Ven. Ñāṇavīra wrote:
See Itivuttaka II,ii,7 <Iti.38>
The opinion has been expressed (in the P.T.S. Dictionary) that nibbāna is not transcendental. If by 'transcendental' is meant 'mystical', either in the sense of having to do with a (supposed) Divine Ground or simply of being by nature a mystery, then nibbāna (or 'extinction') is not transcendental: indeed, it is anti-transcendental; for mystification is the state, not of the arahat (who has realized nibbāna), but of the puthujjana (who has not).[a]
For the arahat, all sense of personality or selfhood has subsided, and with it has gone all possibility of numinous experience; and a fortiori the mystical intuition of a trans-personal Spirit or Absolute Self—of a Purpose or an Essence or a Oneness or what have you—can no longer arise. Cf. Preface (m)
. Nor, for one who sees, is the nature of nibbāna a mystery at all. When a fire becomes extinguished (nibbuta) we do not suppose that it enters a mysterious 'transcendental state': neither are we to suppose such a thing of the person that attains nibbāna. See Majjhima viii,2
& PARAMATTHA SACCA [a]
But if 'transcendental' means 'outside the range of investigation of the disinterested scholar or scientist', then nibbāna is transcendental (but so are other things). And if 'transcendental' means 'outside the range of understanding of the puthujjana'—though the dictionary hardly intends this[b]
—, then again it is transcendental. Only this last meaning corresponds to lokuttara. (i) Existence or being (bhava) transcends reason (takka, which is the range of the scholar or scientist), and (ii) extinction (nibbāna) transcends existence (which is the range of the puthujjana):
(i) There is no reason why I am, why I exist. My existence cannot be demonstrated by reasoning since it is not necessary, and any attempt to do so simply begs the question. The Cartesian cogito ergo sum is not a logical proposition—logically speaking it is a mere tautology. My existence is beyond reason.
(ii) I can assert my existence or I can deny it, but in order to do either I must exist; for it is I myself who assert it or deny it. Any attempt I may make to abolish my existence tacitly confirms it; for it is my existence that I am seeking to abolish. Ye kho te bhonto samanabrāhmanā sato sattassa ucchedam vināsam vibhavam paññāpenti te sakkāyabhayā sakkāyaparijegucchā sakkāyam yeva anuparidhāvanti anuparivattanti. Seyyathāpi nāma sā gaddūlabaddho dalhe thambhe vā khīle vā upanibaddho tam eva thambham vā khīlam vā anuparidhāvati anuparivattati, evam ev'ime bhonto samanabrāhmanā sakkāyabhayā sakkāyaparijegucchā sakkāyam yeva anuparidhāvanti anuparivattanti.
('Those recluses and divines who make known the annihilation, perishing, and un-being, of the existing creature,—they, through fear of perssonality, through loathing of personality, are simply running and circling around personality. Just, indeed, as a dog, tied with a leash to a firm post or stake, runs and circles around that same post or stake, so these recluses and divines, through fear of personality, through loathing of personality, are simply running and circling around personality.') (Majjhima xi,2 <M.ii,232>
) Cessation of 'my existence' (which is extinction— bhavanirodho nibbānam ('Extinction is cessation of being.') [Anguttara X,i,7 <A.v,9>
]) is beyond my existence. See ATAKKĀVACARA
The idea of nibbāna as the ultimate goal of human endeavour will no doubt strike the common man, innocently enjoying the pleasures of his senses, as a singularly discouraging notion if he is told that it is no more than 'cessation of being'. Without actually going so far (overtly, at least) as to hope for Bradley's Absolute ('It would be experience entire, containing all elements in harmony. Thought would be present as a higher intuition; will would be there where the ideal had become reality; and beauty and pleasure and feeling would live on in this total fulfilment. Every flame of passion, chaste or carnal, would still burn in the Absolute unquenched and unabridged, a note absorbed in the harmony of its higher bliss.' [Op. cit. (A.&R.), Ch. XV]),—without perhaps going quite so far as this, even a thoughtful man may like to expect something a little more positive than 'mere extinction' as the summum bonum. We shrink before the idea that our existence, with its anguishes and its extasies, is wholly gratuitous, and we are repelled by the suggestion that we should be better off without it; and it is only natural that the puthujjana should look for a formula to save something from (as he imagines) the shipwreck.[c]
In the Udāna (viii,3 <Ud.80>
) nibbāna is spoken of by the Buddha in these terms: Atthi bhikkhave ajātam abhūtam akatam asankhatam, no ce tam bhikkhave abhavissa ajātam abhūtam akatam asankhatam na yidha jātassa bhūtassa katassa sankhatassa nissaranam paññāyetha.
