Nibbāna the Ineffable

ineffable adj. too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words; not to be uttered.

Synonyms: indescribable, inexpressible, beyond words, beyond description, begging description; indefinable, unutterable, untold, unimaginable; overwhelming, breathtaking, awesome, marvelous, wonderful, staggering, amazing.

Most people trying to understand the Buddha’s teaching fall into two classes: those who think it’s about being, and those who think it’s about nonbeing. Schools such as Mahāyāna and the religious practitioners are contemplating Buddhism as being; Zen and other voidists are contemplating it as nonbeing. Both are incorrect, and their understanding is insufficient for complete enlightenment. Actually the Buddha’s teaching is about something inconceivable and ineffable: neither-being-nor-nonbeing. Continue reading Nibbāna the Ineffable


A Beautiful Discussion of Nibbāna

“Nibbāna is the untranslatable expression of the Unspeakable, of that for which in the Buddha’s own saying there is no word, which cannot be grasped in terms of reasoning and cool logic, the Nameless Undefinable (cp. the simile of extinction of the flame which may be said to pass from a visible state into a state which cannot be defined. Thus the Arahant passes into that same state, for which there is “no measure” (i. e. no dimension): atthangatassa na pamāṇam atthi . . . yena naṃ vajju: taṃ tassa n’ atthi SN 1076. Yet, it is a reality, and its characteristic features may be described, may be grasped in terms of earthly language, in terms of space (as this is the only means at our disposal to describe abstract notions of time and mentality). Continue reading A Beautiful Discussion of Nibbāna

Nibbāna 23: Axiom and Ontological Roots

This is the final video in the first Chapter of the Nibbāna series.
Nibbāna and the Four Noble Truths are, respectively, the principal axiom and ontological roots of the Buddha’s teaching. An ontological analysis of them reveals that the Buddha’s teaching is

  1. Apophatic: Nibbāna is the unstated ‘elephant in the room’.
  2. Fractal: Every Sutta reflects the same design or image.
  3. Ontologically coherent:
  • The Suttas are all based on the Four Noble Truths.
  • They all point to the same ineffable, inexplicable state.
  • Each one is an extended metaphor about the indefinable.

Thus the Buddha’s teaching is apophatic, fractal and ontologically coherent. No other tradition or system of thought—including modern science—can make this claim.

Nibbāna 22: Gnosis in the Here-and-Now

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“Nanda, having comprehended your awareness with my own awareness, I realized that ‘Nanda, through the ending of the effluents, has entered and remains in the effluent-free awareness-release and discernment-release, directly knowing and realizing them for himself right in the here-and-now.’ … When your mind, through lack of clinging, was released from the effluents, I was thereby released from that promise.”

Then, on realizing the significance of that, the Blessed One on that occasion exclaimed: Continue reading Nibbāna 22: Gnosis in the Here-and-Now

Nibbāna 21: Dove-footed Nymphs

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The original significance of the term Nibbāna was undermined by scholars bringing in a speculative etymology, based on misinterpreting the element vāna as ‘weaving’. We don’t see any justification or explanation for this, apart from exegetical hubris. The Buddha often declares that Nibbāna is the cessation of suffering or the destruction of craving. He frequently uses terms like dukkhanirodho (cessation of suffering) and taṇhakkhayo (cessation of clinging) in the Suttas as synonyms for Nibbāna. If they are synonyms, there is no need to discriminate by insisting on a periphrastic usage like āgamma  (coming to, approaching)— as if Nibbāna is a ‘thing’ or location somewhere ‘out there’ that one can go to.

Another important aspect of the problem is the relation of Nibbāna to the Holy Life, brahmacariya. For when the Holy Life is lived completely, it culminates in Nibbāna:

“What now, friend, is the Holy Life, and who is a follower of the Holy Life, and what is the final goal of the Holy Life?”

“This Noble Eightfold Path, friend, is the Holy Life; that is, right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. One who possesses this Noble Eightfold Path is called ‘one who lives the Holy Life’. The destruction of lust, the destruction of hatred, the destruction of delusion: this, friend, is the final goal of the Holy Life.” — The Cock’s Park (3) (SN 45.20)

In the Rādhasaṃyutta of the Saṃyutta Nikāya the Venerable Rādha puts a series of questions to the Buddha for explanation:

“Venerable sir, for what purpose is right view?”
“Rādha, it is for disenchantment.”

“Venerable sir, for what purpose is disenchantment?”
“Rādha, it is for dispassion.”

“Venerable sir, for what purpose is dispassion?”
“Rādha, it is for release.”

“Venerable sir, for what purpose is release?”
“Rādha, it is for extinction (nibbāna).”

“Venerable sir, for what purpose is extinction?”
“Rādha, it is not possible to answer that question. Extinction is the final end. The Holy Life is lived to reach extinction and it is the end.”
— Māra Sutta (SN

When Venerable Rādha puts the question, Nibbānaṃ pana, bhante, kimatthiyaṃ? “For what purpose is Nibbāna?” The Buddha gives this answer: “Rādha, you have gone beyond the scope of questions, you are unable to grasp the limit of questions. For, Rādha, the Holy Life (brahmacariya) is merged in Nibbāna, its consummation is Nibbāna, its culmination is Nibbāna.”

Nibbāna 20: Self-fettered by Views

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Today the deeper implications of the word Nibbāna are obscured by a set of disingenuous and misleading arguments based on a scholarly methodology borrowed from South Indian Brahmanism. Nevertheless, most Theravādins, dazzled by the brilliance of Ven. Buddhaghosa’s scholarship, accept his arguments as gospel.

That has led to an unfortunate situation where the sober voices of the forest practitioners are out-shouted by a politicized chorus of university-trained city temple scholastics. ‘I know, I see, that’s just how it is!’ they chant. Continue reading Nibbāna 20: Self-fettered by Views

Nibbāna 19: Starve the Tiger

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To explain the position of lustful beings in the world, the Buddha gives the simile of a man with a skin disease sitting beside a pit of hot embers:

“Suppose, Māgandiya, there was a leper with sores and blisters on his limbs, being devoured by worms, scratching the scabs off the openings of his wounds with his nails, cauterizing his body over a burning charcoal pit. Then his friends and companions, his kinsmen and relatives, brought a physician to treat him. The physician would make medicine for him, and by means of that medicine the man would be cured of his leprosy and would become well and happy, independent, master of himself, able to go where he likes.” — Māgaṇdiya Sutta (MN 75)

That man is simply trying to assuage his pains by the heat of the fire. It is an attempt to warm up, not to cool down. Similarly, the lustful beings in the world are trying to warm up by drawing near the fires of lust. There is no way that can be compared to the extinction and cooling down of the Arahants.