The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

The Dalai Lama on Four Aspects of Nirvana

by The Dalai Lama
December 3, 2014
Wed, 12/03/2014 - 14:43 -- The Dalai Lama

Four Attributes of True Cessations

True cessations (nirodha-sacca, nirodha-satya) are the cessations of various levels of afflictions actualized by progressing through the paths to arhatship and full awakening. Afflictions are of two types: innate (sahaja) afflictions continue uninterruptedly from one lifetime to another, and conceptually acquired (parikalpita) afflictions are learned from incorrect philosophies. The final true cessation of an arhat, nirvāṇa—eradication of both acquired and innate afflictions—is the example of true cessations.

1. Nirvāṇa is the cessation (nirodha) of duḥkha because, being a state in which the origins of duḥkha have been abandoned, it ensures that duḥkha will no longer be produced.

Understanding that attaining true cessation is possible by eliminating the continuity of afflictions and karma dispels the misconception that afflictions are an inherent part of the mind and liberation is impossible. The knowledge that liberation exists inspires us with optimism and energy to attain it.

2. Nirvāṇa is peace (santa, śānta) because it is a separation in which afflictions have been eliminated.

This attribute counteracts the belief that refined yet still polluted states, such as the meditative absorptions of the material and immaterial realms, are cessation. While more tranquil than human life, these states have only temporarily suppressed manifest afflictions and have not abandoned innate afflictions from the root. Not understanding that the cessation of all craving is ultimate peace, some people remain satisfied with such superior states within saṃsāra. People convinced of the harm of craving and karma know that their cessation is lasting peace and joy.

3. Nirvāṇa is magnificent (panita, praṇīta) because it is the supreme source of benefit and happiness.

As total freedom from all three types of duḥkha, true cessation is completely nondeceptive. No other state of liberation supersedes it; it is supreme and magnificent. Knowing this prevents thinking that there is some state superior to the cessation of duḥkha and its origins. It also prevents mistaking certain states of temporary or partial cessation as final nirvāṇa. For example, someone in the desire realm with clairvoyance sees the bliss experienced in the material realm. But because his clairvoyance is limited, he does not see the end to that state and mistakes it for lasting liberation.

4. Nirvāṇa is definite emergence (nissaraṇa, niḥsaraṇa) because it is total, irreversible release from saṃsāra.

Liberation is definite emergence because it is an irrevocable release from the misery of saṃsāra. This counters the misconception that liberation is reversible and the ultimate state of peace can degenerate. Because true cessation is the elimination of all afflictions and karma, there no longer exists any cause for rebirth or saṃsāric duḥkha. Once attained, liberation cannot degenerate.

Contemplating these four attributes encourages us not to stop partway but to continue practicing until we attain nirvāṇa.

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