The Path to Nibbana
How is Nibbana to be attained?
It is by following
the Noble Eightfold Path which consists of Right Understanding
(samma-ditthi), Right Thoughts (samma-sankappa), Right
Speech (samma-vaca), Right Actions (samma-kammanta),
Right Livelihood (samma-ajiva), Right Effort (samma-vayama),
Right Mindfulness (samma-sati), and Right Concentration (samma-samadhi).
1. Right Understanding,
which is the keynote of Buddhism, is explained as the knowledge of
the four Noble Truths. To understand rightly means to understand things
as they really are and not as they appear to be. This refers primarily
to a correct understanding of oneself, because, as the Rohitassa Sutta
states, "Dependent on this one-fathom long body with its consciousness"
are all the four Truths. In the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path,
Right Understanding stands at the beginning as well as at its end.
A minimum degree of Right Understanding is necessary at the very beginning
because it gives the right motivations to the other seven factors
of the Path and gives to them correct direction. At the culmination
of the practice, Right Understanding has matured into perfect Insight
Wisdom (vipassana-pañña), leading directly to
the stages of sainthood.
2. Clear vision of right understanding leads to clear thinking. The second factor of the Noble Eightfold Path is therefore, Right Thoughts (samma-sankappa), which serves the double purpose of eliminating evil thoughts and developing pure thoughts. Right Thoughts, in this particular connection, are threefold. They consist of:
3. Right Thoughts
lead to Right Speech, the third factor. This includes abstinence from
falsehood, slandering, harsh words, and frivolous talk.
4. Right Speech
must be followed by Right Action which comprises abstinence from killing,
stealing and sexual misconduct.
5. Purifying his
thoughts, words and deeds at the outset, the spiritual pilgrim tries
to purify his livelihood by refraining from the five kinds of trade
which are forbidden to a lay-disciple. They are trading in arms, human
beings, animals for slaughter, intoxicating drinks and drugs, and
poisons. For monks, wrong livelihood consists of hypocritical conduct
and wrong means of obtaining the requisites of monk-life.
6. Right Effort is fourfold, namely:
7. Right Mindfulness
is constant mindfulness with regard to body, feelings, thoughts, and
8. Right Effort
and Right Mindfulness lead to Right Concentration. It is the one-pointedness
of mind, culminating in the jhanas or meditative absorptions.
Of these eight
factors of the Noble Eightfold Path the first two are grouped under
the heading of Wisdom (pañña), the following
three under Morality (sila), and the last three under Concentration
(samadhi). But according to the order of development the sequence
is as follows:
is the first stage on this path to Nibbana.
or causing injury to any living creature, man should be kind and compassionate
towards all, even to the tiniest creature that crawls at his feet.
Refraining from stealing, he should be upright and honest in all his
dealings. Abstaining from sexual misconduct which debases the exalted
nature of man, he should be pure. Shunning false speech, he should
be truthful. Avoiding pernicious drinks that promote heedlessness,
he should be sober and diligent.
principles of regulated behavior are essential to one who treads the
path to Nibbana. Violation of them means the introduction of obstacles
on the path which will obstruct his moral progress. Observance of
them means steady and smooth progress along the path. The spiritual
pilgrim, disciplining thus his words and deeds, may advance a step
further and try to control his senses.
While he progresses
slowly and steadily with regulated word and deed and restrained senses,
the kammic force of this striving aspirant may compel him to renounce
worldly pleasures and adopt the ascetic life. To him then comes the
It should not
be understood that everyone is expected to lead the life of a bhikkhu
or a celibate life to achieve one's goal. One's spiritual progress
is expedited by being a bhikkhu although as a lay follower one can
become an arahat. After attaining the third state of sainthood, one
leads a life of celibacy.
Securing a firm
footing on the ground of morality, the progressing pilgrim then embarks
upon the higher practice of samadhi, the control and culture
of the mind -- the second stage on this Path.
Samadhi -- is
the "one-pointedness of the mind." It is the concentration
of the mind on one object to the entire exclusion of all irrelevant
There are different
subjects for meditation according to the temperaments of the individuals.
Concentration on respiration is the easiest to gain the one-pointedness
of the mind. Meditation on loving-kindness is very beneficial as it
is conducive to mental peace and happiness.
the four sublime states -- loving-kindness (metta), compassion
(karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha)
-- is highly commendable.
