1. I know of several “Buddhist” groups who try to “stop” thoughts, believing that is what happens at the Arahant stage of Nibbāna, 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 Nibbāna than the Mahayaṃists.
- 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 ānāpāna meditation too; see, “What is Ānāpāna?“.
- 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 Nibbāna arise because the true meanings of some key Pāli words that the Buddha used are misunderstood. We have discussed how Mahāyāna forefathers twisted the concept of sunyata (emptiness) because they could not understand the concept of Nibbāna; 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 Pāli words are misinterpreted and also mis-translated. Buddha’s teachings were delivered in Māghadhi language and made to a form suitable for verbal transmission in the Pāli language (“Pāli” 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 nirōdha, 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:
- Nirōdha comes from “nir”+”udaya”, where “nir” means stop and “udaya” means “arise”. Thus nirōdha 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 “saṅkhāra”; 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 Pāli 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 “nirōdha”.
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 “saṅkhāra” because we do not comprehend the true nature of the world (avijjā or ignorance) and thus cling to things in this world with “tanha”; see, “Taṇhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance”.
- We can begin to see with clarity when we get rid of tanha and avijjā via removing lōbha (greed), dōsa (hatred), and mōha (delusion) from our minds gradually; this is also a “khaya” process for such defilements (“āsava”), where we gradually remove these three defilements (āsava) from our minds; see, “The Way to Nibbāna – Removal of Āsavā”. When a mind is pure (i.e., all āsava are removed), it does not do any saṅkhāra and thus no “sankata” can arise. At that stage, one has attained “nirōdha” of any future “arising”, i.e., one has attained Nibbāna.
7. Now let us take some famous verses from the Tipiṭaka and see how the meanings come out naturally, without effort:
- The third Noble truth is “dukkha nirōdha sacca” (here “sacca” is pronounced “sachcha”; sacca is truth), i.e., that suffering can be stopped from arising. Most people misinterpret “dukkha nirōdha 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 nirōdha: “ni” + “rōda”, where “rōda” means wheels; this nirōdha 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 Nibbāna is removal of the causes that could lead to future suffering.
8. This is why the Nibbāna is of two kinds: “saupadisesa Nibbāna” and “anupadisesa Nibbāna”.
- When a person attains Nibbāna, it is called saupadisesa Nibbāna 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 nirōdha samapatti for up to 7 days at a time.
- When that person dies, there is no rebirth and Nibbāna is “complete”; this is called anupadisesa Nibbāna. Suffering ends permanently.
9. Finally, not absolutely everything in this world of 31 realms is sankata or saṅkhāra. Absolutely everything is denoted by “dhamma”, which includes sankata (saṅkhāra) 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 Saṅkhāra (Sankata)”.
- This is why the Buddha’s last words were, “vaya Dhamma saṅkhāra, appamadena sampadetha“, or “All perishable Dhamma are saṅkhāra (or sankata); thus strive diligently and identify “san” (“san” + “pā” “détha“)”.
- From beginning-less 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 Brahmā, 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 nirāmisa sukha in Nibbāna.
- By the way, Nibbāna 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., nirōdha of sankata automatically leads to Nibbāna.