Revised November 24, 2018; April 26, 2020; November 11, 2022
1. Elsewhere on the site, I have described Nibbāna in a deeper sense. But we can look at the early stages of Nibbāna in a simple way.
- In the Sinhala language (spoken in Sri Lanka), Nibbāna is also called “nivana” or “niveema” (නිවීම). This means “cooling down.” As one moves towards Nibbāna, one feels cooling down, a sense of well-being.
2. Do you remember the last time when you got really mad? How did that feel? You get hot. Whole-body becomes hot and agitated. Blood pressure goes up, and the face becomes dark because the blood becomes dark. By the way, this is clear evidence that the mind can affect the body.
- This “burning up” is called “tāpa” in Pāli (තාප in Sinhala) and is due to greed, hate, and ignorance. “Ātāpi” means the opposite, “cooling down via getting rid of those defilements.” This is what is meant by “ātāpi sampajānō” in the Satipaṭṭhāna sutta; see, “Mahā Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta.”
- When someone can get to the “ātāpi sampajānō” state, one feels calm and “cooled down”; see “Kāyānupassanā – The Section on Habits (Sampajānapabba).”
3. Do you remember how you felt when you made someone happy, either via a good deed or word? You cooled down; it felt good. Didn’t you feel the opposite when you got mad?
- When one acts with greed, “heating up” still happens, may be to a lesser extent than when one is angry. As a kid, I felt heated and uncomfortable when I was stealing something.
- The same is true when one acts with ignorance too. One is unsure whether that is the right thing to do; the mind goes back and forth: is this right or wrong? should I do it or not? This is called “vicikicchā” in Pāli. Because one does not know, one is not certain, one becomes anxious, and the body gets heated up.
4. Thus, when one gives up acting with hate, greed, or ignorance, one becomes less agitated, at ease, and with a sense of peacefulness. This is an early sense of what Nibbāna is.
- When one can see the benefits of cooling down, one will avoid actions done with hate, greed, and ignorance. And one will be looking forward to actions of goodwill, generosity, and mindfulness.
- Avoiding greed, hate, and ignorance is the same as avoiding dasa akusala.
5. Also, note the state of thoughts (citta) in the two opposing situations. When one acts with the defilements, thoughts run wildly; they come fast and are energetic. The “javana” (impulsive power) of thought is high when acting with a defilement.
- On the other hand, thoughts run more smoothly, and the javana (impulsive power) of a given thought is calm when acting benevolently, with kindness, with generosity, and with mindfulness; they are powerful too, but only in making one calm. Thus one can experience a taste of Nibbāna or “cooling down” even at the very early stages of the Path.
6. One could get TEMPORARY cooling down by not letting thoughts run wildly. The easiest to do is to keep the mind on a single focus. This can be done by focusing the mind on a religious symbol or the breath. Thus this “temporary relief” is felt by people of any religion when they contemplate a religious symbol with faith or by doing “breath meditation” or mundane “Ānāpānasati” meditation.
- However, the only way to achieve permanent relief is to gradually REMOVE greed, hate, and ignorance by cleansing one’s mind. This is done by “taking in” (āna) of good thoughts, speech, and actions and “getting rid of” (pāna) defiled thoughts, speech, and actions. This is the Buddha’s ānāpāna meditation that can lead to PERMANENT happiness. See “Is Ānāpānasati Breath Meditation?” Deeper analyses at “Elephant in the Room 3 – Ānāpānasati.”
- When one does this correct “ānāpāna” consistently, one’s bad habits (“gati“) will be gradually removed, and good habits (“gati“) will be cultivated.
- When one removes the defilements to a significant extent, this relief becomes permanent and will not reduce from that state even in future births. This first stage of Nibbāna is called the Sōtapanna stage. A Sōtapanna is guaranteed not to be reborn in the apāyās or the four lowest realms; he/she has removed all “gati” suitable for beings in the apāyās. See “Gati to Bhava to Jāti – Ours to Control.”
7. However, it is impossible to remove greed and hate just by sheer willpower, i.e., forcefully. For example, one cannot get rid of greed even by giving away one’s wealth; if that is done without understanding, it could lead to remorse and hate.
- Instead, getting rid of greed and hate comes AUTOMATICALLY as one understands the worldview of the Buddha: that we cannot maintain anything to our satisfaction in the LONG RUN. This worldview is embedded in the Three Characteristics of “this world” or anicca, dukkha, and anatta.
- Not knowing the Three Characteristics is ignorance or avijjā.
- Even before comprehending the Three Characteristics, one needs to reduce total ignorance (mōha) to the avijjā level by getting rid of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi; see, “Micchā Diṭṭhi, Gandhabba, and Sōtapanna Stage.”
8. This is why Sammā Diṭṭhi, or “correct worldview,” comes first in the Noble Eightfold Path. When one comprehends the true nature of “this world,” one’s mind will AUTOMATICALLY start rejecting thoughts, words, and actions through greed and hate.
- Then Sammā Diṭṭhi (correct vision) will automatically lead to Sammā Saṅkappa (fruitful thoughts), Sammā Vācā (fruitful speech), Sammā Kammanta (fruitful actions), Sammā Ājiva (livelihood), Sammā Vāyāma (efforts in those), Sammā Sati (moral mindset) and then will culminate in Sammā Samādhi (peaceful state of mind). This Sammā Samādhi is permanent for a Sōtapanna.
- Thus it is clear that such a samādhi cannot be attained with breath meditation or any other way of “focusing attention” on one thought object.
- Purification of the mind is the key, and that comes first through reading, listening, and comprehending the true and pure Dhamma.
8. As one follows the Noble Eightfold Path of the Buddha, one can EXPERIENCE a sense of well-being called nirāmisa sukha, which is different from the sensory pleasures; see, “Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Niramisa Sukha?“.
- If you did experience a sense of well-being just by reading this post, that is a good start. That sense of well-being will only grow as the understanding gets more profound. I have gone through this process myself, which is what I am trying to convey to others.
9. September 22, 2016: I have started a new section: “Living Dhamma,” where an experience-based process of practicing Buddha Dhamma (Buddhism) is discussed with English discourses (dēsana). Nibbāna can be experienced at various levels, one needs to experience the earlier stages of nirāmisa sukha first.
- Next, “Need to Experience Suffering in Order to Understand it?“
- A deeper analysis of Nibbāna at “Nibbāna.”