The following is a comment I wrote some time ago in the discussion thread on this article. I’ve extracted it and reposted here, with a couple of minor changes.
To understand the famous passage on the “radiant mind” we will have to go into some details and background, so hold on. Here’s the Pali:
51. ‘‘Pabhassaramidaṃ , bhikkhave, cittaṃ. Tañca kho āgantukehi upakkilesehi upakkiliṭṭhaṃ. Taṃ assutavā puthujjano yathābhūtaṃ nappajānāti. Tasmā ‘assutavato puthujjanassa cittabhāvanā natthī’ti vadāmī’’ti. Paṭhamaṃ.
52. ‘‘Pabhassaramidaṃ , bhikkhave, cittaṃ. Tañca kho āgantukehi upakkilesehi vippamuttaṃ. Taṃ sutavā ariyasāvako yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti. Tasmā ‘sutavato ariyasāvakassa cittabhāvanā atthī’ti vadāmī’’ti. Dutiyaṃ.
The sutta appears in the middle of a long list of other short suttas, all of which deal with some aspect of mental development, eg. metta and so on. These texts are obviously artificial in a sense: they have been divided up from longer, more coherent discourses to fit the “Ones” format. Thus these two “suttas” are really one sutta; and the same goes for the two previous suttas (not quoted here), which are just abstracts from the present text.
The overall context of this part of the Suttas is samadhi: in fact, probably the reason these texts have been artificially “processed” to fit in this section is because the idea of “one” fits well with samadhi as “one-pointedness of mind”. This doesn’t prove anything, but it does suggest that we should expect texts here to deal mainly with samadhi.
A literal translation is:
Radiant, monks, is this mind. And it is defiled by transient defilements. An unlearned ordinary person does not understand that in accord with reality. Therefore I say, “An unlearned ordinary person does not have mental development.”
Radiant, monks, is this mind. And it is freed from transient defilements. A learned noble disciple person understands that in accord with reality. Therefore I say, “A learned noble disciple has mental development.”
The syntax of the sutta is somewhat obscure, in Pali as in English: while there are no grammatical difficulties, it is not entirely clear what the sense of the text is. This is already a red flag: as a rule, one should never rely for crucial explanations on a text that appears only once, and which is unclear. Surely in a crucial matter the Buddha would have stated it many times and made it clear what he was talking about. As a rule, when faced with an obscure passage, we look to more clear examples to help us understand.
To start with, then, let’s look at other Sutta passages that use the same word “pabhassara”. Here I will ignore the fact that this word is merely a synonym for many other terms such as abha, pariyodata, obhasa, and so on, that are frequently used in the context of samadhi. A quick search of the uses of pabhassara reveals this:
- Majjhima 93 Assalayana: the “radiance” of a fire
- Samyutta 6.5: The “radiance” of Brahma
- Samyutta 46.31–32: The “radiance” of gold, compared to the “radiance” of the mind when it has right samadhi (i.e. jhana).
- Samyutta 51.22: the Buddha’s body in samadhi is lighter and “more radiant”, like hot metal.
- Anguttara 3.101: Similar to SN 46.31 above, except here the word pabhassara is only directly used in the simile when referring to gold; the text goes on to speak of samadhi, but doesn’t use pabhassara. However,
- Anguttara 3.102: Here pabhassara is used of samadhi, in the same stock phrase as above, as well as in the “gold” simile.
- Anguttara 5.23: “Gold” and “samadhi” as above.
- Sutta Nipata 46: “Radiant” gold jewellery.
So pabhassara is used in an ordinary language sense of the “radiance” of a fire or gold; in a “religious” sense of the light of Brahma; and in a Dhamma sense of the radiance of the mind in samadhi. The sense of the simile of gold, which is the most common context, is that just as gold has impurities and the smith will gradually work them out, resulting in pure, radiant gold, so too the meditator eliminates the defilements (upakkilesa = nivarana = 5 hindrances) and thereby leads the mind to samadhi. This all hangs together very straightforwardly. Nowhere is there any suggestion that it has anything to do with Nibbana.
These passages, especially the recurring comparison of gold with samadhi, are clear and well-defined. They are proper teachings, not just cut-up slivers with no parallels, as in the more famous pabhassara citta passage. This is one of the most common tendencies we find in Buddhist history: that well-known, frequently repeated passages with clear meaning are ignored, while obscure, marginal passages, probably suffering severe editorial loss, are taken up precisely because their obscurity allows one to read anything into them.
Returning to our passage, the “radiant” mind is said to be either defiled or freed from defilements. While the overall context is cittabhavana, i.e. samadhi, and is obviously meant to be the same as the more common gold/samadhi passage, there is a crucial difference. That is, in the gold/samadhi passages, the gold (and the mind) is said to be “not radiant” when it is defiled; and “radiant” when the defilements are removed. But the texts under discussion say exactly the opposite.
There is a clear contradiction here, and as always, one can approach contradictions in various ways. Perhaps the two can be harmonized: the radiance of the mind is potentially there, even if not apparent. Fine, but that is not really how the Buddha talked about things. We should always prefer a simpler, more grounded explanation, not one that necessitates revising the whole of the Buddha’s teachings based on one dubious passage. Given that the text has obviously suffered editorial changes, I suspect that the problems arose due to these.
The beginning of the Sutta has the Buddha (presumably, although it doesn’t actually say so), saying, “This mind is radiant…” The particle “idam”, “this”, functions to limit and specific: This mind, not “the mind” (as in Thanissaro’s translation). As well as the gold/samadhi passages, we might compare to the Upakkilesa Sutta, where the Buddha speaks of how he meditated, then light arose, but because of “defilements” (upakkilesa, the same word as our sutta), the light vanished. The word for light is different (obhasa), but is from the same root with the same basic meaning.
This is the normal way the Buddha talked about the mind. It is not that it is “naturally” radiant or defiled: it is naturally conditioned. When the conditions for darkness are there, it is dark, when the conditions for light are there, it is light. Our passage, which is unique, without parallels in any early Suttas, syntactically awkward, clearly the subject of editing, can be read as suggesting a different take on things, that the mind is somehow “radiant” even when covered by defilements. Or it can be read in line with the other, more clear suttas.
In either case, there is no suggestion here that the “radiant mind” be connected with Nibbana. Quite the opposite: the whole point of the sutta is that it can be defiled, so it cannot be Nibbana.
70 thoughts on “On the radiant mind”
What experiences Nibbana? The radiant mind is not Nibbana, but it seems as though the radiant mind can experience it. The mind of an awakened being does not disappear any more than the body disappears, and saying that the mind freed from defilements experiences Nibbana makes sense. The jhanic experience approximates the nibbanic experience in that unwholesome mental qualities are abandoned. The biggest difference seems to be that, with the nibbanic experience, there is no sinking or spinning whatsoever due to attachment to conditioned phenomena (on sinking in jhanic experience, see MN 138). Unless you’re saying that Nibbana is the unconditioned experiencing the unconditioned, the assertion that the pabhassara citta experiences Nibbana makes sense, at least as a way to speak about the experience.
Experience is of consciousness. Consciousness is: to know, that knows. Nibbana is “the cessation of perception and feeling”. The cessation of perception is the start of reality, the start of awareness on reality, knowing the dhamma as it is. When perception ceases, the view of self (I, my, or you, your) ceases. Sakaya Dhitti ceases. The cessation of feeling is the realization of the end of feeling – this happens to someone who meditates. This state is Nibbana.
