Buddhism for Students Part III

21) “What sort of inner life did the Buddha lead?”


THE BUDDHA ONCE said concerning himself, “The Tathāgata dwells in the Temple of Emptiness (suññatā-vihāra).” This “temple” is a spiritual temple, not a physical one. “Temple” (vihāra) refers to a spiritual dwelling place, that is, a state of mind. The Temple of Emptiness is an ever-present mental state devoid of any ideas of “self” or “belonging to self”. To dwell in the Temple of Emptiness is to live in full awareness that all things are devoid of selfhood. This is suññatā, emptiness, and what is called the Temple of Emptiness. The Buddha dwelt in the Temple of Emptiness, experiencing supreme bliss continuously. This is what the Master said of himself. 


22) “Why is it held that all things are empty, that this world, that every world, is an empty world?”


FOLLOWERS OF OTHER religions will ask you these questions: “Why do you say the world is empty when it contains all these things? Isn’t there matter? Isn’t there mind? Isn’t the world just full up with things?”

The point is that it is empty of any self or of anything belonging to a self. There is nothing that can be taken as being a self or belonging to a self. Self cannot be found in anything, not in mind, nor in matter, nor in the various products that arise out of mind and matter. The Buddha said that the assertion that all things are empty refers to nothing other than the awareness that they are empty of selfhood.


23) “Now, why is a mind in this state of awareness described as an empty or free mind (Thai, cit waang)?”


THERE IS A verse in the Texts which says, “That is truly empty which is empty of lust, hatred, and delusion.” A mind is empty (unencumbered, disengaged, or free) when it is free of lust, hatred, and delusion. When, by whatever method or means, a mind has been rendered free of all traces of lust, hatred, and delusion, it can be said to be an empty or free mind (cit waang). But we are referring here only to what is done actively. When one is asleep, the mind is also empty! That state is likewise one of true emptiness, but we have not actively produced the state, we have not brought it about intentionally. This is not practising Dhamma; it doesn’t belong in that category. But if we have made an effort in some way so that the mind becomes emptied of lust, hatred, and delusion, even if only for a moment, then the mind if said to be free, void, empty. This freedom and emptiness can be increased in degree until it becomes complete — absolute freedom and emptiness. Anarahant (fully perfected individual) is absolutely free. Ariyans at lower stages of development are largely free. An ordinary worldling can be free and empty occasionally.

If at any moment there is freedom from lust, hatred, and delusion, then in that moment there is no idea of self. This is known as empty or free mind (cit waang). 


24) “What is it when there is total emptiness?”


TOTAL EMPTINESS OR freedom is called “nibbāna” (Sanskrit, nirvāna). The condition
of emptiness resulting from the complete and thorough elimination of the self-idea is nibbāna. This can be summarized by saying “Nibbāna is supreme emptiness.” It is
 that unique vision that transcends ordinary knowledge. We can transcend the various types of ordinary knowledge through seeing that “nibbāna is supreme emptiness.”

Nibbāna is supreme emptiness, or supreme emptiness is nibbāna. Do remember that the perfection of emptiness is what we refer to as “nibbāna”. 


25) “What is nibbāna?”


IF YOU COME across someone who insists on raising this question, answer that nibbāna is the immortal-element (amatadhātu). Say it is the element that does not perish. All other elements perish, but this one does not perish, because it is free of lust, hatred, and delusion. When there is freedom from delusion, there is no self-idea, there is no grasping or clinging to selfhood, and thus there is no perishing. Because it is what puts an end to perishing, it has been called the immortal-element. This immortal element is the cessation of the mortal element.




26) “We speak of a person finding satisfaction in nibbāna. What ought we to call that satisfaction?”


WE BUDDHISTS TEACH that one ought not to go about liking and disliking, finding satisfaction in this and dissatisfaction in that. So if someone finds satisfaction in nibbāna, what are we to call that?

It has been said that satisfaction in nibbāna is Dhamma-rāga (lust for Dhamma) or Dhamma-nandi (delight in, Dhamma). On hearing this, there may be some alarm at the use of a Pali word like rāga (lust) together with the word “Dhamma”. But we must understand that the rāga in Dhamma-rāga is not the kind that desires visual objects, sounds, odours, tastes, and tactile stimuli; it is not sensual lust. It means satisfaction as intense as that which the ordinary householder finds in sensuality, but in this case the satisfaction is found in emptiness, in immortality, in nibbāna.

At the present moment we fear and hate nibbāna, and do not want to go near it. As soon as we hear the word we shake our heads. We have never had any desire for Dhamma or for nibbāna. Our desires are all directed towards sensuality: colours and shapes, sounds, odours, and tastes. To be fair to ourselves we ought to find as much satisfaction in nibbāna as we now find in colours and shapes, sounds, odours, and tastes. Then our practice towards the transcending of suffering / unsatisfactoriness will go ahead easily. These words

“Dhamma-rāga” and “Dhamma-nandi” were used by the Buddha in this sense.


27) “Is nibbāna attained after death or here in this life?”


TEACHERS WHO LECTURE in the fancy preaching halls only talk about nibbāna after death. In the Tipiṭaka, however, we don’t find this. There are expressions such as sandiṭṭhika-nibbāna (nibbāna which a practitioner sees personally) and diṭṭhadhammanibbāna (nibbāna here and now).

