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Buddhadharma : Spring 2016
spring 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 33 The Promise of Nibbana According to the Buddha, final liberation is marked by the end of craving and, ultimately, all suffering. what does that look like and how is it achieved? The late Burmese meditation master mahasi sayadaw explains. Nibbana is not like a splendid palace, city, or coun- try. It is not like a bright light or some kind of clear, calm element. All of these things are not uncondi- tioned ultimate realities but concepts or conditioned realities. In fact nibbana, as an unconditioned reality, has simply the nature of cessation called “the character- istic of peacefulness” (santilakkhana). It is the cessa- tion of the defilements and the rounds of suffering. Or, it is the nonexistence of conditioned phenomena (visalikhara), the cessation of conditioned phenom- ena, and the opposite of what is conditioned. Thus the Patisambhidamagga defines it by contrasting it with conditioned phenomena in these ways: [Mental and physical] arising is conditioned phenomena. Non-arising is nibbana. [Mental and physical] occurrence is conditioned phenomena. Non-occurrence is nibbana. [Mental and physical] sign is conditioned phenomena. Nonsign is nibbana. [Mental and physical] accumulation [of kamma] is conditioned phenomena. Non-accumulation [of kamma] is nibbana. [Mental and physical] rebirth is conditioned phenomena. Non-rebirth is nibbana. —Patisambhidamagga, “Path of Discrimination,” 1.22 This Pali quote shows that the nature of nibbana is the complete cessation of conditioned phenom- ena, expressed in terms of the cessation of arising, occurrence, sign, accumulation, and rebirth. Grammatically the word nibbana can be consid- ered a “verbal noun” and could be interpreted as having any of the following three senses: Nibbana: where the cycle of suffering ceases Nibbana: through which the cycle of suffering ceases Nibbana: the cessation of the cycle of suffering —Sumangalavilasini, Buddhagosa’s commentary on the Digha Nikaya This definition of nibbana does not mean that it is simply some kind of empty state that can be under- stood through everyday ideas. Nibbana is described as being beyond logic, too profound and difficult to be understood through common knowledge, and experienced only by the wise with empirical knowl- edge. Moreover, since it is beyond the reach of crav- ing, it is also beyond entanglement (vana), which is another term for craving. When nibbana is experi- enced by a meditator through path knowledge, that person’s mind is freed from craving. Thus the com- mentaries also define it as follows: Nibbana: liberation from entanglement Nibbana: where there is no entanglement Nibbana: through which entanglement is eradicated —Sumangalavilasini (oppoSitE)courtesytheartistandrossi&rossi