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Nibbaana - the summun bonum of Buddhism

JasonJason God EmperorArrakis Moderator
edited April 2006 in Philosophy

What is Nibbaana? Does it exist? Is it merely the cessation of avijjaa? There seems to be so many different questions concerning the summum bonum of Buddhism, and so many conflicting answers depending on what tradition, teacher, and text one chooses to reference. It is simply enough to make one's head spin.

I find the overall debate pretty pointless since everyone seems to be arguing over something which they have yet to attain, however, the Abhidhammattha Sangaha does has some interesting things to say about Nibbaana. On page 315 of the 1968 edition translated by the Venerable Narada Maha Thera it states:
Nibbaana (59)

Nibbaana however is termed supramundane and is to be realized by the wisdom of the Four Paths. It becomes an object to the Paths and Fruits, and is called Nibbaana because it is a departure (ni) from cord-like (vaana) craving.

Nibbaana is onefold according to its intrinsic nature.

According to the way (it is experienced) it is twofold-namely, the element of Nibbaana with the substrata remaining and the element of Nibbaana without substrata remaining.

It is threefold according to its different aspects-namely, Void (60), Signless (61), and Longing-free (62).

Great seers who are free from craving declarfe that Nibbaana is an objective state (63) which is deathless, absolutely endless, non-conditioned (64), and incomparable.

This, as fourfold, the Tathaagatas reveal the Ultimate entities:-consciousness, mental states, matter, and Nibbaana.

In the Abhidhamma Compendium this is the sixth chapter which deals with th analysis of matter.

It's gets even juicier in the notes on page 318:
Nibbana is also derived from ni + (symbol I can't make that looks like a check mark) vaa, to blow. In that case Nibbaana means the blowing out, the extinction, or annihilation of the flames of lust, hatred, and ignorance. It should be understood that the mere destruction of passion is not Nibbaana (khayamattam' eva na nibbaananti vattabbam). It is only the means to gain Nibbaana, and is not an end in itself.

Nibbaana is an ultimate reality (vatthudhamma) which is supramundane (lokuttara), that is, beyond the world of mind and body or the five 'aggregates'.

Nibbaana is to be understood by intuitive knowledge (paccakkha or pativedha ~aana and anumaana or anubodha ~aana). To express both ideas it is stated that Nibbaana is to be realized by means of the wisdom pertaining to the four Paths of Sainthood and that it becomes an object to the Paths and Fruits.

Intrinsically (sabhaavato) Nibbaana is peaceful (santi). As such it is unique (kevala). This single Nibbaana is viewed as twofold according to the way it is experienced before and after death. The text uses a simple but recondite Paali phrase-kaarana-pariyaayena. The Ceylon Commentary explains-the cause for naming it as such with respect to its having or not having the aggregates as the remainder (sa-upaadisesaadivasena pa~~aapane kaaranabhuutassa upaadisesabhaavassa lesena). Adding a note on this term S.Z. Aung writes: "The Ceylon commentaries explain it by pa~~aapane kaaranassa lesena - by way of device of the means (of knowing) in the matter of language" Compendium, p. 168, n. 6.

And, further concerning Nibbaana it states on page 319-20:
60. Su~~ata - Devoid of lust, hatred, and ignorance, or of all conditioned things. Void here does not mean that Nibbaana is 'nothingness'.

61. Animitta - Free from the signs of lust etc., or from the signs of all conditioned things.

62. Appanihita - Free from the hankerings of lust etc., or because it is not longed for with any feelings of craving.

63. Padam - Here the term is used in the sense of an obkective reality (vatthudhamma). State does not exactly convey the meaning of the Paali term. It may be argued whether Nibbaana could strictly be called either a state or a process. In Paali it is designated as a 'Dhamma'.

64. Asankhata - Nibbaana is the only Dhamma which is not conditioned by any cause. Hence it is eternal and is neither a cause nor an effect.

Any thoughts?




