Mingalar Monestery မင်္ဂလာကျောင်းတိုက် Hmawbi မှော်ဘီ Sayadaw

I spent six year in Myanmar and was fortunate enough to spend 3 years as a Monk under my friend and teacher who now resides in Nibbāna. These photos I took whilst in his care and shared a part of this man’s life which will remain in my heart till our paths cross again.

This article which puts a more technical side to things about what all Buddhists such have in their heart and be aiming for… Nibbāna. For my human mind to grasp such a thing as this well I go back to simple things and understand the need for balance. As you have realms that are affected by time you have ones that aren’t. If you are to transcend you have to become neutral so that you can’t be distracted and remain on course. Becoming neutral requires letting go of all things mind made and not becoming attached to what is only an illusion.
Matthew Laird Acred ex monk U Takcare

In sramanic thought, Nirvana (Nirvāna, Nibbāna) is the state of being free from both suffering and the cycle of rebirth. It is an important concept in Buddhism and Jainism.

‘Nibbāna’ is a Pāli word that means ‘blowing out’ that is, blowing out the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion.

Nirvana in Buddhism
Buddha described nirvana as the perfect peace of the state of mind that is free from craving, anger and other afflictive states (kilesa). The subject is at peace with the world, has compassion for all and gives up obsessions and fixations. This peace is achieved when the existing volitional formations are pacified, and the conditions for the production of new ones are eradicated. In Nibbana the root causes of craving and aversion have been extinguished such that one is no longer subject to human suffering (dukkha) or further states of rebirths in samsara.

The Pali Canon also contains other perspectives on nirvana; for one, it is linked to the seeing-through of the empty nature of phenomena. It is also presented as a radical reordering of consciousness and unleashing of awareness. Scholar Herbert Guenther states that with nirvana ‘the ideal personality, the true human being’ becomes reality.

The Buddha in the Dhammapada says of nirvana that it is ‘the highest happiness’. This happiness is an enduring, transcendental happiness integral to the calmness attained through enlightenment or bodhi, rather than the happiness derived from impermanent things. The knowledge accompanying nirvana is expressed through the word bodhi.

The Buddha explains nirvana as ‘the unconditioned’ (asankhata) mind, a mind that has come to a point of perfect lucidity and clarity due to the cessation of the production of volitional formations. This is described by the Buddha as ‘deathlessness’ (Pali: amata or amaravati) and as the highest spiritual attainment, the natural result that accrues to one who lives a life of virtuous conduct and practice in accordance with the Noble Eightfold Path. Such a life engenders increasing control over the generation of karma (Skt; Pali, kamma). It produces wholesome karma with positive results and finally allows the cessation of the origination of karma altogether with the attainment of nibbana. Otherwise, beings forever wander through the impermanent and suffering-generating realms of desire, form, and formlessness, collectively termed samsara.

Each liberated individual produces no new karma, but preserves a particular individual personality which is the result of the traces of his or her karmic heritage. The very fact that there is a psycho-physical substrate during the remainder of an arahant's lifetime shows the continuing effect of karma.

While nirvana is ‘unconditioned’, it is not ‘uncaused’ or ‘independent.’ The stance of the early scriptures is that attaining nibbana in either the current or some future birth depends on effort, and is not pre-determined. Furthermore, salvation according to the Pali Nikayas is not the recognition of a pre-existing or eternal perfection, but is the attainment of something that is hitherto unattained. This is also the orthodox Yogacara position, and that of Buddhaghosa.

Nirvana is a compound of the prefix ni[r]- (ni, nis, nih) which means ‘out, away from, without’, and the root vâ[na] (Pali. vâti) which can be translated as ‘blowing’ as in ‘blowing of the wind’, and also as ‘smelling, etc’.

