About Our Logo


Return to Sutra Study Index

Search .

Introduction

Return to Index of This Sutra

The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
"The Turning of the Wheel of Dharma" Sutra
The Buddha's First Sermon

Lesson 1: The Middle Way and the Eightfold Path

Before you read:

If you are completely unfamiliar with the Buddha and his life, I strongly urge you to read Chapters 2-5 of The Buddha and His Teachings by Venerable Narada Mahathera (this is a PDF file; an HTML version is here).  (Chapter 6 of the same text is an excellent introduction to the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta)

Or read any good biography of the Buddha, especially from his entering the forest, through his enlightenment under the bodhi tree, until his emergence to preach in the Deer Park at Varanasi.



The Text



The Text

Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth
translated by
Ņanamoli Thera

.

Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion
translated by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

.

Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth
translated by
Piyadassi Thera

.

Thus I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Benares in the Deer Park at Isipatana (the Resort of Seers). There he addressed the bhikkhus of the group of five.

.

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Varanasi in the Game Refuge at Isipatana. There he addressed the group of five monks:

.

Thus have I heard: On one occasion the Blessed One was living in the Deer Park at Isipatana (the Resort of Seers) near Varanasi (Benares). Then he addressed the group of five monks (bhikkhus):

.

"Bhikkhus, these two extremes ought not to be cultivated by one gone forth from the house-life. What are the two? There is devotion to indulgence of pleasure in the objects of sensual desire, which is inferior, low, vulgar, ignoble, and leads to no good; and there is devotion to self-torment, which is painful, ignoble and leads to no good.

.

"There are these two extremes that are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth. Which two? That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects: base, vulgar, common, ignoble, unprofitable; and that which is devoted to self-affliction: painful, ignoble, unprofitable.

.

"Monks, these two extremes ought not to be practiced by one who has gone forth from the household life. (What are the two?) There is addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures, which is low, coarse, the way of ordinary people, unworthy, and unprofitable; and there is addiction to self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable.

.

"The middle way discovered by a Perfect One avoids both these extremes; it gives vision, it gives knowledge, and it leads to peace, to direct acquaintance, to discovery, to nibbana. And what is that middle way? It is simply the noble eightfold path, that is to say, right view, right intention; right speech, right action, right livelihood; right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. That is the middle way discovered by a Perfect One, which gives vision, which gives knowledge, and which leads to peace, to direct acquaintance, to discovery, to nibbana....

.

"Avoiding both of these extremes, the middle way realized by the Tathagata -- producing vision, producing knowledge -- leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.
"And what is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that -- producing vision, producing knowledge -- leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding? Precisely this Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that -- producing vision, producing knowledge -- leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding....

.

"Avoiding both these extremes, the Tathagata1 (The Perfect One) has realized the Middle Path; it gives vision, gives knowledge, and leads to calm, to insight, to enlightenment and to Nibbana. And what is that Middle Path realized by the Tathagata...? It is the Noble Eightfold path, and nothing else, namely: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. This is the Middle Path realized by the Tathagata which gives vision, which gives knowledge, and leads to calm, to insight, to enlightenment, and to Nibbana....

.

1 Ven. Piyadasi Thera's note on "Tathagata":
The Perfect One, one attained to Truth. The Buddha used it when referring to himself. For details, see The Buddha's Ancient Path, Piyadassi Thera, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, p 17, n.4.

.



 



The Questions



The Questions

To answer the Questions, please use the Comments page.  Please send your comments on this lesson by Wednesday, July 5, 2006.  (Comments are welcome any time; this "deadline" is just for those keeping pace with the study.)

Question #1: Who are "the group of five monks"? (see responses)

Question #2: What, in the Buddha's biography, may have led him to the insight regarding "addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures" versus "addiction to self-mortification"? (see responses)

Question #3: Here, the word "Tathagata" (a name for the Buddha) is translated "The Perfect One." What do you know of this name that can add to our understanding of it? (see responses)

Question #4: The goal of this discourse is to help the hearer to attain "nibbana."  What do you know of this term that can add to our understanding of it? (see responses)

Application #1: We will consider "The Noble Eightfold path" in a few weeks. For now, let's concentrate on "The Middle Way," the "avoidance of extremes" of both luxury and self-deprivation.
The Buddha specifically recommends this path for "one who has gone forth from the household life"--meaning monks and nuns. But what about we lay people? How can this teaching be applied to modern life? Specifically, how do you see it working in your life? (see responses)

Application #2: Given that the goal is to attain "nibbana," how important is this idea to you? (see responses)

Comments and questions regarding other aspects of this passage are also welcome.

