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Sutta Study: The Contemplation of Stilling
and the Epithets for Nibbāna in the Pali Canon

by Bhikkhu Ñāṇatusita

One of the contemplations, anussati, recommended by the Buddha is the recollection or contemplation of stilling, upasamānussati. The Pāli word upasamānussati—a compound consisting of upasama and anussati—is usually translated as “recollection of peace,” however, upasama has a slightly different and wider meaning than just “peace,” which is denoted by the word santi in Pāli. In its “active” or practice aspect (as action-noun) upasama means “stilling,” “calming,” “quieting,” “tranquilising,” “ceasing,” whereas in its “passive” or attainment aspect it means “stillness,” “calmness,” “ceasing,” etc. Thus, “recollection of stilling” would seem more appropriate as a translation.

An example of the usage of upasama is: “this is the ultimate stilling, namely, the stilling of greed, hatred, and delusion,” (MN 140.28, eso … paramo upasamo yadidaṃ rāgadosamohānaṃ upasamo).

An example of its verbal form upasam(m)ati is, “A great blazing fire ceases (or ‘stills’) without fuel, when the conditions have ceased, (it) is called ‘quenched’” (AN 6:43, mahāgini pajjalito anāhārūpasamati, saṅkhāresūpasantesu nibbuto ti pavuccati.” An example of its related (or variant) [1] form vūpasama is:

Alas, all conditions are transient, of the nature to arise and cease,
having arisen, they cease—their stilling is happiness. [2]

These usages, thus, show the two aspects of the contemplation: firstly, it is the contemplation of the process of stilling all mental and physical activities through the practice of samatha and vipassanā, and, secondly, it is the contemplation of the aspects of the final attainment, Nibbāna, the happy state of complete stillness and calm.

Upasamānussati is a contemplation little known and little practised. The contemplation is only mentioned in a few suttas in the Pali Canon, and its practice is not explained. In the Aṅguttara Nikāya (AN 1:16.10) it is said to be leading to detachment, stilling, and Nibbāna.

According to the Theravāda tradition, as represented in the Pāli Commentaries and the classical meditation manual called The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga) (ch. 8, § 245ff), this contemplation has as its object the qualities of Nibbāna, i.e., the stilling of all suffering (sabbadukkhūpasamasaṅkhātassa nibbānassa guṇā). According to this treatise only a noble person (ariya) can do this practice to the full extent, but adds that a worldling (puthujjana) who values stilling can pay attention to it, because even through hearsay the mind gains confidence in stilling. The Visuddhimagga states that the practice will lead to access concentration through the suppression of hindrances and the arising of the jhāna factors. The benefits are sleeping and waking happily, calm faculties and mind, conscience and shame, confidence, respect by fellow monks, resolution to (attain) the superior (state of Nibbāna), and a good destiny if one does not attain a higher state.

Interestingly, the Path of Freedom, the English translation of the Chinese translation of the meditation manual called Vimuttimagga (pp.177f), describes a different approach. In this treatise, “stilling” is defined as the complete stilling of physical and mental movements or perturbations (iñjita). The method of practice is to recollect a bhikkhu who has developed stillness and how he eventually became an Arahant, an awakened being, through the gradual stilling of all mental activities and through the destruction of all defilements. One finally recollects that when the Arahant attains final Nibbāna at the breakup of the body, everything (i.e., the five khandhas) is stilled. Like the Visuddhimagga, the Vimuttimagga states that the practice will lead to access concentration, but it does not mention that one needs to be an Ariya in order to successfully practise it.

A way of practising not mentioned that in these manuals, but which would also be a valid way of practising this recollection, is to contemplate a peaceful, calm meditative state one has previously had oneself, how one did attain this state, and what were its benefits—similar to the Bodhisatta recollecting his meditative experience as a boy sitting under the rose-apple tree. Focusing the mind in this way, leads to calm and stillness.

The commentary (A-a II 22) to the Aṅguttara Nikāya explains that the recollection has the stilling of all suffering as object (sabbadukkhūpasamārammaṇa). It adds that the stilling can also be twofold, firstly, the final, absolute stilling of Nibbāna (accantūpasama), and, secondly, the stilling through destruction (of defilements) (khayūpasama), which is the way (magga) to Nibbāna.

