Problem concerning nirvana

I opened the Buddhism dictionary of a specialist, and in the section of nirvana, he says among other things:

“While enlightenment evokes the certainty of exiting samsara, nirvana is an experience of unconditioned reality, which is therefore more than just the extinction of samsara. In Theravda, the possibility of temporary experiences of nirvana before attaining final enlightenment is mentioned during the practice of jhana meditation. Once awakened, an arhat or a perfect Buddha can enter and leave the nirvana dimension at will. They enter there definitively when they become extinct: it is the parinibbãna. According to the schools and vehicles, we will find different definitions and different types of nirvana.”

I’m having a little trouble understanding, because I thought that once you reach enlightenment (= deep realization of the nature of phenomena), then you automatically reach nirvana (= end of suffering, of illusion). But there, the specialist explains that a Buddha and an arhat can go out of nirvana.
Moreover, I thought that once one has reached nirvana, it necessarily means that one has reached the definitive Awakening. But the scholar says that for Theravada, one can reach nirvana (through the jhânas) without having yet reached final enlightenment.

Thanks in advance.

I would not trust anything that spells Nibbāna as nirvana.

Best to stay away from that source. I’ve never heard of it, nor do I want to know… furthermore… please don’t give a link to that website here. It is like asking your mother to smell rotten milk after you just smelled it.

The Kathavatthu explains that enlightenment is irreversible with sutta references.

  1. Of Falling Away
    Controverted Point: That an Arahant can fall away from Arahantship. p. 64
    From the Commentary: Because of such statements in the Suttas as
    “liability to fall away, and the opposite, these two things, bhikkhus,
    are concerned with the falling away of a bhikkhu who is training
    “these eve things, bhikkhus, are concerned with the falling away
    of a bhikkhu who now and then attains emancipation”,2
    certain sects in the Order incline to the belief that an Arahant can fall away.
    These are the Sammitiyas, the Vajjiputtiyas, the Sabbatthiv¯adins, and some
    such terms as puggala, being, etc., in their popular conventional sense, as the Buddha
    did when teaching the laity, by no means confers upon the transient collocation of
    aggregates so called any ultimate or philosophical reality, any more than to speak of
    a constant supply of food implies any eternal, immutable source. “Given bodily and
    mental aggregates”, concludes the Commentator in his peroration, “it is customary to
    say such and such a name, a family. This by popular convention means ‘a person.’
    Hereon it was said by the Exalted One: ‘These are merely names, expressions, turns
    of speech, designations in common use in the world’ (Dialogues of the Buddha [41], i.
  1. . . .The Buddhas have two kinds of discourse, the popular and the philosophical.
    The latter is, as a rule, too severe to begin with, therefore they take the former erst.
    But both erst and last they teach consistently and in conformity with truth according
    to the method selected”
    1Anguttara-Nik¯aya [21], i. 96.
    2Ibid., iii. 173.
    of the Mah¯asa ˙ nghikas. Hence, whether it be their view or that of others, the
    Therav¯adin, in order to break them of it asks this question.1
    I. Applying the Thesis2
    [§ 1] therava¯din: Your assertion that an Arahant may fall away
    from Arahantship involves the admission also of the following:
    that he may fall away anywhere; [§ 2] at any time;
    [§ 3] that all Arahants are liable to fall away; [§ 4] that an
    Arahant is liable to fall away not only from Arahantship,
    but from all four of the Path-fruitions. [§ 5] Just as a man
    may still be rich if he lose one lakh in four lakhs, but must,
    you would say, lose all four to lose his title to the status
    given him by the four.

