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The Far Shore

nibbāna
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#1

“The far shore” appears in a number of suttas, and it usually seemed to me this statement refers to Nibbana. I seem to recall seeing discussions about that perhaps it didn’t. It sounds like MN 98 makes it pretty clear the Buddha is speaking of Nibbana when he talks about the far shore, at least in this sutta. In this sutta, he’s describing what he defines as a true Brahmin, based on a person’s actions and attainments.

Are there other ways to reasonably interpret this sutta in regards to what the “far shore” means while sticking to the EBTs? This sutta and topic are also perhaps related to the recent discussion on nihilism. However, the Buddha speaks of Nibbana as something beyond the scope of reason, and, thus, reasoning with words can only go so far with respect to the topic of Nibbana.

Here’s a relevant excerpt:

They have no clinging,
knowledge has freed them of indecision,
they’ve arrived at the culmination of the deathless:
that’s who I call a brahmin.

They’ve escaped clinging
to both good and bad deeds;
sorrowless, stainless, pure:
that’s who I call a brahmin.

Pure as the spotless moon,
clear and undisturbed,
they’ve ended desire to be reborn:
that’s who I call a brahmin.

They’ve got past this grueling swamp
of delusion, transmigration.
They’ve crossed over to the far shore,
stilled and free of indecision.
They’re extinguished by not grasping:
that’s who I call a brahmin.


#2

Maybe it is the shore reached after cutting across the stream? As in 36 torrents of lust?


#3

Attaining Nibbana is compared to crossing the ocean in SN 35.229.


#4

Thanks for the sutta reference. That sheds a little more light on what is meant by the “far shore”.


#5

Here’s an example of the raft simile, the vehicle for crossing the flood to the further shore.


#6

The way I understand it is that far shore is a metaphor for Nibbana. It is not a place or anything where someone or consciousness goes. Rather it is the end of all defilements which fuels a continuity. This is the meaning even MN.98 attests to with such terms as “no clinging, deathless, gone past delusion and transmigration” etc. In short it is the end of consciousness by not establishing on any sense stimuli.
With Metta


#7

“Bhikkhus, I will teach you the taintless and the path leading to the taintless. Listen to that….

“Bhikkhus, I will teach you the truth and the path leading to the truth…. I will teach you the far shore … the subtle … the very difficult to see … the unaging … … the stable … the undisintegrating … the unmanifest … the unproliferated … the peaceful … the deathless … the sublime … the auspicious … … the secure …. the destruction of craving … the wonderful … the amazing … the unailing … the unailing state … Nibbāna … the unafflicted … dispassion … … purity … freedom … the unadhesive … the island … the shelter … the asylum … the refuge … …”

“Bhikkhus, I will teach you the destination and the path leading to the destination. Listen to that….

“And what, bhikkhus, is the destination? The destruction of lust, the destruction of hatred, the destruction of delusion: this is called the destination.

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#8

I like the analogy of crossing a large body of water to reach a far shore. There is that sense of adventure and challenge, also needing to learn skills like navigation, and reading the conditions.


#9

I remember now an article on this subject.

‘That bhikkhu lets go both the near and far shores’: meaning and metaphor in the refrain from the uraga verses

Abstract

The uraga (‘serpent’) verses are some early Buddhist stanzas, preserved in different versions, each with the refrain (in Pāli at Sn vv.1–17) so bhikkhu jahāti orapāraṃ, urago jiṇṇam iva tacaṃ purāṇaṃ , ‘That bhikkhu lets go both the near and far shores, like a serpent its worn-out old skin’. The meaning of orapāra , ‘near and far shores’, has posed a problem for ancient and modern commentators, because according to the usual metaphor of ‘crossing the flood’ the bhikkhu lets go the ‘near shore’, which is saṃsāra, to reach the safety of the ‘far shore’, which is nirvāṇa. I discuss some commentarial and recent discussions of the refrain, before presenting two possible solutions to this problem: first in terms of the old binary cosmology, whereby the bhikkhu lets go the ‘near shore’ of this world and the ‘far shore’ of the other, and second in terms of the ‘stream of the Dharma’ metaphor, in which the bhikkhu lets go the ‘near shore’ of the subjective sense spheres and the ‘far shore’ of the objective sense spheres. I conclude with a consideration of metaphor in the uraga verses refrain, and how the refrain may be an example of early Buddhist non-dualism.

