Peace of Mind to Nibbāna – The Key Step

August 12, 2016; Revised December 21, 2016; August 27, 2022 (note that I wrote this in 2016) 

One needs to experience a “peace of mind” or “cooling down” (nirāmisa sukha) before starting on the Noble Path to Nibbāna; the transition to the Sotāpanna stage happens when one comprehends the anicca nature while experiencing nirāmisa sukha.

  • After that transition, nirāmisa sukha becomes permanent with the removal of the pañcanīvaraṇa. The full explanation will take more posts, but we start here.
  • Many people start meditating without understanding what to meditate on. One needs to learn the basics of pure Buddha Dhamma first. One can start with conventional meditation techniques that are out there. Still, to grasp deeper Dhamma, one needs to stay away from the ten defilements (dasa akusala) as much as possible.

1. In the previous post, “Living Dhamma – Introduction,” we discussed the experience of X. Please read it before reading this post.

  • X had experienced nirāmisa sukha by engaging in a regular anariya Metta Bhāvanā. Even though it led to a relaxed and calm state of mind, X realized that at the same time, the desire to engage in some types of sensual pleasures (reading books or listening to music) went away.
  • Then X stopped meditating for two weeks, and the ability to enjoy books or music returned. However, the nirāmisa sukha also disappeared, and X’s mind was again burdened and agitated.
  • Some people may not have experienced such a temporary “cooling down” or nirāmisa sukha, so I thought of discussing this a bit more before discussing the technical term “kilesa.” It is important to figure out one’s current status before reaching the next stage. It is a step-by-step process.
  • One needs to get to that stage (where X was) to at least experience the difference between the nirāmisa sukha and sensory pleasures to start comprehending anicca nature. At that stage, pañcanīvaraṇa is temporarily lifted, and the mind becomes calm enough to comprehend anicca nature. However, that can happen momentarily during listening to a discourse too.

2. When fully immersed in sensory pleasures, the mental burden that inevitably comes with it is not apparent to that person. We have gotten used to the “mental agitation in the background” and don’t feel it most of the time. Only when one gets into a “calmed state of mind” can one appreciate the burden of this “constant agitation or incessant distress” in the background.

  • Through the mediation program, X has begun to appreciate the relief from this “incessant distress” effect due to pañcanīvaraṇa, and the relief is called nirāmisa sukha.
  • However, the conundrum is that there is a price to pay (if one does not comprehend the anicca nature)! To the dismay of X, the ability to enjoy some favorite sense pleasures disappeared.

3. In very simple terms, this problem arises because X has not comprehended the anicca nature (what we will be doing in this new section is to discuss a step-by-step process that could help comprehend the anicca nature).

  • In X’s mind, those sensory pleasures are worth hanging on to. And that feeling is VERY POWERFUL.
  • Even though a Sotapanna who has lost the craving for SOME sensory pleasures has still more left. So, even a Sotapanna knows how hard it is to eliminate that “nagging feeling” of needing to seek sensory pleasures. Of course, a Sotapanna would not do any apāyagāmi deeds seeking sensory pleasures.

4. This is why comprehending the anicca nature is so important at X’s stage. When one comprehends the anicca nature of SOME EXTENT, one loses the “nagging feeling” to seek some sensory pleasure.

  • Only when one truly realizes the dangers (or at least the worthlessness) of given sensory pleasure will the mind automatically lose that “nagging feeling.” For example, if one likes to go hunting, one will not give it up voluntarily until one starts seeing the bad consequences of that activity. Same for fishing, being an alcoholic or a drug user, etc.
  • Comprehension of the anicca nature comes gradually. One first sees the dangers in immoral sense pleasures. Then one sees the worthlessness in extreme sense pleasures that are not harmful to others but oneself. One sees the worthlessness of any sensory pleasure in the kāma loka only at the Anāgāmi stage. This is why it is a step-by-step process.

5. It is like holding onto a gold necklace that was considered valuable. But if it were undoubtedly proven that the necklace was an imitation, one would instantly lose the attachment to it.

  • Attaining the Sotāpanna stage via comprehending the anicca nature to some extent is like that, i.e., realizing the dangers (and/or worthlessness) of SOME extreme sense pleasures. Even though one may not realize that one has lost the craving for SOME sense attractions, one will realize that within weeks or months.
  • Then, the more one meditates on the anicca nature, the more one starts seeing the perils of other (less harmful) sense pleasures too. That is why one HAS TO proceed step-by-step. Getting rid of ALL kāma rāga (attachment to sense inputs via the body touches, smells, and tastes) happens only at the Anāgāmi stage.

6. However, I must say that X is a bit unusual in losing the desire to read books and listen to music. Those are not really “extreme sense pleasures.” Before that, one will lose the desire to go fishing, mistreat animals, etc., and get pleasure from lying, gossiping, slandering, stealing, sexual misconduct, etc. I am quite sure X never tended to those anyway.

  • I also do not want people to think that one needs to lose sensory pleasures such as reading books or listening to music to become a Sotāpanna or to experience nirāmisa sukha. That is not the case. One could even be a Sotāpanna and still have those two tendencies. I have mentioned a person in the time of the Buddha who became a Sotāpanna but could not get rid of the urge to have a drink (however, he did not live that long after attaining the Sotāpanna stage). No one can say whether another person has attained the Sotāpanna stage.
  • A Sotāpanna would not do only those deeds that could make him/her suitable for rebirth in the apāyā. That means he/she has removed high levels of greed, hate, and ignorance to the levels of kāma rāga, paṭigha, and avijjā; see, Lobha, Dosa, Moha versus Raga, Patigha, Avijja.”
  • I believe X had cultivated anariya jhānā in previous but recent rebirths and is carrying that “gati” to this life. X has described some bodily sensations that are associated with jhānā. This is why it is easy for X to at least temporarily lose attachment to even fairly harmless things like reading books or listening to music.

