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[ Beginner's Questions ]

Motivation for Achieving the Goal

BK: Where in scripture is attachment toward the goal of attaining Nirvana itself discussed, and what implications does it have?

Since attachment, aversion, and ignorance are the blockages to enlightenment, then wouldn't attachment to the goal be an insurmountable obstacle, since attachment, aversion, and ignorance remain until the day of enlightenment? And shouldn't attachment to the goal, then, be the worst karma one could collect? Any sort of desire to move the self toward the Goal would be an attachment, no?

Also, if I'm not mistaken, Lord Buddha does not do much to describe the state of Nirvana save to call it the permanent end of all suffering and to say that beyond that it is indescribable, because it transcends all reality that can be understood. It cannot be called Void, or Not Void, or neither, or both. Is this correct? If so, then how is one to understand this state that is trying to be won. The mind must conceive of it somehow if it is to acheive it, and yet nothing of this existence moves into it. Therefore nothing in this life could acheive it. Obviously this cannot be true or there would be no Nirvana, and no Lord Buddha.



MB: Although I am not sure that this is a constructive answer, I'd like to point out that the above statement [that 'The mind must conceive of it somehow if it is to acheive it...'] is simply not true. I can think of numerous examples contradicting it. The example that leaps to my mind takes me back to school days and my first time gettin' high. I certainly could not conceive of it beforehand, but I could be lead to it by following the three-fold path (1 - Roll, 2 - Light, 3 - inhale).



Both questions are dealt with in the suttas.

First attachment to detachment. I think this is an issue which may be causing you perplexity because the way you are describing it to yourself is as though there were a concrete phenomena there called "attachment" which needed to be got rid of.

Attachment is always attachment "to" something. So the problem, although correctly described as ending attachment, is really ending attachment to this and that. So, whereas if there were either attachment or no attachment it would not be possible to go from attachment to non attachment via attachment ... it is possible to go from attachment to many things, to attachment to few things to attachment to very refined mental states to abandoning the last final attachment to the last final highest mental state (to give but one hypothetical path).

As the system is being described here, it is possible to go from the ordinary state to a state of detachment via virtually limitless paths. However some individuals, in order to find satisfaction, need to have "seen" from the very highest mental states. So the process for them is one of going from (starting at the "bottom"): Giving, Ethical Culture, Self Control, Mental Culture.

Mental culture is based on High View An intellectual understanding of the issue:
This is Pain,
the origin of this Pain is Desire,
to end the Pain, end the desire, and
understanding The Way to do it, The Magga).

Understanding the proposition theoretically, one adopts High Principles to guide one's conduct.

The effort to live by one's High Principles is called High Effort.

High Effort leads to the practice of cultivating Penetrating knowledge of, and release from Body, Sense Experience, Emotions, and The Dhamma.

The cultivation of this Penetrating Knowledge and Release I call High Satisfaction (or High Mental Preparation or High Mindedness)[1].

The effort to understand High Satisfaction is Dhamma Vicaya (Dhamma Research).

The effort to accomplish High Satisfaction is the cultivation of Viriya (energy).

The enthusiasm that results from progress is Piti.

When Dhamma Vicaya, Viriya and Piti are cultivated; they are controlled by Poise, or Impassivity, Pali Passadhi

When one has controlled these three with Poise the result is Samadhi — what you will most likely have heard called "meditation" or jhana. What it is is a focus which encompasses the entire scope of the effort to attain. Musicians call such focus as relates to their discipline: 'Being on Top of It.' Here it is usually called 'getting high.'

The combination of the high mental states called Jhana, with the theoretical knowledge of High View when high view is then put into practice results in High Detachment (Upekkha).

The Path Through the Jhanas is approximately[2] this:

This practitioner enters the First Jhana as a consequence of his single minded devotion to practice, which allows for no low states such as lust, anger, fear, doubt. He then lets go of thinking about things and enters the second Jhana; There, letting go of his enthusiasm he enters the third Jhana; there letting go of attachments to ease, he enters the fourth jhana.[3]

Again, this person, because he wishes to have taken the full route[4] goes on from the fourth jhana, by way of letting go of any pre-conceived notions of solidity, matter, materiality, "things" (rūpa) and enters the "Sphere of Space"; Letting go of the Sphere of Space he enters the Sphere of Consciousness; Letting go of the Sphere of Consciousness, he enters the Sphere where there is no Thing there; Letting go of the Sphere of No Thing There; he enters the Sphere of Neither Perceiving nor Not Perceiving; Letting go of the Sphere of Neither Perceiving nor Not Perceiving, he enters a sphere known as The Ending of Perception and Sense Experience. This is that "next door" to Nibbana.