After giving careful
consideration to the subject for contemplation, he should choose the
one most suited to his temperament. This being satisfactorily settled,
he makes a persistent effort to focus his mind until he becomes so
wholly absorbed and interested in it, that all other thoughts get
ipso facto excluded from the mind. The five hindrances to progress
-- namely, sense-desire, hatred, sloth and torpor, restlessness and
brooding, and doubts are then temporarily inhibited. Eventually he
gains ecstatic concentration and, to his indescribable joy, becomes
enwrapt in jhana, enjoying the calmness and serenity of a one-pointed
When one gains
this perfect one-pointedness of the mind it is possible for one to
develop the five supernormal powers (abhiñña):
divine eye (dibbacakkhu), divine ear (dibbasota), reminiscence
of past births (pubbenivasanussati-ñana). Thought reading
(paracitta vijañana) and different psychic powers
(iddhividha). It must not be understood that those supernormal
powers are essential for sainthood.
Though the mind
is now purified there still lies dormant in him the tendency to give
vent to his passions, for by concentration, passions are lulled to
sleep temporarily. They may rise to the surface at unexpected moments.
and Concentration are helpful to clear the Path of its obstacles but
it is Insight (vipassana pañña) alone which enables
one to see things as they truly are, and consequently reach the ultimate
goal by completely annihilating the passions inhibited by samadhi.
This is the third and the final stage on the Path of Nibbana.
With his one-pointed
mind which now resembles a polished mirror he looks at the world to
get a correct view of life. Wherever he turns his eyes he sees nought
but the Three Characteristics -- anicca (transiency), dukkha
(sorrow) and anatta (soul-lessness) standing out in bold relief.
He comprehends that life is constantly changing and all conditioned
things are transient. Neither in heaven nor on earth does he find
any genuine happiness, for every form of pleasure is a prelude to
pain. What is transient is therefore painful, and where change and
sorrow prevail there cannot be a permanent immortal soul.
these three characteristics, he chooses one that appeals to him most
and intently keeps on developing Insight in that particular direction
until that glorious day comes to him when he would realize Nibbana
for the first time in his life, having destroyed the three fetters
-- self-illusion (sakkaya-ditthi), doubts (vicikiccha),
indulgence in (wrongful) rites and ceremonies (silabbataparamasa).
At this stage
he is called a sotapanna (stream-winner) -- one who has entered
the stream that leads to Nibbana. As he has not eradicated all fetters
he is reborn seven times at the most.
Summoning up fresh
courage, as a result of this glimpse of Nibbana, the pilgrim makes
rapid progress and cultivating deeper insight becomes a sakadagami
(once returner) by weakening two more fetters -- namely sense-desire
(kamaraga) and ill-will (patigha). He is called a sakadagami
because he is reborn on earth only once in case he does not attain
It is in the third
state of sainthood -- anagami (never-returner) that he completely
discards the aforesaid two fetters. Thereafter, he neither returns
to this world nor does he seek birth in the celestial realms, since
he has no more desire for sensual pleasures. After death he is reborn
in the "Pure Abodes" (suddhavasa) a congenial Brahma
plane, till he attains arahatship.
Now the saintly
pilgrim, encouraged by the unprecedented success of his endeavors,
makes his final advance and, destroying the remaining fetters -- namely,
lust after life in Realms of Forms (ruparaga) and Formless
Realms (aruparaga), conceit (mana), restlessness (uddhacca),
and ignorance (avijja) -- becomes a perfect saint: an arahat,
a Worthy One.
Instantly he realizes
that what was to be accomplished has been done, that a heavy burden
of sorrow has been relinquished, that all forms of attachment have
been totally annihilated, and that the Path to Nibbana has been trodden.
The Worthy One now stands on heights more than celestial, far removed
from the rebellious passions and defilements of the world, realizing
the unutterable bliss of Nibbana and like many an arahat of old, uttering
that paean of joy:
As T.H. Huxley
states -- "Buddhism is a system which knows no God in the Western
sense, which denies a soul to man, which counts the belief in immortality
a blunder, which refuses any efficacy to prayer and sacrifice, which
bids men to look to nothing but their own efforts for salvation, which
in its original purity knew nothing of vows of obedience and never
sought the aid of the secular arm: yet spread over a considerable
moiety of the world with marvelous rapidity and is still the
dominant creed of a large fraction of mankind."