NIBBANA: As Buddhists we believe in a beginning-less journey of births and deaths called samsara. We also accept that there are 31 realms, like resting places, in this long samasric journey for beings to be born. These 31 realms are from the lowest i.e. the hell to the highest -Brahma realms.

When a being is caught in the samsaric journey, he delights in whatever birth he gets, so that even a wild buffalo will be delighted in its birth in the animal world for the simple reason that it has no realization of dukka, the Noble Truth of Suffering.

In the same way a puthujjana i.e. a person who has not realized the dhamma will be delighted in his birth as a human being; yet he will undergo endless dukka as long as he continues to be in the samsara.

While a being goes through this samsaric journey, he keeps accumulating all his experiences both pleasant as well as unpleasant by way of mental impressions.

All mental impressions get deposited in our consciousness. These are called sankharas, – loosely translated would mean mental formations. The sankharas lie dormant until such time the right conditions arise for them to trigger off a particular effect.

They are like the roots lying beneath the earth’s surface that grow when the rains come. But, in any form of birth there would be enough and more sankharas to continuously arise dependent on the particular conditions.

The samsaric wheel of births and deaths of a being is turned by these mental formations.

They are called kilesas or defilements being responsible for holding a being tied to the samsaric journey.

These kilesas are actually the mental impressions we keep hankering after.

We would never like to let go of them. Why ? because we have not ‘seen’ the truth or the dhamma, the real nature of things.

Noble Eightfold Path

Now, how does a person earnestly endeavour to escape from the samasaric journey ? He must initially understand that he has to get rid of the kilesas.

This is achieved by not allowing the kilesas or the defilements to proliferate and accumulate more and more. It is for this purpose the Buddha has shown us the path – the Noble Eightfold Path. This path can be broadly divided into sila, samadhi and panna.

Sila is the suppression of external manifestations of the kilesas. Say, a person has the propensity to lose his temper at the slightest annoyance and conduct in an offensive manner. He must cultivate the ability to control it. Of course it is asily said than done!

This is where insight meditation becomes helpful. Actually our sense faculties are harmless. They can only perceive a particular sensation and convey the message to the mind.

It is at this point our mental impressions that are deposited -the sankhara or kilesas would find a foothold.

Unless we could see this process and effectively control our reaction to the situation, our physical body will obediently function according to the dictates of the kilesas, which can even end up in a violent act like murder, depending on the potentiality of the kilesas unleashed. Such conduct will only increase and swell the defilements already stored in us.

From the above example it would now be clear that one cannot observe sila in isolation, bereft of calmness in the mind which is called samadhi. It is only when one’s mind has reached certain level of samadhi one could see the arising of one’s defilements.

So what? Say, a person who has developed samadhi sees his defilements arising under certain conditions. What must he do then?

At this stage the person who knows the dhamma and developed panna (i.e. the ability to see things in the true nature without being deluded) will not allow his defilements to dictate and cause more harm. Through sila he diminishes the effect of the defilements.

In this manner, by repeated and continuous effort to suppress one’s propensity to be stimulated by defilements, such positive and wholesome mental impressions would also get deposited in the conciseness in the same way as the defilements get deposited.

Thus with the passage of time when a person earnestly develops his sila, samadhi and panna he will be gradually re-programming his consciousness which would lead him towards nibbana. Previously, his consciousness was programmed to ‘stay’ in the samsara; and not for his release from it.

Importance of sila

Sila is necessary to provide the correct setting to get rid of our samsaric habits that make us blind to reality.

We like to enjoy comfort, to eat tasty food- perhaps at any time during the day- to sleep till late in the morning -particular on Sundays- and take delight in other indulgences.

These are examples of defilements that prevent us from freeing ourselves from the bondage of samsara.

It is in order to stop the formation of these defilements the Buddha has given a course of exercises in the form of eight and ten precepts (for lay persons) while a set of higher precepts – adhi sila are prescribed for bhikkus and bhikkunis.

Venerable Ananda was advised by the Buddha not even to look at women. Why ? Because Ven. Ananada not being an arhant (fully accomplished one) by that time would not have been able to control his desires and would let the gateway open for the defilements.

Those who observe the eight precepts on full moon days, seated on the floor (on a mat) throughout the whole session, will only know what they miss: the comforts they enjoy at home like afternoon siesta on the sofa, the usual chicken sandwich or aggala for evening tea.

And, what amount of self control is needed to check their temptation to listen to music and watch a good tele-drama. You can even add ‘gossip’ to the list.

We have seen many benefactors making generous donations, but only a few of them will earnestly observe all five precepts with the same enthusiasm. This is why nibbana is so difficult to realize.

For those of us who are immersed in the world of sensual pleasures it is most difficult. It is therefore not surprising that the Buddha was initially not disposed towards preaching the Dhamma.

The Buddha’s advice to Bahiya

One other point, a question might be raised how did persons like Bahiya, during the time of the Buddha, realize nibbana in such a short time, just by listening to a simple advise given to him by the Buddha and following it: ” Bahiya in the seen there will be just the seen, in the heard there will be just the heard, in the sensed there will be just the sensed, in the cognized there will be just the cognized …..”. One might ask where is sila, where is samadhi and where is panna in this brief exhotation?

Of course the Buddha saw his past and knew that Bahiya had acquired a very high level of adhi sila, adhi citta (i.e. very high samadhi) and adhi panna.

To conduct oneself in accordance with the advise given to Bahiya one has to have developed a very high level of self control so as not to get agitated by any thing seen and just let it go as only ‘the seen’. Similarly, to let go what is heard and cognized requires indeed a very high level of Samadhi.

Then only one could observe subtle sensations; it is panna that alerts one instantaneously (almost by instincts) to the reality: what one sees, hears, feels and cognizes constitute the base that proliferates and creates an illusory self which prevents deliverance from samsara. -U. Mapa

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