A canonical contemplation (AN 4:114, etc.) on Nibbāna is: “This is peaceful, this is excellent, namely, the calming of all conditions, the relinquishing of all acquisitions, the destruction of craving, fading away, cessation, quenching.” (etaṃ santaṃ etaṃ paṇītaṃ yadidaṃ sabbasaṅkhārasamatho sabbūpadhipaṭinissaggo taṇhakkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānaṃ). The Visuddhimagga recommends one to recollect Nibbāna through a similar contemplation given in AN 4:34: “As far as there are phenomena that are conditioned or unconditioned, fading away is declared to be the best of them, that is the quelling of intoxication, the dispelling of thirst, the abolition of reliance, the cutting off of the round (of rebirth), the destruction of craving, fading away, cessation, quenching,” (yāvatā dhammā saṅkhatā vā asaṅkhatā vā virāgo tesaṃ dhammānaṃ aggaṃ akkhāyati, yadidaṃ madanimaddano, pipāsavinayo, ālayasamugghāto, vaṭṭupacchedo, taṇhakkhayo, virāgo, nirodho, nibbānan-ti.) The Visuddhimagga adds that the contemplation can also be done through the qualities of stilling as given in the Asaṅkhata Saṃyutta (SN 43), etc.

It should be noted that Nibbāna is not necessarily the primary epithet given for the final aim of Buddhist practice, although it is the most commonly used one. In the Asaṅkhata Saṃyutta, Nibbāna is only given as the thirty-fourth in a list of forty-four epithets, starting with the Unconditioned (asaṅkhata).

In order to facilitate the contemplation of the qualities of Nibbāna, I have prepared a list which comprises all epithets that can be found within the limits of the main texts of the Sutta Piṭaka. There are more epithets in later, exegetical texts such the Niddesa, Paṭisambhidāmagga, Netti, etc. The epithets listed refer only to the state of Nibbāna, not to the state of the Arahant. Although some epithets are used for both states (e.g., in the suttas, anāsava is normally used as an attribute of the Arahant), there are many epithets used just for the arahat (e.g. aneja “unshakeable,” and akiñcana “not owning anything”) that do not denote the state of Nibbāna, at least not in the main Canonical texts. A list of the epithets for the Arahant would require another, much larger article.

The epithets are sometimes accompanied by superlatives such as parama or anuttara—e.g., parama santi, the ultimate peace—but because they are not always used, these superlatives have been put in brackets or left out.

In the Pāli Canon, Nibbāna is said to be a state, and one regularly finds an epithet being classified as a state, e.g. nibbānapada “the state of Nibbāna,” santipada “the state of peace,” nibbānadhātu “the Nibbāna element,” and amatadhātu, “the deathless element” Other classifiers, although not used in compounds, are dhamma (state, condition), ṭhāna (state, condition) and āyatana (sphere, base, state). These classifiers are usually not included in the list. Occasionally, where the context makes it clear that Nibbāna is referred to, the classifiers are used in isolation, e.g., SN 5:1, Sn 764–65.

For convenience, the epithets have been divided into sections of epithets sharing a common focus:

Stillness and peace

upasama, “the stillness” or “the calm,” MN 3.8, 11.15, 140.28, Dhp 205, Sn 737

(parama) santi, “(the ultimate) peace,” AN 4:23, It 77, Th 6, 32, Thī 212, It 43, 87, Sn 204, 915

anuttara santivarapada, “the unexcelled state of sublime peace,” MN 26:17

sabbasaṅkhārasamatha, “the calming of all conditions,” AN 4:114, Sn 732

anārambha, “the exertionless,” Sn 745

passaddhi, “the serene,” or “the tranquil,” AN 9:58, MN 144.11

Non conflict, Solitude

viveka/paviveka, “the solitude” or “the seclusion,” Dhp 205, AN 6:55, Th 640, Sn 915, SN 1:1, It 38

asambādha, “the uncrowded,” Thī 512

asapatta, “that which is without rivalry,” Thī 505, 512

nirupatāpa, “the untroubled,” or “that which is without vexation,” Thī 512

akhalita, “the faultless,” Thī 512


khema, “the secure,” SN 43:28, AN 9:52, Th 227, Thī 350

(anuttara) yogakkhema, “the (unexcelled) security from bondage,” MN 26.12, Thī 6, 8

saraṇa, “the refuge,” SN 43:43, Th 305, Dhp 194

nissaraṇa, “the escape,” Ud 8:3, Iti 43, SN 5:1

tāṇa, “the shelter,” or “the protection,” SN 43:42, Th 412

abhaya, “that which is free from fear,” AN 9:52, SN 6:3.4 (Th 708–09)

akutobhaya, “that which has no fear from anywhere,” AN 4:23

dīpa, “the island,” SN 43:40, Sn 1094, Th 412

leṇa, “the shelter,” SN 43:41

tittha, “the landing place” or “the harbour,” Th 766

pārimaṃ tīraṃ, khemaṃ appaṭibhayaṃ, “the further shore, safe and free from danger,” SN 35:238

niyyāna, “the way out” or “the deliverance,” Sn 170, 172 (Cf. MN 11.15)