The Abhidharma-mahavibhāsa-sāstra, a Sarvastivādin commentary, gives the complete context of the possible meanings from its Sanskrit roots:

* Vāna, implying the path of rebirth, + nir, meaning leaving off' or ‘being away from the path of rebirth.’
* Vāna, meaning 'stench', + nir, meaning ‘freedom’: ‘freedom from the stench of distressing karma.’
* Vāna, meaning ‘dense forests’, + nir, meaning ‘to get rid of’ = ‘to be permanently rid of the dense forest of the five aggregates’ (panca skandha), or the ‘three roots of greed, hate and delusion’ (raga, dvesa, avidya) or ‘three characteristics of existence’ (impermanence, anitya; unsatisfactoriness, dukkha, soullessness, anàtman).
* Vāna, meaning ‘weaving’, + nir, meaning ‘knot’ = ‘freedom from the knot of the distressful thread of karma.’

Nirvana in sutra is never conceived of as a place (such as one might conceive heaven), but rather the antinomy of samsara (see below) which itself is synonymous with ignorance (avidyā, Pāli avijjā). This said:

 ‘'the liberated mind (citta) that no longer clings' means Nibbāna’ (Majjhima Nikaya 2-Att. 4.68).

Nirvāna is meant specifically - as pertains gnosis - that which ends the identity of the mind (citta) with empirical phenomena. Doctrinally Nibbāna is said of the mind which ‘no longer is coming (bhava) and going (vibhava)’, but which has attained a status in perpetuity, whereby ‘liberation (vimutta) can be said’.

It carries further connotations of stilling, cooling, and peace. The realizing of nirvana is compared to the ending of avidyā (ignorance) which perpetuates the will (cetana) into effecting the incarnation of mind into biological or other form passing on forever through life after life (samsara). Samsara is caused principally by craving and ignorance (see dependent origination). A person can attain nirvana without dying. When a person who has realized nirvana dies, his death is referred as parinirvāna (Pali: parinibbana), his fully passing away, as his life was his last link to the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara), and he will not be reborn again. Buddhism holds that the ultimate goal and end of samsaric existence (of ever ‘becoming’ and ‘dying’ and never truly being) is realization of nirvana; what happens to a person after his parinirvāna cannot be explained, as it is outside of all conceivable experience. Through a series of questions, Sariputta brings a monk to admit that he cannot pin down the Tathagata as a truth or reality even in the present life, so to speculate regarding the ontological status of an arahant after death is not proper.

Individuals up to the level of non-returning may experience nirvana as an object of mental consciousness. Certain contemplations while nibbana is an object of samadhi lead, if developed, to the level of non-returning or the gnosis of the arahant. At that point of contemplation, which is reached through a progression of insight, if the meditator realizes that even that state is constructed and therefore impermanent, the fetters are destroyed, arahantship is attained, and nibbana is realized.

Luminous consciousness
Although an enlightened individual's consciousness is a karmic result, it is not limited by usual samsaric constraints. The Buddha discusses in the context of nirvana a kind of consciousness described as:

Consciousness without feature, without end, luminous all around.
This ‘consciousness without surface’ differs from the kinds of consciousness associated to the six sense media, which have a ‘surface’ that they fall upon and arise in response to. In a liberated individual it is directly known, without intermediary, free from any dependence on conditions at all. In one interpretation, the ‘luminous consciousness’ is identical with nirvana. Others disagree, finding it to be not nirvana itself, but instead to be a kind of consciousness accessible only to arahants. A passage in the Majjhima Nikaya likens it to empty space. For liberated ones the luminous, unsupported consciousness associated with nibbana is directly known without mediation of the mental consciousness factor in dependent co-arising, and is the transcending of all objects of mental consciousness. It differs radically from the concept in the pre-Buddhist Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita of Self-realization, described as accessing the individual's inmost consciousness, in that it is not considered an aspect, even the deepest aspect, of the individual's personality, and is not to be confused in any way with a ‘Self’. Furthermore, it transcends the sphere of infinite consciousness, the sixth of the Buddhist jhanas, which is in itself not the ending of the conceit of ‘I’. Nagarjuna alluded to a passage regarding this level of consciousness in the Dighanikaya (DN 11) in two different works. He wrote:

 The Sage has declared that earth, water, fire, and wind, long, short, fine and coarse, good, and so on are extinguished in consciousness ... Here long and short, fine and coarse, good and bad, here name and form all stop.

A related idea, which finds support in the Pali Canon and the contemporary Theravada practice tradition despite its absence in the Theravada commentaries and Abhidhamma, is that the mind of the arahant is itself nibbana.