II. Refutation by Comparing Classes of Ariyans3
p. 65 [§ 6] therava¯din: If an Arahant may fall away, then must those in
the three lower Stages or Paths—the Never-Returners, the
Once-Returners, the Stream-Winners—also be held liable
to fall away and lose their respective fruits.4
1“Falling away” is, more literally, declined, the opposite of growth. See Dialogues
of the Buddha [41], ii. 82 f. The Commentary [20] continues: “ ‘Falling away’ is twofold—
from what is won, and from what is not yet won. ‘The venerable Godhika fell away
from that emancipation of will which was intermittent only’ ”. (Br., s¯amayik¯ala, or,
PTS, sam¯adhik¯ay¯a: which comes of concentrative exercise.) Sam.
yutta-Nik¯aya [35],
i. 120, illustrates the former. “See that the reward of your recluseship fall not away for
you who are seeking it, [while yet more remains to be done!]” (Majjhima-Nik¯aya [56],
i. 271) illustrates the latter.
2We have, for the remainder of the work, applied just sucient condensation
to eliminate most of the dialogue as such, with its abundant repetitions of the point
controverted, and have endeavoured to reproduce all the stages of argument and the
matter adduced therein.
3Viz., all who are graduating or have graduated in Arahantship.
4Or fruition; the conscious realization or assurance (to borrow a Christian term)
of the specieed attainment.
If an Arahant may fall away, so as to be established only in [§ 7]
the next lower fruit, then must an analogous falling away
be held possible in the case of the other three classes, so
that those in the erst stage who fall away are “established”
only as average worldlings. Further,
If the Arahant fall away so as to be established in the erst
fruit only, then must he, in regaining Arahantship, realize
it next after the erst fruit.1
If an Arahant may fall away from Arahantship who has [§ 8]
admittedly put away more corruptions2 than any of those
in the three lower stages, surely these may always fall
away from their respective fruits. Why deny this liability
in their case [§§ 9–13], and assert it only with respect to
the Arahant?
If an Arahant may fall away from Arahantship who admit- [§§ 14–20]
tedly excels all others in culture of the [Eightfold] Path, of
the Earnest Applications of Mindfulness, of the Supreme
Eorts, the Four Steps to Potency of Will, the Controlling
Powers and Forces, and of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment,
why deny that those who have cultivated these
[thirty-seven matters pertaining to Enlightenment3] in a
lesser degree may no less fall away from their respective
Similarly, if each and all of the Four Truths—the fact of [§§ 21–32]
Ill, the Cause of it, the Cessation of it, the Way to the
cessation of it—have been seen by the Arahant | no less p. 66
than by the three lower Paths, why maintain only of the
Arahant that he can fall away?
You cannot assert that the Arahant, who has put away [§ 33]
lust4 and all the other corruptions, may fall away from
1Thus violating the constant four-graded order.
2Literally, torments, kiles¯a, i.e., vices causing torment. On these ten see below,
and Buddhist Psychological Ethics [?], p. 327 f.
3On these, see Dialogues of the Buddha [41], ii. 129 f.; Compendium of Philosophy
[2], part VII. § 6.
4R¯aga, or lobha, understood as appetite or greed in general.
Arahantship, and yet deny that the Stream-Winner, who
[on his part] has put away the theory of soul,1 may also
fall away from his fruit; or deny either that the latter,
who [on his part] has also put away doubt, the contagion
of mere rule and ritual, or the passions, ill-will and nescience,
all three entailing rebirth on planes of misery,
may also fall away. Or [§ 34], similarly, deny that the
Once-Returner, who [on his part] has put away the theory
of a soul, doubt, the contagion of mere rule and ritual,
gross sensuous passions, coarse forms of ill-will, may also
fall away from his fruit. Or [§ 35], similarly, deny that the
Never-Returner, who [on his part] has put away the theory
of soul, doubt, the contagion of mere rule and ritual,
the residuum2 of sensuous passion and ill-will, may also
fall away from his fruit. Or analogously [§ 36] assert that
the Never-Returner can fall away, but that the Stream-
Winner cannot, or [§ 37], that the Once-Returner cannot.
Or, analogously [§ 38], assert that the Once-Returner can
