Reflections On Nibbana
by Ajahn Tate
Upasamānusati is the recollection of the tranquillity of Nibbāna. Some amongst us may think this is too lofty an ambition. The Lord Buddha was not able to display His tranquillity
so we are not able to gauge the subtlety of His level of peacefulness, right up to Nibbāna. He did, however, bid us to reflect on the serenity of Nibbāna, as follows.
We must all endeavour to become peaceful! To be aware of complete freedom from all objects, everything. If you grasp the meaning of this right now, you will reach Nibbāna. Whatever happens is fine. It’s up to you whether you reach Nibbāna or not, however,
I implore you to recollect peacefulness because recollecting peacefulness makes the mind rock solid.
This is what the Lord Buddha meant when he beseeched us to recollect in this way. If your reflection is not peaceful, confusion will set in.
When we are calm, but not as calm as the Lord Buddha, we experience a fraction of His Nibbāna.
That said, we are happy with this, which is enough for the time being. This is just freedom from
Ārammaṇa (the six sense objects). It is peacefulness by temporary relief from the five Nivaraņa
(hinderances). This kind of tranquillity is still associated with Loba (greed), Dosa (ill-will) and Moha (delusion). The defilements are plentiful. When we are peaceful in this manner, we have no idea of the depth of our tranquillity. But this is still good. The Lord Buddha still referred to this as being tranquil.
Lord Buddha said to reflect on Nibbāna as your object (Ārammaṇa). “The peace of Nibbāna is probably like this
Nibbāna is void of Loba, Dosa and Moha.” It is that moment and no other, when one is free from greed, ill-will and delusion that real peacefulness and tranquillity arises. This is what the Lord Buddha meant by Nibbāna. This is why He implored one to ponder on tranquillity.
Nibbāna is hard to make sense of, but we believe in our own peacefulness. We know we can achieve at least some level of calmness. Even if we cannot reach the same level of tranquillity as the Lord Buddha, we may be able to come close to Nibbāna. If you can sustain peacefulness, your reflection on Nibbāna will be sustained. If your peacefulness is fleeting, your reflection on Nibbāna will be fleeting. The Lord Buddha’s Nibbāna was truly the pinnacle of tranquillity. His only thoughts were Nibbāna. He had no thoughts of Kilesa (defilements). Any thoughts He did have were about tranquillity and that’s it.
Typically, the Citta tends to think, constantly. But Sati (mindfulness) keeps the mind protected, allowing the Citta to be observed at every level.
The Lord Buddha’s Citta did not stray outside its boundaries. It was under His control. It was not a source of Kilesa. All thoughts were equanimous. It is apposite for us all to emulate Him, at least somewhat, even if we only achieve a tiny amount of peacefulness. We will accept this for the time being and we will guard this tranquillity so that it becomes solid. We will then see for ourselves, that, if peacefulness is sustained for long periods, great tranquillity and happiness will be experienced. The same is true for Nibbāna
. If the mind is calm, both Nibbāna and unwholesome states can be teachers. If the mind is disturbed, then neglect has set in.
Hell and Nibbāna are at opposite ends of the spectrum, polar opposites. The battle between them is what it is all about
Wherever we come from, after we are born, we are met with nothing but a vast array of confusion, such as countless thoughts and imaginings.
When we get tranquillity, even just a little bit, we feel relaxed and comfortable. This state is worth preserving, making it a permanent fixture (of one’s mind). That way, it will be for our own happiness and happiness is what everyone around the world desires.
When this level of happiness arises, we must look after it. Things are easy to seek but difficult to maintain. With regard to this happiness, those who will obtain it will do so moment by moment, those that do not, won’t.
Maintaining this level of happiness for long periods is the hardest thing to do. Why is this? Well, for a start, our mood is constantly changing. Standing, walking, sitting or lying down; speaking, chatting, eating, every activity, it is all about what contacts the Āyatana (senses). The Citta chases after what makes contact with the Āyatana and this what makes maintenance difficult.
If someone is experienced and masterful (in this practice), they will know its ins and outs. They will be able to keep pace with everything they know and see, no matter how these things arise. The surveying Citta will be Dhamma. Thinking will be Dhamma. Imagining and formulating will be Dhamma.
If you know what is going on, it is all Dhamma, everything. One who practises will see their own virtue and their own vice right there. What is Dhamma and what is worldly will be seen right there
If your thinking is worldly, everything becomes about the world. There is no Sati to cocoon and protect the Citta. On the other hand, if your focus is on Dhamma, you will follow cause and effect constantly and that focus will remain as long as you wish. Thinking will not exceed boundaries. You can withdraw into this stillness, this peace, at any time. This can be compared with raising cattle. The farmer feeds them in a wide pasture. He climbs a tree to observe each one. He knows the location of them all. In the evening, he brings them into the barn and locks the barndoor. Their owner then sleeps soundly because he knows he does not have to mind them.
This is it, Upasamānusati, recollection of the peace of Nibbāna as the object. No matter what the Lord Buddha’s object was, we first need to settle for (the limited peacefulness that has been detailed here). If you do manage to reach the same object as the Lord Buddha, you will know this for yourself
. No one can tell you or instruct you (that this is the case). You cannot make a comparison. Whoever experiences this will know for themselves.
If you think this is going to be as you learned from the text and manuals, you will realise that reality is something else. However, when you have studied, then doing a comparison is not wrong. When you do this, you realise that (actually) there is not the slightest difference
All practitioners want to achieve (increased) levels of practice. They want these stages to be firmly established. They want to achieve Sotāpanna, Sakidāgāmi and Anāgāmi. They can close their eyes and, momentarily, envision this. However, when they withdraw from Samādhi, they find that various Kilesa still trouble them. The Kilesa are all still there, just as they were in the beginning. The Lord Buddha, on the other hand, did not engage with the Kilesa once He had seen (the truth). For Him every Kilesa was expunged. He said, a Sotāpanna is like one who has fallen into the stream of Nibbāna and taken a vague look but has not reached Nibbāna. A Sakidāgāmi has gotten closer and sees Nibbāna much clearer. An Anāgāmi sees it at an even closer distance. They see it vividly. It is only clearer when the stage of Arahant is reached. At this stage, Nibbāna is seen with absolute clarity. The Arahant sees clearly that it is following the Dhamma that has made him/her an Arahant, without the need to believe in or listen to anyone else. They see everything is in perfect alignment with what the Lord Buddha taught.
Most people would like to be Sotāpanna, Sakidāgāmi, Anāgāmi or Arahant. People think that if they forsake some Kilesa they will be a Sotāpanna. If they forsake some more, they will be a Sakidāgāmi or an Arahant just like the Lord Buddha. But they do not abandon the Kilesa as He did. Instead, they collect them, while extolling the Lord Buddha. How on earth will they reach the Lord Buddha? Even at this stage they still do not want to give up craving. As the ancients said, “Those who want, don’t eat. Those who are eating, don’t want.”