The title of this post will seem ironic to those familiar with the word concept of the Pali word, Nibbana. Nibbana is the pregnant emptiness of the void of nothing of substance whatsoever. And it is said by Buddha to be the goal of his teaching to make it realized in his followers. How then can Nibbana be approached incorrectly? Unfortunetly, very easily. To highlight what this means I will quote Edward Conze in Buddhist Thought in India:
“‘What is meant by ‘restraint of the sense-dominants’ cannot easily be grasped by those who regard it as quite a natural thing that the mind should dwell on sense-linked objects. Nothing could in fact be more unnatural. In its natural purity the mind abides in the calm contemplation of emptiness, which is the emptiness of alert expectation and not of impending sleep. A mind which sees, hears, etc., is a distracted, malfunctioning mind. (a) The sense-dominant deflects from the emptiness to which the mind turns in its pristine purity, and overlays it with some delusive and false appearance, which disturbs the even flow of wisdom. (3) The activities of the sense-dominants facilitate the discharge of instinctual drives and immensely strengthen the essentially unwholesome impulses, by stirring them up and providing them with a centre of organization. When this centre is removed, they are dispersed. It is therefore no wonder that ‘when he has left the door of the eye, etc., open’, all manner of unwholesome states ‘flood’, i.e. ‘pursue and submerge’ him.”
To build up sense-perceptions is an undesirable misuse of the mind which has to be stopped. Once the process has gone as far as the third stage, the five methods described in Majjhima Nikāya” must be resorted to. The ‘restraint of the senses’ attempts to cut it off even before it has reached the second stage, and prevents the mind from becoming a playing field for everything and everybody. Although the sense-stimulus is bound to run its course, it cannot enter the mind or get ‘underneath one’s skin’. It is either just kept out (‘Oh, we have had that before, and it did not really matter!’), or devalued as trivial, as already passed, as nothing in particular, as of no con- cern or consequence, as something that means nothing to me, i.e. to my salvation and quest for Nirvana. As soon as anything is noticed, the adverting is at once smothered by disgust and aversion, and, instead of turning towards the object, one turns away from it to Nirvana. ” Page 64.
Shutting of the senses is like crossing the event horizon into Nibbana. Most of what passes for Buddhism today ignores this completely and instead teaches the opposite of shutting off the senses of desire. Teachers of Tantra and other unwholesome dhamma’s encourage their students to indulge in every whim, every sensation, every person, and every experience, in the exact opposite of the Buddha’s intentions with mediations focused on the awareness of sense perceptions to bring you to realize your not-self, anatta. Doing the opposite trains the mind not in its liberation from samsara but as Conze aptly describes as “a playing field for everything and everybody.” The principal of disavowing the senses as an untrustworthy guide is a trait in all ascetic religious systems share in common.
Western Buddhist teachers in particular do their students harm when their instructions include such instructions as ‘watch the breath to feel good.’ Such instructions might be appropriate for an advanced Bodhisattva who has foregone enlightenment indefinitely but that is not the goal the Buddha taught to his followers which was to become an arhant. This is the goal of the Sasana (religion) of Buddhism. This is why monks in Sri Lanka and elsewhere placed greater emphasis on Dhamma’s then Vipassana (meditation practice) for the greater social rewards that can be seen in society from understanding the natural law’s of existence in motion. Vipassana is primarily useful to those with a mature understanding of Dhamma and understand that it’s purpose is to cut off the thirst for sensual stimulis. Decades of gullible practioneers have been sold false beliefs such as gaining supernatural powers, learning how to levitate, gain enlightenment from drugs, kundalini work, and engage in spiritual Tantric sex, that has caused an unbelievable amount of suffering in tens of millions of lives (at least we can be hopeful that not that many people believed or tried very long the 70’s era “how to levitate” guides!). None of that is actually Buddhism. If someone wants to undergo spiritual entertainment than by all means they should buy as many books, attend seminars, and go on as many retreats as they can afford.
Enlightenment however will not be found there any more than riding a tricycle makes you prepared to ride a bike. The Buddha declared that false Dharma’s would be the cause of the end of his religion and if the general marketplace of ideas of what Buddhism actually is it would seem that this process is in an advanced state.