Make your Comments here!



 



The Comments



The Comments



 


Question 1


Question #1: Who are "the group of five monks"?

Response by James:

[You can see them at the bottom of this picture.]

In The Buddha and His Teachings by Venerable Narada Mahathera, we learn in Chapter 1  that the Buddha's parents were visited after his birth by "many learned brahmins."  Eight in particular were extremely distinguished.  After examining the special marks on the baby, seven of these declared  that he would "either become a Universal Monarch or a Buddha. But the youngest, Kondanna, who excelled others in wisdom" declared that there was only one possibility: he would become a Buddha.

Years later, this same Kondanna, along with four sons of the other sages (the sons being named Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama, and Assaji), joined the Buddha in the forest as he struggled toward enlightenment.  However, they abandoned him before his great achievement (see why in Question #2 below).  When he finally "got it," he emerged from the forest and, walking to where they were at Isipatana, preached to them his first sermon--the one we are studying here.  (Narada Chapter 2)

So much for "history." In addition, whenever a mythologist sees the number "five," bells go off.  Among its many meanings is the association of "the five senses." I guess you could say that when the Buddha left the forest, he returned to his senses (grin).  In the movie Thunderheart, a Native American FBI agent goes back to the reservation to investigate a murder.  While there, he is beset by visions.  And every time he wakes from a vision, the first thing he does is check his watch to get re-oriented in "this time."  It's something like that.

I can't really find any "pure dharma" to back me up here.  There is one interesting connection, though.  I found a paper on "Vangisa: An Early Buddhist Poet," with a Pali text edited and translated by John D. Ireland.  In section XV, "Nigrodhakappa," the Venerable Vangisa praises the Buddha.  In Stanza 1275 he calls the Buddha "the Fortunate One, the foremost of the five." Ireland's footnote suggests that this means "the foremost, that is, the chief or leader and teacher of the group of five monks who heard the First Sermon."  He goes on to note, however, that the Theragatha Commentary (Paramatthadipani) "gives other explanations of the word, i.e. 'controller of the five senses.'" Ah, there it is!

There's a lot more about "five."  For example, later Buddhism developed a system of five Buddhas.  And at Hsi Lai Temple, the Bodhisattva Hall has Buddhas of Five Mudras.  I wrote this page about them in my online pilgrimage; there is also a stunning article with great illustrations at Exotic India.

Each Mudra has been assigned to one of the five "cosmic" Buddhas; there is also a type of delusion cured by a type of wisdom for each one.  Here's a chart:

Buddha Mudra Appearance Delusion Wisdom
Vairochana Dharmachakra
(turning the wheel of law)
counting on fingers ignorance reality
Akshobhya Bhumisparsha
(earth witness)
touching the earth to dissipate evil anger mirror-like
Ratnasambhava Varada
(boon-bestowing)
one hand extended downward, palm out pride sameness
Amitabha Dhyana
(meditation)
one hand rests on the other in the lap attachment discernment
Amoghasiddhi Abhaya
(fear-allaying)
one hand raised, palm out jealousy accomplishment

In the Hsi Lai pilgrimage, I also wrote an intention (like a "prayer") for each image:

For the Buddha of the Teaching Mudra:
..........O Buddha, help me to understand your teachings.

For the Buddha of the Earth-touching Mudra:
..........O Buddha, help me to avoid evil.

For the Buddha of the Boon-bestowing Mudra:
..........O Buddha, help me to accept the gifts you offer.

For the Buddha of the Meditation Mudra:
..........O Buddha, help me to concentrate on achieving Enlightenment.

For the Buddha of the Fear-allaying Mudra:
..........O Buddha, help me to conquer all fear.

(Posted July 7, 2006)

Response by Dave (profile):

If I read your explanation of The Middle Way correctly, I feel that you are defining it much too narrowly. While many do believe that Buddha used the phrase to say that one must avoid the two extremes of asceticism and hedonism, a deeper reading of the sutras seems to point to the fact that he meant a lot more than that.