Happiness, Relief, the Rnd of Suffering

(parama) sukha, “the (ultimate) happiness,” Dhp 203–204, It 43

nibbānasukhā paraṃ natthi, “there is nothing else like the happiness of Nibbāna,” Thī 476

susukha, “the great happiness,” Th 227, Ud 2:8

anuttara vimuttisukha, “the supreme peace of release,” AN 5:180

sama bhūmibhāga ramaṇīya, “the delightful stretch of level ground,” SN 22:84

anītika, “the unailing,” SN 43:32, Sn 1147

avyādhi, “the diseaseless,” MN 26.12

ārogya, “the healthy” or “the freedom from disease,” Sn 749, MN 75.19ff.

pipāsavinaya, “the dispelling of thirst,” AN 4:34, It 90

paramaṃhita, “the ultimate welfare,” Sn 233

avyāpajjha, “the freedom from harm,” SN 43:35, AN 6:55, Th 640

dukkhassa anta, “the end of suffering,” Ud 8:1, Dhp 275, 376

dukkhanirodha “the cessation of suffering,” MN 9.17, It 43

yattha dukkhaṃ nirujjhati “where suffering ceases,” Th 227, Sn 726

dukkhakkhaya “the destruction of suffering,” Sn 732, MN 140.25

asoka, “the sorrowless,” MN 26.13, Th 227, 723, Thī 514

bhāranikkhepana, “the putting down of the burden,” SN 22:22, Th 708 (Th 604)


mutti, “the freedom,” SN 43:38

anālaya, “that which is not reliant,” SN 43:39, 46:11

vimutti, “the release” or “the deliverance,” MN 44.29, It 109, Th

vimokkha, “the release” or “deliverance,” Th 906, 1098, Thī 506, 906, SN 1:1

sabbaganthappamocana, “the freedom from all bonds,” AN 4:23, It 102

sabbasaṃyojanakkhaya, “the destruction of all fetters,” Th 176

sabbūpadhipaṭinissagga, “the relinquishment of all acquisitions,” AN 4:114, MN 140.27

(sabba) upadhisaṅkhaya, “the annihilation of (all) acquisitions,” AN 4:23, 6:56

Permanence, Stillness

amata, “the deathless,” or “where there is no death,” SN 43:25, MN 26.13, Thī 513, Sn 225

ajarā, “the agingless,” or “where there is no ageing,” MN 26.13, Thī 511, 513

ajarāmaraṇapada, “the state without ageing and death,” Thī 513

asaṅkuppa, “the unshakeable,” Sn 1149

asaṃhīra, “the indestructible” or “the immovable,” Sn 1149. (See SED saṃhṛ and saṃhāra.)

dhuva, “that which is constant,” or “that which is stable,” SN 43:20, It 43

akampita, “that which does not tremble,” SN 5:7

acala sukha, “the unshakeable happiness,” Ud 8.10, Thī 352, MN 144.11

accuta, “that which does not pass away,” SN 22:95, Dhp 225, Sn 1086, Th 212

apalokita, “that which does not disintegrate,” SN 43:21

anata, “the uninclined,” SN 43:13, MN 144.11, Ud 8.2

nippapañca, “that which is without proliferation,” SN 43:23, AN 6:15, Th 902, 990

cutūpapāto na hoti, “(where) there is no passing away and reappearing,” MN 144.11, Sn 902, Ud 8.1

na ṭhitiṃ, na cutiṃ, na upapattiṃ, “(where there is) no staying, no passing away, no reappearing,” Ud 8.1

āgatigati na hoti, “(where) there is no coming and going (into existence),” MN 144.11, Ud 8.1

yattha na jāyati, na jīyati, na mīyati, na cavati, na uppajjati, “where one is not born, does not age, nor die, nor pass away, nor arise,” SN 2:3.6, AN 4:45, MN 49


suddhi/visuddhi, “purity,” SN 43:37, Th 415, Dhp 277

susukkasukka, “the very pure,” or “the very bright,” Th 212

asaṅkiliṭṭha, “the undefiled,” MN 26.13

virāga, “the fading away,” or “that which is without desire,” SN 43:36, Sn 225

viraja, “the stainless,” Th 227, It 43, Ud 8.8

anāsava, “the taintless,” SN 43:14 (Th 704)

āsavakkhaya, “the destruction of taints,” Th 116, 198, 218

nekkhamma, “the renunciation” or “the freedom from desire,” AN 3:39, 6:55, Th 640, Dhp 181, 272, Th 691

