A Home for the Mind
Phra Ajaan Suwat Suvaco
Translated from the Thai by
Copyright © 2002 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
For free distribution only.
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..."Knowing the Dhamma" means knowing the truth. Where does the Dhamma lie? Not far off at all. Where are rupa-dhammas (physical phenomena)? Are there any physical phenomena within us? Are any nama-dhammas (mental phenomena) within us? They're both within us, but we don't know how to read them, to decipher them, because we haven't yet studied them. Or even when we have tried to study them, we still can't decipher them in line with the standards set by the Buddha. So let's try to decipher our body, our actions in thought, word, and deed. Our actions don't lie anywhere else. They show themselves in the activity of the body. So we use the body in line with the Dhamma, abstaining from the activities that defile it: killing, stealing, engaging in illicit sex. When we abstain from these things, we've begun practicing the Dhamma. We abstain from telling lies, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, from idle chatter. When we're mindful to show restraint in what we say, we won't encounter any dangers coming from our speech. There are no dangers when we practice in line with the Buddha's way.
As for the mind, we cleanse it by meditating. We use mindfulness to look after the heart, to make sure it doesn't get involved in anything defiling or unclean. We keep it cheerful, blooming and bright in its meditation, in investigating the Dhamma, knowing the Dhamma, seeing the Dhamma, until it settles down in the stillness that we've developed and kept composed. We keep it blooming and bright. Wherever you go, this is how you should practice. Make your composure continuous. The mind will then gain strength, so that it can let go of its external preoccupations and stay focused exclusively within: at peace and at ease, bright and clear, staying right here.
Then when you want to gain discernment, you can investigate. Focus mindfulness on keeping the body in mind, and then investigate it. This is called dhamma-vicaya, investigating phenomena. You investigate the physical phenomena in the body to see them in line with the four noble truths. You look at the arising of physical phenomena right here. You look at the aging, the illness, the death of phenomena right here within you. If you really look for it, you'll see that the body is full of death.
How do we see death when the body is still breathing and able to walk around? We can see it if our discernment is subtle and precise. The Buddha saw death with every in-and-out breath, so why can't we? He once asked Ven. Ananda how often he paid attention to death in the course of a day, and Ananda answered, "One hundred times." The Buddha's response was: "You're still too complacent. You should pay attention to death with every in-and-out breath." What kind of death can you look at with every in-and-out breath? Whatever fades away, ends, and disappears: that's death. As for the death of the whole body, that comes closer every day, closer with each in-and-out breath. This runs down, that wears out. We have to keep creating things to replace what gets worn out. And whatever we create keeps wearing out, too.
So we should keep track of the wearing out -- what's called vaya-dhamma, degeneration. The Buddha saw this with every moment. This is the sort of seeing that allows us to see the noble truth that birth is stressful, aging is stressful. There's no ease in aging. Look so that you see this clearly. Pain and illness are stressful, death is stressful, all the affairs that come with birth create hardships, turmoil, and stress.
When you investigate in line with the Buddha's Dhamma, you'll see the truth for yourself in every way just as the Buddha did. For it's all right here. You'll gain discernment and intelligence, no longer deluded into grasping hold of suffering and making it your self, no longer grasping hold of inconstant things and making them your self. Whatever's inconstant, leave it as inconstant and don't make it you. Whatever's stressful, leave it as stressful and don't make it you. There's no you in any of those things. When you aim your investigation in the direction of seeing this clearly, the mind will let go and attain peace, inner solitude, free from clinging.
It's as when we carry something heavy on our shoulder. We know it's heavy because it's weighing on our shoulder. But when we put it down, it's no longer heavy on us. In the same way, when we see that birth is stressful, aging is stressful, illness is stressful, death is stressful, then we should examine those things as they arise to see that they're not us. Then we'll be able to let them go. We should look after our mind to make sure that it doesn't give rise to the assumption that any of those things are us or ours, or that they lie within us. Those things are just objects, elements, and we leave them at that. Stress then has no owner on the receiving end. It's just like when you put down a burden: there's nothing heavy about it at all.
So stress is nothing more than things coming together to make contact. Suppose that we have a big hunk of limestone. When we lift it up, it's heavy. But if we burn it in a fire, pound it into dust, and the wind blows it away, then where's the heaviness? It's nowhere at all. Before, when the limestone was still in the ground, they had to use explosives to get it out. It was so heavy that they needed cranes to lift it up. But now that it's pulverized, the heaviness is gone.
It's the same with suffering and stress. If we investigate them down to the details, so that we can see them clearly for what they truly are, there's no self there at all. We get down to the basic elements of experience, and we see that they're not our self in the least little bit. If we look at the hair of the head, it's not self. Fingernails and toenails are not self. Look at every part of the body in detail. Or look at its elementary properties. Exactly where are you in any of those things? There's no you in there at all.
The same is true when you look at feelings. There's no you in there at all. There's simply contact, the contact of objects against the senses, that's all. If you let go so the mind can come to rest, none of these things will touch it in a way that weighs on it. Only deluded people grab hold of these things, which is why they feel weighed down. If we let them go, we don't feel weighed down at all.
When we let go of the aggregates (khandhas), they're not stressful. But we don't know how to let them go because of birth. Like the mental state you've given rise to here: you've created it so that it will take birth. Once you've given rise to it, then -- unless you're given a good reason -- there's no way you'll be willing to let it go. It's the same as when someone suddenly comes to chase us out of our home. Who would be willing to go? We'd go only if we were offered a better place to stay -- a safer, more comfortable place to stay. If we were offered such a place, who would be willing to stay? If we had a better place to go, we could abandon our old home with no problem. In the same way, if we're going to let go of the blatant aggregates, we need a better place to stay, a home for the mind: a state of concentration. Just like the Buddha and his noble disciples: when they let go of the blatant aggregates, they entered cessation, they entered jhana. When they fully let go of all aggregates, they entered nibbana.
We, however, don't yet have anything else to depend on, which is why we can't let go. We first have to create a refuge for ourselves. At the very least, we should try to keep buddho, buddho, in mind. When we really reach buddho -- when the mind is really a mind awake -- then we can depend on it.
At the moment, though, we haven't reached the mind awake. We've reached nothing but the demons of defilement, and they keep haunting us. We're embroiled with nothing but demons; we lie under their power. For instance, maccu-mara: the demon of death, whose followers -- aging and illness -- we fear so much. Kilesa-mara: delusions and defilements. These are all demons. Khandha-mara: our attachments to the five aggregates are all demons. Abhisankhara-mara: the thoughts we create, good or bad, are all demons if we fall for them -- meritorious creations, demeritorious creations, imperturbable creations. These are the subtle demons, the demons that bedeviled the Buddha on the way to Awakening, dressing themselves up as this and that. If we're going to let go of these things, we first need something better to hold onto. At the very least we need jhana, levels of mental stillness more refined than what we have at present.
So we should all try to give rise to the refined levels of peace and ease I've mentioned here. When we get disenchanted with turmoil, we can enter a state of stillness. When we get disenchanted with defilement, we can cleanse the heart and make it bright with the Dhamma. We'll have our home in the Dhamma, in concentration. The heart can then delight, with rapture and ease as its food. We'll have no desire for coarse food. When we let go of the blatant aggregates, we enter the Brahma level of refined rapture and ease.
Even the sensual devas don't eat coarse food like ours. As for the Brahmas, they're even clearer than that, more radiant within themselves. Their jhana is pure, and their concentration radiant. The food of this concentration is the rapture and ease they experience. Even here on the human level, when we gain rapture from concentration, we feel full and happy. If we abandon the blatant aggregates, leaving just the mind in its attainment of concentration, imagine how much pleasure and ease there will be. We'll no longer have to be involved in these heavy burdens of ours. We won't have to worry about the five or the eight precepts because we'll be in a pure state of jhana with no thought of getting stuck on anything defiling. The mind will be bright.
When you understand this, focus back on your heart. Examine it carefully. Be intent on practicing heedfully, and you'll meet with prosperity and ease.
Revised: Mon 20 May 2002
Copyright © 2004 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
For free distribution only.
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Change is the focal point for Buddhist insight -- a fact so well known that it has spawned a familiar sound bite: "Isn't change what Buddhism is all about?" What's less well known is that this focus has a frame, that change is neither where insight begins nor where it ends. Insight begins with a question that evaluates change in light of the desire for true happiness. It ends with a happiness that lies beyond change. When this frame is forgotten, people create their own contexts for the teaching and often assume that the Buddha was operating within those same contexts. Two of the contexts commonly attributed to the Buddha at present are these:
Insight into change teaches us to embrace our experiences without clinging to them -- to get the most out of them in the present moment by fully appreciating their intensity, in full knowledge that we will soon have to let them go to embrace whatever comes next.
Insight into change teaches us hope. Because change is built into the nature of things, nothing is inherently fixed, not even our own identity. No matter how bad the situation, anything is possible. We can do whatever we want to do, create whatever world we want to live in, and become whatever we want to be.
The first of these interpretations offers wisdom on how to consume the pleasures of immediate, personal experience when you'd rather they not change; the second, on how to produce change when you want it. Although sometimes presented as complementary insights, these interpretations contain a practical conflict: If experiences are so fleeting and changeable, are they worth the effort needed to produce them? How can we find genuine hope in the prospect of positive change if we can't fully rest in the results when they arrive? Aren't we just setting ourselves up for disappointment?
Or is this just one of the unavoidable paradoxes of life? Ancient folk wisdom from many cultures would suggest so, advising us that we should approach change with cautious joy and stoic equanimity: training ourselves to not to get attached to the results of our actions, and accepting without question the need to keep on producing fleeting pleasures as best we can, for the only alternative would be inaction and despair. This advice, too, is often attributed to the Buddha.
But the Buddha was not the sort of person to accept things without question. His wisdom lay in realizing that the effort that goes into the production of happiness is worthwhile only if the processes of change can be skillfully managed to arrive at a happiness resistant to change. Otherwise, we're life-long prisoners in a forced-labor camp, compelled to keep on producing pleasurable experiences to assuage our hunger, and yet finding them so empty of any real essence that they can never leave us full.
These realizations are implicit in the question that, according to the Buddha, lies at the beginning of insight:
"What, when I do it, will lead to my long-term well-being and happiness?"
This is a heartfelt question, motivated by the desire behind all conscious action: to attain levels of pleasure worthy of the effort that goes into them. It springs from the realization that life requires effort, and that if we aren't careful whole lifetimes can be lived in vain. This question, together with the realizations and desires behind it, provides the context for the Buddha's perspective on change. If we examine it closely, we find the seeds for all his insights into the production and consumption of change.
The first phrase in the question -- "What, when I do it, will lead to ...." -- focuses on the issues of production, on the potential effects of human action. Prior to his Awakening, the Buddha had left home and gone into the wilderness to explore precisely this issue: to see how far human action could go, and whether it could lead to a dimension beyond the reach of change. His Awakening was confirmation that it could -- if developed to the appropriate level of skillfulness. He thus taught that there are four types of action, corresponding to four levels of skill: three that produce pleasant, unpleasant, and mixed experiences within the cycles of space and time; and a fourth that leads beyond action to a level of happiness transcending the dimensions of space and time, thus eliminating the need to produce any further happiness.
Because the activities of producing and consuming require space and time, a happiness transcending space and time, by its very nature, is neither produced nor consumed. Thus, when the Buddha reached that happiness and stepped outside the modes of producing and consuming, he was able to turn back and see exactly how pervasive a role these activities play in ordinary experience, and how imprisoning they normally are. He saw that our experience of the present is an activity -- something fabricated or produced, moment to moment, from the raw material provided by past actions. We even fabricate our identity, our sense of who we are. At the same time, we try to consume any pleasure that can be found in what we've produced -- although in our desire to consume pleasure, we often gobble down pain. With every moment, production and consumption are intertwined: We consume experiences as we produce them, and produce them as we consume. The way we consume our pleasures or pains can produce further pleasures or pains, now and into the future, depending on how skillful we are.
The three parts of the latter phrase in the Buddha's question -- "my / long-term / well-being and happiness" -- provide standards for gauging the level of our skill in approaching true pleasure or happiness. (The Pali word, here -- sukha -- can be translated as pleasure, happiness, ease, or bliss.) We apply these standards to the experiences we consume: if they aren't long-term, then no matter how pleasant they might be, they aren't true happiness. If they're not true happiness, there's no reason to claim them as "mine."
This insight forms the basis for the Three Characteristics that the Buddha taught for inducing a sense of dispassion for normal time- and space-bound experience. Anicca, the first of the three, is pivotal. Anicca applies to everything that changes. Often translated as "impermanent," it's actually the negative of nicca, which means constant or dependable. Everything that changes is inconstant. Now, the difference between "impermanent" and "inconstant" may seem semantic, but it's crucial to the way anicca functions in the Buddha's teachings. As the early texts state repeatedly, if something is anicca then the other two characteristics automatically follow: it's dukkha (stressful) and anatta (not-self), i.e., not worthy to be claimed as me or mine.
If we translate anicca as impermanent, the connection among these Three Characteristics might seem debatable. But if we translate it as inconstant, and consider the Three Characteristics in light of the Buddha's original question, the connection is clear. If you're seeking a dependable basis for long-term happiness and ease, anything inconstant is obviously a stressful place to pin your hopes -- like trying to relax in an unstable chair whose legs are liable to break at any time. If you understand that your sense of self is something willed and fabricated -- that you choose to create it -- there's no compelling reason to keep creating a "me" or "mine" around any experience that's inconstant and stressful. You want something better. You don't want to make that experience the goal of your practice.
So what do you do with experiences that are inconstant and stressful? You could treat them as worthless and throw them away, but that would be wasteful. After all, you went to the trouble to fabricate them in the first place; and, as it turns out, the only way you can reach the goal is by utilizing experiences of just this sort. So you can learn how to use them as means to the goal; and the role they can play in serving that purpose is determined by the type of activity that went into producing them: the type that produces a pleasure conducive to the goal, or the type that doesn't. Those that do, the Buddha labeled the "path." These activities include acts of generosity, acts of virtue, and the practice of mental absorption, or concentration. Even though they fall under the Three Characteristics, these activities produce a sense of pleasure relatively stable and secure, more deeply gratifying and nourishing than the act of producing and consuming ordinary sensual pleasures. So if you're aiming at happiness within the cycles of change, you should look to generosity, virtue, and mental absorption to produce that happiness. But if you'd rather aim for a happiness going beyond change, these same activities can still help you by fostering the clarity of mind needed for Awakening. Either way, they're worth mastering as skills. They're your basic set of tools, so you want to keep them in good shape and ready to hand.
As for other pleasures and pains -- such as those involved in sensual pursuits and in simply having a body and mind -- these can serve as the objects you fashion with your tools, as raw materials for the discernment leading to Awakening. By carefully examining them in light of their Three Characteristics -- to see exactly how they're inconstant, stressful, and not-self -- you become less inclined to keep on producing and consuming them. You see that your addictive compulsion to fabricate them comes entirely from the hunger and ignorance embodied in states of passion, aversion, and delusion. When these realizations give rise to dispassion both for fabricated experiences and for the processes of fabrication, you enter the path of the fourth kind of kamma, leading to the Deathless.
This path contains two important turns. The first comes when all passion and aversion for sensual pleasures and pains has been abandoned, and your only remaining attachment is to the pleasure of concentration. At this point, you turn and examine the pleasure of concentration in terms of the same Three Characteristics you used to contemplate sensual experiences. The difficulty here is that you've come to rely so strongly on the solidity of your concentration that you'd rather not look for its drawbacks. At the same time, the inconstancy of a concentrated mind is much more subtle than that of sensual experiences. But once you overcome your unwillingness to look for that inconstancy, the day is sure to come when you detect it. And then the mind can be inclined to the Deathless.
That's where the second turn occurs. As the texts point out, when the mind encounters the Deathless it can treat it as a mind-object -- a dhamma -- and then produce a feeling of passion and delight for it. The fabricated sense of the self that's producing and consuming this passion and delight thus gets in the way of full Awakening. So at this point the logic of the Three Characteristics has to take a new turn. Their original logic -- "Whatever is inconstant is stressful; whatever is stressful is not-self" -- leaves open the possibility that whatever is constant could be (1) easeful and (2) self. The first possibility is in fact the case: whatever is constant is easeful; the Deathless is actually the ultimate ease. But the second possibility isn't a skillful way of regarding what's constant: if you latch onto what's constant as self, you're stuck on your attachment. To go beyond space and time, you have to go beyond fabricating the producing and consuming self, which is why the concluding insight of the path is: "All dhammas" -- constant or not -- "are not-self."
When this insight has done its work in overcoming any passion or delight for the Deathless, full Awakening occurs. And at that point, even the path is relinquished, and the Deathless remains, although no longer as an object of the mind. It's simply there, radically prior to and separate from the fabrication of space and time. All consuming and producing for the sake of your own happiness comes to an end, for a timeless well-being has been found. And because all mind-objects are abandoned in this happiness, questions of constant or inconstant, stress or ease, self or not-self are no longer an issue.
This, then, is the context of Buddhist insight into change: an approach that takes seriously both the potential effects of human effort and the basic human desire that effort not go to waste, that change have the potential to lead to a happiness beyond the reach of change. This insight is focused on developing the skills that lead to the production of genuine happiness. It employs the Three Characteristics -- of inconstancy, stress, and not-self -- not as abstract statements about existence, but as inducement for mastering those skills and as guidelines for measuring your progress along the way. When used in this way, the Three Characteristics lead to a happiness transcending the Three Characteristics, the activities of producing and consuming, and space and time as a whole.
When we understand this context for the Three Characteristics, we can clearly see the half-truths contained in the insights on the production and consumption of change that are commonly misattributed to the Buddha. With regard to production: Although it may be true that, with enough patience and persistence, we can produce just about anything, including an amazing array of self-identities, from the raw material of the present moment, the question is: what's worth producing? We've imprisoned ourselves with our obsession for producing and consuming changeable pleasures and changeable selves, and yet there's the possibility of using change to escape from this prison to the freedom of a happiness transcending time and space. Do we want to take advantage of that possibility, or would we rather spend our spare time blowing bubbles in the sunlight coming through our prison windows and trying to derive happiness from their swirling patterns before they burst?
This question ties in with wisdom on consumption: Getting the most out of our changing experiences doesn't mean embracing them or milking them of their intensity. Instead it means learning to approach the pleasures and pains they offer, not as fleeting ends in themselves, but as tools for Awakening. With every moment we're supplied with raw materials -- some of them attractive, some of them not. Instead of embracing them in delight or throwing them away in disgust, we can learn how to use them to produce the keys that will unlock our prison doors.
And as for the wisdom of non-attachment to the results of our actions: in the Buddha's context, this notion can make sense only if we care deeply about the results of our actions and want to master the processes of cause and effect that lead to genuine freedom. In other words, we don't demand childishly that our actions -- skillful or not -- always result in immediate happiness, that everything we stick into the lock will automatically unlatch the door. If what we have done has been unskillful and led to undesirable results, we want to admit our mistakes and find out why they were mistakes so that we can learn how to correct them the next time around. Only when we have the patience to look objectively at the results of our actions will we be able to learn, by studying the keys that don't unlock the doors, how finally to make the right keys that do.
With this attitude we can make the most of the processes of change to develop the skill that releases us from the prison of endless producing and consuming. With release, we plunge into the freedom of a happiness so true that it transcends the terms of the original question that led us there. There's nothing further we have to do; our sense of "my" and "mine" is discarded; and even the "long-term," which implies time, is erased by the timeless. The happiness remaining lies radically beyond the range of our time- and space-bound conceptions of happiness. Totally independent of mind-objects, it's unadulterated and unalterable, unlimited and pure. As the texts tell us, it even lies beyond the range of "totality" and "the All."
And that's what Buddhist practice is all about.
Revised: Sat 22-May-2004
with the Wise
The Maha-Mangala Sutta, the Great Discourse on Blessings, is one of the most
popular Buddhist suttas, included in all the standard repertories of Pali
devotional chants. The sutta begins when a deity of stunning beauty, having
descended to earth in the stillness of the night, approaches the Blessed One
in the Jeta Grove and asks about the way to the highest blessings. In the
very first stanza of his reply the Buddha states that the highest blessing
comes from avoiding fools and associating with the wise (asevana ca balanam,
panditanan ca sevana). Since the rest of the sutta goes on to sketch all the
different aspects of human felicity, both mundane and spiritual, the
assignment of association with the wise to the opening stanza serves to
emphasize a key point: that progress along the path of the Dhamma hinges on
making the right choices in our friendships.
Contrary to certain psychological theories, the human mind is not a
hermetically sealed chamber enclosing a personality unalterably shaped by
biology and infantile experience. Rather, throughout life it remains a
highly malleable entity continually remolding itself in response to its
social interactions. Far from coming to our personal relationships with a
fixed and immutable character, our regular and repeated social contacts
implicate us in a constant process of psychological osmosis that offers
precious opportunities for growth and transformation. Like living cells
engaged in a chemical dialogue with their colleagues, our minds transmit and
receive a steady barrage of messages and suggestions that may work profound
changes even at levels below the threshold of awareness.
Particularly critical to our spiritual progress is our selection of friends
and companions, who can have the most decisive impact upon our personal
destiny. It is because he perceived how susceptible our minds can be to the
influence of our companions that the Buddha repeatedly stressed the value of
good friendship (kalyanamittata) in the spiritual life. The Buddha states
that he sees no other thing that is so much responsible for the arising of
unwholesome qualities in a person as bad friendship, nothing so helpful for
the arising of wholesome qualities as good friendship (AN I.vii,10;
I.viii,1). Again, he says that he sees no other external factor that leads
to so much harm as bad friendship, and no other external factor that leads
to so much benefit as good friendship (AN I.x,13,14). It is through the
influence of a good friend that a disciple is led along the Noble Eightfold
Path to release from all suffering (SN 45:2).
Good friendship, in Buddhism, means considerably more than associating with
people that one finds amenable and who share one's interests. It means in
effect seeking out wise companions to whom one can look for guidance and
instruction. The task of the noble friend is not only to provide
companionship in the treading of the way. The truly wise and compassionate
friend is one who, with understanding and sympathy of heart, is ready to
criticize and admonish, to point out one's faults, to exhort and encourage,
perceiving that the final end of such friendship is growth in the Dhamma.
The Buddha succinctly expresses the proper response of a disciple to such a
good friend in a verse of the Dhammapada: "If one finds a person who points
out one's faults and who reproves one, one should follow such a wise and
sagacious counselor as one would a guide to hidden treasure" (Dhp. 76).
Association with the wise becomes so crucial to spiritual development
because the example and advice of a noble-minded counselor is often the
decisive factor that awakens and nurtures the unfolding of our own untapped
spiritual potential. The uncultivated mind harbors a vast diversity of
unrealized possibilities, ranging from the depths of selfishness, egotism
and aggressivity to the heights of wisdom, self-sacrifice and compassion.
The task confronting us, as followers of the Dhamma, is to keep the
unwholesome tendencies in check and to foster the growth of the wholesome
tendencies, the qualities that lead to awakening, to freedom and
purification. However, our internal tendencies do not mature and decline in
a vacuum. They are subject to the constant impact of the broader
environment, and among the most powerful of these influences is the company
we keep, the people we look upon as teachers, advisors and friends. Such
people silently speak to the hidden potentials of our own being, potentials
that will either unfold or wither under their influence.
In our pursuit of the Dhamma it therefore becomes essential for us to choose
as our guides and companions those who represent, at least in part, the
noble qualities we seek to internalize by the practice of the Dhamma. This
is especially necessary in the early stages of our spiritual development,
when our virtuous aspirations are still fresh and tender, vulnerable to
being undermined by inward irresolution or by discouragement from
acquaintances who do not share our ideals. In this early phase our mind
resembles a chameleon, which alters its color according to its background.
Just as this remarkable lizard turns green when in the grass and brown when
on the ground, so we become fools when we associate with fools and sages
when we associate with sages. Internal changes do not generally occur
suddenly; but slowly, by increments so slight that we ourselves may not be
aware of them, our characters undergo a metamorphosis that in the end may
prove to be dramatically significant.
If we associate closely with those who are addicted to the pursuit of sense
pleasures, power, riches and fame, we should not imagine that we will remain
immune from those addictions: in time our own minds will gradually incline
to these same ends. If we associate closely with those who, while not given
up to moral recklessness, live their lives comfortably adjusted to mundane
routines, we too will remain stuck in the ruts of the commonplace. If we
aspire for the highest -- for the peaks of transcendent wisdom and
liberation -- then we must enter into association with those who represent
the highest. Even if we are not so fortunate as to find companions who have
already scaled the heights, we can well count ourselves blessed if we cross
paths with a few spiritual friends who share our ideals and who make earnest
efforts to nurture the noble qualities of the Dhamma in their hearts.
When we raise the question how to recognize good friends, how to distinguish
good advisors from bad advisors, the Buddha offers us crystal-clear advice.
In the Shorter Discourse on a Full-Moon Night (MN 110) he explains the
difference between the companionship of the bad person and the companionship
of the good person. The bad person chooses as friends and companions those
who are without faith, whose conduct is marked by an absence of shame and
moral dread, who have no knowledge of spiritual teachings, who are lazy and
unmindful, and who are devoid of wisdom. As a consequence of choosing such
bad friends as his advisors, the bad person plans and acts for his own harm,
for the harm of others, and the harm of both, and he meets with sorrow and
In contrast, the Buddha continues, the good person chooses as friends and
companions those who have faith, who exhibit a sense of shame and moral
dread, who are learned in the Dhamma, energetic in cultivation of the mind,
mindful, and possessed of wisdom. Resorting to such good friends, looking to
them as mentors and guides, the good person pursues these same qualities as
his own ideals and absorbs them into his character. Thus, while drawing ever
closer to deliverance himself, he becomes in turn a beacon light for others.
Such a one is able to offer those who still wander in the dark an inspiring
model to emulate, and a wise friend to turn to for guidance and advice.
Buddhist Publication Society Newsletter cover essay #26 (1st mailing, 1994)
Copyright © 1994 Buddhist Publication Society
For free distribution only
Revised: Fri 3 December 1999
Buddhist Response to Contemporary Dilemmas of Human Existence
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
Copyright © 1994 Bhikkhu Bodhi
c/o Buddhist Publication Society
PO Box 61
54, Sangharaja Mawatha
Kandy, Sri Lanka
A Sinhaputhra publication
For free distribution only.
You may print copies of this work for your personal use.
You may re-format and redistribute this work for use on computers and computer networks,
provided that you charge no fees for its distribution or use.
Otherwise, all rights reserved.
Buddhist Publication Society
P.O. Box 61
54, Sangharaja Mawatha
Kandy, Sri Lanka
This paper was originally presented at a conference entitled "Buddhism and Christianity: Interactions between East and West," organized by the Goethe-Institute, Colombo, and held at the Institute of Fundamental Studies, Kandy, 18-20 December 1993.
About The Author
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi is a Buddhist monk of American nationality, born in New York City in 1944. He came to Sri Lanka in 1972 and the same year entered the Buddhist Order as a pupil of Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Mahanayaka Thera. He is presently the President and Editor-in-chief of the Buddhist Publication Society.
Since my presentation is entitled "A Buddhist Response to Contemporary Dilemmas of Human Existence," I should begin by spelling out what I mean by the expression "contemporary dilemmas of human existence." By this phrase I do not refer explicitly to the momentous social and political problems of our time -- global poverty, ethnic hostility, overpopulation, the spread of AIDS, the suppression of human rights, environmental despoliation, etc. I recognize fully well that these problems are of major concern to contemporary religion, which has the solemn responsibility of serving as the voice of conscience to the world which is only too prone to forsake all sense of conscience in blind pursuit of self-interest. However, I see many of these particular problems as symptoms or offshoots of a more fundamental dilemma which is essentially spiritual in nature, and it is this I am particularly concerned to address.
Our root problem, it seems to me, is at its core a problem of consciousness. I would characterize this problem briefly as a fundamental existential dislocation, a dislocation having both cognitive and ethical dimensions. That is, it involves both a disorientation in our understanding of reality, and a distortion or inversion of the proper scale of values, the scale that would follow from a correct understanding of reality. Because our root problem is one of consciousness, this means that any viable solution must be framed in terms of a transformation of consciousness. It requires an attempt to arrive at a more accurate grasp of the human situation in its full depth and breadth, and a turning of the mind and heart in a new direction, a direction commensurate with the new understanding, one that brings light and peace rather than strife and distress.
Before I discuss some of the responses that religion might make to the outstanding dilemmas of our age, I propose to offer a critique of the existential dislocation that has spread among such significant portion of humankind today. Through most of this century, the religious point of view has been defensive. It may now be the time to take the offensive, by scrutinizing closely the dominant modes of thought that lie at the base of our spiritual malaise.
I see the problem of existential dislocation to be integrally tied to the ascendancy, world wide, of a type of mentality that originates in the West, but which today has become typical of human civilization as a whole. It would be too simple to describe this frame of mind as materialism: first, because those who adopt it do not invariably subscribe to materialism as a philosophical thesis; and second, because obsession with material progress is not the defining characteristic of this outlook, but a secondary manifestation. If I were to coin a single a single expression to convey its distinctive essence, I would call it the radical secularization of human life.
The Historical Background
The underlying historical cause of this phenomenon seems to lie in an unbalanced development of the human mind in the West, beginning around the time of the European Renaissance. This development gave increasing importance to the rational, manipulative and dominative capacities of the mind at the expense of its intuitive, comprehensive, sympathetic and integrative capacities. The rise to dominance of the rational, manipulative facets of human consciousness led to a fixation upon those aspects of the world that are amenable to control by this type of consciousness -- the world that could be conquered, comprehended and exploited in terms of fixed quantitative units. This fixation did not stop merely with the pragmatic efficiency of such a point of view, but became converted into a theoretical standpoint, a standpoint claiming validity. In effect, this means that the material world, as defined by modern science, became the founding stratum of reality, while mechanistic physics, its methodological counterpart, became a paradigm for understanding all other types of natural phenomena, biological, psychological and social.
The early founders of the Scientific Revolution in the seventeenth century -- such as Galileo, Boyle, Descartes and Newton -- were deeply religious men, for whom the belief in the wise and benign Creator was the premise behind their investigations into lawfulness of nature. However, while they remained loyal to the theistic premises of Christian faith, the drift of their thought severely attenuated the organic connection between the divine and the natural order, a connection so central to the premodern world view. They retained God only as the remote Creator and law-giver of Nature and sanctioned moral values as the expression of the Divine Will, the laws decreed for man by his Maker. In their thought a sharp dualism emerged between the transcendent sphere and the empirical world. The realm of "hard facts" ultimately consisted of units of senseless matter governed by mechanical laws, while ethics, values and ideals were removed from the realm of facts and assigned to the sphere of an interior subjectivity.
It was only a matter of time until, in the trail of the so-called Enlightenment, a wave of thinkers appeared who overturned the dualistic thesis central to this world view in favor of the straightforward materialism. This development was not a following through of the reductionistic methodology to its final logical consequences. Once sense perception was hailed as the key to knowledge and quantification came to be regarded as the criterion of actuality, the logical next step was to suspend entirely the belief in a supernatural order and all it implied. Hence finally an uncompromising version of mechanistic materialism prevailed, whose axioms became the pillars of the new world view. Matter is now the only ultimate reality, and divine principle of any sort dismissed as sheer imagination.
The triumph of materialism in the sphere of cosmology and metaphysics had the profoundest impact on human self-understanding. The message it conveyed was that the inward dimensions of our existence, with its vast profusion of spiritual and ethical concerns, is mere adventitious superstructure. The inward is reducible to the external, the invisible to the visible, the personal to the impersonal. Mind becomes a higher order function of the brain, the individual a node in a social order governed by statistical laws. All humankind's ideals and values are relegated to the status of illusions: they are projections of biological drives, sublimated wish-fulfillment. Even ethics, the philosophy of moral conduct, comes to be explained away as a flowery way of expressing personal preferences. Its claim to any objective foundation is untenable, and all ethical judgments become equally valid. The ascendancy of relativism is complete.
