14. Nirodha and Desire

14. Nirodha and Desire

By Venerable Amatha Gavesi

Dated: 1994

Venerable Bikkhus, brothers and sisters, Buddha refers to 2 ways of achievement, 2 ways of overcoming your defilements and attaining Nibbana. One way is called the ceto-vimutti and the other way is called the paññā-vimutti. Ceto-vimutti is, develop your mind to higher states of samadhi, your absorptions. And live in those states, as a results of prolong living in those states, your mind gain the freedom or mind get rid of the defilements and gain its freedom. In the paññā-vimutti, the 2nd way of development, after you gain your absorptions, 1st absorption, 2nd absorption, 3rd absorption, then we divert you to the practice of Vipassana, insight knowledge. And step by step we direct you to overcome the defilements which if you overcome, will reach the stage of Stream Entry, and the other defilements which you overcome you will reach the stage of Once Returner. And if you overcome some other defilements, you will reach the stage of Non-Returner and finally, we guide you to get rid of “I”, “mine”, and “soul”, believe in the continuity of your mind in the nature of a soul in you, and you get rid of that too and you finally attain your Nibbana. These are the 2 which Buddha has referred to in his discourses.

We have to find out whether there are any references in the 4 Foundation of Mindfulness in regards to these 2 parts leading to your liberation. In the mindfulness on arising of thoughts, Buddha refers to the first 8 thoughts are thoughts to clear your mind completely from the hindrances which I referred to. There are 5 hindrances and in that 5, there are 8 varieties of thoughts. So if you examine your mind in the meditation on arising of thoughts to find out whether you are subject to the hindrances and that your mind is obstructed from reaching a pure stage. And you are expected to take steps to overcome the hindrances if there be any. Hindrances are thoughts of attachment one, thoughts of aversion the other. There are instances where you get into a torpor state that is sleepy drowsy nature, tendency for you to encourage sleepiness. Then opposite to that is your mind is restless, always catching objects and not have the tendency to fix itself at one point, restlessness.  And the 5th hindrance is that you have doubts. So in the practice of meditation about thoughts, you are expected to examine your mind whether your mind is completely free of these thoughts. Thoughts of attachment, thoughts of aversion, thoughts leading to sluggishness and sloppiness, thoughts leading to restlessness and thoughts leading to create doubts in you.  There are 8 thoughts connected with these 5 hindrances and once you examine your thoughts carefully in the meditation on arising of thoughts, you come to a very tranquil stage where you are satisfied that the mind is not subject to any hindrances at all. Your mind is clean. It can visualize the truth now.

Now in the meditation on your thinking, after you have cleared your mind of the hindrances, there is reference to your development of mind to higher stages.

What are the higher stages?  You first developed the mind into absorptions, 1st absorption, 2nd absorption, 3rd absorption, 4th absorption. Those refer to the form world. If you have to developed the mind further, then you have to developed the mind to the formless world. First would be based on the 4th absorption. Now you begin to think that’s not a transcending of mind to a higher state. You clear the thought about these four formless  states, you go on thinking ‘boundless sky, boundless sky’, there is a boundless sky around me and go on thinking, thinking like that and you get into that boundless sky formless state of mind. After that you refer to the boundless consciousness, boundless consciousness, boundless consciousness, boundless consciousness. Again based on the 4th absorption you are only analyzing this 2nd formless state of mind, that is boundless consciousness, boundless consciousness, boundless consciousness, you go on thinking about it and you begin to feel that you are in that boundless state of consciousness. From there you proceed to analyse the 3rd stage as a void, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that is call the ‘akinchanna’ and that is, in that boundless world, nothing existing except void. You think of that void and pitch your mind to that void and you go on practicing it, your mind reaches that void. Now you are in the void. In that mind which is in the void, there is nothing substantial, everything is just blank. Then after that you pitched your mind to the 4th formless world and that is perception and non-perception. Perception & non-perception. Your mind is so gentle and so subtle, you neither have an object or not an object. It’s just state of mind, neither there is an object or not an object in the thinking. It is a subtle state. And I wish to tell you that the so call state of mind where your consciousness is completely free of any thoughts, ‘nirodha samapathi’ is beyond that state. ‘Nirodha’ is beyond that state, that is your mind will not entertain any objects. It settles down so well that mind is without any object, completely free and you are like as if you are sleeping. That boundless state or the formless, that  nirodha samapathi where you create a cessation of the activities of the mind and put the mind in so to say into a sleep as such and you can live in that for, if you practice it very well, first few hours. If you practice it further you can maintain that condition for half a day. If you practice it further you can maintain that condition for 1 day.  If you practice it further you may be able to maintain that condition for 2 days, 3 days, 4 days, 5 days, 6 days, 7 days you are like that. No food, no water, nothing. You’ve gotten that state of tranquility in the mind. After 7 days if you stay, you died because there is no food for you, no water for you. Only 7 days you can stay like that. Buddha stays like that, arahats they reached that higher states like that. That’s call the nirodha samapathi.