Google: “cessation of perception and feeling”.
With consciousness, Nibbana is known, insight is known. The monk is very aware, very alert, and he knows the cessation of perception and feeling in the end. He liberates himself from perception – ie. views.
Consciousness is a process that can be experienced. It is the attending to an object that has come to a sense gate. The meeting of the sense gate, the object, and consciousness – all of which arise and cease – is contact.
Nibbana isn’t a state so much as an absence of all states of becoming.
When something is experienced for oneself, insight is possible because there is knowledge through experience. Insight isn’t experienced, so much as it’s the result of experience.
Consciousness can know itself. There are five aggregates: consciousness, perception, feeling, thought, and physical body. Consciousness knows all of them, including itself. Nibbana is a mental state reachable when all defilements (asava) are abandoned. Nibbana is not absent of everything, it’s the state of peace and comfort of being free from all wrong views – i.e. insight is reached, or reality is realized. Read “Yamaka Sutta” for detail.
There is no self or oneself.
Experience is of consciousness. When a puthujjana experiences, he develops perception. When an Ariya experiences, he only has insight – or yatha-bhuta nana-dassana.
I don’t see any serious contradictions between your view and my previous assumption about citta, but I am not sure if Thanissaro’s omission of idam before citta so greatly changes the whole picture. Does it change anything? Anyway, I agree that the mind is conditioned, at least until reaching Nibbana during a life, but I am not so sure about its inherent nature. It seems to me there are no exact passages on this point, so maybe it is just a matter of taste. I personaly prefer to think that the mind is inherently radiant and is just needed to be purified, especially given my perception of citta as a central part, different from the side processes of consciousness and various mental activities. Besides this Pabhassara sutta which irritates you, there is Cittavagga in the Dhammapada, where citta is described even better and colourfully, almost without any mentions of vinnana and mano. But of course, the main point is that some efforts definitely should be made to achieve this freed and radiant mind. I guess it is obvious from the rest of the Suttas.
Nirvana is ever present as this Radiant Mind. When with defilements its not noticed, the defilements are instead. When twofold emptiness is realized, the defilements are seen to have always been empty. Samsara is this not seeing the emptiness of the appearances. Its like the changeless unborn sky with or without clouds. The sky (nirvana) is always present whether clouds appear or not. By bringing attention to the Radiant Mind instead of the empty defilements, the Radiant Mind is seen to have always been present. The Radiant Mind is beyond the four extremes of existence. It’s unestsblished, unborn pure nirvana. Its a non-dependent unlanded awareness that takes no object or subject.
If the Radian Mind was always present, then a)how did it get covered up by defilements in the first place, and b)what is to prevent it from getting covered by defilements again even after one achieves awakening? This sounds very much like the formless attainments, and on top of that, if this “Radiant Mind” is all that you say it is, then it would seem to be an excellent candidate for an ātman(self).
My 5 cents. For sure these short suttas are about the mind in the state of samadhi. In there it is radiant – but, if we look into MN 127 (not 128) – such radiant mind, as it seems, can be still defiled a bit (simile with a lamp in MN 127). So, if one is aware that there are still minor defilements – one can try to remove them (there is development). If one is not aware about that – no development then.
From Thanissaro’s cautious comment on the Pabhassara Sutta:
“A more reasonable approach to understanding the statement can be derived from taking it in context: the luminous mind is the mind that the meditator is trying to develop. To perceive its luminosity means understanding that defilements such as greed, aversion, or delusion are not intrinsic to its nature, are not a necessary part of awareness. Without this understanding, it would be impossible to practice”
Could the text not be seen as an inspired utterance (or an utterance to inspire)? Is the notion that there is a natural resting place/natural state within the mind that is “light and at ease” where we can abide (but without equating this abiding with anything in particular) problematic?
I don’t think it is problematic if it’s just taken as a bit of practical advice, the problem is that any time anything like this is mentioned, there is what seems to be an irresistible compulsion to read it as a metaphysical statement on the true essence of Nibbana or some such. It’s just a bit frustrating , is all.
In any case, as the text-critical analysis shows, the text just doesn’t say this. It simply says, in line with everything else in the early texts, that if we meditate we can purify our mind of defilements and experience it as radiant. It has nothing to do with Nibbana, or “resting-places”, or “original mind”, or a “natural state” and so on.
” we can purify our mind of defilements and experience it as radiant. It has nothing to do with Nibbana”
Excuse me Bhante, do you really think that the purified mind has nothing to do with Nibbana? :), even with Nibbana-with-remainder?
The passage we are discussing has nothing to do with Nibbana. The relation between Nibbana and any form of consciousness is a separate question. But to be able to sort it out, we need to first weed out the obvious mistakes. These things are hard enough!
The passage we are discussing is about the purified (luminous, radiant) mind and development which leads to it. That is all. There are no any mentions of anything else, so the rest is a subjective interpretation, including your own about “it has nothing to do with Nibbana or “original mind” or a “natural state””.
Well, this is your own personal view, I just want to remind that it is not the ultimate truth.
There is a kind of discourse that is neither “subjective interpretation” nor “ultimate truth”. It is critical, reasoned inquiry. And that is what my post was. I gave my reasons, I drew my inferences, and I explained my conclusions. If you want to do the same, we can have some conversation.
I’d say that the term ‘natural’ is problematic because it undermines the notion that the mind if dependently originated from causes and conditions. To say the mind if naturally anything is to suggest that the mind has a svabhāva, which means the mind then is not shuṇya(void/empty).
Hi Bhante, thanks for the reply
Doesn’t the problem of creating the metaphysical position come about when we approach such teachings purely from an intellectual position or a position of trying to comprehend.
I think that if we practice a little it is not that hard to get a flavour or an inkling of what a “radiant mind” is or feels like. I don’t equate this with nibanna as the experience is obviously conditioned (dependant on there being a me). But how about moving towards that “place”?
I wonder if the Buddha while living was experiencing a radiant mind just when sitting in meditation or at all times?
I don’t think it’s an intellectual problem per se. In fact those most apt towards such metaphysical views are often people who are not used to using any sort of critical thinking in their spiritual life. Sure, if someone has an intellectual side, they might use that to justify these ideas philosophically, but I think that’s post hoc. The attachment is already there.
The Buddha’s mind, or that of any arahant, or indeed, that of anyone with sufficiently good samadhi, is free of hindrances all the time. So in that sense it would be “radiant” according to this sutta. Of course, they wouldn’t necessarily reflectively experience it as such unless they turned attention to it; just as, if you’re looking through a very clean window, you don’t notice the cleanliness of it unless you pay attention to that; but you will always see brightly and clearly through it.
And absolutely, I know exactly what you mean, there is a sense of a “place” in the mind that is restful, natural, and in a sense almost inevitable. When your mind becomes more peaceful in meditation, it’s almost as if you were drawn there, like it is your “real home”.
Excellent! Very clear. I had a go at something similar a few years ago on this same passage, but this is much better.
One extra thing is that there is there is a little pun here. The Pali spelling of Sanskrit citra “shining” is also citta. Pabhassara is more or less a synonym for citra. It may be nothing, but I think Pali speakers may have picked up on this.
