44) Now I shall put the following question:
44) “What is it to attain the Stream of Nibbāna?”
THINK BACK TO the word “nibbāna” in the sense already discussed, that is, as the highest good attainable by humanity (see No. 30). If, in any one lifetime, one does not come to know the state called nibbāna, or fails even to taste the flavour of nibbāna, that life has been wasted.
“涅槃流”(the strean of nibbana)是指一种道迹——已达相当层次，确保只流向或趋向涅槃，流向苦的止息，而不再倒流回痛苦及恶道，我们称这道迹为“流”。
“Stream of Nibbāna” refers to a course that has reached the stage that ensures a flowing and tending only towards nibbāna. It flows towards the extinction of suffering, with no backflow in the direction of suffering and the Woeful States. We call this course “The Stream”.
One who has attained the Stream is a sotapanna (Stream-enterer). A sotapanna has not yet attained complete nibbāna. The Stream- enterer attains di..hadhamma-nibbāna (see No. 28), or tadanga- nibbāna (coincidental nibbāna), or whatever sort of nibbāna is appropriate in one’s case. But having attained the real Stream of Nibbāna, one will never again become attached to the assāda and ādīnava (bait and hook) of the world. The world never again will be able to deceive one. This doesn’t mean, for instance, that one gives up all connection with the world, or even all indulgence in sensuality. It means simply that one’s mind has begun to view these things as unworthy of grasping and clinging. It is practically certain that it will not grasp and cling, though it may still do so in occasional moments of unawareness.
To be a sotapanna, one must give up three of the “fetters” (sa.yojana), namely belief in a permanent ego-entity (sakkāya- di..hi), doubt (vicikicchā), and superstition (sīlabbata-parāmāsa). To give up ego-belief is to give up one kind of delusion, to give up doubt is to give up another kind of delusion, and to give up superstition is to give up a third kind of delusion. He has not yet given up sensual desire (kāma-rāga), the fourth fetter. A sakidāgāmī (“Once-returner”, one stage more advanced than the sotapanna) has not altogether given it up either. This means that though one may not be able to give up sensual desire, still one does not fall right into the pit of sensuality. Though one may make contact with or indulge in sensuality, one will do so mindfully, as an ariyan. But don’t forget that one has given up ego-belief, doubt, and superstition. This is the criterion for one’s having attained to the Stream of Nibbāna and being certain to carry on toward nibbāna itself.
So it is a matter of giving up misunderstanding. One must give up misunderstanding before giving up sensual desire (kāma-rāga). Sensual desire is not as yet a dangerous and terrifying problem or enemy. What is terrifying is delusion. In the texts there is a saying that the most putrid thing of all is a mind clinging to self, to ego. The Buddha did not point to sensuality as the most foul-smelling thing; he pointed to delusion. We generally tend to overestimate and overvalue the extent of a sotapanna’s giving up of involvement in sensuality. When its standard is thus misconceived, the whole picture becomes distorted and there is no way things can be brought into agreement. So it is essential that we know what it is to attain the first stage, the Stream of Nibbāna. Not sensual desire but ignorance is what must be given up first.
Ego-belief (sakkāya-di..hi) consists in self-centredness. Self-centredness, as it normally occurs every day, comes from failure to perceive su..atā (emptiness) even in a crude way. The mind is confused and not free; consequently there is ego-belief. So to be a sotapanna one must give up ego-belief for good and all. In the normal course of events it arises and ceases, arises and ceases. Every day ego-belief is present many times, over and over. But there are also times when it is not present. We have to study what it is like to have ego-belief and what it is like to be free of ego-belief. When there is self-centredness, that is sakkāya-di..hi.