Secularization of Life
I have sketched the intellectual background to our existential dislocation in a fair degree of detail because I think that any attempt to comprehend the contemporary dilemmas of human existence in isolation from this powerful cognitive underpinning would be incomplete and unsatisfactory. The cognitive should not be equated with the merely theoretical, abstract and ineffectual. For the cognitive can, in subtle ways that defy easy analysis, exercise a tremendous influence upon the affective and practical dimensions of our lives, doing so "behind the back," as it were, of our outwardly directed consciousness. Thus, once the world view which extols the primacy of the external dimension of reality over the internal gained widespread acceptance on the cognitive front, it infiltrated the entire culture, entailing consequences that are intensely practical and personal. Perhaps the most characteristic of these might be summed up in the phrase I used at the outset of this paper: the radical secularization of life. The dominance of materialism in science and philosophical thought penetrated into the religious sphere and sapped religious beliefs and values of their binding claims on the individual in public affairs. These beliefs and values were relegated to the private sphere, as matters of purely personal conscience, while those spheres of life that transcend the narrowly personal were divested of religious significance. Thus in an early stage the evolution of modern society replicated the dualism of philosophical theory: the external sphere becomes entirely secular, while ethical value and spirituality are confined to the internal.
In certain respects this was without doubt a major step in the direction of human liberation, for it freed individuals to follow the dictates of personal conscience and reduced considerably the pressures placed upon them to conform to the prevailing system of religious beliefs. But while this advantage cannot be underestimated, the triumph of secularism in the domain of public life eventually came to throw into question the cogency of any form of religious belief or commitment to a transcendent guarantor of ethical values, and this left the door open for widespread moral deterioration, often in the name of personal freedom.
While a dualistic division of the social order characterized the early phase of the modern period, as in the case of philosophy dualism does not have the last word. For the process of secularization does not respect even the boundaries of the private and personal. Once a secular agenda engulfs the social order, the entire focus of human life shifts from the inward to the outward, and from the Eternal to the Here and Now. Secularization invades the most sensitively private arenas of our lives, spurred on by a social order driven by the urge for power, profits and uniformity. Our lives become devoured by temporal, mundane preoccupations even to the extent that such notions as redemption, enlightenment and deliverance -- the watchwords of spirituality -- at best serve as evokers of a sentimental piety. The dominant ends of secular society create a situation in which any boundary line of inward privacy comes to be treated as a barrier that must be surmounted. Hence we find that commercial interests and political organizations are prepared to explore and exploit the most personal frontiers of desire and fantasy in order to secure their advantage and enhance their wealth and power.
The ascendancy of secularization in human life in no way means that most people in secular society openly reject religion and acknowledge the finality of this-worldly aims. Far from it. The human mind displays an astounding ability to operate simultaneously on different levels, even when those levels are sustained by opposing principles. Thus in a given culture the vast majority will still pay homage to God or to the Dhamma; they will attend church or the temple; they will express admiration of religious ideals; they will conform to the routine observances expected of them by their ancestral faith. Appeals to religious sentiment will be a powerful means of stirring up waves of emotion and declarations of loyalty, even of mobilizing whole sections of the population in support of sectarian stands on volatile issues. This affirmation of allegiance to religious ideals is not done out of sheer hypocrisy, but from a capacity for inward ambivalence that allows us to live in a state of self-contradiction. People in secular society will genuinely profess reverence for religion, will vigorously affirm religious beliefs. But their real interests lie elsewhere, riveted tightly to the temporal. The ruling motives of human life are no longer purification but production, no longer the cultivation of character but the consumption of commodities and the enjoyment of sense pleasures. Religion may be permitted to linger at the margins of the mind, indeed may even be invited into the inward chamber, so long as it does not rudely demand of us that we take up any crosses.
This existential dislocation has major repercussions on a variety of fronts. Most alarming, in its immediate impact on our lives, is the decline in the efficacy of time-honored moral principles as guides to conduct. I do not propose painting our picture of the past in rosy colors. Human nature has never been especially sweet, and the books of history speak too loudly of man's greed, blindness and brutality. Often, I must sadly add, organized religion has been among the worst offenders. However, while aware of this, I would also say that at least during certain past epochs our ancestors esteemed ethical ideals as worthy of emulation and sanctioned moral codes as the proper guidelines of life. For all its historical shortcomings, religion did provide countless people in any given culture with a sense of meaning to their existence, a sense that their lives were rooted in the Ultimate Reality and were directed towards that Reality as their final goal. Now, however, that we have made the radical turn away from the Transcendent, we have lost the polestar that guided our daily choices and decisions. The result is evident in the moral degeneration that proliferates at a frightening rate through every so-called civilized part of the world. In the self-styled Developed World the cities have become urban jungles; the use of liquor and drugs spreads as an easy escape route from anxiety and despair; sexually provocative entertainment takes on more and more degrading forms; the culture of the gun hooks even middle-class youths itching to break the tedium of their lives with murder and mayhem. Most lamentably, the family has lost its crucial function of serving as the training ground where children learn decency and personal responsibility. Instead it has become merely a convenient and fragile arrangement for the personal gratification of its members, who too often seek their gratification at the expense of each other. While such trends have not yet widely inundated Sri Lanka, we can already see their germs beginning to sprout, and as modernization spreads extraordinary vigilance will be required to withstand them.
As humanity moves ever closer to the 21st century, the existential rift at the heart of our inner life remains. Its pain is exacerbated by our repeated failures to solve so many of the social, political and economic problems that seem on the surface as though they should be easily manageable by our sophisticated technological capabilities. The stubborn persistence of these problems -- and the constant emergence of new problems as soon as the old ones recede -- seems to make a mockery of all our well-intentioned attempts to establish a utopian paradise on utterly secular premises.
I certainly do not think that the rediscovery of the religious consciousness is in itself a sufficient remedy for these problems which spring from a wide multiplicity of causes far too complex to be reduced to any simplistic explanation. But I do believe that the religious crisis of modern humanity is intimately connected to these diverse social and political tragedies at many levels. Some of these levels, I would add, lie far beyond the range of rational comprehension and defy analysis in terms of linear causality. I would see the connection as that of co-arisen manifestations of a corrosive sickness in the human soul -- the sickness of selfishness and craving -- or as karmic backlashes of the three root defilements pinpointed by Buddhism -- greed, hatred and delusion -- which have become so rampant today. I therefore think that any hopes we may cherish towards healing our community, our planet and our world must involve us in a deep level process of healing ourselves. And since this healing, in my view, can only be successfully accomplished by re-orienting our lives towards the Ultimate Reality and Supreme Good, the process of healing necessarily takes on a religious dimension.
It is hardly within my capacity as a very limited individual to delineate, in this paper, all the elements that would be required to restore the religious dimension to its proper role in human life. But I will first briefly mention two religious approaches that have sprung up in response to our existential dislocation, but which I consider to be inadequate, even false by-paths. Then I will sketch, in a tentative and exploratory manner, several responses religion must make if it is to answer the deep yearnings that stir in the hearts of present-day humanity.
The two religious phenomena that in my view are false detours which must finally be rejected are fundamentalism and spiritual eclecticism. Both have arisen as reactions to the pervasive secularism of our time; both speak to the widespread hunger for more authentic spiritual values than our commercial, sensualist culture can offer. Yet neither, I would argue, provides a satisfactory solution to our needs.
Fundamentalism no doubt bears the character of a religious revival. However, in my opinion it fails to qualify as a genuinely spiritual type of religiosity because it does not meet the criterion of true spirituality. This criterion I would describe, in broad terms, as the quest to transcend the limitations of the ego-consciousness. As I understand fundamentalism, it draws its strength from its appeal to human weakness, by provoking the ego-consciousness and the narrow, volatile interests the small self. Its psychological mood is that of dogmatism; it polarizes the human community into the opposed camps of insiders and outsiders; it dictates a policy of aggression that entails either violence against the outsiders or attempts to proselytize them. It does not point us in the direction of selflessness, understanding, acceptance of others based on love, the ingredients of true spirituality.
Spiritual eclecticism -- omnipresent in the West today -- is governed by the opposite logic. It aims to amalgamate, to draw into a whole a sundry variety of quasi-religious disciplines: yoga, spiritualism, channeling, astrology, faith healing, meditation, I Ching, special diets, Cabbala, etc. These are all offered to the seeker on a pick-and-choose basis; everything is valid, anything goes. This eclecticism often reveals a longing for genuine spiritual experience, for a vision of reality more encompassing than pragmatic materialism. It fails because it tears profound disciplines out from their context in a living faith and blends them together into a shapeless mixture without spine or substance. Its psychological mood is that of a romantic, promiscuous yearning for easy gratification rather than that of serious commitment. Owing to its lack of discrimination it often shades off into the narcissistic and the occult, occasionally into the diabolical.
I believe that a viable solution to humanity's spiritual hunger can arise only from within the fold of the great classical religious traditions. I must also state frankly that I am convinced that the religious tradition that best addresses the crucial existential problems of our time is Buddhism, especially in its early form based on the Pali Canon. However, to speak in terms of a more general application, I would maintain that if any great religion is to acquire a new relevance it must negotiate some very delicate, very difficult balances. It must strike a happy balance between remaining faithful to the seminal insights of its Founder and ancient masters and acquiring the skill and flexibility to formulate these insights in ways that directly link up with the pressing existential demands of old-age. It is only too easy to veer towards one of these extremes at the expense of the other: either to adhere tenaciously to ancient formulas at the expense of present relevance, or to bend fundamental principles so freely that one drains them of their deep spiritual vitality. The middle way, which fuses fidelity to tradition and relevance to contemporary concerns, is always the most difficult. Above all, I think any religion today must bear in mind an important lesson impressed on us so painfully by past history: the task of religion is to liberate, not to enslave. Its purpose should be to enable its adherents to move towards the realization of the Ultimate Good and to bring the power of this realization to bear upon life in the world. The purpose is not to subordinate the individual to the institution, to multiply the numbers of the faithful, and to sacrifice the individual conscience upon the altar of the Establishment.
Despite the vast differences between the belief systems of the major religions, I think there are vitally important areas of common concern which unite them in this Age of Confusion. With the world torn between senseless violence and vulgar frivolity, it is critically necessary that representatives of the great religions meet to exchange insights and to seek to understand each other more deeply. Cooperation between the great religions is certainly necessary if they are to contribute a meaningful voice towards the solution of the momentous spiritual dilemmas that confront us.
The Tasks of Religion
Here I will mention several challenges that confront the major religious traditions today, and I will also sketch, very briefly, the ways such challenges may be met from within the horizons of the religion which I follow, Theravada Buddhism. I leave it to the Christian scholars involved in this dialogue to decide for themselves whether these points are of sufficient gravity to merit their own attention and to work out solutions from the perspective of their own faith.
The Philosophical Bridge
The first challenge I will discuss is primarily philosophical in scope, though with profound and far-reaching practical implications. This is the task of overcoming the fundamental dichotomy which scientific materialism has posited between the realm of "real fact," i.e., impersonal physical processes, and the realm of value. By assigning value and spiritual ideals to private subjectivity, the materialistic world view, as I mentioned earlier, threatens to undermine any secure objective foundation for morality. The result is the widespread moral degeneration that we witness today. To counter this tendency, I do not think mere moral exhortation is sufficient. If morality is to function as an efficient guide to conduct, it cannot be propounded as a self-justifying scheme but must be embedded in a more comprehensive spiritual system which grounds morality in a transpersonal order. Religion must affirm, in the clearest terms, that morality and ethical values are not mere decorative frills of personal opinion, not subjective superstructure, but intrinsic laws of the cosmos built into the heart of reality.
In the Buddha's teaching, the objective foundation for morality is the law of kamma, and its corollary, the teaching of rebirth. According to the principle of kamma, our intentional actions have a built-in potential for generating consequences for ourselves that correspond to the moral quality of the deeds. Our deeds come to fruition, sometimes in this life, sometimes in future lives, but in either case an inescapable, impersonal law connects our actions to their fruits, which rebound upon us exactly in the way we deserve. Thus our morally determinate actions are the building blocks of our destiny: we must ultimately reap the fruits of our own deeds, and by our moral choices and values we construct our happiness and suffering in this life and in future lives.
In the Buddha's teaching, the law of kamma is integral to the very dynamics of the universe. The Buddhist texts speak of five systems of cosmic law, each perfectly valid within its own domain: the laws of inorganic matter (utuniyama), the laws of living organisms (bijaniyama), the laws of consciousness (cittaniyama), the laws of kamma or moral deeds and their fruits (kammaniyama), and the laws of spiritual development (dhammataniyama). The science that dominates the West has flourished through its exclusive attention to the first two systems of law. As a Buddhist, I would argue that a complete picture of actuality must take account of all five orders, and that by arriving at such a complete picture, we can restore moral and spiritual values to their proper place within the whole.
Guidelines to Conduct
A second challenge, closely related to the first, is to propose concrete guidelines to right conduct capable of lifting us from our morass of moral confusion. While the first project I mentioned operates on the theoretical front, this one is more immediately practical in scope. Here we are not so much concerned with establishing a valid foundation for morality as with determining exactly what guidelines to conduct are capable of promoting harmonious and peaceful relations between people. On this front I think that the unsurpassed guide to the ethical good is still the Five Precepts (pancasila) taught by Buddhism. According to the Buddhist texts, these precepts are not unique to the Buddha Sasana but constitute the universal principles of morality upheld in every culture dedicated to virtue. The Five Precepts can be considered in terms of both the actions they prohibit and the virtues they inculcate. At the present time I think it is necessary to place equal stress on both aspects of the precepts, as the Buddha himself has done in the Suttas.
These precepts are:
1. The rule to abstain from taking life, which implies the virtue of treating all beings with kindness and compassion.
2. The rule to abstain from stealing, which implies honesty, respect for the possessions of others, and concern for the natural environment.
3. The rule to abstain from sexual misconduct, which implies responsibility and commitment in one's marital and other interpersonal relationships.
4. The rule to abstain from lying, which implies a commitment to truth in dealing with others.
5. The rule to abstain from alcoholic drinks, drugs and intoxicants, which implies the virtues of sobriety and heedfulness.
In presenting the case for these precepts, it should be shown that quite apart from their long-term karmic effect, which is a matter of faith, they conduce to peace and happiness for oneself right here and now, as well as towards the welfare of those whom one's actions affect.
(3) Diagnosis of the Human Condition
A third project for religion is to formulate, on the basis of its fundamental doctrinal traditions, an incisive diagnosis of the contemporary human condition. From the Buddhist perspective I think the analysis that the Buddha offered in his Four Noble Truths still remains perfectly valid. Not only does it need not the least revision or reinterpretation, but the course of twenty-five centuries of world history and the present-day human situation only underscores its astuteness and relevance.
The core problem of human existence, the First Truth announces, is suffering. The canonical texts enumerate different types of suffering -- physical, psychological and spiritual; in the present age, we should also highlight the enormous volume of social suffering that plagues vulnerable humanity. The cause of suffering, according to the Second Truth, lies nowhere else than in our own minds -- in our craving and ignorance, in the defilements of greed, hatred and delusion. The solution to the problem is the subject of the Third Noble Truth, which states that liberation from suffering must also be effected by the mind, through the eradication of the defilements responsible for suffering. And the Fourth Truth gives us the method to eradicate the defilements, the Noble Eightfold Path, with its three stages of training in moral discipline, meditation and wisdom.
(4) A Practical Method of Training
The next point is a practical extension of the third. Once a religion has offered us a diagnosis of the human condition which reveals the source of suffering in the mind, it must offer us concrete guidance in the task of training and mastering the mind. Thus I think that a major focus of present-day religion must be the understanding and transformation of the mind. This requires experiential disciplines by which we can arrive at deeper insight into ourselves and gradually effect very fundamental inward changes. Buddhism provides a vast arsenal of time-tested teachings and methods for meeting this challenge. It contains comprehensive systems of psychological analysis and potent techniques of meditation that can generate experiential confirmation of its principles.
In the present age access to these teachings and practices will cease to remain the exclusive preserve of the monastic order, but will spread to the lay community as well, as has already been occurring throughout the Buddhist world both in the East and in the West. The spirit of democracy and the triumph of the experimental method demand that the means of mind-development be available to anyone who is willing to make the effort. The experiential dimension of religion is an area where Christianity can learn a great deal from Buddhism, and I believe that Christianity must rediscover its own contemplative heritage and make available deeper transformative disciplines to both its clergy and its lay followers if it is to retain its relevance to humanity in the future.
The Preservation of the Human Community
The last challenge I will discuss is the need for religions to re-affirm and to actively demonstrate those values that are particularly critical for the human race to attain the status of an integrative, harmonious community. They must translate into concrete programs of action the great virtues of love and compassion. Because the world has become more closely knit than ever before, we have to recognize the enormous responsibility that we each bear for the welfare of the whole. What all religions need to stress, in the face of so much cruelty and violence, is the development of a sense of global responsibility, a concern for the welfare and happiness of all living beings as well as for the protection of our natural environment. Love and compassion must issue forth in active endeavor to alleviate the sufferings of others and to ensure that the oppressed and afflicted are granted all the opportunities that have hitherto been denied them.
This is an area where Christianity, with its Social Gospel, has shown far greater initiative than Buddhism, which too often has subscribed to a false, fatalistic interpretation of the karma doctrine that stifles social action. But the foundation for a socially oriented expression of Buddhism is already found in the Dhamma, especially in its formula of the four Brahma Viharas, or "Divine Abodes," as the ideal social virtues: loving kindness towards all beings, compassion for those who suffer, altruistic joy for those who are well, and equanimity as freedom from arbitrary discrimination. Already a socially engaged form of Buddhism has emerged and no doubt it will become an important development in the future of the religion.
wish to conclude this talk by drawing attention to the fact that religion today
has two crucial tasks to accomplish in responding to the vital problems of our
time. One is to help the individual fathom the ultimate truth about his or her
own personal existence, to move in the direction of the Ultimate Good, the Unconditioned
Reality, wherein true liberation is to be found. The other task is to address
the problem of the Manifest Good: the problem of the human community, of promoting
peace, harmony and fellowship. The urgency of combining these two tasks was beautifully
summed up by the Buddha in a short discourse in the Satipatthana Samyutta. There
the Blessed One said:
"Protecting oneself, one protects others,
Protecting others, one protects oneself"
He then explains that the expression "protecting oneself, one protects others" refers to the practice of meditation, which purifies the mind of its defilements and gives insight into the real nature of the world. By "protecting others, one protects oneself" he means the development of the virtues of patience, loving kindness and compassion, by which one safeguards others from harm and suffering. I believe that a commitment to these two great principles -- pañña and karuna in Buddhist terms, gnosis and love in Christian terms -- is essential if religion today is to guide humanity from the brink of darkness and despair to the realm of spiritual light and freedom.
Clear in the Heart
Phra Ajaan Suwat Suvaco
Translated from the Thai by
Copyright © 2001 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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We've all come with a sense of conviction, intent on studying and practicing the Dhamma so as to train our minds, so that the Dhamma will appear within our minds and give them refuge. Even though the Dhamma is always present, it hasn't yet become the property of the heart and mind. As long as the Dhamma is simply the property of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body, it's a Dhamma that isn't genuine, a Dhamma that isn't pure, a Dhamma that isn't polished, a Dhamma that can get in the way of our seeing the truth. It can let us get deceived by the preoccupations created by the process of fabrication from things the eye sees, the ear hears, and so on. After all, the knowledge that comes from what the eye sees or the ear hears: almost everyone has eyes and ears. If the knowledge that comes just from these things were enough to give rise to the most significant benefit of the Dhamma, then everyone would have already experienced that significant wellbeing. They would have experienced a happiness that's genuine, certain, and complete. This is because all living beings with eyes can see, all those with ears can hear, all those with a nose, tongue, and body can know through these things. But to know the skillful Dhamma taught by the Buddha requires more than just eyes and ears. It requires mindfulness -- the ability to keep something in mind -- along with a mind equipped with the right views that have come from training in the right principles of the Buddha's teachings.
This is because the Buddha's teachings are the well-taught Dhamma that people throughout the world have acknowledged as right and complete, leading to peace, leading to happiness, leading to mental, verbal, and physical actions that are masterful, seamless, with nothing lacking. Even the devas have acknowledged that the Buddha's Dhamma is well taught. Countless people with confidence in the Dhamma, practicing it earnestly, have attained the paths and fruitions leading to nibbana. They've gained release from suffering through the principles of the Dhamma that they've studied and trained themselves in. All of us here are people of discernment just like them, so we should take hold of these things and make them our heart's possession in a full and complete way, just like them. We shouldn't content ourselves simply with hearing about or learning about the Dhamma, for our knowledge on that level can still be deceived, can still change, so that our hearts can become uncertain and unsure, so that we can make mistakes, putting the heart in a position where it suffers from the impact of the things it sees or hears, or from the wrong decisions it makes.
We've made these mistakes and suffered from these things countless times already. This is a fact we can't deny. This is why we can't win out over our moods and preoccupations as we would like to. We see the defects in our hearts -- in our thoughts, words, and deeds -- which is why we can't maintain our peace of mind as consistently as we'd like to.
So try to make use of the mind's skillful qualities. What are those qualities? You already know them: virtue, concentration, and discernment. Maintain them so that they become clear and blatant in the heart. Come to see clearly what sufferings virtue can drive out of the heart, what obstacles to happiness and peace it can drive out of the heart -- to see what sorts of benefits it can bring.
Ask yourself: if you didn't observe this or that precept, what would appear in your physical or verbal actions? A life composed of those actions: in what direction would it pull you? This is something you have to see clearly, you know. If you're a Buddhist meditator, you're a student of the Buddha, one who knows -- not one who is stupid! The Buddha was never heedless or careless with life. He never let time go to waste. You should make up your mind that, aside from when you sleep, you want your every movement to serve a purpose you can depend on. You should live with awareness, with right views. You shouldn't get infatuated with things coming in by way of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, or body. We've all been using these things for the purpose of delusion for a long time -- it's not that we've just started using them for that purpose recently. So are we going to follow along in the same way forever? This is an area where we should take responsibility and come to our senses, to straighten ourselves out.
We have to look after our words and deeds so that they're perfectly blatant to us. This is called keeping the precepts in line with the principle, silena sugatim yanti: it's through virtue that beings go to the good destinations. The Buddha didn't say this without firm evidence, or simply as propaganda for people to believe or put into practice in a deluded way. He said this through right discernment. Those who practice have to understand with right discernment in just the same way so as to conform to the principle of uju-patipanno, those who practice straight in line with the Dhamma. If you're the sort of person who simply believes what people say, right when they're right, wrong when they're wrong, then you can still be deceived. You need to develop the mind to a solid level, seeing the Dhamma in a way that's blatant, clear, and informed. That's when you'll be undeceivable.
As for concentration, you have to see clearly what suffering it drives out of the heart, what benefits it brings. This is something you have to learn and understand so that you'll really know. If you understand concentration, it'll bring its benefits to you. It'll make the mind genuinely clear, bright, and pure, because mindfulness will remember to choose only good preoccupations for the mind. Discernment will contemplate them and drive out from the mind any lack of stillness or peace.
Discernment on the level of concentration practice -- when concentration has fostered a sense of wellbeing and seclusion in the mind -- will drive out any disturbance that used to cause stress for the mind. It will see the dangers and drawbacks of those disturbances. This sort of discernment will arise when we've practiced concentration correctly to the point of giving rise to peace and wellbeing.
Conviction will arise when we see these results clearly in the mind. We won't have any doubts. We won't have to ask anyone what concentration is like, what a still mind is like, what the rewards of concentration are. We won't have to ask, for the mind knows. It has entered into these things. This is what happens when we really practice, using our mindfulness and persistence, using our discernment correctly, so as to serve a true purpose.
Meditation is simply a matter of looking at what's in the heart and mind, for all good and evil come from the mind. They're fabricated by the mind. When we use right views to look at the mind, when we keep right mindfulness right at the mind, when we apply right effort continually in our mindfulness without lapse, the mind will have to be firmly established in right concentration and won't go anywhere else. That's when we'll see how much rightness is arising right there. When we don't lose focus or look anywhere else, when we keep on trying to be continuous in our gaze -- in the same way we read a book -- we'll be able to see the entire story of what's going on. If we forget and go looking elsewhere, we'll lose whole chunks of the story. We won't be able to connect the beginning with the end. It won't have any shape.
But when the mind stays firmly in place, it'll enter concentration. The word "concentration" means the firm stillness that comes from training the mind with our Dhamma theme. For example, buddho: we have to stay right with the word buddho. Our effort is devoted to keeping buddho in mind. Don't let it slip away to other things. Keep your efforts focused right there. Keep your mindfulness gathered right there. Don't let it forget and go elsewhere. When you keep trying to do this, the counterfeit things in the mind -- the defilements that deceive us -- won't be able to arise, for mindfulness is all there, so the defilements can't establish themselves, can't deceive us. This is because of the power of the mindfulness, concentration, and discernment that our mind has gathered together to chase away the enemies of our stillness, the enemies of our happiness and wellbeing. We used to see these enemies as our friends and benefactors. But once we've studied the Buddha's teachings, we realize that they're nothing but defilements.
Defilements don't have any substance to them. What do they come from? From the mind. They're shadows of the mind that dwell in the mind. When in any mental moment there's a thought that goes contrary to the Dhamma, that gives rise to no true knowledge or intelligence, that brings us danger and suffering: that thought is called a defilement. Thoughts of this sort don't come from anywhere else. Of course, there are aspects of defilement that take their inspiration from outside the mind, but we shouldn't trace them back in that direction, or send attention outside in that direction. We're here simply for the sake of stillness, for the sake of concentration. We have to focus right here in front of us. We don't have to want to know anything else -- for example, where the defilements come from, how they can arise, or where they stay. It's the same as when we come down with a sudden lethal disease. If we waste time asking the doctor where his medicine comes from or what it contains, we could easily die first. We have to trust the doctor and take the medicine as he prescribes it, in line with the principles he has used with good results in the past.
In the same way, when we're training the mind to be still, we don't have to track down where things come from. We have to abstain from our desire to track things down, to know in ways that will distract us from our stillness. When you want to center the mind on buddho, you only have to be aware of buddho. Don't let your awareness slip away. Have the mind hold onto buddho as its refuge at all times. That's your task, the task you have to do. The same holds true when you're focusing on the breath, or whatever the focus of your meditation. They're all Dhamma themes. How is the breath a Dhamma theme? It's a physical dhamma -- the breath or wind element here in the body. Without the breath, the body wouldn't last.
This isn't something we have to explain, because we're already aware of it. We understand it rightly. We don't have to contemplate the ways in which the breath is important. We simply use the breath to train the mind. We're not here to train the breath. We use the breath to make the mind still, which is why we don't have to analyze the body in any other way. When we want the mind to be still, to settle down and rest, or when we want mindfulness to work with full agility in overcoming delusion, we have to exercise mindfulness fully in the duty at hand. When our effort is right, our mindfulness is right, and our concentration is right, then they give crucial strength to the skillfulness of the mind, so that it has the power and authority it needs to drive away the demons of defilement: i.e., its own lack of skill and intelligence, its delusions, its tendency to float along after the preoccupations that deceive it, thinking that it gains true happiness through the help of things outside. Actually, those things endanger the mind. Why? Because they're nothing but fabrications that are inconstant. There's nothing constant about them at all. Visual forms are inconstant, sounds are inconstant, all those phenomena are inconstant. They're the Dhamma of Mara, come to deceive us.
But even when we understand this, we shouldn't yet go thinking about them. Only when we've developed enough strength of mind to contend with them should we go out and fight with them. When our mindfulness isn't yet firmly based in concentration, we can't fight them off. We're sure to get demolished by them. We've been demolished by them many, many times before, because our base of operations -- our concentration -- isn't solid enough. We keep losing out to the enemy. Do you want to keep on losing out? When are you going to gather your forces? In other words, when are you going to make your conviction solid, your persistence solid, your mindfulness, concentration, and discernment all solid? These are the forces that will overcome the things that have been deceiving the mind as they like.
So I ask that we all be earnest in watching over this mind of ours. As we're taught, cittam dantam sukhavaham: the mind when trained brings happiness. The Buddha has already done this, has already succeeded in gaining this happiness. His many noble disciples have succeeded in the same way, providing evidence for the truth of what he has taught.
When we train ourselves so that our foundation is solid, we'll have our own evidence, the Dhamma that appears blatantly in our heart. We'll gain confidence, accepting the fact that the Buddha's Dhamma is well taught. We'll no longer have any doubts, because it will have become blatant in the heart. It's not simply that we've heard other people teach it or seen it in books. The evidence has appeared clearly in the heart that has accepted the truth within it. The mind will become solid in a way that no defilement will be able to deceive.
So I ask that we all practice truly. When we practice truly, the truth will truly appear to us. Practice so that these things appear clearly. When we've made virtue blatantly clear, concentration blatantly clear, and discernment blatantly clear, where will any ignorance or craving be able to fabricate more states of being or birth for us? We'll have had enough. We won't want anything more. There won't be any more craving, because we've gained a sense of the word, "enough." This is how we reach enough -- not by struggling to amass material things. The world has tried to reach "enough" in that way for a long time now, but there's never been enough of those things. So turn around and watch over your mind so that it all becomes blatantly clear.
Now that you've heard this, try to remember it. You can always put it to use, from this day forward. The Buddha's teachings have never grown old or worn. They're always brand new, which is why we can put them to use at all times, in all places. When we always keep them in mind, we'll have a safe and secure refuge, an auspicious refuge. Whoever attains this refuge will gain release from all suffering and stress.
Revised: Mon 20 May 2002
in Modern Life
by Ananda W.P. Guruge
The topic as it stands has
several parts to it: What is modern life? What is Buddhism? And what role has
Buddhism to play in modem life? Modem life in itself is very difficult to define.
One might say that modem life is characterized by the fact that the world is getting
smaller; that people are having greater access to each other; that communication
barriers are fast disappearing; that it is possible for one to know what happens
everywhere in the world within a short time, and thereby pen-nits participation
in the life of a larger cross-section of the world than one could have ever imagined.
That would be one aspect of modern life. Related to that would be modern life
understood in terms of science and technology. Man in his attempt to conquer nature,
disease, natural barriers, has performed certain feats of a technological complexity
which are quite mind boggling. That is another aspect of modem life. A third,
perhaps a more disturbing aspect of modern life, is that with the world getting
closer, communication barriers breaking away, and scientific and technological
advance becoming so rapid, we have come face to face with several problems in
terms of economic and political rivalry, pollution, population explosion, scarcity
of resources and the indiscriminate use of resources that might not be replaced.
With these come a host of other issues which can be plainly labelled as "survival."
Can Modem Civilization Survive?
To this one may add also a moral dimension - an ethical question - and ask: "To what extent, in the process of modernization and conquering nature, have we deviated from the ability to conquer ourselves? Has the struggle for survival meant that the modem man has become a slave to selfishness, bound by his own desires and his whims? Have we lost all the things of very special value to human beings such as inter-personal relations, the anxiety to look after the well-being of others, the spirit of being of selfless service to others? Have we lost these?"
So when one thinks of modern life one can think in terms of a great degree of optimism and, at the same time, an equal degree of pessimism. One can be so pleased that we live today at a time when there seems to be nothing that man cannot conquer. Maybe, there are still some diseases that challenge him. Maybe, there are still certain places in the universe where man would like to be, and still he has not developed his technology to be there. But it appears as if all these are within reach of man. With this optimism about man's capacity, comes the pessimistic aspect that we have, in the process, lost something. Let us keep both of these in mind.