There is a clear reference in the Anguttara Nikaya to a ‘luminous mind’ present within all people, be they corrupt or pure, whether or not it itself is pure or impure. The Canon does not support the identification of the ‘luminous mind’ with nirvanic consciousness, though it plays a role in the realization of nirvana. Upon the destruction of the fetters, according to one scholar, ‘the shining nibbanic consciousness flashes out’ of it, ‘being without object or support, so transcending all limitations.’

Nirvana and samsara
In Mahāyāna Buddhism, nirvana and samsara are said to be not-different in the sense that there is no metaphysical barrier between the two. An individual can attain nirvana by following the Buddhist path. If they were ultimately different this would be impossible. Thus, the duality between nirvana and samsara is only accurate on the conventional level. Another way to arrive at this conclusion is through the analysis that all phenomena are empty of an essential identity, and therefore suffering is never inherent in any situation. Thus liberation from suffering and its causes is not a metaphysical shift of any kind. For better explication of this thinking see two-truths doctrine.

The Theravāda school makes the antithesis of samsara and Nibbāna the starting point of the entire quest for deliverance. Even more, it treats this antithesis as determinative of the final goal, which is precisely the transcendence of samsara and the attainment of liberation in Nibbāna. Where Theravada differs significantly from the Mahāyāna schools, which also start with the duality of samsara and nirvana, is in not regarding this polarity as a mere preparatory lesson tailored for those with blunt faculties, to be eventually superseded by some higher realization of non-duality. From the standpoint of the Pāli Suttas, even for the Buddha and the Arahants suffering and its cessation, samsara and Nibbāna, remain distinct.

Both schools agree that Shakyamuni Buddha was in sansāra while having attained Nirvāna, in so far as he was seen by all while simultaneously free from samsara.

Paths to nirvana in the Pali canon
In the Visuddhimagga, Ch. I, v. 6 (Buddhaghosa & Ñānamoli, 1999, pp. 6-7), Buddhaghosa identifies various options within the Pali canon for pursuing a path to nirvana, including:

1. by insight (vipassana) alone (see Dh. 277)
2. by jhana and understanding (see Dh. 372)
3. by deeds, vision and righteousness (see MN iii.262)
4. by virtue, consciousness and understanding (7SN i.13)
5. by virtue, understanding, concentration and effort (see SN i.53)
6. by the four foundations of mindfulness (see Satipatthana Sutta, DN ii.290)

Depending on one's analysis, each of these options could be seen as a reframing of the Buddha's Threefold Training of virtue, mental development and wisdom.

Some Mahayana Perspectives on Nirvana
The idea of Nirvana as purified, non-dualistic 'superior mind' can be found in some Mahayana/Tantric texts. The Samputa, for instance, states:

'Undefiled by lust and emotional impurities, unclouded by any dualistic perceptions, this superior mind is indeed the supreme nirvana.'

Some Mahayana traditions see the Buddha in almost docetic terms, viewing his visible manifestations as projections from within the state of Nirvana. According to Professor Etienne Lamotte, Buddhas are always and at all times in Nirvana, and their corporeal displays of themselves and their Buddhic careers are ultimately illusory. Lamotte writes of the Buddhas: ‘they are born, reach enlightenment, set turning the Wheel of Dharma, and enter Nirvana. However, all this is only illusion: the appearance of a Buddha is the absence of arising, duration and destruction; their Nirvana is the fact that they are always and at all times in Nirvana.’

Some Mahayana sutras go further and attempt to characterize the nature of Nirvana itself. The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, which has as one of its main topics precisely the realm or dhatu of Nirvana, has the Buddha speak of four essential elements which make up Nirvana. One of these is ‘Self’ (atman), which is construed as the enduring Self of the Buddha. Writing on this Mahayana understanding of Nirvana, William Edward Soothill and Lewis Hodous state:

‘The Nirvana Sutra claims for nirvana the ancient ideas of permanence, bliss, personality, purity in the transcendental realm. Mahayana declares that Hinayana, by denying personality in the transcendental realm, denies the existence of the Buddha. In Mahayana, final nirvana is transcendental, and is also used as a term for the Absolute.’

