The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

This page describes Nibbana (ultimate reality or ‘the cessation of suffering’) contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as on Pāramitā. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).

Nibbāna (ultimate reality or ‘the cessation of suffering’)

What is Nibbāna, the cessation of suffering? When the Unconditioned Element (asankhata-dhātu), the unique Ultimate Reality, which has the characteristics of peace, is realised with the four-fold knowledge of the Path, all the defilements, numbering one thousand and five hundred, are completely eradicated, never will they rise again. In any existence, when the arahatta-magga is attained, the suffering, in the form of the five aggregates, ceases once and for all immediately after death, just as a heap of fire has been extinguished. There is no more rebirth in any realms of existence. That Unconditioned Element, the unique Ultimate Reality, which has the characteristics of peace and all the unique attributes described above is called ‘Nibbāna’.

The worldlings do not know full well the nature of Nibbāna as the Noble Ones do. If they, without knowing it, say or write to let others understand it as the Noble Ones do, they could go wrong. Let alone speaking of Nibbāna, when they speak even of a mundane object which they know only from books, as though they have seen it with their own eyes, they are likely to make mistakes. The common worldlings not being able to see every aspect of it like the Noble Ones do, should speak of Nibbāna only in the aforesaid manner.

When Nibbāna is considered as to what it is like, those who have not understood what it really is, are likely to regard Nibbāna as a kind of indestructible country or city. When Nibbāna is mentioned as a secure city in a discourse at a water-pouring ceremony, it is just a figurative usage. Nibbāna is not a city, nor is it a country. Yet there are some who believe and say that Nibbāna is a city where those who have passed into it live happily with mind and body free of old age, sickness and death. The truth is that passing of Buddhas, Paccekabuddhas and arahats into Nibbāna means complete cessation of the five aggregates, material and mental, of an arahat at his death in his last existence; they will no longer appear in any realm of existence. (Nibbāna is the Ultimate Reality which is the object of the Path and Fruition. Parinibbāna is complete cessation of the material and mental aggregates which will never come into being again.) Their passing into Nibbāna is not going into the city of Nibbāna. There is no such thing as the city of Nibbāna.

The Myanmar word ‘Nibbān’ is a Pāli derivative. When people perform meritorious deeds, their teachers will admonish them to pray for Nibbān. Though they do so accordingly, they generally do not know well what Nibbān means. So they are not very enthusiastic about it. The teachers, therefore, should ask them to pray for the extinction of all suffering and sorrow because the words are pure Myanmar and the devotees will understand thoroughly and pray enthusiastically and seriously.

Two Kinds of Nibbāna

Suppose there is a very costly garment. When its owner is still alive, you say: “It is an excellent garment with a user.” When he dies, you say: “It is an excellent garment with no user.” (The same garment is spoken of in accordance with the time in which the user is alive or in which the user is no longer alive.) Similarly, the Unconditioned Element, the Ultimate Reality of Nibbāna, which has the characteristic of peace and which is the object the Venerable Ones such as Sāriputta, who contemplate by means of the Path and Fruition, is called Sa-upādisesa Nibbāna (Nibbāna with the five aggregates of upādisesa contemplating) before his death; after his death, however, since there are no longer the five aggregates that contemplate Nibbāna, it is called Anupādisesa Nibbāna (Nibbāna without the five aggregates of upādisesa contemplating it.)

The peace of Nibbāna is aspired for, only when it is pondered after overcoming craving by wisdom. That the peace of Nibbāna is something which should really be aspired for, will not be understood if craving is foremost in one’s thinking and not overcome by wisdom.

Three Kinds of Nibbāna

Nibbāna is also of three kinds according to its attributes which are clearly manifest in it:

(1) Suññata Nibbāna,
(2) Animitta Nibbāna and
(3) Appaṇihita Nibbāna.

(1) Suññata Nibbāna:

The first attribute is that Nibbāna is devoid of all distractions (palibodha);hence Suññata Nibbāna. (“Suññata” means “void”.)

(2) Animitta Nibbāna:

The second attribute is that it is devoid of consciousness (citta), mental concomitants (cetasika) and matter (rūpa) which, as conditioned things, are the cause of defilements. Conditioned things, whether mental or material, cannot only arise individually and without combining with one another. Material things arise only when at least eight of them form a combination. (That is why they are called atthakalapa, unit of eight.) Mental things also arise only when at least eight elements make a combination. (By this is meant pañca-viññāṇa, the fivefold consciousness.) When such combinations of mental and material components brought together to form an aggregate are wrongly taken to be ‘myself’, ‘my body’, ‘a thing of substance’, they give rise to mental defilements, such as craving, etc. Conditioned things are thus known as nimitta, ground or cause. In particular, mundane consciousness, mental concomitants and matter are called nimitta. In Nibbāna, however, there are no such things of substance as ‘myself’, ‘my body’, which cause the emergence of defilements. Hence the name Animitta Nibbāna.

(3) Appaṇihita Nibbāna:

The third attribute is that Nibbāna is devoid of craving which is taṇhā. As has been said before, Nibbāna has nothing to crave for. Nibbāna is not to be craved. Therefore, it is also called Appaṇihita Nibbāna. In this way there are three kinds of Nibbāna according to its attributes.

This Truth of Cessation of Suffering is in short called the Truth of Cessation. This Truth of Cessation is the Unconditioned (Asaṅkhata) Element. (It is not conditioned by any factor.) Therefore, this Truth of Cessation, the Unconditioned Element, the Ultimate Reality of Nibbāna, is named ‘Appaccaya-Dhamma’ (Uncaused Phenomenon), or ‘Asaṅkhata-Dhamma’ (Unconditioned Phenomenon), in the Dhammasangani.

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