Then let us look at what Buddhism is. What do we understand by Buddhism? It can mean many things to many people. To someone it can be only life of the Buddha; the example that the Buddha and his immediate disciples set -that glorious feat of a man, who stood before men as a man and declared a path of deliverance. This is one kind of Buddhism. To another, Buddhism would mean the massive doctrine as recorded in the Buddhist literature, which indeed is voluminous and contains several thousand pages recording the words of the Buddha. And in it is described a very lofty, abstruse, complex and learned philosophy of life. Then based on whatever the Buddha taught, whatever the practices current at the time of the Buddha, there has grown a very rich culture, a culture which has extended to all ' parts of Asia for over 2500 years, and to which people from various walks of life with various backgrounds from all these countries have made a lasting contribution. A large number of sects or schools or philosophical systems have evolved and all of them, quite rightly, go under the name of Buddhism. Then comes another definition of Buddhism and that is the kind of ritual that has grown around the doctrine of the Buddha as a result of his teachings and the way of life preached by him, becoming a religion. Whether the Buddha intended it or not, his teachings became a religion, a religion to which people were prepared to hold allegiance and which has its own ritual, organization, and ways or criteria for deciding what is properly done or what is improperly done. Now that is another kind of Buddhism. If one were to take each of these aspects separately, and try to examine the impact of what he would call Buddhism on modern life, it would certainly be an enormous task.
To me Buddhism is all these. It is the Buddha and his life, the doctrine, the culture that evolves around it, and the ritual that is connected with it. Once we take this to be one large body of human experiences, distilled in the finest form and presented to us in such a manner that each one of us could select that part which appeals to us, we begin to see the remarkable uniqueness of Buddhism. During the days of the Buddha himself he used to emphasize this point. One need not be a scholar and learn everything. Buddhism is not like studying a subject like mathematics where you have to learn all your theorems and different methods of working out the various types of problems. If you know the fundamentals, the basis, a scholarly detailed study is not an important precursor to practice. So out of this vast Buddhist culture, religion, or literature, or the vast body of experiences that come to us as Buddhism, each one of us would find that which is relevant to our life, to our type of problems.
A Timeless Doctrine
I have often wondered how Buddhism came to be called 'Akalika" which means "timeless" - that it exists for all time. The more I see the changes that have taken place in Buddhist culture or religion, the more I see how it keeps on adjusting to the needs of different eras, populations, individuals, the more I see that it has been possible for the Buddha to evolve a message that would remain eternally fresh. So if Buddhism has an application today and if Buddhism has a place in modem fife, it is because of that timeless relevance, emanating from a set of eternal values. To talk of a characteristic of being eternal is a very paradoxical way of presenting or describing a religion which has the principle doctrine of impermanence at the bottom of it. the characteristic of timelessness comes from the fact that it had understood that everything continues, but continues in a flux, in a process of continuing change and evolution. Thus Buddhism was able to adjust to different times and civilizations. We can therefore without any hesitation approach any aspect of Buddhism as something relevant and applicable to us today.
What are these elements that make Buddhism timeless? Let me take just a few of them. First of these would be the recognition of the responsibility of the individual. the Buddha is one of the most remarkable religious teachers who emancipated man from all bonds - bonds of supernatural ties, a Godhead, a creation, sin Of- any other characteristic inherited from anyone else (rather than what you yourself have done). So when the Buddha says that each person is his own master, he promulgates a principle whose applicability becomes stronger as man begins to get more and more confidence in the control of himself and the environment. So if, today, with scientific and technological development, man feels that he has come to a point where his own intellect makes him superior to anybody else or allows him able to solve any problem that he has, whether physical or ethical or political or whatever, would not the principle that man is the master of himself - that he has to be responsible to himself because whatever he does he inherits - become one of the most important ways of looking at himself?
So this fundamental approach to making man free from all bondages, spiritual and otherwise, is one of those very important doctrines of Buddhism that have contributed to its timelessness. As we advance, as greater progress is made by man, there will be the greater need for him to assert that he is the master of himself. The more he asserts himself to be the master of himself, the more is he reiterating the Buddha's own statement: 'Atta hi attano natho."
Freedom of Thought
Then comes another equally important doctrine. The doctrine of open-mindedness - the liberty of thinking. Buddhism not only frees us from a Godhead or super natural tie but also liberates mankind from dogma. Let us visualize the time when the Buddha was preaching. It was a time when various religious teachings were in a ferment and India of the 6th century B. C. was one of the most interesting places to be. Religious teachers propounding various types of doctrines were vying with each other to have more and more converts. Besides these new teachings, there were religious systems that were deep rooted. In all these religious systems, the theory was: "We have found a way." This is the correct path." "You come, you will be saved." Into their midst comes the Buddha who says: "Do not believe what your book says. Do not believe what your teachers would say. Do not believe what your tradition says. Do not take anything merely because it comes to you with the authority of somebody else. Make it a personal experience. Think for yourself. Be convinced. And once you are convinced act accordingly." Now this was a very refreshing manner in which man was given one of the greatest freedoms that he is fighting for, the freedom to think for himself. If under feudalism, before the present advances were made, we were not able to assert so much of our light to think for ourselves, as these advances take place we will be asserting that right more and more. We will be wanting to feel that we are convinced, after our own investigations, after we have been able to go through the principles, the facts, the pros and cons. This we consider an inviolable right This is the second doctrine, whose applicability to modern times, and future times, would continue.
Role of Buddhism
Then comes the most important question - apart from supporting what man will want to assert for himself today and in the future, has Buddhism a corrective role to play? With this question comes the most important aspect to which all of us should pay a fair amount of attention today. While man is making all these advances, we also find that the pressure of modern life - the rivalry for survival, the rivalry for doing better than the other, the desire to live a life of competition economically, politically, culturally, or in whatever form - has brought tensions. In order to relieve these tensions man has evolved more and more recreations and relaxations. They apparently result in slight relaxation of the tensions but seem to take people more and more into a vicious circle. Because of the tensions one engages oneself in a variety of escapist activities, and because these escapist activities take too much time, one has to catch up with the process of survival, only to oneself in a worse period of tremendous tension. The greater the economic progress, the greater the political enlightenment, the more the people need sedatives and tranquilizers to keep themselves doing their normal duties. You have to take one pill to keep awake, one pill to sleep, one pill to relax and so on. This kind of modernization that has come in, wherein man's tensions have mounted to a point where he finds that all that he has gained is of no use, is a very serious situation. In addition to these tensions comes another facet wherein, with the greater amount of leisure that man gets today as a result of freedom from work drudgery, he has another problem to cope with - that is, boredom. So with tension on one side, boredom on the other, comes a variety of other complications which make many people really unhappy. Today one may ask the question: Are we in a situation where people are really happy or are we in a situation where people at last have realized that in spite of all that they could gain, they have lost something in the form of some fundamental aspects of life? Who is to be blamed? Are we to blame science? Are we to blame technology? Are we to blame the political systems? Are we to blame the economic system that we have inherited or we have developed? Or are we to blame ourselves?
You are your own Master
Going back to the Buddha's own way of looking at the problem you will say, you hold the reins of life in your hands. Because whatever has gone wrong you are responsible, you are your own master. You have let it go - allowed it away out of your hands. It is easy to blame a person, saying "You have let an opportunity pass. It has slipped away from your hands!" But does that help? The greatness of Buddhism lies in the fact that it does not stop after placing the responsibility on you, it does not say "Now that is it. We have now found the culprit." It proceeds to the next stage of saying: "Here are a few things that could be done."
If one were to go around looking at the various types of religious, psychiatric, psychological measures that have been evolved in order to save man or to cure man from tension on one side and boredom on the other side, you would find that there are many but not one as inexpensive and as practical as some of the very simple directions that Buddhism offers. One would ask the question - does this mean that once you become a Buddhist you would be freed from the tension and boredom of modern life? To answer that question is very difficult because no one becomes a Buddhist. There is no one who is to be labelled as a Buddhist. Because Buddhism is not one of those philosophies or ways of life or religions - I use the word religion because there is no other classification to which it can be put squarely - wherein there is a need to have a label. During the days of the Buddha, people went to him, listened to him and if they were pleased with him they would say, I take refuge in you, I take refuge in your teachings, I take refuge in the Sangha, the community, the disciples who are following this way of life." Even today that is all that is needed for anybody to call himself a Buddhist. Having been convinced that what the Buddha has taught has some relevance to one's life problems, one feels that it is a way of life that could be followed with profit, by taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. With this inner conviction he becomes a Buddhist with absolutely no ceremony, no ritual of any kind, no registration, no other legal requirements. It is what F.L. Woodword, one of the finest translators of the words of Buddha, calls "a do-it-yourself religion."
What is very significant today is that there may be thousands of people who have never gone into a Buddhist temple, never got into the ritualistic set-up which has evolved in the Buddhist countries, but who in their own heart have seen the validity of the message of the Buddha and who are leading a life according to the tenets of Buddhism. In fact, we are finding that a vast majority of the world's population hold allegiance to the Buddha for one reason or another. This is one of the most remarkable things that one would regard as almost a miracle.
A Way of Life
The way of life the Buddha preached was very simple. To the layman it consisted of just five simple precepts: do not kill, do not steal, do not engage in sexual pleasures through wrong means, do not lie, do not take intoxicants - a very simple set of precepts indeed. But the Buddhist way of life, the way the Buddha described does not end with this kind of precepts. Simplified in a manner that anyone could understand, there are three things that each person is expected to do, namely (using the Pali words because most of you are familiar with them) Dana, Sila and Bhavana. Dana would mean liberality, generosity - the act of giving. It is very important that Buddhism begins with Dana as the first virtuous act which one should engage in, in order to put himself on the correct path, because giving is an act of sacrifice. To be able to give something is to prepare your mind fully to give up something that you have, something you treasure, something to which you are attached. Thereby you counter one of the biggest causes of all the problems which, again in Pali, is called Lobha or desire or greed. It is very interesting to see how the way of life is presented to us in a manner that in following it step by step we get rid of some of the human weaknesses and characteristics that cause tension, and the boredom that is bothering most of us today. Liberality is to counteract desires, the greediness, the clinging nature.
Then Sila is adherence to certain precepts, or ethical or moral conduct. Buddha was fully aware of the fact that one could not set rules and regulations for everybody in the same manner. So there are a few rules for the lay people. There are a few more for those who want to enter into a committed religious life, and still more for monks, who have committed themselves to adhere to a very strict path of discipline and purification. So the Sila is a graduated thing, so that each person picks up that which he is able to follow for the present.
In Sila, or moral conduct or the ethical teachings of the Buddha, we come back to this original doctrine: they are not commandments, they are not prescribed from above, they are not prescribed by the Buddha as commandments to obey. Each one of the precepts, which we, as Buddhists, take, is a promise unto ourselves of our own freewill. And the way they are worded is I take upon myself the discipline of not killing", I take upon myself the discipline of not stealing" and so on, because I am the master of my own destiny and it is I who should decide which kind of life I should lead. The Buddha as a guide had shown certain fundamental weaknesses, or faults, that one should try to avoid. The second cause of most of the problems we have is our animosity, or hatred to others. In Pali we say Dosa. Sila is one of those antidotes for this second cause of all our weaknesses. When we follow Sila we control, or rather we completely eliminate the cause of hatred. The Buddha was one of those who were very conscious of the many effects of hatred. He had seen people ruining themselves as a result of hatred. That is what made it possible for him to state very categorically that hatred never ceases by hatred, that the more you hate, the worse it becomes. You hate me, I hate you: I hate you more, you hate me more and the hatred keeps on increasing to a point where both you and I burn ourselves in our mutual hatred, and to the Buddha the only way to solve it is that one party must stop. Because without one party, or better still both parties, trying to conquer hatred with friendship, hatred with non-hatred, this sequence of hatred would never cease. One way of dealing with it is based on the entire doctrine of the virtuous life of Buddhism. Because a virtuous life is attacking the second cause of our weaknesses, namely hatred, we have in Buddhism a most interesting, and again a timeless doctrine, of loving kindness. Loving kindness, which is the cornerstone of Buddhism, (the foundation on which the Buddhist doctrine is built) has not been taken by the Buddha as merely a simple ethical principle. He had analysed the principle of loving kindness into sublime life.
Then comes Karuna - compassion. Compassion is more easily generated. You see somebody in trouble, you see somebody who needs your help, your heart moves towards that person and you rush to help him. That quality of rushing to somebody's help ~ feeling sorry for the other who is suffering, that is another aspect of loving kindness.
Then comes a third aspect of it which is more difficult to practise, and that requires tremendous love and pains, that is called Mudita that is, to share in others' happiness - to wipe out from your mind all traces of jealousy and envy, so that you enjoy the well-being of the other person, your neighbour, even your enemy.
Last of all comes the fourth aspect of loving kindness and that is total equanimity, Upekkha. You have no friends, no enemies, no one higher, no one lower. You have absolutely no distinctions between one person and another, and you are totally merged in a kind of unity with all beings, all things, all situations. So once you are able to live a life in which all these four characteristics govern your actions, there is no place for hatred, there is no place for rivalry, there is no place for competition. So this second principle of Sila looks after this set of troubles that we would have.
Last of all comes the most significant, and the one to which you will be preparing to proceed immediately after this, that is Bhavana - meditation. Bhavana means the training of the mind. The word itself etymologically means development - a further development of the mind. The Buddha believed, and he is one of the earliest to state it in that manner, that everything emanates from the man's mind. The organization that I represent has as the preamble to its Constitution "As wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed." And that reflects the first line of the first verse of the Dhammapada. A pure mind, a trained mind, a well-developed mind, a mind that can be controlled at will, a mind that does not go on to subjects that are conducive to tension and boredom, but keeps alert, keeps on developing itself, discovering itself and within itself the secret of life, the problems of life and the reality of life, is man's greatest treasure.
I am not surprised today that there is almost a craze, in the highly technologically developed part of the world, for all types of meditation. It makes no difference who preaches what, or what philosophy or technique is adopted. But the fact remains that the people are beginning to realize that a moment of quiet contemplation, a moment of deep penetrative thinking, a moment of well-directed properly controlled functioning of the mind, is an essential thing for the well-being of Man.
Two thousand five hundred years ago the Buddha taught exactly the same way. And if there is nothing else that the man of today needs, he needs peace of mind. He wants to get away from his tensions and battle against boredom. And I see the answer in Buddhism, particularly in the three-fold path of Dana, Sila, Bhavana.
Look at the Buddha's own principle as the basis or beginning of his religious life. We hear of so many people who go from rags to riches but here was the case of a man who went from riches to rags, in search of, we may say, peace of mind - that greatest of blessings. As a result, he saw for himself, then taught to others, that the great handicap, the source of all trouble, is attachment.
So, if somebody were to come today and say: I can take you straight to Nibbana this very minute," I think most of us will have lots of excuses to give. Someone will say, can't I wait till my daughter gets married?" Another might say, can't I wait till this World Fellowship of Buddhists General Conference is over?" can't I wait till I have finished my assignment in Bangkok?" We have our own preferred times when it comes to the ultimate goal.
Whatever be our decision as to reaching this goal, there is a point at which we have no escape. We cannot deny the fact that all modern developments have nothing to offer but insecurity and competitiveness as well as tensions and boredom associated with them. Buddhism offers a few very simple and very efficacious methods to combat that. And with this I feel that Buddhism has a role to play in our life and a role in which we, from the Buddhist countries, have an important part to play. It is our responsibility to share our thinking, our knowledge, and our experience, with as many as possible, so that ultimately we all see that the message of the Buddha, which is meant for the good of mankind, continues to reach mankind in every nook and corner of the world.
Cutting Through to Ultimate Reality
by Sharpening the Controlling Faculties
Vipassana meditation can be seen as a process of developing certain positive mental factors until they are powerful enough to dominate the state of the mind quite continuously. These factors are called "the controlling faculties," and they are five in number: faith, effort or energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. Especially in an intensive retreat setting, proper practice develops strong and durable faith, powerful effort, deep concentration, penetrative mindfulness, and the unfolding of more and more profound insight or wisdom. This final product, intuitive wisdom or pañña;, is the force in the mind which cuts through into the deepest truth about reality, and thus liberates us from ignorance and its results: suffering, delusion, and all the forms of unhappiness.
For this development to occur, however, the appropriate causes must be present. Nine causes lead to the growth of the controlling faculties; they are listed here, and will be discussed in more detail below. The first cause is attention directed toward the impermanence of all objects of consciousness. The second is an attitude of care and respect in meditation practice. The third is maintaining an unbroken continuity of awareness. The fourth cause is an environment that supports meditation. The fifth is remembering circumstances or behavior that have been helpful in one's past meditation practice so that one can maintain or recreate those conditions, especially when difficulties may arise. The sixth is cultivating the qualities of mind which lead toward enlightenment. The seventh is willingness to work intensely in meditation practice. The eighth is patience and perseverance in the face of pain or other obstacles. The ninth and last cause for the development of the controlling faculties is a determination to continue practicing until one reaches the goal of liberation.
A yogi can travel far in this practice if he or she fulfills even just the first three causes for the controlling faculties to arise. That is, the yogi's mental state will come to be characterized by faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom if she or he is aware of the passing away of mental and physical phenomena meticulously, respectfully, and with persistent continuity. Under these conditions, the inner hindrances to meditation will soon be removed. The controlling faculties will calm the mind and clear it of disturbances. If you are such a yogi, you will experience a tranquillity you may never have felt before. You may be filled with awe. "Fantastic, it's really true! All those teachers talk about peace and calm and now I'm really experiencing it!" Thus faith, the first of the controlling faculties, will have arisen out of your practice.
This particular kind of faith is called "preliminary verified faith." Your own experience leads you to feel that the further promises of the Dhamma may actually be true.
With faith comes a natural inspiration, an upsurge of energy. When energy is present, effort follows. You will say to yourself, "This is just the beginning. If I work a little harder, I'll have experiences even better than this." A renewed effort guides the mind to hit its target of observation in each moment. Thus mindfulness consolidates and deepens.
Mindfulness has the uncanny ability to bring about concentration, one-pointedness of mind. When mindfulness penetrates into the object of observation moment by moment, the mind gains the capacity to remain stable and undistracted, content within the object. In this natural fashion, concentration becomes well-established and strong. In general, the stronger one's mindfulness, the stronger one's concentration will be.
With faith, effort, mindfulness and concentration, four of the five controlling faculties have been assembled. Wisdom, the fifth, needs no special introduction. If the first four factors are present, wisdom or insight unfolds of itself. One begins to see very clearly, intuitively, how mind and matter are separate entities, and begins also to understand in a very special way how mind and matter are connected by cause and effect. Upon each insight, one's verified faith deepens.
A yogi who has seen objects arising and passing away from moment to moment feels very fulfilled. "It's fabulous. Just moment after moment of these phenomena with no self behind them. No one at home." This discovery brings a sense of great relief and ease of mind. Subsequent insights into impermanence, suffering and absence of self have a particularly strong capacity to stimulate faith. They fill us with powerful conviction that the Dhamma as it has been told to us is authentic.
Vipassana practice can be compared to sharpening a knife against a whetstone. One must hold the blade at just the right angle, not too high or too low, and apply just the right amount of pressure. Moving the knife blade consistently against the stone, one works continuously and until the first edge has been developed. Then one flips the knife over to sharpen the other edge, applying the same pressure at the same angle. This image is given in the Buddhist scriptures. Precision of angle is like meticulousness in practice, and pressure and movement are like continuity of mindfulness. If meticulousness and continuity are really present in your practice, rest assured that in a short time your mind will be sharp enough to cut through to the truth about existence.
ONE: ATTENTION TO IMPERMANENCE
The first cause for development of the controlling faculties is to notice that everything which arises will also dissolve and pass away. During meditation one observes mind and matter at all the six sense doors. One should approach this process of observation with the intention to notice that everything which appears will, in turn, dissolve. As you are no doubt aware, this idea can only be confirmed by actual observation.
This attitude is a very important preparation for practice. A preliminary acceptance that things are impermanent and transitory prevents the reactions that might occur when you discover these facts - sometimes painfully - through your own experience. Without this acceptance, moreover, a student might spend considerable time with the contrary assumption, that the objects of this world might be permanent, an assumption that can block the development of insight. In the beginning you can take impermanence on faith. As practice deepens, this faith will be verified by personal experience.
TWO: CARE AND RESPECT
The second basis for strengthening the controlling faculties is an attitude of great care in pursuing the meditation practice. It is essential to treat the practice with the utmost reverence and meticulousness. To develop this attitude it may be helpful to reflect on the benefits you are likely to enjoy through practice. Properly practiced, mindfulness of body, feelings, mind and mind objects leads to the purification of the mind, the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, the complete destruction of physical pain and mental distress, and the attainment of nibbana. The Buddha called it satipa??hana meditation, meaning meditation on the four foundations of mindfulness. Truly it is priceless!
Remembering this, you may be inspired to be very careful and attentive toward the objects of awareness that arise at the six sense doors. On a meditation retreat, you should also try to slow down your movements as much as possible, appreciating the fact that your mindfulness is at an infant stage. Slowing down gives mindfulness the chance to keep pace with the movements of the body, noting each one in detail.
The scriptures illustrate this quality of care and meticulousness with the image of a person crossing a river on a very narrow footbridge. There is no railing, and swift water runs below. Obviously, this person cannot skip and run across the bridge. He or she must go step by step, with care.
A meditator can also be compared to a person carrying a bowl brimful of oil. You can imagine the degree of care that is required not to spill it. This same degree of mindfulness should be present in your practice.
This second example was given by the Buddha himself. It seems there was a group of monks residing in a forest, ostensibly practicing meditation. They were sloppy, though. At the end of a sitting, they would leap up suddenly and unmindfully. Walking from place to place, they were careless; they looked at the birds in the trees and the clouds in the sky, not restraining their minds at all. Naturally they made no progress in practice.
When the Buddha came to know of this, his investigation showed that the fault lay in the monks' lack of respect and reverence for the Dhamma, for the teaching, and for meditation. The Buddha then approached the monks and spoke to them about the image of carrying a bowl of oil. Inspired by his sutta, or discourse, the monks resolved thereafter to be meticulous and careful in all that they did. As a result they were enlightened in a short time.
You can verify this result in your own experience on a retreat. Slowing down, moving with great care, you will be able to apply a quality of reverence in noting your experience. The slower you move, the faster you will progress in your meditation.
Of course, in this world one must adapt to the prevailing circumstances. Some situations require speed. If you cruise the highway at a snail's pace, you might end up dead or in jail. At a hospital, in contrast, patients must be treated with great gentleness and allowed to move slowly. If doctors and nurses hurry them along so that the hospital's work can be finished more efficiently, the patients will suffer and perhaps end up on a mortuary slab.
Yogis must comprehend their situation, wherever they are, and adapt to it. On retreat, or in any other situation, it is good to be considerate and to move at a normal speed if others are waiting behind you. However, you must also understand that one's primary goal is to develop mindfulness, and so when you are alone it is appropriate to revert to creeping about. You can eat slowly, you can wash your face, brush your teeth and bathe with great mindfulness - as long as no one is waiting in line for the shower or tub.
THREE: UNBROKEN CONTINUITY
Persevering continuity of mindfulness is the third essential factor in developing the controlling faculties. One should try to be with the moment as much as possible, moment after moment, without any breaks in between. In this way mindfulness can be established, and its momentum can increase. Defending our mindfulness prevents the kilesas, the harmful and painful qualities of greed, hatred and delusion, from infiltrating and carrying us off into oblivion. It is a fact of life that the kilesas cannot arise in the presence of strong mindfulness. When the mind is free of kilesas, it becomes unburdened, light and happy.
Do whatever is necessary to maintain continuity. Do one action at a time. When you change postures, break down the movement into single units and note each unit with the utmost care. When you arise from sitting, note the intention to open the eyelids, and then the sensations that occur when the lids begin to move. Note lifting the hand from the knee, shifting the leg, and so on. Throughout the day, be fully aware of even the tiniest actions - not just sitting, standing, walking and lying, but also closing your eyes, turning your head, turning doorknobs and so forth.
Apart from the hours of sleeping, yogis on retreat should be continuously mindful. Continuity should be so strong, in fact, that there is no time at all for reflection, no hesitation, no thinking, no reasoning, no comparing of one's experiences with the things one has read about meditation - just time enough to apply this bare awareness.
The scriptures compare practicing the Dhamma to starting a fire. In the days before the invention of matches or magnifying glasses, fire had to be started by the primitive means of friction. People used an instrument like a bow, held horizontally. In its looped string they entwined a vertical stick whose point was inserted into a slight depression in a board, which was in turn filled with shavings or leaves. As people moved the bow back and forth, the stick's point twirled, eventually igniting the leaves or shavings. Another method was simply to roll that same stick between the palms of the hands. In either case, people rubbed and rubbed until sufficient friction accumulated to ignite the shavings. Imagine what would happen if they rubbed for ten seconds and then rested for five seconds to think about it. Do you think a fire would start? In just this way, a continuous effort is necessary to start the fire of wisdom.
Have you ever studied the behavior of a chameleon? The scriptures use this lizard to illustrate discontinuous practice. Chameleons approach their goals in an interesting way. Catching sight of a delicious fly or a potential mate, a chameleon rushes suddenly forward, but does not arrive all at once. It scurries a short distance, then stops and gazes at the sky, tilting its head this way and that. Then it rushes ahead a bit more and stops again to gaze. It never reaches its destination in the first rush.
People who practice in fits and starts, being mindful for a stretch and then stopping to daydream, are chameleon yogis. Chameleons manage to survive despite their lack of continuity, but a yogi's practice may not. Some yogis feel called to reflect and think each time they have a new experience, wondering which stage of insight they have reached. Others do not need novelty, they think and worry about familiar things.
"I feel tired today. Maybe I didn't sleep enough. Maybe I ate too much. A little nap might be just the ticket. My foot hurts. I wonder if a blister is developing. That would affect my whole meditation! Maybe I should just open my eyes and check." Such are the hesitations of chameleon yogis.
FOUR: SUPPORTIVE CONDITIONS
The fourth cause for developing the controlling faculties is to make sure that suitable conditions are met for insights to unfold. Proper, suitable and appropriate activities can bring about insight knowledge. Seven types of suitability should be met in order to create an environment that is supportive of meditation practice.
The first suitability is that of place. A meditative environment should be well-furnished, well-supported, a place where it is possible to gain insight.
Second is what is known as suitability of resort. This refers to the ancient practice of daily alms rounds. A monk's place of meditation should be far enough from a village to avoid distraction, but near enough so that he can depend on the villagers for daily alms food. For lay yogis, food must be easily and consistently available, yet perhaps not distractingly so. Under this heading, one should avoid places which ruin one's concentration. This means busy, active places where the mind is likely to be distracted from its meditation object. In short, a certain amount of quiet is important, but one must not go so far from the noises of civilization that one cannot obtain what one needs to survive.
The third suitability is that of speech. During a retreat, suitable speech is of a very limited kind and quantity. The commentaries define it as listening to Dhamma talks. We can add participating in Dhamma discussions with the teacher - that is, interviews. It is essential at times to engage in discussions of the practice, especially when one is confused or unsure about how to proceed.
But remember that anything in excess is harmful. I once taught in a place where there was a potted plant which my attendant was overzealous in watering. All its leaves fell off. A similar thing could happen to your samadhi if you get involved in too many Dhamma discussions. And one should carefully evaluate even the discourses of one's teacher. The general rule is to exercise discretion as to whether what one is hearing will develop the concentration that has already arisen, or cause to arise concentration that has not yet arisen. If the answer is negative, one should avoid the situation, perhaps even choosing not to attend the teacher's discourses or not requesting extra interviews.
Yogis on intensive retreat should of course avoid any kind of conversation as much as possible, especially chatting about worldly affairs. Even serious discussion of the Dhamma is not always appropriate during intensive practice. One should avoid debating points of dogma with fellow yogis on retreat. Thoroughly unsuitable during retreats are conversations about food, place, business, the economy, politics and so forth; these are called "animal speech."
The purpose of having this kind of prohibition is to prevent distractions from arising in the yogi's mind. Lord Buddha, out of deep compassion for meditating yogis, said, "For an ardent meditator, speech should not be indulged. If indeed speech is resorted to frequently, it will cause much distraction."
Of course it may become really necessary to talk during a retreat. If so, you should be careful not to exceed what is absolutely necessary to communicate. You should also be mindful of the process of speaking. First there will be a desire to speak. Thoughts will arise in the mind as to what to say and how to say it. You should note and carefully label all such thoughts, the mental preparation for speaking; and then the actual act of speaking itself, the physical movements involved. The movements of your lips and face, and any accompanying gestures, should be made the objects of mindfulness.
Some years ago in Burma there was a high-ranking government official who had just retired. He was a very ardent Buddhist. He had read a lot of Buddhist scriptures and literature in the fine translations available in Burmese and had also spent some time meditating. His practice was not strong, but he had a lot of general knowledge and he wanted to teach, so he became a teacher.
One day he came to the center in Rangoon to meditate. When I give instructions to yogis, usually I explain the practice and then compare my instructions to the scriptural texts, trying to reconcile any apparent differences. This gentleman immediately began to ask me, "From where did this quotation come and what is its reference?" I advised him politely to forget about this concern and to continue his meditation, but he could not. For three days in a row, he did the same thing at each interview.
Finally I asked him, "Why are you here? Did you come here to be my student, or to try to teach me?" It seemed to me he had only come to show off his general knowledge, not because he wished to meditate.
The man said airily, "Oh, I'm the student and you're the teacher."
I said, "I've been trying to let you know this in a subtle way for three days, but I must now be more direct with you. You are like the minister whose job it was to marry off brides and bridegrooms. On the day it was his turn to get married, instead of standing where the bridegroom should stand, he went up to the altar and conducted the ceremony. The congregation was very surprised." Well, the gentleman got the point; he admitted his error and there after became an obedient student.
Yogis who truly want to understand the Dhamma will not seek to imitate this gentleman. In fact it is said in the texts that no matter how learned or experienced one may be, during a period of meditation one should behave like a person who is incapable of doing things out of his or her own initiative, but is also very meek and obedient. In this regard, I'd like to share with you an attitude I developed in my youth. When I am not skilled, competent or experienced in a particular field, I do not intrude in a situation. Even if I am skilled, competent and experienced in a field, I do not intrude unless someone asks for my advice.
The fourth suitability is that of person, which chiefly relates to the meditation teacher. If the instruction given by one's teacher helps one to progress, developing concentration that has already arisen, or bringing about concentration that has not yet arisen, then one can say that this teacher is suitable.
Two more aspects of suitability of person have to do with the community that supports one's practice, and one's own relationship with the community of other people. In an intensive retreat, yogis require a great deal of support. In order to develop their mindfulness and concentration, they abandon worldly activities. Thus, they need friends who can perform certain tasks that would be distracting for a yogi in intensive practice, such as shopping for and preparing food, repairing the shelter, and so on. For those engaged in group practice, it is important to consider one's own effect on the community. Delicate consideration for other yogis is quite helpful. Abrupt or noisy movements can be very disruptive to others. Bearing this in mind, one can become a suitable person with respect to other yogis.
The fifth area of suitability, of food, means that the diet one finds personally appropriate is also supportive to progress in meditation. However, one must bear in mind that it is not always possible to fill one's every preference. Group retreats can be quite large, and meals are cooked for every one at once. At such times, it is best to adopt an attitude of accepting whatever is served. If one's meditation is disturbed by feelings of lack or distaste, it is all right to try to rectify this if convenient.
The Story of Matikamata
Once sixty monks were meditating in the forest. They had a laywoman supporter named Matikamata, who was very devout. She tried to figure out what they might like, and every day she cooked enough food for all of them. One day Matikamata approached the monks and asked whether a lay person could meditate as they did. "Of course," she was told, and they gave her instructions. Happily she went back and began to practice. She kept up her meditation even while she was cooking for the monks and carrying out her household chores. Eventually she reached the third stage of enlightenment, anagami or nonreturner; and because of the great merit she had accumulated in the past, she also had psychic powers such as the deva eye and deva ear - i.e. the abilities to see and hear distant things - and the ability to read people's minds.