Thanks, Jayarava. I hadn’t thought about the pun aspect. I wonder. Citta/citra in that sense (the sanskritized spelling is often found in the Pali) doesn’t quite have the connotation of brilliant, more “florid, diverse”. Kind of the opposite of samadhi…
Sometimes word plays are more obvious to people learning a language second hand; native users tend to take words as they are, unless there’s a specific context calling attention to it.
Many years ago I remember some of the western monks were chatting with a very senior, respected meditation Ajahn of the Thai Dhammayut forest tradition. In that tradition, the monks, including the western monks, usually go by their normal names, not their Pali names. So, somehow somebody mentioned one of the western monks, who was known as “Ajahn Dick”. The Thai Ajahn casually asked what that meant in English. When he found out, he just killed himself laughing.
Unless Bhante is saying that Nibbana is the unconditioned experiencing the unconditioned, the assertion that the pabhassara citta freed from defilements experiences Nibbana makes sense, at least as a way to speak about the experience.
Why does saying that the pabhassara citta freed from defilements experiences jhana make more sense than saying that the pabhassara citta freed from defilements experiences Nibbana? Does it? Are you saying that nothing of the mind of an arahant experiences Nibbana in any way?
The Buddha said that there is pleasure in the experience of Nibbana. Is that pleasure not experienced in the mind at all?
By the way, if the pabhassara citta defiled by adventitious defilements and the pabhassara citta freed from adventitious defilements mentioned in these short suttas were meant to refer only to samadhi, wouldn’t the distinction be between the defiled mind and the adhicitta freed from defilements?
And the emphasis seems to be on the mind being radiant whether or not there are defilements, so why should one conclude that the radiant mind only refers to samadhi? If the mind is radiant even for one who proliferates, couldn’t the mind also be radiant for one who experiences Nibbana?
“Why does saying that the pabhassara citta freed from defilements experiences jhana make more sense than saying that the pabhassara citta freed from defilements experiences Nibbana? Does it?”
Exactly, Brc 🙂 Such Suttas are definitely open to different interpretations and should not be an apple of discord.
Whatever is subject to origination is subject to cessation. Does that apply to the pābhassara citta as well? The Buddha says that what is impermanent is dukkha, and what is dukkha should not be taken as a self. So, why shouldn’t we take the pābhassara citta as self?
Things exist or not dependent on causes and conditions. When certain things come into place, we say “there is a defiled mind”, and when other causes and conditions are present, we say “there is a radiant mind”. But puthajjanas try to latch on to something, to find a self somewhere. As Ven. Ñāṇānanda says “mind and dhammas is the last resort of delusion”. When you can’t hide anywhere else, your last resort is to build a self out of awareness.
In anycase, we’re not really discussing anything new here. The notion that the Tathāgatagarbha doctrines suggest a subtle ātmavāda(self-theory) is not a new argument.
Actually, nobody told you to take pābhassara citta as self, this is your own speculation. Of course pābhassara citta is also “a subject to cessation”, in Nibbana-without-remainder according to the Suttas. It is not necessary to be so afraid of alternative opinions, they are not always contradict your beliefs.
UttaraPhalguni et al,
What is pābhassara citta? What is anidassana viññāṇa? They’re words. And yet they point to an experience beyond words. Insisting that there are no words that accurately describe the experience of Nibbana and arguing about what pābhassara citta and anidassana viññāṇa are makes about as much sense as being handed teachings that lead away from confusion and repeatedly insisting on circling back to confusion rather than follow the teachings to where they lead.
I find pali is helpful here in understanding this passage. The pali pajanati means discerning whereas yathabuta means things as they truly are. Hence, citta is the mind that discern or truly understand things as they truly are, which differs from discursive thinking or mano. I think, the usage of radiant is a metaphor to describe the quality of citta. In this sense, I think, citta is the discerning mind and therefore, this passage is plausible the true teaching of the buddha or utterrance of the buddha. Please do correct me. my 2 cent interpretation.
In fact the phrase here, as usual, indicates the attainment of stream entry. A stream enterer understands the path, since they themselves have walked it. This is why they don’t have any doubt. The point is that the stream enterer knows that the mind which has been developed through meditation becomes radiant.
Pabassara is the the “mind” without defilements (upakkilesa);
It is not possible to go beyond this. Humans cannot define what the mind.
I understand it as follows: This mind is purity in its natural state. But my mind, a puthujjana’s, is impure because of defilements.
According to the teachings of Lord Buddha, The purest state of the mind is Nibbana.
The transition from impure to pure is extremely complex. However, there are well defined states.
Puthujjana, Ariyasavaka, Sotapanna, Sakadagami, Anagami, Arahant.
The Ariya (Lord Buddha), is no more (in the world or universe or cosmos, or in the worlds people imagine, Sagga, Brahma.)
Thus only Puthujjanas are there.
The Sutta (formula) was a Dhamma pointed out to Ariyasavakas. They of course understood it; a matter between the Teacher and his disciples. We have to wait until the next Lord Buddha appears to understand it,
Wish you a pleasant and happy journey all the way
The discussion has forgotten the second sentence: ”
A mere worldling (puthujjana) has no “knowledge”.
So discussion (and debate) is fruitless.
This is not what this phrase means. The knowledge of a stream enterer is the “confirmed confidence” of someone who has seen the truth for themselves. It is like some who has been to New York, and knows just what it smells like. Someone who has not been to New York, however, can’t know that, but they can know many other useful things about it. In particular, they can learn how to read a map intelligently and carefully, which will greatly improve their chances of arriving at their destination.
There is nowhere that the Buddha dismisses textual knowledge or inference or discussion as useless; on the contrary, he constantly praised it and encouarged it and part of the path towards realization, as essential as meditation.
“There is nowhere that the Buddha dismisses textual knowledge or inference or discussion as useless; on the contrary, he constantly praised it and encouarged it and part of the path towards realization, as essential as meditation.”
I make a few comments based on my understanding of the Teachings of Lord Buddha.
Textual knowledge: During the time of Lord Buddha communication was by speech. Textual knowlege was memorising the words of the Lord.
Inference: As far as the Lord’s word is concerned, there are no inferences to be made.
Discussion: Lord’s advice was context dependent. General advice was not to talk. Lord Buddha was also known as the Muni of the Sakyans. At the proper time one should ‘talk’ dhamma (kalena dhammasakaccha). There is another piece of Lord’s advice that just floated into my mind: “sannipatinaanam bhikkhave dvayam karaniiyam, dhammii vaa kathaa ariyo vaa tunhiibhaavo”. Well I am afraid to translate them. But this is how I understand it, If you get together bhikkhus, then you can do either of two things: a story embodying dhamma or keep aryan-silence.
I wish to point out
1. Lord’s advise regarding lying (musavada); positively, speak only the truths. This is the single most fundamental requirements of the Lord’s advice. I have so far not come across any body who can observe this rule. Rules of my Lord are to be observed and not to be talked about. If one observes this rule, there is very little to talk about.
I cannot attach a meaning to this word.
I do not know how this word is related to the advice of the Lord.
What the sutta says is that our minds can be purified by training, since their nature is radiant. This is a very motivational sutta if we look in that way. We are not naturally bad or sinful. Our true nature is goodness. We should discover it through mental cultivation (bhavana). As water mixed with earth looks brown, but without it looks bright, the same with the mind. I don’t see any doctrinal problem with this.