We are told that the blissful states of consciousness experienced in the four rūpa-jhānas and the four arūpa-jhānas (eight degrees of deep concentration) are sandiṭṭhikanibbāna or diṭṭhadhamma-nibbāna.  But for the present purpose, we may understand these states to be a foretaste of nibbāna. They have the flavour of, but are not identical with, real nibbāna. Because these states are not perfect and absolute, they have been called sandiṭṭhika-nibbāna or diṭṭhadhamma-nibbāna.

Yet there are still better words than these. On one occasion the Buddha described the cessation of lust, hatred, and delusion as “sandiṭṭhikaṃ. akalikaṃ, ehipassikam opanayikaṃ, paccattaṃ veditabbaṃ vinnūhi”, that is, “directly visible, giving immediate results, inviting all to see, leading inward, and to be individually experienced by the wise”. These terms imply a living person who has realized, felt, and tasted nibbāna, and who can call his friends to come and see what he has found. This shows clearly that he has not died, and he knows the taste of nibbāna in his heart.

There are other expressions as well. Anupādā-parinibbānais something attained while life still remains. Parinibbāyatirefers to the eradication of suffering and defilements without any need for the extinction or disintegration of the five aggregates (the body-mind complex), that is to say, without one’s needing to die physically.

Now this word “nibbāna” in ordinary everyday language simply means “coolness, absence of heat, absence of suffering”. Thus, I should like you to consider the wisdom of our Thai forefathers who had a saying “Nibbāna is in dying before death.” You probably have never heard this saying, but it is very common among rural people. They say:

Beauty is to be found in the dead body.
Goodness is to be found in relinquishment.
The monk is to be found, in earnestness.
Nibbāna is to be found in dying before death.

Are we their descendants, more clever or more foolish than our forefathers? Do ponder over this saying “Nibbāna is in dying (to selfhood) before death (of the body).” The body doesn’t have to die. But attachment to the self-idea must. This is nibbāna. The person who realizes it has obtained supreme bliss, yet continues to live.



28) “Can animals attain nibbāna?”


IN ONE OF his discourses, the Buddha uses the words parinibbāyati and parinibbuto in reference to animals that have been trained until their self-assertiveness has been eliminated. For a dog, an elephant, a horse, or anything whatever that is trained until it is tame and no longer unruly, we can use the word parinibbuto, the same word used regarding an arahant (one who has eliminated the defilements completely). These two words are applicable to one who has put out the fires completely, a person who is completely cooled down. In the Pali language as spoken at the time of the Buddha, the word “parinibbāna” could be used in this way, also. When applied to a human being, it meant the achieving of the extinction of defilements, or arahantship (spiritual perfection). When applied to a lower animal, it meant attaining the extinction of self-assertiveness. Applied to a fire, it referred to the going out and becoming cool of the embers. In speaking of boiled or steamed rice which had been served into a bowl and had become cool, the word used was parinibbāna. It was an ordinary word, used in a general way for everyday worldly things, to indicate something become cool, something rendered harmless.
So we ought to take good advantage of nibbāna and not remain worse off than the beasts to which words like these also can be applied. Don’t put it off until death comes. That is the height of stupidity, wasting the Buddha’s invaluable gift. Let us study afresh the terms “nibbāna” and “parinibbāna” with its derivative “parinibbuto”. Then there will arise the courage and ardour for the job of penetrating to and attaining that which is called “nibbāna”. Let us not shrink back like those people who on hearing the word “nibbāna” become drowsy, apprehensive, or just bored.

I ask all of you to interest yourselves in the word “nibbāna”. The getting rid of harmful influences, even the passing of one’s youth, may be called a sort of nibbāna. Just as with animals which have been trained until their dangerous self-assertiveness has been eliminated, these are parinibbuto, that is, coolness, complete coolness. So let us be completely cool people who have nothing that can set fire to us and burn us. Let us not thoughtlessly produce heat, but rather win the prize that is nibbāna. To begin with the kind known as sandiṭṭhika-nibbāna or diṭṭhadhamma-nibbāna, then by degrees we can work up to the level of real nibbāna. 


29) “What is the highest good for humanity?”


THE ENLIGHTENED ONE once said, “All Buddhas say nibbāna is the supreme thing.” Supreme thing means “the ultimate and highest good for humanity.” In the international language of ethics, it is known by the Latin term summum bonum, the utmost goodness, the best and highest thing attainable by a human being in this very life. Buddhist students agree that if there is a summum bonum in Buddhism, then it must be nibbāna itself. So if a foreigner asks what the summum bonum of Buddhism is, you should answer “All Buddhas say nibbāna is the supreme thing.”

30) “Are there any arahants in the world at the present time?”


THIS POINT CAN be answered by quoting the Buddha, “If all bhikkhus live rightly, the world will not be empty of arahants (worthy, undefiled beings).” He said this on the very day he died.

If doubts or questions arise as to whether there are any arahants nowadays, don’t go answering simply “Yes” or “No”. This would be a serious mistake. You must answer by quoting the Buddha, “If bhikkhus live rightly, the world will not be empty of arahants.”