October 25, 2021; revised #4 on October 27, 2021
1. We covered a lot of material in the recent few posts about “original of the world” (loka samudaya) and “origin of suffering” (dukkha samudaya.”) See, “Paṭicca Samuppāda, Tilakkhana, Four Noble Truths.”
- As we saw, the Buddha equated the world’s origin (with each new birth in the rebirth process) as the origin of suffering. That is because even if that particular existence (e.g., a Deva realm) may not have extreme suffering, the possibility of suffering in the future (in a lower realm) is there.
- We used direct Pāli quotes from relevant suttas in those posts.
- Some people (justifiably) stress out just seeing Pāli words. Here, I want to provide a summary in simple English to clarify the key conclusions.
- I want to do that because the concepts discussed in those posts are contrary to the views/perceptions of an average human. Once comprehend the key message, they can go back and review those posts. They may also want to carefully go through the suttas to ensure that I have not distorted a single verse.
- I welcome thoughtful discussions based on the Tipiṭaka. If my writings are contradictory to anything in the Tipiṭaka, please provide references, and discuss them. Understanding the primary message of the Buddha is ESSENTIAL before trying to follow his path to Nibbāna!
The Suffering Buddha Referred to – In the Rebirth Process
2. Many people go to meditation retreats to get rid of the daily stresses of life by calming the mind. There is nothing wrong with that. However, Buddha’s teachings are there to tackle a much bigger problem.
- That problem is the unimaginable suffering in the rebirth process that is inevitable for all those who have not understood the “wider world view” of the Buddha.
- The Buddha described a world consisting of 31 realms, out of which an average human is aware of only two: the human and the animal realms. He taught that our lives don’t end with the death of this physical body. We can be reborn anywhere in the 31 realms, but most rebirths are in the four lowest realms (apāyās,) where the level of suffering can be much higher than that we can see in the human and animal realms.
- We will address the validity of that “wider worldview” in the next post. Let us finish our summary of recent posts.
Suffering Is Inevitable in the World and Absent in Nibbāna
3. The main two conclusions for the previous two posts are the following:
- Both suffering and sensory pleasures are present in the world of 31 realms, i.e., in the rebirth process among the 31 realms. The higher realms have more happiness than suffering, while the suffering in the lowest four realms is unbearable. Since any given living being spends most of the time in the apāyās, suffering dominates this world.
- There is no suffering or sensory pleasures in Nibbāna (after the death of an Arahant.) Nothing of this world exists in Nibbāna. In terms of the language of mathematics, “this world and Nibbāna are mutually exclusive.” Material objects, feelings and perceptions about them, etc., all belong to this world, and NONE of them exist in Nibbāna. Even a Buddha cannot “describe” what is in Nibbāna because we don’t have that terminology in this world. The only way to conclusively describe Nibbāna is to say that there is no suffering in Nibbāna; that is how the Buddha ALWAYS described Nibbāna.
- Another critical point is that Nibbāna is also, “rāgakkhayo dosakkhayo mohakkhayo—idaṁ vuccati nibbānan” ti OR “the ending of rāga, ending of anger/hate, and ending of ignorance/delusion is Nibbāna.” See, for example, “Nibbānapañhā Sutta (SN 38.1).”
- Equating Nibbāna to rāgakkhaya provides a CRITICAL clue to our current discussion. We will discuss that in #7 below.
4. Only an Arahant in Nirodha Samāpatti can experience the complete “Nibbānic bliss” (total absence of suffering.) An Arahant can stay in Nirodha Samapatti only for up to seven days at a time. During this time, the physical body of the Arahant appears to be dead (even the heart stops beating), but kammic energy maintains the body temperature.
- However, one can experience more and more of the “Nibbānic bliss” as one proceeds up the four stages of magga phala. That “reduced level of mental stress” has been referred to as “cooling down of the mind” in the Tipiṭaka.
- On the other hand, bodily suffering (aches, injuries, sicknesses, etc.) will persist until the death of the physical body of an Arahant. That is because even an Arahant has to live in this world until the demise of the physical body. With the death of the physical body, an Arahant departs from this world. That is Parinibbāna or “full Nibbāna.” No more rebirths in this world and no more suffering!
