Dumbing down Nibbāna (English Version)


By Ven. Ajhan Brahmavamso

Health is the most precious gain,

contentment the greatest wealth.

A trustworthy person is the best kinsman,

Nibbana the highest bliss.

(Dhp 204)

Whenever Buddhism becomes fashionable, there is a tendency to change the meaning of nibbāna to suit more people. The pressures born of popularity will bend the truth to make it more accommodating. Teachings are very well received when they tell people only what they want to hear. Furthermore, vanity induces some Dhamma teachers to explain nibbāna in ways that do not challenge their own unenlightened state. This all leads to a dumbing down of nibbāna.

One can read in modern Buddhist literature that enlightenment is nothing more than a passive submission to the way things seem to be (as distinguished from the way things truly are, seen only after jhāna). Or that the unconditioned is merely the easily accessible mindfulness-in-the-moment, within which anything goes—absolutely anything.

Or that the deathless state is simply a nondual awareness, a rejection of all distinctions, and an affirmation that all is one and benign. The supreme goal of Buddhism then becomes little more than the art of living in a less troubled way, a hopeless surrender to the ups and downs of life, and a denial of dukkha as inherent in all forms of existence. It is like a neurotic prisoner celebrating his incarceration instead of seeking the way out. Such dumbed-down Dhamma may feel warm and fuzzy, but it is a gross understatement of the real nibbāna. And those who buy into such enchanting distortions will find they have bought a lemon.

– Ajahn Brahmavamso, Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond


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