Nibbana – Is it Difficult to Understand?

Revised December 6, 2016 (#9); Re-revised December 20, 2016 (#1) 

Our distresses and sufferings are due to our defiled minds. As one purifies one’s mind, one starts experiencing Nibbana.

  • I advise reading through any post one time without clicking on the links first; once you get the main concept, then the links can be used to clarify the other related key concepts.
  • Nibbana may not be easy to attain, but it is easy to figure out what it is. You don’t need complex concepts like emptiness (sunyata) and Bodhi citta to describe or to understand Nibbana.

1. The Buddha said we suffer because of the defilements we have in our minds: greed, hate, ignorance, and other mental qualities that arise from them. Nibbana has many synonyms, and “Nivana” (“cooling down”) is one that conveys the above idea better; Nivana , which is also called “niveema“,  conveys the same idea as niramisa sukha.

  • As one moves away from hate, greed, and ignorance, one can feel oneself “cooling down” INSIDE. Nibbana (“Nib“+”bäna“, where “bäna” means bonds) and thus Nibbana means break free of bonds that makes one bound to the 31 realms.
  • I like the word Nivana or niveema, because it conveys the benefits of the Path as one experiences gradual “cooling down” until it becomes complete at Nibbana; see, “How to Taste Nibbana“.
  • In order to “cool down”, we first need to know what is “burning” (“thäpa” in Pali); our minds are constantly burning due to greed, hate, and ignorance, and we don’t even realize this; see the “Living Dhamma” section and specifically the post, “Satipattana Sutta – Relevance to Suffering in This Life“.
  • This “burning” is really worse in the lowest four realms or the “apayas“. Thus one really needs to understand the first Noble Truth about suffering, in order to realize the value of Nibbana. There are several posts at various levels on the real, deeper meaning of what the Buddha meant by “suffering in this world of 31 realms”.
  • Our sufferings are masked by the apparent sense pleasures, which do not last. A Sotapanna understands suffering better than a normal person, and as one gets to higher stages of Nibbana one will be able to see the meaning of the First Noble Truth even more clearly.

2. The key point is that one CAN start feeling “nivana” RIGHT NOW. Nivana is experienced by giving up the ten defilements (see, “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala)“). One does not have to get rid of all of them at once, and that is not advised either. One should get rid of the BIGGEST ones that can be easily gotten rid of.

  • Killing, stealing, lying (and gossiping, slandering, verbally abusing), engaging in sexual misconduct, and being intoxicated (not just with alcohol or drugs, but also with wealth, power, etc.) are the first to be considered.
  • Just abandon the relatively easy ones first for a few weeks and experience the “nivana“, the ease of mind, the “inner peace”, that comes from that. That is the biggest incentive to continue on the Path.
  • One needs to understand the relative weights associated with dealing with animals and humans, and also there are different levels among the humans. For example, it is very difficult to be born human; thus even saying a hurtful thing to a human (especially to an Ariya or a Noble One), could have thousand-fold kammic weight compared to killing an animal; see, “How to Evaluate Weights of Different Kamma“.
  • Another key concept is that one does NOT need to worry about the past kamma. The role of kamma has been exaggerated; see, “What is Kamma? Is Everything Determined by Kamma?“.  Nibbana is not attained via removal of kamma, but removal of asavas or cravings; see, “The Way to Nibbana – Removal of Asavas“.
  • The main thing is not to repeat the same mistakes. The more one stays away from the ten defilements, it automatically BECOMES easier. It is like pushing a stalled car: initially hard, but becomes easier when it starts moving.

3. Nibbana is NOT removing everything from the mind, just removing the defilements: Nibbana is ragakkhaya ( greed elimination), Nibbana is dosakkhaya (hate elimination), Nibbana is mohakkhaya (delusion elimination); those three are more synonyms for Nibbana.

4. The suffering is a direct result of having a “material aspect” associated with the mind: that material body is subject to decay and death. The mind gets associated with a body that it gets “attached” to with greed, hate, and ignorance.  If you look at the 31 realms of “this world” (see, “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma“):

  • it is clear that suffering is there in the lowest five realms — including the human realm — where all three (greed, hate, ignorance) can be present; the bodies of beings in these realms are, in general, dense and are subject to decay and diseases. Of course there is unimaginable suffering in the lowest four realms.
  • However, human realm (#5) is unique, because one COULD attain Nibbana as a human, even though they are also subject to bodily pains, decay, and diseases.
  • In the Deva lokas (realms 6-11), hate is not there and suffering is less. And the bodies of devas are less dense and not subject to physical ailments (until death of course).
  • In the Brahma lokas (realms 12-31), both hate and greed are absent, and suffering is even less; they have very fine bodies and no physical ailments.
  • However, since ignorance is there in all 31 realms, complete, absolute state of happiness is absent anywhere in the 31 realms. Even if one is born in a deva or  Brahma world, one will eventually end up in the lowest four realms (unless one has attained the Sotapanna or a higher stage of Nibbana).
  • This is the key message of the Buddha: He said that suffering never ends as long as one  keeps coming back to “this world of 31 realms” when one dies (i.e., unless one attains Nibbana); and the suffering could be unimaginably intense in the lower realms.

5. Therefore, one could visualize a gradual decrease of suffering as one gets rid of hate, greed, and ignorance in that order. And one CAN experience this happiness called niramisa sukha  in this human life itself, all the way up to Nibbana; see, “Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Niramisa Sukha“. That is the uniqueness of a human birth.