The Reality of any Existence in This World
5. We all would like to live a “comfortable and pleasurable life” among our friends and family. But the reality is that no one has been able to sustain that EVER. Anyone who ever lived had to give up everything at death. We would not even know where we would be reborn.
- After some years, we may be reborn with a human body if more kammic energy remains in this human bhava. Until then we will only have the “mental body” or the “gandhabba kāya.” Of course, even then, we don’t know exactly where that birth would be.
- If there is no more kammic energy left in the human bhava, we have no idea where we will be reborn. That depends not only on how we lived this life but also on what types of kammic energies have been accumulated in previous lives.
- However, those who have attained stages of Nibbāna would have eliminated rebirths in lower realms. A Sotapanna would not be reborn in the four lowest realms (apāyās.) A Sakadāgāmi would be born only among the six Deva realms. An Anāgāmi would be reborn only in certain Brahma realms. They all will attain full Nibbāna within a relatively short time.
Importance of Becoming a Sotapanna
6. Most people cannot imagine that there can be suffering in the realms above the human realm. But we all can clearly see the suffering in the human and especially the animal realm. The animal realm is the only apāya that we can see. The Buddha has described the suffering in the other three lowest realms, and those descriptions are scary. That is why the main goal of a Buddhist is to attain the Sotapanna stage.
- Most humans cannot even fully understand the suffering we experience in the human realm because their minds are “covered” by anticipated bouts of “future pleasures” that one hopes to achieve. But anyone can see the suffering in the animal realm. Since a Sotapanna would avoid rebirth in all four lowest realms, that should incentivize one to attain the Sotapanna stage.
- Once getting to the Sotapanna stage, one will begin to see the suffering in the human realm. But a Sotapanna may still have the perception that life in a Deva or a Brahma realm could be good.
- Therefore, for anyone below the Sotapanna stage, there is no need to comprehend suffering in higher realms. But the point is that life in that higher realm WILL end, and one WILL end up in the lower realms.
- The only REQUIREMENT to attain the Sotapanna stage is to understand the “wider worldview of the Buddha.” The Buddha said that just that understanding (or getting to the correct worldview) would remove an unimaginable amount of defilements. It is the removal of defilements by clear vision (“dassanā pahātabbā“) in the “Sabbāsava Sutta (MN 2).” We can see that from a different perspective too. Let us discuss that first.
“Rāgakkhayo Nibbānan” – Nibbāna Is Ending of Saṁsaric Travel
7. Without exception, the current English translation of “rāga” is “greed.” However, “greed'” is “lobha.” Furthermore, have you ever wondered why Nibbāna is NOT defined as “lobhakkhayo dosakkhayo mohakkhayo—idaṁ vuccati nibbānan” ti? That would be the logical choice there since the three immoral roots are lobha, dosa, moha.
- The correct “pada nirutti” (etymology) of “rāga” comes from “rā” + “agga” where “rā” means to “travel (in the saṁsaric journey)” and “agga” is to “give priority.” Thus, “rāga” means to “travel (the saṁsaric journey)”. Here, one may not even believe in rebirth but would still enjoy the world as long as it lasts. In other words, anyone craving things in this world would have some type of rāga.
- Rāga arises because one believes there are pleasures to be had in this world (i.e., one believes the world to be of nicca nature.) But one would NOT do highly immoral things with just rāga. Specifically, kāma rāga needs to escalate to lobha for immoral actions to take place.
- The saṁsaric journey is among three types of loka: kāma loka, rupa loka, and arupa loka (with the 31 realms distributed among these three.) As explained in Paṭicca Samuppāda, one’s birth will be according to one’s cravings for things in this world. When one has kāma rāga, one will be born among the 11 realms in the kāma loka. Those who have (at least temporarily) overcome kāma rāga (and cultivate rupāvacara jhāna) may still have rupa rāga and thus will be born in the 16 realms in rupa loka. Those who have overcome kāma rāga and rupa rāga (and cultivate the arupāvacara jhāna) will be born in one of the four realms in the arupāvacara loka.
- To attain Nibbāna, one must permanently overcome all three types of rāga, and thus “rāgakkhayo nibbānan.“
8. The relevant point to our discussion is the following: If one can understand the material in the previous two posts in this series, one would realize that future suffering is INEVITABLE unless the rebirth process is stopped. “The suffering-filled world” will keep arising at death.
