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https://buddhistteachings.org/the-state-of-nibbana/

The State of Nibbāna

Etymologically, the term Nibbāna derives from the prefix ni- (‘out,’ ‘without,’ ‘finished’ or ‘ended’), and vāna,
(‘to blow,’ ‘to go,’ ‘to move,’ or in another sense a ‘restraint’)
. It
can be used in relation to fire or burning, meaning extinguishing,
quenching, cooling, or coolness—but not extinction. In reference to the
mind, it means peaceful, refreshed, and happy: an absence of agitation
and anxiety. Similarly, it refers to the end of defilements: of greed,
hatred and delusion. The commentaries and sub-commentaries usually
define Nibbāna as the end of or escape from craving, which binds people
to repeated existence.

When the round of rebirth
(saṁsāra-vaṭṭa)
ends, freedom from rebirth (vivaṭṭa) takes over
immediately and automatically. One does not travel from a place of
saṁsāra-vaṭṭa to a place of vivaṭṭa,
unless speaking figuratively or comparatively. Ignorance, craving and
clinging cease and Nibbāna appears simultaneously in their place. One
can say that the cessation of ignorance, craving and clinging is
Nibbāna.

Ignorance, craving and
clinging disturb the minds of unenlightened people (puthujjana) and
conceal wisdom; they entangle the mind with defilements (kilesa) and
distort vision. When ignorance, craving and clinging cease, luminous
wisdom (vijjā)
arises. With such wisdom one sees all things accurately, not through
the lens of one’s desires. A person’s perception, attitudes and
personality change. A new knowledge and vision arises; things appear
that one has never known, seen or conceived of because they were
concealed in the shadows or because one was obsessed with other objects.
The mind unfolds and expands immeasurably; it is clear, free,
resplendent, peaceful, and profound. When the state of Nibbāna is
reached a person knows this for himself:



Nibbāna is to be
seen for oneself, timeless, inviting one to come and see, to be brought
within and realized, to be experienced individually by the wise.

Siddhartha Buddha GIF - Siddhartha Buddha Xirtus GIFs

Ordinary people are unable to comprehend or imagine the state of
Nibbāna. When encountering new concepts people normally use previous
knowledge as a basis for comparison, and in attempting to understand
Nibbāna they create an image that is a composite of pre-existing
perceptions. Take for example a person who has never heard of an
elephant. On hearing the word ‘elephant’ he may think it is a foreign
word or even an obscenity. Learning that an elephant is an animal, he
may consider all animals, from ants to whales, irrespective of size or
type. The image is clearer when he is told that an elephant is a large
land animal with big ears, small eyes, tusks, and trunk. This image may
be close to reality or far from it; if he were to draw a picture on
paper of what he saw in his mind, it may resemble some bizarre,
mythological beast. Having never seen the real thing, he uses familiar
perceptions to create an elaborate new image. The image will depend both
on the accuracy of the speaker’s descriptions of the object, and on the
listener’s stored perceptions used as components for a new perception.


In the case of something utterly different from anything previously
perceived and thoroughly incomparable, the listener has no way to
conceive of it. If he attempts to understand this thing by means of
familiar concepts and perceptions, the only reasonable way for the
speaker to respond is by negation. Further speculation by the listener,
using stored perceptions for comparison, can lead to misunderstanding.
He may even go so far as outright rejection, accusing the speaker of
deception and claiming that the thing does not exist. Such rejection,
based on unfamiliarity and an inability to conceive of something, would
be ungrounded.


Nibbāna is beyond everything known by ordinary people, surpassing
cognition influenced by ignorance, craving and clinging. It is a state
arrived at directly with the abandonment of defilements, like sliding
back a screen and seeing the sky. Nibbāna has no properties similar to
things known by ordinary people. But claiming Nibbāna does not exist is
incorrect.