fall away, but that the Stream-Winner cannot.
Conversely [§ 39], you cannot maintain that the Stream-
Winner, who has [of course] put away theory of soul, etc.,
cannot fall away from his fruit, without maintaining as
much for the Arahant who [on his part] has put away the
passions of appetite and all the other corruptions.3 Nor,
similarly [§§ 40–4], can you maintain that anyone of the
p. 67 four | Classes cannot fall away, without maintaining as
much for any other of the four.
[§ 45]
hi. On this term see Buddhist Psychological Ethics [?], 247, n. 2.
This and the next two vices are the erst three “fetters” destroyed by those in the erst
Path. Rhys Davids, American Lectures [39], p. 146 f.
2Literally, accompanied by a minimum of (an. u-sahagato). In the
i, and below (iv. 10), this work of diminishing is worded dierently.
See Buddhist Psychological Ethics [?], p. 96, and n. 1.
3Namely, hate, nescience, or dullness, conceit, error, doubt, stolidity, excitement,
unconscientiousness, disregard of blame, or indiscretion.
You admit all the achievements and qualiecations conveyed
by the terms and phrases associated [in the Suttas]
with the position of Arahant:
That he has
“put away passion or lust, cut it o at the root,
made it as the stump of a palm tree, incapable
of renewing its existence, not subject to recrudescence”,
and has also so put away the remaining [nine]
corruptions—hate, nescience, conceit, etc.
That, in order so to put away each and all of the corrup- [§ 46]
tions, he has cultivated:
the Path,
the Earnest Applications of Mindfulness,
the Supreme Eorts,
the Steps to Potency of Will,
the Controlling Powers and Forces,
the Factors of Enlightenment2;
That he has [consummated as having] [§ 47]
“done with lust, done with hate, done with nescience”
that he is one by whom
that which was to be done is done”,
“the burden is laid down,
the good supreme is won,
the fetter of becoming is wholly broken away”,
one who is “emancipated through perfect knowledge”,4
who has “lifted the bar”, “elled up the trenches”, “who has
drawn out”, “is without lock or bolt”, an Ariyan, one for
1Anguttara-Nik¯aya [21], i. 218 (elsewhere connected with tan. h¯a, natural desire).
2See above, §§ 14–29.
3Psalms of the Brethren [34], p. 193.
4The epithets named thus far recur frequently as one of the refrains of Arahantship,
e.g., Anguttara-Nik¯aya [21], iii. 359.
whom “the banner is lowered”, “the burden is fallen”, who
is “detached”,1 “conqueror of a realm well conquered”,2
p. 68 who | has “comprehended Ill, has put away its cause, has
realized its cessation, has cultivated the Path [thereto]”,3
who has “understood that which is to be understood,4
comprehended that which is to be comprehended, put
away that which is to be put away, developed that which
is to be developed, realized that which is to be realized”.5
How then can you say that an Arahant can fall away from
[§ 48] With respect to your modieed statement, that only the
Arahant, who now and then [i.e., in Jh¯ana] reaches emancipation,
falls away, but not the Arahant who is at any
and all seasons emancipated:
[§ 49–51] I ask, does the former class of Arahant, who has put away
each and all of the corruptions, who has cultivated each
and all of the matters or states pertaining to enlightenment,
who deserves each and all of the aforesaid terms
and phrases associated with Arahantship, fall away from
[§ 52–54] For you admit that the latter class of Arahant, who has
done and who has deserved as aforesaid, does not fall away.
If you admit also, with respect to the former class, that
all these qualities make falling away from Arahantship
impossible, then it is clear that the matter of occasional,
or of constant realization of emancipation does not aect
the argument.
[§ 55] Can you give instances of Arahants falling away from
Arahantship? Did S¯ariputta? Or the Great Moggall¯ana?
1These are all discussed in Majjhima-Nik¯aya,[56] i. 139.
2We cannot trace this simile verbatim. Dierently worded, it occurs, e.g., in
Itivuttaka, § 82.
3The noble or Ariyan Eightfold Path.
4Esp. the eve aggregates. Sam. yutta-Nik¯aya [35], iii. 26, etc.
5On all these four see D¯ıgha-Nik¯aya[43], iii. 280 f.
Or the Great Kassapa? Or the Great Kacc¯ayana? Or the
great Kot.t.
hita? Or the Great Panthaka1?
Of all you admit that they did not.