- Please read that again and contemplate on it. The Buddha said that arising of any new birth (anywhere among the 31 realms) means the suffering has not stopped.
- Samsaric suffering (future suffering in the rebirth process) will not stop until one comprehends this KEY POINT.
- That is the same as understanding the “wider worldview of the Buddha” of the rebirth process among the 31 realms.
- One becomes a Sotapanna Anugāmi when starting to understand that critical point. When that understanding takes root in the mind irreversibly, one would attain the Sotapanna stage at that moment.
- That is the removal of defilements by clear vision (“dassanā pahātabbā“) mentioned in #6 above per Sabbāsava Sutta (MN 2.) That is the Noble Sammā Diṭṭhi (“Noble Correct View”) of a Sotapanna.
A Sotapanna Starts on the Noble Eightfold Path with Sammā Diṭṭhi
9. It is at that point one can start on the Noble Eightfold Path as a Sotapanna. All others below the Sotapanna Anugāmi stage are still on the mundane eightfold path (a Sotapanna Anugāmi WILL become a Sotapanna.) The Mahācattārīsaka Sutta (MN 117) discusses the two eightfold paths; see, “Mahā Cattārisaka Sutta (Discourse on the Great Forty).”
- In the “Dutiyasāriputta Sutta (SN 55.5)” the Buddha discussed the Sotapanna stage with Ven. Sariputta. The Buddha asked, “‘Sotāpanno, sotāpanno’ti hidaṁ, sāriputta, vuccati. Katamo nu kho, sāriputta, sotāpanno”ti? OR “Sāriputta, they speak of ‘a Sotāpanna’. Who is a Sotāpanna?”
- Venerable Sariputta replied: “Yo hi, bhante, iminā ariyena aṭṭhaṅgikena maggena samannāgato ayaṁ vuccati sotāpanno, svāyaṁ āyasmā evaṁnāmo evaṅgotto”ti. OR “Bhante, someone who has embarked on the Noble Eightfold Path is a Sotāpanna,” and the Buddha consented.
10. Furthermore, in several suttas Sammā Diṭṭhi is described as, “understanding the truth about suffering.”
- That “previously unheard truth about suffering” is that “the origin of suffering is the origin of the world (with each rebirth)” as we discussed.
- For example, in the “Saccavibhaṅga Sutta (MN 141)“: “Katamā cāvuso, sammā diṭṭhi? Yaṁ kho, āvuso, dukkhe ñāṇaṁ, dukkhasamudaye ñāṇaṁ, dukkhanirodhe ñāṇaṁ, dukkhanirodhagāminiyā paṭipadāya ñāṇaṁ, ayaṁ vuccatāvuso: ‘sammā diṭṭhi’.
- As we saw, “dukkha samudaya” is the same as “loka samudaya;” “dukkha nirodha” is the same as ““loka nirodha;” “dukkhanirodhagāminiyā paṭipadā” is the same as “lokanirodhagāminiyā paṭipadā.”
- That is “dukkhe ñāṇaṁ” or the knowledge on the Noble Truth about suffering.
It Is a Sotāpanna Who Can Cultivate the Oher Seven Factors on the Noble Path
11. Therefore, one must first see the “wider worldview of the Buddha” to get to Sammā Diṭṭhi, or “the correct vision about the world.” At that point, one has SEEN the unfruitful/dangerous nature (anicca nature) of this world. That is the same as comprehending the First Noble Truth on suffering. That is also the same as comprehending Tilakkhana (Characteristics of this world) and Paṭicca Samuppāda (how suffering arises due to causes and conditions.)
- A Sotāpanna WILL NOT lose that understanding even through future lives. Even if it takes several more births to complete, a Sotapanna WILL cultivate the remaining seven steps on the Noble Path and WILL get to the Arahanthood.
- That is why understanding the Four Noble Truths/Tilakkhana/ Paṭicca Samuppāda is ESSENTIAL to becoming a Sotapanna Anugāmi first. Sometimes a Sotapanna Anugāmi is called a Cula-Sotapanna, even though that term is not in the Tipiṭaka.
- This turned out to be a long post. But the essence of the Buddha Dhamma is summarized here.