At the time this scripture was written, there was already a long tradition of positive language about nirvana and the Buddha. While in early Buddhist thought nirvana is characterized by permanence, bliss, and purity, it is viewed as being the stopping of the breeding-ground for the ‘I am’ attitude, and is beyond all possibility of the Self delusion. The Mahaparinirvana Sutra, a long and highly composite Mahayana scripture. refers to the Buddha using the term ‘Self’ in order to win over non-Buddhist ascetics. From this, it continues: ‘The Buddha-nature is in fact not the self. For the sake of (guiding) sentient beings, I describe it as the self.’

The Ratnagotravibhaga, a related text, points out that the teaching of the tathagatagarbha is intended to win sentient beings over to abandoning ‘affection for one's self’ - one of the five defects caused by non-Buddhist teaching. Youru Wang notes similar language in the Lankavatara Sutra, then writes: ‘Noticing this context is important. It will help us to avoid jumping to the conclusion that tathagatagarbha thought is simply another case of metaphysical imagination.’ However, some who? have objected to this reading regarding the Mahaparinirvana Sutra in particular, and claim that the Buddha then caps his comments in this passage with an affirmation of the reality of the Self, declaring that he is in fact that Self:

'Due to various causes and conditions, I have also taught that that which is the self is devoid of self, for though there is truly the self, I have taught that there is no self, and yet there is no falsehood in that. The Buddha-dhatu is devoid of self. When the Tathagata teaches that there is no self, it is because of the Eternal. The Tathagata is the Self, and his teaching that there is no self is because he has attained mastery/sovereignty [aisvarya].'

In the Nirvana Sutra, the Buddha states that he will now teach previously undisclosed doctrines (including on Nirvana) and that his earlier teaching on non-Self was one of expediency only. Dr. Kosho Yamamoto writes:

‘He says that the non-Self which he once taught is none but of expediency … He says that he is now ready to speak about the undisclosed teachings. Men abide in upside-down thoughts. So he will now speak of the affirmative attributes of Nirvana, which are none other than the Eternal, Bliss, the Self and the Pure.’

According to some scholars, the language used in the Tathagatagarbha genre of sutras can be seen as an attempt to state orthodox Buddhist teachings of dependent origination using positive language instead, to prevent people from being turned away from Buddhism by a false impression of nihilism. For example, in some of these sutras the perfection of the wisdom of not-self is stated to be the true self; the ultimate goal of the path is then characterized using a range of positive language that had been used in Indian philosophy previously by essentialist philosophers, but which was now transmuted into a new Buddhist vocabulary to describe a being who has successfully completed the Buddhist path.

Dr. Yamamoto points out that this ‘affirmative’ characterization of Nirvana pertains to a higher form of Nirvana – that of ‘Great Nirvana’. The ordinary Nirvana which is normally spoken about might be likened to eating only a little food after a period of hunger: the bliss and peace that ensue are commensurate with that. Yamamoto goes on to state:

‘But such a nirvana cannot be called ‘Great Nirvana’. And it [i.e. the Buddha’s new revelation regarding Nirvana] goes on to dwell on the ‘Great Self’, ‘Great Bliss’, and ‘Great Purity’, all of which, along with the Eternal, constitute the four attributes of Great Nirvana.’

According to some scholars, the ‘Self’ discussed in the and related sutras does not represent a substantial Self. Rather, it is a positive language expression of emptiness and represents the potentiality to realize Buddhahood through Buddhist practices. In this view, the intention of the teaching of 'tathagatagarbha'/Buddha nature is soteriological rather than theoretical.

