Jhānas and Nibbāna
The path of dhamma
A healthy and legitimate path
It is a path that every person who is sufficiently wise and intelligent is committed to. Only animals – which cannot escape from their daily misery – do maintain themselves into it in the most confusing way and keep on living, beyond their control, in a world of predators, aggressiveness, fear, escapism, hatred and violence.
They give us the possibility to distinguish between that which is likely to help us on this path on one hand, and that which is likely to maintain us in this misery, suffering, aggressiveness, violence and the life of a predator on the other.
Here is therefore the meaning of the word "kusala", which does not mean "well" or "good", but "skilfulness", in the sense that it is intelligent, that it is sharp-minded, that it is that which will help us to get better.
It is that which is clumsy, that which diverts us from right way to operate.
We are in a school; the school of skilfulness precisely. We will get habituated to develop skilful, useful, constructive and beneficial behaviours. Concurrently, we will get habituated to give up unskilful, unhappy behaviours, which generate suffering and pain.
To think on our own
On one hand, we can think by ourselves on that which is a state of trouble, of stress, the state of constraint in which we live. For many among us, it is useless to reflect upon it even, it is spontaneous, quite direct.
For a few of us, the first time we became aware of the world's suffering dates back from our early youth. On the other hand, we can reflect upon, draw an analysis on that which should be an abode, an experience or a situation that is empty of this pain, empty of that suffering.
Once we will have intelligently and constructively reflected upon these two elements and we will have avowed to their reality, we will have to develop the skilfulness in understanding that which, on one hand, does generate suffering, misery, pain, and that which, on the other hand, must lead us to experience the end of suffering, misery and stress.
Our school, the one of reflection, the one of reasoning, it is the school of a kind of scepticism, but a constructive one, not a destructive one, it is the school of reason, of that which is reasonable.
This school is not found within Judaism, neither in Islam, nor in Hinduism, nor in Mahayana, nor in theravāda, nor in another kind of Buddhism, nor in Christianity, nor in Communism, nor in Nazism, nor in Fascism, nor in Atheism.
That is quite simply the work that we each do, at our level, in our daily life. When we think, when we progress, we discover by ourselves, that our reflections have already existed in the past, that they have already been made and developed by some people in the past.
It is not that much that we think agreeing with it, but that we consider that it agrees with us instead. There does always remain a certain balance between a certain kind of doubt, a certain kind of scepticism, and a certain kind of confidence.
It is very important. Let us well know that the one who has reached perfect awakening, final realisation (an arahanta), is not someone about whom we could say that he gained full confidence into Buddha's teaching. He isn't someone who could say the opposite thing either.
He is someone who developed that capacity, through all his experiences, all his reflections, to be never certain about anything.
Nevertheless, he is someone who never doubts, a quite paradoxical thing indeed. The state of absolute confidence, of complete truth, of complete certainty is a thing that doesn't inhabit the spirit of a wise being.
Thus, if we reflect upon it, if we ask ourselves the question " what is this world made of? ", we will realise that any discussion or reflection will credibly lead us to become aware that this world is quite confused.
We really live in a confused world.
Whether it may be the social world, the political world, the economical world, the technological world, the real world, the virtual world, the world of religion, of spirituality, of philosophy, of culture, all that remains confused and disordered to some extent.
Exactly in the same way as if there was noise, silence alone is the possible alternative to set ourselves free from the noise.
For example, when there is a particularly displeasing sound, we would like it to stop, because it is painful. It is possible for us to replace this sound by another one. We can transmute this sound, we can purify it.
We can follow a step that will lead us from a particularly unpleasant sound to a blissful and marvellous one. The problem lies in that in any case, we haven't eliminated the sound. We have proceeded from an unpleasant sound to a pleasant one.
It is better than nothing, it can give us a short term comfort.
Why is a sound pleasant, nice, and then, the same sound, the same melody, becomes unbearable? It is quite strange! That which has changed quite simply is: we have got too much of it. We have got an overdose of it.
