Discourse Practice Scholarship

Transcendent vs Imminent Nibbāna. Is this a thing? And how does it impact practice? (Part 1)

Part 1 – Are there two Nibbānas?

Part 1 – Are there two Nibbānas?

Have you asked yourself recently, What is the goal of my practice? Why am I bothering with all this?

It seems to me the initial response is quite diverse. Sometimes there’s something about reducing dukkha, wanting more calm, suffering less, etc. Sometimes there’s something about ethics; wanting to be a better person, be more kind, etc. Myriad initial responses.

But I think if we keep querying these responses can all be expressed as a quest or a path towards Nibbāna.

So then we ask, “What is Nibbāna?”

My understanding is that responses here tend to suggest a bifurcation, two broad classifications of describing or defining Nibbāna.

On the one hand, Nibbāna is understood more in line with canonical dhamma. It is a transcendent, permanent state, in which we will never again experience suffering. It is usually seen as extremely difficult to reach. Because it is so difficult, the only way to arrive there is via a monastic or strongly renunciatory path.

On the other hand, Nibbāna is understood more in line with Buddhadasa’s model where it is imminent, as he says, “always inseparable from our daily lives”. This is my understanding of Stephen Batchelor’s (@agnostic108) version of Nibbāna, and what he teaches in his vision of #SecularDharma. Nibbāna is the “going out” of the Kilesas, the three fires of Rāga (greed), Dosa (aversion) and Moha (not understanding how our minds work). Whenever the three fires are not present, we are experiencing Nibbāna. There can be moments of Nibbāna. And Nibbāna is the birthright of every living creature. (1)

To keep it atomic, I’ll pause here. In following parts, I want to give examples of transcendent and imminent Nibbāna in the Pāli Canon and, what I think most important, to discuss implications of this bifurcated understanding on our practice and on our being in the world.

With friendliness!

(1) Disclaimer: I am strongly partial to the imminent version of Nibbāna. :)

4 replies on “Transcendent vs Imminent Nibbāna. Is this a thing? And how does it impact practice? (Part 1)”

Ditto. I’m on your team. Instant awakening is possible, and momentary nibbana IS nibbana. One of the goals of my practice is preparation for death. Your line about nibbana being a birthright reminds me that my conscious spiritual journey began around 1998 when I heard Oprah say “Joy is the birthright of every human being.” Goosebumpy lightbulb moment for me.

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Hello, hello! Lovely to hear from you.

I am not _at all_ surprised to learn that your journey began with joy.

May your smiling practice be particularly fruitful today. :)))

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Shannon, If you had known me in 1998, you’d have been shocked. I was a gloomy gus. No joy. Angry, judgmental, hypercritical, Type A. But . . . I must have been ready to start the transformation. As they say – “The message is always available. When we’re ready, we hear it.” It was a nibbana moment – visceral recognition of a profound truth – clear seeing. (I had a few nibbana moments in my life before buddhism. I called them epiphanies.) At retreats people tell me that I must be a naturally happy person – “That’s just the way you are.” WHOA! NOT SO! Lots of diligent practice, consistent cultivation, mindful seed watering. For me it’s been a long slow process of transformation. I tell them it’s The Practice that makes me blissful. (I think they don’t believe me. LOL! Maybe they’re not ready to hear the message.) [wink]

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Indeed! I get this too. You’re so friendly! Well. You can thank Metta for that.

It seems to me that these “you’re so good at” or “you’re so talented at” comments are meant to be complimentary but, for me, they somehow negate _all the work_ that goes into cultivating those qualities. I much prefer to be told, “I’m proud of you for working so hard on X.”

I’m proud of you for your practice!


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