Who can attain the nirodha samapathi? A person who has got rid of desire, essential thing. You can only get rid of desire when you attained the 3rd stage of development of anagami, non returner. You must have that qualification, a non returner’s qualification, 3rd stage. And you must be able to enter the 4 form absorption and 4 formless absorption. Those both you must be able to attain. Then you would ask the question, now some of us we can enter the nirodha for about half an hour, 15 minutes, 5 minutes like that, they did not practice development of the mind in the formless, how did they achieve that then? Formless is only thinking, it is not pitching your mind to a very transcended state. No, it is only thinking, it is a thought created. There are only 4 absorptions. In the Abhidhamma, there are 5 as a division of the 2nd into 2. Normally you have 4 absorptions, that’s the form absorption, form world. Formless world, absorptions are merely based on the 4th, you developed your mind to the formless states by thinking. Sometimes it so happens that if you are a person who has a form absorption, you developed your formless automatically. It’s just a thought only. Therefore only a person who has reached the 3rd stage of anagami, non returner and who has the 4 absorptions and who has developed also the 4 formless absorption that can enter the nirodha, cessation of all activities, nirodha. And he can practiced that and developed that period of stay in that cessation of all activities, let’s say number of hours and more even the maximum is 7 days. Arahats they attained to that. There are arahat can enter that but that also he should practice. It is not a natural outcome of practicing vipassana or insight knowledge that you get this. It is something which you have practiced, practicing to empty your mind of all thoughts. That is why most of these people who practice emptying their mind of thoughts and once they reached that state of complete peace in the mind, no thoughts in him, he sometimes get into the nirodha and comes out of it, stays only about 5-10 minutes and nothing more than that. And he gets excited over, I don’t know where I went, I was fast asleep. He’s not fast asleep, that you have entered the nirodha and for a short period. It is not a development of the mind in the way of insight knowledge, no. It is the development of the mind to a higher states of I should say, pitching your mind to a peaceful state. And it is in this nirodha, this peaceful state that you get the ability to overcome the 2 mental factors feeling and perception.

I have addressed you on this subject earlier. Feelings and perceptions are 2 of the 5 mental factors which helps you to create a thought. Thoughts are created by the creation of 5 mental factors by the consciousness and they are contact, feeling, perception, volition and attention. Of these 5, 2 you cannot get rid of easily, that is feeling and perception existing in your mind. Even if you get into the 1st absorption, 2nd absorption, 3rd absorption, 4th absorption, and still pitch your mind to a higher level of formless state of mind like boundless sky, boundless consciousness, void and non-perception perception. Even in those states you find feelings and perception they appear in your mind, they disturb you. And Buddha clearly stated it is in the nirodha samapathi where you create the cessation of all activities in the mind and body that you reach that state where you can get rid of this feelings and perceptions.

Feelings are compared to bubbles of water, they arise and pass away, nothing substantial in them. Perceptions are compared to a mirage, that’s something in appearance, you feel there is something there, but when you go there, it’s not there, again pure imagination. So with these 2 present in your mind, there can’t be even if you pitched your mind to the cessation state of all activities, still you can’t gain Nibbana, because in the mind there are these 2 disqualifications which are misleading, which are not true, which tends to create thoughts in you which are not substantial. Therefore you will have to pitch your mind in all your attainment to the higher stage of development that is Nibbana. Any state beyond the cessation of all activities. And that Buddha reveals very carefully in his discussion with Tapussa the brahmin.

