Revised September 15, 2017; July 1, 2018; June 15, 2020; September 17, 2021
1. Another critically important aspect of Buddha’s teachings that have been lost is the importance of the nirāmisa sukha. There is happiness in giving up sensory pleasures, hate, and ignorance (by learning Dhamma), called nirāmisa sukha. That is a part of Dhamma that many people do not realize.
2. Contrary to another misguided perception we have today, the Buddha never said that there is no āmisa sukha (sense pleasure) to be had. The only reason why people cling to this world is BECAUSE of the sensory delights that are available.
- What the Buddha said is that such sense pleasures are transient, not lasting. Even if one inherits a fortune and lives in luxury the whole life, suffering is inevitable in the next life or next life. The real suffering (dukkha) is in the four lowest realms (apāyā).
- Nirāmisa sukha is present where there is no suffering.
- Nirāmisa sukha is the relief one gets if one had been suffering from a chronic headache all through life and went away at some point.
- In a way, we are all living with a baseline “chronic headache” that we don’t even realize. We have gotten used to it and don’t even realize that we have a headache. Only when that ever-present “stress” goes away, that one starts feeling the “reduced stress” of nirāmisa sukha. That is the real inspiration for trying to attain the higher stages of Nibbāna.
3. The nirāmisa sukha has a different quality compared to āmisa sukha or the pleasures from the senses that we all enjoy. It is also different from the jhānic pleasures in quality. Jhanic pleasure is better than sensory pleasures (as the meditators know), and nirāmisa sukha is of even better quality.
- Both āmisa sukha and jhānic pleasures are transient, not lasting.
- The nirāmisa sukha increases as soon as one starts on the Noble Eightfold Path and becomes permanent at the Arahant stage.
4. It is essential to realize that nirāmisa sukha cannot be attained by “just giving up things” or by leaving everything behind and going to seclusion. That is another misconception that many people have.
- The Buddha never asked anyone to give up their lifestyle. There were wealthy people and even kings who attained the Sotāpanna stage and up to the Anāgāmi stage while living a “householder life.”
- There is no point in giving up everything; even when one gives to charity, one needs to make sure one has enough left for oneself and family. Fulfilling one’s responsibilities is as essential as being charitable.
5. The “giving up worldly things” needs to come through a proper understanding of the real nature of “this world.” Many people gave up worldly things and became bhikkhus, but only after seeing the fruitlessness of craving for material things.
6. It is the nature of the mind that it has to see the benefit or pleasure of something before embracing it.
- One may force the mind to “forcibly give up” some sensory pleasures, but one cannot sustain that effort. “Giving up” happens automatically with the realization of anicca/anatta nature. See, “
- The mind has to “see” that there is a better option than the āmisa sukha or sense pleasures. When one starts on the Path and starts living a moral life, one will gradually see the nirāmisa sukha emerge.
7. The Buddha gave a simile to explain this effect. When people took to the oceans to look for new lands in the old days, they took caged birds. When they got lost, they released a bird. The bird would fly around and would come back to ship if it did not see land.
- The same is true for the mind. It will not latch on to something new (nirāmisa sukha) unless it is better than the one it already has (āmisa sukha).
- As the reader Siebe points out (June 30, 2018), the points in #6, #7 are discussed in the “Cūḷadukkhakkhandha Sutta (MN 14)“. A reasonable translation at: “14. Lesser Discourse on the Stems of Anguish“.
8. Yet, in the beginning, it takes some time for the nirāmisa sukha to be noticeable. We have lived with clouded minds for so long that it takes a little while to “clean things up.”
- It is like developing a new technology these days. Initially, it is difficult to get started; one must make a concerted effort to “stay in.” But once the public realizes the benefits of the technology, it starts to take off: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_life_cycle
- But unlike a new technology, once the nirāmisa sukha starts increasing, it never comes down (after the Sotāpanna stage).
- It makes “quantum jumps” big sudden changes) at the Sotāpanna stage and the other three subsequent stages, becoming complete and permanent at the Arahant stage. However, even an Arahant will experience the results of previous kamma vipāka and have PHYSICAL ailments that will still cause suffering until life comes to an end.
9. The difference between āmisa and nirāmisa sukha is explained in the “Nirāmisa Sutta (Samyutta Nikāya 36.31)“.
- The “English translation” and the “Sinhala translation” — as well as translations in several other languages — are also available at the Sutta Central site. That is the case for most suttā, so it is a helpful resource.
- However, one needs to keep in mind that many key Pāli words are mistranslated there. That includes translating anicca as impermanence and anatta as “no-self.”
10. The Nibbānic bliss is different and is the absence of both āmisa and nirāmisa sukha.
- Nibbānic bliss is the total absence of ANY type of suffering. Ven. Sariputta explained that in the Nibbānasukha Sutta (AN 9.34).
- The status of an Arahant is not understandable to anyone just starting on the Path. It is better not to think that far at the beginning because that could lead to confusion.
Next, “What are Rupa? Relation to Nibbāna“, ……….