1. I know of several “Buddhist” groups who try to “stop” thoughts, believing that is what happens at the Arahant stage of Nibbana, i.e., they believe that the Buddha spent 45 years of his life trying to teach people how to stop thoughts, which is an even worse interpretation of Nibbana than the Mahayanists.
- When we are in deep sleep or are unconscious, we do not “think thoughts”. Does that mean we attain Arahanthood during such times?
- What the Buddha advised was to stop immoral thoughts, and to ENCOURAGE moral thoughts; that is how one purifies the mind. This is what one does in the correct anapana meditation too; see, “What is Anapana?“.
- The reality is that an Arahant‘s thoughts are crystal clear (and pure), because they are devoid of defilements. Their memory is actually enhanced.
- Stopping all thoughts can lead to loss of perception and memory.
2. Many misconceptions about Nibbana arise because the true meanings of some key Pali words that the Buddha used are misunderstood. We have discussed how Mahayana forefathers twisted the concept of sunyata (emptiness) because they could not understand the concept of Nibbana; see, “What is Sunyata or Sunnata (Emptiness)?”.
3. There are several key words in Buddha Dhamma that need to be comprehended without even the slightest change. Most of these misconceptions arise because such key Pali words are misinterpreted and also mis-translated. Buddha’s teachings were delivered in Maghadhi language and made to a form suitable for verbal transmission in the Pali language (“Pali” means “lined up”). Many times problems arise when people try to use Sanskrit translations as originals and try to interpret those Sanskrit words.
4. Three such words are anicca, dukkha, anatta: see, “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta – Wrong Interpretations”. Three more such words are nirodha, khaya, and vaya. In this case the three words have apparently similar, but very different meanings. Let us look at the origins of these words:
- Nirödha comes from “nir”+”udaya”, where “nir” means stop and “udaya” means “arise”. Thus nirodha means stop something from arising. In Buddha Dhamma anything happens due to one or more causes. Thus if one does not want something to happen, one should remove the causes for it, and thus stop it from arising.
- “San” causes anything in this world to arise via “sankhara”; see, “What is “San”? – Meaning of Sansara”. However, anything that arises is subjected to the natural law of decay; this “khaya”.
- “San” and “khaya” go together: As explained in “What is “San”? – Meaning of Sansara”, “sankhya” in Pali or Sinhala means numbers, and “san” means adding (or multiplying) thus contributing to “building or arising” and “khaya” means subtracting (or dividing) and thus leading to “decay or destruction”.
- Things that undergo this “arising” and “destruction” are called “sankata”. Everything in this world is a sankata.
5. Anything that arises in this world (a sankata) starts decaying (“khaya”) from the moment it starts arising. For example, when a baby is born, all the cells in the baby’s body would have died in a couple of months, but more cells are born than those died; until that baby becomes a young person of around twenty years of age, more cells arise in a given time than decayed. Thus the baby “grows” into a young person, and then things are sort of in balance until about forty years of age, and then the “khaya” process starts dominating and person slowly starts to get weaker. Eventually, that person dies or destroyed; this is “vaya”.
- Once starts arising, a sankata cannot be stopped; it needs to undergo its natural process of growing, come to an apparent stationary state (but not stationary even momentarily), and eventually is destroyed. If someone commits suicide, this life may end, but that unspent energy starts a new life right away. Thus all one can do is to stop something from arising. This stopping of a sankata via removing its causes is called “nirödha”.
6. A “sankata” is anything in this world that arises due to “san” and decayed inevitably (khaya), and is eventually destroyed (vaya). Any living being is a sankata and arises due to “san”. We acquire “san” via “sankhara” because we do not comprehend the true nature of the world (avijja or ignorance) and thus cling to things in this world with “tanha”; see, “Tanha- How we Attach via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance”.
- We can begin to see with clarity when we get rid of tanha and avijja via removing lobha (greed), dosa (hatred), and moha (delusion) from our minds gradually; this is also a “khaya” process for such defilements (“asava”), where we gradually remove these three defilements (asava) from our minds; see, “The Way to Nibbana – Removal of Asavas”. When a mind is pure (i.e., all asava are removed), it does not do any sankhara and thus no “sankata” can arise. At that stage, one has attained “nirodha” of any future “arising”, i.e., one has attained Nibbana.
7. Now let us take some famous verses from the Tipitaka and see how the meanings come out naturally, without effort:
- The third Noble truth is “dukkha nirodha sacca” (here “sacca” is pronounced “sachcha”; sacca is truth), i.e., that suffering can be stopped from arising. Most people misinterpret “dukkha nirodha sacca” as “existing suffering can be stopped”. Our current life is a sankata that was caused by PREVIOUS causes; this life and any associated suffering CANNOT be stopped, and need to undergo its natural cause until death. That is why an Arahant (or even a Buddha) feels suffering due to past kamma (old causes).
- However, an Arahant has stopped FUTURE suffering from arising. This is indicated by another meaning of nirodha: “ni” + “röda”, where “röda” means wheels; this nirodha also means “taking the wheels off of the sansaric (rebirth) process”. There is no rebirth with a physical body that could result in old age, sickness, and death. Thus Nibbana is removal of the causes that could lead to future suffering.
8. This is why the Nibbana is of two kinds: “saupadisesa Nibbana” and “anupadisesa Nibbana”.
- When a person attains Nibbana, it is called saupadisesa Nibbana because that person is still “in this world of 31 realms”; he/she still has a body that needs to undergo its natural destruction; but one can still experience the Nibbanic bliss by getting into nirodha samapatti for up to 7 days at a time.
- When that person dies, there is no rebirth and Nibbana is “complete”; this is called anupadisesa Nibbana. Suffering ends permanently.
9. Finally, not absolutely everything in this world of 31 realms is sankata or sankhara. Absolutely everything is denoted by “dhamma”, which includes sankata (sankhara) AND nama gotta. Here nama gotta are the “records” of all events of all beings in the mental plane that are truly permanent; see, “Difference Between Dhamma and Sankhara (Sankata)”.
- This is why the Buddha’s last words were, “vaya Dhamma sankhara, appamadena sampadetha“, or “All perishable Dhamma are sankhara (or sankata); thus strive diligently and identify “san” (“san” + “pä” “détha“)”.
- From beginningless time, we all built a new sankata each time the old sankata got destroyed. We do this uncountable times DURING each lifetime and also at death: we have been brahmas, devas, and humans countless times, but we have spent much more time in the four lowest realms. Thus in his last words the Buddha advised us to stop this senseless rebirth process which is filled with so much suffering, and to attain the permanent happiness of niramisa sukha in Nibbana.
- By the way, Nibbana is the only “entity” that does not ARISE due to causes; it is “asankata” (“a” + “sankata” or “not sankata” or “not conditioned”) because it does not have causes. It is reached via ELIMINATING THE CAUSES for everything that arise due to causes, i.e., nirodha of sankata automatically leads to Nibbana.