Nirvana and Buddhisi Laymen

BY Dr. Bimala Churn Law, M.A., B.L., Ph. D.
Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
Vol. 14, 1932-1933, pp. 80-86

p. 80 Nirvana ( nibbana ) is, according to the Samyutta Nikaya (Vol, II., p. 117 ), cessation of existence (bhavanirodho nibbanam). It is according to the Visuddhimagga,(1) pancannam khandhanam nirodho ( extinction of five khandhas ). The Visuddhimagga further points out that there is only truth and no second (ekam hi saccam na dutiyam ). This is the idea of nibbana involved in this passage. Nibbana includes absence of passion (viraga), destruction of pride ( mada nimmadana ), killing of thirst( tanhakkhayo ), freedom from attachment (alayasamugghato) and destruction of all sensual pleasures (Kamapipasa Vinaya), these are the attributes of nibbana. It is the cessation of all sufferings -(sabbadu- kkhupasama samkhata) (3). In the same work we find that nibbana can be attained through meditation (jhana), wisdom (panna), precepts( sila ), steadfastness (araddhaviriyo) (4) etc. In the Atthasalinl (p. 409) nibbana means that from which the arrow of desire (tanhasamkhatam vanam niggatam va tasma vanati nibbanam) is gone away. It is freedom from all sins, final release from the lower nature as Mr. Maung Tin puts it ( Expositor, 518 ). In the Sumangalavilasini ( Vol. I., 217 ) Buddhaghosa says that a person obtains nibbana making himself free from the wilderness of misdeeds. Nibbana is described here as the state of bliss ( duccarita kantaram nittharitva paramam khemantabhumim Amata-Nibbanam? papunati ). This is in agreement with what has been said in the Milindapanho (p. 69). In the Kathavatthupakaranatthakatha nibbana has been described as a void (J.P.T.S., 1889, p. 178;cf. Dhammapada, verse 93, Sunnato). Ac- ----------------------------- 1 Vol. II, p.611 2 Vol. II, p.497, 3 Vol. I, p. 293. 4 Vol. I, p. 3. p. 81 cording to the Abhidhammatthasangaha it is so called because it is a departure from that craving which is called Vana, lusting or craving. It is to be realised through knowledge belonging to the four paths. It is the object of those paths and of their fruition. It is called lokuttara samkhatam. It is excellent, uncreated, and it is free from lust.(1) Dr. Poussin(2) points out that according to the doctrinal tenets of Buddhism, accurately and profusely explained in every part of the Scriptures, Nirvana is annihilation. But this meaning is very vague. We do not agree with him when he further points out that the most exact and most authoritative definition of Nirvana is not annihilation but unqualified deliverance,' a deliverance of which we have no right to predicate anything(3). Nirvana means the estinction of raga, dosa and moha( passion, hatred and delusion). Mrs. Rhys Davids is perfectly right when she says in her learned introduction to the Dhammapada that Nirvana is the waning out of all evil, raga, dosa and moha. (The minor Anthologies of the Pali Canon, pt, I., p. xix ). It is clearly pointed out in the Samyutta Nikaya that Nibbana is ragakkhaya, dosakkhaya and mohakkhaya ( Samyutta Nikaya, IV., 251 ). It is true as Mrs. Rhys Davids points out that Nirvana is nothing but diminishing of the vicious and the weak in the man which is the negative aspect of his positive advance in becoming. The literal meaning of 'nirvana' is 'nibbapeti' that which is extinguished. We can gather a clear idea of the subject from various Pali Books, the Dhammapada, the Khuddakapatha, the Sutta Nipata and the Milindapanho. 4 Some have translated ------------------------------ 1. Nibbanam pana lokuttara -- samkhatam catumagga-nanena sacchika- tabbam magga-phalanam alambana-bhutam vana- samkhataya tanhaya nikkhantatta nibbansm ti pavuccati, ......... asamkhatam anuttaram nibbanam....... vanamutta ........ ( Abhidhammattha-Samgaha, p. 31, in J.P.T.S., 1884 ). 2. The way to Nirvana, p. 133 3. The way to Nirvana, p. 131. 