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(Nirvana in Sanskrit)

( 26th May 1997 )

Venerable Dhammasami

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          I am using the term 'Discuss' particularly here because in one of the discourses given by the Buddha, which we all know as Mangala Sutta, the Buddha has said that anyone who wishes to be successful, needs to follow the thirty-eight guidelines. They cover all aspects of life such as education, employment, marriage, social interaction and spiritual progress.


          There are two points from the Sutta that I wish to highlight here. One is 'Kalena Dhammasavanam' which means to listen to Dhamma talks from time to time. Another is 'Kalena Dhammasakaccha' meaning discuss the Dhamma as the opportunity arises. When listening to the Dhamma talks, one gets to know more things, and there may be something, which one is not clear about. So one needs to discuss things to make things clear. That is why today I specifically use the term 'Discuss'.

         In Burmese culture once a monk finishes his sermon, the lay people say, "Sadhu" (well done) three times as a gesture of approving what he has said and thanking him for the talk, without being sure of whether they understood the sermon or not. There are times when the monk inadvertently says some thing wrong. Still the laity say, "Sadhu".

          So here when one listens to a sermon, the first factor 'Kalena dhammasa vanam' is fulfilled. However, the second one 'Kalena dhammasakaccha' is usually not met in Burma. This is a missing factor in our Burmese Buddhist culture. We therefore need to incorporate this element into our culture. It is with this intention that I have been using the term 'Discuss'.



          Next, I would like to discuss a Nibbana. We always say in our prayers that we aspire to reach Nibbana, which is the highest goal. What is Nibbana? It is very difficult to explain. Before we talk about what is like, I would like to point out one misinterpretation and one wrong usage in Burmese culture relating to Nibbana and its concept.

          Buddhist Canonical texts refer to the thirty-one planes of existence, such as the realm of humans, of gods and goddesses, and of Brahma etc. Some describe Nibbana as the highest plane above all those thirty-one planes. Nibbana is not an existential plane. Some time people say in their prayers that they would like to reach the golden city of Nibbana and conceptualise it as a city like Birmingham, London, Manchester or countries like U.S.A, U.K. or Switzerland.

          In the Shan culture, too, people do have this concept of golden city of Nibbana. So people start believing that Nibbana is purely a place, city or country totally free from all kinds of sufferings or with all enjoyable pleasures, and we have to travel to get there. This is entirely a misconception. Nibbana is just an experience.

          The ideas of an ordinary person have been conditioned. Our way of thinking is mainly conditioned by the dualistic tendency of judging things as either pleasant or unpleasant, positive or negative, like or dislike, permanent or impermanent. There are Eight Worldly Things (Loka Dhamma ) half of which belong to the pleasant and the other to the unpleasant experience. It means our way of perception is confined to one or other of these.

          People in ancient India thought that indulgence in sensual pleasure was a way to freedom from suffering. On the other hand, the opponents of this idea said that torturing yourself, refraining from all the normal way of behaving is the way to liberation from suffering. You can see that they belonged to one or other of the two extremes. Some said in those days that life terminates at death while other believed that life goes on eternally. This is still the case for many people even nowadays.

          Our emotion is also largely governed by this dualistic tendency. We jump for a joy when being praised and we resent, even develop aversion when being criticised. Therefore, joy and aversion are two dualistic stands that exclude each other.

          Nibbana cannot be understood in terms of dualistic tendency. The Buddha abandoned it and found a new path known as Middle Way, which is not a compromise between the two, but the total transcendence of them. Since the way to Nibbana is not dualistic in approach, Nibbana should and could not be understood in dualistic way of approach.

          What is then Nibbana? The Buddha said, "Ragakkhayo dosakkhayo mohakkhayo" meaning the extinction of clinging (attachment), aversion (anger) and ignorance is Nibbana. Here on earth if once we have eradicated three evils, which are the roots of all other evils, it means we attain Nibbana. Nibbana is not a place but a state of mind where there is no such defilement to disrupt or disturb peace. Peace of mind continues without any hindrances.

