Page 13

nibbåna and anattå

Whatever things (dhammå), monks, there are, formed or unformed, the topmost of those things is declared to be dispassion, that is to say, the ending of intoxication, the removal of thirst, the uprooting of yearning, the interruption of the round, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, extinction. At first sight this passage seems convincing; and it is only on closer examination that the argument based on it is seen to be fallacious. For this reason, and also because it provides a salutary warning against treating the Buddha’s teaching as an exercise in logic, it is dealt with here. It is clear enough that, in this Sutta, the asaπkhata, or nibbåna, is referred to as a dhamma. But to suppose that the term dhamma can therefore always apply to nibbåna would be a mistake, for it is said elsewhere, Dhammå aniccå: yad aniccaµ taµ dukkhaµ: yaµ dukkhaµ tad anattå. (Sa¬åyatana Saµyutta, 4) Things (dhammå) are impermanent: what is impermanent is suffering: what is suffering is not-self. Since nibbåna, as we saw earlier, is both permanent and pleasant—pleasant precisely because it is void of suffering—, it is evident that the word dhamma does not always have exactly the same meaning. It is not intended to prove that nibbåna is never referred to as dhamma, but simply to show that any syllogistic reasoning using the term dhamma—‘All things (dhammå) are anattå: nibbåna is a thing (dhamma): therefore nibbåna is anattå’—is suspect and unreliable. And, in fact, reference to the full text of the Sutta passage in question shows dhammå in the company of the words buddha and saπgha—a context where dhamma means ‘(The Buddha’s) Teaching’ or ‘Doctrine’ or ‘Norm’. This is clearly a quite different order of meaning of dhamma from that in sabbe dhammå anattå, and the above argument is consequently invalid.6 The earlier discussion should leave no doubt that sabbe dhammå anattå cannot possibly refer to nibbåna; but if this is once admitted, it becomes necessary to account for the change from saπkhåra to dhamma in the three statements, sabbe saπkhårå aniccå, sabbe saπkhårå dukkhå, and sabbe 6.  From this point to the end the argument is seriously at fault and hopelessly misleading. Ñå~av⁄ra, 12.iii.65.


Early Writings (Seeking the Path - Ñāṇavīra Thera)  

Part B includes two early essays (Nibbana and Anatta and Sketch for a Proof of Rebirth) as well as notes from a Commonplace Book and Margina...

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