This question came up in the Online 10-day Retreat Nov 3, 2020, guided by Delson Armstrong.
Day 7 was part of a daily 30-minute discussion on the suttas, the Dhamma talk and reflections.
Slightly edited to improve readability
After cessation you have the arising of the links, you have the formations and so on arising. And then at the level of contact – it happens so fast – it’s contacting the unconditioned element, the Nibbāna element.
There is a way to influence that by continually letting go. This means there’s a non-involvement with the links of dependent origination as they arise, but you continually have that intention of letting go and not grasping, even at the level of contact. So, you can have the ability to get into that nibbāna element at the level of contact intentionally, if you continue to let go. At the level of an anāgāmi it will happen automatically and the contact with the nibbāna element will happen automatically. What happens after contact from that understanding is very crucial. The contact with the nibbāna element will create that relief that one feels. That relief is from having broken the fetters. In the case of a sotāpanna, it’s breaking the three fetters; in the case of a sakadāgāmi it’s weakening two of the fetters; and in the anāgāmi breaking the last two of the lower five fetters. So, that relief that’s experienced is of having let go completely, and then having that nibbāna experience.
If there is an identification with that, it will create craving again. This happens quite naturally in the case of a sotāpanna. When that relief arises, there is that natural, immediate sense of what was that, wow! You know it was amazing and immediately you have this craving for it, in the sense of delighting in it and then identifying with it.
In the case of a sakadāgāmi, that relief becomes weaker, so there’s not much craving in that relief and it might weaken the fetter because of less identifying with it.
At the level of the anāgāmi, there is no craving, in the sense of delighting in that relief. You know there was that relief, but there’s still identification with it, meaning there’s the I just had a nibbāna experience.
Finally, with the arahant, because everything is seen as impersonal from the get-go, everything is just understood from complete non-involvement. That relief also is seen as impersonal, impermanent, and not worth holding on to. In that process the fetter of conceit is completely destroyed and the other fetters – the craving for existence, the craving for non-existence, and restlessness, which are actually dependent upon the conceit – are also destroyed. And of course ignorance. Once one has understood that craving and identification have completely been destroyed, that there is no more becoming, that the birth has been destroyed, and so on. This is the reason why the contact with the nibbāna element is crucial.
So, your question is: “Can it be influenced, can you have the contact with the nibbāna element after the cessation, without having it been automatic.” You can, to the extent that you continue to let go. Because the more you’re able to let go and not grasp, the easier the mind inclines towards nibbāna. You see, after cessation, at that point, the mind naturally inclines towards nibbāna. But in so far as continuing to incline there, it’s a matter of letting go, of not grasping onto anything.
So, if cessation happens without nibbāna, one grasped at the cessation experience?
Yes, that’s right.