Ok, I correct my own post. mind has no “true nature”, but the possibility to be “radiant” with proper training. Greetings.
Exactly what I was going to say! A simple thing, but for some reason it seems very hard to convey.
Re. Jorge Contreras statement
The statement of Jorge is an interpretation.
“Pabhassaramidaṃ , bhikkhave, cittaṃ” is a statement in the Lord Buddha’s Dhamma. Dhamma statement are statements about reality and it is not possible to interpret them.
The statement is addressed to Bhikkhus. That is, the context of the Sutta [Samaya] is Lord Buddha and Bhikkhus. Historically, some 2500 years ago. The statement can be understood by bhikkhus who confirm to the definition of Sila. [A complete description is given in DN 1.2.]
According to the Lord’s Dhamma, the way to understand this is to cultivate the Eight-limbed Ariyan Path. A Puthujjana must start from where he is and acquire the Ariyan Path.
I understand that the radiant mind is not nibbana since it’s possible to get attached to it (this would from what I see be the ulitmate deception of the mind). However, if the mind enters samadhi and there is no more movement of the mind (which can be only recalled afterwards and noticed because the mind ‘ripples’ for a brief moment in samadhi, this shows there was no movement prior to the ripple) I’d say that this is a moment where defilements cannot be present since the mind does not move and only ‘awareness’ remains. Needless to say that this can be known only afterwards. I would not call this radiant since this would require ‘something’ (we can call mind) inside the experience.
My questions about this are:
Am I correct to state that when the mind does not move and only awareness remains it’s not possible for stress to be present at that moment? Concluding that the mind itself (the stories it creates around conscious experiences) is the sole source of stress?
Do I understand correctly that when the mind keeps seeking this experience which cannot last it’s seeking stress, unknowing it generated a new story about the experience (how good it is, how preferable it is when related to normal sensory experience)? The same for seeing the ‘radiant/clean’ mind and protecting this mindstate?
I see how seeing this ‘pure awareness’ as (related to) self leads to stress, it’s creating a story around ‘nothing’.
Am I correct when I state it this way?
Yes, that’s pretty much it. Only I’m unclear how you’re using “stress”. If you mean “mental suffering”, then there is no problem.
However if you are using Ven Thanissaro’s rendering of dukkha as stress, then it’s not quite true to say that there is no dukkha in jhana. There is, although it is so subtle that it is virtually nothing. Still, it is not unconditioned, so there is always the subtle dukkha of impermanence.
Thank you Bhante,
I have seen the following stress in the experience: first the stress once the mind firmly hooks to the meditation object, there is fear of losing control. Once the mind is reestablished the mind starts to spin even faster yet without fear, there is movement without ‘anyone’ controlling it. And to be honest, I never expected the mind could work at such a speed while spinning the object (not native English so I struggle a bit for words). At this point there is clear understanding that the spin exists of two points that are mutually exclusive (like breathing in and out cannot exist at the same time). This gives rise to a new kind of stress, not wanting to know yet knowing so to say. It becomes clear that the mind itself is the unstable thing since it’s spinning along. The object and mind become stressful. Shortly after the mind cannot hold on to the object (why should it, it’s only stress) and drop into silence. There are few ‘wondering’ and ‘amazing’ notions regarding the silence and peace of the state, those are compared to the complete silence stressful. Then at some point the mind starts to move slightly, like a single tick or tock from a clock, only much fainter. Again compared to the complete silence those are stressful. However since the thinking part of the mind seems disconnected this is only on looking back. Once consciousness starts moving again there are sense impressions, yet without the mental labeling. It’s only afterwards again that these are noticed as sounds or feelings. On full return there were two notions, the first an amazing impression of the peace in that state where no mental impression is present. The slightest movement of the mind is seen as stress against this background. Not to speak about more gross impressions like those from the senses. The other one and this one was even more strange, a certain notion, dare not call it thought arose from ‘nothing’ with clear knowing that the state cannot last. Several other insights also arose, no need to mention them.
I had been wondering about this for many months afterwards till one evening I sat in meditation and the mind became quiet (not the deep samadhi though) and yet there was the mental notion that it was not right. At that point the mind turned right towards itself, like a burglar was sensed and all lights went on. It was like the mind was doing an entire sweep to get rid of this burglar, this intruder. Wasn’t the quiet kind of meditation, quite the contrary.
When you ask me about stress I would say it’s this nagging part in the mind. The fact that samadhi or jhana cannot last is just their nature. The small movements inside the experience are only stressful when we view them this way and don’t want them to be there. It’s our complaining mind that knows the silence (and labels that as desirable) that marks them as less than perfect and thus undesirable. This nagging can be about anything, outside and inside the mind. There are stories about how things should be and how ‘reality’ is different. No need to look outside, stress is generated close to us.
To conclude with an analogy: we cannot hear silence because our ears only detect sense impressions. However we can experience silence when all sounds are absent. Silence it always present, it’s not the same as sound. Each way of trying to find peace (the stopping of all sense and mental impressions would come close) is trying to hear silence while at the same time making noise. Yet we should practice to understand sound and what creates sound so we can at some point stop making it and find silence. At that point questions stop.
Thanks for answering
That’s a fascinating and beautiful account of meditation, thank you for sharing.
I understand your question a little better, I think. But I am not sure whether you need an “answer” or not; it seems to me, from what little I can see in just a short post, that you understand the experience well. Just keep going!
Citta is that knows (consciousness, awareness, noticing, sensing) without perception. Perception is view, it can follow consciousness. Once the view kicks in, reality is changed into personal view. Perception and thought go together. If thought is suppressed, perception doesn’t follow consciousness – generally. But perception is deep rooted in our tendency (mood) that it can still follow consciousness but only mildly because without repeating verbally, mentally, and physically. Gradually perception can be eliminated/rooted out in that way (samatha vipassana).
Sorry, but this is not how the suttas analyze consciousness. Citta also goes together with perception. There is no such thing as awareness without perception; because perception is one of the basic functions that make consciousness work (namarupapaccaya vinnanam…)
What I found very intriguing after one time in meditation was the following:
When the mind was becoming a little moving there were two impressions. First was the impression of body, heartbeat. Then there was a bird singing outside. At that moment I was fully aware of those events yet at the same time the mental labeling was not applied. Only later, when recalling the event from memory it became clear that it was heartbeat and a singing bird. At the moment itself de mind just wouldn’t get into in, it was a nameless event.
The event leaves me with a strong impression that what’s called perception in Buddhism is quite distinct from what’s called consciousness. When a sound hits the (functioning) ear, just as when a stick hints a drum, there has to be the notion of sound. This is what I understand is consciousness. Then there is the working of memory, perception. It comes running in straight after and labels the impression: “it’s a bird”.