Lord Buddha GIF - Lord Buddha Shining GIFs

The following fable has been used to illustrate how the unknown is not necessarily the unreal:


A fish and a turtle were close friends. The fish had spent its entire
life in a lake, whereas the amphibious turtle knew both land and lake.
One day the turtle returned to the lake after a walk on land. He told
the fish how refreshing it was to walk on land, among open fields and a
pleasant breeze. The fish listened for a while perplexed and thought:
‘What is walking?’ ‘What is dry land?’ ‘How can there be happiness
without water? Certainly, it just spells death.’ The fish grew impatient
and interrupted the turtle, seeking clarification. The turtle explained
using earth terms; when the fish inquired with water terms, the turtle
could only reject them. The turtle could not find any terms to use for
comparison and the fish concluded that the turtle was lying, the story
wasn’t true: dry land does not exist and nor do fields, pleasant breezes
or happiness outside of water. The turtle spoke of something that does
exist but it lay beyond the fish’s ken. Since the fish had never been on
land it was unable to understand.


Consider the distinct experience and perception arising from each of
the senses. Sense impressions differ absolutely from each other and are
not comparable: sights cannot be compared with sounds, nor can sounds
with smells. A person blind from birth cannot understand the nature of
green, red, orange, pink or other characteristics of sight, using
perceptual knowledge from other sense bases. Words such as ‘loud,’
‘faint,’ ‘malodorous,’ ‘fragrant,’ ‘sour’ or ‘sweet’ would all be
inadequate. No one can accurately explain to a person born without the
sense of smell the quality of fetid, fragrant, the smell of roses,
citrus or jasmine. Words such as ‘red,’ ‘blue,’ ‘heavy,’ ‘light,’ ‘fat,’
‘thin,’ ‘bitter’ and ‘salty’ would all be unsuitable. Human beings have
five sense organs for cognizing the world’s properties, the sense
objects (ārammaṇa). Knowledge surpassing the domain of mundane
objects will generally remain hidden. Even the five recognized sense
objects are known according to disparate qualities. Lack of familiarity
or an inability to conceive of something is therefore not a guarantee of
its non-existence.

Lord Buddha GIF - Lord Buddha GIFs


Soon after the Buddha’s awakenment, before proclaiming the Dhamma, he had this thought:



The Dhamma that I
have attained is profound, difficult to see, difficult to realize,
peaceful, excellent, not accessible by reasoning, subtle, to be known
by the wise.


This is followed by the verse:



I should not now
teach what I have attained with such
tribulation; this Dhamma cannot be easily realized by those overcome
with greed and hatred. Beings dyed in lust, enveloped in darkness
(ignorance), will not discern that which goes against the current, is
subtle, profound, difficult to see, refined.

Buddha Spirit GIF - Buddha Spirit Lotus GIFs

Despite its complexity the Buddha made great effort to teach and
explain the Dhamma. However, Nibbāna cannot be penetrated by mere
thought. No words or perceptions exist to accurately describe or define
it. Conceptualizing and disputing the subject of Nibbāna only leads to
misunderstanding. The correct way is to apply the teachings so as to
arrive at Nibbāna and see it clearly for oneself. With proper
determination, rather than being ‘inconceivable’ or ‘indescribable,’
Nibbāna is ‘difficult to see, difficult to realize,’ as quoted by the
Buddha above.

The following quote is an affirmation by the Buddha that the
realization of Nibbāna, and other sublime states, can truly occur, when
the ‘eye’ of wisdom opens. Following is the Buddha’s conversation with
the brahmin student Subha. The Buddha refutes the brahmin Pokkharasāti’s
assertion that it is impossible for humans to experience superlative
knowledge and vision (ñāṇa-dassana):

Young man, suppose there were a
person blind from birth who could not see black forms, white forms,
green, yellow, red, or pink forms. He could not see even and uneven
forms, the stars, the moon or the sun. Were he to say that black and
white forms do not exist, and beholders of black and white forms do not
exist; that green forms do not exist, and beholders of green forms do
not exist … that the moon and sun do not exist, and beholders of the
moon and sun do not exist; were he to say ‘I do not know or see those
things, therefore they do not exist’; would he be speaking correctly?’

Incorrectly,’ the young man replied.


