AN INTRODUCTION TO ABHIDHAMMA
(Given at Zen Center, San Francisco)
I hope that you are ready for NibbÈna today. NibbÈna is a difficult subject to talk about, but since it is the fourth ultimate truth taught in Abhidhamma, we cannot avoid talking about NibbÈna. NibbÈna is the ultimate goal of all Buddhists. So we should understand something about NibbÈna. We cannot hope to understand it fully until we realize it or reach it.
The word ‘NibbÈna’ is PÈÄi. You already know that its Sanskrit form is NirvÈÓa. First let us look at the definition of the word. NibbÈna or NirvÈÓa comes from ‘ni’, a prefix, and 'bÈna’ or ‘vÈna’. Vana is explained as something that stitches. That means it is something like a thread or a stitch. Craving is compared here to a stitch or thread. So long as there is craving, there will be rebirths again and again. Craving is like something that stitches one existence or realm with another. Then there is the next birth and so on. 'Craving' is called ‘vÈna’ here. Since NibbÈna gets out of the objective field of craving, it is called 'NibbÈna’. ‘Ni’ means ‘not’ or here ‘out of’; so out of craving. ‘Out of craving’ really means out of the range of the objects of craving.
When we study which types of consciousness take which kinds of objects, we know that the Akusala Cittas and the Akusala Cetasikas cannot take supramundane consciousness and NibbÈna as object. Supramundane consciousness and NibbÈna are out of the range of the objects of craving. You know the PÈÄi word ‘taÓhÈ’. ‘TaÓhÈ’ is translated as craving. Since NibbÈna gets out of or is out of the range of the objects of craving, it is called ‘NibbÈna’ In PÈÄi ‘r’ is changed to ‘v’. Then the double ‘v’ is changed to double ‘b’. So we have the PÈÄi word ‘NibbÈna’. They mean the same thing.
NibbÈna is that which gets out of the field of stitches like craving. Also it is defined as that by which the flames of greed,  hatred and delusion come to extinction. Here NibbÈna is viewed as something which helps a Yogi or which helps consciousness to extinguish greed, hatred and delusion or to extinguish the mental defilements.
You all know there is a type of consciousness called 'Path consciousness'. When Path consciousness arises, it takes NibbÈna as object. When it arises taking NibbÈna as object, it eradicates mental defilements. The eradication of mental defilements done by Path consciousness is possible only when it takes NibbÈna as object. NibbÈna is something like instrumental in the eradication of mental defilements by Path consciousness. So NibbÈna is that by which the flames of greed, hatred and delusion come to extinction.
NibbÈna is also defined as the cessation of greed, hatred and delusion, the extinction of greed, hatred and delusion. 'Cessation' here means not arising in the future. 'Extinction' just means not arising in the future. Cessation consists of nonarising of greed, hatred and delusion. That is what we call NibbÈna.
So NibbÈna can be defined in different ways–that which gets out of craving, that by which the flames of greed, hatred and delusion come to extinction, or just the extinction or cessation of greed, hatred and delusion.
It is also the extinction of suffering because when there is greed, hatred and delusion there is suffering. So it is also the cessation or extinction of suffering.
NibbÈna is described in the PÈÄi texts in many Suttas, in many words, in many ways. I tried to find a lot from the Suttas. Then I grouped them into descriptions of general nature and descriptions of intrinsic nature.
Generally NibbÈna is described as that which is beyond logic  or reason. We cannot understand NibbÈna or we cannot really fully understand NibbÈna by logic or just by reasoning. This is because NibbÈna is a Dhamma (a thing) to be realized by oneself. We cannot understand NibbÈna just by listening, or just by reading, or just by thinking logically. We have to understand it through self‑experience. It is beyond logic and reasoning.
Since it is beyond logic and reasoning, it is said to be deep. NibbÈna is not shallow; it is deep. Because it is deep it is difficult to see. So it is described as that which is difficult to see. That means it is difficult to realize. NibbÈna is not easy to realize. You have to do meditation a lot. Sometimes you will have to spend not one life, but more ‑ two, three, four lives, or maybe ten, twenty lives to realize NibbÈna.
It is difficult to talk about NibbÈna because we have no words to use for it. If we say NibbÈna is a thing, then that may mean something that has a beginning and an end. It is very difficult even to talk about it. To see it, to realize it is even more difficult.
It is described as that which can be realized only by those wise people who follow the practice. NibbÈna cannot be reached just by wishing for it, just by reading, just by listening, just by talking about it. One realizes it, reaches it, sees it through self‑experience of the practice of the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path.
It is realized by those wise people who follow the practice. "Wise people" means those who have penetrative knowledge into the nature of things. Without the penetrative knowledge of the nature of things there can be no realization of truth. NibbÈna is for those people who have wisdom, who have the penetrative knowledge into the nature of things and also penetrative knowledge of NibbÈna itself.
NibbÈna is also described as that which is to be realized by the  wise each in his mind. This is not much different from the previous one. Here we have "each in his mind". That means NibbÈna realized by one person is his NibbÈna and another person's realization of NibbÈna is his NibbÈna and so on. There are different NibbÈnas for different people, something like that. It is to be recognized by each in his mind. That means the other person cannot realize NibbÈna for us. We have to realize NibbÈna in our minds. We have to realize NibbÈna ourselves. These are the general descriptions of NibbÈna.
Now we come to the intrinsic nature of NibbÈna. I hope you are familiar with the first sermon where the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths. When he described the Third Noble Truth he said: “It is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, giving it up, relinquishing it, letting it go, not relying on it.” The Third Noble Truth is the same as NibbÈna. Here Buddha described NibbÈna as 'the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving. That means the craving described as the Second Noble Truth. That is why he said here 'that same craving'. So NibbÈna is the total fading away and cessation of craving, giving it up, relinquishing it, letting it go, not relying on it. Here Buddha did not say that the Third Noble Truth or NibbÈna is the cessation of suffering. He said that it is the cessation of craving because Buddha wanted to go to the root itself, to the cause itself. When the cause is destroyed, then the effect is also destroyed. So here NibbÈna is the cessation of craving. When craving ceases along with ignorance, suffering ceases. So it is the same as saying the cessation of suffering.
This fading away or cessation is total, never to come up again.Then it is explained or described as extinction of' thirst, or that by which thirst comes to extinction.
 There are always two kinds of explanations for these words. One is description by abstract noun. For example NibbÈna is extinction. The other is by way of something like the instrumental case, something by which thirst comes to extinction. It may mean the same thing, but it is from a little different angle.
Just the extinction of thirst, the extinction of craving is NibbÈna. Also NibbÈna is that by which craving comes to extinction. As I explained before, NibbÈna serves as the object for Path consciousness, which when it arises, eradicates mental defilements or eradicates thirst or craving. It is the extinction of thirst or that by which thirst comes to extinction.
In other Suttas NibbÈna is described as extinction of greed, extinction of hatred, extinction of delusion, or that by which greed, hatred and delusion come to extinction. Always we have to understand in two ways–extinction or that by which something comes to extinction.
NibbÈna is described as unconditioned (asa~khata). I have to say something about this word. A student of mine just showed me an article where NibbÈna was said to be 'not unconditioned'. So the author said: 'NibbÈna is uncompounded but not unconditioned'. I will have to explain this here because this is against what I understand about NibbÈna and and also against even the Suttas.
The word 'asa~khata’ if we take out 'a' becomes 'sa~khata’. The word 'sa~khata’ is composed of 'saÑ' and ‘khata’. ‘Khata’ comes from the root ‘kar’, K‑A‑R, to make, to do. The prefix 'saÑ' means together. So basically 'sa~khata’ means made together or put together. So it means compounded. So 'asa~khata' means not compounded.
But the word 'sa~khata’ is used mostly in the PÈÄi books with the meaning of preparing or making something, and not putting things together. You prepare something and you are said to be doing sa~kharaÓa.
 So I think the word 'sa~khata’ is to be understood as explained by the ancient Commentaries. In the ancient Commentaries it is explained that 'sa~khata’ means something that is made by causes coming together. 'SaÑ' or 'together' here means the causes. Causes come together or meet together and they produce the effect.
Buddhists do not accept the teaching or theory of one cause. Buddhism accepts multiplicity of causes and effects. In order for one effect to arise there may be more than one cause.
'Sa~khata’ means that which is made by causes coming together. In the PÈÄi-English Dictionary of the PÈÄi Text Society the meaning of sa~khata is given as: “put together, compound; conditioned, produced by a combination of causes; 'created'; brought about as effect of actions in former births”. Even the word 'created' is given here; so conditionded by a combination of causes, 'created', brought about as effect of actions in former births. 'sa~khata’ in PÈÄi books means to be made or something which is made.
There are some people who take 'sa~khata’ to mean just compounded. They said that the other things are compounded. NibbÈna is described as Asa~khata, so NibbÈna is uncompounded, not unconditioned, they said. But as I said, 'sa~khata’ here means to be made, made by a combination of causes or causes coming together. 'Sankhata’ does not necessarily mean here to be compounded, but to be made.
There is another word used with this word in a Sutta, not in Abbidhamma. I use this example because these people do not like the Abhidhamma. They may not accept Abhidhamma. In the Sutta where Asa~khata is used another word is used. That word is Akata, A‑K‑A‑T‑A. You cannot avoid getting the meaning ‘not made’ from that word. 'Kata’ means made or done. 'Akata’ means not made or not done. These two words are used together in that Sutta where NibbÈna is described. The Sutta says:  "Monks, there is an unborn, unbecome, an unmade, an unformed and if there were no such thing there would be no escape ... " The word 'akata’ was used along with Asa~khata. Therefore the word 'Asa~khata’ means not made or not conditioned. It does not mean just uncompounded.