The main problem I see with identifying citta with knowing or awareness is that knowing itself is an act of memory and thus already perception. Even the notion of awareness is made from memory, perception. The reason is that ‘reality’ is moving with incredible speed. If the mind is on top of it there is no room for anything else, senses change, feeling changes, the mind changes and it goes lightning fast. To make sense of reality we need to use perception and this is where we go wrong. The food in the fridge might long gone bad and in our memory it’s still fresh. When our senses perceive this there is a deviation between our memory and reality and depending on how strong our desire for the food was there will be an amount of stress. We can project ourself in a certain future and again depending on the strength of desire this can give rise to pleasure or stress. Yet to rule out perception once and for all is not possible. Perception (sanna) is part of the aggregates and has the three marks. We should understand it’s a extremely hot burning item. The moment we forget it’s nature we will handle it without care and get burned.
You know what? That time I returned from mediation I was fully aware that a greater peace is impossible, unless the senses and mind stop once and for all. They are all disturbances. And yet, thinking of this peace made me shiver. I noticed clearly how the mind was creating a story based on memory about it. It put one big label on it and had strong desire to move there again. I only understood later how this process worked, at that time I became cautious and not willing to seek the experience again. This is the power of perception, turning peace into a source of stress. Yet we don’t destroy it. We should see it as it is.
And vinnanapaccaya namrupam.
This is paficcasamuppada. According to words of Lord Buddha, it is impossible for a puthujjana to understand understand this.
Can understand it literally, like spoon and taste, not like tongue & taste. I’m still a spoon. Namma is a broad term for all mental phenomena. ‘Birth follows’ means rebirth or reappearance of body and mind. Mind alone I think about 72 different types(?). I wouldn’t know them properly. For someone like me, meditation is better. Only need a proper method, suitable for my tendency (wasana). Only the Buddha can know everyone’s tendency. He recommended or gave the method to a monk only a suitable method. Buddha can no longer teach us directly but anapanasati is good for everyone though. Hopefully I might get some stage in development.
As much as I know mind (consciousness, awareness, alertness, etc.) is compared with gold, moonlight, lotus, white cloth, etc. Taints, clouds, muddy water, etc. are the ten fetters.
“A simple thing, but for some reason it seems very hard to convey”
Well, if you didn’t ignore the arguments of others, didn’t pretend to be deaf to restrain a conversation in the pro-Abhidhamma discourse and didn’t base your arguments on the speculations and irrational belief in the authority of the Sutta commentators, you would be able to convey something to the people not only of your traditional paradigm. I’m saying it again: I don’t care what your beloved commentators said, if you want to convey something, you have to find good reasons in the more or less early Buddhist texts, not in the commentaries. For instance, in the Suttas. So, concerning citta in general, the facts in the Suttas remain the same:
1) Citta doesn’t appear either in the 12 Nidanas of Dependent Origination or in the 5 Aggregates.
2) Citta differs greatly from vinnana and mano in meaning.
3) Everywhere in the Sutta passages about consciousness and thinking, vinnana and mano are used, not citta.
4) Citta possesses a special status, best shown in such texts as Cittavagga of the Dhammapada and several texts about the last stages of liberation and the mind (citta) overcoming the sphere of consciousness and attaining full release, which is clearly realized by the liberated mind (citta)
Note: In the Suttas, there are very few passages with the mistaken equalization of citta, vinnana and mano, which is likely a result of negligent writing and there are no any mentions of equality of citta and atta or any kind of the self as we understand it. So, please, stop speculating.
Mano, Citta and Viññāṇa: All three words refer to what we call mind.
Mind: The element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought.
All three terms, relate to the Ariyan Truths.
I don’t understand the Aryan Truths.
“I don’t understand the Aryan Truths”
Dear D.C. Wijeratna, read more Abhidhamma and you will cease to understand who you are at all and what on earth is going on. I’m not joking.
This post is insulting and unnecessary. If you’d like to have a conversation, please do so politely, otherwise we should leave it there.
Aryan Truth is understanding all phenomena are simply Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta and the Freedom from them Nibbana. That’s how I know it (but don’t know the actual intentions of others.) Aryas don’t see anything from perceptual understanding but within yathabhuta nandasana. Aryas are who have escaped from perceptual sphere of mind. They no longer are linked with next, but have stilled the mind after the great escape. That’s the cessation of perception and feeling.
The first person to understand it was Lord Buddha. Last person who understood it I really don’t know. Possibly about 2500 years ago. Usual translation of Ariyan is Noble. I cannot accept that.
One little question about Abhidhamma. According to an article in the Encyclopedia of Buddhism there are quite a few Abhidhammas. Which is the recommended one? Please also give some reasons for your recommendation.
You can forget abhidhamma all together. It’s not possible to understand it anyway without years of learning. Literal understanding is often slightly incorrect. I cannot recommend any part other than the whole. According to Pitaka, Burmese tradition (only?), the six rays of the Buddha started to shine only when He contemplate on the laws of Abhidhamma. I dare not recommend any. I don’t know all of them either.
Arahants will always exist, the Buddha said, if people keep practicing His teachings properly. Pariveda Sasana is for the Arahants. Sangha community has maintained the teachings of the Buddha because there were sanghas who have kept the Pariyatti, the Sanghas who practiced the teachings correctly, and there were Ariya Savakas who kept the Pariveda Sasana.
Yes, there have been known Arahants in Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand…
“Yes, there have been known Arahants in Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand…”
Yes, I myself have heard of these reports. The question is how to determine the truth or veracity of these reports, I cannot determine.
Let me give another reason: No arahant would ever declare himself to be an arahant because of a Parajika rule about Dhammas above and beyond that of humans (uttari manussa dhamma). Parajika means he is defeated, fallen, and there is no cure for it.
You are confusing two rules. When a monk claims a superior state and knowingly lies (to any person, lay or ordained) it’s Parajika, when he claims while knowing to speak the truth it’s Pacittiya and subject to confession. This is only when speaking to lay people, amongst monks it can be revealed without Pacittiya. Overestimation while speaking to monk (so for example thinking one has achieved arahantship while it’s not the case, only apparent after examination) will not result in any penalty.
This still leaves the question how a lay follower can determine this. My best guess is to listen with good ears and practice. If I tell you that you can take bus ‘such and so’ from the station to my home and when you are at the bus stop you walk to the left along the water till you cross a small street and then it’s on the left, this would be rather specific and easy to verify. I might even not have experienced it myself yet I can look it up on the map. The difference between a ‘map’ knower and me is that I can tell a lot more details about the surroundings of my home, things people who have never been there cannot know (specially since the car from Google maps cannot get in front of my door so you would not know the plants and the color of my door).
“You are confusing two rules.”
Quite possible, However, I am not that competent to discuss bhikkhu rules. I am not a bhikkhu.
“My best guess is to listen with good ears and practice”
Thank you, I don’t think I’ll need that for a long time. I am unable to ensure that my behaviour confirms to even the five precepts. When I get their I will know that I need not guessl
I probably make a poor choice when saying ‘guess’. Let me explain my answer in a little more detail.
Suppose you meet someone who by behaviour and speech gets you to practice. Your mind turns and in that instance path and fruit emerge. You would then know that this someone is at least at the same ‘level’ and you might also know that this person is even more developed. If this person however would have explained you the arahant path you would not have any benefit since this deals with entering the home and not reaching it. You would have no clue how to get home. At this point you (specially as lay follower) would only be able to guess the level even though you would know by experience that this person understands path and fruit of at least stream entry. And if the dhamma is sufficiently subtle you might understand he knows ‘higher’ path and fruit.