The Buddha then continued:



Just so, the brahmin
Pokkharasāti is blind and visionless. That he could know, see or realize
outstanding knowledge and vision, which is competent, excellent and
superhuman, is impossible.’

It is worth noting the expressions the Buddha used when he spoke
about Nibbāna. The definitions of Nibbāna can be summarised in the
following four ways:


By negation:
Those marking the renunciation and
removal of some inferior, unlovely or disadvantageous condition
belonging to the round of rebirth (vaṭṭa). For example: Nibbāna
is the end of greed, hatred and delusion;10 Nibbāna is the cessation of
becoming;11 Nibbāna is the end of craving; and the conclusion of
suffering. Such descriptions also use terms revealing a quality
directly opposite to an attribute of vaṭṭa. For example, Nibbāna is
unconditioned (asaṅkhata), ageless (ajara), and deathless (amata).


By synonym:
Those indicating completion or perfection. For example, santa
(peaceful), paṇīta (excellent), suddhi (pure), and khema (secure).

By simile and metaphor:
Similes are more often used
for explaining the state and traits of a person who has attained Nibbāna
than for Nibbāna itself. For example, the comparison of an arahant to
a bull, leading his herd across the river to arrive at the other
side, or to a person crossing a great ocean filled with dangers and
reaching the shore. The Buddha claimed that it is inaccurate to say an
arahant is reborn (‘reappears’) somewhere, or is not born; he compared
an arahant to a fire that is extinguished because there is no more
fuel. There are some direct similes, for example: Nibbāna is like a
tranquil, pleasant region;like the other shore, secure and free from
danger; and like a message of truth. There are many metaphors, for
example: ārogya (without illness; perfect health), dīpa (an island;
freedom from danger), and leṇa
(a cave; shelter from danger). In later scriptures composed by
disciples there are metaphors referring to Nibbāna as a city, e.g.,
puramuttamaṃ (magnificent city) and nibbāna-nagara (fortress of
Nibbāna)23 used as oratorical and literary terms. Thai idioms include
great deathless citadel (amata-mahānagara-nirvāna), and crystal city,
but these later words are not recognized as terms that reveal the state
of Nibbāna.


By direct explanation: These explanations occur in
only a few places, but they are of much interest to scholars, especially
for those who consider Buddhism a philosophy. The varying
interpretations have given rise to numerous debates. I have presented a
selection below.


Epithets for Nibbāna are occasionally found grouped in a single
passage. Examples of all four kinds of definition are listed below, in
Pali alphabetical order.


Akaṇha-asukka: not black, not white (not confined to social class or caste; neither good nor bad; neither puñña nor pāpa).


Akata: not made; not built.


Akiñcana: nothing lingering in the mind; free from anxiety.


Akuto-bhaya: fearless.


Accuta: immovable; undeparting.


Acchariya: marvellous.


Ajara; ajajjara: ageless; undecaying.


Ajāta: not born.


Anata: not swayed; absence of craving.


Ananta: limitless.


Anādāna: no grasping.


Anāpara: sublime; foremost.


Anālaya: without longing; absence of clinging.


Anāsava: without āsava (effluents/taints).


Anidassana: not seen with the eye; signless.


Anītika: without calamity.


Anuttara: unsurpassed; supreme.


Apalokita (-na): not disintegrating; not dissolving.


Abhaya: free of danger.


Abbhūta: ‘has not been before’; wonderful.


Abyādhi: without disease.


Abyāpajjha: without oppression.


Abhūta: not coming to be.


Amata: deathless.


Amosa-dhamma: imperishable.


Asaṅkiliṭṭha: undefiled.


Asaṅkuppa: unshakeable.


Asaṅkhata: not constructed.


Asaṅhīra: unshifting.


Asoka: sorrowless.


Ārogya: without sickness; perfect health.


Issariya: freedom; mastership.


Khema: security; safety.


Taṇhakkhaya: the end of craving.


Tāṇa: defender; protection.


Dīpa: island; refuge.


Dukkhakkhaya: the end of suffering.


Duddasa: difficult to see.


Dhuva: enduring.