A better understanding, I think, is to see it not as "neither the left is correct, nor is the right correct," but to see it as "when you understand that there is no left or right, that the left and the right are not two, then you have found the middle way." When you can truly see that hedonism and asceticism are just two manifestations of the same reality, the same buddhadharma, then technically you could walk either path and still end up at the end of the road. "The Middle Way" isn't a statement pointing out opposites, it is a statement pointing out that the oneness of the ground of being can be found even among vastly different manifestations. That's where I think the emphasis should lie.

(Received July 29, 2006; Posted July 31, 2006)

Response by James:

Hi, Dave! I don't see any "disagreement" here at all. One of the marvelous aspects of the Buddha's words is that they contain layers of meaning. (Think of "The Blind Men and the Elephant.") My response above was directly related to the Buddha's exact words in this sutra: "addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures... and... addiction to self-mortification." Your response goes on to other, more complex, levels.

Another way of looking at "The Middle Way" was presented by one of my Sri Lankan teachers. There is a well-known set of propositions that the Buddha refused to respond to (in Majjhima Nikaya, Suttas 63 and 72):

1. The world is eternal.
2. The world is not eternal.
3. The world is (spatially) infinite.
4. The world is not (spatially) infinite.
5. The soul (jiva) is identical with the body.
6. The soul is not identical with the body.
7. The Tathagata (a perfectly enlightened being) exists after death.
8. The Tathagata does not exist after death.
9. The Tathagata both exists and does not exist after death.
10. The Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death..

According to my teacher, to assent to either extreme of these pairs of propositions would be to abandon The Middle Way. For my teacher, then, The Middle Way was as much a question of logic-verging-on-dogma as anything.

But, Dave, your suggestion is more at the "esoteric" end of things. It approaches closely to something that has been called "the highest understanding of the Mahayana," that is, the statement that "Samsara is Nirvana." (And your comment below continues this thread.)

(Posted July 31, 2006)


 


Question 2


Question #2: What, in the Buddha's biography, may have led him to the insight regarding "addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures" versus "addiction to self-mortification"?

Response by James:

The Buddha was born a Prince.  Because of the predictions that he might become either a Universal Monarch or a Buddha, his father shielded him from the unpleasantness of life, hoping to quiet any religious impulse he might have.  As a king, he naturally wanted his son to follow in his footsteps!  And so he was given the best clothes, and luxurious surroundings.  He said:

"There were three palaces built for me -- one for the cold season, one for the hot season, and one for the rainy season. During the four rainy months, I lived in the palace for the rainy season without ever coming down from it, entertained all the while by female musicians...."

After seeing "The Four Visions" of an old man, a sick man, a dead corpse, and a venerable monk (despite his father's best efforts!), he left the palace to seek a way out of the pain of unending rebirth. (See Narada Chapter 1)

From one extreme to the other: While practicing in the forest, the Buddha adopted a program of extreme austerities.  He fasted so much that, as he said, "And I, intending to touch my belly's skin, would instead seize my backbone."   Eventually, however, he realized that "by all these bitter and difficult austerities I shall not attain to excellence, worthy of supreme knowledge and insight, transcending those of human states. Might there be another path for Enlightenment!"

As Venerable Narada (Chapter 2) tells it: "The ascetic Gotama was now fully convinced from personal experience of the utter futility of self-mortification which, though considered indispensable for Deliverance by the ascetic philosophers of the day, actually weakened one's intellect, and resulted in lassitude of spirit. He abandoned for ever this painful extreme as did he the other extreme of self-indulgence which tends to retard moral progress. He conceived the idea of adopting the Golden Mean which later became one of the salient features of his teaching."

His five companions, however, didn't take it well.  "The five favourite disciples who were attending on him with great hopes thinking that whatever truth the ascetic Gotama would comprehend, that would he impart to them, felt disappointed at this unexpected change of method. and leaving him and the place too, went to Isipatana, saying that 'the ascetic Gotama had become luxurious, had ceased from striving, and had returned to a life of comfort.'"

This "comfort" they referred to, however, was in fact "The Middle Way" between "addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures," as in his princely life, and  "addiction to self-mortification" as when he practiced severe asceticism.  This, as Venerable Narada points out, became one of the most defining features of his teaching.

