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Basic Buddhism

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What Buddhists Believe
Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera



Nibbana is the highest bliss, a supramundane state of eternal happiness. The happiness of Nibbana cannot be experienced by indulging the senses but calming them.

Nibbana is the final goal of Buddhism. What is Nibbana then? It is not easy to know what Nibbana really is; it is easier to know what Nibbana is not.

Nibbana is not nothingness or extinction. Would the Buddha leave his family and kingdom and preach for 45 years, all for nothingness?

Nibbana is not a paradise. Several centuries after the Buddha, some of the Buddhist sects began to introduce Nibbana as a paradise. Their purpose of equating Nibbana with a heavenly world was to convince the less-intellectually-gifted and to attract them to the teachings of the sect. Striving for Nibbana came to mean looking for a nice place where everything is beautiful and where everyone is eternally happy. This might be a very comfortable folktale, but it is not the Nibbana that the Buddha experienced and introduced. During His time the Buddha did not deny the idea of paradise as it was presented in the early Indian religions. But the Buddha knew that this paradise was within Samsara and the final liberation was beyond it. The Buddha could see that the Path to Nibbana led beyond the heavens.

If Nibbana is not a place, where is Nibbana then? Nibbana exists just as fire exists. However, there is no storage place for fire or for Nibbana. But when you rub pieces of wood together, then the friction and heat are the proper conditions for fire to arise. Likewise, when the nature in man's mind is such that he is free from all defilements, then Nibbanic bliss will appear.

You can experience Nibbana. Until you experience the supreme state of Nibbanic bliss, you can only speculate as to what it really is. For those who insist on the theory, the texts offer some help. The texts suggest that Nibbana is a supra-mundane state of unalloyed happiness.

By itself, Nibbana is quite unexplainable and quite undefinable. As darkness can be explained only by its opposite, light, and as calm can only be explained by its opposite, motion, so likewise Nibbana, as a state equated to the extinction of all suffering can be explained by its opposite?the suffering that is being endured in Samsara. As darkness prevails wherever there is no light, as calm prevails wherever there is no motion, so likewise Nibbana is everywhere where suffering and change and impurity do not prevail.

A sufferer who scratches his sores can experience a temporary relief. This temporary relief will aggravate the wounds and cause the disease to be enhanced. The joy of the final cure can hardly be compared to the fleeting relief obtained from the scratching. Likewise, satisfying the craving for sense-desires brings only temporary gratification or happiness which prolongs the stay in Samsara. The cure for the samsaric disease is Nibbana. Nibbana is an end of the cravings which cause all the sufferings of birth, old age, disease, death, grief, lamentation and despair. The joy of Nibbanic cure can hardly be compared to the temporary Samsaric pleasure gained through fulfilling the sense desires.

It is dangerous to speculate on what Nibbana is; it is better to know how to prepare the conditions necessary for Nibbana, how to attain the inner peace and clarity of vision that leads to Nibbana. Follow the Buddha's advice: put His Teachings into practice. Get rid of all your defilements which are rooted in greed, hatred, and delusion. Purify yourself of all desires and realize absolute selflessness. Lead a life of right moral conduct and from all selfishness and illusion. Then, Nibbana is gained and experienced.

Nibbana and Samsara

A well-known Mahayana Buddhist scholar, Nagarjuna, says that Samsara and Nibbana are one. This interpretation can easily be misunderstood by others. However to state that the concept of Samsara and Nibbana are the same is to say that there is no difference in voidness of component things and the unconditioned state of Nibbana. In accordance with the Pali Tipitaka, Samsara is described as the unbroken continuation of the five aggregates, four elements and twelve bases or sources of mental processes whereas Nibbana is described as the extinction of those relative physical and mental sources.

However, it is admitted that those who gain Nibbanic bliss, can experience it during their existence in Samsara. In any case, after their death, the link with those elements will be eliminated, for the simple reason that Nibbana is unconditioned, not relative or interdependent. If there is to be anything at all after Nibbana, it would have to be 'Absolute Truth'.

You must learn to be detached from all worldly things. If there is any attachment to anyone or to anything or if there is any aversion to anyone or anything, you will never attain Nibbana, for Nibbana is beyond all opposites of attachment and aversion, likes and dislikes.

When that ultimate state is attained, you will fully understand this worldly life for which you now crave. This world will cease to be an object of your desire. You will realize the sorrow and impermanence and impersonality of all that lives and that does not live. By depending on teachers or holy books without using your own effort in the right manner, it is difficult to gain realization of Nibbana. Your dreams will vanish. No castles will be built in the air. The tempest will be ended. Life's struggles will be over. Nature's process will have ceased. All your worries, miseries, responsibilities, disturbances, burdens, physical and mental ailments and emotions will vanish after attaining this most blissful state of Nibbana.

To say that Nibbana is nothingness simply because one cannot perceive it with the five senses, is as illogical as to say that light does not exist simply because the blind do not see it.

Nibbana is attainable in this present life. Buddhism does not state that its ultimate goal could be reached only in life beyond. When Nibbana is realized in this life with the body remaining it is called Sopadisesa Nibbana. When an Arahant attains Pari-Nibbana, after the dissolution of the body, without any reminder of physical existence, it is called Anupadisesa Nibbana.


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Update : 01-11-2002

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