The Buddha says that he teaches only dukkha and
the cessation of dukkha — that is, suffering and the
end of suffering. It is the cessation of the round of suffering
the Buddha calls nibbana (nirvana in Sanskrit). In
this lesson we bring together the teachings on the Four Noble
Truths, dependent origination, and kamma to understand the
ultimate goal of Buddhist practice — inner transformation
which issues in our deliverance from the round of suffering
in its entirety.
The noble truth of the cessation of suffering
The problem of suffering, presented in the first noble truth,
is the starting point of the Buddha's teaching,
not the final word. The Buddha starts with suffering, because
his teaching is designed for a particular end — it is
designed to lead to liberation. In order to do this he must
give us a reason for seeking liberation.
Your house is on fire — arousing a sense of urgency
In the second noble truth, Buddha points out that the principal
cause of suffering is craving, the desire for a world of sights,
sounds , smells, tastes, touch sensations and ideas.
Since the cause of Dukkha is craving, the key to reaching the
end of dukkha is to eliminate craving. Therefore the Buddha
explains the third noble truth as the extinction of craving.
The Noble Truth of the cessation of suffering has two dimensions,
a psychological dimension and a philosophical dimension. We
shall deal briefly with each of them.
Psychological dimension of nibbana
When we really look — and this requires the effort to
week wisdom and insight — we find that unhappiness, discontent,
suffering result from the tension between desire and the lack
of the thing desired. There are two possible approaches to
overcoming this unhappiness. Either obtain the object desired
or eliminate the desire.
Buddha's teaching reverses the common assumption that
happiness can be found by satisfying our desires.
When we carefully examine the happiness that comes from satisfying
our desires, we find that such happiness is unreliable and
insecure. This happiness depends on external things. These
objects of desire are inevitably impermanent, and when we are
separated from them we become unhappy. Thus even in the midst
of happiness we become vulnerable to suffering.
True happiness, the Buddha teaches, is achieved by taking
the opposite approach, the approach of eliminating our
desires. When we eliminate the desire, our mind remains satisfied,
content and happy — no matter what our external
situation may be. The Buddha says that this principle can be
carried through all the way to the total uprooting of
craving. This is the cessation of craving, the end of Dukkha
visible here and now.
Extinguishing the flame of craving
But the end of dukkha has a more wide-ranging meaning as well.
When craving — which drives us on over and over in samsara — is
eliminated, our actions no longer build up kamma, The wheel
of becoming is brought to a halt. This is the state of
final deliverance which is the aim of the Buddha's teaching.
This state of final deliverance is called Nibbana.
Nibbana literally means the extinguishing of a flame, and the
Buddha uses Nibbana to describe the extinguishing of the flame
of craving and the fires of greed, hatred
Nibbana is the ultimate goal of the Buddha's path. The Buddha
Nibbana is an existing reality
Nibbana is not only the destruction of defilements and the
end of samsara but a reality transcendent to the entire
world of mundane experience, a reality transcendent to all
the realms of phenomenal existence.
The Buddha refers to Nibbana as a 'dhamma'. Dhamma signifies actual realities, the existing realities
as opposed to conceptual things. For example, he says:
Dhammas are of two types, conditioned and unconditioned.
Conditioned dhamma An actuality
which has come into being through causes or conditions. The
conditioned dhammas are the five aggregates: material form,
feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness.
Conditioned dhammas go through a ceaseless process of becoming — they
arise, undergo transformation and fall away due to
Unconditioned dhamma - nibanna
produced by causes and conditions, it has no arising, no
falling away and it undergoes no transformation. Nevertheless,
it is an actuality, and the Buddha refers to nibbana as
an unconditioned Dhamma.
The Buddha also refers to Nibbana as:
a realm (ayatana)
an experience of the body
Truth (sacca) — This refers to
Nibbana as the truth, a reality that the Noble ones have
known through direct experience.
Nibbana, the Buddha demonstrates, is an actual reality and
not the mere destruction of defilements or the cessation
of existence. Nibbana is unconditioned, without any origination
and is timeless.
The practice of the path — what is always
If Nibbana is attained by the practice of the path, doesn't
this make it something conditioned, something produced by the
path? Doesn't Nibbana become an effect of a cause, the path?
Here we have to distinguish between Nibbana itself and
the attainment of Nibbana. By practicing the path one
doesn't bring Nibbana into existence but rather discovers something
already existing, something always present.