Monday, February 17, 2014

Nirvana (definition) and the Turtle

Dhr. Seven, Ashley Wells, Amber Larson (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly; Ven. Nyanatiloka Thera (Anton Gueth) A Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines; Bhikkhu Bodhi "As It Is" (CD)
(Nathapol Boonmangmee/happySUN/
Awakening to knowing and seeing (happySUN)
Nirvana is hard to conceive or speak of because it is unlike anything in our conditional universe, but it can be directly experienced.

Once upon a time there was a turtle who lived in a polluted pond with many fish. For a long time the fish did not see the turtle. When they finally did they exclaimed, "Friend, turtle, where have you been? We have not seen you and were concerned!"

"I have been walking on dry land, friends!" the turtle answered.

"'Dry land'? What is this 'dry land' you speak of, turtle?

The wise eat the fruit of direct knowledge.
The turtle struggled for a comparison.

The fish were eager to help, "So this 'dry land' of yours, turtle, is it wet?"

"No, friends, it is not wet."

"Is it cool and refreshing, can you swim in it?"

"No, friends, it is not cool and refreshing, and you can't swim in it. And it's not polluted. Come and see for yourselves..."

Many are the dangers to conforming in "school" like the freshwater Ganges shark.
"Wait, turtle, it's not wet, not cool and refreshing, and you can't swim in it? And you say it's not polluted? Then we take it that this 'dry land' must be pure nothingness, nonexistence, annihilation, or complete fantasy!" the fish reasoned out loud each agreeing with the other. 

Pollution-free in the Allegory of the Pond
They did not go to see for themselves.

"That may, friends, that may be," the turtle replied and again went walking on dry land.

In no long time the water in the pond became so shrunken and polluted that a legend arose about the turtle and the wise instructions he had left behind to help them. But still no one went to investigate and see if the legend could be true.
Buddhist Dictionary
Nirvana (Pali nibbāna) literally means to blow out (nirva, to cease blowing, to become extinguished), "extinction," the end of all suffering.

According to the ancient commentaries, it means "freedom from desire" (nir+vana). 

It constitutes the highest and ultimate goal of all Buddhist aspirations, namely, absolute extinction of greed, hatred, and delusion that clings to illusory separate or independent existence apart from the constituents of being (skandha, khandha, the Five Aggregates of Clinging). Final nirvana (parinirvana) is ultimate and absolute deliverance from all future rebirth, disappointment, old age, disease, and death, from every kind of suffering and misery.
"Extinction of greed, extinction of hate, extinction of delusion -- this is called nirvana (S. XXXVIII. 1).
This freedom has two aspects necessary to avoid confusion. (1) The full extinction of defilements (kilesa-parinibbāna), also called sa-upādi-sesa-nibbāna (see Itivuttaka 41), is "nirvana with the aggregates of existence still remaining" (see upādi). This takes place at the attainment of full enlightenment or sainthood. (See noble ones, ariya-puggala).

The Buddha by night with throngs of devotees and monastics, Thailand (happySUN/flickr)
(2) The full extinction of the aggregates of clinging (khandha-parinibbāna), also called an-upādi-sesa-nibbāna (see It. 41, A.IV.118), is "nirvana without aggregates remaining." 

In other words, the latter is the coming to rest, or rather the "no-more-continuing," of this psychophysical process of illusory existence. This takes place at the final passing of an arhat.
  • The two terms defilement- (kilesa-) and aggregate- (khandha) final-nirvana (parinibbāna) are found only in the commentary; their corresponding two aspects sa-upādisesa and anupādisesa-nibbāna, however, are mentioned and explained in a sutra (Itivuttaka 44).
Sometimes both aspects take place at one and the same moment, as when one is passing away and practices very diligently, attaining full enlightenment and immediately passing away (see sama-sīsī). While this may sound strange or unusual or very technical, it is apparently sometimes easier to practice very close to death when everything clears away and there is a strong intention rooted in wisdom to finally be free of this endless cycle of rebirth.

Crossing over into the opposite of nirvana -- Bangkok -- Bhumibol Bridge (happySUN)

"This, O meditators, truly is the peace, this is the highest, namely the end of all formations, the forsaking of every substratum of rebirth, the fading away of craving, detachment, extinction, nirvana."
(A. III, 32)
"Enraptured by lust, enraged by anger, blinded by delusion, overwhelmed, with mind/heart ensnared, one aims at one's own ruin, at the ruin of others, at the ruin of both, and one experiences mental pain and grief.

"But if lust, anger, and delusion are given up, one aims neither at one's own ruin, nor at the ruin of others, nor at the ruin of both, and one experiences no mental pain and grief. Thus, is nirvana visible in this very life, immediate, inviting, attractive, and comprehensible to the wise."
"Just as a rock of one solid mass remains unshaken by the wind, even so neither visible forms, nor sounds, nor fragrances, nor tastes, nor bodily impressions, neither the desired nor the undesired, can cause such a one [an arhat] to waver. Steadfast is one's mind/heart, gained is deliverance." 
"Verily, there is an unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, unformed. If there were not this unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, unformed, escape from the world of the born, the originated, the created, the formed would be impossible."
Wisdom dawns from behind clouds of obscuring delusion (happySUN/
But if there's no self? (HS)
One cannot too often and too emphatically stress the fact that not only for the actual realization of nirvana, but also for a mere theoretical understanding of it, it is indispensable to first grasp fully the truth of the impersonal nature of things, the egolessness and insubstantiality of all existence ("not-self," anattā). Without such an understanding, one will necessarily misconceive of nirvana -- according to one's materialistic or metaphysical leanings -- either as the annihilation of an ego, or as an eternal state of existence into which an ego or self enters or with which it merges. So it is said in an ultimate sense and not paradoxically: 

"Mere suffering exists; no sufferer is found. 
The deed [karma] is, but no doer of the deed is there.
Nirvana is, but not the one who enters it.
The path is, but no traveler on it is seen."
Path of Purification (Vis.M. XVI)

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