rambles on as much as I do!) to convey what we feel, think, experience and how we percieve and activate our Practice. We do need to ask each other and share more. And of course, we don’t all need to agree!
Just wanted to share a quote from the text I mentioned above, it’s how Thanissaro Bhikkhu defines samvega:
The oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it’s normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle.
I had a glimpse of that once, in the midst of suffering, and I feel sooo grateful for it. These few words carry so much meaning.
Anyway back to OP questions!
This makes me think to this inspiring saying from an elder (Thag19.1)
Oh, when will I stay in a mountain cave,
Alone, with no companion,
Discerning all states of existence as impermanent?
This hope of mine, when will it be?
Oh, when will I stay happily in the forest,
A sage wearing a torn robe, dressed in ochre,
Unselfish, without desire,
With greed, hatred, and delusion destroyed?
Oh, when will I stay alone in the wood,
Fearless, discerning this body as impermanent,
A nest of death and disease,
Oppressed by death and old age;
When will it be?