2020-10-20 Nibbāna (2 of 5) Going Out of the Fire
3:29PM Oct 20, 2020
So again good day, greetings, warm greetings. The topic of these talks this week is Nibbāna, or in English in a sense called Nirvāna, the Sanskrit word. And it's often seen as the ultimate goal in Buddhism. And one of the primary etomological kind of explanations of what Nibbāna means is it comes from the expression to blow out, to blow out a fire. But when it comes into the teachings of the Buddha, it isn't the activity action of blowing the fire out. But rather it refers to the fire going out. When the fuel is removed. And so the extinguishing of a fire, when it's fuel is burned up. So the going out of the flame.
And now this kind of a negative idea of ultimate goal has to be put in a context. And the context is in ancient India, time with the Buddha, the brahminical religions, one of the dominant religions of his time, had these Brahmin priests, who's part of the important functions or practices of these priests, was fire rituals. Sacred fire rituals often where the idea was to fuel the fire, to add a ghee oil into the fire to keep it going, wood into the fire to keep it going, putting in sacrificial objects into the fire for the gods. And so they say that they're supposed to have been three sacramental fires. That part of their religion, both this fires of sacrifice, but also aspects of metaphorically fires of the soul, in a sense, the Atman, fires of the Brahman, the ultimate kind of being of the universe, and the fire of the sun. And these different fires, whether there's a sacrifice with these kind of metaphoric fires in us ourselves in the world, then are kept going and fueled by the Brahmins.
The Buddha changed the meanings of the three fires of the Brahmins. And he talked about the three fires of greed, hatred and delusion. And those are the fires that Nirvāna blows out, it gets extinguished, goes out with practice. The fires of greed, hatred and delusion.
There is a very famous teachings of the Buddha that's often in English is called the Fire Sermon. TS Eliot, his famous poem the Four Quartets, the title of one of the quartets is called the Fire Sermon, based on this teaching of the Buddha. And the Fire Sermon, I remember seeing a book on the hundred greatest speeches ever given in history. And the Buddha's Fire Sermon is one of them. And it goes, I'll just do very snippet of it, it goes something like, the world is on fire, the eyes are on fire, the ears are on fire, the nose is on fire, the tongue is on fire, the body is on fire, the mind is on fire. What is it on fire with? The fires of greed, hatred and delusion.
And the primary definition of Nibbāna, this Nirvāna, the teachings of the Buddha, it's the ending of those three fires. So it's not an extinguishing of life, not extinguishing of everything, but it's an extinguishing of this particular forms of excitement that humans can be caught up in, that have the aspect of burning us. Burning is harm. And this idea of a fire that burns, harming us, is closely related to this idea of suffering in Buddhism. One of the fundamental teachings is Buddhism about the end of suffering. And Nibbāna is described sometimes as the end of suffering. It's the end of the fires of greed, hate and delusion, end of the burning that goes on.
And this idea that Nirvana is the end of something is actually very important to understand. And the metaphor of fire, that fire is kept going by the fuel that feeds it, feeds into or feeds into, reflects back to the idea of practice, of being a practice of beginning to no longer add fuel to the fires, the excitement, the attachments, the greed, the hatred that we have. And it's not so much a forceful extinguishing of something, but rather a no longer adding the fuel. And so this is one of the functions of meditation practice, mindfulness practice, concentration practice, is to let the mind become very self satisfied, self enjoying, present, connected here. So the mindfulness, the attention is not reaching out to anything, not wanting something, not pushing something away, not confused by things, deluded by things, but is able to stay present in a clear, luminous way. And that luminosity and clarity that allows things to be as they are is a presence and attention that doesn't add fuel to anything. And so part of what we're learning to do in Buddhist meditation practice is how to be luminously present, clearly present with attention. But without adding to the fire. And letting it then go out. And language is often used that's related to Nibbāna is cooling. Things that are hot or excited go cool. And they say that this metaphor of cooling of the mind that practice does, works better as a metaphor in India, where it's a very hot climate. And where cooling is just such a refreshing, peaceful thing to experience. And they say that in that regard in the English language, growing up in the rainy, foggy, cold English climate, the idea of cold or cool, has very different connotations kind of culturally or emotionally in English than it does in India. But this refreshment. This refreshing of the mind.
So the fires go out. And then we come to this English word enlightenment, for awakening. It is kind of a synonym sometimes for Nibbāna. And it's a little strange to use that in, you know, to translate Nibbāna. But certainly the Buddha talks about how when there's awakening, when there's this ending of the fires, then it's replaced by a luminosity, a radiance that's there. And a radiance light as a metaphor doesn't hurt, it doesn't burn. Light just shines on things so we can clearly see what's there. And in that clarity then all kinds of things are possible, that are not possible if we're on fire.
Oh, nice, thank you the Wasteland, not the Four Quartets for TS Elliot.
So the fires of greed, hate and delusion go out, and it becomes cooler. And the richness of this word Nibbāna and the related word Nibbuti, is that in its original context people didn't hear it only as the ending of something, but they also heard it as referring to health. And also to a happiness. And sometimes Nibbāna is called a great happiness. And the related word, kind of past participle of it kind of is Nibbuti and Nibbuta, and that is also used for the word happiness. And there's actually sometimes wordplay in Pāli texts between, the same kind of word is used, the happiness of liberation, the happiness of freedom, the happiness of Nirvāna, the happiness of release. And it's nibbute nibbutaṃ. So you have to kind of use both those terms. So the association of the going out of the flames of greed, hate and delusion is that it's leaves us with luminosity, with happiness, with well being. It's a very positive message that sometimes is lost in English, where Nibbāna is described as the extinguishing, the quenching of thirst, the quenching of greed, hate and delusion. The quenching is kind of for many people not very appealing idea. But it's not really the blowing out or the quenching. It's not the blowing out, it's the going out. It's allowing something to just dissipate because it's not being fed.
And so you might think about this for the next while about how is it that you feed and fuel your excitement? And maybe you don't want to use the word fires of the mind. But maybe the excitement of the mind. How does it get fueled? How do you add to it? If you have strong desire and craving greed? In what ways is the mind keep the keep it going and fueling it? If you have aversions, jealousy, hostilities, to what degree does the mind keep fueling it and adding to it, adding fuel to the fire. And if you're bewildered and perplexed and confused and uncommitted, not knowing what to do, what is happening in the mind, what are you doing to keep fueling that fire, that excitement, that agitation? And maybe rather than excitement, maybe we could use agitation instead of the word fire. How we get agitated.
So how do you do that? What are you doing? What's happening in your own mind? And then when you kind of see that clearly, what is it like this pull away, step away, so that you're no longer adding that fuel? You're not letting go of anything. You're just not feeding it. What happens then?
So the most common definition for the Buddha for Nibbāna, Nirvāna, is the destruction of greed, hatred, and delusion. And that teaching gets repeated a lot in the suttas. And so hopefully, this little talk gives you kind of a bigger context for understanding why the Buddha would make this the goal of practice, the destruction of greed, hatred, and delusion. The destructions are the fires that burn us.
So thank you, and we'll continue on this theme tomorrow.