Filled with joy and gratitude, Matikamata said to herself, "The Dhamma I've realized is very special. I'm such a busy person, though, looking after my household chores as well as feeding the monks every day, I'm sure those monks have progressed much further than I." With her psychic powers she investigated the meditation progress of the sixty monks, and saw to her shock that none of them had had even the vaguest ghost of a vipassana insight.
"What's wrong here?" Matikamata wondered. Psychically, she looked into the monks' situation to determine where the unsuitability lay. It was not in the place they were meditating. It was not because they weren't getting along - but it was that they were not getting the right food! Some of the monks liked sour tastes, others preferred the salty. Some liked hot peppers and others liked cakes, and still others preferred vegetables. Out of great gratitude for the meditation instructions she had received from them, which had led her to profound enlightenment, Matikamata began to cater to each monk's preference. As a result, all of the monks soon became arahants, fully enlightened ones.
This woman's rapid and deep attainments, as well as her intelligence and dedication, provide a good model for people like parents and other caretakers, who serve the needs of others, but who do not need to relinquish aspirations for deep insights.
While on this subject I would like to talk about vegetarianism. Some hold the view that it is moral to eat only vegetables. In Theravada Buddhism there is no notion that this practice leads to an exceptional perception of the truth.
The Buddha did not totally prohibit the eating of meat. He only lay down certain conditions for it. For example, an animal must not be killed expressly for one's personal consumption. The monk Devadatta asked him to lay down a rule expressly forbidding the eating of meat, but the Buddha, after thorough consideration, refused to do so.
In those days as now, the majority of people ate a mixture of animal and vegetable food. Only Brahmins, or the upper caste, were vegetarian. When monks went begging for their livelihood, they had to take whatever was offered by donors of any caste. To distinguish between vegetarian and carnivorous donors would have affected the spirit of this activity. Furthermore, both Brabmins and members of other castes were able to join the order of monks and nuns. The Buddha took this fact into consideration as welt with all of its implications.
Thus, one needn't restrict oneself to vegetarianism to practice the Dhamma. Of course, it is healthy to eat a balanced vegetarian diet, and if your motivation for not eating meat is compassion, this impulse is certainly wholesome. If, on the other hand, your metabolism is adjusted to eating meat, or if for some other reason of health it is necessary for you to eat meat this should not be considered sinful or in any way detrimental to the practice. A law that cannot be obeyed by the majority is ineffective.
The sixth type of suitability is that of weather. Human beings have a fantastic ability to adapt to weather. No matter how hot or cold it may be, we devise methods of making ourselves comfortable. When these methods are limited or unavailable, one's practice can be disrupted. At such times it may be better to practice in a temperate climate, if possible.
The seventh and last kind of suitability is that of posture. Posture here refers to the traditional four postures: sitting, standing, walking and lying down. Sitting is best for samatha or tranquillity meditation. In the tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw, vipassana practice is based on sitting and walking. For any type of meditation, once momentum builds, posture does not really matter; any of the four is suitable.
Beginning yogis should avoid the lying and the standing postures. The standing posture can bring about pain in a short while: tightness and pressure in the legs, which can disrupt the practice. The lying posture is problematic because it brings on drowsiness. In it there is not much effort being made to maintain the posture, and there is too much comfort.
Investigate your own situation to find out whether the seven types of suitability are present. If they are not, perhaps you should take steps to ensure they are fulfilled, so that your practice can develop. If this is done with the aim of making progress in your practice, it will not be self-centered.
FIVE: REAPPLYING HELPFUL CONDITIONS FROM THE PAST
The fifth way of sharpening the controlling faculties is to bring about the completion of meditative insight using what is called "the sign of samadhi." This refers to circumstances in which good practice has occurred before: good mindfulness and concentration. As we all know, practice is an up and down affair. At times we are high up in the clouds of samadhi-land; at other times, we're really depressed, assaulted by kilesas, not mindful of anything. Using the sign of samadhi means that when you are up in those clouds, when mindfulness is strong, you should try to notice what circumstances led to this good practice. How are you working with the mind? What are the specific circumstances in which this good practice is occurring? The next time you get into a difficult situation, you may be able to remember the causes of good mindfulness and establish them again.
SIX: CULTIVATING THE FACTORS THAT LEAD TO ENLIGHTENMENT
The sixth way of sharpening the controlling faculties is cultivating the factors of enlightenment: mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture or joy, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity. These qualifies of mind, or mental factors, are actually the causes which bring about enlightenment. When they are present and alive in one's mind, the moment of enlightenment is being encouraged, and may be said to be drawing nearer. Furthermore, the seven factors of enlightenment belong to what is known as "noble path and fruition consciousness." In Buddhism, we speak of "consciousnesses" when we mean specific, momentary types of consciousness - particular mental events, with recognizable characteristics. Path and fruition consciousness are the linked mental events that constitute an enlightenment experience. They are what is occurring when the mind shifts its attention from the conditioned realm to nibbana, or unconditioned reality. The result of such a shift is that certain defilements are uprooted, so that the mind is never the same afterwards.
While working to create the conditions for path and fruition consciousness, a yogi who understands the factors of enlightenment can use them to balance her or his meditation practice. The enlightenment factors of effort, joy, and investigation uplift the mind when it becomes depressed, while the factors of tranquility, concentration, and equanimity calm the mind when it becomes hyperactive.
Many times a yogi may feel depressed and discouraged, having no mindfulness, thinking that his or her practice is going terribly badly. Mindfulness may not be able to pick up objects as it has in the past. At such a time it is essential for a yogi to pull out of this state, brighten the mind. He or she should go in search of encouragement and inspiration. One way to do this is by listening to a good Dhamma talk. A talk can bring about the enlightenment factor of joy or rapture; or it can inspire greater effort, or it can deepen the enlightenment factor of investigation by providing knowledge about practice. These three factors of enlightenment - rapture, effort and investigation - are most helpful in facing depression and discouragement.
Once an inspiring talk has brought up rapture, energy or investigation, you should use this opportunity to try to focus the mind very clearly on objects of observation, so that the objects appear very clearly to the mind's eye.
At other times, yogis may have an unusual experience, or for some other reason may find themselves flooded with exhilaration, rapture and joy. The mind becomes active and overenthusiastic. On a retreat you can spot such yogis beaming, walking around as if they were six feet above the ground. Due to excess energy, the mind slips; it refuses to concentrate on what is happening in the present moment. If attention touches the target object at all, it immediately goes off on a tangent.
If you find yourself excessively exhilarated, you should restore your equilibrium by developing the three enlightenment factors of tranquility, concentration and equanimity. A good way to start is by realizing that your energy is indeed excessive; and then reflecting. "There's no point in hurrying. The Dhamma will unfold by itself. I should just sit back coolly and watch with gentle awareness." This stimulates the factor of tranquility. Then, once the energy is cooled, one can begin to apply concentration. The pactical method of doing this is to narrow down the meditation. Instead of noting many objects, cut down to concentrate more fully on a few. The mind will soon renew its normal, slower pace. Lastly, one can adopt a stance of equanimity, cajoling and soothing the mind with reflections like, "A yogi has no preferences. There's no point in hurrying. The only thing that matters is for me to watch whatever is happening, good or bad."
If you can keep your mind in balance, soothing excitement and lightening up depression, you can be sure that wisdom will shortly unfold on its own.
Actually, the person best qualified to rectify imbalances in practice is a competent meditation teacher. If he or she keeps steady track of students through interviews, a teacher can recognize and remedy the many kinds of excesses that yogis are susceptible to.
I would like to remind all yogis never to feel discouraged when they think something is wrong with their meditation. Yogis are like babies or young children. As you know, babies go through various stages of development. When babies are in a transition from one stage of development to another, they tend to go though a lot of psychological and physical upheaval. They seem to get irritated very easily and are difficult to care for. They cry and wail at odd times. An inexperienced mother may worry about her baby during periods like this. But truly, if infants don't go through this suffering they will never mature and grow up. Babies' distress is often a sign of developmental progress. So if you feel your practice is falling apart, do not worry. You may be just like that little child who is in a transition between stages of growth.
SEVEN: COURAGEOUS EFFORT
The seventh way of developing the controlling faculties is to practice with courageous effort so much so that you are willing to sacrifice your body and life in order to continue the practice uninterrupted. This means giving rather less consideration toward the body than we tend to be accustomed to give to it. Rather than spending time beautifying ourselves or catering to our wishes for greater comfort, we devote as much energy as possible to going forward in meditation.
Although it may feel very youthful right now, our body becomes completely useless when we die. What use can one make of a corpse? The body is like a very fragile container which can be used as long as it is intact, but the moment it drops on the floor, it is of no further help to us.
While we are alive and in reasonably good health, we have the good fortune to be able to practice. Let us try to extract the precious essence from our bodies before it is too late, before our bodies become useless corpses! Of course, it is not our aim to hasten this event. We should also try to be sensible, and to maintain this body's health, if only for our practice to continue.
You might ask what essence one can extract from the body. A scientific study was once made to determine the market value of the substances composing the human body: iron, calcium and so on. I believe it came to less than one American dollar, and the cost of extracting all those components was many times greater than this total value. Without such a process of extraction, a corpse is valueless, beyond providing compost for the soil. If a dead person's organs can be used for transplants into living bodies, this is good; but in this case, progress toward becoming an entirely lifeless and valueless corpse has only been delayed.
The body can be looked at as a rubbish dump, disgusting and full of impurities. Uncreative people have no use for things they might find in such a dump, but an innovative person understands the value of recycling. He or she may take a dirty, smelly thing off the rubbish heap and clean it and be able to use it again. There are many stories of people who have made millions from the recycling business.
From this rubbish heap we call our body, we can nonetheless extract gold through the practice of the Dhamma. One form of gold is sila, purity of conduct, the ability to tame and civilize one's actions. After further extraction, the body yields up the controlling faculties of faith, mindfulness, effort, concentration and wisdom. These are priceless jewels which can be extracted from the body through meditation. When the controlling faculties are well-developed, the mind resists domination by greed, hatred and delusion. A person whose mind is free of these painful oppressive qualities experiences an exquisite happiness and peace that cannot be bought with money. His or her presence becomes calm and sweet so that others feel uplifted. This inner freedom is independent of all circumstances and conditions, and it is only available as a result of ardent meditation practice.
Anyone can understand that painful mental states do not vanish just because we wish them to do so. Who has not wrestled with a desire they knew would hurt someone if they indulged it? Is there anyone who has never been in an irritable, grumpy mood and wished they were feeling happy and contented instead? Has anyone failed to experience the pain of being confused? It is possible to uproot the tendencies which create pain and dissatisfaction in our lives, but for most of us it is not easy. Spiritual work is as demanding as it is rewarding. Yet we should not be discouraged. The goal and result of vipassana meditation is to be free from all kinds, all shades and all levels of mental and physical suffering. If you desire this kind of freedom, you should rejoice that you have an opportunity to strive to achieve it.
The best time to strive is right now. If you are young, you should appreciate your good situation, for young people have the most energy to carry out the meditation practice. If you are older you may have less physical energy, but perhaps you have seen enough of life to have gained wise consideration, such as a personal understanding of life's fleetingness and unpredictability.
"Urgency Seized Me"
During the Buddha's time there was a young bhikkhu, or monk, who had come from a wealthy family. Young and robust, he'd had the chance to enjoy a wide variety of sense pleasures before his ordination. He was wealthy, he had many friends and relatives, and his wealth made available to him the full panoply of indulgences. Yet he renounced all this to seek liberation.
One day when the king of that country was riding through the forest, he came across this monk. The king said, "Venerable sir, you are young and robust; you are in the prime of youth. You come from a wealthy family and have lots of opportunities to enjoy yourself. Why did you leave your home and family to wear robes and live in solitude? Don't you feel lonely? Aren't you bored?"
The monk answered, "O great king, when I was listening to the Buddha's discourse that leads to arousing spiritual urgency, a great sense of urgency seized me. I want to extract the optimum utility from this body of mine in time before I die. That is why I gave up the worldly life and took these robes."
If you still are not convinced of the need to practice with great urgency, without attachment to body or life, the Buddha's words may also be helpful for you.
One should reflect, he said, on the fact that the whole world of beings is made up of nothing but mind and matter which have arisen but do not stay. Mind and matter do not remain still for one single moment; they are in constant flux. Once we find ourselves in this body and mind, there is nothing we can do to prevent growth from taking place. When we are young we like to grow, but when we are old we are stuck in an irreversible process of decline.
We like to be healthy, but our wishes can never be guaranteed. We are plagued by sickness and illness, by pain and discomfort, throughout our existence. Immortal life is beyond our reach. All of us will die. Death is contrary to what we would wish for ourselves, yet we cannot prevent it. The only question is whether death will come sooner or later.
Not a single person on earth can guarantee our wishes regarding growth, health or immortality. People refuse to accept these facts. The old try to look young. Scientists develop all manner of cures and contraptions to delay the process of human decay. They even try to revive the dead! When we are sick we take medicines to feel better. But even if we get well, we will get sick again. Nature cannot be deceived. We cannot escape old age and death.
This is the main weakness of beings: beings are devoid of security. There is no safe refuge from old age, disease and death. Look at other beings, look at animals, and most of all, look at yourself.
If you have practiced deeply, these facts will come as no surprise to you. If you can see with intuitive insight how mental and physical phenomena arise endlessly from moment to moment, you know there is no refuge anywhere that you can run to. There is no security. Yet, if your insight has not reached this point, perhaps reflecting on the precariousness of life will cause some urgency to arise in you, and give you a strong impulse to practice. Vipassana meditation can lead to a place beyond all these fearsome things.
Beings have another great weakness: lack of possessions. This may sound strange. We are born. We begin procuring knowledge right away. We obtain credentials. Most of us get a job, and buy many items with the resulting wages. We call these our possessions, and on a relative level, that is what they are - no doubt about it. If possessions really belonged to us, though, we would never be separated from them. Would they break, or get lost, or stolen the way they do if we owned them in some ultimate sense? When human beings die there is nothing we can take with us. Everything gained, amassed, stored up and hoarded is left behind. Therefore it is said that all beings are possession-less.
All of our property must be left behind at the moment of death. Property is of three types, the first of which is immovable property: buildings, land, estates, and so forth. Conventionally these belong to you, but you must leave them behind when you die. The second type of property is moveable property: chairs, toothbrushes and clothing - all the things you carry along as you travel about during your existence on this planet. Then there is knowledge: arts and sciences, the skills you use to sustain your life and that of others. As long as we have a body in good working order, this property of knowledge is essential. However, there is no insurance against losing that either. You may forget what you know, or you may be prevented from practicing your specialty by a government decree or some other unfortunate event. If you are a surgeon you could badly break your arm, or you could meet with some other kind of attack on your well-being which leaves you too neurotic to continue your livelihood.
None of these kinds of possessions can bring any security during existence on earth, let alone during the afterlife. If one can understand that we possess nothing, and that life is extremely transitory, then we will feel much more peaceful when the inevitable comes to pass.
Our Only True Possession
However, there are certain things that follow human beings through the doors of death. This is kamma (Sanskrit: karma), the results of our actions. Our good and bad kammas follow us wherever we are; we cannot get away from them even if we want to.
Believing that kamma is your only true possession brings a strong wish to practice the Dhamma with ardor and thoroughness. You will understand that wholesome and beneficial deeds are an investment in your own future happiness, and harmful deeds will rebound upon you. Thus, you will do many things based on noble considerations of benevolence, generosity, and kindness. You will try to make donations to hospitals, to people suffering from calamity. You will support members of your family, the aged, the handicapped and underprivileged, your friends, and others who need help. You will want to create a better society by maintaining purity of conduct, taming your speech and actions. You will bring about a peaceful environment as you strive to meditate and tame the obsessive kilesas that arise in the heart. You will go through the stages of insight and eventually realize the ultimate goal. All of these meritorious deeds of dana, of giving; of sila, morality; and of bhavana, mental development or meditation - they will follow you after death, just as your shadow follows you wherever you go. Do not cease to cultivate the wholesome!
All of us are slaves of craving. It is ignoble, but it is true. Desire is insatiable. As soon as we get something, we find it is not as satisfying as we thought it would be, and we try something else. It is the nature of life, like trying to scoop up water in a butterfly net. Beings cannot become contented by following the dictates of desire, chasing after objects. Desire can never satisfy desire. If we understand this truth correctly, we will not seek satisfaction in this self-defeating way. This is why the Buddha said that contentment is the greatest wealth.
There is a story of a man who worked as a basket weaver. He was a simple man who enjoyed weaving his baskets. He whistled and sang and passed the day happily as he worked. At night he retired to his little hut and slept well. One day a wealthy man passed by and saw this poor wretched basket weaver. He was filled with compassion and gave him a thousand dollars. "Take this," he said, and go enjoy yourself."
The basket weaver took the money with much appreciation. He had never seen a thousand dollars in his life. He took it back to his ramshackle hut and was wondering where he could keep it. But his hut was not very secure.
He could not sleep all night because he was worrying about robbers, or even rats nibbling at his cash.
The next day he took his thousand dollars to work, but he did not sing or whistle because he was worrying so much about his money again. Once more, that night he did not sleep, and in the morning he returned the thousand dollars to the wealthy man, saying, "Give me back my happiness."
You may think that Buddhism discourages you from seeking knowledge or credentials, or from working hard to earn money so you can support yourself and family and friends and contribute to worthy causes and institutions. No. By all means, make use of your life and your intelligence, and obtain all these things legally and honestly. The point is to be contented with what you have. Do not become a slave of craving: that is the message. Reflect on the weaknesses of beings so that you can get the most from your body and life before you are too sick and old to practice and can only depart from this useless corpse.
EIGHT: PATIENCE AND PERSEVERANCE
If you practice with heroic effort, entertaining no considerate attachment to body or life, you can develop the liberating energy which will carry you through the higher stages of practice. Such a courageous attitude contains within itself not only the seventh, but also the eighth means of developing the controlling faculties. This eighth quality is patience and perseverance in dealing with pain, especially painful sensations in the body.
All yogis are familiar with the unpleasant sensations that can come up during the course of a single sitting, the suffering of the mind in reaction to these sensations, and on top of that, the mind's resistance to being controlled as it must be in the practice.
An hour's sitting requires a lot of work. First, you try to keep your mind on the primary object as much as possible. This restraint and control can be very threatening to the mind, accustomed as it is to running wild. The process of maintaining attention becomes a strain. This strain of the mind, resisting control, is one form of suffering.
When the mind fills with resistance, often the body reacts also. Tension arises. In a short time you are besieged by painful sensations. What with the initial resistance and this pain on top of it, you've got quite a task on your hands. Your mind is constricted, your body is tight, you lose the patience to look directly at the physical pain. Now your mind goes completely bonkers. It may fill with aversion and rage. Your suffering is now threefold: the mind's initial resistance; the actual physical pain; and the mental suffering that results from physical suffering.
This would be a good time to apply the eighth cause for strengthening the controlling faculties, patience and perseverance, and try to look at the pain directly. If you are not prepared to confront pain in a patient way, you only leave open the door to the kilesas, like greed and anger. "Oh, I hate this pain. If only I could get back the wonderful comfort I had five minutes ago." In the presence of anger and greed, and in the absence of patience, the mind becomes confused and deluded as well. No object is clear, and you are unable to see the true nature of pain.
At such a time you will believe that pain is a thorn, a hindrance in your practice. You may decide to shift position in order to "concentrate better." If such movement becomes a habit, you will lose the chance to deepen your meditation practice. Calmness and tranquility of mind have their foundation in stillness of body.
Constant movement is actually a good way to conceal the true nature of pain. Pain may be right under your nose, the most predominant element of your experience, but you move your body so as not to look at it. You lose a wonderful opportunity to understand what pain really is.
In fact we have been living with pain ever since we were born on this planet. It has been close to us all our lives. Why do we run from it? If pain arises, look on it as a precious opportunity really to understand something familiar in a new and deeper way.
At times when you are not meditating, you can exercise patience toward painful sensations, especially if you are concentrating on something you are interested in. Say you are a person who really loves the game of chess. You sit in your chair and look very intently at the chessboard, where your opponent has just made a fantastic move, putting you in check. You may have been sitting on that chair for two hours, yet you will not feel your cramped position as you try to work out the strategy to escape from your predicament. Your mind is totally lost in thought. If you do feel the pain, you may very well ignore it until you have achieved your goal.
It is even more important to exercise patience in the practice of meditation, which develops a much higher level of wisdom than does chess, and which gets us out of a more fundamental kind of predicament.
Strategies for Dealing with Pain
The degree of penetration into the true nature of phenomena depends very much on the level of concentration we can develop. The more one-pointed the mind, the more deeply it can penetrate and understand reality. This is particularly true when one is being aware of painful sensations. If concentration is weak, we will not really feel the discomfort which is always present in our bodies. When concentration begins to deepen, even the slightest discomfort becomes so very clear that it appears to be magnified and exaggerated. Most human beings are myopic in this sense. Without the eyeglasses of concentration, the world appears hazy, blurry and indistinct. But when we put them on, all is bright and clear. It is not the objects that have changed; it is the acuity of our sight.
When you look with the naked eye at a drop of water, you do not see much. If you put a sample under the microscope, however, you begin to see many things happening there. Many things are dancing and moving, fascinating to watch. If in meditation you are able to put on your glasses of concentration, you will be surprised at the variety of changes taking place in what would appear to be a stagnant and uninteresting spot of pain. The deeper the concentration, the deeper your understanding of pain. You will be more and more enthralled the more clearly you can see that these painful sensations are in a constant state of flux, from one sensation to another, changing, diminishing, growing stronger, fluctuating and dancing. Concentration and mindfulness will deepen and sharpen. At times when the show becomes utterly fascinating, there is a sudden and unexpected end to it, as though the curtain is dropped and the pain just disappears miraculously.
One who is unable to arouse enough courage or energy to look at pain will never understand the potential that lies in it. We have to develop courage of mind, heroic effort, to look at pain. Let's learn not to run from pain, but rather to go right in.
When pain arises, the first strategy is to send your attention straight toward it, right to the center of it. You try to penetrate its core. Seeing pain as pain, note it persistently, trying to get under its surface so that you do not react.
Perhaps you try very hard, but you still become fatigued. Pain can exhaust the mind. If you cannot maintain a reasonable level of energy, mindfulness and concentration, it is time to gracefully withdraw. The second strategy for dealing with pain is to play with it. You go into it and then you relax a bit. You keep your attention on the pain, but you loosen the intensity of mindfulness and concentration. This gives your mind a rest. Then you go in again as closely as you can; and if you are not successful you retreat again. You go in and out, back and forth, two or three times.
If the pain is still strong and you find your mind be coming tight and constricted despite these tactics, it is time for a graceful surrender. This does not mean shifting your physical position just yet. It means shifting the position of your mindfulness. Completely ignore the pain and put your mind on the rising and falling or whatever primary object you are using. Try to concentrate so strongly on this that the pain is blocked out of your awareness.
Healing Body and Mind
We must try to overcome any timidity of mind. Only if you have the strength of mind of a hero will you be able to overcome pain by understanding it for what it really is. In meditation many kinds of unbearable physical sensations can arise. Nearly all yogis see clearly the discomfort that has always existed in their bodies, but magnified by concentration. During intensive practice pain also frequently resurfaces from old wounds, childhood mishaps, or chronic illnesses of the past. A current or recent illness can suddenly get worse. If these last two happen to you, you can say that Lady Luck is on your side. You have the chance to overcome an illness or chronic pain through your own heroic effort, without taking a drop of medicine. Many yogis have totally overcome and transcended their health problems through meditation practice alone.
About fifteen years ago there was a man who had been suffering from gastric troubles for many years. When he went to his checkup, the doctor said he had a tumor and needed surgery. The man was afraid that the operation would be unsuccessful and he might die.
So he decided to play it safe in case he did die. "I had better go meditate," he said to himself. He came to practice under my guidance. Soon he began to feel a lot of pain. At first it was not bad, but as he made progress in practice and reached the level of insight connected with pain, he had a severe, unbearable, torturous attack. He told me about it and I said, "Of course you are free to go home to see your doctor. However, why don't you stay a few more days?"
He thought about it and decided there still was no guarantee he would survive the operation. So he decided to stay and meditate. He took a teaspoon of medicine every two hours. At times the pain got the better of him; at times he overcame the pain. It was a long battle, with losses on both sides. But this man had enormous courage.
During one sitting the pain was so excruciating that his whole body shook and his clothes were soaked in sweat. The tumor in his stomach was getting harder and harder, more and more constricted. Suddenly his idea of his stomach disappeared as he was looking at it. Now there was just his consciousness and a painful object. It was very painful but it was very interesting. He kept on watching and there was just the noting mind and the pain, which got more and more excruciating.
Then there was a big explosion like a bomb. The yogi said he could even hear a loud sound. After that it was all over. He got up from his sitting drenched in sweat. He touched his belly, but in the place where his tumor once protruded, there was nothing. He was completely cured. Moreover, he had completed his meditation practice, having had an insight into nibbana.
Soon afterwards this man left the center and I asked him to let me know what the doctor said about the gastric problem. The doctor was shocked to see that the tumor was gone. The man could forget the strict diet he had followed for twenty years, and to this day he is alive and in good health. Even the doctor became a vipassana yogi!
I have come across innumerable people who have recovered from chronic headaches, heart trouble, tuberculosis, even cancer and severe injuries sustained at an early age. Some of them had been declared incurable by doctors. All of these people had to go through tremendous pain. But they exercised enormous perseverance and courageous effort, and they healed themselves. More important, many also came to understand far more deeply the truth about reality by observing pain with tenacious courage and then breaking through to insight.
You should not be discouraged by painful sensations. Rather, have faith and patience. Persevere until you understand your own true nature.
NINE: UNWAVERING COMMITMENT
The ninth and last factor leading to the development of the controlling faculties is the quality of mind that keeps you walking straight to the end of the path without becoming sidetracked, without giving up your task.
What is your objective in practicing meditation? Why do you undergo the threefold training of sila, samadhi and pañña? It is important to appreciate the goal of meditation practice. It is even more important to be honest with yourself, so that you can know the extent of your commitment to that goal.
Good Deeds and Our Highest Potential
Let us reflect on sila. Having this amazing opportunity to be born on this planet as human beings, understanding that our wondrous existence in this world comes about as a result of good deeds, we should endeavor to live up to the highest potential of humanity. The positive connotations of the word "humanity" are great loving-kindness and compassion. Would it not be proper for every human being on this planet to aspire to perfect these qualities? If one is able to cultivate a mind filled with compassion and loving-kindness, it is easy to live in a harmonious and wholesome way. Morality is based on consideration for the feelings of all beings, others as well as oneself. One behaves in a moral way not only to be harmless toward others, but also to prevent one's own future sorrow. We all should avoid actions that will lead to unfavorable consequences, and walk the path of wholesome actions, which can free us forever from states of misery.
Kamma is our only true property. It will be very helpful if you can take this view as a basic foundation for your behavior, for your practice, for your life as a whole. Whether good or bad, kamma follows us everywhere, in this life and the next. If we perform skillful, harmonious actions, we will be held in high esteem in this very life. Wise persons will praise us and hold us in affection, and we will also be able to look forward to good circumstances in our future lives, until we attain final nibbana.
Committing bad or unskillful actions brings about dishonor and notoriety even in this life. Wise people will blame us and look down upon us. Nor in the future will we be able to escape the consequences of our deeds.
In its powerful potential to bring good and bad results, kamma can be compared to food. Some foods are suitable and healthy, while others are poisonous to the body. If we understand which foods are nutritious, eating them at the proper time and in proper amounts, we can enjoy a long and healthy life. If, on the other hand, we are tempted by foods which are unhealthy and poisonous, we must suffer the consequences. We may fall sick and suffer a great deal. We may even die.
Practicing dana or generosity can lessen the greed that arises in the heart. The five basic sila precepts help control the emotions and very gross defilements of greed and hatred. Observing the precepts, the mind is controlled to the extent that it does not manifest through the body and perhaps not even through speech.
If you can be perfect in precepts, you may appear to be a very holy person, but inside you may still be tortured by eruptions of impatience, hatred, covetousness and scheming. Therefore, the next step is bhavana; which means in Pali; the cultivation of exceptionally wholesome mental states." The first part of bhavana is to prevent unwholesome states from arising. The second part is the development of wisdom in the absence of these states.
Blissful Concentration and its Flaws
Samatha bhavana or concentration meditation, has the power to make the mind calm and tranquil and to pull it far away from the kilesas. It suppresses the kilesas, making it impossible for them to attack. Samatha bhavana is not unique to Buddhism. It can be found in many other religious systems, particularly in Hindu practices. It is a commendable undertaking in which the practitioner achieves purity of mind during the time he or she is absorbed in the object of meditation. Profound bliss, happiness and tranquillity are achieved. At times even psychic powers can be cultivated through these states. However, success in samatha bhavana does not at all mean that one gains an insight into the true nature of reality in terms of mind and matter. The kilesas have been suppressed but not uprooted; the mind has not yet penetrated the true nature of reality. Thus, practitioners are not freed from the net of sa?sara, and may even fall into states of misery in the future. One can attain a great deal through concentration and yet still be a loser.
After the Buddha's supreme enlightenment he spent forty-nine days in Bodh Gaya enjoying the bliss of his liberation. Then he started to think about how he could communicate this profound and subtle truth to other beings. He looked around and saw that most of the world was covered by a thick layer of dust, of kilesas. People were wallowing in deepest darkness. The immensity of his task dawned on him.
Then it occurred to him that there were two-people who would be quite receptive to his teaching, whose minds were quite pure and clear of the kilesas. In fact, they were two of his former teachers, the hermits A?ara the Kalama and Uddaka the Ramaputta. Each of them had a large number of followers due to their attainments in concentration. The Buddha had mastered each of their teachings in turn, but had realized that he was seeking something beyond what they taught.
Yet both of these hermits' minds were very pure. A?ara the Kalama had mastered the seventh level of concentration, and Uddaka the Ramaputta the eighth, or highest, level of absorption. The kilesas were kept far from them, even during the times when they were not actually practicing their absorptions. The Buddha felt certain they would become completely enlightened if only he would speak a few significant words of Dhamma to them.
Even as the Buddha considered in this way, an invisible deva, a being from a celestial realm, announced to him that both of the hermits had died. A?ara the Kalama had passed away seven days before, and Uddaka the Ramaputta only the previous night. Both had been reborn in the formless world of the brahmas, where mind exists but matter does not. Therefore the hermits no longer had ears for hearing nor eyes for seeing. It was impossible for them to see the Buddha or to listen to the Dhamma; and, since meeting with a teacher and listening to the Dhamma are the only two ways to discover the right way of practice, the two hermits had missed their chance to become fully enlightened.
The Buddha was moved. "They have suffered a great loss," he said.
What exactly is missing from concentration meditation? It simply cannot bring the understanding of truth. For this we need Vipassana meditation. Only intuitive insight into the true nature of mind and matter can free one from the concept of ego, of a person, of self or "I." Without this insight which comes about through the process of bare awareness, one cannot be free from these concepts.
Only an intuitive understanding of the mechanism of cause and effect - that is, seeing the link of recurrence of mind and matter - can free one from the delusion that things happen without a cause. Only by seeing the rapid arising and disappearance of phenomena can one be released from the delusion that things are permanent, solid and continuous. Only by experiencing suffering in the same intuitive way can one deeply learn that samsaric existence is not worth clinging to. Only the knowledge that mind and matter just flow by according to their own natural laws with no one, and nothing, behind them, can impress upon one's mind that there is no atta, or self essence.
Unless you go through the various levels of insight and eventually realize nibbana, you will not understand true happiness. With nibbana as the ultimate goal of your practice, you should try to maintain a high level of energy, not stopping or surrendering, never retreating until you reach your final destination.