States of intense happiness
We can succeed – as humans like to do since millennia – through spiritual exercises, in experiencing states of grace, states of consciousness that are crystal clear and in which almost nothing does manifest.
Those are states of consciousness that have the potency to remain crystal clear, transparent and motionless. They do manifest along with a sensation of profound well being and are void of painful sensations.
We talk a lot about them, within various mystic traditions of humanity. We could imagine – mostly if we, ourselves, went through a few unusual experiences – that it is possible, by means of meditative, concentration exercises, rooted in the vital blow, in mantras or visualizations, to reach a certain degree of inner plenitude, a state of intense happiness.
During these experiences, consciousness functions in a specific way, extremely speeded up, permeated by absolute lucidity, and remaining immersed into a state of well being, of neutrality, of exceedingly intense inner joy. It is a kind of liberation.
If we reach a kind of plenitude, a divinity, we are immersed into an experience that is empty of sorrow. Owing to this experience being particularly pleasant and enjoyable, the latter is empty of suffering.
To reach these states of consciousness, these mental experiences, one ought to engage into spiritual exercises that are described into numerous Christian, Sufi, Hindu, Mahayanist and other traditions' literature.
Plenitude is not the solution
He listed forty of them – which admittedly partake of no exclusive character – which enable the one who trains into some of them with a lot of diligence, energy and determination, to reach these peculiar spiritual experiences.
Nevertheless, to him, that is not the solution.
Exactly in the same way, when we are in the cabinet of our dentist, we do not feel the slightest pain because it is made technically impossible to the nerve to transmit it, owing to it having been put to sleep by an anaesthetising.
There is merely a function – the one of suffering – which has been momentarily neutralised.
Thus, when we get absorbed, by means of meditation exercises, when we experience a kind of inner sensuous enjoyment, we have not evacuated, nor undermined the foundations of suffering. We have momentarily neutralised a function.
That is already very good to have reached it; we can achieve it by means of concentration, by focusing our attention to a single point, for hours, months, years, without respite, until this point does appear in our dreams, at any time of the day, even when we do not think about it.
At any time of the day, we are immersed into, we are "one" with our meditation support.
An unusual path
To the free thinker, the one who accepts nothing a priori, the answer cannot be positive.
It is about bringing the mechanism of production, reproduction to a complete stop.
What is meant is to no longer commit ourselves to a path. To him (Gotama Buddha), it is the only alternative to suffering. It is the absence of suffering, which lies in no longer committing ourselves to the path that leads to suffering.
We do not give ourselves up to a practice or exercise that is likely to give us a result. On the contrary, we cease to start up a practice or exercise likely to give us a result.
We are not following a step that should lead us to experience happiness, plenitude, inner peace. We deal with a step in which we cease to do that which is likely to bring about these things. It is unbelievable.
The absence of experience
Our step leads us to the absence of presence, the absence of experience, which is not nothingness for all that, as nothingness doesn't exist. We truly became aware of it, as the world is here before us.
There must therefore be something that shouldn't be an experience, neither a sensation, nor a consciousness, and which should be fundamentally empty of suffering, but at the same time empty of happiness, empty of plenitude and empty of joy.
Therefore, we cannot say that it does exist.
He also utilises these terms when he speaks about divine consciousness (having plural stages).
To designate this unusual element, he used the word: nibbāna, which does not bear the meaning that many people ascribe to it: the flame that would have been blown off, the state empty of attachment, empty of suffering, etc.
It is not necessary to find a root to words.
Buddha has used this word that was a common parlance at his time, to designate, for example, the stage of the rice coming out of the steam room or the after death state of a dog. Paradoxically, there is no dog, as a dead dog is no longer a dog.
Buddha utilises this term to designate this element, this thing that is empty of pain, empty of sensation, empty of happiness, empty of plenitude. He utilises the word "parinibbāna", which he borrowed from his contemporaries' common language.
