There Ven. Sariputra said to the meditators: "This nirvana is pleasant, friends, this nirvana is pleasant!"
When this was said, Ven. Udayin asked Ven. Sariputra: "What is the pleasure, friend, if there is nothing felt?"
[Ven. Sariputra answered:] "Just that is the pleasure, friend, that nothing is felt.
"There are these five strands of sensuality. What are the five?
- Forms cognizable by the eye -- agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, enticing, engendering desire [craving and clinging] --
- sounds cognizable by the ear...
- fragrances cognizable by the nose...
- flavors cognizable by the tongue...
- tactile sensations cognizable by the body -- agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, enticing, engendering desire.
"Now, say a meditator -- withdrawn from sensuality and all unskillful states -- enters and abides (reaches and remains) in the first meditative absorption [the first of the eight jhanas] born of rapture and bliss, born of withdrawal, accompanied by applied and sustained attention.
"If that meditator, remaining in that skillful state, is beset by [wandering] attention to perceptions of sensuality, that is an affliction for that meditator.
"Just as pain arises as an affliction for a healthy person, even so does attention to perceptions of sensuality arise as an affliction for a meditator beset by them.
"Now, the Blessed One (the Buddha) has said that whatever is an affliction is suffering (disappointment, pain, dukkha). So by this line of reasoning, it may be known how nirvana is pleasant.
- [NOTE: Here nirvana should not be misunderstood as a place or a noun but rather as a verb -- a cooling -- to be "nirvanered" -- quenching, calming, stilling, blissing, or as Ven. Thanissaro explains "unbinding," like separating fire from its fuel, a thing from its substrate. It is very tempting because of the constraints of our language to imagine nirvana as a place (a there) or even worse as pure "nothingness." But Bhikkhu Bodhi goes to great lengths in "As It Is: Talk 6: Nibbana" to show that this is very mistaken; nirvana is not merely the eradication of the defilements and/or the end of all suffering.]
"If that meditator, remaining in that skillful state, is beset by attention to perceptions of sustained attention, that is an affliction...
"Furthermore, say a meditator, with the fading of rapture, remains equanimous, mindful, and clearly comprehending, and senses pleasure with the body. That meditator enters and abides in the third meditative absorption, of which the noble ones say, 'Equanimous and mindful one has a pleasant abiding.'*
- See also AN 9.42