First you will make the effort needed to establish your meditation practice. You focus your mind on the primary object of meditation, and you return to this object again and again. You set up a routine of sitting and walking practice. This is called "Launching Energy;" it puts you on the path and gets you moving forward.
Even if obstacles arise, you will stick with your practice, overcoming all obstacles with perseverance. If you are bored and lethargic, you summon up ardent energy. If you feel pain, you overcome the timid mind that prefers to withdraw and is unwilling to face what is happening. This is called "Liberating Energy," the energy necessary to liberate you from indolence. You will not retreat. You know you will just keep walking until you reach your goal.
After that, when you have overcome the intermediate difficulties and perhaps have found yourself in a smooth and subtle space, you will not become complacent. You will go into the next gear, putting in the effort to lift your mind higher and higher. This is an effort which neither decreases nor stagnates, but is in constant progress. This is called "Progressive Effort," and it leads to the goal you desire.
Therefore, the ninth factor conducive to sharpening the controlling faculties actually means applying successive levels of energy so that you neither stop nor hesitate, surrender nor retreat, until you reach your final goal and destination.
As you go along in this way, making use of all of the nine qualities of mind described above, the five controlling faculties of faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom will sharpen and deepen. Eventually they will take over your mind and lead you on to freedom.
I hope you can examine your own practice. If you see that it is lacking in some element, make use of the above information to your own benefit.
Please walk straight on until you reach your desired goal!
© Saddhamma Foundation 1993
Copyright © 2002 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
For free distribution only.
You may reprint this work for free distribution.
You may re-format and redistribute this work for use on computers and computer networks
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Otherwise, all rights reserved.
Meditation teaches you the power of your perceptions. You come to see how the labels you apply to things, the images with which you visualize things, have a huge influence over what you see, how they can weigh you down with suffering and stress. As the meditation develops, though, it gives you the tools you need to gain freedom from that influence.
In the beginning, when you first notice the power of perception, you can easily feel overwhelmed by how pervasive it is. Suppose you're focusing on the breath. There comes a point when you begin to wonder whether you're focusing on the breath itself or on your idea of the breath. Once this question arises, the normal reaction is to try to get around the idea to the raw sensation behind it. But if you're really sensitive as you do this, you'll notice that you're simply replacing one caricature of the breath with another, more subtle one. Even the raw sensation of breathing is shaped by how you conceptualize raw sensation. No matter how hard you try to pin down an unfiltered experience of breathing, you still find it shaped by your idea of what breathing actually is. The more you pursue the reality of the breath, the more it recedes like a mirage.
The trick here is to turn this fact to your advantage. After all, you're not meditating to get to the breath. You're meditating to understand the processes leading to suffering so that you can put an end to them. The way your relate to your perceptions is part of these processes, so that's what you want to see. You have to treat your experience of the breath, not as an end in itself, but as a tool for understanding the role of perception in creating suffering and stress.
You do this by de-perception: questioning your assumptions about breathing, deliberately changing those assumptions, and observing what happens as a result. Now, without the proper context, de-perception could easily wander off into random abstractions. So you take the practice of concentration as your context, providing de-perception both with a general direction and with particular tasks that force it to bump up against the operative assumptions that actually shape your experience of the present.
The general direction lies in trying to bring the mind to deeper and more long-lasting levels of stillness so as to eliminate more and more subtle levels of stress. You're not trying to prove which perceptions of the breath depict it most truly, but simply which ones work best in which situations for eliminating stress. The objectivity you're looking for is not the objectivity of the breath, but the objectivity of cause and effect.
The particular tasks that teach you these lessons begin with the task of trying to get the mind to stay comfortably focused for long periods of time on the breath -- and right there you run into two operative assumptions: What does it mean to breathe? What does it mean to be focused?
It's common to think of the breath as the air passing in and out through the nose, and this can be a useful perception to start with. Use whatever blatant sensations you associate with that perception as a means of establishing mindfulness, developing alertness, and getting the mind to grow still. But as your attention gets more refined, you may find that level of breath becoming too faint to detect. So try thinking of the breath instead as the energy flow in the body, as a full body process.
Then make that experience as comfortable as possible. If you feel any blockage or obstruction in the breathing, see what you can do to dissolve those feelings. Are you doing anything to create them? If you can catch yourself creating them, then it's easy to let them dissolve. And what would make you create them aside from your preconceived notions of how the mechanics of breathing have to work? So question those notions: Where does the breath come into the body? Does it come in only through the nose and mouth? Does the body have to pull the breath in? If so, which sensations do the pulling? Which sensations get pulled? Where does the pulling begin? And where is the breath pulled from? Which parts have the breath, and which ones don't? When you feel a sensation of blockage, which side of the sensation are you on?
These questions may sound strange, but many times your pre-verbal assumptions about the body are strange as well. Only when you confront them head-on with strange questions can you bring them to light. And only when you see them clearly can you replace them with alternative concepts.
So once you catch yourself breathing uncomfortably in line with a particular assumption, turn it around to see what sensations the new assumption highlights. Try staying with those sensations as long as you can, to test them. If, compared to your earlier sensations associated with the breath, they're easier to stay with, if they provide a more solid and spacious grounding for concentration, the assumption that drew them to your attention is a useful new tool in your meditation. If the new sensations aren't helpful in that way, you can throw the new tool aside.
For example, if you have a sense of being on one side of a blockage, try thinking of being on the other side. Try being on both. Think of the breath as coming into the body, not through the nose or mouth, but through the middle of the chest, the back of the neck, every pore of your skin, any spot that helps reduce the felt need to push and pull.
Or start questioning the need to push and pull at all. Do you feel that your immediate experience of the body is of the solid parts, and that they have to manage the mechanics of breathing, which is secondary? What happens if you conceive your immediate experience of the body in a different way, as a field of primary breath energy, with the solidity simply a label attached to certain aspects of the breath? Whatever you experience as a primary body sensation, think of it as already breath, without your having to do anything more to it. How does that affect the level of stress and strain in the breathing?
And what about the act of staying focused? How do you conceive that? Is it behind the breath? Surrounded by breath? To what extent does your mental picture of focusing help or hinder the ease and solidity of your concentration? For instance, you may find that you think of the mind as being in one part of the body and not in others. What do you do when you focus attention on another part? Does the mind leave its home base -- say, in the head -- to go there, or does the other part have to be brought into the head? What kind of tension does this create? What happens if you think of awareness already being in that other part? What happens when you turn things around entirely: instead of the mind's being in the body, see what stress is eliminated when you think of the body as surrounded by a pre-existing field of awareness.
When you ask questions like this and gain favorable results, the mind can settle down into deeper and deeper levels of solidity. You eliminate unnecessary tension and stress in your focus, finding ways of feeling more and more at home, at ease, in the experience of the present.
Once the mind is settled down, give it time to stay there. Don't be in too great a hurry to move on. Here the questions are, "Which parts of the process were necessary to focus in? Which can now be let go? Which do you have to hold onto in order to maintain this focus?" Tuning into the right level of awareness is one process; staying there is another. When you learn how to maintain your sense of stillness, try to keep it going in all situations. What do you discover gets in the way? Is it your own resistance to disturbances? Can you make your stillness so porous that disturbances can go through without running into anything, without knocking your center off balance?
As you get more and more absorbed in exploring these issues, concentration becomes less a battle against disturbance and more an opportunity for inner exploration. And without even thinking about them, you're developing the four bases of success: the desire to understand things, the persistence that keeps after your exploration, the close attention you're paying to cause and effect, and the ingenuity you're putting into framing the questions you ask. All these qualities contribute to concentration, help it get settled, get solid, get clear.
At the same time, they foster discernment. The Buddha once said that the test for a person's discernment is how he or she frames a question and tries to answer it. Thus to foster discernment, you can't simply stick to pre-set directions in your meditation. You have to give yourself practice in framing questions and testing the karma of those questions by looking for their results.
Ultimately, when you reach a perception of the breath that allows the sensations of in-and-out breathing to grow still, you can start questioning more subtle perceptions of the body. It's like tuning into a radio station. If your receiver isn't precisely tuned to the frequency of the signal, the static interferes with the subtleties of whatever is being transmitted. But when you're precisely tuned, every nuance comes through. The same with your sensation of the body: when the movements of the breath grow still, the more subtle nuances of how perception interacts with physical sensation come to the fore. The body seems like a mist of atomic sensations, and you can begin to see how your perceptions interact with that mist. To what extent is the shape of the body inherent in the mist? To what extent is it intentional -- something added? What happens when you drop the intention to create that shape? Can you focus on the space between the droplets in the mist? What happens then? Can you stay there? What happens when you drop the perception of space and focus on the knowing? Can you stay there? What happens when you drop the oneness of the knowing? Can you stay there? What happens when you try to stop labeling anything at all?
As you settle into these more formless states, it's important that you not lose sight of your purpose in tuning into them. You're here to understand suffering, not to over-interpret what you experience. Say, for instance, that you settle into an enveloping sense of space or consciousness. From there, it's easy to assume that you've reached the primordial awareness, the ground of being, from which all things emerge, to which they all return, and which is essentially untouched by the whole process of emerging and returning. You might take descriptions of the Unconditioned and apply them to what you're experiencing. If you're abiding in a state of neither perception nor non-perception, it's easy to see it as a non-abiding, devoid of distinctions between perceiver and perceived, for mental activity is so attenuated as to be virtually imperceptible. Struck with the apparent effortlessness of the state, you may feel that you've gone beyond passion, aversion, and delusion simply by regarding them as unreal. If you latch onto an assumption like this, you can easily think that you've reached the end of the path before your work is really done.
Your only protection here is to regard these assumptions as forms of perception, and to dismantle them as well. And here is where the four noble truths prove their worth, as tools for dismantling any assumption by detecting the stress that accompanies it. Ask if there's still some subtle stress in the concentration that has become your dwelling place. What goes along with that stress? What vagrant movements in the mind are creating it? What persistent movements in the mind are creating it? You have to watch for both.
In this way you come face to face with the perceptions that keep even the most subtle states of concentration going. And you see that even they are stressful. If you replace them with other perceptions, though, you'll simply exchange one type of stress for another. It's as if your ascending levels of concentration have brought you to the top of a flag pole. You look down and see aging, illness, and death coming up the pole, in pursuit. You've exhausted all the options that perception can offer, so what are you going to do? You can't just stay where you are. Your only option is to release your grip. And if you're letting go fully, you let go of gravity, too.
Revised: Thu 5 December 2002
Phra Ajaan Suwat Suvaco
Translated from the Thai by
Copyright © 2001 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
For free distribution only.
You may reprint this work for free distribution.
You may re-format and redistribute this work for use on computers and computer networks
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We'll now start meditating, just as we've been doing every day. We have to look at this as an important opportunity. Even though our practice hasn't yet reached the Dhamma to our satisfaction, at the very least it's a beginning, an important beginning, in gathering the strength of the mind so that our mindfulness, concentration, and discernment will become healthy and mature. We should try to gather these qualities together so that they can reinforce one another in washing away the stains, the defilements, in our minds -- for when defilements arise, they don't lead to peace, purity, or respite for the mind. Just the opposite: they lead to suffering, unrest, and disturbance. They block any discernment that would know or see the Dhamma. There's no defilement that encourages us to practice the Dhamma, to know or see the Dhamma. They simply get in the way of our practice.
So whatever mental state gets in the way of our practice we should regard as a defilement -- for defilements don't come floating along on their own. They have to depend on the mind. Any mental state that's sleepy or lazy, any mental state that's restless, angry, or irritable: these are all defilements. They're mental states under the influence of defilement, overcome by defilement.
If any of these mental states arise within us, we should be aware of them. When the mind is sleepy, we should get it to keep buddho in mind so that it will wake up and shake off its sleepiness. When the mind is restless and irritable, we should use our discernment to reflect on things to see that these states of mind serve no purpose. Then we should quickly turn back to our concentration practice, planting the mind firmly in our meditation theme, not letting the mind get restless and distracted again.
We focus the mind on being aware of its meditation word, buddho -- what's aware, what's awake. We keep it in mind as if it were a post planted firmly in the ground. Don't let the mind wander from the foundation post on which you've focused. But whatever your focus, don't let your focus be tense. You have to keep the mind in a good mood while it's focused. Do this with an attitude of mindfulness and discernment, not one of delusion, wanting to know this or to see that or to force things to fall in line with your thoughts. If that's the way you meditate, your mood will grow tense and you won't be able to meditate for long. In no time at all you'll start getting irritable.
So if you want to meditate for a long time, you have to be neutral, with equanimity as your foundation. If you want knowledge, focus firmly on what you're already aware of. Keep your mind firmly in place. Find an approach that will help you stay focused without slipping away. For example, make an effort to keep your mind firmly intent and apply your powers of observation and evaluation to the basis of your buddho. All of these things have to be brought together at the same spot, along with whatever thinking you need to do so that mindfulness won't lapse, letting unskillful outside issues come barging in, or leaving an opening for internal preoccupations to arise in the heart, or letting yourself get disturbed by thoughts of the past -- things you knew or saw or said or did earlier today, or many days, many months, many years ago. You have to focus exclusively on the present.
If you've taken buddho as your meditation theme, keep coming back to it over and over again. Buddho stands for awareness. If you can maintain awareness without lapse, this will make an important difference. If you've taken the breath as your theme, you have to be aware each time the breath comes in and out. You can't let yourself wander off. You have to take nothing but the breath as the focal point for mindfulness. The same principles hold in either case. You do the same things, the only difference is the theme of your awareness.
Why does the Buddha teach us to focus on the breath? Because we don't have to look for it, don't have to guess about it, don't have to think it into being. It's a present phenomenon. There's no such thing as a past breath or a future breath. There's simply the breath coming in and out in the present. That's why it's appropriate for exercising our mindfulness, for gathering our mindfulness and awareness in a single place, for firmly establishing concentration.
So you can focus on either theme -- whichever one you've already meditated on and found that mindfulness can quickly get established without lapsing and can quickly produce a sense of stillness and peace. Set that theme up as your foundation. When you're starting out, focus on keeping that theme in mind.
Once the mind has had enough stillness, if you simply want it to become more still, the mind will get into a state where it isn't doing any work because it's not distracted in any way. If this happens, you have to start contemplating. In the foundations of mindfulness we're taught to contemplate the various aspects of the body in and of themselves. We don't have to contemplate anything else. If you want to contemplate from the angle of inconstancy, it's here in this body. If you want to contemplate from the angle of stress, it's here in this body. You can contemplate it from any angle at all. If you want to contemplate from the angle of eliminating passion and craving, you can look at things that are dirty and disgusting -- and you find that they fill the body. This is something requiring you to use your own intelligence. Whatever angle you use, you have to look into things so that they get more subtle and refined. Contemplate them again and again until you see things clearly in a way that gives rise to nibbida, or disenchantment, so that you aren't deluded into latching onto things and giving them meanings the way you used to.
Turn over a new mind, turning your views into new views. You no longer want your old mistaken views. Turning from your old views, give rise to right views. Turning from your old ways of thinking, give rise to right resolves -- to see the body as repulsive and unattractive. This is nekkhama-sankappa, the resolve for renunciation, the resolve to escape from sensual passion. We don't go thinking in other directions or roaming off in other directions. We try to go in the direction of escaping from the view that the body is beautiful. What the eye sees of the body is just the outer skin. It's never seen the filthy things inside. Even though it may have seen them from time to time, as when someone dies in an accident or when a patient is opened for surgery, there's something in the mind that keeps us from taking it to heart and giving rise to discernment. There's something that keeps us from contemplating things down to a level more subtle than what the eye sees. We see these things and then pass right over them. We don't get to a level profound enough to give rise to disenchantment.
So contemplate the body. If the mind has developed a strong enough foundation, it shouldn't stay stuck just at the level of stillness. But if you haven't yet reached that level of stillness, you can't skip over it. You first have to make the mind still, because a firm foundation of stillness is absolutely essential. If you try to contemplate before the mind has grown still, you'll give rise to knowledge that lasts only as long as you're in meditation. When you leave meditation and the mind is no longer firm, your new understandings will disappear. Your old understandings will come back, just as if you had never meditated. Whatever way you've been deluded in the past, that's how you'll be deluded again. Whatever views you've had before won't change into anything else. Whatever ways you've thought, you'll end up deluded just as before as long as your new ways of thinking aren't based on a foundation of stillness.
This is why stillness is so essential. We have to get the mind to gain strength from stillness and then let it contemplate the body in and of itself in terms of its 32 parts. You can choose any one of the parts, focusing on it until it's clear. Or you can focus on the parts in sets of five. When you reach the liquid parts, you can focus on them in sets of six, for there are 12 of them in all. You can contemplate them back and forth -- if your mindfulness hasn't yet been exercised to the point were it's firm, contemplate these things back and forth just as a preceptor teaches a new ordinand: kesa, loma, nakha, danta, taco (hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin), and the turning them around to taco, danta, nakha, loma, kesa. Then you can go onto the next set of five -- mansam, nharu, atthi, atthimiñjam, vakkam (muscle, tendons, bones, bone marrow, spleen). This is called contemplating them in sets of five.
This is how we start out exercising mindfulness. If, while you're practicing mindfulness in this way, a visual image of any of these five parts appears, catch hold of it and contemplate it so that it grows deeper and more refined. Contemplate it until you can divide the body into its parts, seeing that each part is just like this. Get so that you know the body inside and out, realizing that other living beings are just like this, too. If you're looking to see what's unclean, you'll find it here. If you're looking to see what's not-self, you'll find it here. Turn these things over in your mind and question yourself as to whether they're constant. What kind of pleasure is there in these things? Is it worthwhile or not? Focus on these issues often, look at them often until you're adept, and the mind will finally be willing to accept the truth, changing from its old wrong ways of seeing things, and seeing them instead in line with the Dhamma as taught by the Buddha.
When your views change often in this way, the mind will experience a new kind of stillness and peace. It will turn away from the fevers of the fires of passion, aversion, and delusion; and turn into mindfulness, concentration, and discernment instead. Its knowledge and views will become clear. It will no longer waver. It will become brave and no longer afraid in the way it used to be -- for it has come to know the truth: that nothing gets pained aside from the aggregates; nothing dies aside from the elements. The mind gets firmly planted. It can meditate with a snug sense of confidence, with no fear of pain or illness or anything at all. You can separate things out all the way down. Even if death were to come at that point, you'd be content, for even though death hasn't yet come, these things have separated out of their own accord. You've contemplated them and seen them for what they are, each and every one.
So I ask that we all have firm principles in our contemplation. Be genuine in doing it -- don't just go through the motions -- for all these things are genuine. If we don't meditate, defilements will inhabit our thoughts, deceiving us so that we don't see things as they genuinely are. If we depend just on our eyes, they can fool us. The eye can see only the outside of things. It sees skin, and the skin can be made up to deceive us. It sees hair of the head, and hair can be made up to deceive us. It sees hair of the body -- things like eyebrows and beards, which can be dressed to deceive us. It sees fingernails and toenails, which can be made up to deceive us. It sees teeth, which can be treated to deceive us, so that we make all sorts of assumptions about them. The eye has no discernment. It lets us get deceived -- but it isn't what does the deceiving. The mind is what deceives itself. Once it deceives itself, it makes all sorts of assumptions about itself and falls for itself. When it makes itself suffer in this way, there's no help for it. This is the genuine truth. Know clearly that the mind is what deceives itself. When it doesn't have a refuge, it can deceive itself all the time.
So we have to develop qualities that the mind can hold to and take refuge in, so that defilements won't be able to keep on deceiving it. Look so that you can see more deeply through things. Try to analyze things to see what's not genuine, what's dressed and disguised. Then as soon as you look at anything, you'll see what's fake and made up. You'll know: "The real thing doesn't have this color, this smell, this shape." You'll see how things are always changing. This is called having the qualities of the Dhamma as your refuge, as something to hold to as you look, hear, smell, taste, and make contact with things. You'll have the qualities that know and see things as they actually are -- so they won't be able to deceive you. You won't be able to deceive yourself, for you'd be ashamed to. The heart grows disenchanted with itself, with its old ways -- and why would it want to deceive itself any more? It's seen that it doesn't gain any benefit from that kind of behavior.
Instead, you'll see how it really benefits from its new views. They make the mind still. Clear. Set free with a sense of wellbeing. All its heavy old burdens fall away. It has no greed for gaining a lot of things, for there's no more indulging. It doesn't use anything to indulge itself. All it needs is the four necessities to keep life going -- that's enough. It doesn't have to invest in anything. It finds its happiness and wellbeing in the stillness that comes from meditating. The things around it that it used to fall for and build up into ignorance without realizing it: when it focuses on really knowing these things, its delusions disband. Ignorance disappears. The mind gains knowledge from these things in line with what they actually are. It wises up and doesn't fall for these things as it used to, doesn't misunderstand them as it used to.
And that's the end of its problems.
Revised: Mon 20 May 2002
Copyright © 1997 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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Emptiness is a mode of perception, a way of looking at experience. It adds nothing to and takes nothing away from the raw data of physical and mental events. You look at events in the mind and the senses with no thought of whether there's anything lying behind them.
This mode is called emptiness because it's empty of the presuppositions we usually add to experience to make sense of it: the stories and world-views we fashion to explain who we are and the world we live in. Although these stories and views have their uses, the Buddha found that some of the more abstract questions they raise -- of our true identity and the reality of the world outside -- pull attention away from a direct experience of how events influence one another in the immediate present. Thus they get in the way when we try to understand and solve the problem of suffering.
Say for instance, that you're meditating, and a feeling of anger toward your mother appears. Immediately, the mind's reaction is to identify the anger as "my" anger, or to say that "I'm" angry. It then elaborates on the feeling, either working it into the story of your relationship to your mother, or to your general views about when and where anger toward one's mother can be justified. The problem with all this, from the Buddha's perspective, is that these stories and views entail a lot of suffering. The more you get involved in them, the more you get distracted from seeing the actual cause of the suffering: the labels of "I" and "mine" that set the whole process in motion. As a result, you can't find the way to unravel that cause and bring the suffering to an end.
If, however, you can adopt the emptiness mode -- by not acting on or reacting to the anger, but simply watching it as a series of events, in and of themselves -- you can see that the anger is empty of anything worth identifying with or possessing. As you master the emptiness mode more consistently, you see that this truth holds not only for such gross emotions as anger, but also for even the most subtle events in the realm of experience. This is the sense in which all things are empty. When you see this, you realize that labels of "I" and "mine" are inappropriate, unnecessary, and cause nothing but stress and pain. You can then drop them. When you drop them totally, you discover a mode of experience that lies deeper still, one that's totally free.
To master the emptiness mode of perception requires training in firm virtue, concentration, and discernment. Without this training, the mind tends to stay in the mode that keeps creating stories and world views. And from the perspective of that mode, the teaching of emptiness sounds simply like another story or world view with new ground rules. In terms of the story of your relationship with your mother, it seems to be saying that there's really no mother, no you. In terms of your views about the world, it seems to be saying either that the world doesn't really exist, or else that emptiness is the great undifferentiated ground of being from which we all came to which someday we'll all return.
These interpretations not only miss the meaning of emptiness but also keep the mind from getting into the proper mode. If the world and the people in the story of your life don't really exist, then all the actions and reactions in that story seem like a mathematics of zeros, and you wonder why there's any point in practicing virtue at all. If, on the other hand, you see emptiness as the ground of being to which we're all going to return, then what need is there to train the mind in concentration and discernment, since we're all going to get there anyway? And even if we need training to get back to our ground of being, what's to keep us from coming out of it and suffering all over again? So in all these scenarios, the whole idea of training the mind seems futile and pointless. By focusing on the question of whether or not there really is something behind experience, they entangle the mind in issues that keep it from getting into the present mode.
Now, stories and world views do serve a purpose. The Buddha employed them when teaching people, but he never used the word emptiness when speaking in these modes. He recounted the stories of people's lives to show how suffering comes from the unskillful perceptions behind their actions, and how freedom from suffering can come from being more perceptive. And he described the basic principles that underlie the round of rebirth to show how bad intentional actions lead to pain within that round, good ones lead to pleasure, while really skillful actions can take you beyond the round altogether. In all these cases, these teachings were aimed at getting people to focus on the quality of the perceptions and intentions in their minds in the present -- in other words, to get them into the emptiness mode. Once there, they can use the teachings on emptiness for their intended purpose: to loosen all attachments to views, stories, and assumptions, leaving the mind empty of all greed, anger, and delusion, and thus empty of suffering and stress. And when you come right down to it, that's the emptiness that really counts.
Revised: Wed 16 May 2001
for good living / Where do religions come in?
Bhikkhu Professor Dhammavihari
People today, particularly those in the world of youth, choose to challenge and reject those areas of religion which stand on myth, legens and speculation. But why should we let the baby be thrown away with the bath-water? I ask you.These new modes of thinking are stirrings of the age which are not to be brushed aside. These are areas wherein the youth as much as the older ones, the men as much as the women, clergy as much as the laity, insist that much of the awe and the mysterious elements in religion can be left behind, together with their fading out time segments which give them veneration of antiquity. They need no redecoration and no re-introductions on the windows. Religions need stronger foundations to stand firm on their own feet.
Whatever glorification we seek to bring upon religion in the eyes of the world depends on what the religions have done to improve the lot of man in the areas of family life, interpersonal relationships and in the wider segment of inter-ethnic and inter-religious co-existence. Before we go elsewhere, to a life beyond the present, we like to see here and now the benefits of the religions we so ardently follow. Religions often have a deadening way of making their adherents believe in many areas of their so-called benefits. We have very little doubt that it is after careful analysis and study that religions have come to be called the opium of mankind. Let us face up to these charges with honesty and endeavour to put things right. But whether we like it or not, we have to admit that religions of the world today, the major ones at that, do not always have a very flattering record of their performance in these areas to their credit.
It is to be admitted that by all realistic reckonings, men and women go through life in the world under many handicaps and hardships. Science and technology are developing at such a rate that we find ourselves out of step to keep track of their progress. Organ transplant is now a thing of the distant past. We should today be talking of cloning of sheep, more precisely, of humans. You would recollect having read in the news papers how a young sheep by the name of Dolly,and another by the name Polly were produced recently. Starting with Dr. Bernard Christian, the surgeons of the world have made it possible for old and mal-functioning human hearts to be replaced with new ones. Due to non-availability and inadequacy of replacements, they hit upon the bright idea of using hearts of pigs for this purpose. They even went so far as having pig farms set up to ensure adequate supplies of hearts. But they discovered early enough, to their utter dismay, the danger of those pigs carrying dangerous viruses like the HIV, with the possibility of accelerated development of Aids and infecting many more humans, without any danger to themselves. With all the so-called scientific development, the basic inherent defects and weaknesses of human life, of its very physical basis, are no better than when we started.
With a global situation of this magnitude, it makes much sense for man to face up to it with courage and wisdom. If one does so, then one knows what makes these situations better or worse. Buddhism teaches that with all those born into this world, aging is a reality. Disease and decay are well and truly dear companions of life, whether we like them or not. What any sensible person would do in these circumstances is to safeguard oneself against such situations. Not make vows and prayers at every wayside shrine. Nor make more and more halting places for visiting healers, human or believed to be divine. It is the fashion of the day for these claimants to healing to move noisily from one continent to another. Where poverty and ignorance prevail, they believe they can gather bumper harvests. But this, truly is not the way to combat disease. It is far better then to prevail upon these divine agents to operate more in the area of prevention, if they have any power at all to do so. It will save mankind a great deal more of physical and mental pain, and even a greater deal more of money and time. Let those powers whom we supplicate and to whom we address our prayers prevent those calamitous disasters and accidents in the worlds which cost the humans their lives. It would be much more profitable and much less painful than rushing around ambulances after the calamitous has happened.
On the question of life security, whether in terms of the health of oneself or family members, or in terms of employment security, or financial escalation, personal confidence or self-reliance of humans seems to be at a very low ebb, everywhere in the world. Law enforcement in the country is perhaps at its lowest by any world standards. It is at such lower-than-slum levels of thinking that people who are helplessly sunk in miserably wretched conditions or who believe themselves to be so, run in search of relief and assistance from a wide range of newly appointed divinities. They claim to be getting ahead of latest in medical research. While many are disappointed at the end of such appeals and such contracts, and nobody ever produces their statistics, a few who claim they have been rewarded do a great deal of propaganda on behalf of these divinities and a far greater deal of canvassing. Perhaps it serves both parties well.
Take a further look at ourselves in society today. No man, woman or child is safe in any other's hands, even whatever be the family relationships to one another. It is so today, whether it be in the city or the village. Incest, rape and adultery and similar aberrant sex behaviour are as bad as in the days of Sodom and Gommorah of Biblical records. What of the more trendy and publicly attractive, and at times even very much championed and tourism-wise attractive homosexuals and paedophiles? In all these adventures, better we term them misadventures, sometimes looked upon as romantic by quite a few, the material we deal with are humans. Not mere pithecanthropus erectus. Perhaps the gorillas and the chimpanzees, as Jane Goodall has demonstrated in her monumental research on the chimpanzees, have among them a much higher culture than we imagine.
All the world over we read today about the life disasters of now-grown-up men and women who in their younger years have been victims of rape and paedophile like crimes. The criminality of these offenses committed by the older upon the younger of our own flock are intolerably shameful and offensive. If an animal turned upon any one of us or any one near and dear to us then, no mistake, we look around and reach for the nearest gun. Why then do we humans connive with humans in this type of gang villainy. We know what happened in Belgium recently. A string of horrendous crimes on innocent young girls which made the whole world weep. Not to protest and not to raise an alarm in this kind of highly anti-social activity, and at least gather ourselves for collective action, would be no less than actual gang villainy, though passive. Shall we be accused of this?
It is in such a world context like the present, anywhere and everywhere, that we have to generate within us such a concept like good living. The much spoken of religious identities or ethnic garnishing, should not stand in the way of such a magnanimous move. We are fully aware that tidal waves of global evangelization and trans-continental ethnic inundations are menacingly overrunning every continent and sub-continent. We know quite well that even smaller-size island countries are not spared. Most of us have seen and sensed this as something that is now happening in our very presence. But there is a definite dullness and density in our reacting to this situation. We are being indoctrinated from numerous sources to react so, in this manner.
What really is the reason for this apathy? Whether one really senses it or not, human life seems to count for nothing these days. What happened in the battle fields of World War II, both in victory and in defeat, came to be glorified as noble acts of sacrifice and patriotism. Dulce et honestun pro patria mori runs this slogan-like utterance in Latin. It means ' It is sweet and honourable to die for the sake of one's motheland.' Who achieved what at the end of it all remains the unanswered question, beautifully locked up in the black box. Then come the tribal battles of warring groups. These are colossal and wasteful massacres of human lives. While they are classed as genocide on the one side, they are much eulogized as wars of liberation on the other. Religious groups gleefully compete with one another to dispatch the war-dead to heaven or to liberation. Though not necessarily disparagingly, we were used to refer to those who were victims of such stupified thinking as cannon fodder. So with very little clear thinking, we gradually learnt to pray for the repose of the souls of those dead, perhaps once a year on a war veterans' day. This is apparently no less than allowing ourselves to be brainwashed.
The very bottom of this degradation of the worth of human life, in consequence of contemporary militant thinking, has been reached today where men and women are being freely hired or harnessed to serve as human bombs. A few of this type were known in World War II where, in the Eastern theater of war, the Japanese used what they called frogmen for under water attack on ships lying in harbours. That disappeared, more or less, with the end of the war. But suicide bombers are now the order of the day. That they are being used, both men and women, in a big way seems to be nobody's concern. If those who do it can afford it, why should it be anybody else's concern would be the challenging question. Brainwashed or otherwise, does this not make talk of human rights, as they are being discussed even in legal parlours over various issues, look utterly stupid. Who then would or should have a right to talk about slave labour, child abuse etc. ? Are the legal telescopes placed on international blind eyes? International eyes are quite often seen to pass off as blind. This is the honest impression one gets as one scans the international horizons from time to time, east or west.