The words ‘sa~khata’ and 'sa~khÈra’ come from the same root and so they mean the same thing. All things are called 'sa~khÈra’. Everything in the world is called 'sa~khÈra’. ‘Sabbe sa~khÈrÈ aniccÈ ti (All conditioned things are impermanent). When we say things are sa~khÈra, things are conditioned, let us say sa~khÈric, we mean each and every thing is sa~khÈra, each and everything is called sa~khÈra.
If we take the meaning of ‘compounded’ here, then what about one Citta? One Citta is called 'sa~khÈra’. One Cetasika is called 'sa~khÈra’. One particle of material property is called 'sa~khÈra’. There is nothing compounded there. There is just one particle of material property, just one Cetasika, just one Citta. A Citta is called ‘sa~khÈra’. A Cetasika is called ‘sa~khÈra’. One particle of R|pa is called ‘sa~khÈra’. There is no compound there, but they are caused by something. They are conditioned by some causes. Therefore they are called ‘sa~khÈra’.
The meaning uncompounded for the word 'Asa~khata’ may be correct in other places but not where the conditioned things or NibbÈna are described. The meaning of Asa~khata is just unconditioned, not uncompounded.
These people wanted to say that NibbÈna is conditioned, and it is conditioned because it coexists with the cessation of suffering. I don't understand that. The writer says, it co‑arises with the cessation of craving. ‘Cessation of craving’ is described as NibbÈna. NibbÈna does not arise. NibbÈna is, but it does not exist. It does not exist as the other conditioned things exist. NibbÈna is not  caused by anything. NibbÈna is not the result of anything. It is not conditioned by anything. That is why it is described as Asa~khata.
The next one is cessation of continuity and becoming. When there is continuity of becoming, when there is existing, it is called SaÑsÈra. When SaÑsÈra ceases, there is no more continuity of becoming, no more rebirth. NibbÈna is the cessation of the continuity of becoming, the cessation of rebirth.
NibbÈna is described as the opposite of conditioned phenomena.
Student: So there is no Bhava~ga with NibbÈna?
Sayadaw: Bhava~ga belongs to living beings, to mind, to Citta. NibbÈna is a different ultimate reality, different from Citta and Cetasika.
So NibbÈna is the opposite of conditioned phenomena. Conditioned phenomena has an arising and a disappearing. NibbÈna has no arising. Therefore NibbÈna has no disappearing. So NibbÈna is the opposite of conditioned phenomena which has arising. It is devoid of continuously arising phenomena. If you look at the thoughts of your mind, you know that thought moments come one after another like the current of a river or like a stream. Since NibbÈna has no arising, no beginning, there is nothing continuously arising in NibbÈna. NibbÈna is devoid of continuously arising phenomena. So it is the opposite of conditioned things because conditioned things are always arising and disappearing, arising and disappearing. They seem to be continuously going on.
NibbÈna is also described as Animitta (signless). It manifests as signless. There is no sign, or no shape, or no form of NibbÈna. One cannot describe NibbÈna as a square thing, or a round thing, or as having color or whatever. NibbÈna has no sign, no shape, no form.
Conditioned phenomena has sign and form. We always see things with a shape and form. When we look at our hands, we think that we see the shape or form of the hand. What we actually see  is the visible object, or visible matter, or visible data, and not the shape or form, but we think we see it.
This sign, or shape, or form cannot be got rid of easily even when you practice VipassanÈ meditation. It is always with these signs that we practice. When you concentrate on the breath, you see something at the tip of the nose going in and out. If you concentrate on the movements of the abdomen, you may see the shape of the abdomen rising and falling. It is very difficult to see the real nature of the rising and falling with the sign or the shape and form of the abdomen. But when you get to the higher levels of VipassanÈ meditation, there is a stage where yogis see the dissolution of things rather than the arising of things. Yogis see arising and disappearing? arising and disappearing. Later on disappearing becomes more prominent than arising for them. At that stage they begin to lose seeing forms and shapes. They cannot see any form or any shape. They just see the nature of things, not the shape or form of things, Even such VipassanÈ knowledge which does not take NibbÈna as object can see things without sign. When there is NibbÈna, it becomes signless. There is no sign of NibbÈna. We will come to that later. The conditioned phenomena always have signs, or shapes, or forms.
It is also described as free from the endeavor for the better. That means that we want to get better. We want to be reborn in a better existence, in a better life. So there is this desire or this making effort to become better. NibbÈna has no such endeavor because when one realizes NibbÈna, one has reached the utmost or topmost level. There is no more function to perform. NibbÈna is that which is free from the endeavor for the better.
NibbÈna is described as non‑relinking. In the world of conditioned phenomena or in the world of Sa~sÈra we have relinking. That means rebitth, one birth after another, always going on and on and on. When  one attains NibbÈna, there is no more relinking, no more rebirth. When an Arahant or a Buddha dies, there is no more rebirth for them. NibbÈna is the opposite of conditioned phenomena which has relinking. So it is non‑relinking.
NibbÈna is also described as freedom–freedom from mental defilements, freedom from suffering, freedom from the round of rebirths.
T'hese descriptions are mostly of negative nature. NibbÈna is also described in positive terms. We now have a positive term, Sukha (happiness). NibbÈna is described as happiness. However we must understand that here happiness is not the happiness we are familiar with. It is Sukha without sensation.
Even during the time of the Buddha a monk asked the Venerable SÈriputta about this happiness. Venerable SÈriputta had said: “NibbÈna is happiness. NibbÈna is happiness.” The monk asked: “How can NibbÈna be happiness since there is no sensation?” Venerable SÈriputta replied: “That there is no sensation itself is happiness.” ‘Happiness’ here means peacefulness. Happiness in the world is not the same as the happiness described here. Happiness here is peacefulness.
In one of the Suttas the Buddha described different kinds of happiness from enjoying life, happiness from enjoying sensual pleasures. That is a kind of happiness. Then there is JhÈna happiness which is better than that happiness. In JhÈna happiness there are no sensual pleasures, no enjoyment of sensual pleasures. Yet the Buddha said that the happiness of JhÈna is better than the happiness of sensual pleasures. Furthermore second JhÈna happiness is better than first JhÈna happiness and so on. Finally the Sutta comes to the happiness of the attainment of cessation. I think we talked about the cessation attainment when we discussed the thought processes. The happiness of  NibbÈna is the best happiness. It is not mixed with any greed or with attachment. It is also free of worry, anxiety and so on. It is real happiness, happiness which is peacefulness actually.
NibbÈna is described as DÊpa (island). These are all metaphorical. It is described as an island because it serves as an island when we travel in the sea. It is like a place where we long to be. It is called refuge–TÈÓa, LeÓa, ParÈyaÓa. It is described as peace (Santi). It is also described as truth (Sacca).
NibbÈna is also described as permanent (Dhuva or Nicca). 'Permanent' really means that it is timeless. NibbÈna is not past, not present, not future. So it is timeless. Since it is timeless, it is permanent.
NibbÈna is the cessation of mental defilements, the cessation of greed, hatred and delusion. 'Cessation' really means ‘not arising’. When the Path consciousness eradicates mental defilements, the mental defilements it eradicates are not past, not present, not future. The tendency toward greed, hatred and delusion is destroyed at the moment of Path consciousness. That tendency cannot be said to belong to the past, the present, or the future. That is why the cessation or the extinction of these mental defilements does not belong to any time, not to the past, the present or the future. If it does not belong to past, present or future, it comes to be known as permanent. It is always there. We do not know where, but it is always there. It is described as permanent (Dhuva).
It is also described as excellent (PaÓÊta) and immortal (Amata). It is immortal because it has no beginning and so it has no end. If it has a beginning, it must have an end because it cannot escape this law of nature. When we come across this word 'Amata’ (deathless or immortal), we always think in terms of this existence. We want to have this existence. We want to have a beginning, but we don't want  to have an end. We always think in that way. If we want to be deathless, we must have no birth. 'Amata’ means no birth, no death, no beginning, no end. That is deathless. If we have beginning as human beings, then we will come to an end as human beings. We cannot escape death. 'Immortal' really means no beginning and so no dying, no end. These are the descriptions of NibbÈna in the Suttas and there are many more.
Now let us look at the characteristics of NibbÈna. Whenever we understand something, we must understand by way of characteristic, function, manifestation and proximate cause. You will find the characteristic and others in the Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification) in the chapter on aggregates. Every Dhamma, everything taught in Abhidhamma, is to be understood by way of these three or four aspects. The first one is characteristic. NibbÈna is also to be understood from these aspects.
The characteristic of NibbÈna is just peace, peacefulness. Its function or quality is not to die which means not to disappear, or not to be extinguished, not to cease. Its function is to comfort. When one realizes NibbÈna, one is comforted. One doesn't have to worry about one's future. Its function or its quality is to comfort. It is manifested as signless. 'Manifested' here means manifested to the yogi, to the person who has really realized or who has really seen NibbÈna for himself. That can come at the moment of Path consciousness. NibbÈna is manifested to these people as signless, as no sign. We cannot say that NibbÈna is round or square, or long, or short, or luminous, or whatever.
Once King Milinda asked Venerable NÈgasena whether NibbÈna can be described as of this form or that form, or of this duration, or this measure and so on. The answer given by Venerable NÈgasena was  that NibbÈna has nothing similar to it. There is nothing to be compared to NibbÈna. "By no metaphor or explanation, or reason, or logic, form or figure, or duration, or measure can it be made clear."
There are some people who say NibbÈna is luminous or that NibbÈna is something like a country or a place. That cannot be true because the manifestation of NibbÈna is signlessness. It manifests itself to the yogis as signless. When the yogis realize NibbÈna, when yogis see NibbÈna for themselves, they see NibbÈna as possessing no sign, no form, no figure, no duration and no measure.
Then King Milinda asked: "Why is it not possible to describe NibbÈna in terms of form, figure, duration, measure since NibbÈna is something that really is?" Then Venerable NÈgasena said: "There is the ocean. Can you measure the water in the ocean? Can you count the creatures in the ocean?" The king said:"No. It cannot be done." Venerable NÈgasena said: "But the ocean is there. It is existing. In the same way NibbÈna is there, but it cannot be described in terms of form, or figure, or duration."
There are many expressions even in TheravÈda books which describe NibbÈna as something like a place, like a big city. They are just metaphorical. They are not to be taken literally.
The popular saying is that the Buddha 'entered' NibbÈna or 'reached NibbÈna. Actually NibbÈna is not a place to be entered. NibbÈna is just the extinction or cessation of mental defilements or the cessation of suffering.
Now after understanding what NibbÈna is, let us see what NibbÈna is not. NibbÈna is not mere destruction. NibbÈna is not mere nothing. NibbÈna is the cessation of mental defilements. As the cessation of mental defilements, NibbÈna is. NibbÈna is something, but not  nothingness or mere destruction.
NibbÈna is not the result of the extinction of craving. The extinction of craving comes at the moment of Path consciousness. Path consciousness takes NibbÈna as object. NibbÈna is not the result of the extinction of craving. Actually it is the extinction of craving or it is instrumental in the Path extinguishing craving.
It is not the result of Path consciousness because it is not made by Path consciousness. It is the object of Path consciousness. NibbÈna is always there. When Path consciousness arises, it takes NibbÈna as object. Therefore it is not the result of Path consciousness.
Student: So the perception, the ability to perceive NibbÈna is the result of Path consciousness but not NibbÈna itself.
Sayadaw: No. The ability to perceive NibbÈna is the function of Path consciousness itself.
Student: What is Path consciousness?
Sayadaw: It is a consciousness that arises at the moment of realization, or at the moment of enlightenment.
NibbÈna is not the result of practice. It is not the result of VipassanÈ. The realization of NibbÈna may be the result of VipassanÈ but not NibbÈna itself. NibbÈna is just the object of the realization. So it is not the result of anything.
NibbÈna is not a place, or a realm, or a position. It is not a place to go to. It is not a realm to reach. It is not a position to obtain. Whenever we talk about NibbÈna, we think in terms of existence because we are on this shore and we cannot see the other shore. Until we reach the other shore, we will not see NibbÈna clearly. So when we talk of NibbÈna we may think of it as a place to go to, or as a realm, or as a position, or something which we can experience with the senses. NibbÈna is not that. It is just  a state, a state consisting of the extinction of mental defilements and the extinction of suffering.
There is only one NibbÈna. As to the way it is made known there are two kinds of NibbÈna. I think it is important to understand these two kinds of NibbÈna. One is called 'Sa‑upÈdisesa NibbÈna’ which is made known by way of there being aggregates of clinging remaining. That means the NibbÈna before the death of an Arahant. When a person becomes an Arahant, he eradicates all mental defilements and he sees NibbÈna directly. At the moment of becoming an Arahant and after becoming an Arahant there remain with him the aggregates because he still has the physical body and he still has his mind made up of Citta and Cetasikas. These Cittas, Cetasikas and R|pas are called here 'aggregates of clinging'. These aggregates of clinging are remaining while the mental defilements are gone. NibbÈna which an Arahant experiences or which an Arahant takes as an object before his death is called 'Sa‑upÈdisesa’. It is also called 'Kilesa ParinibbÈna (the extinction of mental defilements). So when a person becomes an Arahant, there is this extinction of mental defilements. This person eradicates mental defilements altogether, but he still has the physical body. He still has the mind consisting of Citta and Cetasikas.
The second one is called 'AnupÈdisesa’. This is NibbÈna which is made known by way of there being no aggregates of clinging remaining. That means after the death of an Arahant, NibbÈna becomes something which has no aggregates of clinging remaining. That means when the Arahant dies, then the aggregates of clinging disappear, not to arise again anymore. After the death of an Arahant NibbÈna is called 'AnupÈdisesa’. It is also called 'Khandha ParinibbÈna’. 'Khandha’ means aggregates. So it is the extinction or blowing out of aggregates.  That means the remaining aggregates of an Arahant (his body and mind) become extinct or blown out.
There are two kinds of NibbÈna–NibbÈna realized during the life of an Arahant and NibbÈna which becomes apparent at the death of an Arahant. There are two kinds of NibbÈna. They are conveniently called 'Kilesa ParinibbÈna’ and 'Khandha ParinibbÈna’. As for the Buddha when he becomes the Buddha, there is Kilesa ParinibbÈna. When he dies, there is Khandha ParinibbÈna. The same is true for Arahants.
As to aspects there are three kinds of NibbÈna. One is SuÒÒta. ‘SuÒÒta’ in TheravÈda does not mean just nothing. ‘SuÒÒata’ in TheravÈda Buddhism means devoid of greed, hatred and delusion, devoid of all conditioned things. NibbÈna is unconditioned, so it is devoid of all conditioned things. There is no greed, hatred or delusion in NibbÈna. So NibbÈna is called 'SuÒÒta’. It may be different than the SuÒÒata of MahÈyana Buddhism.
NibbÈna is Animitta. That means free of signs, no signs of greed, hatred or delusion, no signs of all conditioned things. It is also called 'AppaÓihita’. That is it is free from the hankering of greed, hatred and delusion.
So the one and the same NibbÈna is called by different names according to different aspects. Actually as to the characteristic which is peace, there is only one NibbÈna. We can talk about NibbÈna as that made known by way of there being aggregates of clinging remaining and that made known by way of there being no aggregates of clinging remaining. With regard to aspects there is NibbÈna which is called 'SuÒÒta’, 'Animitta’ and 'AppaÓihita’. In fact there is only one NibbÈna which is the extinction of suffering.
It is for the realization of NibbÈna that all beings or at least all Buddhists make effort. In trying to realize NibbÈna some people  do not want to be in this SaÑsÈra for a long time. They aspire to become Arahants. They aspire to realize NibbÈna as soon as possible. There are other people who have great compassion for other beings and who are ready and willing to suffer for other beings. They want to become Buddhas themselves so that they can 'save' many beings. Such people will have to spend a lot of time in this SaÑsÈra, millions of lives before they become Buddhas.
Student: What is the difference between Buddhas and Arahants?
Sayadaw: In fact Buddha is also called an Arahant. Technically Arahant is different from Buddha. Arahant is a Savaka. 'Savaka’ means disciple. Buddha is a teacher. An Arahant does not possess omniscience. An Arahant needs a teacher or instructions from others to become enlightened. Buddhas do not need any teacher. Bodhisattas become Buddhas all by themselves. They don't have to get instructions from others, but Arahants have to get instructions from others.
It is said that Buddhas possess infinite compassion. In PÈÄi it is called 'MahÈkaruÓÈ’ (great compassion). Arahants do not possess that kind of great compassion, although they also are compassionate, but their compassion is not so great as that of the Buddhas.
Since Buddhas possess omniscience, all‑knowing wisdom, they know the likes and dislikes of people. They know the mental dispositions of the listeners. That helps them to teach at the right moment and it helps them give the right teaching to the persons. The Arahants do not possess such abilities.
Once even the Venerable SÈriputta gave a wrong kind of meditation to his student, to his pupil. Venerable SÈriputta had a young monk that was his student. Since he was young, he gave him the meditation of looking at a corpse in order to develop repulsiveness. But that young man could not get anything from that meditation. He did not  even get concentration from that meditation. After about three or four months without any results Venerable SÈriputta went to the Buddha and reported that he gave a young monk the asubha meditation but the young monk did not get any benefit from it.
So the Buddha called the young monk. He created a golden lotus and gave it to the young monk. He told him to look at it. When the young monk was looking at the golden lotus, he was very happy. And so his mind became calm. At that time the Buddha willed that the leaves of the lotus would wither and fall one after another. At that time the young monk saw the impermanence of things. He saw the nature of things and became an Arahant.
Why did Venerable SÈriputta give the wrong meditation to the monk while the Buddha gave him the right meditation? This happened because Venerable SÈriputta had no ability to know, to really see the disposition or inner feelings of the monk, but Buddha did.
That monk was reborn in families of goldsmiths 500 consecutive times. So he was used to looking at gold which is a desirable object, which is a beautiful thing. When he was given a corpse to look at, he could not do that because he was used to looking at beautiful things. Now he had to look at an ugly object, and so he could not get anything out of it. Buddha knew that and so he created the golden lotus for him to look at. When he had to look at the golden lotus, then his mind became happy. Little by little his mind calmed down. Buddha willed that the lotus leaves wither and fall. Then the young monk saw the impermanence of things.
That is the difference between Buddhas and Arahants. Arahants need instructions from others, but Buddhas do not need instructions from others. Arahants do not possess omniscience. Buddhas possess omniscience. Arahants do not possess MahÈkaruÓÈ, but Buddhas possess  MahÈkaruÓÈ. Those are the differences.
There is also one more difference with regard to the eradication of mental defilements. Both Buddhas and Arahants eradicate mental defilements. It is said however that Arahants cannot eradicate some residue of the mental defilements. Arahants cannot eradicate mental defilements totally or altogether, but Buddhas can.
It is like a liquor bottle. There is no liquor in the bottle, but there is still the smell of liquor in the bottle. There is no liquor there, but there is the smell. In the same way Arahants do not have any mental defilements. Still there is something (stain?) of that mental defilement that remains with them. They cannot get rid of that.
There is the story of Pilindavaccha who addressed people with the phrase ‘bad man’ or something like that. He was an Arahant. Therefore he had no Dosa or anger. He addressed people as bad man because he was reborn as a high class Brahmin 500 consecutive times. He was used to addressing people in that way. He could not get rid of that habit altogether even though he had no mental defilements. This is another difference between Buddhas and Arahants. When Buddhas eradicate mental defilements, they eradicate totally, altogether. Nothing not even the 'smell' remains, but when Arahants eradicate mental defilements, they eradicate but not totally. Something like a smell remains with them. That is the difference.
Student: At what point does a person decide that he wants to become an Arahant or Buddha?
Sayadaw: That depends upon themselves. If you have real determination and very strong desire to save beings, and you are ready and willing to suffer many lives, then you may aspire for Buddhahood. Nobody decides for you. You have to decide for yourself. If you are not  prepared or willing to spend so many lives in the SaÑsÈra and want to get to NibbÈna in a short time, then you may aspire for Arahantship.
Student: How do you know starting out which to do? It seems like that might be a decision you would make as you got more deeply into the practice.
Sayadaw: A Buddha can save many beings. There are many people who do not want to get out of this Samsara alone. They want to take as many beings as possible with them. For them aspiring for Buddhahood just comes naturally.
The Bodhisatta who became Gotama Buddha of the present age was named Sumedha. He was a hermit during the time of a Buddha called DÊpa~kara. After becoming a hermit, he got the JhÈnas and so on. When he met the Buddha, he aspired for Buddhahood. He said this was because for men like him it was not proper to get out of Samsara alone. "I will save as many beings as I can; so I will become a Buddha." He aspired for Buddhahood and the Buddha Dipanitara predicted that he would become a Buddha in the future.
Student: I had not heard of a Bodhisatta tradition in TheravÈda. I thought that the Bodhisatta and saving beings was only in MahÈyÈna.
Sayadaw: No. It is in TheravÈda also.
Student: But MahÈyÈna followers take the vow that they will save all beings. Do all MahÈyÈna followers aspire to Buddhahood?
Sayadaw: In TheravÈda you are free to choose for yourself. If you want to become an Arahant, there is the path of Arahant. There is the path of Pacceka Buddhas or lesser Buddhas. And there is the path of a Buddha. There are three paths open to you. You can choose any that you like. If you want to become a Buddha, you have to go along the Bodhisatta path.
Bodhisatta is very highly regarded in Theravada Buddhism, but  since Bodhisattas are still Puthujjanas, still not enlightened beings, they are not worshipped or they are not paid respect as the Buddhas in TheraÈda Buddhism. So you will not find statues of the Bodhisattas along with Buddhas.
Student: Would you find the statues of Arahants?
Sayadaw: Yes because Arahants have reached the highest level of enlightenment and so they are worthy of respect. Bodhisattas although they are the ones who will become Buddhas in the future, at the present moment they are Puthujjanas (worldlings). So monks, at least TheravÈda monks, would not pay respect to a Bodhisatta who is a lay person.
Student: What is the difference between Buddhas and lesser Buddhas?
Sayadaw: The difference is that lesser Buddhas do not possess omniscience. However they do not need instructions from others like the Arahants. Also the lesser Buddhas appear only when there are no Buddhas in the world. When there are Buddha's teachings available, they will not arise. When the Buddha and the teachings of the Buddha have totally disappeared from the world, the Pacceka Buddhas can arise. They are like solitary Buddhas because they don't teach people much. They don't 'save' many people. They just enjoy the bliss of freedom from suffering in the forest in the Himalayas it is said. That is why some people call them silent Buddhas. It is not that they do not speak, but they do not teach like the Buddhas.
Student: Would they be like hermits living in caves?
Sayadaw: Yes. That's right.
Student: They are there in their higher state of consciousness but they are not teaching anybody. They are just in their bliss.
Sayadaw: Yes. They may come from time to time to the human world or come to where people live. People practice DÈna or giving to them. Then after donating things to them, people make wishes and their  wishes come true it is said. That is the only way that they help people. They may come to you and you offer some food to him. And then you say, "May I attain NibbÈna in the future as you do." Or you may say, "May I be reborn as a rich man."
Student: So the Buddhas are the teachers of humanity.
Student: Then the Pacceka Buddhas (lesser Buddhas) exist in a state of solitude because they have finished but they dare not teach.
Student: Then there are Arahants who have some sort of residue or leftover. Is it leftover of desires?
Sayadaw: No. Leftover of the physical body and mental states, not desire.
Student: They do not have desire, but they have something. I don't understand.
Sayadaw: It is some force from the defilements but not the defilements themselves. It is some force or some results of the defilements, not a residue actually. 'Residue' means there is something left. This is not the defilements themselves but the result. However we cannot call it a result either. We cannot call it a trace. I don't know. It is very difficult to translate. In PÈÄi it is called vÈsanÈ. That is what they cannot eradicate.
Student: Is this what keeps them from becoming lesser Buddhas or Buddhas?
SayÈdaw: Once a person becomes an Arahant that's all there is to it. He will not become a lesser Buddha or a Buddha.
Student: That's the finished product?
Sayadaw: That's the final stage. There are three final stages ‑ Arahant, Lesser Buddha and Buddha.
Student: Can a person who has let us say reached the third stage of enlightenment decide not to become an Arahant and start working for Buddhahood?
 Sayadaw: No. According to the teachings of TheravÈda because after reaching the third stage you will not come back here. You will be reborn in the Brahma world and realize NibbÈna there. Even if you reach the first stage you will not become a Buddha. This is why we say that Bodhisattas are not enlightened. If they become SotÈpannas, they will not become Buddhas at all.
Student: So any perception of NibbÈna prevents you from becoming a Buddha?
