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Nibbāna isn’t annihilation; just cessation, as the Buddha said. The previous section began to explore the direct meaning of the word Nibbāna in terms of the Suttas. It seems plain enough in that light. But the commentators didn’t appreciate the deeper connotations of Nibbāna in the context of Dependent Origination (paṭicca samuppāda), so they developed a new etymology of their own.
The commentators were uneasy about the implications of the word ‘extinction’. Apparently they felt compelled to reinterpret certain key passages on Nibbāna to avoid the charge of nihilism or annihilationism, which also had been leveled at the Buddha. They conceived Nibbāna as a ‘something’ existing in its own right. They could not say where Nibbāna is; sometimes they even said that it is everywhere. They would say, with undue emphasis on speculative grammatical interpretation, that lust and other defilements are abandoned upon ‘going’ to Nibbāna.
That is a nice safe description for scholars and others addicted to words and symbols. But what do the practitioners who actually realized Nibbāna say? As recorded in texts like the Thera-gāthā we find joyous utterances like, sītibhūto’smi nibbuto: “I am grown cool, I am extinguished.” (Rāhula Thera) The words sītibhūta and nibbuta indicate a cooling effect. Why did later scholars find them inadequate? Probably because the scholars weren’t practitioners.
Extinction is an experience bringing a unique bliss of appeasement. As the Ratana Sutta says, laddhā mudhā nibbutiṃ bhuñjamānā: “They experience the bliss of appeasement won free of charge.” Appeasement means to bring to a state of peace, quiet, ease, calm, or contentment; pacify; soothe; to satisfy, allay, or relieve; assuage. Normally appeasement is won at a cost, but the appeasement of Nibbāna comes gratis.