However, it is truly speaking something that must be there, which must be somewhere, but impossible to localise.
According to him, nibbāna exists previously to the world and not beyond the latter. Roughly speaking, it is that which does occur when the world does no longer occur. Thus, it is that which does occur previously to the world.
It would be useless to discuss about nibbāna at great length, but useful to think for a moment and tell ourselves: " there must be, in this world, an alternative to suffering, pain, misery and stress.
By following the way pointed out by Buddha, by listening to his teaching, by following the training that he recommended us to follow, the one of the establishment of the presence of mind (satipaṭṭhāna vipassanā), we are supposed to succeed in doing this unusual experience of awakening. He says besides that it is the only path leading to it.
We can try to concretely see, what can the experience of the extinct element bring about in our daily lives of school teacher, of labourer, of doctor, of jobless, of man, of woman, of rich, of poor, of literate scholar, of illiterate, of old or young person.
It is something. In which way will it enable us to suffer less, to feel less ill at ease, to be less miserable, less stressful, to encounter less difficulties, even if it means being less in pleasures, less amid the small happiness of life?
How can we establish a link between that which exists previously to the world, that which is empty, and that which we experience in our daily lives, which is well and truly in the world, which is tangible, and not all empty of sensation, but full of sensations, of turpitude, of pains, of difficulties, of stress, of miseries, of joys, of compassion, of love, of happiness, of cheerfulness?
Which link do we find, besides, between these two things? Does reaching awakening mean to merge into something, all of a sudden?
Does it mean that this body suddenly vanishes, that consciousness disappears, that all disappears? Is there a bridgeable gulf between the world and that which exists previously to it, a bridgeable gulf between our daily life and a kind of non-existence?
If such was the case, what would be the interest of it?
That which beings want, and it is the most legitimate thing in the world, lies in succeeding, in their daily life, in experiencing less suffering. Owing to be alive, we experience difficulty and stress.
Everybody agrees with this. However, we are condemned to live, no other choice is left to us.
Then how to handle with the span of time that separates us between the moment when we have understood and came to this point, and the last moment of our life, the one when we are going to die (after, we do not know at all what can happen).
That which is interesting, in the step of satipaṭṭhāna – and it is admittedly not an accident of fate –, when we have succeeded in doing the experience of the extinct element, which is not in the world, but which is previous to it, lies in that once this experience is already achieved, many things have changed.
These things that have changed, it is well and truly in the world that they have changed.
The complete clearing
Nothing has disappeared, well, not exactly. So as to remove weeds, we can choose the option of tearing away stalks one by one, while avoiding to damage the wheat that is precious, which is a difficult and long process, impossible even.
Whenever we may reach the end of the field, weeds may have possibly started to grow again.
And we must vividly ascertain that after this clearing, wheat grows again better, and there are less weeds, much less weeds.
When we again crop the weeds and plant the wheat, there are still less weeds. There will come a time when, during the fourth plantation, there will be no more weeds.
Nevertheless, there is a weed that has disappeared, which is no more present.
If we reached the end of suffering in this down world, it is not owing to have removed something from the world, it is not also owing to have substituted something to it; a kind of transcendence – in such case the jhānas.
If we reached a state of well being into this world, it is owing to have removed from it all our unwholesome behaviours, all our unwholesome attitudes and as a consequence, we have also removed from this world all our wholesome behaviours and attitudes.
with a few ingredients missing. Nothing had to get transformed, nothing had to be transmuted, there is nothing to reject, there was nothing that ought to be adopted. There is no ritual, no prayer, no meditation, no mantra, no step to be followed, no technique, no procedure.
There is no need for any institution, neither a master, nor the adoption of specific behaviours. On the contrary, the first thing to do is to start dropping all these things.
Not to do anything
For that sake, we should whether practise a meditation that will bring about a state of serenity and inner force, but we will still get a temporary result (which could last as long as life will endure but which will still be temporary), or else manage so that these things do no longer appear by themselves.