:anjal:


#10

So with the non-duality interpretation, the near shore would be the eye (for example) and the far shore would be visible form?


#11

Yes, the snake chapter is interesting, but the metaphor of the far shore seems to be used very differently in that Sutta than in almost all others.


#12

It sounds like there are many descriptive terms, similes and metaphors use to point at Nibbana like fingers pointing at the moon. However, it seems like all of them in isolation and perhaps even all of them together ultimately fall short of completely capturing Nibbana just as a finger pointing to the moon can’t actually touch or hold it.

That said, Bikkhu Bodhi squarely addressed the question of whether Nibbana is simply the extinguishment of defilements or more. Not sure I agree with all of his interpretations, but it appears that he’s citing the EBTs in this section of his essay on nibbana. I wish there were citations in the essay to the EBTs, but here’s the text from the relevant section.

"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. Dhammas are of two types, conditioned and unconditioned. A
conditioned dhamma is an actuality which has come into being through causes or
conditions, something which arises through the workings of various conditions. The
conditioned dhammas are the five aggregates: material form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. The conditioned dhammas do not remain static. They go through a ceaseless process of becoming. They arise, undergo transformation and fall away due to its conditionality.

However, the unconditioned dhamma is not produced by causes and conditions. It has the opposite characteristics from the conditioned: it has no arising, no falling away and it undergoes no transformation. Nevertheless, it is an actuality, and the Buddha refers to Nibbana as an unconditioned Dhamma…

The section goes on to reference other EBTs that suggest that Nibbana is more than the ending of defilements only. For example, Bhikkhu Bodhi references the following terms used in the EBTs to describe Nibbana: Ayatana, which means realm or sphere; dhatu, which means element as in deathless element; and pada, which means state as in deathless state.

Bikkhu Bodhi’s assertions can probably be critiqued as virtually any assertion can be. However, these EBT references seem to show that Nibbana cannot be summed up, contained, or fully described in a simple statement like Nibbana is just the ending of the defilements. Seems like we all can agree Nibbana includes the ending of defilements. However, the question remains is that all Nibbana is?

Fortunately, the Buddha gave us many pointers directing us toward Nibbana. However, most of us can probably agree that this question can only be fully answered upon experiencing Nibbana. This conclusion seems strong given the Buddha’s teachings that the truth is subtle, difficult to understand and beyond the scope of reason.


#13

“The one who has come to rest, is he then nothing?” said venerable Upasīva,
“or is he actually eternally healthy?
Please explain this to me, O Sage,
for this Teaching has been understood by you.”

“There is no measure of the one who has come to rest, Upasīva,” said the Gracious One,
“there is nothing by which they can speak of him,
when everything has been completely removed,
all the pathways for speech are also completely removed.” - SuttaCentral

Then Venerable Ānanda went up to Venerable Mahākoṭṭhita, and exchanged greetings with him. When the greetings and polite conversation were over, Ānanda sat down to one side, and said to Mahākoṭṭhita:

“Reverend, when these six fields of contact have faded away and ceased with nothing left over, does anything else exist?”

“Don’t put it like that, reverend.”

“Does nothing else exist?”

“Don’t put it like that, reverend.”

“Do both something else and nothing else exist?”

“Don’t put it like that, reverend.”

“Do neither something else nor nothing else exist?”

“Don’t put it like that, reverend.”

“Reverend, when asked these questions, you say ‘don’t put it like that’. … How then should we see the meaning of this statement?”

“If you say that ‘when the six fields of contact have faded away and ceased with nothing left over, something else exists’, you’re proliferating the unproliferated. If you say that ‘nothing else exists’, you’re proliferating the unproliferated. If you say that ‘both something else and nothing else exist’, you’re proliferating the unproliferated. If you say that ‘neither something else nor nothing else exist’, you’re proliferating the unproliferated. The scope of the six fields of contact extends as far as the scope of proliferation. The scope of proliferation extends as far as the scope of the six fields of contact. When the six fields of contact fade away and cease with nothing left over, proliferation stops and is stilled.” - SuttaCentral


#14

Hi Brooks
It is interesting how we have come back to this discussion again. We had a lengthy discussion about this earlier and here is the link.