Other than saṃsāra

ajāta, “the unborn,” or “where there is no birth,” Ud 8:3, It 43, MN 26.13

asamuppanna, “the unarisen,” It 43

abhūta, “the unbecome,” Ud 8:3, It 43

akata, “the unmade,” Ud 8:3, It 43

asaṅkhata, “the unconditioned” or “the uncompounded,” SN 43:1, Th 725, Ud 8:3, It 43–44

yassa natthi upamā kvaci, “that for which there is no likeness,” Sn 1149 (Th 1013)

na tena dhammena sam’atthi kiñci, “there is nothing equal to that state,” Sn 225

appaṭibhāga, “that which is without counterpart,” MN 44.29 [3]

appaṭisaraṇa, “that which is without recourse,” SN 48.42 [4]

disā agatapubbā, “the direction never gone before,” AN 4:114

pāra, “the far shore,” SN 43:16, Dhp 85–86

maccuddheyyapāraṃ, “the far shore of the realm of death,” Sn 1146, SN 4:4

agati yattha mārassa, “where Māra has no access,” SN 5:7

anāpara, “the matchless,” Sn 1094

anidassana, “the unmanifest,” SN 43:22, DN 11.85

appamāṇa, “that which is measureless,” AN 4:67

paṭisotagāmi, “that which is going against the stream,” MN 26.19

aputthujjanasevita, “that to which worldings do not resort,” SN 5:7

appatiṭṭha, “that which is without support,” Ud 8:1

appavatta, “that which is without continuation,” Ud 8:1

anārammaṇa, “that which is without basis,” Ud 8:1

atakkāvacara, “that which is not within the range of thought,” MN 26.19, It 43

sabbesu dhammesu samūhatesu, “when all phenomena have been removed,” Sn 1076

n’eva idha vā huraṃ vā ubhayam antarena, “(where) there is no here nor beyond nor in between,” MN 144.11, Ud 8:2

tadāyatanaṃ, yattha neva pathavī, na āpo, na tejo, na vāyo, na ākāsānañcāyayanaṃ, na viññāṇañcāyatanaṃ, na ākiñcaññāyatanaṃ, na nevasaññānāsaññāyatanaṃ, nāyaṃ loko, na paraloko, na ubho candimasuriyā, “that sphere where there is no earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind, nor sphere of endless space, nor the sphere of endless consciousness, nor the sphere of nothingness, nor the sphere of neither perception nor non perception, nor this world, nor the other world, neither sun nor moon,” Ud 8:1


nirodha, “the cessation,” Sn 755, AN 9:58, It 43

lokanta, “the end of the world,” SN 2:3.6, 35:116, AN 4:45–46

lokanirodha, “the cessation of the world,” AN 4:23

bhavanirodha, “the cessation of existence,” SN 12:68, AN 10:7, MN 9.29

yamhi nirujjhanti bhavāni sabbaso, “when existences completely cease” It 44

jīvitassa saṅkhayā añño punabbhavo natthi, “at the annihilation of life, there is no other further existence” Th 493

natthi dāni punabbhavo, “now there is no further existence,” Th 344, 908

vaṭṭupaccheda, “the cutting off of the round (of rebirth),” It 90

(sabba) kammakkhaya, “the destruction of (all) kamma,” AN 4:23, SN 5:8

jātimaraṇassa anta, “the end of birth and death,” Sn 467

jarāmaccuparikkhaya, “the complete destruction of old age and death,” Sn 1094

jātikkhaya, “the destruction of birth,” It 99, Sn 743

vikkhīṇo jātisaṃsāro, “the journeying on in births is annihilated, “Th 344, 908, SN 9:6, Sn 746, MN 22.32

saṃsārā vinaḷīkatā, sabbā gati samucchinnā, “the journeying on has been demolished, all destinations have been cut off,” Th 216

khaya, ”the destruction,” Sn 225, It 44, Th 491, 723

sakkāyanirodha, “the cessation of identity,” MN 44:4, SN 22:105, 35:136, Sn 766

āhārānaṃ nirodha, “the cessation of the nutriments,” Sn 747, Th 702

viññāṇanirodha, “the cessation of consciousness,” Sn 734

abhedi kāyo, nirodhi saññā, vedanā sītir-ahaṃsu sabbā, vūpasamiṃsu saṅkhārā, viññāṇaṃ attham āgamma, “the body breaks up, perception ceases, all feelings become cold, mental activities become still, consciousness comes to an end,” Ud 8:9  [5]

naññe dhamme bhavissanti, “(when) there will be no other phenomena,” Th 907, (Th 708)

vosāna, “the finish,” Th 784

rāgadosamohakkhaya, “the destruction of lust, anger, and delusion” SN 38:1, 45: 6–7, Ud 8:5, It 44, MN 140.28

taṇhakkhaya, “the destruction of craving,” SN 23:2, AN 4:114

taṇhāsaṅkhaya, “the annihilation of craving,” AN 6:55, Th 640

taṇhāya asesavirāganirodho, cāgo, paṭinissaggo, mutti, anālayo, “the remainderless cessation of craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, non-reliance upon it,” SN 22:22, 46:11

upādānasaṅkhaya, “the annihilation of attachment,” AN 6:55, Th 640


sacca, “the truth,” SN 43:15, MN 140.26, Ud 8.2, SN 4:4, 5:1

amosadhamma, “that which doesn’t have a false nature,” Sn 758, MN 140.26

asammoha, “that which is free from delusion,” AN 6:55, Th 640


nibbāna, “the extinguishing “or “the quenching,” SN 43:34, Th 906, Sn 235

nibbuti, “the quenching” or “the allaying,” Sn 238, 917, Th 32, Th 702

sītibhāva, “the state of coolness,” AN 6:85, Thī 362

ajalita, “that which does not burn,” SN 5:7

kāyassa bhedā uddhaṃ jīvitapariyādānā idheva sabbavedayitāni anabhinanditāni sītibhavissanti, sarirāni avasissanti, “at the breaking up of the body, following the exhaustion of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here, (only) physical remains will be left” SN 12: 51, It 44


agga, “the highest,” AN 4:34, It 90, Th 1142

parama, “the ultimate,” Dhp 184

paṇīta, “the sublime,” SN 43:26, SN 48:50, MN 26.19, AN 4:114, Sn 225

anuttara, “the unexcelled,” MN 26.18, Th 723

uttama, “the supreme,” MN 78.14, Th 212

vara, “the excellent,” Sn 235


(uttama) attha, “the (supreme) goal,” Dhp 403, Th 176

parāyaṇa, “the destination,” SN 43:44, MN 44.29

atthaṃ mahantaṃ gambhīraṃ duddasaṃ nipuṇaṃ aṇuṃ, “the goal that is great, profound, hard to see, subtle, fine,” Th 4, 71

susukhumanipuṇattha, “the goal which is very fine and subtle,” Th 210

accantaniṭṭhā, “the absolute conclusion,” MN 107.13, SN 22:4

accantapariyosāna, “the absolute end,” SN 22:4

brahmacariyapariyosāna, “the end of the holy life,” SN 45:6, MN 44.29


acchariya, “the wonderful,” SN 43:31

abbhuta, “the amazing,” SN 43:31

siva, “the auspicious,” SN 43:27, Thī 137


sududdasa / duddaso, “that which is (very) hard to see,” SN 43:18, MN 26.19, Th 4, 212

duranubodho, “that which is hard to understand,” MN 26.19

nipuṇa, “that which is subtle,” SN 43:17, MN 26.19, Th 4, 212

aṇu, “that which is fine,” or “that which is minute,” MN 26.19, Th 4, 1161

sukhuma, “that which is delicate,” or “that which is fine,” Th 220, 1160

gambhīra, “that which is profound,” MN 26.19, Th 4

paṇḍitavedanīyā, “that which can be experienced by the wise,” MN 26.19

rāgarattā na dakkhinti, tamokkhandhena āvaṭā, “it is not discerned by those delighting in lust, wrapped in the darkness (of ignorance)” MN 26.19


  1. The Critical Pali Dictionary, in the entry upasama, suggests that the correct reading is tesaṃ upasamo sukho. There seems to be no discernable difference in meaning between upasama and vupasama. The latter form seems to be used when it is easier to pronounce, usually after a vowel, than upasamo. [Back]
  2. Anicca vata sa?khara, uppadavayadhammino, uppajjitva nirujjhanti, tesa? vupasamo sukho. (SN 6:15) [Back]
  3. Although the word appaþibhaga is not found in the text, it is implied. The com. to this sutta states that Nibbana is appaþibhaga. [Back]
  4. Although the word appa?isara?a is not found in the text, it is implied. The com. to this sutta states that Nibbana is appa?isara?a. [Back]
  5. This refers to the complete cessation of the five khandhas at the passing away of the Arahant, in this case the Buddha. Cf the Dvayatanupassanasutta (Sn 3:12), SN 22:78, and the cessation of the khandhas as implied in the cessation of the twelve links of paþiccasamuppada in SN 12:21 & 23. The Pali text is in the past tense, but to bring it in line with the other epithets, it has been put it in the present tense. [Back]