III. Proof from the Suttas
therava¯din: You say that an Arahant may fall away from Ara- p. 69 [§ 56]
hantship. But was it not said by the Exalted One:
“Both high and low the ways the learners wend:
So hath the Holy One to man revealed.
Not twice they fare who reach the further shore,
Nor once [alone that goal] doth ell their
Hence you are wrong.
. . .Again, is there to be a “cutting of what has been cut”? [§ 57]
For was it not said by the Exalted One:
“He who with cravings conquered grasps at
For whom no work on self is still unwrought,
Is need for cutting what is cut yet there?
All perils swept away, the Flood, the Snare”.3
. . .Again, your proposition implies that there is a recon- [§ 58]
structing of what is already done. But this is not for the
Arahant, for was it not said by the Exalted One:
“For such a Brother rightly freed, whose heart
Hath peace, there is no building up again,
1On all of these Psalms of the Brethren [34] may be consulted. Kot.
hita in some
MSS. is Kot.t.hika.
2Sutta-Nip¯ata [1], verse 714. The Commentary [20] explains “high and low ways”
by easy or painful progress, as formulated in Buddhist Psychological Ethics [?], p. 54.
3Untraced except the erst line, for which see Sutta-Nip¯ata [1], verse 741;
Anguttara-Nik¯aya [21], ii. 10; Itivuttaka [62], §§ 15, 105.
Nor yet remaineth, aught for him to do.
Like to a rock that is a monolith,
And trembleth never in the windy blast,
So all the world of sights and tastes and sounds,
Odours and tangibles, yea, things desired
And undesirable can ne’er excite
A man like him. His heart stands erm, detached,
And of all that he notes the passing hence” 1?
Hence there is no reconstructing what is already done.
sammitiya, vajjiputtiya, sabbatthiva¯din, maha¯san˙ ghika2:
[§ 59] p. 70 Then our proposition according to you is wrong. But was
it not said by the Exalted One:
“Bhikkhus, there are these eve things which conduce
to the falling away of a bhikkhu who is
intermittently emancipated: which are the eve?
Delight in business, in talk, in sleep, in society,
absence of reection on how his heart is emancipated”.
Hence the Arahant may fall away.
[§ 60] therava¯din: But does the Arahant delight in any of those
things? If you deny, how can they conduce to his falling
away? If you assent, you are admitting that an Arahant is
aected and bound by worldly desires—which of course
you deny.
[§ 61] Now if an Arahant were falling away from Arahantship,
it would be, you say, because he is assailed by lust, or hate,
or error. Such an attack, you say further, is in consequence
of a corresponding latent bias.4 Yet if I ask you whether
an Arahant harbours any one of the seven forms of latent
bias—sensuality, enmity, conceit, erroneous opinion,
1Anguttara-Nik¯aya [21], iii. 378; Psalms of the Brethren [34], verse 642–44.
2Any of the four sects holding the controverted view.
3Anguttara-Nik¯aya [21], iii. 173.
4See below, IX. 4.
doubt, lust for rebirth, ignorance—you must deny such a
Or if, in his falling away, he is, you say, accumulating lust, [§ 62]
belief in a soul, doubt, or the taint of mere rule and ritual,
these are not vices you would impugn an Arahant withal.
In fact you admit that an Arahant neither heaps up nor [§ 63]
pulls down, neither puts away nor grasps at, neither scatters
nor binds, neither disperses nor collects, but that,
having pulled down, put away, scattered, dispersed, so
Hence it surely cannot be said that “An Arahant may fall
away from Arahantship”.1

1 Like

Thank you very much for your help.

So, an arahant definitely acquires enlightenment and liberation. Thank you

I also had a question about residue-free nibbana. I believe that parinirvana is a residue-free nibbana. But I wonder if it is possible to experience residue-free nibbana by combining enlightenment with the jhânas, even while still having a living physical human body?

Thank you.