It is the reality and the seriousness of this reality which makes us pick up a subject like good living and ethics for good living. Experience of humanity, living on this planet over several millennia, has produced a vast fabric yielding good samples for closer scrutiny. It is now agreed that it is the frantic search for the glory of the so-called material culture of mankind, with the like of Roman amphitheaters, that catapulted the collapse of those vast civilizations. Men and women sitting comfortably with wine and song, to gratify their sense pleasures at the expense of a few other helpless humans put into encounters of life and death in the midst of ferocious beasts. Today's sense of entertainment and enjoyment has crossed over to yet another area much more perilous than this. Not only is the entertainer in peril today.
Those who seek entertainment through these corrosive channels, not only expose themselves to enormous areas of ruin, but also expose others who are near and dear to them to similar or far greater destruction. Today's addiction to alcohol, from teenagers of both sexes to alcoholics of ripe old age, and proneness to tobacco and other drugs are inestimable in the destruction they cause to human lives. They know the destruction and damage smoke and dust causes to structures like the London Bridge. They also know of the destruction passive smoking does to the women and children who live in a smoker's home. But the positive damage to iron perhaps is more physically visible and therefore more convincing.
The same is equally true of the pursuit of sex. Whether one calls sex a primary instinct or not, now the world is reaching a stage, when the need is felt to set limits to its pursuit and enjoyment. The social disruptiveness of the wild chase for sex gratification as well as the equally disastrous damage it does to the health of humans, even across generations, as in the case of AIDS, is all too well known. Abortion, together with problems of unmarried mothers and single parent homes, not only call for comment but for serious study at all levels of religion and society. We are proud indeed that teenage girls of the United States of America, backed by the Methodist Church in that country, are genuinely and adequately vociferous in their protest against teenage sex and sex exploitation. It is they in America, specially their psychologists and psychiatrists who now tell the world about such concepts like aging and sageing, about the need to instruct children about delaying gratification. Beneath these new trends in thinking which show themselves up in the western world, we discern a new ray of hope for the future of the world, i.e. for the survival humanity on this earth.It is here that we wish to invoke the religions of the world to step in to fulfill honourably the role which devolves upon them by virtue of what they claim they stand for. We have to believe that they are not down here on earth to serve a God above at the expense of man. We must understand our prime duty to be to make life of men and women down here on earth to be divinely acceptable for the benefit of one another. A kingdom of man amongst us has to be our first priority. This is the way the Buddhists are taught to look at this problem. It is the goodness of humans as humans, achieved through a clearly laid down process of self-correction, that elevates them to higher levels of divine living here and now.
These are what the Buddhists refer to as Brahma-vihàra or divine modes of living. Universal loving kindness, in a spirit of amity, is our starting point. It is a two-way love of direct friendship, without a mediating third party. That directness is explicitly contained in the word maitri or mettà. It is love that knows no bounds. The Metta Sutta refers to it as asambàdhaü averaü asapattaü. This is followed by loving thoughts of compassion to relieve those in pain and misery and in less fortunate circumstances. Friendship of loving kindness has already preceded it. In such a loving, well-wishing amicable community, Buddhist thinking leaves no room for jealousies and competitive rivalries. So we have the third virtue that grows up in this series in mudità which we would choose to translate as appreciative joy. We are not very happy with its current translation as sympathetic joy.
A frame of mind of this sort, with a deep-seated sense of love for amity [ metta ], of compassion for sympathy [ karuõà ] and a joyous appreciation of the success of others [ mudità ] will very naturally promote the growth of a social ethic which will successfully handle multiple areas of human relationships. These will invariably lead to harmonious community living, with a real and serious concern for the weal and welfare of every other person in whose midst we live, and have to live, as social beings. The Buddhist teachings refer to the absence of such a robust ethic as a state of anarchy in society where dread and fear [ that is bhaya ] as well as enmity and hostility [ vera ] reign supreme. Buddhist teachings, both in the interests of their transcendental aspirations as well as in their interests of social well being, insist on the elimination of these out of the human community. They speak of the våpasamana of these pa¤ca- bhayàni and pa¤na-veràni. The way to achieving this is given as the social restraint achieved via the moral rectitude of the pa¤casãla.
Let me wind up my appeal to you today with a very brief introduction to this area of Buddhist ethics. Buddhism offers it to the world in a very magnanimous way, very gently and respectfully via the concept of the Universal Monarch or Cakkavatti King. What is meaningfully interesting and seriously applicable about it is its relevance to the world situation today. It reckons with humanity as a totality, a global community at that, without any regional differences on the basis of ethnicity, political ideology or religious creeds followed. All manner of rulers from the east and the west, the north and the south come to the Cakkavatti and invite him to instruct them as to how each one of them should rule their land.
What is amazing in this context is that what goes out from this one central authority of the Cakkavatti has one unmistakable dominant note. It insists : Never mind the political pattern you have followed so far. Carry on as you have done before. But guarantee that social justice and moral order prevail within your kingdoms. Buddhist teachings attempt to achieve this through the propagation of what is known as the pa¤casãla. We have already referred to the need in society of these fivefold restraints of 1. respect for life of all sorts, 2. respect for the other's ownership of his legitimate property, 3. respect for the gender roles of men and women and the consequent regulation of sex behaviour in society, 4. respect for decency in honesty of word or deed, and 5. respect for maintenance of sanity of judgement by avoidance of drugs and alcohol. This we bravely call the Fundamental Human Rights Charter of the Buddhists, issued to the world as a whole well over twenty-five centuries ago. Until we are clever enough to evolve anything acceptably better, why not give it a decent trial? Make up your mind, right now.
May all beings be well and happy. May there be peace on earth and good will among men.
from Breath by Breath
From the Introduction
Every student's practice is peculiarly his or her own and comes together in its own way. My practice has unfolded over many years, and it focuses on a particular discourse of the Buddha. But it was some time before I saw the real value of this teaching.
My first teachers were from India, J. Krishnamurti and Vimala Thaker. They were nonsectarian and placed a strong emphasis on maintaining awareness at all times. By the early 1970s I had studied meditation for a number of years, including four years with Vedanta master Swami Chinmayanda. I had worked with the Korean Zen master Seung Sahn for five years and had lived in that country for a year. More recently I had studied Soto Zen with the Japanese master Katagiri Roshi. Gradually I came to see that the Theravada tradition of vipassana meditation was a better match for me. All of these practices are closely related, of course, and can enrich one another.
I was practicing at one of this country's prominent centers of vipassana meditation, the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, when I encountered a monk named Bhikkhu Vimalo, a German national who had studied for twenty years in Burma, Thailand, and India.
At that point my practice was samatha/vipassana; I focused on the breathing in order to calm the mind, then-dropping the breath as an object-opened the attention to a wider focus, noticing the arising and passing away of whatever aspect of body or mind presented itself most vividly. Bhikkhu Vimalo argued that I was seriously limiting my work with the breath, that in fact the breath could take me all the way to the deepest realizations.
He told me of a particular sutra of the Buddha's, the Anapanasati Sutra, which outlined how the awareness of breathing could be used systematically to embrace both samatha and vipassana. I was impressed by what Bhikku Vimalo told me and eventually led some retreats with him, but it would be years before I was fully convinced of the importance of breath awareness teaching as a complete practice.
My conversion came during an intense two-hour meeting with the great Thai teacher Ajahn Buddhadasa, an encounter that had a profound impact on my practice and changed my teaching forever. Buddhadasa was nearly eighty when I saw him, and not particularly well, but tireless in his teaching. He often taught informally, sitting in front of his hut in the forest with students-and wild chickens, and a dog-gathered around him. He was convinced that the Anapanasati Sutra was a key document for practice and an ideal vehicle for teaching. He took me through the entire sutra step-by-step, in a detailed and painstaking way, part lecture, part meditation instruction. By the time he had finished, I was exhausted and soaking wet. It was one of the most powerful periods of learning I have ever experienced.
To summarize very briefly: the Anapanasati Sutra is composed of sixteen contemplations, which divide rather neatly into four sets of four. The first four contemplations concern the awareness of breathing as it manifests in the body. The next four focus on feelings-not what we mean by that word in our culture, but everything that we perceive by means of our sense organs. The third set of four focuses on the mind, the mental formations and emotions that we concoct when we add ideas to our feelings. And the last four move on to pure vipassana, seeing into the lawfulness underlying all phenomena. Basic to all of these contemplations is the breath, which is used in them as an anchor, a reminder, to keep the practitioner in the present moment.
Buddhadasa's approach was rational and systematic but also beautifully timed to open me up emotionally. He knew something of my history, and I had told him of my particular interest in the Zen concept of emptiness. When we got to the thirteenth contemplation-which concerns impermanence, and where real vipassana begins-he said that anapanasati was one of the simplest and most effective means for realizing emptiness. We could move from the vantage point of the thirteenth back through the twelve previous contemplations and see impermanence and emptiness in all of them.
I remember in particular the moment when we focused on the first contemplation, on the breath itself. I was sitting and listening meditatively as he instructed me. "There is no question," he said, "that breathing is taking place. Can you see that there is no breather to be found anywhere? The body is empty, the breath is empty, and you are empty."
He meant that all these phenomena are empty of self or anything belonging to the self; they are impermanent. They arise by given conditions, and when those conditions change, they pass away. The concept of impermanence in this contemplation actually encompasses the other laws of wisdom, that all phenomena are unsatisfactory and lack an abiding self. The simple vehicle of the breath takes the practitioner from calming the mind all the way to the deepest wisdom, to nirvana.
To say so much, of course, is to get way ahead of my story, but it is necessary to give some idea of what happened to me on that day. It wasn't just what Ajahn Buddhadasa said but also the way he said it, his insistence and his conviction. He let me see that because the breath is so unassuming, I had been undervaluing it. I was looking for a complicated path to enlightenment, when this simple one was right before me.
He argued that the breath was an ideal vehicle for teaching Buddhism in the West; it didn't carry the cultural baggage that mantras, koans, and other methods do. He also argued that this sutra was directly related to the Satipatthana Sutra, considered in the Theravada tradition to be the core of the Buddha's meditation teaching. The Anapanasati Sutra covers the same material in a more streamlined way, he said, and examines it with the help of conscious breathing. I left Thailand on that occasion with a new and clearer focus to my practice.
That was one of those moments in my life when many things came together. For years I had been a natural foods enthusiast and had practiced and was still practicing yoga, an ancient discipline that gives great attention to the breathing. I began to see that one thing that had always attracted me about the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh was his recognition of the special nature of breathing. Time that I later spent with him on three long retreats was equally important in helping me grasp the full implications of the Buddha's teaching on breath awareness.
Thich Nhat Hanh's lineage draws on both Theravada and Mahayana teachings, and he is quietly and gently on fire with enthusiasm for this practice. He more than anyone else demonstrates the importance of bringing breath awareness into daily life, of staying awake in the midst of all our activities. He is unrelenting in his teaching, and it took such a strong message to get through to me.
This intense focus on the breathing connected with Soto Zen, with the work I had done with Katagiri Roshi and through him Suzuki Roshi, author of the seminal text Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. Soto Zen emphasizes full attention to breathing and posture; all the wisdom one needs will be a natural outcome of such complete presence. The Anapanasati Sutra -though it can be used as a systematic course of contemplations-is also a blueprint of the way in which that wisdom can arise.
I have always been interested in Dharma study-I believe that, put in proper perspective, study and practice become one-and have always loved the classic texts of Buddhism. It gives me great satisfaction to teach from a sutra that is more than twenty-five hundred years old, as vital and alive and important as when it was originally spoken. For nearly ten years, it has been the basis of my personal practice and my teaching, and it has proven inexhaustible as a means to examine the message of the Buddha.
But I need to say a few things about the text before we begin. Seen in one way, it is a program to follow, one that takes the meditator from the observation of a simple process in the body-the in-and-out breathing-all the way to full awakening and realization. That is the way some teachers use it, most notably, in my experience, Ajahn Buddhadasa.
But it is also true that much of what the sutra describes will turn up naturally if you just sit and follow the breathing, if you persist in that practice over the course of days and months and years. It is natural for your attention to deepen until it includes the whole body, and for that process gradually to calm the body. Once your attention is in the body, you begin to notice feelings and your mental reactions to them, which lead you into the mind as a vast realm to explore. Finally, if you're paying attention, you can't help noticing that all the phenomena you're observing arise and pass away, that they are impermanent and lack an essential core.
The sixteen contemplations, then, represent a natural process. They might not unfold in exactly that order, and some of them might stand out more than others. But most of these aspects of body and mind eventually, and quite naturally, show up if you sit and look into yourself over a period of time.
That isn't the same thing as training in each contemplation, where you persistently come back to the object of the contemplation and confine your attention to it no matter what else is going on. So you can use the sutra as a training program or as the description of a process, but, however you use it, you can't force these steps. They will happen in their own time; you can't bring them about. You can prepare the ground, certainly, and make a sincere effort, but ultimately your body and mind do what they want, and you won't have much say about it.
Piles of Bricks
The Khandhas as Burden & Path
Copyright © 2002 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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The Buddha's Awakening gave him, among other things, a new perspective on the uses and limitations of words. He had discovered a reality -- the Deathless -- that no words could describe. At the same time, he discovered that the path to Awakening could be described, although it involved a new way of seeing and conceptualizing the problem of suffering and stress. Because ordinary concepts were often poor tools for teaching the path, he had to invent new concepts and to stretch pre-existing words to encompass those concepts so that others could taste Awakening themselves.
One of the new concepts most central to his teaching was that of the khandhas, which are most frequently translated into English as "aggregates." Prior to the Buddha, the Pali word khandha had very ordinary meanings: A khandha could be a pile, a bundle, a heap, a mass. It could also be the trunk of a tree. In his first sermon, though, the Buddha gave it a new, psychological meaning, introducing the term "clinging-khandhas" to summarize his analysis of the truth of stress and suffering. Throughout the remainder of his teaching career, he referred to these psychological khandhas time and again. Their importance in his teachings has thus been obvious to every generation of Buddhists ever since. Less obvious, though, has been the issue of how they are important: How should a meditator make use of the concept of the psychological khandhas? What questions are they meant to answer?
The most common response to these questions is best exemplified by two recent scholarly books devoted to the subject. Both treat the khandhas as the Buddha's answer to the question, "What is a person?" To quote from the jacket of the first:
"If Buddhism denies a permanent self, how does it perceive identity?... What we conventionally call a 'person' can be understood in terms of five aggregates, the sum of which must not be taken for a permanent entity, since beings are nothing but an amalgam of ever-changing phenomena... [W]ithout a thorough understanding of the five aggregates, we cannot grasp the liberation process at work within the individual, who is, after all, simply an amalgam of the five aggregates."
From the introduction of the other:
"The third key teaching is given by the Buddha in contexts when he is asked about individual identity: when people want to know 'what am I?', 'what is my real self?'. The Buddha says that individuality should be understood in terms of a combination of phenomena which appear to form the physical and mental continuum of an individual life. In such contexts, the human being is analysed into five constituents -- the pañcakkhandha [five aggregates]."
This understanding of the khandhas isn't confined to scholars. Almost any modern Buddhist meditation teacher would explain the khandhas in a similar way. And it isn't a modern innovation. It was first proposed at the beginning of the common era in the commentaries to the early Buddhist canons -- both the Theravadin and the Sarvastivadin, which formed the basis for Mahayana scholasticism.
However, once the commentaries used the khandhas to define what a person is, they spawned many of the controversies that have plagued Buddhist thinking ever since: "If a person is just khandhas, then what gets reborn?" "If a person is just khandhas, and the khandhas are annihilated on reaching total nibbana, then isn't total nibbana the annihilation of the person?" "If a person is khandhas, and khandhas are interrelated with other khandhas, how can one person enter nibbana without dragging everyone else along?"
A large part of the history of Buddhist thought has been the story of ingenious but unsuccessful attempts to settle these questions. It's instructive to note, though, that the Pali canon never quotes the Buddha as trying to answer them. In fact, it never quotes him as trying to define what a person is at all. Instead, it quotes him as saying that to define yourself in any way is to limit yourself, and that the question, "What am I?" is best ignored. This suggests that he formulated the concept of the khandhas to answer other, different questions. If, as meditators, we want to make the best use of this concept, we should look at what those original questions were, and determine how they apply to our practice.
The canon depicts the Buddha as saying that he taught only two topics: suffering and the end of suffering (SN XXII.86). A survey of the Pali discourses shows him using the concept of the khandhas to answer the primary questions related to those topics: What is suffering? How is it caused? What can be done to bring those causes to an end?
The Buddha introduced the concept of the khandhas in his first sermon in response to the first of these questions. His short definition of suffering was "the five clinging-khandhas." This fairly cryptic phrase can be fleshed out by drawing on other passages in the canon.
The five khandhas are bundles or piles of form, feeling, perception, fabrications, and consciousness. None of the texts explain why the Buddha used the word khandha to describe these things. The meaning of "tree trunk" may be relevant to the pervasive fire imagery in the canon -- nibbana being extinguishing of the fires of passion, aversion, and delusion -- but none of the texts explicitly make this connection. The common and explicit image is of the khandhas as burdensome (SN XXII.22). We can think of them as piles of bricks we carry on our shoulders. However, these piles are best understood, not as objects, but as activities, for an important passage (SN XXII.79) defines them in terms of their functions. Form -- which covers physical phenomena of all sorts, both within and without the body -- wears down or "de-forms." Feeling feels pleasure, pain, and neither pleasure nor pain. Perception labels or identifies objects. Consciousness cognizes the six senses (counting the intellect as the sixth) along with their objects. Of the five khandhas, fabrication is the most complex. Passages in the canon define it as intention, but it includes a wide variety of activities, such as attention, evaluation, and all the active processes of the mind. It is also the most fundamental khandha, for its primary activity is to take the potential for the experience of form, feeling, etc. -- coming from past actions -- and turn it into the actual experience of those things in the present moment.
Thus intention is an integral part of our experience of all the khandhas -- an important point, for this means that there is an element of intention in all suffering. This opens the possibility that suffering can be ended by changing our intentions -- or abandoning them entirely -- which is precisely the point of the Buddha's teachings.
To understand how this happens, we have to look more closely at how suffering arises -- or, in other words, how khandhas become clinging-khandhas.
When khandhas are experienced, the process of fabrication normally doesn't simply stop there. If attention focuses on the khandhas' attractive features -- beautiful forms, pleasant feelings, etc. -- it can give rise to passion and delight. This passion and delight can take many forms, but the most tenacious is the habitual act of fabricating a sense of me or mine, identifying with a particular khandha (or set of khandhas) or claiming possession of it.
This sense of me and mine is rarely static. It roams like an amoeba, changing its contours as it changes location. Sometimes expansive, sometimes contracted, it can view itself as identical with a khandha, as possessing a khandha, as existing within a khandha, or as having a khandha existing within itself (see SN XXII.85). At times feeling finite, at other times infinite, whatever shape it takes it's always unstable and insecure, for the khandhas providing its food are simply activities and functions, inconstant and insubstantial. In the words of the canon, the khandhas are like foam, like a mirage, like the bubbles formed when rain falls on water (SN XXII.95). They're heavy only because the iron grip of trying to cling to them is burdensome. As long as we're addicted to passion and delight for these activities -- as long as we cling to them -- we're bound to suffer.
The Buddhist approach to ending this clinging, however, is not simply to drop it. As with any addiction, the mind has to be gradually weaned away. Before we can reach the point of no intention, where we're totally freed from the fabrication of khandhas, we have to change our intentions toward the khandhas so as to change their functions. Instead of using them for the purpose of constructing a self, we use them for the purpose of creating a path to the end of suffering. Instead of carrying piles of bricks on our shoulders, we take them off and lay them along the ground as pavement.
The first step in this process is to use the khandhas to construct the factors of the noble eightfold path. For example, Right Concentration: we maintain a steady perception focused on an aspect of form, such as the breath, and used directed thought and evaluation -- which count as fabrications -- to create feelings of pleasure and refreshment, which we spread through the body. In the beginning, it's normal that we experience passion and delight for these feelings, and that consciousness follows along in line with them. This helps get us absorbed in mastering the skills of concentration.
Once we've gained the sense of strength and wellbeing that comes from mastering these skills, we can proceed to the second step: attending to the drawbacks of even the refined khandhas we experience in concentration, so as to undercut the passion and delight we might feel for them:
"Suppose that an archer or archer's apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk... enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perceptions, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, a void, not-self. [Similarly with the other levels of jhana]" (AN IX.36).
The various ways of fostering dispassion are also khandhas, khandhas of perception. A standard list includes the following: the perception of inconstancy, the perception of not-self, the perception of unattractiveness, the perception of drawbacks (the diseases to which the body is subject), the perception of abandoning, the perception of distaste for every world, the perception of the undesirability of all fabrications (AN X.60). One of the most important of these perceptions is that of not-self. When the Buddha first introduced the concept of not-self in his second sermon (SN XXII.59), he also introduced a way of strengthening its impact with a series of questions based around the khandhas. Taking each khandha in turn, he asked: "Is it constant or inconstant?" Inconstant. "And is what is inconstant stressful or pleasurable?" Stressful. "And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: 'This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am'?" No.
These questions show the complex role the khandhas play in this second step of the path. The questions themselves are khandhas -- of fabrication -- and they use the concept of the khandhas to deconstruct any passion and delight that might center on the khandhas and create suffering. Thus, in this step, we use khandhas that point out the drawbacks of the khandhas.
If used unskillfully, though, these perceptions and fabrications can simply replace passion with its mirror image, aversion. This is why they have to be based on the first step -- the wellbeing constructed in jhana -- and coupled with the third step, the perceptions of dispassion and cessation that incline the mind to the deathless: "This is peace, this is exquisite -- the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding" (AN IX.76). In effect, these are perception-khandhas that point the mind beyond all khandhas.
The texts say that this three-step process can lead to one of two results. If, after undercutting passion and delight for the khandhas, the mind contains any residual passion for the perception of the deathless, it will attain the third level of Awakening, called non-return. If passion and delight are entirely eradicated, though, all clinging is entirely abandoned, the intentions that fabricate khandhas are dropped, and the mind totally released. The bricks of the pavement have turned into a runway, and the mind has taken off.
Into what? The authors of the discourses seem unwilling to say, even to the extent of describing it as a state of existence, non-existence, neither, or both. As one of the discourses states, the freedom lying beyond the khandhas also lies beyond the realm to which language properly applies (DN 15; see also AN IV.174). There is also the very real practical problem that any preconceived notions of that freedom, if clung to as a perception-khandha, could easily act as an obstacle to its attainment. Still, there is also the possibility that, if properly used, such a perception-khandha might act as an aid on the path. So the discourses provide hints in the form of similes, referring to total freedom as:
The unfashioned, the end,
the effluent-less, the true, the beyond,
the subtle, the very-hard-to-see,
the ageless, permanence, the undecaying,
the featureless, non-elaboration,
peace, the deathless,
the exquisite, bliss, solace,
the exhaustion of craving,
the wonderful, the marvelous,
the secure, security,
the unafflicted, the passionless, the pure,
the island, shelter, harbor, refuge,
Other passages mention a consciousness in this freedom -- "without feature or surface, without end, luminous all around" -- lying outside of time and space, experienced when the six sense spheres stop functioning (MN 49). In this it differs from the consciousness-khandha, which depends on the six sense spheres and can be described in such terms as near or far, past, present, or future. Consciousness without feature is thus the awareness of Awakening. And the freedom of this awareness carries over even when the awakened person returns to ordinary consciousness. As the Buddha said of himself:
"Freed, dissociated, & released from form, the Tathagata dwells with unrestricted awareness. Freed, dissociated, & released from feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness... birth... aging... death... suffering & stress... defilement, the Tathagata dwells with unrestricted awareness" (AN X.81).
This shows again the importance of bringing the right questions to the teachings on the khandhas. If you use them to define what you are as a person, you tie yourself down to no purpose. The questions keep piling on. But if you use them to put an end to suffering, your questions fall away and you're free. You never again cling to the khandhas and no longer need to use them to end your self-created suffering. As long as you're still alive, you can employ the khandhas as needed for whatever skillful uses you see fit. After that, you're liberated from all uses and needs, including the need to find words to describe that freedom to yourself or to anyone else.
Revised: Mon 9 June 2003
Note for student
Two months after his enlightenment, the Buddha first started teaching the four noble truths to his former friends with whom he used to practice austerity. For the remaining forty-five years of the Buddha's life he explained these four noble truths to his audience in accordance with their ability.
What are they?
1. Dukkha - suffering.
2. Samudaya - the cause of suffering
3. Nirodha - the end of suffering
4. Magga - the path leading to the end of suffering
Suffering is a negative side of life. We don't want it to happen but we cannot avoid it. It is because our life is not permanent. See the history of Kissagotami. Though we enjoy so much our material possessions and even though we feel so happy throughout our life to the present, one day we have to get old, become sick and die. Before death, we get a great deal of pain and fear. Thus life ends up with suffering.
We don't need to wait for our own death to experience the suffering. There are many forms of suffering that arise in our life. For example, we suffer when our loved ones go sick or beloved possessions go wrong; or when we don't get what we want. Furthermore, we suffer when we have to live with someone we don't like or we cannot live with whom we love so much. If something does not happen as we wish is suffering or what is gained is changed and become discontented. Truly speaking, the unsatisfactory mind is suffering. It is profound to understand. Therefore Vipassana meditation is required to see it.
The application: If suffering arises, the best healing is to comprehend, to feel, and to experience instead of avoiding it. This is called (Parinññatabba). If we comprehend it through meditation, as it really is, the negative aspect of life will transform into a positive way of thinking. We will then be able to accept whatever happens to us as it is.
Samudaya- the cause of suffering
The cause of suffering is our own desire and craving (Tanha). That is our own mind, which is never satisfied with what we have. This dissatisfied mind generates more desire and more action. If we have achieved something, we have the worry of losing it. This is very subtle suffering. If you achieve something that you wanted, the desire turns into something else. Because of desire and craving, we can harm other beings, we can lie or we can cheat. As a result, consequence is inevitable. Suffering arises after Kamma and the Kamma generates out of desire and craving. See kamma section.
Can we stop desire?
It is not at all easy. That is why the four noble truths are not easy to practice; because we cannot stop desire. The Buddha does not teach us to stop it without wisdom. You will learn the way of wisdom in the noble eightfold path bellow. The Buddha only advises us not to practice excessive desire. To stop the practice of excessive desire, you should practice through the noble eightfold path. If we stop our desire, for example, if we even don't want to eat an appropriate food, what will happen? We will suffer greatly because of that. This is called austerity practice. The Buddha used to practice it but later he learnt that he could die without realising the truth. The Buddha avoided both austerity practice and the practice of excessive desire.
Without desire, we cannot perform good things such as helping other beings. You come to this class because you desire to learn. This desire is therefore associated with understanding. We may not be able to achieve enlightenment in this life but we have a desire to achieve it one day in a subsequent life. Therefore, as a layman or as a monk, we can practice Párami of morality, of patience, of loving-kindness, of meditation, of wisdom or of generosity whenever we get the opportunity and then we can transform it to the achievement of enlightenment and peace. When our mind has matured, one day in a future life, we will be able to stop the practice of excessive desire and we can purify the mind with wisdom and meditation. We can do it even in this life, maybe at least before we die, the mind can transform into the state of ultimate peace. We can gradually develop our life into perfection and purity. It is good that you learn how to practice it.
The application of the second noble truth is let go (excessive) desire, which make us uneasy, discontented and dissatisfied. Presume you are a businessman. Two different clients wanted to see you at 2pm but you cannot see them together because they want to see you for different issues. You decided to see first person therefore you have to cancel for the second person. Due to some reasons, the first person did not turn up to see you. You felt very disappointed and upset. According to your understanding, the second person was more important to you. You then thought if you were to see the second person, you could get more benefit. The greater disappointment occurs to you if you think of the meeting of second person. In this case, the disappointment is dependent on how much you give importance of the meeting and its outcome. The treatment to such situation is to let go the desire.
Nirodha- the end of suffering
The end of suffering is called the end of desire. The mind then transforms into a state of peace instead of desire. The nature of desire is related to the reaction part of the mind. However, when we transform it into contentment and peace through practice, we don't react any more out of desire. So Kamma is not produced. Such people do not need to come back to suffer again. The peace remains forever in perfect contentment. This is the state of enlightenment. The application of this truth is to realise the peace through meditation. That is the realisation of the absence of suffering.
Magga -the path leading to the end of suffering
The final part of four noble truths is to practice and develop the mind. They are the noble eightfold path.
1. Practice of wisdom or understanding
2. Practice of right thought
3. Practice of right speech
4. Practice of right action
5. Practice of right livelihood
6. Practice of right effort
7. Practice of right mindfulness
8. Practice of right concentration
With these practices we can gradually overcome the suffering. Application of these noble eightfold path is to practice gradually.
How can we practice right wisdom?
There are number of methods to practice it. The first practice is to understand what is suffering, what is the cause of suffering, what is the cessation of suffering and what is the path leading to the cessation of suffering. Take this example; you are too tired today, as you did not sleep well last night. When you investigated the cause you found that it was the affect of drinking coffee or you are suffering from heart disease because you eat too much fatty food. If you don't eat fatty food, you can overcome from the risk of heart disease. So, both cases of tiring and heart disease have their cause. The explanation looks rather a study of science than that of a religious teaching. That is right because Buddhism is a spiritualism started on the ground of law of the nature and their cause and effect. Similarly, the investigation of fear, anxiety and discontentment is part of the practice of wisdom. The practice of wisdom is therefore to investigate both mental and physical cause of suffering. The second practice is to accept the cause and effect of our action. This means that we accept our Kamma, whatever it may be. We don't run away from the action (Kamma) that we have done. If we have done something wrong, we don't throw to somebody or we don't seek external being for overcoming of our wrong action but we accept the outcome calmly. The former practice is the wisdom of investigation and the latter is the wisdom of accepting the outcome. Finally, the third practice is to develop the mind and accept that which is impermanent as impermanence, suffering as suffering and lack of self as lack of self without fear. There is nothing permanent in the world. When we are young, we don't notice the law of impermanence. In actual fact, because of impermanence we become old, sick, suffering and death. We cannot change our feeling, emotion, as we want to. This is because we don't really possess of a self to control them. Therefore we are lack of self. We should practice to accept their nature through meditation. According to Buddhism, the real practice of wisdom starts from meditation.
How can we practice the right thought?
We should train to avoid thinking with
1. Ill will,
2. Unnecessary desire and
That means that whatever we think should be free from ill will, excessive desire and cruelty. Instead, we generate loving kindness, compassion and generosity to all beings. This is practice of right thought.
How can we practice right speech?
Whatever words we speak, the language should be free from four types of speech;
2. Being abusive
3. Divisive and
4. Idle gossip.
We practice to speak truth, polite and gentle words in our daily lives.
How can we practice right action?
Whatever action we do in daily life should not be any of the four wrong actions. These are:
1. Harming other beings
3. Sexual misconduct and
4. Drinking alcohol or taking drugs that are harmful to our mind.
Instead we practice to save other lives, giving donations or helping other beings and so on.
How can we practice right livelihood?
By whatever livelihood we live, it should not run by a business which can result in harm to other beings such as the business of killing living beings for food, or making weapons or poison.
For the practice of right effort,
of right mindfulness,
and of right concentration,
please look in Four Satipathana and Four Padhana. These three practices are required in meditation practice.
Four Satipathana - Mindfulness Meditation Practice:
1. Kayanupassana - contemplation of the body
2. Vedananupassana - contemplation of feeling
3. Cittanupassana - contemplation of the mind
4. Dhammanupassana - contemplation of the Dhamma
The four foundations of mindfulness are a primary requisite for meditation practice. Every practitioner is required to have sound experience of meditative awareness so as to practice in the right way. All human beings consist of mind, feeling and body. The theory of Satipathana offers a precise method of how to observe these three phenomena in order to know ourselves, who we are and how we can achieve a peaceful or meaningful life.