About the precepts, why not start keeping just one (mind you, I quietly refused to kill a mosquito once and my wife went berserk because she felt I didn’t care for her). Then extend to others, I understand that not all are easy to uphold, I made many mistakes in the past and with ignorance even now. I usually learn by burning myself, understanding that breaking them hurts and only afterwards make more effort to keep them. I’m a slow learner…
“About the precepts, why not start keeping just one”
I try to; from the time I was a toddler; from the time my mother taught me to kneel down in front of the statue of Lord Buddha at the village temple and say “Saadhu”. From then onwards for about ten years, she taught me not to kill, not to rob, not to sexually misbehave, not to lie, and not to drink alchohol always attributing the advice to Lord Buddha. Her teaching was convincing; she taught by example. I loved my mother, respected her, venerated her. She was both my mother and father after the passing away of my father at the age of seven. I tried my level best to emulate her.
However, my inborn natural tendencies sometimes rebelled against my mother;s advice. To go fishing, with a bent pin attached to a piece of string was too tempting for me to resist. When I got caught, I would get a severe scolding. The severest was: your father never harmed even a fly. However, these transgressions were few and far apart.
My first proof that these rules are valuable came when I was in the university. I was accused for a crime I never committed. The police were searching for me. The news went up to my facculty Dean. He telephoned the Prime Minister of the country, and sent me to the police station with one of the senior lecturers. May my Dean rest in peace; He was a Christian; my lecturer was a Hindu; I was a Buddhist. Five precepts do not have any barriers of religion or race.
After employment, I had trouble from day one. It was because I wouldn’t budge from my precepts. I cannot tell about that anymore, shall I say from the highest in the land to the lowest. However, The root cause of the trouble: second and fourth precepts. Inspite of this, I rose to the top of every organization I worked with. That I think is the power behind these precepts.
Now I am retired an at home; just my wife and I. I find it is impossible to live my life strictly according to these rules. It is impossible to live a ‘life of purity’ at home. However, ‘leaving home for homelessness’ is not possible in today’s context; The institution Sangha set up by Lord Buddha died most probably within a few decades of the Mahaparinibbana never to arise again until the next Lord Buddha appears.
So I have decided to do the best I can and wish that I see the next Sammasambuddha.
May you be well and happy
“Let me give another reason: No arahant would ever declare himself to be an arahant because of a Parajika rule about Dhammas above and beyond that of humans (uttari manussa dhamma). Parajika means he is defeated, fallen, and there is no cure for it.”
Arahants can admit they are arahants. Only puthujjana monks cannot claim being arahants – that’s parajika.
The proofs were the dhamma they explained. Arahants can explain most difficult dhammas correctly, and corrected the mistakes. This is Pariveda Sasana.
Thank you DC.
I struggle with the 5 precepts sometimes, not due to personal tendencies but because society large and small has certain expectations. My wife went berserk once because I would not kill a mosquito for her (she’s short and could not reach it herself). In another case she told me she would leave me when I would not tell a lie to someone else (I refused and she’s still with me). These are however small annoyances compared to the real struggle. Killing is not allowing something to be, we tend to do this all the time: I don’t want this, don’t want that and we use force to remove it forever. Taking what is not given: my body, my feelings, my mind, my thoughts, my perception. False speech: This is my body, this is my feelings … (We lie to ourself all the time). No intoxicants: this one is closely related to being willingly ignorant. Sexual misconduct. If we look at the description we see it’s about engaging with woman (or men) who are ‘reserved’ or protected. They belong to someone else. We should not take what is given when we know it’s not the property of the giver. Body, feelings, mind…. The strong version, abstain, should be considered too. One person has his personal stress, two people have their personal stress and their relationship stress and once there are children stress multipies. We induce very strong feelings upon ourself when we engage in a sexual relationship. They easily lead to breaking other precepts too (what would you do if someone mutulated your wife?). We should at least consider this.
When you examine yourself and see there are no tendencies to break the precepts and at the same time consider wider implications and see that there is no or limited tendency to break those, then it would not matter too much if you are a monk of a lay follower. A monk has the stress of a monk (the monastic rules are stressful as long as the tendencies are present), a lay follower has the stress of a lay follower. The main difference is that the monk can engage in learning and removing those tendencies the entire day and the lay follower has his or her daily obligations that severely limits the time to do this. A life of purity, viewed from historical context, is possible for lay and monastic people, I recall that the suttas speak of numerous lay non-returners, once returners and stream-enterers and I would not dare to say that those live a life of impurity. The main obstacle is not the lack of Shanga, the main obstacle is our own mind creating hindrances to take the steps. There is always a reason to slack, sleep, take the easy road. Not accusing you about this, just giving some food for thought (1: all beings subsist on food….)
I struggle with the 5 precepts sometimes, not due to personal tendencies but because society large and small has certain expectations. [Jos]
Lord Buddha (Teacher) did not lay down any training rules for us (Puthujjana). The reason is simple. What is the use of a rule if there is no authority to enforce it?
According to the teaching of Lord Buddha, it is the personal tendencies (Asava: aasavaa) that keep us bound to Samsara. A person who can (completely) eradicate Asava (asvakkhaya) wil reach ultimate happiness (nibbanam paramam sukham).
Society large and small has certain expectations.
Not just expectations, we are bound to it by chains of steel. (me jivita parapatibaddha). Actually this is Tanha. More accurately we are Tanha. (I am bound to myself)
Monk or a lay follower
The Savakasangha of the Lord includes Bhikkhu, Bhikkhuni, Upasaka, Upasiaka)
The meaning of ‘monk or a lay follower’ is totally different to Bhikkhu etc.
Savakasangha are people who saw the Lord with their own eyes and listened to the Lord’s exposition of Dhamma.
The main obstacle is not the lack of Shanga
Certainly not, The main obstacle is the five Nivaranas. [Lack of Sangha is a fact]. But don’t lose heart. There is the advise of my Lord that will help one to get to the beginning of the life of purity [Adibrahmacariya]
Sabba papassa akaranam, kusalassa upasampada, sacitta pariyodapanam etam buddhana sasanam.
Papa: evil defined as any action that harm oneself or other. Avoid all evil.
Kusala: Skills that help one to achieve the above. e.g. I shall not kill. Not the 1st precept. Precepts are actually for Bhikkhus (not for monks).
This where you start.
A tip: You will note that the Advise ( a part of Ovada Patimokkha) is for any body, human or deva, who cares to read it.[Satthaa devamanussanam]. What is the corollary? The terms Buddhist, Buddhism are views that should be given up. So are all distinctions based on race, religion, color and so on. The term (the) Buddha is also a problem. The correct term is actually Bhagava Araham Sammasambuddho. For the Ariyasavakas he was Bhagava, Outsiders who think that Bhagava is somebody above and beyond the Gods could use Bhagava Buddho,
Thank you for giving me a chance to talk Dhamma of the Lord
Accayam Khamame Bhante, Bhuripanna Tathagata
Took some time to think my reply over.
When we start to live a little according to Buddhist rules we can see how our life gets a little better and this takes some burden of the mind. If we on top of this start to meditate we get to used to a calm state of mind. When we develop this for a while and strengthen our practice we get to a point where meditation becomes almost natural, mindfulness is very present around. Many movements of the mind are detected and when they are contrary to the good life we try to get rid of them. It’s this practice that leaves the mind more and more radiant/luminous. Where in the past even gross offences were ignored with the practice even minor offences are seen as harmful.