(Posted July 7, 2006)


 


Question 3


Question #3: Here, the word "Tathagata" (a name for the Buddha) is translated "The Perfect One." What do you know of this name that can add to our understanding of it?

Response by James:

Okay, my response here is mostly linguistic.  But it certainly has spiritual repercussions.

As explained in Wikipedia (via answers.com):

Tathāgata is the name which the historical Buddha Sakyamuni (Siddhattha Gotama) used when referring to himself as recorded in the tripitaka of the Pali Canon. It highlights the unique (and ambiguous) ontological status of a fully enlightened being since such a one is beyond the categories of existence and non-existence; in fact beyond all signification.

The term Tathagata can be construed as tatha-gata or as tatha-agata. The former means thus-gone while the latter means thus-come, or, alternatively, gone-to-thusness and come-from-thusness.

Tatha is "thus"; gata is gone, and the a- at the start reverses the meaning (as in "theist" and "atheist").  So the same word may mean one or the other.   This is because of a peculiarity in Sanskrit writing.  The final "a" in "tatha" is long, properly marked with a macron (a line over it).  When two words are combined, if one ends in long a, and the next one starts with a (either long or short), it's hidden.  Look:

a + a = long a

long a + a = long a

a + long a = long a

long a + long a = long a

And, or course,

long a + nothing = long a

So we don't know if, in addition to the long a of tatha, there should be another a, which makes it "Thus come," or nothing, which makes it "Thus gone."

Tatha + gata = Tathagata

Tatha + agata = Tathagata

That the Buddha called himself this, and in all his discourses never classified it (did no one ask?), is fascinating in terms of the intended ambiguity.  Come and not come?  Gone and not gone?  Very, very Buddhist.  It reflects, as Wikipedia says, that he "is beyond the categories of existence and non-existence."

The Chinese, when translating the term, settled on "ru lai," meaning "Thus come."  Wikipedia goes on to discuss the spiritual implications of this:

This distinction represents an important dichotomy in Buddhist doctrine related to the ideas of self-power and other-power. Tathagata as thus-gone implies that the Buddha was a pioneer and the task of the practitioner or devotee is to follow and imitate and, ultimately, achieve what Buddha achieved.

He is no longer here; we are to follow his example and attain our own enlightenment. This is what the Japanese call jiriki, "self-power." As he said before dying, "Be a lamp to yourselves."  But then:

Tathagata as come-from-thusness, (Japanese: Nyorai [note: the Japanese form for "ru lai"]) on the other hand, implies that the Buddha came to save us and give us refuge and that what is required of the practitioner is faith and devotion.

"Ru lai" in Chinese characters
"Ru Lai" (Japanese Nyorai )

This is the Japanese concept of tariki, "other help."  Continuing,

If one considers the time when Shakyamuni Buddha was alive, there would be people of both kinds. The former would take what he taught as instruction and apply it by their own effort. The latter felt their lives changed almost involuntarily by his magnetic influence upon them. Broadly speaking, the Pure Land schools of Buddhism follow the latter approach. [note: Zen/Chan is very much the former, jiriki, approach.] Many schools of Buddhism are, however, hybrids of the two approaches. 

And so we live with the ambiguity.  Did he intend to tells he was come?  Or gone? Or both?  Or neither?  This is another way we are "pushed" into the Middle Way.

(Posted July 7, 2006)


 


Question 4


Question #4: The goal of this discourse is to help the hearer to attain "nibbana."  What do you know of this term that can add to our understanding of it?

Response by James:

Contrary to the popular impression, nirvana (Pali "nibbana") is not a "place" that people "go."  This is the analogy to heaven that we just can't seem to shake.  Some, trying to avoid such terminology, speak of it as a "state" that we "attain."  Nope; it's not that either.

Well then what the heck is it?

Nyanatiloka's Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines defines it as: 

lit. 'extinction' (nir + [the root] va, to cease blowing, to become extinguished); according to the commentaries, 'freedom from desire' (nir + vana). Nibbana constitutes the highest and ultimate goal of all Buddhist aspirations, i.e. absolute extinction of that life-affirming will manifested as greed, hate and delusion, and convulsively clinging to existence; and therewith also the ultimate and absolute deliverance from all future rebirth, old age, disease and death, from all suffering and misery.