Not to control anything, not to do anything, to utilise no technique, no exercise, no meditation, and to ascertain as a fact, that desires have totally disappeared, that they no longer do appear, whereas nevertheless, the entire environment remains the same, that is much better.
When we suffer from a sickness and we take medicines, we will succeed in eliminating the bacteria, the microbe or the virus that is the root cause of the disease. However, we don't have the guarantee that it will never reappear.
It is still quite good to have treated the disease, but it can still come back.
That which interests us in the step we took, lies in evacuating pain, misery, difficulty, stress – paradoxically – without starting up a technical exercise for that. Otherwise, it would be the result of this exercise, and we want a lasting result that may not be the result of an exercise.
This is how we proceed in our reasonable and thoughtful step. It is true that to manage so that within our mind those stress generating elements do no longer appear, one ought to have contacted, through experience, something that is not located within this world. It is paradoxically about an experience where there is no contact with such object, as it is not located within this world.
Darkness is "that which is without light".
However, it is not something that does exist, it is not a thing in itself, it is not a phenomenon that we could touch or take; it is the absence of light. nibbāna is likewise, that's why we call it "that which is empty".
Here is that which distinguish our step from the common meditation practices that we come across among various schools. Here is that which makes us remain remote, a fortiori, from the blind consumer society.
We will notice that the materialists will tell:
" People who do permeate the spiritual sphere live in a dream, they do imagine all sorts of things and force themselves to observe all kinds of disciplines, which finally put them under compulsions that ultimately force them and do not lead them to happiness, as everything is based on a dream ".
Everybody stands on his positions and is convinced to be right.
That which we can say, is that the one as well as the other is not completely wrong. It is the reason why we do not commit ourselves; whether to the path of spirituality, or else the one of materialism.
The path of materialism is followed by those who believe in nothing and who believe that after death, everything disappears, everything is totally destroyed. That's why we tell that they believe in nothing.
We are not much interested into an hypothetical happiness pertaining to the beyond, and we have ceased to run here and there, as we have grown mature enough to understand that there does exist no happiness apart from the one that we can find in this life itself.
We are facing the situation of the one who, after having hanged around in the aisles of the subway, is desperately in search of toilets so as to get relieved. We are facing the situation of the one who is getting tired and wants to get relieved.
That is to say we actually proceed where there is not much to do. However, we go where we have nothing to expect, just like the one who takes shelter from the rain and expects nothing, neither from the rain, nor from the shelter, but he simply takes shelter from the rain.
We train ourselves too, as far as possible, into a certain quality of attention, of vigilance, of concentration, of presence of mind, which must also protect us from letting ourselves go to behaviours that are exclusively rooted into fascinations generated by sensuous desires.
At last, we train ourselves into this unusual path.
It is unusual as it is desperately desert, void of mark benches, a path on which we sometimes feel a bit alone, like left behind, on which we sometimes feel like disconnected from the world because we have it difficult to find our usual mark benches.
This latter will not only lead us to give up behaviours, cultivated through mind and speech, but also to observe by ourselves the disappearance of the patterns of the mind – thought processes – which are whether likely to generate pain, misery, suffering, or else to generate happiness and enjoyment too.
Once someone asked to Venerable Sāriputtarā: "
You claim that nibbāna is totally void of sensation. How can that which is void of sensation be happiness? " Venerable Sāriputtarā replied to him: " It is precisely owing to the fact there is no sensation that it is perfect happiness.
And that, even if we made a bend just before; a little bend towards that which precedes it.
We can also wish, admittedly, that beings who live in this world, who are not in the position to think, doubt or understand, may one day, once in their life, or in another one, come across the Teaching.
Let us hope that, even if it may look like an utopia, one day, all beings in this universe – which is so vast – may come across this teaching and ultimately do the experience of liberation, the experience of the complete end of suffering.