Nibbāna – Rāgakkhaya Dosakkhaya Mohakkhaya – Part 1

February 19, 2021; revised August 5, 2023

Nibbāna is defined as “rāgakkhayo dosakkhayo mohakkhayo—idaṃ vuccati nibbānan’ti”  OR “Nibbāna is the ending of rāga, dosa, and moha.”

What Is Nibbāna?

1. The above verse explaining Nibbāna appears in many suttas. The above quote is from “Nibbānapañhā Sutta (SN 38.1).”

  • There is a stronger version of rāga, i.e., lobha (extreme greed.) Someone with a lobha mindset CAN NOT comprehend the Four Noble Truths. That is why Nibbāna is defined as above.
  • All future suffering arises due to lobha, dosa, and moha. But until lobha is reduced to the rāga level, one cannot comprehend the Noble Truths. See, “Lōbha, Dōsa, Mōha versus Rāga, Patigha, Avijjā.”
  • Someone with a “moral mindset” which has removed the ten types of wrong views NORMALLY has reduced versions of rāga, patigha, and avijjā. However, their mindsets can also be elevated to stronger lobha, dosa, and moha under some conditions (if the temptation is high enough.)
  • Someone who has removed the ten types of wrong views can comprehend the Four Noble Truths and remove avijjā (ignorance about this world’s real nature.) It happens in four stages culminating in the Arahant stage.
  • That is a summary. We will discuss the details below and in upcoming posts.
Nibbāna Defined as Above Is the Ultimate Version

2. What is defined above is the ultimate version of Nibbāna or the “ultimate cooling down” via “eliminating ANY future suffering.”

  • In the previous three posts in this series, I briefly laid out the key (and deeper) foundations of Buddha Dhamma. I did that so that one would see the outline. Of course, more explanations are needed to clarify them.
  • We will gradually clarify those concepts.
  • The way to do that is to realize that we CAN experience the early stage of “cooling down” by gradually reducing lobha, dosa, and moha to the rāga, patigha, and avijjā, AND trying to maintain them there without re-elevating to the lobha, dosa, moha levels.
  • A single Pāli word captures lobha, dosa, moha (and the reduced versions of rāga, patigha, and avijjā.) That word is “san.” See details in the section on “San.”
Sandiṭṭhikaṃ Nibbānan – One Needs to “See Defilements” to Get to Nibbāna

3. One first needs to “see defilements” or “see ‘san’” (san diṭṭhika) to be able to see the path to Nibbāna.

  • That is why the Buddha Dhamma is “sandiṭṭhika.” In the verse that points out the virtues of Buddha Dhamma, “..bhagavatā dhammo sandiṭṭhiko akāliko ehipassiko opaneyyiko paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhīti” it is one of the qualities that makes Buddha Dhamma unique.
  • One can experience the first stages of Nibbāna (cooling down of the mind) by “seeing the dangers of “san” and gradually getting rid of them.
  • That is the Nibbāna that can be experienced in this life! It is easily reached, especially if one can see the drawbacks of “san” (greed, anger, delusion.)

4. That is what the Buddha explained to  Jāṇussoṇi in the “Nibbuta Sutta (AN 3.55).” A reasonable English translation is “Nibbāna (AN 3.55).”

  • Jāṇussoṇi asks the Buddha, “Master Gotama, it is said: ‘Directly visible Nibbāna, directly visible Nibbāna.’ In what way is Nibbāna directly visible, immediate, inviting one to come and see, applicable, to be personally experienced by the wise?”
  • As explained there, a mind with greed, hate, and delusion (ignorance about the real nature) “..experiences mental suffering and dejection.”
  • Thus if one can see the bad consequences of greed, hate, and delusion (or ‘san‘), one can reduce those and reach a “better state of mind.” It is a “cooled state of mind” with less agitation, and would not experience depression.
  • In particular, it is easy to recognize when greed and anger arise in one’s mind. One should make an effort to control them. That is the basis of Ānāpāna and Satipaṭṭhāna meditations: “being mindful.”
  • That is why Nibbāna is directly visible AND can be experienced in this life itself!
Ādittapariyāya Sutta (The Fire Sermon) Is About the “Fire in a Mind”

5. An English translation is “Ādittapariyāya Sutta (The Fire Sermon).” As with all English translations, it is a ‘word-by-word” translation without clarifying what is meant by that “fire.” (see other translations at Sutta Central: “Āditta Sutta (SN 35.28)“)

  • It says, “The eye is burning, forms are burning, eye-consciousness is burning, eye-contact is burning, also whatever is felt as pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant that arises with eye contact for its indispensable condition, that too is burning.” That may not make sense if one does not see that it is ATTACHMENT TO those five things that LEADS to “fires in the MIND.” Those five are associated with “seeing.”
  • Even the direct translation says, “Burning with what? Burning with the fire of lust, with the fire of hate, with the fire of delusion.
  • Such 5 types of “sources of fire” arise with the other senses: hearing, tasting, smelling, body touches, and the mind itself.
  • But all those 30 “sources of fire” ALWAYS lead to “fires in mind.” We MUST note that all 30 types of sensory experiences register in the mind!
  • It is the MIND that will burn (sooner or later) due to the actions one takes (kamma via saṅkhāra) with the desire to seek pleasures with “seeing.’
  • Some of that “burning” will materialize later in this life or even in future lives. That “potential to bring suffering” is deposited as “kammic energy,” and that is also the same as “bhava” (cause for future suffering)! That is a hard part of understanding. But we will get to that.
“Burning” (Tāpa) Has Root Cause in Rāga (Greed) and Dosa (Anger)

6. We attach to things that we like. This “attachment” is described in several ways by the Buddha: icchā, taṇhā, nandi, piya, kāma, etc. When exposed to such ‘likable things” in this world, we become joyful and try to get more of them, even using immoral deeds. Therein lies the problem.