In other words, "going out." Getting out of the round of rebirth.  Nyanatiloka continues (I have removed Pali terms and references to other articles):

The 2 aspects of Nibbana are:

(1) The full extinction of defilements,  'Nibbana with the groups of existence still remaining.' This takes place at the attainment of Arahatship, or perfect holiness.

(2) The full extinction of the groups of existence,  'Nibbana without the groups remaining,' in other words, the coming to rest, or rather the 'no-more-continuing' of this physico-mental process of existence. This takes place at the death of the Arahat.

The Buddha attained the first at age 35; the second at age 80.  Remember that Nyanatiloka is writing in the Southern tradition; so he speaks of arahats (arhats, arahants) attaining enlightenment.  This is not the time to go into Therevada/ Mahayana distinctions.  Just remember that the "original Buddhism" defines Nirvana as the escape from Samsara.

And what is Samsara?  Simply put, it is this world of constant change.  So nirvana, among other things, signifies rest.

Here are some statements the Buddha made about nirvana, from Nyanatiloka.  The references at the end are to books of the Pali canon.

"This, o monks, truly is the peace, this is the highest, namely the end of all formations, the forsaking of every substratum of rebirth, the fading away of craving, detachment, extinction, Nibbana" (A. III, 32).

"Enraptured with lust (raga), enraged with anger (dosa), blinded by delusion (moha), overwhelmed, with mind ensnared, man aims at his own ruin, at the ruin of others, at the ruin of both, and he experiences mental pain and grief. But if lust, anger and delusion are given up, man aims neither at his own ruin, nor at the ruin of others, nor at the ruin of both, and he experiences no mental pain and grief. Thus is Nibbana visible in this life, immediate, inviting, attractive, and comprehensible to the wise" (A. III, 55).

"Just as a rock of one solid mass remains unshaken by the wind, even so neither visible forms, nor sounds, nor odours, nor tastes, nor bodily impressions, neither the desired nor the undesired, can cause such a one to waver. Steadfast is his mind, gained is deliverance" (A, VI, 55).

"Verily, there is an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed. If there were not this Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed, escape from the world of the born, the originated, the created, the formed, would not be possible" (Ud. VIII, 3).

(Posted July 7, 2006)


 


Application 1


Application #1: We will consider "The Noble Eightfold path" in a few weeks. For now, let's concentrate on "The Middle Way," the "avoidance of extremes" of both luxury and self-deprivation.
The Buddha specifically recommends this path for "one who has gone forth from the household life"--meaning monks and nuns. But what about we lay people? How can this teaching be applied to modern life? Specifically, how do you see it working in your life?

Response by James:

In many ways, anything that can be said has been said before.  Live simply, don't consume more than your share of resources, blah, blah, blah.

What we may tend to forget here is the concept of moderation.  The rule is not "don't consume," but "don't consume too much."  The Buddha was as concerned about super-asceticism as he was about super luxury.

Simplicity, not severity.

So the question is not always just "How much do we need," but also "How much is necessary to keep us happy"? How many cars? How much living space? A useless self-denial can damage us emotionally, in a manner that reverberates around us. It's all about balance: No more than we need to be happy, but no less either.

In several conversations, various Chinese friends have asked what must be kind of a truism here:

"What is your money for?"

This could be an excuse for spending: "Sure, go ahead, buy another one; I mean, what is your money for?"  But every time I hear it, it carries the meaning, "Don't sacrifice quality of life to get more money."  "Hey, relax, take a day off.  I mean, what is your money for?"

It's an excellent question.

One American thinker to deal admirably with this question was Thoreau.  In Walden, he writes:

"For more than five years I maintained myself thus solely by the labor of my hands, and I found, that by working about six weeks in a year, I could meet all the expenses of living. The whole of my winters, as well as most of my summers, I had free and clear for study."  [Paragraph 9]

Robert Louis Stevenson commented on Thoreau's philosophy:

It is not his frugality which is worthy of note...The point is the sanity of his view of life, and the insight with which he recognised the position of money, and thought out for himself the problem of riches and a livelihood.