Now vicikicchā is doubt or hesitancy as to what may be taken as certain, hesitancy as to whether or not to believe the Buddha, and hesitancy as to whether or not to practise for the absolute and complete extincition of suffering on the supramundane level. Because there is this hesitancy, one is not sufficiently interested in Dhamma. It is hard to be interested in Dhamma even for five minutes a day. Yet one is interested in such things as fun and laughter, food and drink, study and learning, business and work, for hours and hours a day. If the time spent on fun and laughter were devoted instead to developing an interest in Dhamma, one would come to understand it quickly. The most important kind of hesitancy is hesitancy about whether or not it would be a good thing to adopt the Buddha’s means of extinguishing suffering. Indecision about setting out on the Path to the extinction of suffering constitutes a great problem and a great danger. Most people consider the prospect lacking in flavour, unpleasant, unagreeable, and devoid of attraction, because they are infatuated by the allurements of the world. So hesitancy must be eradicated. We are subject to suffering; we must be resolute about putting an end to suffering.
The third fetter is sīlabbata-parāmāsa (chronic superstition). Have a look at yourself and see what sort of chronically superstitious behaviour is to be found in you. You have been taught to fear harmless little lizards and similar animals until it has become a habit. This is superstition. It is primitive and childlike. You have been brought up to believe in sacred trees, sacred mountains, sacred temples, sacred spirit houses: all this too is superstition. To sum up, sīlabbata-parāmāsa is superstition with regard to things one does oneself. Taking certain things which should be used in a particular way and using them in a different way — for instance, letting charitable deeds reinforce selfishness when they should be used to eliminate it — this is superstition. So there are charitable deeds which are superstition, and there is rigorous adherence to moral precepts by both bhikkhus and lay people which is superstition. Chronically superstitious and false understanding with respect to anything at all is covered by the term sīlabbata-parāmāsa.
Please bear with me while I give just one more example of the third fetter: the four Woeful States, which are depicted on the walls of temples — hell, the realm of beasts, the realm of hungry ghosts (petas), and the realm of cowardly demons (asuras). These are known as the Four Woeful States. We are taught to believe that on dying we may descend into the Woeful States. We are never taught that we fall into woeful states every day. Such woeful states are more real and more important than those on temple walls. Don’t fall at all! If you don’t fall into these woeful states now, you will be sure not to fall into any woeful states after death. This is never taught, so people never get to the essence and real meaning of the words “Four Woeful States”. The Buddha was not a materialist. He did not take the body as his reference standard as does the story of the hell where one is boiled and fried in a copper pan. The Buddha took mind as his reference standard.
Now, let us see, “What is the meaning of the Four Woeful States?”
THE FIRST OF the Four Woeful States is hell. Hell is anxiety (in Thai, literally “a hot heart”). Whenever one experiences anxiety, burning, and scorching, one is simultaneously reborn as a creature of hell. It is a spontaneous rebirth, a mental rebirth. Although the body physically inhabits the human realm, as soon as anxiety arises the mind falls into hell. Anxiety about possible loss of prestige and fame, anxiety of any sort — that is hell.
Now rebirth in the realm of beasts is stupidity. Whenever one is inexcusably stupid about something: stupid in not knowing that Dhamma and nibbāna are desirable, stupid in not daring to come into contact with or get close to Buddhism, stupid in believing that if one became interested in Dhamma or Buddhism it would make one old-fashioned and odd. That is how children see it, and their parents too. They try to pull back and move far away from Dhamma and religion. This is stupidity. Regardless of what sort of stupidity it is, it amounts to rebirth as an animal. As soon as stupidity arises and overwhelms one, one becomes an animal. One is a beast by spontaneous rebirth, by mental rebirth. This is the second Woeful State.
