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I have found a text which states that

nibbāna is a description meaning not-self.

The meaning of the text is clear. Nibbana is nothing but not-self. Moreover I have also found a sutta(SN22.45) which says that after understanding and realizing not-self the person attains Nirvana.

At Savatthi. “Bhikkhus, form is impermanent. What is impermanent is suffering. What is suffering is nonself. What is nonself should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ When one sees this thus as it really is with correct wisdom, the mind becomes dispassionate and is liberated from the taints by nonclinging

. . .

“By being liberated, it is steady; by being steady, it is content; by being content, he is not agitated. Being unagitated, he personally attains Nibbāna.

My question is :Does Nibbana mean not self?

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Everything is not-self including Nibbana. But Nibbana is much more than that. It is the end of suffering.

  • This is good! Perhaps it would be more clear to say that 'Nibbana means much more than that' instead of the word 'is'? Also, maybe the answer could be elaborated by explaining how understanding non-self, both in persons and phenomena, from the coarsest level to the most subtle, can lead to Nibbana? – Yeshe Tenley May 7 '18 at 13:23
  • @YesheTenley what's wrong with using 'is'? – Sankha Kulathantille May 7 '18 at 13:31
  • Nothing per se, just that I think part of OP's question revolves around whether a description of something is necessary and sufficient or whether more needs to be said. I think 'is' implies the former, where 'means' implies the latter, but I'm probably wrong and your usage is fine. – Yeshe Tenley May 7 '18 at 13:40
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    This is @SankhaKulathantille answer so I'll let him speak for himself... – Yeshe Tenley May 7 '18 at 14:13
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    When the realization of Anicca/Dukkha/Anatta becomes all encompassing, the meditator attains an absolute certainty of one or another of the three characteristics and this leads to a release. This release leads to an experience of cessation, where there is no arising of sense experience (including mental sense experience). This is the realization of nibbāna. Read more here – Sankha Kulathantille May 7 '18 at 14:40
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Anatta or not-self is a characteristic of all phenomena (including Nibbana), regardless of whether they are conditioned or unconditioned, compounded or uncompounded, permanent or impermanent.

Nibbana is the phenomena which is the end of suffering. It's unconditioned, uncompounded and not impermanent. It's also not-self.

Samsara and dukkha (suffering) are also not-self.

Even a stream winner or sotapanna would have overcome the self-view but would not have attained Nibbana yet. In order for the stream winner to reach Nibbana, he needs to overcome the remainder of the ten fetters.

  • Is there any quote to support "Even a stream winner or sotapanna would have overcome the self-view but would not have attained Nibbana yet." ? Without Mindfulness how can anyone ever overcome the self-view? Body, feelings, perceptions,consciousness,volitional formations arise...only a mindful person can declare them as not-self. – Dheeraj Verma May 7 '18 at 7:23
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    This is not a quote, but the fact that the Buddha made a distinction between an Arya being (ie., sotapanna) and once-returner, non-returner let alone an Arhat or Buddha makes it quite clear that stream winners have more to do, right? The path is not complete at sotapanna, right? – Yeshe Tenley May 7 '18 at 14:33
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    @DheerajVerma AN10.13 states: "And which are the five lower fetters? Self-identity views, uncertainty, grasping at precepts & practices, sensual desire, & ill will. ... And which are the five higher fetters? Passion for form, passion for what is formless, conceit, restlessness, & ignorance." And MN118 states: "In this community of monks there are monks who, with the wasting away of [the first] three fetters, are stream-winners". – ruben2020 May 7 '18 at 16:34
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    @ruben2020 It is the teaching of Dhamma which uproots all the fetters. What is Dhamma ? Dhamma is the teaching of Anatta. What is Anatta ? Anatta is recognising and realizing for example that eye is not self. This statement alone uproots many fetters. Here is quote from Buddha himself. You have made a valid point but I guess knowing what is anatta(identity "view") and realizing what is anatta are two very different things. – Dheeraj Verma May 7 '18 at 17:37
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Much like Sankha and Ruben2020 have said, I think it is imperative to understand that selflessness is an apt description of all persons and phenomena, including nirvana. That is, there is nothing which isn't selfless. Another way of saying this is that all things lack inherent existence; including nirvana. There is nothing neither existent nor non-existent that cannot be described as utterly lacking a self.

But nirvana is not a person so how can it be said to be selfless? Also, it is not an impermanent phenomena so how can it be said to be selfless?

One part of the confusion here is that it is usually thought that the Pali Canon is only part of the First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma. However, I don't think this is strictly true. The Second Turning of the Wheel of Dharma can be found in the Pali Canon. In Sutras like this and for instance the Kaccayanagotta Sutta we see the Buddha giving teachings that to my mind are very clearly part of the Second Turning. These teachings are elaborated on by the Buddha in strictly Mayahana Sutras and by the Virtuous Teachers such as Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna's Fundamental Treatise of the Middle Way devotes an entire chapter to nirvana and how it is selfless. So how do the Second Turning Virtuous Teachers say that nirvana is selfless?

Nirvana is not a person and yet it utterly lacks any inherent existence. This is how it is said to be selfless. Nirvana is not an impermanent phenomena and yet it utterly lacks any inherent existence. This is how it is said to be selfless.

Thus, the correct understanding of the selflessness of Nirvana cannot be arrived at without understanding the subtler meanings of selflessness. Understanding selflessness through things not existing permanently, unitarily and independently is the coarsest understanding and this is not sufficient for understanding the selflessness of Nirvana.

Now, does that mean being selfless is a completely sufficient description of nirvana? No. More needs to be said. Nevertheless, nirvana is indeed selfless.

Moreover, understanding the selflessness of all things is essential to gaining our liberation from cyclic existence. Directly realizing the emptiness of all existent and non-existent things and regarding all this as a morass of utterly unreal concepts and appearances is how we arrive at the doorstep of nirvana. I hope this helps.

Finally, I'll note that nirvana comes in two types: with residuals and without. According to my tradition Nirvana without residuals is only attained by fully enlightened Buddhas or Arya beings while in meditative equipoise directly perceiving emptiness.

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    If the OP wants to understand anatta, it might be precise to distinguish it slightly from sunyata. When you mention the "selflessness of all persons and all phenomena" I guess you might be talking about their "emptiness", which is maybe not quite the same doctrine as Sankha's saying "Everything is not-self". And your last paragraph about "realising emptiness" sounds like Second Turning too. Not that I'm disagreeing with you, I say this because I hope it may be helpful to readers to understand why (or based on what doctrines) different people have different answers. – ChrisW May 7 '18 at 13:51
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    Thanks @ChrisW, I'm trying to figure out how to make it more precise or helpful. The selflessness of persons and selflessness of phenomena at the subtlest level are exactly the same, but this is clearly explained in Second Turning or Madhyimaka doctrine as you say. However, the OP question and Sankha's answer is clearly showing anatta being used to describe not a person, but a phenomena: that of Nirvana. I think you need Second Turning or Madhyamika explanations for this. – Yeshe Tenley May 7 '18 at 14:00
  • To my (not well-educated) mind, anatta means "not me" (and "not mine" and so on). For example, this body is "not me", and this thought is "not me", and this feeling is "not me", and so on. And, that tree isn't me. Whereas sunyata goes slightly further, and says for example, "that tree isn't only not-me ... it isn't even itself!" Saying "nibanna isn't me, isn't mine, isn't my soul" is one thing, and saying it's "empty" is another, IMO. And I think that according to the Pali canon, abandoning wrong self-view is a first stage of enlightenment (important even before a more "final" nibbanna). – ChrisW May 7 '18 at 14:13
  • @ChrisW hmm, I don't think that is what it means in my tradition even for the Pali canon. In my tradition, anatta and sunyata are both meaning the same thing at the subtlest level without regard to object: the lack of inherent existence. At other levels and under different tenet systems they can be divided with regard to object: persons vs non-persons and have different meanings. For instance, the Vaibhashikas and Sautrantikas do not recognize the selflessness of non-persons such as Nirvana. – Yeshe Tenley May 7 '18 at 14:28
  • In my tradition, anatta and sunyata are both meaning the same thing at the subtlest level without regard to object: the lack of inherent existence. That's as may be; and I take it that, perhaps (I haven't read his work), Nagarjuna is careful not to contradict the suttas. Still I think that e.g. this topic says that "sakkhya ditthi" (a.k.a. "belief in a self") is the (wrong) view that the five aggregates are "self": and that "anatta" is an extension of that, that it's wrong to view anything (any sankhara or even any dhamma at all) as "self". – ChrisW May 7 '18 at 14:46
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The meaning of the text is clear. Nibbana is nothing but not-self.