  • Those things in this world that lead to such attachment and joyful feelings are those to which our ignorant minds assign “kāmaguṇa or “characteristics/sources of kāma.” See “Kāma Guṇa – Origin of Attachment (Tanhā).”
  • Even though they may provide temporary joy, they always lead to “heat/burning” (tāpa) in mind.
  • The word “tappati” in the Dhammapada verse in #10 refers to a mind that is “heated/burning.”
Rāga and Dosa – Two Faces of a Coin

7. Rāga and dosa are like the two faces of a coin, and the coin itself is moha (avijjā.) As long as avijjā is there, rāga OR dosa can arise.

  • Dosa (anger/hate/dislike) is the opposite of rāga (and lobha.) There are things that we don’t like in this world. Furthermore, we also dislike/hate people who get in our way in our efforts to seek more sensory pleasures.
  • We tend to evaluate external objects (people or objects) based on their ability to provide us with enjoyment/happiness or whether they appear ugly/distasteful/tend to get in our way. Thus, we tend to put anything into one of those two categories: like/dislike. This is due to the root cause of moha. This explicit “measuring” or ‘evaluation” is “māna.”
  • We do that by “measuring” with the perception of “me” and trying to decide what will enhance “my enjoyment” and minimize “my displeasure.” That is because of our avijjā or ignorance that such behavior will ONLY lead to future suffering.
Moha Is the Root Cause of Rāga and Dosa

8. Sometimes, the mind becomes uncertain (vicikicchā) about what to do. At other times, it becomes perturbed/excited (uddhacca) due to uncertainty about something. In such cases, only moha (or avijjā) is present.

  • In other words, moha is the root cause of rāga, dosa, and all other asobhana cetasika.
  • Furthermore, the deepest level of moha is in māna, uddhacca, and avijjā. Those are removed only at the Arahant stage. It is one of the last five Saṃyojana (bonds to the saṃsāric process) of rupa rāga, arupa rāga, māna, uddhacca, avijjā. 
  • By the way, kāma rāga is removed at the Anāgāmi stage. When one becomes an “Arahant Anugāmi” at the next level, one loses rupa rāga and arupa rāga. It is only at the Arahant stage that one removes the last three: māna, uddhacca, and avijjā. Here, māna and uddhacca are the last traces of rāga and dosa left. Avijja is the last trace of moha removed that breaks ALL bonds to the rebirth process (saṃsāra.)
Avijjā and Taṇhā Go Together!

9. Because of our unwise perception of a “me,” we tend to attach to some things (rāga) and try to stay away from other things (dosa.) Either way, we are ‘mentally bound” to both types. We tend to think about ways to get likable things closer and to keep unlikable things away. Thus, taṇhā is involved in both cases. See “Tanhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance.”

  • It is impossible to get rid of taṇhā as long as we do not comprehend the real nature of this world explained by the Buddha and thereby get rid of avijjā.
  • The first step towards that understanding is to live a moral life and cleanse the mind. That will enable one to comprehend this ‘previously unheard” Dhamma: Why sensory pleasures (kāma) WILL invariably lead to future suffering.
  • Therefore, we need to get to the next step of understanding dasa akusala and dasa kusala.
  • Don’t worry too much about all these Pāli terms. They will become clear as we discuss them further. There is no need to memorize. If you understand the concepts, they will become familiar.
Dasa Akusala and Dasa Kusala

10. The path to Nibbāna is to avoid immoral deeds or dasa akusala (“Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala)“) and to engage in meritorious deeds or dasa kusala (“Dasa Akusala/Dasa Kusala – Basis of Buddha Dhamma.”)

  • The drawbacks of dasa akusala are succinctly stated in the following Dhammapada verse:

Idha tappati, pecca tappati           Agony now, agony hereafter,
pāpakārī ubhayattha tappati.           The wrong-doer suffers agony in both worlds.
Pāpaṃ me katan”ti tappati,          Agonized now by the knowledge that one has done wrong,
bhiyyo tappati, duggatiṃ gato.        One suffers more agony when gone to a state of woe.

  • In the same way, the benefits of dasa kusala will be evident in this life and future lives:

Idha nandati, pecca nandati,          Rejoicing now, rejoicing hereafter,
katapuñño ubhayattha nandati.      The doer of wholesome actions rejoices in both worlds.
Puññaṃ me katan”ti nandati,      Rejoicing now in the knowledge that one has acted morally,
bhiyyo nandati, suggatiṃ gato.       One rejoices more when gone to a state of bliss.

Posts in this subsection at: “Paṭicca Samuppāda – Essential Concepts

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