4. Vide my paper'Idea of Nibbana in the Milindapanho (Journal of the Mahabodhi Society, October, 1931). I have discussed all these points in my forthcoming volume on the History of Pali Literature. p. 82 the word, 'Nibbana' as 'ambrosia', 'immortality', 'perfect beatitude', Summum Bonum, etc. We all know that an arahat obtains Nirvana. Arhattva and Nirvana are synonymous. Childers rightly points out that nibbana in verse 23 of the Dhammapada means arhatship (Pali Dict,, p. 269). He further points out that nibbana is used to designate two differnt things:-- (1) the state of blissful sanctification called arhatship, and (2) the annihilation of existence in which arhatship ends (ibid., p.266). This view of Childers has been supported by James D'Alwis in his 'Essay on Buddhist Nirvana', a review of Max Muller's Dhamma pada. Next comes the question whether a layman can attain nirvana. We are shocked to read pp. 150-151 of the Way to Nirvana where Dr. Poussin writes thus, "Laymen, however faithful, generous, and virtuous they may be, even if they practise the fortnightly abstinence and continence of the Upavasa, cannot reach Nirvana." In other words, according to Dr. Poussin only the monks after having reached the fourth stage of sanctification can obtain nirvana. We find it otherwise if we closely examine the following references from Pali books. A close study of the Guhatthaka Sutta (p.58) and the Jara Sutta (p.129) of the Mahaniddesa together with their commentaries by Dhammapala helps us to look for the munis both among the householders and the recluses. The munis are defined as persons who have attenuated their sins and have seen nibbana and as to householders, they are represented as persons who are overburdened with all household duties. No other discrimination is sought to be made between the Agaramunis and the Anagaramunis than this, that while the former keep to the method of household life, the latter do not. As for the attainment, both are held out as equally competent to win the highest state, which is nibbana(1). ---------------------------------- 1. Agaram majjhe vasanta agaramunino pabbajjupagata anagara- munino sattasekkhamunino arahanta asekkhamunino paccekabuddha pacceka-munino sammasambuddha munimunino. Agaramunino- garika ti kasigorakkhadi agarika-kamme nijutta, ditthapadati dittha- nibbana, vinnata sasanati vinnatam sikkhattayasasanam etesanti vinnata sasana. Anagara ti kasigorakkhadi agariyakammam etesam natthit, pabbajjita anagara ti vuccanti. (Commentary on the Mahaniddesa. Siamese Edition, p.218, Guhatth aka Sutta and Jara Sutta). p. 83 In the Anguttara Nikaya we find mention of 21 lay arahats.(1) T.W. Rhys Davids in his learned introduction to the Samannaphala Sutta calls them laymen arahats (S.B.B.,Vol. II,, p. 63, f.n.). If we are to believe the statement of Dr. Poussin, how was it possible that laymen became arahats fully qualified for obtaining nirvana. In the Kathavatthu (Bk. IV, p.268, P.T.S.), we find that kulaputta Yasa, householder Uttiya and young Brahman Setu attained arahatship in all the circumstances of life in the laity.(2) Referring to this point S.Z. Aung and Mrs. Rhys Davids have inferred that a layman under exceptional circumstances may attain arahatship but to keep it he must give up the world (Points of Controversy, p. 158, f.n.). We find that T. W. Rhys Davids and C.A.F. Rhys Davids in part iii, p. 5 of the Dialogues of the Buddha (S.B.B.,Vol.IV) have raised this question: who in the oldest period could be an arahat? The answer is: - Anyone - men or women, old or young, lay or religieux. They have drawn our attention to a number of lay arahats mentioned in many canonical and non-canonical Pali books. It is distinctly mentioned in the Milindapanho(3) which is one of the most important Pali books that Nagasena in reply to the question put to him by King Menander points out that whether he be a layman or recluse, he who attains to the supreme insight, to the supreme conduct ------------------------------ 1. Chahi bhikkhave dhammehi samannagato Bhalliko gahapati ... Sudatto gahapati Anathapindiko... Citto gahapati Macchikasandiko...'Hatthako Alavako... Mahanamo Sakko... Uggo gahapati Vesaliko... Uggate gahapati...Suro Ambattho... Jivako Komarabhacco... Nakulapita gahapati... Tavakanniko gahapati... Purano gahapati... Isidatto gahapati...Sandhano gahapati...Vijayo gahapati... Vajjiyamahito gahapati... Mendako gahapati... Vasettho upasako, Arittho upasako, Saraggo upasako Tathagate nittham gato amataddaso amatam sacchikatva iriyati (Anguttara Nikaya, Vol. III, p. 451; Cf. Vinaya, I, 17; Samyutta Nikaya. V, 94; The Questions of King Milinda, II,, 57, 96, 245; Dhammapada Commentary, I, 308, etc.). 2. Yaso kulaputto, Uttiyo gahapati, Setu manavo gihissa byan- janena arahattam patte, tena vata re vattabbe 'GihI' ssa Araha ti.' 3. According to the Burmese tradition the Milindapanha is one of the books of the Khuddaka Nikaya which is included in the Sutta Pitaka, hence a book of the canon (The Pali Literature of Burma, p.4). p. 84 of life, he too will win his was to the excellent condition of Arahatship.