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Jul 19th
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Home Teachings General What is Nibbana - How can One Realize Nibbana

What is Nibbana - How can One Realize Nibbana

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Article Index
What is Nibbana
Is Cessation Nibbana
The Uncaused
Modes of Production
The Bliss of Nibbana
Description of Nibbana
The Realization of Nibbana
Where is Nibbana
How can One Realize Nibbana
All Pages

How can One Realize Nibbana

All true Buddhists want to know the answer to this question. Many people in modern times have realised nibbāna. Those who practise meditation intensively with systematic mindfulness, as taught by Venerable Mahāsi Sayādaw of Burma or other great teachers, will have a good chance to realise it, but they must be exceptionally diligent. Many lay people, both young and old, have been successful in their practice. Those who were successful, practised mindfulness throughout the whole day and late into the night without a break, for long periods — for several months, not just a few weeks. If anyone claimed to have attained nibbāna after practising for only a week or two, I would be very sceptical, unless they had done a lot of meditation previously. Although there are plenty of accounts in the Tipitaka of rapid and sudden attainment when conditions were ripe, it is rare to find people with such great ability nowadays. Most people will have to struggle for several days just to gain mental purity. After that, insight will begin to arise, but mature insight requires deep concentration and strenuous effort, so only a few will succeed. Nevertheless, if one gains mental purity and the early stages of insight, one will enjoy very significant benefits that will radically alter one's outlook on life.

One should take the practice of meditation seriously. One should not underestimate the task, but neither should one assume that nibbāna is beyond one's reach. If one assumes that realisation is impossible, one will not make strenuous efforts, then nibbāna will be unattainable.

Several requirements are indispensable to attain nibbāna. Impeccable morality is the first. Most people break one or more of the five precepts from time to time. However, if one makes a sincere commitment to observe the precepts perfectly when taking up meditation, moral purity is established. Then one must practise strictly according to the instructions given, without hiding any moral lapses from the teacher.

For serious meditation, five precepts are not enough. To attain nibbāna while still indulging in and attached to sensual pleasures is impossible. One must observe eight precepts, which includes chastity, abstention from entertainments, and moderation in eating. One must be willing to bear physical discomfort caused by hunger, loss of sleep, etc. The middle path does not mean a moderate amount of effort — it means a strenuous effort, but avoiding extremes like complete abstinence from food and sleep. Diligent meditators must sleep very little (less than six hours), but practising for the whole night is not recommended. Wakefulness is the second essential requirement.

Effort must be continuous and uninterrupted. Each time one puts down the burden of contemplation, it takes time to pick it up again. Momentum will be lost, and progress will slow down dramatically. If one changes one's sitting posture every time pain arises, one will not gain deep concentration. A meditator must practise with a "do or die" effort, regardless of concerns for comfort, health, or life itself. Continuity is the third essential requirement.

Although meditation should be practised at home whenever possible, it is not the right environment to develop insight. In your own home you will be at ease, which is conducive to concentration, but you are also very likely to be interrupted. It is barely possible to gain continuous mindfulness while practising at home. One should go to a quiet place or a meditation centre to practise continuously for as long as one can manage. Twenty-four hours is long enough to gain concentration. A ten-day course should be sufficient to gain significant insight, but to attain nibbāna one should practise continuously, or attend regular ten-day courses, until the goal is reached. A supportive environment is the fourth essential requirement.

One should also have the guidance of a skilled teacher. Right understanding is indispensable to success in meditation. There are so many spiritual paths, and even within Buddhism there are many different traditions and meditation methods, so a beginner is sure to be perplexed. The Buddha's most important discourse on mindfulness, the Satipatthana Sutta, begins by saying, "This, monks, is the only way for the purification of beings, for the transcendence of grief and lamentation, for the extinction of pain and sorrow, for attaining the right method, for the realisation of nibbāna." Yet the same discourse contains at least six different meditation techniques. Other discourses describe different ways to attain concentration, but they all revert to the Satipatthana method to develop insight.

One should understand the difference between concentration and insight, and know the distinction between a meditation technique, and the comprehensive method of mindfulness (satipatthana). We should note several key points about the way to nibbāna:

1. Nibbāna is the cessation of craving, so the way to it opposes defilements. The purpose of insight meditation is not to get 'blissed out,' though one will experience plenty of joy and bliss if one practises energetically. At the higher stages of insight one must become thoroughly weary of the mental and physical processes. Only such world weariness can lead to nibbāna.

2. Insight meditation must focus on realities that can be known in the present moment. All mental and physical phenomena must be investigated as soon as they occur within one's mind to realise their true nature.

3. Thinking and theory are far away from direct insight knowledge. Thinking must be observed with bare awareness to realise its true nature.

4. All conditioned things are impermanent, unsatisfactory, and not-self. If meditation does not reveal these three characteristics, it is not insight meditation, and does not lead to nibbāna.

5."This Dhamma [Nibbāna] is for one who wants little, not for one who wants much; for the contented, not for the discontented; for the secluded, not for one fond of society; for the energetic, not for the lazy; for the mindful, not for the unmindful; for the composed, not for the flustered; for the wise, not for the unwise; for one who is precise and who delights in precision, not for the vague or for one who delights in diffuseness." (Eight Thoughts of a Great Man, Gradual sayings, iv. 227)


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The Dhammapada

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