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.”

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Dev Jacobsen

Musician, author and yogi, developer of Palingenics.

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