The mind also becomes light, in the sense that it’s not much of a burden anymore.
When we look at the mind as a piece of satin we can see our practice as the way of cleaning the mind. In the end, when done correct, we are left with a perfectly clean piece of satin, a perfectly clean mind.
While this seems awesome there is a huge risk involved. We might easily feel that we need to protect this clean mind, just as we don’t want stains on our clean piece of satin. When this feeling is present we worry or even fear and this itself it a stain on it. Or we could become possessive, happy and content with our clean mind.
When we have cleaned our mind to the point of radiance we should observe it over and over. The mind itself will be object of investigation and each irregularity will be detected. On a dirty sheet a small stain won’t be noticed, on a clean one we will see it quick. We could say that the nature of the mind, like the satin sheet, is clean. And that dirt can make spots on it. We understand that a little washing will solve this problem quick.
Yet because the nature of the sheet, the mind, is clean it can become dirty too. When I rented my home there was a clean toilet inside. Do I need to tell what will happen if I don’t clean it frequent? The toilet is clean from nature, else I could not get the dirt of. The satin is clean, else I could not get the stains out. Yet it requires work.
Nibbana should not require work to keep the stains out, to keep the dirt away. Anything that is of the nature that it can get dirty or is clean, this is part of conventional reality. The clean/luminous/radiant mind, it’s part of conventional reality, however magnificent it is. If we want to know if it’s the real thing we could try to make it dirty. If we can it’s not nibbana.
For what I understand the only ‘state of mind’ that is linked to nibbana is ‘consciousness without feature’ which would be the meditative state called ‘cessation of perception and feeling’. We know from the suttas that the meditator is not unconscious in this state. And we know that final liberation is only achieved when seeing this state for what it is, with wisdom. Touching this might according to the suttas still leave someone at the level of non-return.
My limited understanding on this subject: when the meditator sinks into deep samadhi the mental notion might arise that there is nothing present (skipping earlier formless). When this notion is abandoned the notion of the peacefulness of the state might remain. Once this notion is gone there will be no further notion, the mind will rest while being aware. This awareness does not land on anything so there is no movement of the mind towards an object. When the mind moves it will catch this movement and sink in rest again. There is no stress. All that remains is cessation and rest.
This is a very specific meditative state and not what in general is described at ‘radiant/luminous mind’.
The resulting peace might be directly connected to (increase of) the radiant mind, however the peace in this stage is not stable when the mind attaches to the experience. The knowing mind and the experience are two very distinct things.
I recall, but it’s been ages ago since I’ve read it, that Ahjaan Maha Boowa explicitly warned that the radiance is part of the ignorant/unaware mind. He gave a good explanation on this subject, think in ‘Straight from the heart’.
Since I know only little about this subject I might be completely off. Please correct me in this case so I can learn.
The Pali statement “Pabhassara ….Cittam” is a Dhamma; that by definition cannot be interpreted.
Define Radiat mind as the above Dhamma.
Then it means the mind in the 4th Jhana according to Dhamma of the Lord.
When I hit myself on the thumb with a hammer there is no way to interprete what the feeling is, yet I can use analogies to explain it to someone who is fortunate enough to never have this experience.
I hit myself so hard and so many times that I fully understand that hitting myself with a hammer on the thumb will cause serious pains for a long time. Oh, I tried experimenting with other fingers too, this also hurts…
It’s my experience that when I started with meditation there was a clear distinction between the mind states in meditation and the mind states outside. Over the years this changed, specially when I found out how I could integrate mindfulness more and more into my life. Nowadays there is no clear distinction between the samadhi stages and regular life, the mind will drop easy into a resting point when focus is changed a little even though there is not much effort to maintain the mind. Things just don’t stick. Movements of the mind are detected quick and with that end.
To me there is no doubt that ‘pabhassara citta’ refers to the mind both inside and outside meditation.
The difference between the first and second part of the sutta is that in the first the mind moves along with the objects it meets (the default mode of our mind prior to training) and in the second part it does not move along. The reason that it does not refer to nibbana is that it deals with incoming defilements. This means that the outside is not able to penetrate the citta anymore. This could be a deep Samadhi state (I don’t argue that) and it also applies to the mind after the different stages of awakening. The reason this mind is not and does not touch nibbana is that the root cause of defilement is inside the mind, it’s the citta itself. I won’t go into that, I’m not sufficiently skilled to explain the highest stage of the path with ease. I recall a monk from Bangladesh who gave a good talk on it and also there was Ajahn Maha Boowa who had the ability to explain with wisdom.
(This comment was initially written for an earlier post – “Viññana isn’t Nibbana” – but I couldn’t post it there, but since this posting seems to be similar enough to ask the same question I think.)
I haven’t read through all of the comments so this question might’ve been asked and/or answered already.
I’m sure these things weren’t meant to be discussed in philosophical or abstract terms but spoken in order to be put into practice and realised for oneself, but, if I’ve understood some of the arguments in this posting and the comments below correctly it is that Nibbana isn’t an experience or a dimension but more accurately the absence of the root unwholesome factors that burden us. This seems to be the easiest, most down-to-earth concept of Nibbana to understand, the absence of greed, hatred and delusion, as opposed to some mystical dimension transcending space-time, however, what I can’t really wrap my head around is that it seems so logical to me that eradicating these fetters would be preceded by a meditative breakthrough of some sort, or an “experiencing” of something since the mind would have to be fairly engrossed in one deep meditative attainment or another when eradicating the last of the fetters.
How would the final realisation otherwise look like? One enters, say, the 4th Jhana and through liberating insight becomes enlightened, wouldn’t that insight or enlightenment in turn produce some sort of shift in meditative consciousness? Or does one simply emerge from a state of meditation and then knowing that one has realised something achieve Nibbana outside of meditation when the fetters are gone?
Excellent point, and I agree totally. You definitely experience something when Awakening happens. This experience can be described in negative terms—as the ending of defilements—or in positive terms, as the Awakening, the deathless, and so on. There are a number of passages describing such states in the Suttas. This, of course, pertains to the experience of the person when they become Awakened in this life, not to what happens when they die. So the experience is not technically “Nibbana” in the deepest sense of the ending of all conditions, but it can be called an experience of Nibbana.
The numbering of the above passage is mine.
1 Experience “something” when “awakening” happens. “Awakening” is undefined.
2. “Something” (This experience) can be described in “negative terms”.
3. “such states” undefined.
4. “Nibbana in the deepest sense”. This implies Nibbana has a deep sense, deeper sense, deepest sense.
Dhamma, by definition, has no meaningless words.
I can see what you are aiming at, yet I also understand why Bhante used these words.
With an analogy (which due to language is not flawless):
Let me start with 4. As I recall from the sutta’s there is the experience of nibbana in mediation (cessation of perception and feeling, resulting in at least non-return). Then there is the experience of the ending of possessiveness, rejection (both imply a sense of ownership) and ignorance, the end of stress. This is called nibbana with residue remaining. In this case the senses and mind are still working as they used to. As if the skin was take off and put back on. Then there is nibbana with no residue remaining. I’m not sure if this points to the experience in life or right at the end of life of an arahant to be honest.