The third Woeful State is the condition of a peta, a ghost that is chronically hungry because his desires continually outrun the supply of goods. It is a chronic mental hunger which a person suffers from, not hunger for bodily food. For instance, one wants to get a thousand baht. Then having just got the thousand baht, one suddenly wants to get ten thousand baht. Having just got the ten thousand baht, one suddenly wants to get a hundred thousand baht. No sooner has one got the hundred thousand baht, it’s a mil Going after something intelligently is not craving: then one is not a peta; one is simply doing lion baht that one wants, or a hundred million. It is a case of chasing and never catching. One has all the symptoms of chronic hunger. One further resembles a hungry ghost in having a stomach as big as a mountain and a mouth as small as a needle’s eye. The intake is never sufficient for the hunger, so one is all the time a peta. The peta’s direct opposite is the person who, on getting ten satang *, is content with getting just the ten satang, or on getting twenty satang is content with twenty. But don’t get the idea that being easily satisfied like this means one falls into decline and stops looking for things. Intelligence tells one what has to be done, and one goes about doing it the right way. In this way, one is filled to satisfaction every time one goes after something. One enjoys the seeking and then is satisfied. This is how to live without being a peta, that is, without being chronically hungry. Going after something with craving constitutes being a peta. what has to be done.
Thus, a wish such as the wish to extinguish suffering is not craving. Don’t go telling people the wrong thing, spreading the word that mere wishing is craving or greed. To be craving or greed it must be a wish stemming from stupidity. The wish to attain nibbāna is a craving, if pursued with foolishness, infatuation, and pride. Going for lessons in insight meditation without knowing what it is all about is craving and greed; it is ignorance that leads to suffering because it is full of grasping and clinging. However, if a person wishes to attain nibbāna, after clearly and intelligently perceiving suffering and the means whereby it can be extinguished, and in this frame of mind steadily and earnestly learns about insight meditation in the right way, then such a wish to attain nibbāna is not craving, and it is not suffering. So wishing is not necessarily always craving. It all depends on where it has its origin. If it stems from ignorance or the defilements, the symptoms will be similar to those of chronic hunger — that chasing without ever catching. We speak of this chronically hungry condition as spontaneous rebirth as a hungry ghost (peta).
The last Woeful State is the realm of the asuras (cowardly demons). First to explain the word asura: sura means “brave”, a means “not”, thus asura means “not brave” or “cowardly”. Take it that whenever one is cowardly without reason, one has been spontaneously reborn an asura. Being afraid of harmless little lizards, millipedes, or earthworms is unjustified fear and a form of suffering. To be afraid unnecessarily, or to be afraid of something as a result of pondering too much on it, is to be reborn as an asura. We all fear death, but our fear is made a hundred or a thousand times greater by our own exaggeration of the danger. Fear torments a person all the time. He is afraid of falling into hell and in so doing becomes an asura. Thus he is actually falling into the Four Woeful States every day, day after day, month after month, year in and year out. If we act rightly and don’t fall into these Woeful States now, we can be sure that after dying we shall not fall into the Woeful States depicted on temple walls.
This interpretation of the Woeful States agrees in meaning and purpose with what the Buddha taught. These sorts of false belief regarding the Four Woeful States should be recognized as superstition. The most pitiable thing about Buddhists is the inaccurate way we interpret the teaching of the Buddha and the stupid way we put it into practice. There’s no need to go looking for superstition in other places. In the texts there are references to people imitating the behaviour of cows and dogs; these were practices current in India at the time of the Buddha. There is no more of that these days, but behaviour does exist now which is just as foolish and much more undersirable. So give up all this superstition and enter the Stream of Nibbāna. To give up belief in a permanent ego- entity, to give up doubt, and to give up superstition is to enter the Stream of Nibbāna and have the Dhamma-eye — the eye that sees Dhamma and is free of delusion and ignorance.
Bear in mind that in us worldlings there is always a certain measure of ignorance and delusion in the form of ego-belief, doubt, and superstition. We must move up a step and break free of these three kinds of stupidity in order to enter the Stream of Nibbāna. From that point on there is a flowing downhill, a convenient sloping down towards nibbāna, like a large stone rolling down a mountain- side. If you are to become acquainted with nibbāna and the Stream of Nibbāna, if you are to practise towards attaining nibbāna, then you must understand that these three kinds of delusion and stupidity must be given up before one can give up sensual desire and ill-will, which are fetters of a higher and more subtle order. Simply giving up these three forms of ignorance constitutes entering the Stream of Nibbāna. To completely give up self-centredness, hesitancy in pinpointing one’s life objective, and ingrained superstitious behaviour is to enter the Stream of Nibbāna. You can see that this kind of giving up is universally valuable and applicable to every person in the world. These three forms of ignorance are undersirable, Just as soon as a person has succeeded in giving them up he becomes an ariyan, a Noble One. Prior to this he is a fool, a deluded person, a lowly worldling, not at all an ariyan. When one has improved and progressed to the highest level of worldling, one must advance still further, until one reaches the stage where there is nowhere to go except enter the Stream of Nibbāna by becoming a sotapanna. Then one continues to progress and flow on to nibbāna itself.