6. When the mind “starts thinking” about a given thought object (arammana), say a visual object, it starts as “just seeing”; this is the citta stage. But within a fraction of a second, the mind starts adding defilements (based on greed, hate, ignorance), if that object is “of interest”.

  • It develops further thoughts defiled by greed, hate, ignorance (possibly a combination) by going around and around that thought object and ends up in the “defiled thought” (vinnana) stage even before one realizes it; this is described in paticca samuppada; see, “Paticca Samuppada – “Pati + ichcha” + “Sama + uppada“, and the links below that. Vinnana is a citta that is defiled by raga (greed), dosa (hatred), moha (ignorance).
  • Paticca samuppada, which is Buddha Dhamma, is discussed in detail in the series, “Paticca Samuppada in Plain English“.

7. When raga, dosa, and moha are removed from the mind, cittas become pabhasvara (bright); there is no more defilements there clouding the cittas.  At this stage, it is said that the pure citta “sees Nibbana”.

  • After one attains Nibbana with one citta, the cittas fall back to the “normal state” and the person lives like a normal human (but without doing anything with greed, hate, and ignorance) until the kammic energy of the kamma seed that started the present life is exhausted.
  • At death (called Parinibbana), the mind of an Arahant does not grab (upadana) another kamma seed (even if there may be many kamma seeds), and thus there is no further rebirth. The mind becomes free of a “body” that can be subjected to decay and death. That is Nibbana or “complete Nivana” or “complete cooling down”.

8. We are bound to this rebirth process basically due to two causes: avijja and tanha. First version of tanha is lobha, the strong greed, which could easily turn to dosa (strong hate) when someone else gets in the way. Thus those two causes of avijja and tanha effectively become three: lobha, dosa, moha.

  • Even though dosa arises due to lobha, dosa brings about the worst vipaka: rebirth in the niraya (hell), where the suffering is optimum. Thus dosa actually has origins in the 4 greed-based “somanassa sahagata, ditthi sampayutta citta“.  When ditthi is removed at the Sotapanna stage, all four of these greed-based citta stop arising. Thus at that stage, lobha and dosa become raga and patigha, which are removed successively at the Sakadagami and Anagami stages. Avijja keeps reducing at each stage of Nibbana, and is removed at the Arahant stage.
  • When the mind is devoid of raga, dosa, and moha, the mind (and thus cittas) become devoid (sunya) of them; that is the purified state of a citta, anidassana vinnana (consciousness devoid of defilements) or panna (wisdom). 
  • The forefathers of Mahayana Buddhism could not grasp the concept of Nibbana, so they came up with misleading descriptions including that of Sunyata: see, “What is Sunyata or Sunnata (Emptiness)?“.

9. When raga, dosa, moha are removed, a citta stops going around and around a given thought object (arammana). This “wheeling” is what fuels the sansaric journey. Thus stopping this process is called “taking off the wheels of the sansaric vehicle”.

  • The Pali (and Sinhala) word for vehicle is “riya”, and stopping of the “riya” is called “Ariya”; one who has taken the wheels off the vehicle for the sansaric journey is called an “Ariya”. Thus contrary to popular usage, “Arya” is not the word for a Noble Person, it is Ariya.
  • Therefore, it is clear that “Ariya” has nothing to do with a race, “Arya”.
  • Furthermore, “viriya” (“vi” + “riya“) means staying away from the “wheeling process” (and the effort to do so). Therefore, viriya really means actively engaging in Satipattana and Anapanasati; see, “Satipattana Sutta – Relevance to Suffering in This Life“.

10. Anyone who has at least attained the first stage of Nibbana, i.e., Sotapanna, can be called an Ariya, or a Noble Person. This is because the “asavas” or deep-seated cravings that a Sotapanna has removed stay permanently removed even in any future lives.

  • All the asavas are removed at Nibbana; thus “Asavakkhaya” (elimination of asavas) is another synonym for Nibbana. People who had been in the lowest social ladder or lowest caste at the time of the Buddha were able to became Ariyas or Noble Persons.

11. When one sees Nibbana, one’s mind does not crave for anything “in this world” of 31 realms. There is nothing for the last citta (cuti citta, pronounced “chuthi chittha”) of this life (at death) to grab (nothing to upadana) and to start a new birth in “this world”, and the mind becomes totally free.

Thus an Arahant will not be reborn in “this material world” of 31 realms (see “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma”), i.e., one attains Parinibbana. He/she is simply “gone” from “this world” of 31 realms. The suffering stops permanently. The mind become PERMANENTLY pure and be detached permanently from any type of physical body, dense or fine.

  • Thus it is quite clear WHAT Nibbana is: it is the stopping of the rebirth process in the material world. What is hard to understand is WHY stopping the rebirth process can relieve one of all suffering.
  • No matter how much hardship one has endured, one likes to live. This is true for a human or a lowly worm. For any living being, the most precious thing is life. When one starts understanding the “big picture of the Buddha”, one will slowly start seeing the dangers of staying in this endless rebirth process.

Other analyses of Nibbana can be found at, “Nirodha and Vaya – Two Different Concepts” and “Difference Between Giving up Valuables and Losing Interest in Worthless“, …………

Continue to “What is San?“…..

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