By Mahasi Sayadaw

(From 'Nibbanapatisamyutta Katha' or 'On the Nature of Nibbana',1995)

          Nibbana means extinction or annihilation. What is extinguished or annihilated? The round of suffering in the realm of defilement (kilesa vatta), of action (kamma vatta) and of result of action (vipaka vatta) is extinguished or annihilated. The realm of defilement encompasses avijja, ignorance, tanha, craving, and upadana, clinging or attachment. The realm of action includes both meritorious and demeritorious deeds that contribute to emergence of the endless round of rebirths. The realm of the result of action, usually called kamma result, relates to the consequences of actions, good or bad. Every action produces a resultant of mind, matter, six sense-bases, feeling etc. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking are all manifestations of the result of action or vipaka.

          Failure to grasp at insight-knowledge which recognizes the real nature of existence when a man sees or hears something is ignorance. When he declares that he sees or hears something, he does so with the wrong notion that it is actually his ego that sees or hears. But in fact, there is no ego. This wrong notion deludes one into believing that things are permanent or pleasing or satisfactory. It, therefore, gives rise to craving, which, as it intensifies, develop into clinging. This is how defilement builds up its own empire.

          As soon as clinging to sense-objects develops, efforts must at once be made to satisfy the desire for those sense-objects. The volitional activities or sankhara would start operating. In the present context they may be called kamma-formations, for they are responsible for forming or shaping actions. When, as a result of such formations, death takes place in the course of existence, it is inevitably followed by rebirth, for patisandhicitta, rebirth-linking consciousness, arises soon after cuticitta, death-consciousness. Death is followed by becoming. In other words, a new life begins. This, it may be said, is a resultant (vipaka) of kamma formations which again and again bring forth conscious ness, mind, matter, six sense-bases, contract, feeling, etc.

          Dependent, therefore, on vipaka vatta, there arises kilesa vatta; and dependent on kilesa vatta, there arises kamma vatta. The revolution of these three vattas is incessant throughout the endless round of existence. It is only when insight-knowledge is applied to the practice of noting the phenomena of arising and passing away of the aggregates that Path-consciousness develops and Nibbana is brought near. At this stage, ignorance, with its faithful attendent, defilement, is annihilated. In the absence of defilement, no fresh actions or kammas can be formed. Any residual kamma that happenss to exist after the annihilation of defilement will be rendered inoperative or ineffective. For a Worthy One, ¶ Arahat, no new life is formed after his death-conscious ness There is now a complete severence of the cord of existence which signifies annihilation in sight of Nibbana.

          Hence, the definition of Nibbana runs thus:

                    Nibbati vattamdukkham etthati nibbanam; nibbati vattarndukkham etasmim adhigateti va nibbanam.

                    In Nibbana, the round of suffering comes to a peaceful end. Hence cessation of suffering is Nibbana. In other words, when the Path of an Arahat is reached, the round of suffering ceases.

          Nibbana is, therefore, peace established with the annihilation of suffering. For the sake of brevity, please note only this -- Nibbana is synonymous with absolute peace. Annihilation brings about complete elimination of rounds of defilement, of action and of result of action. The Commentaries say that the state of peaceful coolness or santi is a characteristic of Nibbana. When coolness occurs the ambers of suffering are extinguished. But what is to be noted with diligence is the complete annihilation of the three rounds of defilement, action and result of action which all go to create mind, matter, volitional activities, etc.

          In Ratana Sutta, annihilation is described as quenching the flames. "Nibbanti dhira yathayam padipo," runs the relevant verse in Pali. With men of wisdom like Arahats, all becoming is extinguished in the same manner as light is put out. Their old kammas or actions having come to exhaustion, no new kammas which create new becoming can arise The flame of existence is thus put out.


This page at Nibbana.com was last modified: