Now I would like to describe the virtues of the arahants, those who have clearly known the world and have abandoned the world once and for all. Though their aggregates (physical and mental activities) may still appear to the world, they are pure aggregates, absolutely free from both good and evil, because the mind doesn’t claim possession of them. The mind is released from the behavior of the aggregates. The ten fetters have been disbanded completely and no longer entangle the heart, which is why this state is called nibbāna: liberation. The mind is radiant and clear; passion, aversion, and delusion can no longer cloud it. It has reached the radiance of the primal nature of the heart, to which nothing else can compare.

Once this radiance is realized, it obliterates the radiance of all three levels of the world, so that no state of becoming appears at all. As long as the mind has yet to gain release from defilement, it is bound to regard the three worlds of becoming as radiant and pleasurable. Once the mind reaches stream entry, the radiance of the three levels of the world begins to darken and dim. When it reaches the level of once-returning, that radiance appears even dimmer; and on the level of non-returning, it appears dimmer yet, although it is still there. When arahantship is reached, the radiance of the three levels of the world is so dim that it has virtually vanished. When virtue, concentration, and discernment are gathered at the mind, and unawareness disbands along with the higher levels of the noble path, the world doesn’t appear at all. You can’t tell what features, colors, or shapes it has, or even where it is. There is only the pure brilliance of nibbāna. All the worlds are dissolved in the moments of the path and fruition of arahantship. This brilliance is something always truly there, but we don’t see it because of our own darkness and delusion.

This very brilliance, though, can obliterate the darkness of the world so that only nibbāna will appear. The radiance of nibbāna obliterates the radiance of the world just as the light of the sun, which illumines the world of human beings and common animals, and which—when it spreads its full radiance—obliterates the light of the stars appearing in the sky at night. Another comparison is the light of the candle, which in the darkness appears bright to our eyes: If a burning kerosene lantern is brought near the candle, the candle’s light will appear to dim. If the lantern’s light is really brilliant, the light of the candle won’t even appear. If we aren’t observant, we may think that the candle isn’t shedding any light at all, but actually it’s giving off as much light as before, only now no one pays it any attention. So it is with the mind that has reached radiant nibbāna, which obliterates the light of the sun and moon, and wipes from the heart the glittering appeal of heaven and the Brahmā worlds. This is why nibbāna is said to be zero or empty: None of the three worlds appears as a preoccupation of the heart; the heart no longer entangles itself. It zeroes itself from the world, i.e., it no longer takes part in birth, aging, illness, and death.

Nibbāna is something genuine and unchanging. It knows nothing of deterioration. It always stays as it is. As long as there is birth, aging, illness, and death, there will always be nibbāna, because birthlessness comes from birth, and deathlessness lies buried in the very midst of dying. The problem, then, lies with those who don’t lay the groundwork for realizing nibbāna. Nibbāna doesn’t vacillate back and forth, but most people who practice virtue, concentration, and discernment do. Just like a man who is going to walk to a city but, when he gets halfway there, turns back; he goes again and then turns back again. Normally he should reach the city in thirty days, but if he walks back and forth like this even for three years, he’ll never get there. And when he doesn’t reach the city, if he were then to go telling people that it doesn’t exist, he would be making a serious mistake.

So it is with people who practice virtue, concentration, and discernment in half measures, back and forth, and—when they don’t gain Awakening—go telling others that nibbāna is null and void, that it no longer exists because the Buddha took it with him a long time ago when he died. This is very wrong. We can make a comparison with a field where our parents have raised rice and always gotten a good crop. If they die, and our own laziness fills their place so that we don’t do the work, we’re bound to go hungry. And once we’re hungry, can we then say that our parents took the rice or the field with them? In the same way, nibbāna is there, but if we don’t assemble the causes for realizing it and then go denying its existence, you can imagine for yourself how much harm we’re doing.

If we haven’t yet reached or realized nibbāna, there’s nothing extraordinary about it. But once we have actually come close to nibbāna, the world will appear as if full of vipers and masses of fire. The palaces and mansions of heavenly beings, if you can see them, will look like the hovels of outcastes. You won’t be attracted to living in them, because you’ve already known nibbāna.

Nibbāna is nothing else but this ordinary heart, freed from all the effluents of defilement so that it reaches its primal nature. The primal nature of the heart is something that doesn’t take birth, age, grow ill, or die. What takes birth is the act of falling for preoccupations. The heart’s nature is clear and shining, but unawareness keeps it clouded and opaque. Yet even on the physical level—to say nothing of the heart—if someone were to come along and say that the water in the ocean is clear by nature, that a person with any intelligence could see the ocean floor, you’d have a hard time trying to find anyone to believe him. But what he says is true. There are plenty of reasons why we can’t see the ocean floor—the dust and minute particles floating in the water, the wind and the sea creatures that interact with the water—but if you could get someone to eliminate these factors so that there would be nothing but the nature of the water, it would be crystal clear. You could tell at a glance how deep or shallow the ocean was without having to waste your time diving and groping around. So it is with the heart: If our hearts are still ignorant, we shouldn’t go groping elsewhere for nibbāna. Only if we cleanse our own hearts will we be able to see it.

People who meditate are by and large extremely prone to conjecture and speculation, judging nibbāna to be like this or that, but actually there’s nothing especially deep, dark, or mysterious about it. What makes nibbāna seem mysterious is our own lack of discernment. Nibbāna is always present, along with the world. As long as the world exists, there will always be nibbāna. But if no one explores the truth of nibbāna, it will appear mysterious and far away. And once we give rise to our own misunderstandings, we’re bound to start using concepts and fabrications to come up with ideas that nibbāna is like this or like that. We may decide that nibbāna is extinguished; that nibbāna is null and void; that nibbāna has no birth, aging, illness, or death; that nibbāna is the self; or that nibbāna is not-self. Actually, each of these expressions is neither right nor wrong. Right and wrong belong to the person speaking, because nibbāna is something released, untouched by supposing. No matter what anyone may call it, it simply stays as it is. If we were to call it heaven or a Brahmā world, it wouldn’t object, just as we suppose names for “sun” and “moon”: If we were to call them stars or clouds or worlds or jewels, whatever they really are stays as it is; they aren’t transformed by our words. At the same time, they themselves don’t announce that they are sun or moon or anything. They are ṭhiti-dhamma—they simply are what they are.

So it is with the pure heart that we call nibbāna. No matter what we call it, it simply stays as it is. Thus we say that with nibbāna there’s no right and no wrong. Right and wrong belong to the person speaking. People who don’t know the truth drag out their right and wrong to talk about. Nibbāna is something known exclusively through the heart. Words and deeds aren’t involved. Our talking is merely a matter of the path. The result, once attained, is something completely apart. We thus call it release (vimutti) because it’s released from supposing, attaining a nature that is pure heartwood: the heart that neither spins forward nor back, the heart that attains a quality that doesn’t develop or deteriorate, come or go. It stays as it is—what we suppose as ṭhiti-dhamma, free from the germs of defilement—our very own heart, as it reaches the heart’s primal nature.

Actually, the heart is pure by nature, but various moods and objects—various preoccupations—are mixed up with it. Once these preoccupations are cleaned out, there you are: nibbāna. To awaken to nibbāna is nothing other than knowing how this one heart takes its preoccupations as itself. The heart by nature is one, but if it hasn’t been trained by discernment, it tends to go streaming toward preoccupations, both within and without, and then we say that this state of mind differs from that state of mind, and so they begin to multiply until they’re so many that we give up trying to look after them all. They seem many because we count each preoccupation as a state of the mind itself. The problem is that we listen to the teachings of the ancient philosophers without understanding their meaning, and so think that the mind is many. To understand how the mind is one but has many names, take a simple comparison: Suppose a person has many jobs. Sometimes he sells, so he’s called a merchant. If he also grows rice, he’s called a farmer. If he works for the King, he’s called a government official. If he acquires rank, he’s called by his rank. Actually he’s only one person, and none of his titles are wrong. They’ve been given to him simply in line with the jobs he does. But anyone who didn’t understand would think that this man was an awful lot of people.

Another comparison: When a person is born, we call it a baby. When it gets older, we call it a child. When it gets still older, we call it a young man or a young lady, and when its hair gets gray and its teeth break, we call it Grandma or Gramps. What gives rise to all these names? One and the same person. So it is with the mind that is supposed to be many. We don’t understand what the words are supposed to mean, so we go groping around after our own shadows. When this is the case, we find it hard to practice. We don’t understand the states of mind that have been supposed into being, and so don’t see the mind that is released from supposing.

When the mind is said to have many states, this is what is meant: Sometimes the mind takes on passion; this is called sarāga-citta, a passionate mind. Sometimes it takes on irritation and aversion; this is called sadosa-citta, an angry mind. Sometimes it takes on a deluded state as itself; this is called samoha-citta, a deluded mind. These states are all on the bad side, and are termed akusala-citta, unskillful mental states. As for the good side: vītarāga-citta, the mind has reached satisfaction and so its desires fade; vītadosa-citta, the mind has had enough and so its anger and ill will disappears; vītamoha-citta, the mind is bright and so withdraws from its dullness, just as the sun or moon withdraws from an eclipse and is bright and clear. These are termed kusala-citta, skillful mental states.

Some people at this point think that these six mind states are six minds. The true nature of the mind, though, is one. To count six minds is to count the preoccupations; the primal mind is radiant. We take a few things to be many and so end up poor, just as when a foolish or poor person thinks that a thousand baht is a lot of money. An intelligent or rich person, though, realizes that it’s just a little: You can spend it all in two days. A fool, however, would think that a thousand baht would make him rich and so he’ll have to continue being poor. So it is if we see our one mind as many: We’ll have to be poor because we’ll be at our wits’ end trying to train it.

The nature of the mind that’s clear and one is like clean, clear water mixed with different colors in different bottles. We may call it red water, yellow water, green water, etc., but the water itself is still clear as it always was. If a fool comes along and falls for the colors, he wants to taste them all. He may drink five bottles, but they’ll all be just like the first. If he knows beforehand that it’s all the same water, he won’t feel any desire to waste his time drinking this or that bottle. All he has to do is taste one bottle and that’ll be enough. So it is with the mind: If we realize that the mind is in charge and is the determining factor in all things skillful and unskillful and in the paths and fruitions leading to nibbāna, we won’t feel any desire to go saying that the mind is like this or like that. The mind seems to be many because it gets entangled in various preoccupations, and when these preoccupations dye the mind, we count them as our own mind.

The pure nature of the heart and mind is like the sun, which shines every day without fail throughout the year but is concealed by clouds during the rainy season. Those who don’t know its nature then say that the sun isn’t shining. This is wrong. Their vision can’t penetrate the clouds and so they find fault with the sun. They suppose that the darkness of the clouds belongs to the sun, get stuck on their own supposings, and so don’t reach the truth. The true nature of the sun is always bright, no matter what the season. If you don’t believe me, ask an airplane pilot. If you go up past the clouds in an airplane on a dark rainy day, you’ll know whether the sun is in fact dark or shining.

So it is with the mind: No matter how it may be behaving, its nature is one—radiant and clear. If we lack discernment and skill, we let various preoccupations come flowing into the mind, which lead it to act—sometimes skillfully and sometimes not—and then we designate the mind according to its behavior.

Because there is one mind, it can have only one preoccupation. And if it has only one preoccupation, then there shouldn’t be too much difficulty in practicing so as to know its truth. Even though the mind may seem to have many preoccupations, they don’t come all at once in a single instant. They have to pass by one at a time. A good mood enters as a bad one leaves; pleasure enters, pain leaves; ingenuity enters, stupidity, leaves; darkness enters, brightness leaves. They keep trading places without let-up. Mental moments, though, are extremely fast. If we aren’t discerning, we won’t be able to know our own preoccupations. Only after they’ve flared up and spread to affect our words and deeds are we usually aware of them.

Normally this one mind is very fast. Just as when we turn on a light: If we don’t look carefully, the light seems to appear, and the darkness to disperse, the very instant we turn on the switch. This one mind, when it changes preoccupations, is that fast. This one mind is what leads to various states of being because our preoccupations get into the act so that we’re entangled and snared.

It’s not the case that one person will have many minds. Say that a person goes to heaven: He goes just to heaven. Even if he is to go on to other levels of becoming, he has to pass away from heaven first. It’s not the case that he’ll go to heaven, hell, the Māra worlds, and the Brahmā worlds all at the same time. This goes to show that the mind is one. Only its thoughts and preoccupations change.

The preoccupations of the mind come down simply to physical and mental phenomena that change, causing the mind to experience birth in various states of becoming. Because the mind lacks discernment and doesn’t know the true nature of its preoccupations, it gropes about, experiencing death and rebirth in the four modes of generation (yoni). If the mind has the discernment to know its preoccupations and let go of them all without trace, leaving only the primal nature of the heart that doesn’t fall for any preoccupation on the levels of sensuality, form, or formlessness, it will be able to gain release from suffering and stress. “Once the mind is fully matured by means of virtue, concentration and discernment, it gains complete release from the effluents of defilement.”

Khandha-kāmo—desire for the five aggregates is over and done with. Bhava-kāmo—desire for the three levels of becoming (the sensual plane, the plane of form, and the plane of formlessness) disbands and disperses. The three levels of becoming are essentially only two: the aggregate of physical phenomena, which includes the properties of earth, water, fire, and wind; and the aggregates of mental phenomena, which include feelings, perceptions, fabrications, and consciousness—in short, the phenomena that appear in the body and heart or, if you will, the body and mind. Physical phenomena are those that can be seen with the eye. Mental phenomena are those that can’t be seen with the eye but can be sensed only through the heart and mind. Once we can boil these things down and then separate them out again, we’ll come to see the truth of the aggregates: They are stress, they are the cause of stress, they are the path. Once we understand them correctly, we can deal with them properly. Whether they arise, fade, or vanish, we won’t—if we have any discernment—latch on to them with any false assumptions. The mind will let go. It will simply know, neutral and undisturbed. It won’t feel any need to worry about the conditions or behavior of the aggregates, because it sees that the aggregates can’t be straightened out. Even the Buddha didn’t straighten out the aggregates. He simply let them go, in line with their own true nature.

The heart is what creates the substance of the aggregates. If you try to straighten out the creations, you’ll never be done with them. If you straighten out the creator, you’ll have the job finished in no time. When the heart is clouded with darkness and delusion, it creates aggregates or physical and mental phenomena as its products, to the point where the birth, aging, illness, and death of the aggregates become absolutely incurable—unless we have the wisdom to leave them alone in line with their own true nature. In other words, we shouldn’t latch on to them.

This is illustrated in the Canon, where the Buddha says in some passages that he is free from birth, aging, illness, and death. If we read further, though, we’ll notice that his body grew old, ill and then died; his mental activity ended. What this shows, however, is that the aggregates should be left alone. Whatever their true nature may be, don’t try to resist it or go against it. Keep your mind neutral and aware. Don’t go latching on to the various preoccupations that arise, age, grow ill, and vanish, as pertaining to your self. If you can do this, you’re practicing correctly. Aim only at the purity of the one heart that doesn’t die.

The heart clouded with dullness and darkness lacks a firm base and so drifts along, taking after the aggregates. When they take birth, it thinks that it’s born along with them; when they age, it thinks that it’s aged along with them; when they grow ill and disband, it gets mixed up along with them and so experiences stress and pain, its punishment for drifting along in the wake of its supposings.

If the mind doesn’t drift in this way, there is simply the disbanding of stress. The cause of stress and the path disband as well, leaving only the nature that doesn’t die: buddha, a mind that has bloomed and awakened. For the mind to bloom, it needs the fertilizer of virtue and concentration. For it to awaken and come to its senses, it needs discernment. The fertilizer of concentration is composed of the exercises of tranquility and insight meditation. The mind then gains all-around discernment with regard to the aggregates—seeing the pain and harm they bring—and so shakes itself free and keeps its distance, which is why the term “arahant” is also translated as “one who is distant.” In other words, the mind has had enough. It has had its fill. It’s no longer flammable, i.e., it offers no fuel to the fires of passion, aversion, and delusion, which are now dispersed once and for all through the power of transcendent discernment.

This is the supreme nibbāna. Birth has been absolutely destroyed, but nibbāna isn’t annihilation. Nibbāna is the name for what still remains: the primal heart. So why isn’t it called the heart? Because it’s now a heart with no preoccupations. Just as with the names we suppose for “tree” and “steel”: If the tree is cut, they call it “lumber.” If it’s made into a house, they call it “home.” If it’s made into a place to sit, they call it a “chair.” You never see anyone who would still call it a “tree.” The same with steel: Once it’s been made into a car or a knife, we call it a “car” or a “knife.” You never see anyone who would still call it a “steel.” But even though they don’t call it a steel, the steel is still there. It hasn’t run off anywhere. It’s still steel just as it always was.

So it is with the heart when the expert craftsman, discernment, has finished training it: We call it nibbāna. We don’t call it by its old name. When we no longer call it the “heart,” some people think that the heart vanishes, but actually it’s simply the primal heart that we call nibbāna. Or, again it’s simply the heart released, untouched by supposing. No matter what anyone may call it, it simply stays as it is. It doesn’t take on anyone’s suppositions at all. Just as when we correctly suppose a diamond to be a diamond: No matter what anyone may call it, its real nature stays as it is. It doesn’t advertise itself as a diamond. It simply is what it is. The same with the heart: Once it gains release, it doesn’t suppose itself to be this or that. It’s still there. It hasn’t been annihilated. Just as when we call a diamond a diamond, it’s there; and when we don’t call it anything, it’s still there—it hasn’t vanished or disappeared—so it is with the heart that is nibbāna: It’s there. If we call it a sun, a moon, heaven, a Māra world, a Brahmā world, earth, water, wind, fire, woman, man, or anything at all, it’s still there, just as before. It hasn’t changed in any way. It stays as it is: one heart, one Dhamma, no longer taking in the germs of defilement.

This is why the truest name to suppose for it is release. What we call heart, mind, intellect, form, feeling, labels, mental fabrications, consciousness: All these are true as far as supposing goes. Wherever supposing is, there release can be found. Take a blatant example: the five aggregates. If you look at their true nature, you’ll see that they’ve never said, “Look. We’re aggregates,” or “Look. We’re the heart.” So it is with the heart that’s nibbāna, that has reached nibbāna: It won’t proclaim itself as this or that, which is why we suppose it to be release. Once someone has truly reached release, that’s the end of speaking.

The mouth is closed,

closed—the world, the ocean of wandering on,

fabrications, this mass of suffering and stress—

leaving, yes, the highest, most exalted ease,

free from birth, aging,

illness, and death.

This is called nirāmisa-sukha, pleasure not of the flesh. Pleasures of the flesh are dependent on defilement, craving, conceits, and views, and are unable to let go of the elements, aggregates, and sense media. As these pleasures of the flesh ripen, they can bring pain, just as ripe fruit or cooked rice are near to turning rotten and moldy, or as ripening bananas cause their tree to come crashing down so that only birds and crows will eat them. So it is with the heart: When it enters into its various preoccupations and takes them as belonging to itself, it’s bound for pain and suffering. Just as when an unwary traveler leaves the road to enter the shade of a bael tree with ripening fruits: If the wind blows, the ripe fruits are bound to drop on his head, giving him nothing but pain; so it is with the heart: If it doesn’t have a Dhamma to give it shelter, it’s bound to be beaten and trampled by suffering and pain. (The wind blowing through the bael tree stands for the eight ways of the world (loka-dhamma). The bael tree stands for the body, and the branches for the senses. The fruits are visual objects, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and ideas, which drop on the heart stupid enough to sit preoccupied with this mass of elements, aggregates and sense media.)

People of wisdom are those who search for the highest form of pleasure—free from defilement, craving, conceits, and views—by cleansing the heart of all its bad preoccupations. This is the deathless nibbāna, which the Buddha praised:

nibbānaṁ paramaṁ sukhaṁ:

Nibbāna is the ultimate ease.

nibbānaṁ paramaṁ suññaṁ:

Nibbāna is the ultimate emptiness (i.e., empty of defilement; free from preoccupations; uninvolved with elements, aggregates, sense media, passion, aversion, and delusion; free from the lineage of unawareness and craving: This is the way in which nibbāna is “empty,” not the way ordinary people conceive it).

nibbānaṁ paramaṁ vadanti buddhā:

Those who know say that nibbāna is the ultimate.

taṇhāya vippahānena nibbānaṁ iti vuccati:

Because of the complete abandonment of craving, it is called nibbāna.

akiñcanaṁ anādānaṁ      etaṁ dīpaṁ anāparaṁ

nibbānaṁ iti naṁ brūmi      jarā-maccu-parikkhayaṁ

Free from entanglements, free from attachments (that fasten and bind), there is no better island than this. It is called nibbāna, the absolute end of aging and death.

nibbānaṁ yogakkhemaṁ anuttaraṁ:

Nibbāna is the unexcelled relief from the yoke (of preoccupations).

etaṁ santaṁ etaṁ paṇītaṁ yadidaṁ sabba-saṅkhāra-samatho sabbūpadhi-paṭinissaggo taṇhakkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānaṁ:

This is peace (from the coupling of preoccupations), this is exquisite: i.e., the stilling of all fabrications, the relinquishment of all mental paraphernalia, the ending of craving, the fading of passion (for attractions), disbanding (of the darkness of unawareness), nibbāna.

We who say we are Buddhists, who believe in the teachings of the Lord Buddha—theory, practice, attainment, paths, fruitions, and nibbāna—should search for techniques to rectify our hearts through the practice of tranquility and insight meditation, at the same time nurturing:

conviction—in the theory, practice, and attainment taught by the Buddha;

persistence—in persevering with virtue, concentration, and discernment until they are complete;

mindfulness—so as not to be complacent or careless in virtue, concentration, and discernment;

concentration—so as to make the mind resolute and firm, giving rise to

discernment right within our hearts.

The discernment that comes from the six teachers—i.e., from the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and ideation—is inconstant and may leave us free to do evil again. But the discernment that comes from a mind centered in concentration is capable of doing away with the defilements lying within. So by all means we should show respect for the virtues of the Triple Gem by putting them into practice so that we can taste the nourishment of the Buddha’s teachings. Don’t be like the ladle that mingles with the curry but never knows the curry’s taste. We’ve mingled ourselves with Buddhism, so we should learn its taste. Don’t be like the frog sitting among the lotuses who never gets to know their scent. It sits there pissing, its eyes all bright and wide open. A bee comes past and it jumps—Kroam!—into the water: stupid, even though its eyes are open. We human beings can really be ignorant, even when we know better.

We have discussed the wisdom that comes from meditation, from the beginning to the end of the exercises of tranquility and insight.


These exercises are superlative and supreme strategies for lifting yourself across the ocean of the world, the swirling flood of rebirth.

sammā-paṭirasassādaṁ paṭṭhayante:

You who are wisely intent on the savor of right attainment, who desire the happiness of nibbāna, should devote yourselves to the practices mentioned above. Don’t let yourselves grow weary, don’t let yourselves be faint in the practice of these two forms of meditation.

They are ornaments,

the highest adornment for the heirs of the Buddha’s teaching, and are truly worthy of constant practice.

They will form an island,

a shore, a refuge and a home for you. Even if you aren’t yet in a position to break through to the paths and fruitions leading to nibbāna in this lifetime, they will form habits and conditions leading to progress in the future, or may help you escape the torments of the realms of deprivation; they will lead you to mundane happiness and relief from the dread of sorrow. But if your perfections are fully developed, you will gain

the heartwood of release—

release from the five temptations of mortality (Māra), release from the range of birth, aging, illness, and death, reaching nibbāna, following the custom of the noble ones.

May people of judgment consider carefully all that has been written here.

In conclusion, may all those who read this, take it to heart and put it into practice meet only with happiness and joy, free from danger and fear. May you grow day and night in the practice of the Buddha’s teachings, in peace and well-being.


Views have been included

without alluding to any claims.

Phra Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo

The Forest Temple

Shrimp Canal