Brief introduction:   This article THE PATH TO NIBBANA is recompiled from Chapter 11 of the book BUDDHISM IN A NUTSHELL.

How is
nibbāna to be attained?
It is by following the Noble Eight-fold Path which consists of:

_ correctness of understanding, aka sammā-ditthi.
_ correctness of thought, aka
sammā-sankappa.
_ correctness of speech, aka
sammā-vācā.
_ correctness of action, aka
sammā-kammanta.
_ correctness of livelihood, aka
sammā-ājiva.
_ correctness of effort, aka
sammā-vāyāma.
_ correctness of mindfulness, aka
sammā-sati.
_ correctness of concentration, aka
sammā-samādhi.

This unique PATH constitutes morality (sīla), concentration (samādhi), and wisdom (pańńā).

The Buddha summarizes His Middle Way in the following verse :-

Sabba pāpassa akaranam
Kusalassa upasampadā
Sacitta pariyodapanam
Etam Buddhāna sāsanam.

To refrain from all evil,
To do what is good,
To cleanse one’s mind,
This is the advice of all Buddhas.

Sīla is the first stage on this path to nibbāna.

Without killing or causing injury to any living creature, so be kind and compassionate towards all, even to the tiniest creature that crawls at feet.Refraining from stealing, so be upright and honest in all dealings.Abstaining from sexual misconduct which debases the exalted nature of human, so be pure.Shunning false speech, so be truthful.Avoiding pernicious drinks that promote heedlessness, so be sober and diligent.

These elementary principles of regulated behavior are essential to one who treads the path to nibbāna.Violation of them means the introduction of obstacles on the path which will obstruct one's moral progress.Observance of them means steady and smooth progress along the path.

The spiritual pilgrim, disciplining thus his words and deeds, may advance a step further and try to control senses.

While progressing slowly and steadily with regulated word and deed and restrained senses, the Kammic force of this striving aspirant may compel self to renounce worldly pleasures and adopt the ascetic life.To self then comes the idea that

“A den of strife is household life, and filled with toil and need.
But free and high as the open sky, is the life the homeless lead”.

It should not be understood that everyone is expected to lead the life of a bhikkhu or a celibate life to achieve one’s goal.One’s spiritual progress is expedited by being a bhikkhu although as a lay follower one can become an arahat.After attaining the third stage of sainthood, one leads a life of celibacy.

Securing a firm footing on the ground of morality, the progressing pilgrim then embarks upon the higher practice of samādhi, the control and culture of the mind - the second stage on this PATH.

Samādhi - is the “one-pointedness of the mind”.It is the concentration of the mind on one object to entire exclusion of all irrelevant matter.

There were different subjects for meditation according to the temperaments of the individuals.Concentration on respiration is the easiest to gain the one-pointedness of the mind.Meditation on loving-kindness is very beneficial as it is conducive to mental peace and happiness.

Cultivation of the four sublime states – loving kindness (mettā), compassion (karunā), sympathetic joy (muditā), and equanimity (upekkhā) is highly commendable.

After giving careful consideration to the subject for contemplation, he should choose the one most suited to his temperament.This being satisfactorily settled, he makes a persistent effort to focus his mind until he becomes so wholly absorbed and interested in it, that all other thoughts get ipso facto exclude from the mind.The five hindrances to progress - namely, sense-desire, hatred, sloth and torpor, restlessness and brooding and doubts are then temporarily inhibited.Eventually he gains ecstatic concentration and, to his indescribable joy, becomes enwrapped in jhana, enjoying the calmness and serenity of a one-pointed-mind.

When one gains this perfect one-pointedness of the mind it is possible for one to develop the five supernormal powers (abhińńā) - divine eye (dibba-cakkhu), divine ear (dibba-sota), reminiscence of past births (pubbenivāsānussati nāna), thought reading (para-citta vijā-nana), and different psychic powers (iddhividha).It must not be understood that those supernormal powers are essential for sainthood.

Though the mind is now purified there still lies dormant in him the tendency to give vent to his passions, for, by concentration, passions are lulled to sleep temporarily.They may rise to the surface at unexpected moments.

Both discipline and concentration are helpful to clear the PATH of its obstacles but it is Insight (vipassanā pańńā) alone which enables one to see things as they truly are, and consequently reach the ultimate goal by completely annihilating the passions inhibited by samādhi.This is the third and the final stage on THE PATH TO NIBBANA.

With one's one-pointed mind which now resembles a polished mirror yogi looks at the world to get a correct view of life.Wherever yogi turns eyes, yogi sees nought but the Three Characteristics – transient (anicca), sorrow (dukkha), and soul-lessness (anatta) standing out in bold relief.He comprehends that life is constantly changing and all conditioned things are transient.Neither in heaven nor on earth does he find any genuine happiness, for every form of pleasure is a prelude to pain.What is transient is therefore painful, and where change and sorrow prevail, there cannot be a permanent immortal soul.

Whereupon, of these three characteristics, yogi chooses one that appeals to self most and intently keeps on developing insight in that particular direction until that glorious day comes to yogi when yogi would realize nibbāna for the first time in one's life, having destroyed the three fetters – self illusion (sakkāya-ditthi), doubts (vici-kicchā), indulgence in "wrongful" rites and ceremonies (silabbata-parāmāsa).

At this stage yogi is called a sotāpanna (Stream-Winner) – one who has entered the stream that leads to nibbāna.As yogi has not eradicated all fetters, so sotāpanna person is reborn seven times at the most.

Summoning up fresh courage, as a result of this glimpse of nibbāna, the Aryan Pilgrim makes rapid progress and cultivating deeper insight becomes a saka-dāgāmi (Once Returner) by weakening two more fetters - namely, sense-desire (kāma-rāga) and ill-will (patigha).Yogi is called a saka-dāgāmi because saka-dāgāmi person is reborn on earth only once in case yogi does not attain arahatship.

It is in the third stage of sainthood - anāgami (Never-Returner) that he completely discards the aforesaid two fetters.Thereafter, yogi neither returns to his world nor does yogi seek birth in the celestial realms, since yogi has no more desire for sensual pleasures.After death, yogi is reborn in the “Pure Abodes” (suddhāvāsa), a congenial Brahma plane, till as yogi attains arahatship.

Now the saintly pilgrim, encouraged by the unprecedented success of one's endeavours, makes one's final advance and destroying the remaining fetters, namely,

lust after life in Realms of Forms (rupa-rāga).

Formless Realms (arupa-rāga).

conceit (māna).

restlessness (uddhacca).

ignorance (avijjā).

so becomes a perfect saint – an arahat, a Worthy One.

Instantly yogi realizes that what was to be accomplished has been done, that a heavy burden of sorrow has been relinquished, that all forms of attachment have been totally annihilated, and that THE PATH TO NIBBANA has been trodden. The Worthy-One now stands on heights more than celestial, far removed from the rebellious passions and defilements of the world, realizing the unutterable bliss of nibbāna and like many an bodhisattva of old, uttering that pacon of joy:-

“Goodwill and wisdom, mind by method trained,
The highest conduct on good morals based,
This maketh mortals pure, so rank and wealth”.

  
Remark: “Buddhism is a system which knows no gods in the western sense, which denies a soul to human, which counts the belief in immortality a blunder, which refuses any efficacy to prayer and sacrifice, which bids human beings look to nothing but their own efforts for salvation, which in its original purity knew nothing of vows of obedience and never sought the aid of the secular arm: yet spread over a considerable moiety of the world with marvelous rapidity – and is still the dominant creed of a large fraction of mankind”.
 

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