by Bhikkhu Punnaji
The teaching of the Buddha is like a lamp brought into the darkness for those with eyes to see their path and the lamp of the Buddha could be recognised only by observing the way it lights up one’s path, not by examining the lamp.
The Dhamma is not a dogma or a set of words to be interpreted and believed, but the true nature of things to be understood by each man for himself. Genuine Buddhism should be sought, not as the view of a person Gotama, but as the truth revealed by the Enlightened One. If we are to distinguish genuine Buddhism from the counterfeit we have to test it not for its authenticity but for its veracity.
The Dhamma that is so well declared by the Buddha is the truth that can be clearly seen here and now (sandittiko akaliko), inviting examination (ehipassiko) and leading on to it (opanaiko), it is understandable for oneself by an intelligent man (paccattam veditabbo vinnuhi). This means that the teaching of the Buddha points to a truth which can be understood by intelligent man when properly explained. This truth is experience itself, not something outside it. It was an experience that the Buddha understood, and having thoroughly comprehended opened up, analysed and made clear. It was experience which he analysed into the five aggregates of clinging (pancupadanakhanda). It was these aggregates, their origin, their cessation, and the path leading to their cessation that he taught. Nothing more did he teach apart from these four Noble Truths.
What is important in Buddhism is not the gaining of new experiences which cannot be defined, but the understanding of the experience which is already there. The teaching of the Buddha is a guide to the understanding of one’s own experience. He who understands his experience solves the problem of his existence, by understanding suffering and its cessation.
Truth for the Buddhist therefore is a visible castle from which a staircase is built to come out. Truth is what we already experience. To understand this experience is not only to understand truth but also to be free from experience.
The teaching of the Buddha actually puts aright a vision that has been upset. It merely reveals the truth about one’s experience which had remained concealed. It points out the right way to one who cannot find his way through its experience. It turns on the lights in the darkness of ignorance so that those with only a little dust in their eyes could see their own experience for what it is. It is really a teaching which dispels the ignorance about one’s own experience.
The practice of Buddhism is not an effort to get out of one sphere of experience (ayatana) which is unreal (asat) in order to enter into another sphere of experience (ayatana) which is more real sat). Its aim is to come out of a state of ignorance (avijja) into a state of understanding (panna) by understanding the sense experience (phassa) which is already there. This state of ignorance is not less real than the state of understanding. The only difference is that, in the state of ignorance, what is unreal is taken to be real; in the state of understanding, things are seen as they are (yathabhutanana).
The normal state of experience is actually a state of ignorance. Therefore when experience is understood, one is freed from all experience (vimutti). To be free from experience is also to bring all suffering to an end (dukka nirodha), because all experience is suffering (yankinci vedayitam sabbam tan dukkahasmin). Now, to be free from experience is not to get out of experience but to give up the clinging (upadana nirodha) to the constituents of experience (pancupadanakkhanda), by understanding them.
The state of ignorance is actually a state of clinging to the constituents of experience (upadana) resulting in self-consciousness (asmimama) or existence (bhava). Therefore the cessation of ignorance (avijja nirodha) is not only a state of cessation of experience (phassa nirodha) but also a cessation of existence (bhava nirodha).
This cessation of existence by the cessation of ignorance is what is called Nibbana (bhava nirodha Nibbanam). Existence (bhava) itself is a false notion, recognised as true in ignorance. Therefore, cessation of existence is not an annihilation of a real self but the cessation of a false notion of a self, or a real ignorance.
This freedom from experience is also not another experience which is more real; because ignorance is as real as understanding.
It is a transcendence of a false perception and the establishment in a true understanding (saccanuppatti). It is a situation where experience has ceased to be experience because it has been understood (abhijanati).
The one who understands is like a magician witnessing a magic show. The magic (maya) has ceased to be magic to him. This freedom from experience is not a state within experience (nevidha) nor outside experience (na huram) nor in between (na ubhayamantare).
It is merely the cessation of sense experience (phassa nirodha).Since however it is possible for a person to be aware of this freedom from experience (vimutti nanadassana), once it has been attained, this special awareness (anna) could be called a special sphere of experience (ayatana) where the objects of all six spheres of experience (salayatana) are absent. This could be called a consciousness which is absolute, (anidassana) unrestricted (anantam), all pure (sabbasa pabham).
This is a state where the ordinary consciousness has ceased to be (vinnana nirodha). Here, one understands (abhijanati), rather than perceive (sanjanati). All objects of ordinary consciousness are mental constructions (sankhara).
With the cessation of ignorance (avijja nirodha) mental constructions cease (sankhara nirodha). With the cessation of mental constructions, ordinary consciousness ceases (vinnana nirodha). With the cessation of ordinary consciousness, mental and physical objects of consciousness cease to be (namarupa nirodha). With the cessation of objects of consciousness, the six spheres of sense experience cease to be (salayatana nirodha). With the cessation of the spheres of sense experience, sense experience ceases (phassa nirodha). This is followed by the successive cessation of sensation (vedana), the urges (tanha) the clinging (upadana), and existence (bhava). With the cessation of existence (bhava nirodha), birth decay, death, grief, lamentation, pain, sorrow and despair cease to be. Thus, the objects of the absolute consciousness is not a mental construction, but the stilling of all mental consciousness (sabha sankhara samatha) or cessation of existence.
Now this special absolute consciousness is not Nibbana. It is merely a realisation (sacchikarana) of Nibbana. Nibbana is merely the cessation of existence, which is seen in this consciousness (vimutti nana dassana). This absolute consciousness is not permanent, though Nibbana which is the cessation of existence, is permanent.
This absolute consciousness depends on the body.
The body with its absolute consciousness is only the remains of an existence or clinging (upadisesa). The cessation of existence with the remains still hanging on its called Nibbana with the remains of clinging remaining (sopadisesa Nibbana). When the body stops living, the absolute consciousness also ceases to be. This cessation even of the absolute consciousness is called “Nibbana without the remains of clinging remaining” (anupadisesa Nibbana).
Nibbana therefore is permanent but not continuous. It is not a presence or an absence of an experience or an existence: for it is a cessation of experience or existence, which is actually the cessation of ignorance and suffering.
(World Buddhism, Vesak Annual 2514-1970)