1. Kayanupassana - contemplation of the body:
Contemplation of the body starts from our breath. There are two breaths constantly operating but we don't notice them - in-breath and out-breath. Through these two breaths, our heart beats, blood flows and our body functions. First the meditator has to have the proper preparation. Determination is very important to start with. After the proper preparation, the meditator should start noting the process of the breath as it comes in and as it goes out. The tip of the nostril is the best place to focus the attention so as to feel the air or the force of the breath passing over the upper lip. In the beginning, the meditator may find it difficult to note the sensation of breath on the upper lip. If such a difficulty arises, a long breath or holding the breath for a couple of seconds is suggested, and during this time one should make especial effort to bring the mind to the breathing process. This practice however should not be kept up for more than one or two minutes. When the meditator develops full awareness of the breathing process, s/he should keep such awareness as long as possible, keeping alert to the in and out breaths. However, when you are used to it, you often make less effort and finally end up with drowsiness or a wandering mind. Constant effort is vital to keep concentration. This breathing exercise must be performed consciously, mindfully and with full care and full attention. Moreover, when you hear, feel, taste or smell anything, note it objectively and without reaction. For example, hearing is just note hearing, touching is just touching without analysis. This is a brief outline of breathing meditation. But we cannot keep doing the breathing exercise forever, as we have to eat, move or work. So the second part of the contemplation is to watch our physical movement. If you do anything, you are fully aware of what you are doing. For example, when you drink, you note 'I am drinking'. During a meditation retreat, you will be requested to note the whole process of drinking i.e. holding the cup, putting the water into it, lifting it, taking water into the mouth and noting the taste of the water and whether it is hot or cold etc. However, during the course of daily life, you may not have time for complete awareness. However, you can, note at least drinking as drinking quite easily as a process. Such activity of awareness can apply when you are washing, eating, walking sitting and so on, whenever you move your body. You are just aware of what you are doing. It is possible to develop a certain amount of awareness during our daily life. But many times, while we are drinking a cup of tea, we are not aware of drinking; instead our mind is wandering; thinking, worrying or busy with something. Due to lack of mindfulness, sometimes we drop the teacup and break it.
2.Cittanupassana - contemplation of the mind
If you cannot be aware of physical movement or action, you can be aware of your mind and what is going on while you are drinking. Awareness of your mind is called cittanupassana. There are uncountable mental processes that arise and disappear. We don't notice or we don't know them. Cittanupassana is to contemplate our thoughts, concepts, thinking, and ideas or even to know when we get happy or angry. Try to be mindful and see how it works. Think of this example: when you drink a cup of tea but don't know it because your mind is not with the action, then that moment of thought, no matter what, is said to be a lack of awareness of the mind. This is called a wandering mind. When you do meditation, you can understand it better. Thought and feeling are similar types of mind but we can categorize them separately. Firstly you should develop it through meditation.
3. Vedananupassana - contemplation of feeling
Feeling is a much stronger type of mind, which is more noticeable than thinking. Contemplation of feeling is therefore easier. Anger, fear or anxiety are all types of feeling, which are associated with the negative side of mind. There are many times we get angry, upset or annoyed but we don't know how to control such states of mind though the feelings are powerful.
We cannot hire someone to remind us when we get angry. Suppose someone hires you to watch his anger; when you remind him, you will be the first person who gets blamed because at that moment he is very angry. In fact the first victim is the person who gets angry. You have no peace at that moment at all. You can harm and even kill others. Similarly, when you are happy or joyous, you don't know or reflect on the state of happiness or joy.
There are three types of feeling:
1. sukkha vedana - happy feeling,
2. dukkha vedana -unhappy feeling and
3. upekkha vedana - neutral feeling
When you are happy, contemplate or reflect on it as it is. When you are unhappy due to this or that reason, just note it or reflect on it. When you get angry or upset, you should be mindful of that too.
4. Dhammanupassana - contemplation of mind-objects
The definition of Dhamma is very wide and profound; it covers all physical and mental objects. In the Maha Satipathana Sutta the Dhammanupassana means to comprehend objects of mind insofar as they are responsible for our own peace and its absence or problems. So, by the practice of Dhamm?nupassan? we can explain the real nature of mind and its objects. However, it is ineffective without investigating the other three objects of mindfulness (K?ya, Vedan? and Citta), which make the mind calm and alert. According to Maha Satipath?na Sutta, there are six mind objects (Dhamm?nupassana?). They are 1. Five hindrances,
2. Five aggregates,
3. Six sense bases,
4. Six sense objects,
5. Seven enlightenment factors
6. Four noble truths.
All the mental objects mentioned under the name of Dhammanupassana are necessary for the progress of purification. We can easily understand about the five hindrances in intellectual terms but that alone cannot give rise to wisdom. I will only explain here how to practice meditation with five hindrances. The five hindrances are:
1. - Attachment (kamachanda)
2. - Aversion (byapada)
3. - Sloth and torpor (thina-mida)
4. - Remorse and restless mind (udacca-kukkucca)
5. - Uncertainty (vicikiccha)
Different meditators experience different sorts of hindrances. For example, when you hear something during meditation, such as opening the door, someone snoring behind you, moving or talking etc, your mind is likely to get disturbed; you may even react with aversion to such objects, whereas others may not be disturbed. This reaction is a hindrance. There are also many times when we don't have any difficulty at all during meditation. As a result we feel pleased, calm and peaceful and don't want to come out from meditation. We attach to the object of calmness. This is another hindrance since, if such calmness does not arise next time, we easily get disturbed, agitated, depressed or disappointed. But the common hindrances come in the form of drowsiness, sloth and torpor or a wandering and restless mind and we should be aware beforehand that they might arise. Overcoming such hindrances is not easy and the awareness of mental objects (Dhamm?nupassan?) is an important tool to cope with them. We should be ready to accept unwanted guests and make them meditation objects. The way of practice is to penetrate the inner meaning of such hindrances as they really are without reaction. The key point of the practice of Dhamm?nupassan? is to accept them calmly and peacefully. Of course, the outcome depends upon the energy we put into it. Intellectual understanding is not helpful here. The real meaning of problems is to be experienced through their undisturbed observation. As a result, we can reduce our reaction, ignorance and ego. This is the motivation of Dhamm?nupassan?. The Five aggregates, six sense bases and their corresponding six objects are named as ultimate reality (see two truths). These phenomena operate under the law of Dhamma, which is to be understood through practice. It is because they are common to everybody, regardless of race, gender or identity. However, the practice of ultimate reality is not possible without understanding the application of four noble truths. (See four noble truths). We define ourselves; we accept through meditation and wisdom that such is the conventional level of reality and subject to decay. To understand better, we can take two aspects of Dhamma. The first is the quality of mind, which is mainly the combination of negative and positive mental states. The second aspect is the reality of mind, where such states are not considered to be a permanent. For example, calmness is a positive state of mind we can achieve when our meditation is good; similarly, agitation is a negative state that arises when hindrances are involved. The nature of reality manifests wherever change takes place and this can only effectively be known through the meditation experience rather than intellectually. As was pointed out, we can easily attach to the calmness of our meditation. In fact, such calmness is not permanent even though it is a positive quality. Similarly, we should not react when we get agitated or disappointed. Both states of mind change subject to contact, action and circumstance. When we get calm due to meditation, we should be aware of calmness. When we get agitated or disappointed, the meditator is just mindful of that agitation without analysis. Awareness of calmness perceives three stages: arising of calmness, staying with calmness and changing of calmness. The awareness of changing is very important so as to catch another state of mind. When such calmness is about to change into another state, one should be aware of changing to the new state. Awareness of the new state of mind, whatever it may be, is then continued. This is called bare attention to every state of mind. It is not easy to observe this process but it is possible by well-trained and regular practice of meditation. By perceiving through direct experience, we can achieve wisdom. The same applies to when we get agitated or feel ill will. Negative states of mind are more difficult to see or control, since they are mostly associated with ego. However, regular practice can reduce their power. This practice is also called insight meditation.
The key to success in meditation depends on three factors:
1. Atapi -Constant effort given to meditation
2. Satima - awareness of any of the four objects as they arise.
3. Sampajano - clear awareness of what is happening in the present.
2. Four efforts (Catta Padhana)
1. Effort to avoid unwholesome thought or action, which has not yet arisen. (samvara padhana) Suppose some time ago you caught a very harmful disease that fortunately got cured. You are now aware of the danger you were in. You don?t want such a disease to reoccur. You are therefore cautious in eating, in working and sleeping; you will make effort to protect your health in every possible way. If disease is likely to happen again, you remain alert to the danger and do not forget to take your medicine. The same sort of effort should be made to protect yourself from mental disease which can be harmful to your peace and harmony: from unwholesome thoughts involving greed, anger, ill will or jealousy. You should watch whenever these arise and strive to stop them from arising. Meditation practice helps us do this.
2. To abandon unwholesome thought or action that has already arisen (pahana padhana) Continuing the analogy, if you are now suffering from disease, your immediate task is to overcome it. You will see the doctor regularly; if the medicine is not helpful, you look for a new doctor or a new medicine. You put all your effort and determination to end your state of suffering. This is the type of effort we should make in order to overcome the arising of unwholesome thoughts.
3. To develop wholesome thought or action that has not yet developed (bhavana padhana) Every one wants to be prosperous. If you have money, you can buy a beautiful house and a luxurious car. You can decorate your house, develop the garden. You can eat delicious food. You don?t have problems paying bills. You can afford the best treatment if you are ill.
If you are poor, you cannot enjoy those things. Understanding the benefit of prosperity, you want to find a good job or a better one, you make continual effort to improve your life style. Similar effort should be made through meditation for wholesome thoughts, harmony or peace to arise.
4. To maintain wholesome thought or right action that has already developed (anurakkhana padhana) When you have achieved what you want, your next action is to protect it from danger. For instance, if you have earned a large amount of money, you should not fritter it away. You should not mistreat or harm someone using your money. Instead, you share with your friends, relatives and others. Whatever you do should be the right way for you to maintain your status. That is the way of material development. For a wholesome mind, such as compassion, wisdom and peace, if you have begun to develop such qualities, you should make effort to maintain them. You come to class to learn something that you don?t understand. If you have understood, you should not lose it. If you have developed a good state of mind, it should not be allowed to fade away. We should keep that aim in mind and make the effort to remind ourselves of it from time to time.
3. Four Idhipada - Four great bases of power
1. Chandadhipada - unbroken desire to concentrate
2. Cittadhipada - unbroken intention to concentrate
3. Viriyadhipada - unbroken effort while concentrating
4. Vimansadhipada - unbroken investigation of concentration.
These four bases of power are said to have been developed by the Buddha or anyone who has achieved miraclulous power. If someone practices with such unbroken effort, intention and determined will, miraclulous power is possible including levitation, walking on water or through a wall, reading the mind of others and so on. The first three powers are especially required for Jhana meditation. The last power is required for Vipassana meditation. To achieve enlightenment, we may not need to achieve Jhana, although we require concentration. These four powers can be predominant only one at a time. The Buddha when he was a bodhisattva is said to have possessed such power of mind. Achieving the ten perfections is not easy without it. It is said that not only in one life, but life after life, the Buddha nourished, generated and developed such unbroken desire, will and effort for the sake of beings.
(vi)Bala- the power of spiritual attainment.
There are five spiritual powers (Bala). They are:
1. Saddha Bala - the power of faithfulness
2. Viriya Bala- the power of energy
3. Sati Bala - the power of mindfulness
4. Samadhi Bala- the power of concentration
5. Panna Bala- the power of wisdom
If these five powers have not been developed, is not easy to make progress in meditation. Each of these powers plays a key role in successful meditation. For instance, you cannot effectively meditate harbouring doubt or uncertainty. If you want to achieve the real peace as the Buddha offers, you have to have a faith in the quality of the triple gems to make further progress. You may achieve some stages of tranquillity or calmness through meditation, but if you don't have any confidence or faith in the teaching, you may not be able to reach the stage that the Buddha wants us to. That does not mean that you can achieve the goal by mere faith, but it means that if you concentrate on the power of faithfulness you might not make use of the other four spiritual powers for overcoming of suffering. You will fall into the same group of religions that offer salvation by faith and prayer.
For some meditators, faith only arises after experience of their practice. According to the theory of spiritual power, faith must come from wisdom, for example, Vakkhali who had a great faith to the Buddha's complexion, skill and excellent quality. He does not practice for himself but he respects so much and wants to follow wherever he goes. When the Buddha notices his foolish practice, he leaves behind and prohibits him from following. He gets upset and emotional. He eventually decides to suicide jumping from Vulture Peak. Knowing his mind, the Buddha saves him and he then teaches impermanent nature of complexion and life, thereby he realises wisdom. This is the example of faith without wisdom. On the one hand, wisdom alone cannot achieve the Buddhist spiritual goal. For example, there are many scholars who are capable of explaining the Dhamma in terms of their intellect but they don't have faith in the quality of the triple of gems. It is because they don't practice these spiritual powers together. So the faith in the triple gems or spiritual practice should start with wisdom and on the other hand wisdom alone cannot enable progress towards the Buddhist spiritual goal. They both should be balanced.
An energetic mind is one of the most important factors for the success of meditation. Before we achieve it we have to make a steady effort. We have already learnt the four types of effort. We can say that the alertness of mind arises only after the mind has reached a state of complete energy or we can also say that when the mind is completely alert to the object of meditation, we then achieve the energy of mind, an energetic mind. However, the energetic mind with an absence of concentration cannot give rise to a peaceful mind. For example, Venerable Ananda was practicing whole night with un-tired energy but he did not achieve his goal until he achieved concentration. You might have experienced times when your effort is steady and your mind is very alert during meditation but you cannot concentrate deeply, or maybe your mind is not very calm. There are times when the mind gets concentrated quickly, but when mental energy is not properly supported we easily get drowsy. So concentration and an energetic mind should be of equal power or equal strength to achieve a successful meditation.
There is no counterpart for mindfulness because it goes with all meditation objects. The theory of the four foundations of mindfulness is essential to practice it. We have learnt it in four Satipathana. For example, if you concentrate, you are mindful of the point of concentration as it really is. If your mind is not concentrated, or you get distracted or agitated, you are mindful at that point of the state of mind as it really is. So you know that you are distracted, or you are agitated, or your mind is wandering and so on. If you make effort to overcome from these states, you are mindful that you are making effort. If you experience something through meditation, you are mindful that I am experiencing something. If faith arises due to practice, you are mindful that 'faith arises in me'. If wisdom arises, you are mindful that 'wisdom is arising in me'. The same applies to all mental objects. However, the combination of mindfulness, of awareness and of knowingness, has a similar strength. Meditators can develop any of these three qualities of mind or all three together, as they prefer. If, for example, wisdom arises to you, you know that 'wisdom arises in me', or you are mindful that 'wisdom arises in me' or you are aware that 'wisdom arises in me'. For me knowingness is much easier to control. These are the powers that are to be achieved from Buddhist spiritual practice.
These five spiritual powers have a special characteristic, overcoming their opponents. For example, when faith has developed, disbelief will be removed. When energy has arisen in the mind, laziness of meditation will be disappeared. When mindfulness is established, lack of mindfulness will not arise. If wisdom arises, ignorance cannot arise. These spiritual powers are just theory but you have to develop them through practice.
Five Indriya - the spiritual faculty
There are five faculties. They are below.
1. Saddhi Indriya - faculty of faith
2. Viriya Indriya - faculty of energy
3. Sati Indriya - faculty of mindfulness
4. Samadhi Indriya - faculty of concentration
5. Pañña Indryia - faculty of wisdom
These are also called spiritual faculties. They are identical with the five spiritual powers in terms of their name but the practice and attainment is different. The Buddha used these two different ways of practices and attainments to these five factors because they are very important for the progress of spiritual life. The use of the five spiritual powers has an advantage, as they are a natural way of making progress.
For the case of Indriya, I would say, the practice of the five spiritual powers is required to transform the mind to attain the spiritual faculties. We have physical faculties, such as the faculty of eyes to see forms, ears to hear sounds or the tongue to test a flavour and so on. In a similar way, the Buddha would have compared sensations with his newly discovered spiritual-faculties in order to see the spiritual attainment. Although they are called faculties, the functions of physical faculties and spiritual faculties are different. The physical faculties are to see or to hear the physical elements whereas the spiritual faculties are to see as well as to experience the real nature of the mind. The spiritual faculties are only attainable after the practice of spiritual powers. The practice then purifies the mind to the way of looking things in a spiritual way. After achievement of spiritual faculties, the mundane nature of physical faculties transform into the nature of spiritual faculties. For example, when you see something through your faculty of eyes, your mind is uncontrolled, as is the case with ordinary faculties. You then generate liking or disliking and so on. However after the achievement of spiritual faculties, you are controlled and the way of using physical faculties changes into a spiritual one. You would not see the thing as before, but you see them in a spiritual way.
The transformation takes place naturally and gradually as you practice through these five factors. The five powers are like a magnetic cable, which can travel electric charge whereas the five faculties are like a bulb that gives light. The power transforms to see the real light through bulb and controlling the switch. Each of these faculties, such as the faculty of concentration, the faculty of mindfulness, or wisdom etc., needs to be established. Then meditator can switch off and on through their faculties. A meditator reported to me that his concentration is easily obtained and maintained in every meditation. For him, the faculty of concentration is established, at least for the time being, but he still requires the remaining faculties to be established in a steady way. If you find it difficult to develop them altogether now, you should practice the Param? (ten perfections) in a gradual way and then transform it into spiritual achievement.
- the seven factors of enlightenment
There are seven factors of enlightenment. They are:
1. Sati - mindfulness
2. Dhammavijaya - investigation of the Dhamma
3. Viriya - energy
4. Piti - joy
5. Passadhi - tranquillity
6. Samadhi - concentration
7. Upekkha - equanimity
According to the Maha Satipathana Sutta, enlightenment is only attainable by the practice of the four foundations of mindfulness. The exactitude of this teaching is further proved in the seven factors of enlightenment, as the first of these factors is the mindfulness practice (Sati). So, the practice of mindfulness in the first Bojhanga derived from the practice of the four foundations of mindfulness in Maha Satipthana Sutta. When mindfulness is developed, the remaining factors of enlightenment will gradually develop as well.
Although the seven factors can be said to have a succeeding sequence- for example, mindfulness (sati) gives rise to investigation of the Dhamma (dhammavijaya) and from investigation of the Dhamma to energy (viriya) and so on, the development process cannot always be considered in a single way of understanding because each of the seven factors has its own function to support the others, either in a successive or in a reversed way. If any one of these factors is too weak, the steadiness of the remaining factors can be affected but they can also give support to regain the strength, especially to the weaker factor. He who has attained enlightenment has established these seven factors firmly and equally. When one factor is predominant, the remaining factors will stay supportive. For example, when tranquillity is predominant, concentration and other factors will be supportive to that tranquillity. Thus the enlightened person keeps their mind calm and controlled.
However, since we are unenlightened, our ability to elucidate the real role of these seven factors is limited, but we do know that these seven factors are theoretically analysable. The theory of how to gain the enlightenment factors are varied, such as the four foundation of mindfulness, the five powers, the five faculties or the noble eightfold path and so on. We have to practice through these theories precisely. However, none of the seven factors of enlightenment is assumed to be the primary cause for enlightenment, but are rather the energy or the power that is gained after enlightenment. In other word, we may call them 'unwholesome free' state of mind or the pure state of mind.
1. Sati: the practice of mindfulness is systematically explained in the Mahasatipathana sutta. When the four foundations of mindfulness are developed, the other six factors of enlightenment don't fade away. The meditator is fully aware of bodily actions, of mind, of feelings and of mind-objects. We are easily affected by the outside world, but if we are aware of inner things such as feelings or mind, we can transform them into peace, at least we can control the affected mind or feeling from further worsening. I have explained this in the Satipathana notes. Please read and understand them better.
2. Dhammavijaya: Without the practice of the four foundations of mindfulness (sati), the second factor of enlightenment (Dhammavijaya) cannot develop. The characteristic of the second factor of enlightenment is to investigate the Dhamma, the objects of the mind. The technique of practice has already been explained in Dhammanupassana because the practice of Dhammavijaya has a direct relation with the practice of Dhammanupassana. So I don't need to explain it again here. When the practice of Dhammavijaya is established, wisdom is naturally established as well since the practice penetrates the mind and it's associated objects. The practice of Sati gives rise to the meditation part of the enlightened life, whereas the practice of Dhammavijaya gives rise to the wisdom to see things as they really are. The accomplishment of these two practices signifies the realisation of the four noble truths in the enlightened person. See four noble truths
3. Viriya: energy is the third factor of enlightenment process. Energy is life since without it we cannot survive. There are many sorts of energy in the world, such as light energy, microwave and wave energy or sound energy. Likewise, there are different types of energy in our minds such as the mental energy of excitement, the mental energy of anger, the mental energy of hatred, the mental energy of calmness and so on. These energies arise upon the experience of corporal reaction, mostly between the external and internal objects of sense organs. However, in the case of the enlightenment factor, the energy (viriya) is different from that of material energy. This is the energy of wisdom, which is actively maintained through the practice of meditation and wisdom.
If we are too lazy to meditate even once in a day, how can we keep mindfulness in every moment? If you are in a retreat, you will understand how much energy you need to keep mindfulness throughout the course. Without mental energy, you cannot do meditation at all. Actually, most of our energy is consumed by entertainment, excitement, anger or when we are happy. To stop anger, anxiety or mental defilement we require their opponent energy to overcome them, such as love in the case of anger, calmness in the case of anxiety and concentration and wisdom in the case of defilements. Therefore we have to practice love, compassion frequently in order to stop their enemies. The primary element to overcome the negative energy is self-control, which is observing the mind and wisdom. You can then transform the negative energy into the energy of peace. The energy in the enlightenment process is pure self-control, which cannot be influenced by their opponent energies such as excitement, entertainment or external stimuli. The energy is pure like pure gold. Purified energy preserves the mindfulness (Sati) and investigation of the Dhamma (Dhammavijaya) in a pristine way.
4. Piti: joy is a state of mind that comes after the result of meditation. Almost every meditator can experience joy in their practice. Some meditators even feel lack of something if they miss their practice and some do not want to come out from meditation. Some meditators inspire others to experience it.
All ordinary beings need material sources of energy, such as food to survive. Likewise, the enlightened person too needs energy to maintain their purity. One source is a joyous state of mind. Even an enlightened person will not be able to maintain their peace if they don't get joy-piti, tranquillity -passadhi. The joy and tranquillity of mind are key elements for the continuity of the enlightened life. They are like a primary food for the enlightened mind. If there is no joy or tranquillity, he will not be happy in his enlightenment. Without the prospect of joy, we don't want to do anything. For example, when I ask you to do a job, you would be happy to do it if I give you something you want; it may be money, materials or anything that you want. Otherwise, you don't want to do it or you may pretend busy and so on. The same way the enlightened person has joy to support their enlightened mind.
5. Passadhi: tranquillity is a spiritual state of mind, which arises after the joyous state. Joy still has a tendency towards excitement, which can appear through the physical body whereas tranquillity is the unexcited mind, which manifests itself in calmness, being controlled and peaceful. In the enlightenment process, joy transforms into the peaceful state of tranquillity, rather than transforming into the state of an excited mind. Thus, both joy and tranquillity support each other.
6. Samadhi: concentration can be used an alternative word of meditation. This meditation leads to the tranquillisation of our mind. According to the noble eightfold path, the last three paths, which are right effort, right concentration and right mindfulness, explain the technique of meditation practice.
When our minds are so excited, nervous or anxious, what should we do? We need to calm down. Mindfulness meditation is very helpful to cope with such situations. However, if our minds have already been tranquillised, there is no room for such problems to arise. So, the enlightened person is fully aware of that and therefore leaves no gap for such things to arise. Due to the energy of tranquillity, concentration is easily attained, and concentration in turn supports stable tranquillity. In this process, both tranquillity and concentration are working together. It is just like a flame causing wood to burn and the wood on the other hand keeping the flame alive.
7.Upekkha: The final part of the enlightenment factors is equanimity. Equanimity is the ultimate achievement of enlightenment. The enlightened mind has become completely stable and steady, with perfect wisdom and peace. You can investigate the object of the mind if you are mindful. For example, when you see a man who is suffering badly, you will feel sad or emotional in a disliking sense, but in the case of enlightened person, the mind will be stable and steady in a compassionate sense. He will not be shaken by external objects. He has no prejudice or discrimination.
There are different states of enlightenment. Some people attain enlightenment together with a miraculous power such as reading another's mind, walking on water or being capable of appearing and disappearing and so on. However, you do not have to achieve these powers in order to achieve enlightenment. Everyone can attain enlightenment without such powers if they practice accordingly. These seven factors are purely mental states, which probably have the power of transformation from the state of mind to physical elements, stopping further deterioration from physical disease. When Ven.Cunda was ill, the Buddha asked Ananda to chant these seven factors. Although the power of these seven factors can heal physical disease, it is not the purpose of enlightenment.
However, when the mind is calm or tranquil and in the state of equanimity, our physical elements can transform into a state of hygiene that frees the body from germs. There is evidence of the healing of diseases such as hypertension, heart disease and even cancer and so on by meditation. The purpose of enlightenment is to free us from ignorance, fear, the suffering of ego and mind. It is just a state of real peace and contentment, which is realisable here.
Although we can analyse each function, these seven factors are inseparable. All factors are working together and helping each other in order to maintain the enlightened mind.
Copyright © 2002 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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An anthropologist once questioned an Alaskan shaman about his tribe's belief system. After putting up with the anthropologist's questions for a while, the shaman finally told him: "Look. We don't believe. We fear."
His words have intrigued me ever since I first heard them. I've also been intrigued by the responses I get when I share his words with my friends. Some say that the shaman unconsciously put his finger on the line separating primitive religion from civilized religion: primitive religion is founded on childish fear; civilized religion, on love, trust, and joy. Others maintain that the shaman cut through the pretensions and denials of civilized religion and pointed to the true source of all serious religious life.
If we dig down to the assumptions underlying these two responses, we find that the first response views fear itself as our greatest weakness. If we can simply overcome fear, we put ourselves in a position of strength. The second sees fear as the most honest response to our greater weakness in the face of aging, illness, and death -- a weakness that can't be overcome with a simple change in attitude. If we're not in touch with our honest fears, we won't feel motivated to do what's needed to protect ourselves from genuine dangers.
So -- which attitude toward fear is childish, and which is mature? Is there an element of truth in both? If so, how can those elements best be combined? These questions are best answered by rephrasing them: To what extent is fear a useful emotion? To what extent is it not? Does it have a role in the practice that puts an end to fear?
The Buddhist answer to these questions is complex. This is due partly to Buddhism's dual roots -- both as a civilized and as a wilderness tradition -- and also to the complexity of fear itself, even in its most primal forms. Think of a deer at night suddenly caught in a hunter's headlights. It's confused. Angry. It senses danger, and that it's weak in the face of the danger. It wants to escape. These five elements -- confusion, aversion, a sense of danger, a sense of weakness, and a desire to escape -- are present, to a greater or lesser extent, in every fear. The confusion and aversion are the unskillful elements. Even if the deer has many openings to escape from the hunter, its confusion and aversion might cause it to miss them. The same holds true for human beings. The mistakes and evils we commit when finding ourselves weak in the face of danger come from confusion and aversion.
Maddeningly, however, there are also evils that we commit out of complacency, when oblivious to actual dangers: the callous things we do when we feel we can get away with them. Thus the last three elements of fear -- the perception of weakness, the perception of danger, and the desire to escape it -- are needed to avoid the evils coming from complacency. If stripped of confusion and aversion, these three elements become a positive quality, heedfulness -- something so essential to the practice that the Buddha devoted his last words to it. The dangers of life are real. Our weaknesses are real. If we don't see them clearly, don't take them to heart, and don't try to find a way out, there's no way we can put an end to the causes of our fears. Just like the deer: if it's complacent about the hunter's headlights, it's going to end up strapped to the fender for sure.
So to genuinely free the mind from fear, we can't simply deny that there's any reason for fear. We have to overcome the cause of fear: the mind's weaknesses in the face of very real dangers. The elegance of the Buddha's approach to this problem, though, lies in his insight into the confusion -- or to use the standard Buddhist term, the delusion -- that makes fear unskillful. Despite the complexity of fear, delusion is the single factor that, in itself, is both the mind's prime weakness and its greatest danger. Thus the Buddha approaches the problem of fear by focusing on delusion, and he attacks delusion in two ways: getting us to think about its dangerous role in making fear unskillful, and getting us to develop inner strengths leading to the insights that free the mind from the delusions that make it weak. In this way we not only overcome the factor that makes fear unskillful. We ultimately put the mind in a position where it has no need for fear.
When we think about how delusion infects fear and incites us to do unskillful things, we see that it can act in two ways. First, the delusions surrounding our fears can cause us to misapprehend the dangers we face, seeing danger where there is none, and no danger where there is. If we obsess over non-existent or trivial dangers, we'll squander time and energy building up useless defenses, diverting our attention from genuine threats. If, on the other hand, we put the genuine dangers of aging, illness, and death out of our minds, we grow complacent in our actions. We let ourselves cling to things -- our bodies, our loved ones, our possessions, our views -- that leave us exposed to aging, illness, separation, and death in the first place. We allow our cravings to take charge of the mind, sometimes to the point of doing evil with impunity, thinking we're immune to the results of our evil, that those results will never return to harm us.
The more complacent we are about the genuine dangers lying in wait all around us, the more shocked and confused we become when they actually hit. This leads to the second way in which the delusions surrounding our fears promote unskillful actions: we react to genuine dangers in ways that, instead of ending the dangers, actually create new ones. We amass wealth to provide security, but wealth creates a high profile that excites jealousy in others. We build walls to keep out dangerous people, but those walls become our prisons. We stockpile weapons, but they can easily be turned against us.
The most unskillful response to fear is when, perceiving dangers to our own life or property, we believe that we can gain strength and security by destroying the lives and property of others. The delusion pervading our fear makes us lose perspective. If other people were to act in this way, we would know they were wrong. But somehow, when we feel threatened, our standards change, our perspective warps, so that wrong seems right as long as we're the ones doing it.
This is probably the most disconcerting human weakness of all: our inability to trust ourselves to do the right thing when the chips are down. If standards of right and wrong are meaningful only when we find them convenient, they have no real meaning at all.
Fortunately, though, the area of life posing the most danger and insecurity is the area where, through training, we can make the most changes and exercise the most control. Although aging, illness, and death follow inevitably on birth, delusion doesn't. It can be prevented. If, through thought and contemplation, we become heedful of the dangers it poses, we can feel motivated to overcome it. However, the insights coming from simple thought and contemplation aren't enough to fully understand and overthrow delusion. It's the same as with any revolution: no matter how much you may think about the matter, you don't really know the tricks and strengths of entrenched powers until you amass your own troops and do battle with them. And only when your own troops develop their own tricks and strengths can they come out on top. So it is with delusion: only when you develop mental strengths can you see through the delusions that give fear its power. Beyond that, these strengths can put you in a position where you are no longer exposed to dangers ever again.
The Canon lists these mental strengths at five: conviction, persistence, mindfulness, concentration, and discernment. It also emphasizes the role that heedfulness plays in developing each, for heedfulness is what enables each strength to counteract a particular delusion that makes fear unskillful, and the mind weak in the face of its fears. What this means is that none of these strengths are mere brute forces. Each contains an element of wisdom and discernment, which gets more penetrating as you progress along the list.
Of the five strengths, conviction requires the longest explanation, both because it's one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated factors in the Buddhist path, and because of the multiple delusions it has to counteract.
The conviction here is conviction in the principle of karma: that the pleasure and pain we experience depends on the quality of the intentions on which we act. This conviction counteracts the delusion that "It's not in my best interest to stick to moral principles in the face of danger," and it attacks this delusion in three ways.
