NDM: How important is the practice of
celibacy for jhana to arise?
Venerable Sayalay Susila: The meanings
of jhana is to burn up the five hindrances of sense
desires, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restless and
remorse, and doubt. Indulging in sexual intercourse is
the hindrance of sense desires. Without getting rid of
this hindrance during the practice of concentration,
the attainment of jhana is difficult. This is the reason
why in Asia, when yogis come for concentration retreat,
they are requested to observe eight precepts, including
But this does not mean that one has to be
celibate throughout one's lives if one wishes to attain
jhana. Those who have attained jhana, later may not
choose to practice celibacy.
NDM: How helpful is jhana in overcoming
the fetters of sense desires?
Venerable Sayalay Susila: The Pali word
Jhana has two meanings—1. To contemplate closely, 2. to
burn up the five hindrances. When the mind is closely
contemplating on the object, for example, the breath,
sense desires cannot entice the mind. Only when the mind
lets loose the object, the sense desires gain the power
to obsess the mind. In this sense, jhana directly
overcomes the hindrance of sense desires. We usually
categorize sense desires(kamacchanda) under hindrances
When the five hindrances are burnt up
through attainment of jhana, the mind becomes extremely
clear, happy, calm and radiant. The Buddha said the
happiness of third jhana surpasses all mundane
happiness. The mind of the yogis will incline more to
jhana happiness rather than sensual happiness which is
full of faults.
With the help of concentration, wisdom is
developed to see things as they really are as
impermanence, suffering and non-self. With repeated
seeing of these three characteristics, the desire for
sense pleasure will be lessened.
When the wisdom is developed into the
third path of enlightenment—non-returner, it permanently
uproots the fetter of sensual lust (kamaraga). As a
result, a non-returner will not return to this sensuous
In overcoming the fetter of sense
desires, jhana temporarily suppresses it, but to
completely uproot the fetters, we need the third noble
path consciousness. This is to be achieved through
NDM: Is it possible to attain third
and fourth path enlightenment and not be celibate?
Venerable Sayalay Susila: It is
possible not to be celibate and attain third path. But
once a practitioner attains the third path
enlightenment--non-returner, the path consciousness of
non-returner cuts off the sensual lust permanently.
Then this person no longer has desire to have sexual
intercourse with anyone. Therefore this person will be
celibate forever. Then he moves on to attain fourth path
enlightenment. This also means it is not possible to
attain fourth path enlightenment and not be celibate.
NDM: Just to be clear, if someone is
indulging in sense pleasures, they can’t be no more than
second path, sakadagami, is this correct?
Venerable Sayalay Susila: CORRECT,
SAKADAGAMI STILL HAS SENSUAL LUST, BUT NON-RETURNER HAS
NO SENSUAL LUST.
NDM: Some Mahayana non dual Buddhist
traditions (Nagarjuna, and his Madhyamaka, or “Middle
Way,” school of Buddhism) say that "samsara is nirvana"
or that there is no difference between them. What is
your traditional view on this sort of teaching?
Venerable Sayalay Susila: Theravada
views samsara is suffering and nirvana is peace. Samsara
and nirvana are completely different states. We practice
to free ourself from suffering inherent in samsara—endless
cycle of birth and death, and to attain nirvana—the
deathless state. When there is birth, there is aging,
sickness and death. Nirvana is free from birth and
However, it is always good to find out
why Mahayana say samsara is nirvana. I believe there is
a reason behind this saying.
NDM: What do you believe the reason is
for this saying?
Venerable Sayalay Susila: I guess, they
take all the suffering inherent in samsara as an
opportunity to practice compassion and wisdom until the
Nibbana is attained. Therefore, to them samsara is