(1) "GihI pi maharaja samma patipanno aradhako hoti nayam dhammam kusalam, pabbajito pi maharaja samma patipanno aradhako hoti nayam dhammam kusalam.(2)" It is clear from this passage that a householder if he leads a religious life may obtain arahatship which is nirvana. The Milindapanho further points out that whosoever has attained, as a layman, to arahatship, one of the two courses is left to him and no other-either that very day he enters the order or he dies for, beyond that day he cannot last. ( The Questions of King Milinda, II , p.96 ). "Yo gihI arahattam patto dve v' assa gatiyo bhavanti, ananna: tasmim yeva divase pabbajati va parinibbayati va, na so divaso sakka atikkametun ti.'' Milindapanho, ed. by Trenckner, pp, 264- 265 ). And all they who as laymen, living at home and in the enjoyment of the pleasures of sense, realise in themselves the condition of Peace, the Supreme Good Nirvana,-- all they had in former births accomplished their training, laid the foundation, in the practice of the thirteen vows, had purified their walk and conduct by means of them; and so now even as laymen, living at home and in the enjoyment of the pleasures of sense, do they realise in themselves the condition of Peace, the Supreme Good, Nirvana (The Questions of King Milinda, II., p.253). T.W. Rhys Davids and C.A.F. Rhys Davids remark in their introduction to the Patika Suttanta that when laymen had experienced the mental change called becoming an Arahant, the natural result, under the conditions prevailing. in Northern India in the 6th or 5th Centuries B.C., would be that he would become a religieux, and this may have been sufficient reason for such opinions as those expressed in the Kathavatthu and the Milinda having, in the course of centuries, grown up, ( S.B.B., Vol. IV., Dialogues of the Buddha, III, pp 5-6 ). In the Dhammpada we find that the verse 23 of the ---------------------------------------- 1. The Questions of King Milinda, II., p. 58. (SBE). 2. Milindapanho, Ed. by Trenokner. P. 243. p. 85 Appamadavagga refers to the learned, meditative, steadfast and always firm in their determination having obtained nirvana. The verse 226 of the same work mentions that those who are always watchful, study day and night and who strive after nirvana, their passions will come to an end. The verse 289 refers to a wise and well-behaved man who should quickly clear the way leading to nirvana. All such verses of the Dhammapada point out that a layman or monk may obtain nirvana. Another interesting point which should attract our attention is whether there be any such precept prescribed for the laity as we find prescribed for the monks. A layman with trusting heart (pasanna-citto) while leading a household life should observe the following precepts:-- 1. panatipataveramani, avoidance of life slaughter, 2. Adinnadanaveramani, abstinence from stealing, 3. Kamesumicchacaraveramani, abstinence from evil conduct in respect of sensual pleasures, 4. musavadaveramani, abstinence from speaking falsehood, 5. sura-meraya-majja- pamadatthanaveramanI, abstinence from taking strong, intoxicating and maddening drinks.(1) It is curious to note that among the ten precepts prescribed for regulating the conduct of the Buddhist monks, only five mentioned above are meant for the householders. Some are under the impression that it is not possible for a householder to observe these ------------------------------------------------- 1. "Yo kho brabmana pasanna-citto sikkha-padani samadiyati, -- panati- pata veramani, adinnadana veramani, kamesu micchara veramani, musa - vada veramani, sura - meraya - majja - pamadatthana veramani -- ayam kho brahmana yanno imaya ca ti -- vidhaya yanna - sampadaya solasa -- parikkharaya imina ca nicca- danena anu- kula - yannena imina ca vihara - danena imehi ca saranagamanehi appatthataro ca appasamarabbhataro ca mahapphalataro ca maha - nisamsataro ca ti." Kutadanta Sutt-Digha Nikaya, I., p. 146; cf. also the Sigalovada Sutta of the Digha Nikaya which is also called the Vinaya qf ths Houseman, S. B. B., Vol. IV,, p. 169. p. 86 precepts. We are at a loss to understand why the observance of these precepts is not practicable in the case of a householder, rather it is difficult for him deeply engrossed in worldly affairs. Surely this is the course of conduct laid down for the ordinary Buddhist layman contained in the Gahapativaggas found in the various Nikayas.(1) ---------------------------------- 1. cf. Introduction to the Samannaphala Sutta, S.B.B., Vol.II., p. 63.