Nipuṇa: subtle.


Nippapañca: without obstructive defilements; without papañca.


Nibbāna: the cessation of defilements and all suffering.


Nibbuti: cooling; the allayment of affliction.


Nirodha: cessation of suffering.


Paṇīta: excellent.


Paramattha: the supreme benefit.


Parama-sacca: the supreme truth.


Pāra: the other shore; safe destination.


Mutti: release; emancipation.


Mokkha: salvation.


Yogakkhema: freedom from bondage.


Leṇa: sanctuary; shelter from danger.


Vimutti: liberation; freedom.


Vimokkha: liberation.


Viraja: stainless.


Virāga: the fading, cooling off, and expiration of lust.


Visuddhi: purity; impeccable.


Sacca: truth.


Santa: peaceful; still.


Santi: peace.


Saraṇa: refuge.


Siva: highest bliss.


Suddhi: purity.


Sududdasa: exceedingly difficult to see.


There are many more references and descriptions for Nibbāna in the
scriptures containing verses by disciples and in the commentaries
(e.g.,
Niddesa, Paṭisambhidāmagga, Theragāthā, Therīgāthā, Apadāna),
as well
as in later scriptures, (e.g., Abhidhānappadīpikā). Examples are
listed below:


Akkhara: imperishable; interminable.


Akhalita: unfaltering.


Acala: unwavering.


Anārammaṇa: free from constraints; independent of sense objects.


Anuppāda: not born.


Apavagga: without formations (saṅkhāra); final emancipation.


Amaraṇa: deathless.


Arūpa: without rūpa; formless.


Asapatta: without enemies.


Asambādha: unconfined; unoppressed.


Kevala: unadulterated; inherently complete.25


Nicca: constant; certain.


Nirupatāpa: free from distress.


Paṭipassaddhi: tranquillity; calm.


Pada: place to be reached; destination.


Para: the beyond; the ultimate.


Pariyosāna: conclusion; goal.


Pahāna: the abandonment of defilements.


Vivaṭṭa: deliverance from the round of rebirth (vaṭṭa); without vaṭṭa.


Vūpasama: stillness.


Some of these terms are very
important, since they are consistently used as definitions for Nibbāna,
for example: asaṅkhata, nirodha, vimutti, virāga, santa and santi.
Other words are used infrequently. Some are used in only one location,
others in two or three locations, so they should not be regarded as
highly significant. They are included here to increase understanding.
The same is true for the translations. They provide some sense of the
meaning, but they might not give a complete flavour as they lack the
supportive context. And most importantly, many terms were familiar to
people in the specific time period, region and community in which the
Buddha taught and the terms were associated with their personal values
or religious beliefs. When the words were spoken, the listeners probably
understood the meaning completely. Sometimes the Buddha used
descriptive words for Nibbāna to facilitate communication while
substituting a new meaning in accordance with Buddha-Dhamma. People
outside of those time periods, places and groups may not completely
understand the meaning of these words.

An important word for describing Nibbāna is asaṅkhata (‘not
constructed’).
Nibbāna does not exist as a result of causes or
conditions. It may be claimed that Nibbāna must arise from causes, since
Nibbāna is the fruit of magga (the Path, the Way) or of
practice in accordance with the Way. This doubt can be answered briefly
by way of analogy: if we compare practice for reaching Nibbāna with
travelling to the city of Chiang Mai, we see that Chiang Mai, which is
the goal of the journey, is not the result of the path or the act of
travelling. Regardless of the road or of travelling, Chiang Mai exists.
The road and travelling are causes for reaching Chiang Mai, but not for
Chiang Mai itself. It is the same with the Path and practice along the
Path, which are causes for attaining Nibbāna, but not for Nibbāna
itself.


Apart from vimutti, there are
many other synonyms that
reveal facets of Nibbāna, as presented earlier. Of all these synonyms,
there are two often-used words that represent important properties:
visuddhi and santi. Visuddhi is purity or cleanness, the absence of
defilements which tarnish and obscure, and the ability to see things
clearly. Santi
is peace, the absence of agitation and affliction, the end of turmoil;
this state of mind is serene, deep, cool, settled, self-reliant, able to
fully experience the fruits of practice, and ready to be employed for
action.