Sayadaw: That's right. In our books it is said that Bodhisattas practice VipassanÈ meditation. VipassanÈ meditation leads to enlightenment. Bodhisattas stop just short of enlightenment. They may practice meditation to a certain stage and then they will not go any farther.
Student: It seems to me from my own experience in retreat situations, that mind states just arise. I cannot say that a particular mind state is too close to NibbÈna and I better stop and go walk in the woods. It is not something I have that much control over.
Sayadaw: The Bodhisattas have strong determination or strong minds to resist enlightenment. Others just want to be enlightened. So there is no resistence. There is no obstacle to enlightenment for them. Bodhisattas are different. Therefore I believe that they can stop just short of realization or enlightenment.
Student: They will not become enlightened; they will never-
Sayadaw: Until they become Buddhas.
Student: There are no stages of enlightenment for a Bodhisatta?
Student: So the Buddha himself never went through the various stages of enlightenment like SotÈpanna? Sayadaw: He did but at the last moment, just before he became the Buddha.  The present Buddha on the night before he became the Buddha reached the four stages, one after another, in very rapid successation. He sat down under the Bodhi tree and practiced meditation. During the first watch of the night he got JhÈnas and one supernormal knowledge, the ability to see all the past lives. During the second watch he gained the ability to see beings dying in one existence and being reborn in another. During the third watch he contemplated on Dependent Origination and practiced VipassanÈ meditation and went through the four stages of enlightenment rapidly. At dawn he became the Buddha. So the Buddha has to go through these four stages. He goes through these just before the momnet of Buddhahood.
Student: Bodhisattas are higher than the Arahants?
SayÈdaw: No. We don't regard them as higher than Arahants.
Student: But they have the possibility of becoming Buddhas.
Sayadaw: Yes. They have the possibility of becoming Buddhas, but they are not Buddhas. They are not enlightened yet.
Student: I see. They are not Lesser Buddhas and they are not Arahants. The Arahants have reached maximum capacity. The lesser Buddhas don't teach. They live in caves and are withdrawn from the world. The Buddhas are the light of humanity. They want to help us. The Arahants are less than the Bodhisattas or are they higher?
Sayadaw: Bodhisattas are different because Bodhisattas are unenlightened persons. Arahants and Lesser Buddhas are enlightened.
Student: So Bodhisattas are seekers of truth, seekers of the path. Is that how you define Bodhisatta?
Sayadaw: If they aspire for Buddhahood, then they are Bodhisattas.
Student: Let us take the residents here. They have dedication and commitment. They are seekers of truth. Aren't they Bodhisattas?
Sayadaw: I don't know. If they aspire for Buddhahood, then they are.  If they want to become Buddha, if they take vows to become Buddha, then they may be Bodhisattas.
Student: May be?
Sayadaw: I say 'may be' because according to TheravÈda explanations for a person to be recognized as a Bodhisatta he needs to meet a living Buddha. He needs to be a recluse or a monk. He needs to be in possession of JhÈnas and supernormal knowledges. There are many other qualifications for a person to be recognized as a Bodhisatta.
Student: People may not be enlightened, but they help others. They want to help others like Buddhist nuns or nuns in the Catholic church. This is a prerequisite for being a Bodhisatta, am I right?
Sayadaw: Bodhisattas want to help others to cross over to the other shore. They don't just want to help others get rich or to become prosperous. Bodhisattas want to help people to become enlightened. That is the main point for Bodhisattas. Bodhisattas want to help or save many beings.
Student: Even though they may not be saved themselves?
Sayadaw: Until they themselves become saved, they cannot save others. They can help, but they cannot save other beings. After becoming Buddhas, they save many beings. And here 'save' just means help, help people to save themselves. You have to do it yourself. Nobody can make you enlightened. Nobody can save you actually. We use the word 'save' in this sense.
Student: I am still a little bit confused about the relationship between Path consciousness and NibbÈna. Path consciousness does not arise as long as defilements are present. Yet it takes NibbÈna to totally eradicate defilements. What are the conditions really for Path consciousness?
Sayadaw: I think you remember the thought process for Path consciousness.  There are moments of consciousness which belong to the sensual‑sphere (KÈmÈvacara) preceding Path consciousness. These are actually vipassanÈ consciousness. Actually VipassanÈ is the prerequisite for Path consciousness. Without VipassanÈ no Path consciousness can arise. The thought moments immediately preceding Path consciousness all belong to VipassanÈ. There are different stages of VipassanÈ. There are progressive stages of VipassanÈ, higher and higher.
Student: VipassanÈ stages parallel the JhÈna stages?
Sayadaw: There are parallels between the different stages of JhÈna and the different stages of VipassanÈ, but they are not to be compared because they are different.
Student: In what way are they different?
Sayadaw: They go in different directions. JhÈnas are just for concentration or stillness of mind. They may lead to psychic powers or supernormal powers. VipassanÈ leads to enlightenment. The function of VipassanÈ is to see things as they are. This insight leads to enlightenment or the eradication of defilements.
SÈdhu! SÈdhu! SÈdhu!