Discourse Meta Scholarship

Thinking about Awakening, Part 2: All the Words

Greeting, Friendlies!

Part of the tangle of ideas I spoke about in Part 1 comes from reading or hearing teachers or practitioners* use words in contexts such that I think they are referring to a territory near(ish) to Awakening.

In this post I’d like to acknowledge these words and ask the hivemind what others might be included?

Awakening/Enlightenment (Pāli: Budh), Liberation (Samyaksambudh or Sambodha? I think?), Extinguishing (Nibbāna), Unfabricated/Unconditioned (Asaṅkhata), Deathless (Amata, more on that later), Unborn (Ajāti), Cessation (Nirodha, which I think is different from Cessation of feeling and perception, Saññāvedayitanirodha?), Arhatship. [Edit: Zen, Satori. Akincano, Atammaya.]

(Leigh Brasington has a page called “Problematic Pāli Translations” which includes several of these. For Amata, Deathless, he prefers “Without Death”. For Ajāti, Unborn, he prefers “Without Birth”. For Asaṅkhata, Unfabricated, he prefers “Without Fabrication”. I dig this.)

Gratitude for your thoughts/contributions/clarifications.

With friendliness!

*When I am on my game, every one of you is my teacher. And I am grateful for you!

3 replies on “Thinking about Awakening, Part 2: All the Words”

Shannon, I love that teachers who have deeply studied Pali and Sanskrit, in the context of different traditions/lineages, explain nibbana differently. It’s like 10 witnesses to the same event provide 10 different explanations of what they saw, heard, smelled, felt. I recently heard Joseph Goldstein give a new-to-me etymology of nibbana. If I find it, I’ll gladly add to your informed and FUN collection. I think it had to do with the symbolism of fire in the ancient India belief system, and what “quenching” – putting out the fire – represents in THAT context. In case you haven’t checked Wikipedia . . .,Noble%20Truths%20doctrine%20of%20Buddhism.

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Dear Sharon, Greetings!

Yes! These two, Awakening and Nibbāna. Do I understand from what you wrote that you understand them to be synonymous/interchangeable? It seems to me that some practitioners and some teachers use these words that way.

And yet Buddhadasa (and subsequently S. Batchelor) present Nibbāna differently, specifically with that context of “cooling” or “going out”, that makes Nibbāna seem (to me) an experience and concept distinct from Budh (Awakening/Enlightenment).

In MN 26 when Gotama is doubting whether or not to teach he says the things difficult for people to understand are:

– Conditionality (Idappaccayatā) and Dependent Origination (Paṭiccasamuppāda)
– the stilling of all fabrications, the relinquishing of all acquisitions, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, Nibbāna.

So somehow, maybe, in my mind (and I’m obviously still working this out), it seems to me that Awakening (Budh) _encompasses_ these things, ie Awakening encompasses Nibbāna. We could, perhaps, experience Nibbāna without experience Awakening?

Thanks so much for the opportunity to chew on and try to articulate this with you!



Thank you for arising SOOOO early this morning to join the chat with John Peacock. I love seeing your cheerful face and your emphatic hands.

Re: Pali. I thought of you when I heard Wisdom Podcast #161.

Re: Nibanna. Yes, I do use the words/concepts interchangeably to refer to the indescribable impermanent spiritual embodied lived experience of liberation. I appreciate that folks enjoy parsing/dissecting/distinguishing the words and intellectualizing about them. And I love hearing about the cultural/time/place concepts of the origins of words. Of course, words ARE important.

I suspect it was Bhikku Analayo who turned me off the exactitude of words that are imperfect translations of ideas that come to us after hundreds of years of oral transmission and interpretation and translation of words that may have been spoken by Buddha in one or more ancient languages and in the context of the culture of rural northeastern India, which undoubtedly varied from village to village, and from kingdom to kingdom. On top of that, Buddha may have taught for 40 years, and is reputed to have tailored his talks to the audience. Like any good teacher, he surely refined his teachings over time to make them more accessible to the illiterate householders, as well as to the literate noblemen who became his first monastics. For me, the profundity of the dharma is evidenced by the fact that the essence of teachings spoken 2,500 years ago are still effective, notwithstanding imperfect memorization, imperfect translation, and imperfect transmission to cultures vastly different from the agrarian warring kingdoms of ancient northeastern India.

Oh dear me!! I’ve been ghastly long-winded. Much ado about nothing! Ignore me, please!

Smilingly, Sharon


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