The few passages that explain the state of Nibbāna explicitly are
presented below. In some cases a story is provided in order to give the
context for the Buddha’s words:


1. At one time the Buddha gave a Dhamma discourse to the bhikkhus
concerning Nibbāna. As the bhikkhus were listening intently, the Buddha
uttered this exclamation:



Monks, there exists that sphere (āyatana) where
there is neither the earth, water, fire, or air elements; nor the realm
of infinite space; nor the realm of infinite consciousness; nor the
realm of nothingness; nor the realm of neither perception nor
non-perception; nor this world; nor the next world; nor the moon; nor
the sun. I do not say that that sphere has going, coming, arising,
staying, or passing away. It has neither foundation, nor movement, nor
constraint (ārammaṇa). That is the conclusion of suffering.


2. On another occasion, the Buddha gave a similar teaching to the bhikkhus, and uttered this verse:



Indeed, anata (the
state of not inclining towards birth; being without craving, i.e.,
Nibbāna) is difficult to see. Truth (sacca)
is not easily discerned. Having penetrated craving, and by knowing and
seeing [the truth], there will be nothing lingering in the mind (nothing
to cause mental anxiety).


3. On a similar occasion:



Monks, there is the Not-born (ajāta), Not-become (abhūta), Not-made (akata), Not-constructed (asaṅkhata).
If there were not the Not-born, Not-become, Not-made, Not-constructed,
then there could not be known the escape here from the born, the become,
the made and the constructed. But because there is the Not-born,
Not-become, Not-made, Not-constructed, therefore the escape here can be
known from the born, become, made and constructed.


4. On a similar occasion:



Still being dependent, there is wavering. Not being
dependent, there is no wavering. There being no wavering, there is
tranquillity. With tranquillity, there is no favouring. With no
favouring, no coming and going. With no coming and going, no passing
away and arising. With no passing away and arising, there is neither
this world, the other world, nor a between-the-two. This is the
conclusion of suffering.


5. Another account describes the Buddha correcting the view of
Brahma. In brief, at one time this pernicious view arose in the Brahma
named Baka:



This abode of Brahma is permanent, enduring and eternal.
It is perfect; there is no way for it to perish. This abode of Brahma is
not born; it does not originate, age, die, or pass away. A superior
salvation cannot be found.

The Buddha, knowing Baka’s thought, went to him and said:



Brahma, you have lapsed into ignorance. Therefore, you
claim that which is impermanent as permanent, unstable as enduring, and
uneternal as eternal…and there being a superior salvation, you claim
there is none.


Then Māra possessed one of Brahma’s retinue, who spoke to the Buddha:



Bhikkhu, bhikkhu, do not offend Brahma, do not offend Brahma. This is Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Lord (abhibhū),
the Unvanquished, The All Seeing One, the Omnipotent, the Sovereign,
the Maker, the Creator, Excellence, Providence, the Master, Father of
those born and to be born…


The Buddha admonished Māra, finishing with:



Brahma and all his company and retinue are in your hands,
are in your power…but I have not fallen into your hands, nor am I under
your power.


When Baka maintained:



I have declared the permanent as permanent, the enduring as enduring, the eternal as eternal…


The Buddha announced there are many things that Brahma does not know, including:



The state that can
be known (viññāṇa), not seen with the eyes (anidassana), limitless
(ananta), and all radiant (sabbato-pabhā),
which the solidity of earth cannot hold, the wetness of water…the heat
of fire…the movement of wind cannot hold, the existence of beings…the
divinity of devas…the rule of Pajāpati…the grandeur of Brahma…the
brilliance of the Ābhassara Brahmas…the beauty of the Subhakiṇha
Brahmas…the abundance of the Vehapphala Brahmas cannot hold, the
lordship of the Lord cannot hold, the characteristics of all things
cannot hold.


