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2014-03-12  [坦尼沙罗法师]


[作者] 坦尼沙罗尊者



by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu

我们都了解火焰熄灭的情形。火尽烟散、寂然无迹。因此我们初次了解到,涅槃(nibbana/nirvana)这个词,作为佛教的修持目标,其字面意思是火焰的熄灭, 会感到作为一个灵性追求目标,很难想象有比彻底消亡这个形象更致命的了。不过,对于涅槃概念作这般理解,实际上是一个误会,并非在文字上,而是在形象上。对于佛陀时代的印度人来说,熄灭之火代表了什么? 绝对不是消亡。

We all know what happens when a fire goes out. The flames die down and the fire is gone for good. So when we first learn that the name for the goal of Buddhist practice, nibbana (nirvana), literally means the extinguishing of a fire, it's hard to imagine a deadlier image for a spiritual goal: utter annihilation. It turns out, though, that this reading of the concept is a mistake in translation, not so much of a word as of an image. What did an extinguished fire represent to the Indians of the Buddha's day? Anything but annihilation.

根据古老的婆罗门信仰,火焰熄灭时进入一个潜在阶段。 它并非停止存在,而是处于静态,在这个不受燃料束缚的状态下扩散开来,弥漫于空间。 当佛陀用这个比喻对当时印度的婆罗门人士讲解涅槃之意时,绕过了熄灭之火是否继续存在的问题,而是侧重于说明,要定义不燃之火是不可能的: 因此他关于一个彻底“熄灭”者的称谓,也是不可描述的。

According to the ancient Brahmans, when a fire was extinguished it went into a state of latency. Rather than ceasing to exist, it became dormant and in that state — unbound from any particular fuel — it became diffused throughout the cosmos. When the Buddha used the image to explain nibbana to the Indian Brahmans of his day, he bypassed the question of whether an extinguished fire continues to exist or not, and focused instead on the impossibility of defining a fire that doesn't burn: thus his statement that the person who has gone totally "out" can't be described.

但是,佛陀在对自己的弟子讲解时,更多地用涅槃的形象作为自由的象征。当时的印度人,似乎都把燃烧之火看成动荡、有依赖性、禁锢状态,燃烧时既执取、又受缚于燃料。为了点火,必须把它“抓获”(seize)。 火在放弃了(letgo)燃料之后,便“自由”了,从动荡、依赖、禁锢中获得解脱,宁静、不受制约。 这就是为什么巴利文诗偈中反复以熄灭之火的形象作为自由的比喻。实际上,这个词属于火的一组类比,相关词汇另有两个。Upadana,意为执着,也指火从燃料中获得的滋养。 Khandha,不仅指界定一切缘起经验的五蕴之一——形态、感受、辨知,思维、意识,而且还指树干。 正如火停止执着、停止从木料获取滋养,便熄灭了; 心终止对五蕴的执着时,便获得了自由。

However, when teaching his own disciples, the Buddha used nibbana more as an image of freedom. Apparently, all Indians at the time saw burning fire as agitated, dependent, and trapped, both clinging and being stuck to its fuel as it burned. To ignite a fire, one had to "seize" it. When fire let go of its fuel, it was "freed," released from its agitation, dependence, and entrapment — calm and unconfined. This is why Pali poetry repeatedly uses the image of extinguished fire as a metaphor for freedom. In fact, this metaphor is part of a pattern of fire imagery that involves two other related terms as well. Upadana, or clinging, also refers to the sustenance a fire takes from its fuel. Khandha means not only one of the five "heaps" (form, feeling, perception, thought processes, and consciousness) that define all conditioned experience, but also the trunk of a tree. Just as fire goes out when it stops clinging and taking sustenance from wood, so the mind is freed when it stops clinging to the khandhas.

因此,涅槃这个形象之下的内涵是指自由。巴利论藏追溯其动词的词根为“解脱”(unbinding),也支持这个观点。是怎样的解脱? 经文中描述了两个层次。一个是此生的解脱,以火已熄灭、余烬尚温为象征,这代表已证悟的阿罗汉,有视觉听觉,敏感于喜乐,但已脱离了贪、瞋、痴。第二个层次的解脱,以火焰灭尽、余烬已冷作为象征,代表了阿罗汉此生以后的经验。来自感官的一切输入冷却下来,他/她从时空存在的最细微的苦与局限中获得了解脱。

Thus the image underlying nibbana is one of freedom. The Pali commentaries support this point by tracing the word nibbana to its verbal root, which means "unbinding." What kind of unbinding? The texts describe two levels. One is the unbinding in this lifetime, symbolized by a fire that has gone out but whose embers are still warm. This stands for the enlightened arahant, who is conscious of sights and sounds, sensitive to pleasure and pain, but freed from passion, aversion, and delusion. The second level of unbinding, symbolized by a fire so totally out that its embers have grown cold, is what the arahant experiences after this life. All input from the senses cools away and he/she is totally freed from even the subtlest stresses and limitations of existence in space and time.


The Buddha insists that this level is indescribable, even in terms of existence or nonexistence, because words work only for things that have limits. All he really says about it — apart from images and metaphors — is that one can have foretastes of the experience in this lifetime, and that it's the ultimate happiness, something truly worth knowing.


So the next time you watch a fire going out, see it not as a case of annihilation, but as a lesson in how freedom is to be found in letting go.



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