However, this interpretation is contentious. Not all scholars share it. Writing on the diverse understandings of tathagatagarbha doctrine as found in the Nirvana Sutra and similar scriptures, Dr. Jamie Hubbard comments on how some scholars see a tendency towards absolutism and monism in this Tathagatagarbha a tendency which Japanese scholar Matsumoto castigates as non-Buddhist. Dr. Hubbard comments:

'Matsumoto calls attention to the similarity between the extremely positive language and causal structure of enlightenment found in the tathagatagarbha literature and that of the substantial monism found in the atman/Brahman tradition. Matsumoto, of course, is not the only one to have noted this resemblance. Takasaki Jikido, for example, the preeminent scholar of the tathagatagarbha tradition, sees monism in the doctrine of the tathagatagarbha and the Mahayana in general … Obermiller wedded this notion of a monistic Absolute to the tathagatagarbha literature in his translation and comments to the Ratnagotra, which he aptly subtitled ‘A Manual of Buddhist Monism’ … Lamotte and Frauwallner have seen the tathagatagarbha doctrine as diametrically opposed to the Madhyamika and representing something akin to the monism of the atman/Brahman strain, while yet others such as Nagao, Seyfort Ruegg, and Johnston (the editor of the Ratnagotra) simply voice their doubts and state that it seems similar to post-Vedic forms of monism. Yet another camp, represented by Yamaguchi Susumu and his student Ogawa Ichijo, is able to understand tathagatagarbha thought without recourse to Vedic notions by putting it squarely within the Buddhist tradition of conditioned causality and emptiness, which, of course, explicitly rejects monism of any sort. Obviously, the question of the monist or absolutist nature of the tathagatagarbha and Buddha-nature traditions is complex.

Dr. Hubbard summarises his research on tathagatagarbha doctrines with the words:

'the teaching of the tathagatagarbha has always been debatable, for it is fundamentally an affirmative approach to truth and wisdom, offering descriptions of reality not in negative terms of what it is lacking or empty of (apophatic description, typical of the Pefection of Wisdom corpus and the Madhyhamika school) but rather in positive terms of what it is (cataphatic description, more typical of the devotional, tantric, Mahaparinirvana and Lotus Sutra traditions, and, it should be noted, the monistic terms of the orthodox Brahmanic systems)'

According to Paul Williams, the similarity to the monism of atman/Brahman thought is explained when the Nirvana sutra presents its Self teachings as an attempt to win over non-Buddhist ascetics:

 It is tempting to speak of Hindu influence on Buddhism at this point, but simply to talk of influences is almost always too easy ... Having said that, of course the Mahaparinirvana-Sutra itself admits Hindu influence in a sense when it refers to the Buddha using the term 'Self' in order to win over non-Buddhist ascetics. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to think in particular of the transcendental Self-Brahman of Advaita Vedanta as necessarily influencing Buddhism at this point. It is by no means clear that the Self which is really no-Self of the Mahaparinirvana-Sutra is at all comparably to the Advaita Brahman, and anyway these Tathagatagarbha sutras are earlier than Gaudapada (seventh century), the founder of the Hindu Advaita school ...

The sutra also states that the Buddha-nature is really no-Self, but is said to be a Self in a manner of speaking.[62] In another section of the same sutra, it is stated that there are three ways for a person to ‘have’ something; to have it in the past, to have it in the present, and to have it in the future. It states that what it means by ‘all beings have Buddha-nature’ is that all beings will in the future become Buddhas.

* Gautama Buddha:
o ‘Nirvana is the highest happiness.’
o ‘Where there is nothing; where naught is grasped, there is the Isle of No-Beyond. Nirvana do I call it -- the utter extinction of aging and dying.’
o ‘There is, monks, an unborn -- unbecome -- unmade -- unfabricated. If there were not that unborn -- unbecome -- unmade -- unfabricated, there would not be the case that emancipation from the born -- become -- made -- fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn -- unbecome -- unmade -- unfabricated, emancipation from the born -- become -- made -- fabricated is discerned.’ [Udana VIII.3]
o This said: ‘the liberated mind/will (citta) which does not cling’ means Nibbāna’ [MN2-Att. 4.68]
o ‘'The subjugation of becoming means nirvana'; this means the subjugation of the five aggregates means nirvana.’ [SN-Att. 2.123]
o In Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta the Buddha likens nibbana to the cessation and extinguishing of a fire where the materials for sustenance has been removed: ‘Profound, Vaccha, is this phenomenon, hard to see, hard to realize, tranquil, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise.’
o ‘There is that dimension where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor stasis; neither passing away nor arising: without stance, without foundation, without support [mental object]. This, just this, is the end of stress.’

