Revised September 15, 2017; July 1, 2018; June 15, 2020
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 sense pleasures, giving up hate, and giving up ignorance (by learning Dhamma), and that is called nirāmisa sukha. This 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 sense pleasures 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, the suffering is inevitable in the next life or next lives. The real suffering (dukkha) is in the four lowest realms (apāyā).
- Nirāmisa sukha is present where there is no suffering.
- It can be compared to the relief one gets if one had been suffering from a chronic headache all through one’s life if it 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 there is a “better state”. Only when one starts feeling the “reduced stress” of nirāmisa sukha, one realizes that. 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 the sense 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 starts increasing as soon as one starts on the Noble Eightfold Path and becomes permanent at the Arahant stage. Furthermore, this whole progression up to the Arahant stage can be attained in this very life.
4. It is important to realize that nirāmisa sukha cannot be attained by “just giving up things” or by leaving everything behind and going to seclusion. This 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 one’s family. Fulfilling one’s responsibilities is as important as being charitable.
5. The “giving up worldly things” needs to come through a true understanding of the real nature of “this world”. Many people did give up worldly things and became bhikkhus, but only after they saw the fruitlessness of craving for worldly 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 “give up” some sense pleasures, but that cannot be sustained. Most people who try to do that out of ignorance (misunderstanding of Dhamma) actually end up becoming dissatisfied and giving up the effort.
- The mind has to “see” that there is a better option compared to the āmisa sukha or sense pleasures. When one starts on the Path and start living a moral life one will gradually see the nirāmisa sukha emerge.
7. The Buddha gave a simile to explain this effect. In the old days, when people took to the oceans to look for new lands, they took caged birds with them. When they were lost or wanted to find whether they were close to land, they released a bird. The bird would fly around and come back to ship if no land is found.
- 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 has to make a concerted effort just to “stay in”. But once the benefits of the technology are realized by the public, 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 ever (after the Sotāpanna stage is reached).
- It makes “quantum jumps” (instantaneous big changes) at the Sotāpanna stage and the other three subsequent stages, and becomes complete and permanent at the Arahant stage. However, even an Arahant will experience the results of previous kamma vipāka and will 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 useful resource.
- However, one needs to keep in mind that many key Pāli words are translated incorrectly 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 comprehensible to anyone just starting on the Path. It is better not to investigate that at the beginning, because that could lead to confusion.
Next, “What are Rupa? Relation to Nibbāna“, ……….