Kamma, Rebirth and Nibanna —

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Qualities of the Dharma
The Four Noble Truths
The Noble Eightfold Path
The True Nature of Existence
  The Five Aggregates of Clinging
  Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta
  Dependent Arising
  Kamma, Nibbana and Rebirth


The Sangha
The Buddhist Sangha



What is enlightenment?

I must emphasize that Nibbana cannot be understood through words or the study of texts. One has to understand nibbana by actual realization. That said, the Buddha does resort to words and expressions in order to convey some idea of the goal to which his teaching points.

To get a balanced idea of nibbana, the Buddha uses both negative and positive expressions.

Negating suffering

The Buddha speaks of nibbana primarily in terms of negating suffering — as cessation of suffering, cessation of old age and death, the unafflicted, the unoppressed the sorrowless state, and so forth.

Eliminating defilements is the end of all suffering.

Nibanna is also described as the negation of the defilements greed hatred and delusion that keep us in bondage. It is also called dispassion (viraga), the removal of thirst, the crushing of  pride, the uprooting of conceit, the extinction of vanity.

Nibbana is not mere annihilation, a pure negative attainment. The Buddha's negative terminology shows us that nibbana is utterly transcendental and beyond all conditioned things, that eliminating defilements is the end of all suffering.

The story of the turtle and the fish

The desirability of Nibanna
The Buddha also describes nibbana in positive terms. He refers to nibbana as the supreme happiness, perfect bliss, peace, serenity, liberation, and freedom. He calls nibanna:

  • the island — an island upon which beings can land which is free from suffering. For those being swept away helplessly towards the ocean of old age and death, it is a place of safety and security.
  • a cave which gives safety from the dangers of birth and death.
  • the "cool state" — coolness which results from the extinguishing of the fires of greed, hatred and delusion.
  • the shelter, the refuge, the further shore.

Attaining Nibbana

Nibbana is attained by the arahant (the liberated one) in two stages.

Living as an arahant
In the first stage, the arahant extinguishes greed, hatred, ignorance and of all other defilements in this present life. What remains, the residue, is the five aggregates that constitute his present life.

To understand the experience of the arahant, the experiential side of Nibanna, we can look at if from the point of view of the three basic aspects of human experience:

  • The affective side — the side of feeling and emotion. With the abandoning of all forms of attachments the arahant is free of agitation, restlessness and worry.

    The arahant is also in a state of complete equanimity, with perfect balance of mind. He is not shaken by the changes of the world ("the eight worldly winds"): gain and loss, fame and dishonor, praise and blame, pleasure and pain.

    The arahant's mind is pervaded with immeasurable loving kindness  and boundless compassion. This is the state of nibbana in terms of feeling and emotion.
  • Will
    The arahant's has broken free entirely from the cycle of actions and reaction. He performs volitional actions but these acts are not kamma, they are mere activities. They do not leave a trace on the mind, like the flight of birds across the sky
  • Knowledge, understanding
    The arahant has complete knowledge and understanding. He is fully awakened. He sees things as they truly are. He is no longer misled by the distortions, projections, perversions born of ignorance.

The arahant after passing away
Nibbana attained by an Arahant with his passing away, with the breakup of his body, what we conventionally call death.

Final Nibbana is not a state of annihilation, since there is no self to be annihilated or extinguished.  What we call the Arahant is a dependently arisen process of becoming, and the attainment  of final Nibbana is cessation of this process of becoming. To try to speak about what lies  beyond the ending of this process is to venture outside the boundaries of  conceptualization, outside the boundaries of language.

The Buddha says:

From this we see that concepts cannot conceive the 'inconceivable' and the mind cannot measure the 'immeasurable'.