('There is, monks, a non-born, non-become, non-made, non-determined; for if, monks, there were not that non-born, non-become, non-made, non-determined, an escape here from the born, become, made, determined, would not be manifest.') 'Such a positive assertion of the existence of the Unconditioned' it is sometimes urged 'must surely imply that nibbāna is not simply annihilation.' Nibbāna, certainly, is not 'simply annihilation'—or rather, it is not annihilation at all: extinction, cessation of being, is by no means the same thing as the (supposed) annihilation of an eternal 'self' or soul. (See Majjhima xi,2, above.) And the assertion of the existence of nibbāna is positive enough—but what, precisely, is asserted? In the Asankhata Samyutta (i,1 & ii,23<S.iv,359&371>
) we read Yo bhikkhave rāgakkhayo dosakkhayo mohakkhayo, idam vuccati bhikkhave asankhatam/nibbānam
; ('The destruction, monks, of lust, of hate, of delusion—this, monks, is called (the) non-determined/extinction.') and we see that, if we do not go beyond the Suttas, we cannot derive more than the positive assertion of the existence here of the destruction of lust, hate, and delusion. And this is simply a statement that to get rid, in this very life, of lust, hate, and delusion, is possible (if it were not, there would be no escape from them, and therefore—Anguttara X,viii,6 <A.v,144>
—no escape from birth, ageing, and death). And the arahat has, in fact, done so. But if, in our stewing minds, we still cannot help feeling that nibbāna really ought, somehow, to be an eternity of positive enjoyment, or at least of experience, we may ponder these two Sutta passages:Tisso imā bhikkhu vedanā vuttā mayā, sukhā vedanā dukkhā vedanā adukkhamasukhā vedanā, imā tisso vedanā vuttā mayā. Vuttam kho pan' etam bhikkhu mayā, Yam kiñci vedayitam tam dukkhasmin ti. Tam kho pan'etam bhikkhu mayā sankhārānam yeva aniccatam sandhāya bhāsitam
... ('There are, monk, these three feelings stated by me: pleasant feeling, unpleasant feeling, neither-unpleasant-nor-pleasant feeling—these three feelings have been stated by me. But this, monk, has been stated by me: 'Whatever is felt counts as unpleasure (suffering)'. That, however, monk, was said by me concerning the impermanence of determinations...' (See Vedanā Samy. i,9, quoted at A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA §17
.)) Vedanā Samy. ii,1 <S.iv,216>Āyasmā Sāriputto etad avoca. Sukham idam āvuso nibbānam, sukham idam āvuso nibbānan ti. Evam vutte āyasmā Udāyi āyasmantam Sāriputtam etad avoca. Kim pan'ettha āvuso Sāriputta sukham, yad ettha n'atthi vedayitan ti. Etad eva khv ettha āvuso sukham, yad ettha n'atthi vedayitam.
('The venerable Sāriputta said this:—It is extinction, friends, that is pleasant! It is extinction, friends, that is pleasant! When this was said, the venerable Udāyi said to the venerable Sāriputta,—But what herein is pleasant, friend Sāriputta, since herein there is nothing felt?—Just this is pleasant, friend, that herein there is nothing felt.') Anguttara IX,iv,3 <A.iv,414>