The practice that leads away from grasping, self-centredness, and delusion is to observe all things as unworthy of being grasped at or clung to. This results in the eradication of hesitancy, blind grasping, and self-centredness. So we ought to start taking an interest in non-attachment right this very minute, each of us at the level most appropriate for us. If you fail in an examination there is no need to weep. Determine to start again and do your best. If you pass an examination you should not become carried away; you should realize that this is the normal way of things. This will then mean that there has arisen some understanding of non-grasping and non- clinging.
When you are sitting for an examination, you should forget about yourself. Take good note of this! When starting to write an examination answer, you should forget about being yourself. Forget about the “me” who is being examined and who will pass or fail. You may think beforehand of how to go about passing the examination and plan accordingly, but as soon as you start to write, you must forget all that. Leave only concentration, which will pierce through the questions and seek out the answers. A mind free of any “me” or “mine” who will pass or fail immediately comes up agile and clean. It remembers immediately and thinks keenly. So sitting for an examination with proper concentration will produce good results. This is how to apply cit waang (a mind free of the self- illusion), or Buddhist non-grasping and non-clinging, when sitting for examinations. In this way you will get good results.
Those who don’t know how to make use of this technique always feel anxious about failing. They become so nervous that they are unable to call to mind what they have learned. They can not write accurate and orderly answers. Consequently they fail thoroughly. Others become carried away by the idea that “I am brilliant, I am certain to pass.” A student carried away by this sort of grasping and clinging is also bound to do poorly, because he lacks cit waang. On the other hand, for the “person” with cit waang there is no “me” or “mine” involved, so he cannot become panicky or over-confident. There remains only concentration, which is a natural power. Entirely forgetting about self, he can pass well. This is an elementary, most basic example of the effect of non-attachment and of cit waang.
Now a stupid and deluded person, as soon as he hears the word su..ata mentioned in temple lecture halls, translates it as “utter emptiness or nothingness”. That is the materialistic interpretation and is how certain groups of people understand it. The su..ata of the Buddha means absence of anything that we should grasp at and cling to as being an abiding entity or self, although physically everything is there in its entirety. If we cling, there is dukkha; if we do not cling, there is freedom from dukkha. The world is described as empty because there is nothing whatsoever that we might have a right to grasp at. We must cope with this empty world with a mind that does not cling. If we want something, we must go after it with a mind free from grasping, so that we get the desired object without it becoming a source of suffering.
Misunderstanding the word “empty”, just this one single word, is a great superstition (sīlappata-parāmāsa) and constitutes a major obstacle to people attaining the Stream of Nibbāna. So let us understand the word “empty”, and all other words used by the Buddha, properly and completely. He described the world as empty because there is nothing in it which can be taken as a self or ego. He answered King Mogha’s question by saying, “Always regard the world as something empty. Always look on this world with all that it contains as something empty.” Viewing it as empty, the mind automatically becomes free of grasping and clinging. There can not arise lust, hatred, and delusion. To succeed in doing this is to be an arahant. If one has not succeeded in doing it, one has to keep on trying; though still an ordinary worldling, one will have less suffering. No suffering arises as long as there is cit waang. Whenever one becomes carried away and lapses, there is suffering again. If we keep good watch, producing emptiness (of self-idea) more and more often and lastingly, we come to penetrate to the core of Buddhism, and come to know the Stream of Nibbāna.
* 100 satang equal 1 baht.