August 12, 2016; Revised December 21, 2016
I have changed the title of this post from “Niramisa Sukha to Nibbāna Suva – The Key Step”.
One needs to experience a “peace of mind” or “cooling down” (Niramisa sukha) before starting on the Noble Path to Nibbāna; the transition to the Sotāpanna stage happens when one comprehends the anicca nature while experiencing niramisa sukha.
- After that transition, niramisa sukha becomes permanent with the removal of the pancanivarana. 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 basics of pure Buddha Dhamma first. One can start with conventional meditation techniques that are out there, but in order to grasp deeper Dhamma, one needs to seriously start staying 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 niramisa sukha by engaging in a regular anariya metta bhavana. 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 of enjoy books or music came back. However, the niramisa sukha also went away and X’s mind was again burdened and agitated.
- Some people may not even have had experienced such a temporary “cooling down” or niramisa 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 trying to get to the next stage. It is a step-by-step process.
- One needs to get to that stage (where X was) to at least to experience difference between the niramisa sukha and sense pleasures in order to start comprehending anicca nature. It is at that stage that pancanivarana are 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 one is fully immersed in sense 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 somehow gets into a “calmed state of mind” by some way, that one can begin to appreciate the burden of this “constant agitation or incessant distress” that is in the background.
- Through the mediation program, X has begun to appreciate the relief from this “incessant distress” effect due to pancanivarana, and the relief is called niramisa 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 went away.
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 sense pleasures are worth hanging on to. And that feeling is VERY POWERFUL. Even though I have lost the craving for SOME sense pleasures, I still have more left. So, I know how hard it is to get rid of that “nagging feeling” of needing to go back to old ways.
- The only difference is that those desires that I lost are not coming back. There is no “nagging feeling” or an urge of needing to go back to those “lost cravings”.
4. This is why comprehending the anicca nature nature is so important at X’s stage. When one comprehends the anicca nature to SOME EXTENT, one loses the “nagging feeling” to go back to SOME OF THE sense pleasures.
- Only when one truly realizes the dangers (or at least the worthlessness) of a given sense pleasure, that one automatically gave up that sense pleasure. 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 to oneself. One sees the worthlessness of any sense pleasure in the kāma loka only at the Anāgāmi stage. This why it is a step-by-step process.
5. It is like holding onto a gold necklace that was thought to be very valuable. But if it was proven without any doubt that the necklace was an imitation, then one would lose the attachment to it INSTANTLY.
- 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 the sense of 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, mistreating animals, etc. and also getting a pleasure from lying, gossiping, slandering, stealing, sexual misconduct, etc. I am quite sure X never had a tendency for those anyway.
- I also do not want people to get the idea that one needs to lose sense pleasures such as reading books or listening to music in order to become a Sotāpanna, or to experience niramisa 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). This is why no one can say whether another person has attained the Sotāpanna stage.
- A Sotāpanna absolutely 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“.
- My belief is that 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 individual 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.
- 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 bad possible consequences of keeping that habit.
- When one follows the Path, one does not forcefully give up sense 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 to me it is a waste of time just like watching TV. On the other hand, I am now reading more non-fiction books.
- I have also been more productive in my science interests over the past two years too. I have learned the subtleties of quantum mechanics that were not apparent to me even two years ago. Mind becomes much more 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 that 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 for one to first get into this stage of X, where X can see the difference between sensual pleasures (amisa sukha) and the niramisa 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 “Nibbanic pleasure” just because they tend to think in terms of sensual pleasures, i.e., that Nibbanic pleasure is like the pleasure of music, good food, etc. This is why the account of X is so a good an example in pointing out the difference between the two.
- Actually, this is good place to discuss the differences in amisa, niramisa, and jhāna sukha and the Nibbanic suva.
- I reserved the name “suva” for Nibbāna because it is even different from the niramisa sukha. It is an overall state of “well-being”. I have no idea what that is like at higher stages, but right now it is an ever-present calming effect on the body and mind.
- Sense pleasures lead to ämisa (or sämisa) sukha. So, we are all familiar with amisa 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 citta that bring us amisa 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 (“Peleema”) – Key to Dukkha Sacca“. This is what X described in the previous post as, “.. 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 niramisa sukha.
- One can also feel the niramisa 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 samadhi).
11. There is also a higher niramisa sukha that was recommended by the Buddha. That is the sukha arising due to jhānā. When one is in a jhāna, one has citta running through one’s mind that belong to rupa or arupa loka.
- By definition, those citta are also devoid of kilesa or mental impurities.
- Jhanas arise when samadhi is intensified (cultivated) to a certain level.
12. “Nivan suva” or “Nibbanic suva” or “Nibbanic bliss” is due to citta that are even more pure. There is not a trace of incessant agitation or stress left in those citta.
- These citta are also called pabhasvara (bright) citta; see, “Nibbāna – Is it Difficult to Understand?“.
- Also, Sotāpanna will not be able to experience the Nivana suva for that stage, unless he/she can get into Sotāpanna phala samapatti via cultivating jhānā. Still, he/she will not have the niramisa 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 as “immediate kamma vipāka” due to citta 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 in experiencing niramisa 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., pancanivara could be suppressed for days.
- However, when one is living a moral life and is engaged in contemplating pure Dhamma, that transition may happen quickly and may be even followed by the Sotāpanna phala moment even without one noticing it at that time. 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“, …..