Ramakrishna (among many, many teachers) used to say that the two central issues were "women and gold."  Certainly in this economy-driven age, the question of what we need and how we get it is central; what gives me pause is to realize how central it was even in the Buddha's time, two and a half millennia ago.

(Posted July 7, 2006)


 


Application 2


Application #2: Given that the goal is to attain "nibbana," how important is this idea to you?

Response by James:

OK, it's time for true confessions: I do not crave nirvana.

I know, I know: It's supposed to be the summa of Buddhist practice.  But in fact, I love this world.  Oh, I don't mean "the worldly pleasures" so much.  I mean the earth itself, the people, the beauty of nature.

And for a long time I felt bad about this.  It's just wrong to want to come back again and again, isn't it?

But two teachers helped me to deal with this.

One said, "Embrace who you are."  Everyone is at a different place on the path.  You cannot denigrate those who are behind you any more than you should envy those in front of you.  Accept your level of cultivation as you move into more.

The second pointed out to me that this impulse of mine has a trace of the Bodhisattva Ideal in it.  The mark of a Bodhisattva is her or his willingness to forego Nirvana for the time being, to stay in this world and help others.  "Perhaps," this wise teacher suggested, "Your desire to return is a corollary of your desire to be a bodhisattva." In fact, in the Mahayana concept there is a danger in craving Nirvana, so that as you progress up the stages (usually ten, the Dasabhumi) it is possible that you may "check out" and attain Nirvana before saving all sentient beings (the first Bodhisattva vow).

These teachers helped me to become more comfortable with my current position.

 An old pal from the evangelical world, Danny Burch, had something he called the "want to want to" prayer: "Lord, I don't want to give up smoking, but I want to want to give it up."  He believed God honored such a preliminary desire.  I do, too.

So, I don't want Nirvana now.  But I want to want it, and I believe that's good enough.

(Posted July 7, 2006)

Response by Dave (profile):

On a very much related note [that is, related to his comment above], I found your aversion to nirvana interesting. You say that to be honest you have to admit that you aren't ready for nirvana just yet - that you are still enjoying life and are in no hurry to get there. I swear that you, yourself, pointed out on another page somewhere that nirvana is not a place to which one 'goes.' Am I wrong?

Nirvana and samsara are both, equally, a part of this life; the life you are living right this very moment. Right Now. Nirvana and samsara are both found in your day-to-day life, the activities that keep you busy through out every day's 24 hours. The difference is in your mind. In the way you perceive this existence that is called "James Baquet." In the way you understand the truth of the five skandas and emptiness. In the way that you bring that understanding into your everyday life, relationships, job, etc.

This is wonderfully exemplified in the 10 Ox-Herding Pictures when he ultimately returns to the marketplace. He still drank his wine, he still danced a mean jig in the bars, he still flirted shamelessly with all the pretty girls, he still led an action packed life. But, he had realized the truth of existence, and opened his understanding of emptiness to the point where he saw the existence of nirvana in this life and had a much better life for it. And he never checked out and went anywhere else.

(Received July 29, 2006; Posted July 31, 2006)

Response by James:

Great! First, I can't see anywhere where I said anything about "a place to which one 'goes.'" I did, as you say, indicate that Nirvana is not a place, right on this page.

So I heartily agree with everything you say. Samsara is Nirvana.

But there is a state of Nirvana which is in a way a "going out." For example, when the historic Buddha died, we talk of his "Parinibbana" -- his final going out. Lest one think this is only a "hinayana" (that is, a Southern Buddhist) term, we should remember that the Dasabhumi Sutra tells us that, in the ten stages that a Bodhisattva goes through on the way to becoming a Buddha, there is a danger of "snapping out" to the attainment of Nirvana at Stage 8, "The Immovable," so other Bodhisattvas come to help you avoid that premature attainment, keeping you around for the last two stages.

I don't think it needs to be "either/or." We can access Nirvana here and now, and we can look forward to either attaining "final Nirvana" or holding on for Buddhahood.

As for the Ox-Herding pictures: Yes, exactly. It also reminds me of the oft-stated paradox:

Before practice: mountain is mountain; river, river

During practice: mountain is not mountain; river, not river

Practice perfected: mountain is mountain; river, river

That always slays me!

(Posted July 31, 2006)


 

.

..Contents other than translations (C) 2006 James Baquet

Write to