         Nibbana is grammatically a combined word 'Ni' (cessation) + 'bana' (attachment) which means the total cessation of attachment to anything, any one, any idea. At the age of 35, the ascetic Gautama became enlightened and we call him the Gautama Buddha. From that time, he started experiencing Nibbana. The technical term for the Nibbana experienced while being alive is 'Sa-upadisesa-Nibbana*?

          While meditating, when we feel tired, painful, or tingly, how do we react? We develop resentful feelings, we become very uncomfortable. In the absence of them, we feel comfortable. So comfortable and uncomfortable! Why we are caught in the cycle of this dualistic tendency? It is because we lack Sati, (awareness) of them at the time they are there, because we are not mindful of those feelings i.e. their existence at that present time.

          The only ones constantly mindful of things every second are the Buddha and the Arahats. In the Buddhist monastic judiciary system, if a monk is deemed and declared by the judge to be in constant awareness, all allegations against him are nullified. (It says, "Sati vinayo" mean a court case that is solved through constant awareness found in the accused.) The message is that if a person is always mindful or aware of everything he or she is free from the dualistic tendency.

         The Maha Satipatthana Sutta, a major discourse on meditation mentions two words 'Sato, sampajano' (Sato — awareness, sampajano — clear comprehension) which say if there is mindfulness you come to comprehend all that you are experiencing. Knowing comes through awareness.

          When pain arise, we contemplate the pain. That is Sato (being aware). We are aware of the existence of the pain at the time it is existing. With the presence of the mindfulness, feelings of aversion or resentment will not arise. The pain does not create more suffering. The pain normally creates resentful attitude towards the object. But it might develop attachment to feeling as well, not to the pain itself, but as you want to get rid of it and go for comfortable one, you are indirectly attached to comfortable feeling which is absent at that time while at the same time feeling uncomfortable for the pain you are experiencing.

          When Sati (awareness) is there, both aversion and attachment do not arise. This is meditation of mindfulness on feeling (Vedana-nupassana). When we continue practicing the three qualities of mind are developed the ability to be aware (Vinnyana), to comprehend (Mana) and to think (Citta).

         In meditation, instead of getting angry when there is a reason to do so, we try to experience anger through developed mindfulness. When anger is experienced, then it can be understood. Anger is 'Dukkha Sacca' (the truth of suffering). To be mindful of it, to experience it, to understand it, is the way leading to the end of suffering.

          Instead of reacting to the pain, if we just watch it mindfully, we become more patient. The pain can no longer easily overtake and drag you on and on. It can no longer create more suffering. When experiencing it through mindfulness, you come to know as it is. When we know something as it is, sound as sound, pain as pain, thinking as thinking, feeling as feeling, we can free our selves from the dualistic tendency. To transcend this dualistic tendency means transcending the normal worldly condition itself. It is called 'Lokuttara' — the supramundane state of mind especially when transcendence becomes lasting.

          Therefore, when those conditions — pain, anger, attachment etc. — are no longer conditioning you, the state of mind in which one is in is unconditioned. It is called Asankhatadhamma (Unconditioned State). That is Nibbana. Nibbana (Neitban in Burmese) is not Loka (worldly, Lawka in Burmese), it is Lokuttara (something other than worldly). It is a wrong usage by our Burmese artists, authors and composers to use the word 'Lawka neitban in Burmese. Loka (worldly experience) and Nibbana are totally different altogether. In Buddhist philosophy, they cannot be used together.

          However, Nibbana, which is the end of the worldly experience, cannot be and must not be sought outside the world. It is in this world itself. That is why the Buddha told a monk that in this fathom long body there is the world, the cause of the world, the end of the world (Nibbana) and the way leading to the end of the world. By travelling, one does not reach the end of the world. Nevertheless, without reaching it, He (the Lord Buddha) said Nibbana could not be attained. May you all be happy!

          * Nibbanic experience enjoyed while five aggregates (corporeality, feeling, perception, volitional activities and consciousness) is still functioning.


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