You can find my detailed response on Dec 18.

Looking forward to your comments, I remain
With metta


#15

As often, should I dare say always, the dhamma is not aiming at defining what is but what has to be done to remove dukkha. Nibbāna is not to be understood but to be realised by using the 8FP to remove the asavas. What Nibbāna is for one who has realised it will be known to her without needing an explanation and this knowledge has no value before that.


#16

Perhaps, but their is a reasonable curiosity in wanting to understand the goal of all this practice.


#17

Yes providing one does not focus on the end result but on the practice of eliminating the asavas bit by bit.

Meanwhile if you are interested having some understanding of nibbana I strongly recommend the 33 sermons by Bhikkhu K Ñāṇananda.
Here is the link to the 1st set: http://seeingthroughthenet.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Nibbana_Vol_1-1.pdf


#18

Hi Nimal. Thanks for your thoughtful response, including the one in the other thread you reference. There, it sounded like your view on Nibbana was summed up as: “Nibbana can[not] be understood to be anything other than just ending of formations sankhara .” Is this an accurate summation of your answer to the question of “What is Nibbana, exactly?” I just want to make sure I’m not misquoting you before responding.

Regarding Bhikkhu Bodhi’s words “Nibbana is an existing reality”, it sounds like we’re in agreement that that exact statement is probably not in the Nikayas. Personally, I would not use those words when attempting to describe what I “think” Nibbana is. My main point in referencing Bhikkhu Bodhi’s essay was that there are suttas that say Nibbana is more than the ending of defilement, formations, and/or suffering.

That said, as @alaber suggests, it seems like Nibbana cannot be fully defined and described in words, and that it can only be fully understood when experienced. Moreover, as @Polarbear’s sutta reference illustrates, proliferation often gets in the way of the goal and understanding Nibbana – the unproliferated.

The primary reason I initially posted this topic was in response to some comments I’ve seen over the years that seem to suggest that Nibbana can be described, defined and summed up in one short statement such as, “simply the ending of the five aggregates”. That sounds like annihilation if taken out of context of the suttas as a whole. Also, it seems like if that were true, the Buddha would have only needed to use one such short statement to describe Nibbana, and he would have used that statement every time.

However, the Buddha used various statements, similes and metaphors to describe the culmination of the path. Moreover, as in the sutta Polar Bear references wherein the Buddha is describing one who has attained Nibbana, “There is no measure of the one who has come to rest, Upasīva,” said the Gracious One, “there is nothing by which they can speak of him."

Thank you everyone for your responses. Warmly,


#19

Absolutely. This is my understanding based on how I understand dependent origination.

The above statement states the first statement in different words. Aggregate is collection and a collection comes to be because beings due to ignorance take mental stands as “I” with regard to experience. As a result they keep concatenating their experiences by grasping them with greed or hatred. This is delusion. In Kaccanagotta Sutta the Buddha says he avoids the two extremes - anihilationism and eternalism - and preaches the middle way which is a reference to DO.

The above is perfectly in alignment with my understanding.
A measure or pathway for speech is needed for describing something that exists. If there is nothing to measure or describe one does not need a measure or language because there is nothing to describe.
The same idea is found in the Mahanidana Sutta too (DN.15) which I quote below.
“This is how far the scope of language, terminology, and description extends; how far the sphere of wisdom extends; how far the cycle of rebirths continues so that this state of existence is to be found; namely, name and form together with consciousness”.

Again, this confirms my understanding. Proliferation here is a reference to thinking and pondering based on stand “I” taken with regard to the six senses.
When one realizes the nature of sankhara these doubts disappear.
With Metta


#20

Thanks, Nimal, for responding. Sounds like you’re suggesting that “there is nothing” when speaking of Nibbana. Seems like we’re in agreement that Nibbana is not something, but not sure if we’re in agreement that it’s not nothing either? Of course, we don’t need to be in agreement. I’m just trying to understand what we’re debating, if in fact we’re debating at all.

Along those lines, a relevant statement, which sums up at least part of my current understanding of Nibbana based on the EBTs, experience and practice is as follows: “Nibbana is neither something nor nothing, but beyond words and mental proliferation.”

best wishes for you,