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Can Nirvana be attained now?
by Keerthi Wijayatunga, The Island, August 23, 2010
Colombo, Sri Lanka -- Nirvana is the ultimate goal of all Buddhists. According to Theravada school it can be attained in this life. The only path to attain Nirvana is the Noble Eightfold Path (NEP) which leads to the realization of Four Noble Truths (FNT) and the fourth noble truth is the- NEP itself. Therefore, NEP and FNT are mutually interdependent and attaining Nirvana is the full realization of FNT.
The four noble truths are known as 1. Dukka - misery, 2. Samudaya - cause of misery, 3. Nirodha - Nirvana, 4. Marga - path to Nirvana (NEP) in that order.
Buddhism is well known for its cause and effect theory. But, in FNT one can see the order is such that it gives effect and cause in 1, 2 (mundane side) and 3, 4 (super mundane side). Why is that? The Buddha has put them exactly in the order of realization.
When one practices the NEP what is first comprehended is the Dukka, or misery as the one fathom body from head to toes. Then cause for Dukka is seen as the attachment to body (Thanha). Finally, only when the Nirvana is "seen" and experienced one can realize the path travelled thus far (NEP) as correct. Realization of the path as correct is hence, the final noble truth.
According to The Buddha the FNT are within the one fathom body. Therefore, Nirvana is inside the body. He further states that there is a transformation to Nirvana (Nibbanaya samwattati). Therefore, fully purified or detached (from the body) mind is the Nirvana. Full realization of FNT is the "enlightenment" or realization of truth and reality. A person who has attained Nirvana in this life or having a fully detached or liberated mind is called an Arhath.
From the forgoing, NEP and FNT can be identified as the most critical fundamentals that a Buddhist must know. Unfortunately, my experience is that even one in 20 out of the Sri Lankan Buddhists does not know them! It is not strange as majority of them have not even seen the Thripitaka!
Our history chronicles say the last Arhath was Maliyadewa who lived in the early part of Anuradhapura era i.e. more than 2,000 years ago. Some of the Buddhist clergy maintain that Nirvana cannot be attained now. Some say one has to collect enough merit to attain Nirvana in the Sasana of the future Buddha (Maithriya). They say we are foolish and do not have enough merit and wisdom like those of The Buddha’s time.
Today we make huge ships, rockets, airplanes, computers etc. that humanity has never witnessed before. So, are we foolish? Can’t we attain Nirvana? The Buddha says one must grow and develop Prajna (panna paripurin...) and must be aware of having enough merit (pubbe ca katapunnata) to attain Nirvana. How can we know for sure that whether we have enough merit? How can we develop Prajna?
The Buddha had said so long as his Dharma and Vinaya are available the world will not be void of Arhaths. Therefore, if there are no persons having attained Nirvana we can realize that what we have today is not what The Buddha called as Dharma and Vinaya!
That means the NEP, simply explained as "a way of life", we follow is wrong? Clearly, the NEP as explained today does not cover the fifth precept! Also, the word Samma is explained as "right" or "correct" where right and wrong are relative words. A Buddha would definitely not use such relative words.
Dependent origination (Paticcasamuppada) starts from Avidya showing that Samsara (Samsara chakra) started due to Avidya. Avidya is lack of realization of FNT. The lay mind is bound/tied to the body by the Ten Fetters (Samyojana) and when one becomes an Arhath the last such bond to be broken is also Avidya. Therefore, Samsara ends with eradication of Avidya. NEP or Dharma Chakara is the tool to break the Samsara Chakra.
According to literature the NEP was the Brahamacharya practiced to attain Nirvana. It was a form of meditation (bhawita bahulikata). It contained the four contemplations (Anupassana) which the Buddha called the only path (ayan ekayano maggo.... stipatthana). It can be seen the NEP was given so many names such as Dharma chakra, Madyama prathipada, Brahmacharya, Pancha bala, Pancha indriya, Saptha Bojjanga, Sathara irdipada etc. Simply, NEP was the form of meditation The Buddha discovered!
Therefore, we can conclude that the correct NEP required to attain Nirvana was lost some 2,000 years ago, and it is available once again and we can attain Nirvana now. One is invited to read/listen to the preaching of Ven. Lankapura Sariputta Thero in this regard.
Therefore, my opinion is that we are so lucky and have merit and wisdom than our ancestors who lived over the last 2,000 odd years.
In his last sermon The Buddha said if there is NEP in any Sasana it will have Arhaths and if NEP is not there in a Sasana there will not be any Arhaths.