I don't think that's clear.

He're the original text:

Aniccā sabbe saṅkhārā,
dukkhānattā ca saṅkhatā;
Nibbānañceva paññatti,
anattā iti nicchayā.

I translate as:

[impermanent] [is every] [conditioned thing]
[painful and not-self] [and] [conditioned]
[in-the-case-of nibanna] [description]
[not-self] [thus it is] [certainly]

I think that may be saying that "nibanna is a description" and "therefore not self".

I don't know how to reconcile that with the doctrine that "nibanna isn't conditioned" (or "is unconditioned").

But anyway I think the chief characteristic of nibanna is that it's a state that's free of attachments and cravings ... and not just "free" but "permanently free" ... and therefore free of dukkha.

The fact that nibanna is also anatta is a kind of a side-effect (e.g. a lack of attachment to "self").

I think it's wrong to say "Nibbana is nothing but not-self" or that "Nibbana is only not-self" ... I think that nibanna is more (or less) than that, it is unattached to (unconditioned by) anything and everything, not just "self".

My question is: Does Nibbana means not self?

I think it is not-self, but it doesn't mean "not-self".

Like France is a country, but doesn't mean "a country".

The word "meaning" was added by the English-language translator/translation you quoted, fwiw.

Is there any quote to support "Even a stream winner or sotapanna would have overcome the self-view but would not have attained Nibbana yet."?

I hope you'll find the answers to this topic: How are 'conceit' and 'identity-view' not the same?

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    You said, "I don't know how to reconcile that with the doctrine that "nibanna isn't conditioned" (or "is unconditioned")." I'd suggest that a careful study of Chapter 25 of Nagarjuna's Fundamental Treatise of the Middle Way along with the excellent commentary by Je Tsongkhapa in Ocean of Reasoning might help to understand this. – Yeshe Tenley May 7 '18 at 13:26
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I have found a text which states that

nibbāna is a description meaning not-self.

Actually, that translation is mistake, because the translator has not enough knowledge to translate it. So, what is the knowledge which the translator has to know to translate this text?

VN Pañcasitikakhandhaka & VN Parivāra identify Upāli authored that text; Upāli is Sāriputta's student; And sāriputta authored abhidhamma-pitaka; So there are many abhidhamma's style text inside VN Parivāra; Therefore, If the translator want to translate VN Parivāra's pāli, he need abhidhamma-knowledge:

Aniccā sabbe saṅkhārā, dukkhānattā ca saṅkhatā;

Nibbānañceva paññatti, anattā iti nicchayā.

Saṅkhāra, which means saṅkhata(effect-saṅkhāra)*, is anicca&dukkha&anattā;

But only nibbāna&paññatti which are explained just as anattā.

*Saṅkhāra, which means cause-saṅkhāra, use in more fixed meaning word, such as saṅkhāra-khandha, saṅkhāra-paṭiccasamuppāda. You can notice it in each context, because it is already appear clearly.

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