Nibbana 18: Craving and Becoming

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According to the Buddha, Nibbāna is realization of the cessation of existence. Existence is said to be an eleven-fold fire; the entire existence is a raging fire. Lust, hate and delusion are fires. Therefore Nibbāna may be best rendered by the word ‘extinction’. Once the fires are extinguished, what more is needed?

Unfortunately Venerable Buddhaghosa, well-trained in the rhetoric of South Indian Brahmanism, was unprepared to appreciate this point of view. In his famous Visuddhimagga, and in the Sāratthappakāsinī and Sammohavinodanī commentariesthere is a long discussion on Nibbāna in the form of a discussion with an imaginary heretic (Vism 508; Spk III 88; Vibh-a 51). Many of his arguments are inharmonious with both the letter and spirit of the Dhamma. In fact, he argues directly against the Buddha’s teaching in the Suttas.

First Buddhaghosa gets the heretic to put forward the idea that the destruction of lust, hate and delusion is Nibbāna. But actually the heretic is simply quoting the Buddha word, for in the Nibbāna Sutta of the Asaṅkhata Saṃyutta, Nibbāna is called the destruction of lust, hate and delusion: rāgakkhayo, dosakkhayo, mohakkhayo idaṃ vuccati nibbānaṃ.

The words rāgakkhaya, dosakkhaya and mohakkhaya together form a synonym of Nibbāna, but Buddhaghosa interprets it as three synonyms. Then he argues directly against the Buddha in form of the imaginary heretic, that if Nibbāna is the extinguishing of lust it is something common even to the animals, for they also extinguish their fires of lust through enjoyment of the corresponding objects of sense (Vibh-a 53). This argument ignores the deeper sense of the word extinction as it is found in the Suttas.

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Dev Jacobsen

Musician, author and yogi, developer of Palingenics.

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