7. Each person loses a set of characteristics (gati) upon attaining the Sotāpanna stage. One should be able to look back and see what those are, just like X did. And, of course, whether those changes are permanent. (Note that my personal experiences discussed below were as of 2016.)

  • As I mentioned, I have lost the urge to have a drink at the end of the day, which I had been doing for over 30 years. I did not force that, even though I contemplated the possible bad consequences of keeping that habit.
  • When one follows the Path, one does not forcefully give up sensory pleasures, only immoral actions that can hurt other living beings; even X  did not forcefully give up books or music, it just happened. Losing the desire for sense pleasures happens gradually, starting with extremes.
  • I have only lost interest in reading fiction books. I used to read all types of books, but now I am not interested in reading fiction because it is a waste of time, just like watching TV. On the other hand, I am now reading more non-fiction books.
  • Over the past two years, I have also been more productive in my science interests. I have learned the subtleties of quantum mechanics that were not apparent to me even two years ago. The mind becomes much clear as one gets rid of kilesa.
  • So, it is important to realize that one is not supposed to lose all interests. One loses interest in only those activities related to greed, hate, and ignorance. That is a must and should be fairly obvious when one looks back. One loses interest in all worldly affairs only upon attaining the Arahanthood.

8. My point is that it is desirable to first get into this stage of X, where X can see the difference between sensual pleasures (āmisa sukha) and the nirāmisa sukha that arise by at least temporarily suppressing the desire for sensual pleasures via a meditation program.

  • Even more critical than a meditation program is living a moral life, staying away from dasa akusala as much as possible.

9. Many people try to attain “Nibbānic pleasure” just because they think sensual pleasures, i.e., that Nibbānic pleasure is like the pleasure of music, good food, etc. This is why the account of X is so good an example in pointing out the difference between the two.

  • Actually, this is good place to discuss the differences among āmisa, nirāmisa, and jhāna sukha and the Nibbānic sukha.
  • I reserved the name “sukha” for Nibbāna because it differs from the nirāmisa sukha. It is an overall state of “well-being.” I have no idea what that is like at higher stages, but it is now an ever-present calming effect on the body and mind.
  • Sense pleasures lead to ämisa (or sämisa) sukha. So, we are all familiar with āmisa sukha.

10. Niramisa sukha can arise due to a few different causes. They are all beneficial for the Path and to comprehend the anicca nature.

  • Those cittā that bring us āmisa sukha are burdened with kilesa or akusala cetasika (which we will discuss in the next post). These give rise to an agitated mind that is under incessant distress; see,The Incessant Distress (“Pīḷana”) – Key to Dukkha Sacca.” This is what X described in the previous post, “.. I stopped my formal meditation for a few weeks, and I found that I began to get agitated and anxious as before“. When one gets rid of this incessant distress, one feels the nirāmisa sukha.
  • One can also feel the nirāmisa sukha for short times when engaged in moral activities, for example, helping others or giving food to hungry people or animals. Again, this feeling comes because those kilesa are not present in citta (thoughts) that arise during such activities.
  • Another is engaging in Ariya or anariya meditations. Here also, one’s mind is mostly devoid of kilesa (depending on the strength of the samādhi).

11. There is also a higher nirāmisa sukha that the Buddha recommended. That is the sukha arising due to jhānā.  When in a jhāna, one has citta running through one’s mind that belongs to rupa or arupa loka.

  • By definition, those cittā are also devoid of kilesa or mental impurities.
  • Jhānās arise when samādhi is intensified (cultivated) to a certain level.

12. Nivan sukha” or “Nibbānic sukha” or “Nibbānic bliss” is due to cittā that are even purer.  There is no trace of incessant agitation or stress left in those cittā.

  • These cittā are also called pabhassara (bright) citta; see “Nibbāna – Is it Difficult to Understand?” and “Pabhassara Citta, Radiant Mind, and Bhavaṅga.”
  • Also, Sotāpanna will not be able to experience the Nibbānic sukha for that stage unless he/she can get into Sotāpanna phala samapatti via cultivating jhānā. Still, he/she will not have the nirāmisa sukha going away. Whatever relief gained from the “incessant distress” is permanent.

13. We will discuss the kilesa (akusala cetasika) that give rise not only to incessant agitation and stress — but eventually to all sansaric suffering — soon in this series.

  • The incessant distress can be considered “immediate kamma vipāka” due to cittā burdened with kilesa or akusala cetasika. The “delayed effects” of such citta will bring more kamma vipāka at later times, and the more potent ones can bring rebirth in the apāyā.
  • Thus the key step to the Sotāpanna stage is to experience nirāmisa sukha by cleansing the mind via moral behavior (sila) and a good meditation program. Then the mind is open to grasping the anicca nature, i.e., pañcanīvaraṇa could be suppressed for days.
  • However, that transition may happen quickly when one is living a moral life and contemplating pure Dhamma. It may even be followed by the Sotāpanna phala moment without one noticing it then. Different people get there in different ways.
  • But there is much to discuss before discussing the Sotāpanna stage.

Next in the series, “Starting on the Path Even without Belief in Rebirth“, …..

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