“This is peaceful, this is excellent: the stilling of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all assets; the destruction of craving; detachment, cessation, Nibbāna.” — Mahā-Mālunkya Sutta (MN 64)
There is a reason most people can’t experience Nibbāna and reach enlightenment. ‘Buddhist’ religious organizations have oversimplified, distorted and obscured the original teachings of the Buddha. If this continues much longer, the practices that brought the Buddha and his original disciples to enlightenment may be lost forever.
Historically, there were two major reformations in the Sri Lankan Theravāda tradition. The first was about a thousand years ago. Monks from South India wrote commentaries that overlaid the Buddha’s original teaching with philosophical ideas and religious practices from the Vedic yoga tradition. Of course, yoga operates by completely different principles than the Buddha’s teaching. So the Commentaries introduce an eternalism that is not present in the Suttas. But these changes made it possible to utilize religious ‘Buddhism’ as a tool of state control.
The second reformation occurred much more recently, during the British colonial occupation of Sri Lanka. Buddhism was ‘churchified’, turning it into a corporate religious organization and separating Buddhist tradition from everyday life. Nominally ‘Buddhist’ schools were created, minimizing the cultural influence and impact of the monasteries. Thus the Buddhist community was adjusted for compatibility with the Christian notions and capitalist intentions of the colonials.
The subjective impact of these changes was to create the impression that understanding and practicing the Buddha’s teaching is a matter for scholars and specialists, far too difficult and obscure for ordinary mortals. They project the idea that Nibbāna in particular is impossibly far off; no one can reach it in this life. Both these ideas are diametrically opposed to the Buddha’s actual teaching in the Suttas. When properly presented, the Buddha’s teaching is common sense; anyone can verify it in their own experience. And the Buddha specifically stated that Nibbāna is to be realized in the here-and-now, that it is timeless and always available. Enlightenment need not take many lifetimes.
We envision a future where practitioners can reach Nibbāna ‘in no long time’, as it was during the time of the Buddha himself. It is my experience that with proper background (Right View) and careful practice of jhāna (Right Concentration), supported by the rest of the Noble Eightfold Path, a well-prepared and determined person can reach the goal in 120 days or less.
What gets in the way of cultivating Right View is time. Most people feel they don’t have time to read through the complete Theravāda Suttas. The Suttas are extensive; I read them as a monk, and it took me two years. The same goes for practice. People think they don’t have time for the level of intense practice required to actually attain enlightenment. Well, do you have time to die? Death is inevitable, and we never know when it may come. Don’t you want to do something about that?
And many people are caught up in nominally ‘buddhist’ religious and cultural organizations that perpetuate distortions and misunderstandings that keep them from realizing Nibbāna for themselves. But actually, you just need to understand the gist, the overview of the Buddha’s teaching. And you just need to practice in a way that multiplies the effectiveness of your practice through a synergistic combination of methods.
I attained Stream Entry in less than 100 days in 1984 by studying and practicing a summary of the Buddha’s original complete teaching, the Secret of the Golden Flower. And I did it independently, by practicing intensively under the direction of a realized Master. I am just an ordinary person. Anything I have done, you can do too. I committed myself fully to discipleship with a realized Master. This relationship of discipleship is the key for real attainment.
This series is composed under the inspiration of, and with the kind permission of my mentor, Ven. Kaṭakurunde Ñāṇananda. It is based on his extensive research notes and lectures on the subject of Nibbāna. The concept behind this series is Suttānta-vāda: that the Theravāda Suttas are the prime source of the Buddha’s teaching, and that derivative works like the Commentaries, Visuddhimāgga and the Abhidhamma should be read critically to avoid being led astray.
Further, much of the interpretive material in the Commentaries is based on speculative grammatical techniques imported from South Indian Hinduism. Specifically the school of Śāṅkarācārya, who used similar tricks in his commentary on Vedānta-sūtra. The Commentaries have the effect of introducing a yogic and religious framework not found in the Suttas that undermines and dilutes their remarkable potency, stylistic uniformity, logical consistency and ontological coherence.
Finally, since the Buddha presented his teachings in the context of Vedic thought, some background is needed for contemporary people to appreciate the Suttas properly. Many explanations of the Buddha’s teaching suffer from lack of this context, so I attempt to provide it. Philosophically this series follows in the footsteps of Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu and Bhikkhu Ñāṇananda, my kind and compassionate mentor.