* Said immediately after the physical death of Gotama Buddha wherein his mind (citta) is =parinirvāna=the essence of liberation:
o [DN 2.157] ‘No longer with (subsists by) in-breath nor out-breath, so is him (Gotama) who is steadfast in mind (citta), inherently quelled from all desires the mighty sage has passed beyond. With mind (citta) limitless he no longer bears sensations; illumined and unbound (nibbana), his mind (citta) is definitely (ahu) liberated.’

* Sutta Nipāta, tr. Rune Johansson:
o accī yathā vātavegena khitto
attham paleti na upeti sankham
evam muni nāmakāyā kimutto
attham paleti na upeti sankham
o atthan gatassa na pamānam atthi
ynea nam vajju tam tassan atthi
sabbesu dhammesu samūhatesu
samūhatā vādapathāpi sabbe
o Like a flame that has been blown out by a strong wind goes to rest and cannot be defined, just so the sage who is freed from name and body goes to rest and cannot be defined.
For him who has gone to rest there is no measure by means of which one could describe him; that is not for him. When all (dharmas) have gone, all signs of recognition have also gone.
* Venerable Sariputta:
o The destruction of greed, hatred and delusion is nirvana.

In Jainism, it means final release from the karmic bondage. When an enlightened human, such as, an Arhat or a Tirthankara extinguishes his remaining aghatiya karmas and thus ends his worldly existence, it is called parinirvana. Technically, the death of an Arhat is called nirvana of Arhat, as he has ended his wordly existence and attained liberation. Moksha, that is to say, liberation follows nirvana. An Arhat becomes a siddha, the liberated one, after attaining nirvana.

Nirvana in Jainism means :-

1. Death of an Arhat, who becomes liberated thereafter, and
2. Moksa (Jainism)

Description of nirvana of a Tirthankara in Jain Texts

Jains celebrate Diwali as the day of Nirvana of Mahavira. Kalpasutra gives an elaborate account of Mahavira’s nirvana.
‘ The aghatiya Karma’s of venerable Ascetic Mahavira got exhausted, when in this Avasarpini era the greater part of the Duhshamasushama period had elapsed and only three years and eight and a half months were left. Mahavira had recited the fifty-five lectures which detail the results of Karma, and the thirty-six unasked questions (the Uttaradhyana Sutra). The moon was in conjunction with the asterism Svati, at the time of early morning, in the town of Papa, and in king Hastipala's office of the writers, (Mahivira) single and alone, sitting in the Samparyahka posture, left his body and attained nirvana, freed from all pains.’ (147)

In the fourth month of that rainy season, in the seventh fortnight, in the dark (fortnight) of Karttika, on its fifteenth day, in the last night, in the town of Papa, in king Hastipala's office of the writers, the Venerable Ascetic Mahavira died, went off, cut asunder the ties of birth, old age, and death; became a Siddha, a Buddha, a Mukta, a maker of the end (to all misery), finally liberated, freed from all pains. (123)

That night in which the Venerable Ascetic Mahavira died, freed from all pains, was lighted up by many descending and ascending gods. (125)

In that night in which the Venerable Ascetic Mahavira, died, freed from all pains, the eighteen confederate kings of Kasi and Kosala, the nine Mallakis and nine Licchavis, on the day of new moon, instituted an illuminations on the Poshadha, which was a fasting day; for they said: 'Since the light of intelligence is gone, let us make an illumination of material matter!'(128)

Nirvana as Moksha
Uttaradhyana Sutra provides an account of Gautama explaining the meaning of nirvana to Kesi a disciple of Parsva.
‘There is a safe place in view of all, but difficult of approach, where there is no old age nor death, no pain nor disease. It is what is called Nirvâna, or freedom from pain, or perfection, which is in view of all; it is the safe, happy, and quiet place which the great sages reach. That is the eternal place, in view of all, but difficult of approach. Those sages who reach it are free from sorrows, they have put an end to the stream of existence. (81-4)



 Mingalar Monestery မင်္ဂလာကျောင်းတိုက် Hmawbi မှော်ဘီ, Myanmar (Burma) Map


This webpage was updated 27th January 2020