When Tapussa ask the question, how is it that your bhikkhus are very sober, quiet and peaceful? Is it that they have pitched their mind to the 1st absorption level or the 2nd absorption level as such? Buddha said no Tapussa, I also thought so once upon a time that if you pitched your mind to the 1st absorption level, 2nd absorption level or even higher, you will be able to maintain your mind peacefully. No, there is this feeling and perception which cannot be get rid of even at your 8th state of development of the mind, entering into perception, non-perception. You have to get into that cessation of all mental activities, that’s nirodha, to get rid of that. That’s why Buddha said that though we practice the 4th absorption and start developing our mind on the realization of the truth, to enter the stream as a result of your mind realizing the truth and reaching that state of realization. In your 2nd stage of development once returner, there too you realize anicca in a better way, more realistic way and the mind reaches that state again for the realization. In your third stage of development, you will become anagami, once non-returner. There too your mind reaches that very high state of realization, that’s the state beyond the cessation of all mental activities because any state beyond this side of that maximum. In between, you find this mental factor feeling and mental factor perception is present in the mind and those are misleading conditions of the mind create delusions in your mind.  If you want to realize the truth, truth in its true form without any discolouration, you have to pitch your mind to those levels where such truths dawns to you. Otherwise you will get into a state like the 4th absorption and think that I have realized, that’s not, you have not realized. So those are things that one have to carefully understand when you examine a devotee and question her or him to find out her or his development and realistically understand where she has gone up to. Now after the clearing of your mind of the hindrances such as attachment, aversion, sleep or torpor state, then restlessness and doubt, then your mind is qualified to reach higher states.

In the meditation in the 4 foundations of mindfulness pertaining to the development of the mind in concentration, they refer to these 4 high states. That is the state of where you have pitched your mind to very high states and the last is diverting to vipassana and the liberation of the mind from any misleading views and ideas. Therefore though there is no concrete clear indication given by Buddha in the development of ceto-vimutti, where you gain your freedom by the development of the mind on the higher states of attainment, but in that chapter on the meditation on the development the mind and freeing the mind of defilements, he refers to the higher stage which one can feel is the way one can attain ceto-vimutti. That you have to live for long hours in the higher states of mind, that’s the formless states and then ultimately that will lead you to final liberation.

What does that indicate? If you have trapped your mind off, made the mind to employ itself in a higher state, a transcended state, you have not permitted thoughts to arise in that mind, if thoughts do not arise in that mind, there is no development of desire. As I told you, desire needs constant feeding. And if you continue to stay like this for a long time, long periods in the formless world states of mind, you have thereby deprived the desire getting it feed by creation of thoughts. Mind is completely kept away from any feeding by the thoughts like impermanence or thoughts like permanence, thoughts like something substantial, thoughts by these sorts, just opposite of the truth. More so we fall into the 2 extremes of creating an aversion or an attachment, that’s the normal tendency of the mind which feed the desire. Now that does not occur in your mind when your mind is pitched to a higher level and you maintain that condition for a long time.

What have you done there? There you have not permitted the desire to be fed by a habit which you have created in your mind in making the mind to fall into the 2 extremes of either attachment or aversion, because you have trapped the mind in the higher states of development and kept it there and during that period, prolong period, you have not allowed the mind to feed the desire. Therefore the desire become weaker and weaker and the mind tends to gain it’s liberation. That though did not clearly stated, brothers and sisters in the 4 foundations of mindfulness. So long as Buddha admits the fact that there are 2 different states of development or paths to reach the higher stage, that is ceto-vimutti and paññā- vimutti, that is practicing concentration is one, the other practicing vipassana insight knowledge is the other and we resolve to the practicing of the vipassana knowledge, insight knowledge and realize the truth. Where there may be who are absolutely in a states of very high conditions of the mind and they are living in that for days sometimes. Such people because there is no constant feeding done to the desire, the desire needs constant feeding. And as a result of pitching your mind to a higher level, you have deprived the mind of getting it feed to continue to exist in the worldly way. Therefore that habit that maintain the desire in the wordly way or the mind in the worldly way by creating desire, you have completely removed by pitching the mind to a higher level and staying in that condition. Therefore the mind is not fed constantly by thoughts of aversion or attachment. When the mind is not fed by thoughts of aversion or attachment, then there is no food for the mind to maintain that desire. Therefore the desire quietly vanishes. It’s like this, I give you a very very crude example. As a child who is always in the habit of introducing the finger into the mouth and then sucking it. There are children like this, isn’t that so. You have seen children who sucks the finger. Our parents one day do is they apply something very bitter on the finger and the child puts the finger into the mouth, this bitterness is felt and he pulls the finger out. If you contrive something so that the child will not be able to put the finger into the mouth for let say a day or two, what will happen to that habit?  That habit will fade away. It’s like let’s say you are a very very strong smoker. You smoke cigarettes one after another. But somehow or other, you have got contrived some method where your deploy of a cigarette for a day 2,3,4, maybe your desire will reach a certain maximum state in the first day or second day, but it will quietly die down you see and you may be able to get overcome that desire as a result of depriving the desire of its feed of smoking cigarettes over and over again. And that is what the mindfulness does. Therefore the same way we are maintaining desire in us.  