Emerging from this mental state, he reflects: "All those mental states which came before this were hammered out by mind, achieved by letting go of what came before and are therefore constructed things[5]; and this too is a mental state so constructed and therefore cannot be Nibbana; But if I go on like this, constructing mental states, I may well end up more confused than when I began: How about if I stop this constructing of mental states?" And he lets go of this and by that achieves the uttermost freedom from attachment.

So you see it is a process that "uses" attachment and detachment to let go of attachments. Although there is some debate as to exactly what degree of mental cultivation is necessary in order to accomplish that final letting go; we can say with clear sutta evidence that it can be done as "low" as the First Jhana.[6]

The other end of this issue is also dealt with in The Simile Of The Raft: Once one has attained the goal, attachment to the method that got one there is to be let go of as well.

Describing Nibbana

If there is one problem that hangs up people more than any other in this system, this has got to be it[7].

The simple answer is "don't try".

Nibbana is always described here in "negative" terms (that means "in the negative", not pejorative);
Nibbana is the absence of Pain;
Nibbana is not being downbound to Time.
Nibbana is the un-confounded.
Nibbana is the un-born.
Nibbana is the un-dying
And so forth.

It cannot be "conceptualized", because it cannot be "encompassed" by the mind.

The mind "reflects" ideas. Ideas are Ideas About Things.

Such a thing as could be conceptualized would therefore have become a Thing[8]; "the idea of a thing".

Things are things because they have "entered Time". They have "become". That which has entered Time, or become, is subject to dissolution.

Nibbana is a state that is, by definition, not subject to dissolution.

The practical way to deal with this is to just stop yourself whenever you are trying to figure out "what Nibbana is".[9] After a while you will really see that it is mentally satisfying enough to understand that this is a system which brings an absolute end to pain of every sort; you will find that that is what is really motivating people's quest for "enlightenment".

The other side of this issue is the serious need to examine one's motives for interest in this system: if you are "seeking" enlightenment, you are likely in for a long journey.

One needs to ask "Why am I seeking enlightenment?" If it is for Fame, Favors and Gains this is not the place to be looking.

If "enlightenment" for you is the end of Pain; then keep on going along This Way a little longer until you have reached the final goal.

If you have not done so already, I highly recommend you begin at the beginning and make a strong effort to actually put into practice what is suggested. You should try to be able to hold the complete "Course" as presented here in one "Picture" in your mind. Additionally, you should, by researching the suttas yourself, be able to confirm or deny in your own mind the consistancy of what is being taught in this Course with what is being taught in the suttas.


[1] This is a very different term than most use, so understand that others are calling this "Mindfulness"; see: Glossology: The Four Satipatthanas

[2] Just about every possible combination of the various jhanas is used at one point or another to describe a path to attaining the goal.

[3] For details see: High Get'n High

[4] For greater detail see: The 10th Question

[5] Saŋkharaṃ. Things that are formed as a consequence of identification with the intent to produce pleasure or pain by previous activity of mind, speech, or body; what I call "sankaraming"; all such are a part of the world of samsara.

[6] See for a discussion of this topic: On Nibbana without Jhana

[7] Well ... ok ... the very closely related problem of "not self" is right up there with this one.

[8] Rūpaṃ

[9] I liken the method to the idea of driving backwards. Imagine driving your automobile in reverse, stearing by letting go of the objects in front of you. A little dangerous in an automobile! But because what we are doing here is letting go of what we have previously grasped onto, each "release" of the grasped propells us closer to freedom. For this to work we do not need to "see" that freedom, we can understand that the process necessarily must lead to freedom.
Imagine a glass 'float' perhaps transparent, or blue-green, or reddish orange, suspended below the surface of the water by countless 'ties' to objects stuck in the murky deep. Then imagine cutting the ties one or a few at a time.

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