Baka replied to this by saying that he would vanish from sight, but
he was unable to do so. The Buddha in turn said he would vanish and did
vanish. Brahma and his retinue could only hear his voice speaking:



Having seen the
danger in being, and seen the existence of those who seek non-being
(vibhava), I do not praise any sort of being, nor cling to delight
(i.e., bhavataṇhā: the craving for being).

6. Another story tells of a bhikkhu who travelled through every realm
until he reached the Brahma world, seeking an answer to a question.


This bhikkhu had the following doubt: Where are the four great
elements – earth, water, fire and air – extinguished without remainder?
He then entered a state of concentration and visited the various
deities, beginning with the realm of the Four Great Kings, to pose his
question. Unable to answer him, the gods suggested he go to
progressively higher heaven realms until he arrived at the Brahma world.
The Brahmas too could not answer but said that the Great Brahma, the
Lord, would surely know. With a radiance the Great Brahma revealed
himself to that bhikkhu.


The bhikkhu posed his question to the Great Brahma, who prevaricated:



I am Brahma, Great Brahma, the Lord, the Unvanquished,
the All Seeing One, the Omnipotent, the Sovereign, the Maker, the
Creator, Excellence, Providence, the Master, Father of those born and to
be born.


The bhikkhu continued:



I did not ask you if you are Brahma, Great Brahma, the
Lord… I asked you where the four great elements are extinguished without
remainder.


Brahma replied again, that he is Great Brahma, the Lord, etc.


The bhikkhu asked again, for a third time, at which point Brahma took him by the arm and led him to one side, saying:



Monk, these gods, followers of Brahma, recognize me as
one for whom there is nothing not known, seen, experienced, or realized.
Therefore, I did not answer in front of them. Monk, I also do not know
where the four great elements are extinguished without remainder. It is
thus your misdeed and mistake that you have abandoned the Blessed One,
and come to search for an answer to this problem elsewhere. Go and
approach the Blessed One to pose this question and accept whatever
answer he gives.


The bhikkhu then went to ask the Buddha, who answered:



You should not ask: ‘Where are the four great elements –
earth, water, fire and air – extinguished without remainder?’ You should
ask: ‘Where can earth, water, fire and air find no footing? Where can
long and short, small and large, beautiful and repulsive find no firm
ground? Where do mentality and corporeality terminate without
remainder?’


He then explained as follows:



The state that can
be known (viññāṇa), not seen with the eyes (anidassana),36 limitless
(ananta), and can be reached from every direction (sabbatopabhā),37
here, earth, water, fire and air can find no footing; long and short,
fine and coarse, beautiful and repulsive can find no firm ground;
mentality and corporeality terminate without remainder. Because sense
consciousness (viññāṇa) ceases, mentality and corporeality terminate
here.

These descriptions of Nibbāna have resulted in various
interpretations and debates. Some scholars interpret the last two
passages as a Buddhist attempt to combat Brahmanism by assimilation, by
incorporating the Brahmanic personification of God. Note that in all
these passages the Buddha was either teaching bhikkhus, who had a basic
knowledge of Dhamma, or was speaking to Brahma, who is a master
theoretician. I will not elaborate upon these details here, but remember
that this disparity of interpretation arises because Nibbāna cannot be
conceived of; it must be known directly through spiritual practice.

Pali words are sometimes
translated differently. The word āyatana
in the first passage, for example, can be translated as ‘sphere’, and
some interpret this to mean a dwelling or place. Others interpret
āyatana as another dimension. The word viññāṇa, in passages five and
six, is considered by some to be identical with viññāṇa in the
expressions eye-viññāṇa, ear-viññāṇa,
etc. They thus interpret Nibbāna as some form of consciousness,
defining Nibbāna as a consciousness that is not seen with the eyes, etc.
In the commentaries, however, viññāṇa is explained in this
passage to be a name for Nibbāna, ‘the state that can be known’, as used
above.39 We can see that in passage six the word viññāṇa occurs twice.
The first viññāṇa refers to Nibbāna, with its own distinct translation
(‘the state that can be known’), while the latter viññāṇa, in the
phrase ‘viññāṇa ceases,’ refers to the consciousness that is the
condition for the arising of mentality and corporeality as explained in
the paṭiccasamuppāda.