…pleasant sensation and pursuing that pleasant sensation to create an attachment, therefore promote desire. With the nose also you do the same thing. With the ear also you do the same thing. With the tongue also you do the same thing. Always allowing desire to take control of you. You enjoy the desire and you feed the mind. Therefore desire is strong in you. But on the other hand if you take necessary steps to see that no desire occurs in your mind, no object is attractive to you. You always when an object appears before your sense bases, you only think of that object as something impermanent, no value, doesn’t continue to exist and thereby you discourage the mind from getting attached to that object. If you encourage the mind to get attached to the object, then you promote desire.

So what you are now doing is being mindful of impermanence, unsatisfactory nature of things and soullessness. Constantly keeping that in mind, you do not permit the mind in regard to what you see, in regard to what you hear, in regard to what you smell, in regard to what you taste, in regard to what you contact, in regard to thoughts you create to create an attachment, you stopped it. How? By always introducing into the mind that the object that would have normally create the desire, now you look at it as impermanent, unsatisfactory and soulless. Therefore discourage the desire being created in your mind. You do that for some time, go on doing that, little by little you find the desire vanishes. As I told you, Buddha gives a very very clear example of that to you. All of you possess, let’s say a certain area of padi fields, you have neglected that. For the last so many years you have not sow any seed on that. What has happened is it has all grown into weeds. Therefore you can’t sow anything in that and get a return.

So what you do now is you plough that field with the plough of mindfulness, mindfulness is the name of the flower. You plough that field very carefully with mindfulness, that is analyzing impermanence, unsatisfactory nature of things and soullessness in all the activities connected with that field, thereby you train the mind from neglecting that field and permitting defilements to arise. And you have what you have done with impermanence, the plough of impermanence has crushed the hole, the big trees, the small trees and the tender trees and the tender roots and the medium roots and big roots, you have crushed all that with the power of impermanence and Buddha says now your padi field is ready for harvesting or let’s say for sowing.  You sow any seed in that padi field with a return. On the other hand, if you have neglected that padi field, natural outcome is there will be weeds growing in there. Similarly, if you neglect your mind, also without being mindful of the true state of things then false values which you have created earlier, that begins to come back to you again. You see something beautiful, you get attracted to that, you see something ugly, you create an aversion to it. You hear something that appeals to you, you get attract to that, you hear something repulse you, you created an aversion to it. Then you smell something sweet, then you get attract to that, you smell something bad, you get disgust with that, you create an aversion to it. In the same way, when you practice these things in that manner, what happens you create the desire. Desire is strong in you. What Buddha says is, in order to get rid of desire, what you should do is realistically understand the true nature of these various objects that attract the sense bases. And when such objects appear before the sense base, then you treat that as something impermanent, something unsatisfactory and something soulless. Therefore as you do not attach any value to that object as something impermanent, something unsatisfactory something soulless, then you would not create an attachment to it or create an aversion to it, you throw it away. This is the realistic path shown by Buddha.

So what you should do is you must always bear in mind that in this world all objects that attract the sense bases are your creations. You create them in such a way most of them are attractive, of course there may be certain items which are not attractive. You create it at your eyes and that is a thought that creates, thought that create a smell, thoughts that create let’s say a noise, everything already created. And you get attract to that creation. And you create an attachment and you maintain attachment. Then that attachment produces desire, desire is the cause of all your trouble, rebirths. Therefore what you should do is to be mindful of the impermanence. Mention always in your mind as a charm, impermanence, impermanence, everywhere impermanence. When you see something, you identify that object as something impermanent.  When you hear something, you identify that object also as something impermanent. When you smell something, you identify that object also as impermanent. And when you taste something, also identify that as something impermanent, arising and passing away and also when you contact and think. If you analyse all those objects that attract your 6 sense base as impermanent, arising and passing away, that there is no continuity, there is nothing substantial in them, then naturally your desire is not fed. When your desire is not fed by thoughts that promote the desire, then the desire naturally vanish from your mind. And you persistently do this for some time, then after some time you realize that you are not so desirable as you were. Your desire is vanishing now. There may be traces of it, but you go on doing this more and more, then you realize that you are a person who is without desire now. And the 2 stages of development which arise in such a mind that there is no desire is, first is once returner, third is non returner, very high states of mind. And you reach the non returner state, you finish your births in this worldly way. You will be automatically reborn in the pure abodes and there you gain your salvation.

Therefore brothers and sisters, I shall not proceed further then this now, but after the puja is over, I shall continue the discourse on the 4 foundation of mindfulness which is dhamma.

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