  • buddhafootbuddhafoot Veteran
    edited April 2006
    I've always wondered if the desire or craving for reaching englightenment or nirvana is the very thing that will keep us from attaining it.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited April 2006

    I would have to say no, not until the very end of the Path. At the very beginning, and throughout the entire practice until the realization of Nibbaana itself, desire is needed for one to achieve the abandoning of that desire.
    I have heard that on one occasion Ven. Ananda was staying in Kosambi, at Ghosita's Park. Then the Brahman Unnabha went to where Ven. Ananda was staying and on arrival greeted him courteously. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to Ven. Ananda: "Master Ananda, what is the aim of this holy life lived under the contemplative Gotama?"

    "Brahman, the holy life is lived under the Blessed One with the aim of abandoning desire."

    "Is there a path, is there a practice, for the abandoning of that desire?"

    "Yes, there is a path, there is a practice, for the abandoning of that desire."

    "What is the path, the practice, for the abandoning of that desire?"

    "Brahman, there is the case where a monk develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on desire & the fabrications of exertion. He develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on persistence... concentration founded on intent... concentration founded on discrimination & the fabrications of exertion. This, Brahman, is the path, this is the practice for the abandoning of that desire."

    "If that's so, Master Ananda, then it's an endless path, and not one with an end, for it's impossible that one could abandon desire by means of desire."

    "In that case, brahman, let me question you on this matter. Answer as you see fit. What do you think: Didn't you first have desire, thinking, 'I'll go to the park,' and then when you reached the park, wasn't that particular desire allayed?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Didn't you first have persistence, thinking, 'I'll go to the park,' and then when you reached the park, wasn't that particular persistence allayed?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Didn't you first have the intent, thinking, 'I'll go to the park,' and then when you reached the park, wasn't that particular intent allayed?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Didn't you first have [an act of] discrimination, thinking, 'I'll go to the park,' and then when you reached the park, wasn't that particular act of discrimination allayed?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "So it is with an arahant whose mental effluents are ended, who has reached fulfillment, done the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, totally destroyed the fetter of becoming, and who is released through right gnosis. Whatever desire he first had for the attainment of arahantship, on attaining arahantship that particular desire is allayed. Whatever persistence he first had for the attainment of arahantship, on attaining arahantship that particular persistence is allayed. Whatever intent he first had for the attainment of arahantship, on attaining arahantship that particular intent is allayed. Whatever discrimination he first had for the attainment of arahantship, on attaining arahantship that particular discrimination is allayed. So what do you think, brahman? Is this an endless path, or one with an end?"

    "You're right, Master Ananda. This is a path with an end, and not an endless one. Magnificent, Master Ananda! Magnificent! Just as if he were to place upright what was overturned, to reveal what was hidden, to show the way to one who was lost, or to carry a lamp into the dark so that those with eyes could see forms, in the same way has Master Ananda — through many lines of reasoning — made the Dhamma clear. I go to Master Gotama for refuge, to the Dhamma, and to the Sangha of monks. May Master Ananda remember me as a lay follower who has gone for refuge, from this day forward, for life."

    - SN LI.15


  • edited April 2006
    Good posts, Elohim.

    It's difficult to have anything to add, except a passing thought that its impossible to concieve of Nibbana without a thoroughgoing awareness of the first and second noble truths. This speaks to the danger of forming views (miccha ditthi, which are based in aggregated being), I think. Any false ditthi, it seems to me, is little more than a failure of comprehension of the first and second noble truths (and so, consequently, the latter two). In other words, we preclude an intuition of the possibility of Nibbana or a path to Nibbana by conceiving somehow that there is some other loophole in suffering and/or its causes. For instance, if we think that only death is the problem, we may wish to live forever. This ignores the causes of suffering, and though it be a wish for deathlessness and the eternal, it is unwisely misdirected at what is never deathless, is non-eternal, and what will be for us an endless round of suffering by our ignorance. It is similar with the opposite kind of view, that if we think only life is the problem, we may oppose life through mortification, also in ignorance of the real problem and the real causes of the problem.

    So I think, probably, though we be bewildered to directly grapple with the meanings of Nibbana, to have even the beginning of an intuition of Nibbana, we have to apply ourselves rather in striving to understand suffering in ourselves and its causes in ourselves and work to cut these short in ourselves; via, hopefully not too paradoxically, the eightfold path (Of course in all these matters, "right view comes foremost").

    in friendliness,
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