Why my comment? I could compare nibbana with silence. I will for the analogy use silence instead of nibbana from now on. I cannot hear silence, I can only experience it (it’s not a sense object). I can describe silence in various ways, though the ‘lack of sound’ is most appropriate. With the experience of silence I would understand the disturbance that sound creates right away. For someone who has never experienced this it would make no sense to speak in these terms.So I can at least say that ‘something’ happens when I experience silence (the question also indicates this with the word something), it’s not an unconscious state. Depending on my experience I might describe the silence different, like ultimate peace, something that always exists but never experienced before, something that is without start or stop (that’s a feature of sound, not silence). I might even understand that there is a variation in experiencing silence, from a very brief moment to ‘forever’.
Silence does not change, however the (subjective) experience might differ from time to time and from person to person.
An arahant ‘with residue’ would experience sound and know silence is present all the time. Sound does not disturb him. A non-returner would have experienced complete silence and is only mildly disturbed by sound. At the level of stream-entry there is the (brief) experience of silence and with that the huge disturbances that sound can create stop. When I talk to someone ‘above’ stream-entry I can talk about silence without too much bias, confusion. Below I have to resort in definitions that rely on the sense experience of sound. I can lead people to places where sound is absent (as long as they remain calm).
Rich asks about silence in terms of sound and Bhante responds with words that use sound as starting point.
Does this make any sense to you?
Dear Jos, Thank you for your reply.
The problem is extremely complex and I am not sure how to respond because there are so many ways of responding. I’ll try one. Please see whether it makes sense.
I’ll use two terms without translation: Dukkha and Dukkhanirodha (Nibbana)
For us, Dukkha is a description of life from the perspective of I. Life is without a beginning. All of us assume that it will continue at least till the next moment. That is why we have a future tense. Dukkhanirodha means this continuity will stop some day in the future.
Now we have no “knowledge” of Dukkha; it is an Ariyan truth. Without knowing Dukkha how can we know Dukkhanorodha? Impossible isn’t it?
Dukkha for us our own world view. Each individual has his own world-view. No arguments, discussions, debate will ever resolve this issue. Dukkha for Lord Buddha is Lord Buddha’s world view. Fortunately for us Lord Buddha has made known his discovery “majjhima patipada”. But we cannot even get to the Majjhimapatipada in a hurry. One who wishes to get there must completely and irrevocably give up family, possessions and most importantly his livelihood.
My experience is that peace starts descending on you from the moment you learn to give up. It is not just peace; a happiness. That is why Nibbana is the highest Sukha (paramam sukham). Sukha cannot be translated it need to be experienced. Try it with little something like not to get angry when you are disturbed by the barking of your neghbor’s dog. This comes as an insight. Then you think what a fool I was to get angry with that poor dog. He is doing his duty; protecting his master. When that happens you get filled with Sukha.
Lord Buddha’s teaching need to experienced. [never use the word Buddha or the Buddha. Then your Buddha could is a statue or picture.].
Sukhii hotu, D.C.
Thank you D.C.
I’ll quote a little and share a story (I’ll try to keep it brief):
“My experience is that peace starts descending on you from the moment you learn to give up. It is not just peace; a happiness. That is why Nibbana is the highest Sukha (paramam sukham). Sukha cannot be translated it need to be experienced. Try it with little something like not to get angry when you are disturbed by the barking of your neghbor’s dog. This comes as an insight. Then you think what a fool I was to get angry with that poor dog. He is doing his duty; protecting his master. When that happens you get filled with Sukha.”
Roughly 20 years ago I was consumed by anger. It was fierce and hot. One day I was sitting being angry and filled with hate towards the people who did wrong to me. I noticed the burn and that it was hurting me. Those people were not around. I resolved to change myself. Started contemplating (was not considering myself Buddhist at the time) and found a way out. Over time my mind changed so much I could give my heart to the people who once hurt me.
A steady happiness/ease came in it’s place and over the next years it grounded deeper in me. For almost 20 years it’s almost impossible for me to kill an animal, let alone hurting a human being. I thought this change marked the end of stress.
How wrong I was. About a year or two later the mind stirred. A lot. Caused itself a lot of trouble. It went to hell straight away (hell is not out there, it’s in here, no doubt). In the turmoil it was creating it got itself stuck, deep in …. I resolved that I would do good no matter what the future would be. And about a week or two later (I aged 40 years in those weeks, it took forever) the mind one morning dropped to silence. Stress was gone, nothing remained. A few minutes later the mind spun up in happiness. It went straight to heaven so to speak. And remained there for a very long time. Yet weeks later stress set in, slowly (the afterglow of that moment is still present).
I wondered many years why and how stress could return. It was stress related to happiness, knowing that it could not last. I carried this with me over 10 years.
Then I got introduced into Buddhism. Didn’t understand too much yet there was this one teacher who had a simple method. It was the late Ajahn Maha Bua. I picked his practice up. I kept on it day in, day out. Every single moment. And one day, out of nowhere, the mind moved in a very unexpected way. It spun up, noticed the stress, spun up faster. It was trying to hold on to the meditation object while this was ‘ending’ faster and faster. Then at one moment the mind understood and stress stopped. The spinning became even faster, seeing only ending, ending, ending.
Then in an instance the mind dropped the object. Could not hold on anymore. And a few mind moments later the mind went quiet. The notion of quiet faded. The notion of nothing faded. The notion of peace faded. The remaining awareness lasted a couple of hours. With no movement at all.
The remaining happiness on returning was different from what I ever experienced. And at that instance I knew it would not last. So strange, the realisation popped up out of nowhere. I wondered a long time what this ment since the peacefulness of that experience cannot be matched.
Nowadays I understand. I see when we pick up a ‘dhamma’ as something we can own, something that is us our ours, at that instance we create a sankhara. And since it’s a fabrication, more strongly pervertion, it cannot last, it has to change.
For me it’s not a matter of letting go anymore. I cannot claim anything to be mine. This became absolutely clear in the meditation described above. The mind moved alone, independent. And the same reflection already mildly arose about 20 years ago. Yet there is this habit of picking up. Once it’s picked up it burns right away. And I can only blame my own stupidity. At this point it’s pick up, burn instantly, drop instantly. Pick up, burn instantly, drop instantly.
Stress, cause and cessation. Pick up, burn, drop. Now to stop picking it up… The grabbing, the rejecting, the stupidity in this. I see, I experience, I think, I feel. Burn, burn, burn.
Dear Jos, I thoroughly enjoyed your letter. Thank you.
Never consider yourself a Buddhist. The moment you do so you are the owner a view–micchaditthi. It is necessary to have an open mind to follow the advice of Lord Buddha. This is the fundamental and the most basic advice of the Lord. When the Lord declared his intetion to point out the Dhamma to Brahma Sahampati, the Lord said “Aparuta Tesam Amatassa Dvara. Ye Sotavanta Pamuncantu Saddham’. It means the The door to deathlessness is open for those who give their religious practices.
Lord’s advice is not to discuss experiences that are unique to an individual. I like to discuss what you have said in your post. However, not through a blog post. If you can find an alternative method to send a reply, please let me know.
Here is a fundamental Dhamma statement of the Lord. Past is dead; Future unborn. (Bhaddekaratta Sutta). So don’t dwell in the past or the future. Each moment is a new experience. One who looks at life like that is at peace.