We should refrain from drawing conclusions about Nibbāna simply
because an interpretation accords with our preferences and
preconceptions. If we establish firm convictions about something we do
not yet clearly know, we may be greatly deceived. Rather, we should put
our emphasis on those methods leading to Nibbāna along with the benefits
of gradual liberation. This is more practical. As our spiritual
practice develops, we will clearly see the results for ourselves.

Although we may have considered these explanations of Nibbāna, if we
have not practised and arrived at this state, we should remember that
all ideas of Nibbāna are comparable to the image the blind men formed
after touching the elephant. The story from the Pali, in brief, is as
follows:

At one time in the city of Sāvatthī, a large number of religious
ascetics, wanderers, and brahmins, of various creeds, adhered to their
own beliefs and doctrines as the only truth, while repudiating those of
others. This gave rise to quarrelling: ‘The truth is this way, not that
way; the truth is not that way, it is this way.’ In response the Buddha
told the following story:


In former times a king of Sāvatthī ordered his advisors to gather all
those men in the city who were blind from birth and present them with
an elephant. The advisors showed one group of blind men the elephant’s
head; to another they showed the elephant’s ear. They showed the tusks
to another group, the trunk, the abdomen, the legs, the back, the tail,
the tip of the tail, to each separate group, saying each time that this
is an elephant. They then informed the king that the blind men had
become familiar with the elephant. The king went to the gathering of the
blind and asked them, ‘Have you seen the elephant?’ They replied, ‘We
have seen it, Your Majesty.’ The king inquired further: ‘As you say you
have seen an elephant, what is it like?’


Those blind men who had touched the head said that an elephant is
like a water-pot. Those who felt the ears said an elephant is like a
winnowing basket. Those who touched the tusks – a ploughshare. Those who
touched the trunk – a plough shaft. Those who touched the abdomen said
an elephant is like a granary. Those who touched the legs, like a
pillar. Those who touched the back, like a mortar. Those who touched the
tail, like a pestle. Those who touched the tip of the tail said an
elephant is like a broom. When this was finished, the blind men began to
argue – an elephant is this way, not that way; an elephant is not that
way, it is this way – to the point of brawling.


At the end the Buddha uttered this verse:



Indeed, some ascetics and brahmins cling to such views
and doctrines; people who see only one part, being contentious, argue
and quarrel
.

*   *   *

1 In this context, the verb and adjective form nibbuta is most often used, e.g.: A. I. 162; 197; A. II. 212; Sn. 153; AA. II. 259, 307; AA. III. 184; NidA. I. 199; in particular: DhA. I. 85; JatA. I. 60; BudA. 280.


2 Analyses of the word Nibbāna occur at many scriptural passages,
especially: Nid2. 33; VinA.: Pārājikaṇḍaṃ, Paṭhamapārājikaṃ,
Sudinnabhāṇavāravaṇṇana; DA. II. 464; AA. II.
283; KhA. 151; ItA. I. 165; SnA. I. 253, 299; NidA. I. 82, 104; DhsA.
409; Vism. 293–4; VinṬ.: Paṭhamo Bhāgo, Verañjakaṇḍavaṇṇanā,
Vinayapaññattiyācanakathā; VismṬ.: Paṭhamo Bhāgo, Samādhiniddesavaṇṇanā,
Samādhi-ānisaṅsakathāvaṇṇanā; CompṬ.: Abhidhammatthavibhāvinīṭīkā,
Paramatthadhammavaṇṇanā; most of these explanations are identical or
similar. Further definitions include: ‘free from the jungle’ (i.e., the
tangle of impurities): A. III. 344; AA. III. 371; Dh. verse 283; [DhA. 6/71]; and ‘an end to the triad of dukkha’: dukkha-dukkha, vipariṇāma-dukkha, and saṅkhāra-dukkha:
VismṬ.: Paṭhamo Bhāgo, Samādhiniddesavaṇṇanā,
Samādhi-anisaṅsakathāvaṇṇanā. The Dhammavicāraṇa of Somdet Phra
Mahāsamaṇa Chao Krom Phraya Vajirañāṇavarorasa includes: free of
‘piercing arrows’ (Mahāmakuta University Press, 1958, p. 55).


3 The words saṁsāra-vaṭṭa and vivaṭṭa are used
here corresponding to the evolution of language; they are not the
original specific terms. In the Canon, the preferred terms for saṁsāra-vaṭṭa are saṁsāra (e.g., S. II. 178; A. II. 12) and vaṭṭa (e.g., S. III. 64; S. IV. 52; Ud. 75). In later texts the two were used as a compound (e.g., Nd1. 343; Nd2. 17). As for vivaṭṭa,
it was not generally used in the Canon in this sense, except in the
Paṭisambhidāmagga (e.g., Ps1. 2, 107–11.) Later, in the commentaries and
sub-commentaries it was abundantly used (e.g., Vism. 694; VinA.:
Pācittiyakhaṇḍaṃ, Musāvādavaggo, Padasodhammasikkhāpadavaṇṇanā; AA. III. 337; VismṬ.: Paṭhamo Bhāgo, Sīlaniddesavaṇṇanā, Dutiyasīlapañcakavaṇṇanā.)


4 Author: alternatively, ‘realizable in this lifetime’.


5 A. I. 158–9; note that these
five qualities are identical to the
last five qualities of the Dhamma. This is consistent with the
explanation that the first quality of the Dhamma (svākkhāto) is the
teaching, later called pariyatti-dhamma, the Dhamma that should be
studied. Qualities 2–6 (sanditthiko to paccattaṁ veditabbo viññūhi) are
attributes specific to lokuttara-dhamma, the Transcendent (Vism.
215–18).


6 Author: The word Dhamma here refers to Dependent Origination,
Nibbāna, or the Four Noble Truths – the essential meaning is the same.


7 Author: Not within the realm of reasoning.


8 Vin. 1. 5; M. I. 168.


9 M. II. 201–2.


10 S. IV. 251, 261.


11 S. II. 117. 


12 S. III. 190. 


13 This last is an indirect rather than an explicit definition. See e.g., S. IV. 43; Ud. 80; It. 47.


14 For the sources of all these single words see below (n. 24).


15 [A perfectly awakened being.]


16 M. I. 226.


17 S. IV. 157, 174.


18 M. I. 486–7; S. IV. 399.


19 S. III. 108–9.


20 S. IV. 174. 


21 S. IV. 195.


22 Ap. 530.


23 Miln.: Book IV, Aṭṭhamavaggo, no. 5: The Gift of Vessantara (dilemma 71). 


24 From many sources, the important ones being: S. IV. 359–373; M. I. 173; A. II. 247–8; Ud. 80–1; S. IV. 210.


25 Kevala (Sanskrit: kaivalya) is a word expressing
the ultimate goal of the Jain religion. In the Buddhist Pali Canon this
word is not used as a direct reference to Nibbāna, but rather as a name
for someone who has attained Nibbāna, e.g., kevalī or kebalī. In many locations, e.g.: S. I. 167; A. I. 162; M. II. 144; A.V. 16; Sn. 88.


26 This matter is discussed in the Milindapañhā: Book IV, Sattamo vaggo, no. 8: Nibbānassa Atthibhāvapañho (dilemma 65).


27 Ud. 80–81.


28 Ibid.


29 Ibid.


30 Ibid.


31 [Brahma: in Brahmanism the chief of the gods, creator of the universe.]


32 The ‘Evil One’, the ‘Tempter’, personified as a deity.


33 Another translation is ‘incomparable’.


34 Another translation is ‘can be reached from every direction,’ or
‘can be reached by every method,’ i.e., can be attained by every method
of kammaṭṭhāna.


35 M. I. 327–8.


36 See n. 33.


37 Another translation is ‘all radiant’.


38 D. I. 215–223.


39 DA. II. 393: MA. II. 412.


40 Ud. 67–8.

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