First, it insists on what might be called the "boomerang" or "spitting into the wind" principle of karmic cause and effect. If you act on harmful intentions, regardless of the situation, the harm will come back to you. Even if unskillful actions such as killing, stealing, or lying might bring short-term advantages, these are more than offset by the long-term harm to which they leave you exposed.
Conversely, this same principle can make us brave in doing good. If we're convinced that the results of skillful intentions will have to return to us even if death intervenes, we can more easily make the sacrifices demanded by long-term endeavors for our own good and that of others. Whether or not we live to see the results in this lifetime, we're convinced that the good we do is never lost. In this way, we develop the courage needed to build a store of skillful actions -- generous and virtuous -- that forms our first line of defense against dangers and fear.
Second, conviction insists on giving priority to your state of mind above all else, for that's what shapes your intentions. This counteracts the corollary to the first delusion: "What if sticking to my principles makes it easier for people to do me harm?" This question is based ultimately on the delusion that life is our most precious possession. If that were true, it would be a pretty miserable possession, for it heads inexorably to death. Conviction views our life as precious only to the extent that it's used to develop the mind, for the mind -- when developed -- is something that no one, not even death, can harm. "Quality of life" is measured by the quality and integrity of the intentions on which we act, just as "quality time" is time devoted to the practice. Or, in the Buddha's words:
Better than a hundred years
lived without virtue, uncentered, is
lived by a virtuous person
absorbed in jhana. [Dhp 110]
Third, conviction insists that the need for integrity is unconditional. Even though other people may throw away their most valuable possession -- their integrity -- it's no excuse for us to throw away ours. The principle of karma isn't a traffic ordinance in effect only on certain hours of the day or certain days of the week. It's a law operating around the clock, around the cycles of the cosmos.
Some people have argued that, because the Buddha recognized the principle of conditionality, he would have no problem with the idea that our virtues should depend on conditions as well. This is a misunderstanding of the principle. To begin with, conditionality doesn't simply mean that everything is changeable and contingent. It's like the theory of relativity. Relativity doesn't mean that all things are relative. It simply replaces mass and time -- which long were considered constants -- with another, unexpected constant: the speed of light. Mass and time may be relative to a particular inertial frame, as the frame relates to the speed of light, but the laws of physics are constant for all inertial frames, regardless of speed.
In the same way, conditionality means that there are certain unchanging patterns to contingency and change -- one of those patterns being that unskillful intentions, based on craving and delusion, invariably lead to unpleasant results.
If we learn to accept this pattern, rather than our feelings and opinions, as absolute, it requires us to become more ingenious in dealing with danger. Instead of following our unskillful knee-jerk reactions, we learn to think outside the box to find responses that best prevent harm of any kind. This gives our actions added precision and grace.
At the same time, we have to note that the Buddha didn't teach conditionality simply to encourage acceptance for the inevitability of change. He taught it to show how the patterns underlying change can be mastered to create an opening that leads beyond conditionality and change. If we want to reach the unconditioned -- the truest security -- our integrity has to be unconditional, a gift of temporal security not only to those who treat us well, but to everyone, without exception. As the texts say, when you abstain absolutely from doing harm, you give a great gift -- freedom from danger to limitless beings -- and you yourself find a share in that limitless freedom as well.
Conviction and integrity of this sort make great demands on us. Until we gain our first taste of the unconditioned, they can easily be shaken. This is why they have to be augmented with other mental strengths. The three middle strengths -- persistence, mindfulness, and concentration -- act in concert. Persistence, in the form of right effort, counteracts the delusion that we're no match for our fears, that once they arise we have to give into them. Right effort gives us practice in eliminating milder unskillful qualities and developing skillful ones in their place, so that when stronger unskillful qualities arise, we can use our skillful qualities as allies in fending them off. The strength of mindfulness assists this process in two ways. (1) It reminds us of the danger of giving into fear. (2) It teaches us to focus our attention, not on the object of our fear, but on the fear in and of itself as a mental event, something we can watch from the outside rather jumping in and going along for a ride. The strength of concentration, in providing the mind with a still center of wellbeing, puts us in a solid position where we don't feel compelled to identify with fears as they come, and where the comings and goings of internal and external dangers are less and less threatening to the mind.
Even then, though, the mind can't reach ultimate security until it uproots the causes of these comings and goings, which is why the first four strengths require the strength of discernment to make them fully secure. Discernment is what sees that these comings and goings are ultimately rooted in our sense of "I" and "mine," and that "I" and "mine" are not built into experience. They come from the repeated processes of I-making and my-making, in which we impose these notions on experience and identify with things subject to aging, illness, and death. Furthermore, discernment sees through our inner traitors and weaknesses: the cravings that want us to make an "I" and "mine"; the delusions that make us believe in them once they're made. It realizes that this level of delusion is precisely the factor that makes aging, illness, and death dangerous to begin with. If we didn't identify with things that age, grow ill, and die, their aging, illness, and death wouldn't threaten the mind. Totally unthreatened, the mind would have no reason to do anything unskillful ever again.
When this level of discernment matures and bears the fruit of release, our greatest insecurity -- our inability to trust ourselves -- has been eliminated. Freed from the attachments of "I" and "mine," we find that the component factors of fear -- both skillful and unskillful -- are gone. There's no remaining confusion or aversion; the mind is no longer weak in the face of danger; and so there's nothing from which we need to escape.
This is where the questions raised by the shaman's remarks find their answers. We fear because we believe in "we." We believe in "we" because of the delusion in our fear. Paradoxically, though, if we love ourselves enough to fear the suffering that comes from unskillful actions and attachments, and learn to believe in the way out, we'll develop the strengths that allow us to cut through our cravings, delusions, and attachments. That way, the entire complex -- the "we," the fear, the beliefs, the attachments -- dissolves away. The freedom remaining is the only true security there is.
This teaching may offer cold comfort to anyone who wants the impossible: security for his or her attachments. But in trading away the hope for an impossible security, you gain the reality of a happiness totally independent and condition-free. Once you've made this trade, you know that the pay-off is more than worth the price. As one of the Buddha's students once reported, "Before, when I has a householder, maintaining the bliss of kingship, I had guards posted within and without the royal apartments, within and without the city, within and without the countryside. But even though I was thus guarded, thus protected, I dwelled in fear -- agitated, distrustful, and afraid. But now, on going alone to a forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty dwelling, I dwell without fear, unagitated, confident, and unafraid -- unconcerned, unruffled, my wants satisfied, with my mind like a wild deer. This is the meaning I have in mind that I repeatedly exclaim, 'What bliss! What bliss!'"
His deer is obviously not the deer in the headlights. It's a deer safe in the wilderness, at its ease wherever it goes. What makes it more than a deer is that, free from attachment, it's called a "consciousness without surface." Light goes right through it. The hunter can't shoot it, for it can't be seen.
Revised: Wed 4 December 2002
Views to Vision
Buddhist Publication Society Newsletter cover essay #25 (Winter 1993-94)
Copyright © 1994 Buddhist Publication Society
For free distribution only
The Buddha's teaching repeatedly cautions us about the dangers in clinging -- in clinging to possessions, clinging to pleasures, clinging to people, clinging to views. The Buddha sounds such words of warning because he discerns in clinging a potent cause of suffering, and he thus advises us that the price we must pay to arrive at the "far shore" of liberation is the relinquishment of every type of clinging. In a move that at first glance may even seem self-destructive on the part of a religious founder, the Buddha says that we should not cling even to his teachings, that even the wholesome principles of the Dhamma have to be treated like the makeshift raft used to carry us across the stream.
Such astringent words of advice can easily be misconstrued, and if misconstrued the consequences may be even more bitter than if we simply disregard them. One particular misinterpretation into which newcomers to the Dhamma (and some veterans too!) are especially prone to fall is to hold that the Buddha's counsel to transcend all views means that even the doctrines of Buddhism are ultimately of no vital importance. For these doctrines too, it is said, are merely views, intellectual constructs, filaments of thought, which may have been meaningful in the context of ancient Indian cosmology but have no binding claims on us today. After all, aren't the words and phrases of the Buddhist texts simply that -- words and phrases -- and aren't we admonished to get beyond words and phrases in order to arrive at direct experience, the only thing that really counts? And doesn't the Buddha enjoin us in the Kalama Sutta to judge things for ourselves and to let our own experience be the criterion for deciding what we will accept?
Such an approach to the Dhamma may be sweet to chew upon and easy to digest, but we also need to beware of its effect upon our total spiritual organism. Too often this kind of slippery reasoning provides simply a convenient excuse for adhering, at a subtle level of the mind, to ideas which are fundamentally antithetical to the Dhamma. We hang on to such ideas, not because they are truly edifying, but in order to protect ourselves from the radical challenge with which the Buddha's message confronts us. In effect, such claims, though apparently aimed at safeguarding living experience from the encroachment of stodgy intellectualism, may be in reality a clever intellectual ploy for refusing to examine cherished assumptions -- assumptions we cherish primarily because they shield deep-rooted desires we do not want to expose to the tonic influence of the Dhamma.
When we approach the Buddha's teachings, we should bear in mind that its vast array of doctrines have not been devised as elaborate exercises in philosophical sleight of hand. They are propounded because they constitute right view, and right view stands at the head of the Noble Eightfold Path, the chisel to be used to cut away the dross of wrong views and confused thoughts that impede the light of wisdom from illumining our minds. In the present-day world, far more than in the ancient Ganges Valley, wrong views have gained widespread currency and assumed more baneful forms than earlier epochs ever could have imagined. Today they are no longer the province of a few eccentric philosophers and their cliques. They have become, rather, a major determinant of cultural and social attitudes, a molder of the moral spirit of the age, a driving force behind economic empires and international relations. Under such circumstances, right view is our candle against the dark, our compass in the desert, our isle above the flood. Without a clear understanding of the truths enunciated by right view, and without a keen awareness of the areas where these truths collide with popular opinion, it is only too easy to stumble in the dark, to get stranded among the sand dunes, to be swept away from one's position above the deluge.
Both right view and wrong view, though cognitive in character, do not remain locked up in a purely cognitive space of their own. Our views exercise an enormously potent influence upon all areas of our lives, and the Buddha, in his genius, recognized this when he placed right view and wrong view respectively at the beginning of the good and evil pathways of life. Views flow out and interlock with the practical dimension of our lives at many levels: they determine our values, they give birth to our goals and aspirations, they guide our choices in morally difficult dilemmas. Wrong view promotes wrong intentions, wrong modes of conduct, leads us in pursuit of a deceptive type of freedom. It draws us towards the freedom of license, by which we feel justified in casting off moral restraint for the sake of satisfying transient but harmful impulses. Though we may then pride ourselves on our spontaneity and creativity, may convince ourselves that we have discovered our true individuality, one with clear sight will see that this freedom is only a more subtle bondage to the chains of craving and delusion.
Right view, even in its elementary form, as a recognition of the moral law of kamma, the capacity of our deeds to bring results, becomes our gentle guide towards true freedom. And when it matures into an accurate grasp of the three signs of existence, of dependent arising, of the Four Noble Truths, it then becomes our navigator up the mountain slope of final deliverance. It will lead us to right intentions, to virtuous conduct, to mental purification, and to the cloudless peak of unobstructed vision. Although we must eventually learn to let go of this guide in order to stand confidently on our own feet, without its astute eye and willing hand we would only meander in the foothills oblivious to the peak.
The attainment of right view is not simply a matter of assenting to a particular roster of doctrinal formulas or of skill in juggling an impressive array of cryptic Pali terms. The attainment of right view is at its core essentially a matter of understanding -- of understanding in a deeply personal way the vital truths of existence upon which our lives devolve. Right view aims at the big picture. It seeks to comprehend our place in the total scheme of things and to discern the laws that govern the unfolding of our lives for better or for worse. The ground of right view is the Perfect Enlightenment of the Buddha, and by striving to rectify our view we seek nothing less than to align our own understanding of the nature of existence with that of the Buddha's Enlightenment. Right view may begin with concepts and propositional knowledge but it does not end with them. Through study, deep reflection and meditative development it gradually becomes transmuted into wisdom, the wisdom of insight that can cut asunder the beginningless fetters of the mind.
Revised: Thu 17 May 2001
Dignity to Life
To ask what it means to live with dignity may sound strange in an age like
our own, when our frantic struggle to make ends meet hardly allows us the
leisure to ponder such weighty matters. But if we do pause a moment to give
this question a little thought, we would realize soon enough that it is not
merely the idle musing of someone with too much time on his hands. The
question not only touches on the very meaning of our lives, but goes even
beyond our personal quest for meaning to bore into the very springs of
contemporary culture. For if it isn't possible to live with dignity then
life has no transcendent purpose, and in such a case our only aim in the
brief time allotted to us should be to snatch whatever thrills we can before
the lights go off for good. But if we can give sense to the idea of living
with dignity, then we need to consider whether we are actually ordering our
lives in the way we should and, even more broadly, whether our culture
encourages a dignified lifestyle.
Though the idea of dignity seems simple enough at first sight, it is
actually fairly complex. My Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (1936!) defines
dignity as "elevation of character, intrinsic worth, excellence, ...
nobleness of manner, aspect, or style." My Roget's Thesaurus (1977) groups
it with "prestige, esteem, repute, honor, glory, renown, fame" -- evidence
that over the last forty years the word's epicenter of meaning has undergone
a shift. When we inquire about living with dignity, our focus should be on
the word's older nuance. What I have in mind is living with the conviction
that one's life has intrinsic worth, that we possess a potential for moral
excellence that resonates with the rhythm of the seasons and the silent hymn
of the galaxies.
The conscious pursuit of dignity does not enjoy much popularity these days,
having been crowded out by such stiff competitors as wealth and power,
success and fame. Behind this devaluation of dignity lies a series of
developments in Western thought that emerged in reaction to the dogmatic
certainties of Christian theology. The Darwinian theory of evolution,
Freud's thesis of the Id, economic determinism, the computer model of the
mind: all these trends, arisen more or less independently, have worked
together to undermine the notion that our lives have any more worth than the
value of our bank accounts. When so many self-assured voices speak to the
contrary, we no longer feel justified in viewing ourselves as the crowning
glory of creation. Instead we have become convinced we are nothing but
packets of protoplasm governed by selfish genes, clever monkeys with college
degrees and business cards plying across highways rather than trees.
Such ideas, in however distorted a form, have seeped down from the halls of
academia into popular culture, eroding our sense of human dignity on many
fronts. The free-market economy, the task master of the modern social order,
leads the way. For this system the primary form of human interaction is the
investment and the sale, with people themselves reckoned simply as producers
and consumers, sometimes even as commodities. Our vast impersonal
democracies reduce the individual to a nameless face in the crowd, to be
manipulated by slogans, images, and promises into voting this way or that.
Cities have expanded into sprawling urban jungles, dirty and dangerous,
whose dazed occupants seek an easy escape with the help of drugs and
loveless sex. Escalation in crime, political corruption, upheavals in family
life, the despoliation of the environment: these all speak to us as much of
a deterioration in how we regard ourselves as in how we relate to others.
Amidst these pangs of forlorn hope, can the Dhamma help us recover our lost
sense of dignity and thereby give new meaning to our lives? The answer to
this question is yes, and in two ways: first, by justifying our claim to
innate dignity, and second, by showing us what we must do to actualize our
For Buddhism the innate dignity of human beings does not stem from our
relationship to an all-mighty God or our endowment with an immortal soul. It
stems, rather, from the exalted place of human life in the broad expanse of
sentient existence. Far from reducing human beings to children of chance,
the Buddha teaches that the human realm is a very special realm standing
squarely at the spiritual centre of the cosmos. What makes human life so
special is that human beings have a capacity for moral choice that is not
shared by other types of beings. Though this capacity is inevitably subject
to limiting conditions, we always possess, in the immediate present, a
margin of inner freedom that allows us to change ourselves and hereby to
change the world.
But life in the human realm is far from cozy. To the contrary, it is
inconceivably difficult and complex, rife with conflicts and moral
ambiguities offering enormous potential for both good and evil. This moral
complexity can make of human life a painful struggle indeed, but it also
renders the human realm the most fertile ground for sowing the seeds of
enlightenment. It is at this tauntingly ambiguous crossroads in the long
journey of being that we can either rise to the heights of spiritual
greatness or fall to degrading depths. The two alternatives branch out from
each present moment, and which one we take depends on ourselves.
While this unique capacity for moral choice and spiritual awakening confers
intrinsic dignity on human life, the Buddha does not emphasize this so much
as he does our ability to acquire active dignity. This ability is summed up
by a word that lends its flavor to the entire teaching, ariya or noble. The
Buddha's teaching is the ariyadhamma, the noble doctrine, and its purpose is
to change human beings from "ignorant worldlings" into noble disciples
resplendent with noble wisdom. The change does not come about through mere
faith and devotion but by treading the Buddhist path, which transmutes our
frailties into invincible strengths and our ignorance into knowledge.
The notion of acquired dignity is closely connected with the idea of
autonomy. Autonomy means self-control and self-mastery, freedom from the
sway of passion and prejudice, the ability to actively determine oneself. To
live with dignity means to be one's own master: to conduct one's affairs on
the basis of one's own free choices instead of being pushed around by forces
beyond one's control. The autonomous individual draws his or her strength
from within, free from the dictates of craving and bias, guided by a thirst
for righteousness and an inner perception of truth.
The person who represents the apex of dignity for Buddhism is the arahant,
the liberated one, who has reached the pinnacle of spiritual autonomy:
release from the dictates of greed, hatred, and delusion. The very word
arahant suggests this sense of dignity: the word means "worthy one," one who
deserves the offerings of gods and humans. Although in our present condition
we might still be far from the stature of an arahant, this does not mean we
are utterly lost, for the means of reaching the highest goal is already
within our reach. The means is the Noble Eightfold Path with its twin
pillars of right view and right conduct. Right view is the first factor of
the path and the guide for all the others. To live with right view is to see
that our decisions count, that our volitional actions have consequences that
extend beyond themselves and conduce to our long-term happiness or
suffering. The active counterpart of right view is right conduct, action
guided by the ideal of moral and spiritual excellence. Right conduct in
body, speech, and mind brings to fulfillment the other seven factors of the
eightfold path, culminating in true knowledge and deliverance.
In today's hectic world humankind is veering recklessly in two destructive
directions. One is the path of violent struggle and confrontation, the other
that of frivolous self-indulgence. Beneath their apparent contrasts, what
unites these two extremes is a shared disregard for human dignity: the
former violates the dignity of other people, the latter undermines one's own
dignity. The Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path is a middle way that avoids all
harmful extremes. To follow this path not only brings a quiet dignity into
one's own lile but also answers the cynicism of our age with a note of
Buddhist Publication Society Newsletter cover essay #38 (1st mailing, 1998)
Copyright © 1998 Buddhist Publication Society
For free distribution only
Revised: Sun 3 October 1999
The act of going for refuge marks the point where one commits
oneself to taking the Dhamma, or the Buddha's teaching, as the
primary guide to the conduct of one's life. To understand why this
commitment is called a "refuge", it is helpful to look at the
history of the custom.
In pre-Buddhist India, going for refuge meant proclaiming one's
allegiance to a patron-a powerful person or god-submitting to the
patron's directives in hopes of receiving protection from danger
in return. In the early years of the Buddha's teaching career, his
new followers adopted this custom to express their allegiance to
the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, but in the Buddhist context this
custom took on a new meaning.
Buddhism is not a theistic religion -- the Buddha is not a god-and
so a person taking refuge in the Buddhist sense is not asking for
the Buddha personally to intervene to provide protection. Still,
the Buddha's teachings center on the realization that human life
is fraught with dangers-from greed, anger, and delusion -- and so
the concept of refuge is a central part of the path of practice,
in that the practice is aimed at gaining release from those
dangers. Because both the dangers and the release from them come
ultimately from the mind, there is a need for two levels of
refuge: external refuges, which provide models and guidelines so
that we can identify which qualities in the mind lead to danger
and which to release; and internal refuges, i.e., the qualities
leading to release that we develop in our own mind in imitation of
our external models. The internal level is where true refuge is
Although the tradition of going to refuge is an ancient practice,
it is still relevant for our own practice today, for we are faced
with the same internal dangers that faced people in the Buddha's
time. We still need the same protection as they. When a Buddhist
takes refuge, it is essentially an act of taking refuge in the
doctrine of karma: It is an act of submission in that one is
committed to living in line with the belief that actions based on
skillful intentions lead to happiness, while actions based on
unskillful intentions lead to suffering; it is an act of claiming
protection in that one trusts that by following the teaching one
will not fall into the misfortunes that bad karma engenders. To
take refuge in this way ultimately means to take refuge in the
quality of our own intentions, for that's where the essence of
The refuges in Buddhism -- both on the internal and on the
external levels -- are the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, also known
as the Triple Gem. They are called gems both because they are
valuable and because, in ancient times, gems were believed to have
protective powers. The Triple Gem outdoes other gems in this
respect because its protective powers can be put to the test and
can lead further than those of any physical gem, all the way to
absolute freedom from the uncertainties of the realm of aging,
illness, and death.
The Buddha, on the external level, refers to Siddhattha Gotama,
the Indian prince who renounced his royal titles and went into the
forest, meditating until he ultimately gained Awakening. To take
refuge in the Buddha means, not taking refuge in him as a person,
but taking refuge in the fact of his Awakening: placing trust in
the belief that he did awaken to the truth, that he did so by
developing qualities that we too can develop, and that the truths
to which he awoke provide the best perspective for the conduct of
The Dhamma, on the external level, refers to the path of practice
the Buddha taught to his followers. This, in turn, is divided into
three levels: the words of his teachings, the act of putting those
teachings into practice, and the attainment of Awakening as the
result of that practice. This three-way division of the word
"Dhamma" is essentially a map showing how to take the external
refuges and make them internal: learning about the teachings,
using them to develop the qualities that the Buddha himself used
to attain Awakening, and then realizing the same release from
danger that he found in the quality of Deathlessness that we can
The word Sangha, on the external level, has two senses:
conventional and ideal. In its ideal sense, the Sangha consists of
all people, lay or ordained, who have practiced the Dhamma to the
point of gaining at least a glimpse of the Deathless. In a
conventional sense, Sangha denotes the communities of ordained
monks and nuns. The two meanings overlap but are not necessarily
identical. Some members of the ideal Sangha are not ordained; some
monks and nuns have yet to touch the Deathless. All those who take
refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha become members of the
Buddha's four-fold assembly (parisa) of followers: monks, nuns,
male lay devotees, and female lay devotees. Although it is widely
believed that all Buddhist followers are members of the Sangha,
this is not the case. Only those who are ordained are members of
the conventional Sangha; only those who have glimpsed the
Deathless are members of the ideal Sangha. Nevertheless, those
followers who do not belong to the Sangha in either sense of the
word still count as genuine Buddhists in that they are members of
the Buddha's parisa.
When taking refuge in the external Sangha, one takes refuge in
both senses of the Sangha, but the two senses provide different
levels of refuge. The conventional Sangha has helped keep the
teaching alive for more than 2,500 years. Without them, we would
never have learned what the Buddha taught. However, not all
members of the conventional Sangha are reliable models of
behavior. So when looking for guidance in the conduct of one's
life, one must look to the living or recorded examples provided by
the ideal Sangha. Without their example, we would not know (1)
that Awakening is available to all, and not just to the Buddha;
and (2) how Awakening expresses itself in the varied aspects of
On the internal level, the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha are the
skillful qualities that we develop in our own minds in imitation
of our external models. For instance, the Buddha was a person of
wisdom, purity, and compassion. When we develop wisdom, purity,
and compassion in our own minds, they form our refuge on an
internal level. The Buddha tasted Awakening by developing
conviction, persistence, mindfulness, concentration, and
discernment. When we develop these same qualities to the point of
attaining Awakening too, that Awakening is our ultimate refuge.
This is the point where the three aspects of the Triple Gem become
one: beyond the reach of greed, anger, and delusion, and thus
"Refuge: an Introduction to the Buddha, Dhamma & Sangha",
Metta Monastery, California, 1996
Justice - A Buddhist Perspective
By David Loy
"The history of punishment is in some respects like the history of war; it seems to accompany the human condition almost universally, to enjoy periods of glorification, to be commonly regarded as justified in many instances, and yet to run counter to our ultimate vision of what human society should be." 
Why do we punish? It seems a silly question, but only until we try to answer it. To punish is to harm, and harming must be justified. Three types of justification are usually offered: the harm of punishment is outweighed by some greater good (e.g., it deters others); punishment does not really harm offenders (because it reforms them); and harming offenders is good in itself (because retribution "annuls the crime"). However, each of these reasons becomes problematical when we examine it.
The first argument is a utilitarian one, but it seems immoral to harm someone because we want to influence others' behavior; such a principle could also be used to justify scapegoating innocents. This is not just an abstract point, for there is the uncomfortable possibility that offenders today have become scapegoats for our social problems. And if punishment warns other would-be offenders, why does the United States, which punishes a larger percentage of its population than any other Western country, continue to have the highest crime rate?
The second argument, that punishment reforms rather than harms the offender, obviously is not true now. The Quakers may have intended the penitentiary to be a place of penitence, yet there is little doubt that today incarceration makes most offenders worse. A RAND study found that recidivism is actually higher for offenders sent to prison than for similar offenders put on probation. That should not surprise us, for the predatory societies found in most prisons make them more like hell than places to repent and reform. Prison settings dehumanize, divert offenders' attention from victims, and reinforce their low self-esteem. As often happens, an institution which does not fulfill its original purpose continues to exist for other reasons -- in this case because, to tell the truth, we have not known what else to do with most offenders.
The third argument, that harming offenders somehow annuls the crime, incorporates several types of justifications. The most common is the desire for vengeance, which is understandable but morally dubious and socially destructive. Another version sees punishment as God's retribution; the Buddhist equivalent understands punishment more impersonally, as an effect of one's karma. Neither is a good argument for human punishment: neither God nor an objective moral law needs our help, especially since it is inevitable that humans will occasionally make mistakes (e.g., execute innocents).
The important point is that all versions of this third justification build upon the intuitive belief that something must be done to "make right" the harm that offenses cause to victims and the social fabric. What motivates the restorative justice movement is the increasing recognition that our present judicial system is not doing this well enough. The problem, we are beginning to realize, is a deep one: we sense that there may be something wrong with our atomistic understanding of the social contract and its presumptions about "the good life", but we are not sure which way to look for an alternative paradigm -- which is why it is essential to get perspectives on this paradigm that can only be provided by the worldviews and values of other cultures.
The Buddhist approach to punishment, like any other approach, cannot really be separated from its understanding of human psychology and its vision of human possibility. This suggests that criminal justice is not solely a secular issue, for questions of fairness and justice cannot be completely separated from the religious perspectives they historically derive from: for the vast majority of humankind, crime, punishment and reform are still inextricably bound up with religious views about sin, judgement and forgiveness. Justice is one of those ultimate issues that bridge whatever distinction we try to make between sacred and secular, and our criminal justice system will always be subordinate to our larger vision of how people should relate to each other. Then is penal failure a barometer of our social failure in this larger respect -- of our inadequate vision of what personal and social possibilities there are? This would explain our discomforting suspicion that criminals have become scapegoats, readily exploited by ambitious politicians (a fourth justification for punishment, unfortunately).
It is difficult to generalize about crime, because there are different types, committed by different types of people, which require different responses. The same is true for Buddhism: there is no such thing as the Buddhist tradition, for Buddhism has been extraordinarily adaptable in its spread to different places and cultures. Thailand, Tibet, China and Japan have had very different political and judicial systems, although some similar threads have been used in weaving their various patterns: especially the beliefs that all of us, offenders and victims alike, have the same Buddha-nature, which is not to be confused with our usual sense of self, an ever-changing collection of wholesome and unwholesome mental tendencies; that we are usually dominated by our greed, ill-will and delusion, but it is possible to change and outgrow them; and therefore the only reason to punish is education for reformation. 
We begin with two Pali (early) suttas which exemplify these threads: the Angulimala Sutta, the best-known Buddhist text on crime and punishment, about the reform of a serial killer; and the Lion's Roar Sutta, on the responsibility of a ruler to prevent crime and violence. Although the first may be based upon a true incident, both suttas are obviously mythic, which does not reduce their interest for us, since our concern is Buddhist attitudes. Then we will look at the Buddhist vinaya, which supplies the rules and corrective measures that regulate the lives of Buddhist bhikkhus (monks) and bhikkunis (nuns); these have many implications for our psychological understanding of motivation, education and reform. Finally, we look to traditional Tibet to see how its judicial system embodied these Buddhist perspectives. Tibet's lack of church/state separation means it is not a model that a modern secular and pluralistic society can duplicate -- or are we already duplicating it? Does our usual distinction between the religious and civil spheres merely obscure the fact that the state has become a "secular god" for us?
The Angulimala Sutta 
Angulimala was a merciless bandit, who murdered many people and wore their fingers as a garland (hence his name, literally "finger-garland"). Although warned about him, the Blessed One (Sakyamuni Buddha) walks silently into his area. When Angulimala tries to catch him, however, the Buddha performs a supernatural feat: Angulimala, walking as fast as he can, cannot catch up with him, even though the Buddha is walking at his normal pace. Astonished, Angulimala calls out "Stop, recluse!"
Still walking, the Buddha answers: "I have stopped, Angulimala; you stop too." In response to Angulimala's puzzlement, he explains: "I have stopped forever, abstaining from violence towards living beings; but you show no such restraint." This impresses Angulimala so much that he renounces evil forever and asks to join the sangha; and the Buddha accepts him as a bhikkhu.
Meanwhile, people had gathered at the gates of King Pasenadi's palace, demanding that Angulimala be stopped. King Pasenadi goes forth with five hundred men to capture him. When he meets the Buddha and explains his quest, the Buddha responds: if you were to see that he is now a good bhikkhu, who abstains from killing, etc., how would you treat him?
The king replies that he would pay homage to him as a good bhikkhu, and is surprised when the Buddha points out Angulimala seated nearby. The king marvels that the Buddha was able to tame the untamed and bring peace to the unpeaceful. "Venerable sir, we ourselves could not tame him with force or weapons, yet the Blessed One has tamed him without force or weapons." Then he departs.
Soon after, the venerable Angulimala realizes the supreme goal of the holy life and attains nirvana, Later, however, during an almsround, he is beaten by townspeople, but the Buddha tells him to bear it, for it is a result of his past karma. The sutta concludes with some verses by Angulimala, for example: "Who checks the evil deeds he did/ By doing wholesome deeds instead,/ He illuminates the world/ Like the moon freed from a cloud."
The point of this sutta is not difficult to see: we need only contrast Angulimala's fate with what our retributive justice system would do to him. The importance of this story within the Buddhist tradition highlights the only reason Buddhism accepts for punishing an offender: to help re-form his or her character. Then there is no reason to punish someone who has already reformed himself. There is no mention of punishment as a deterrent; on the contrary, the case of Angulimala may be seen as setting a negative example, implying that one can escape punishment by becoming a bhikkhu, as if the sangha were something like the French foreign legion. There is also no hint that punishment is needed to "annul the crime", although Angulimala does suffer karmic consequences which even his nirvana (spiritual perfection) cannot escape. More generally, determining what judicial response is right or wrong -- what is just -- cannot be abstracted from the particular situation of the offender.
Nevertheless, this story is unsatisfactory from a restorative viewpoint. The sutta says nothing about the families of Angulimala's victims, or the larger social consequences of his crimes, except for the crowds at King Pasenadi's gate. That the humble monk Angulimala is stoned by villagers indicates more than bad karma; it implies that there has been no attempt at restorative justice which takes account of his effects on society. The social fabric of the community has been rent, yet there is no effort to "make things right". The particular situation of the offender is addressed by abstracting him from his social context. It would be unfair to take this as indicating a Buddhist indifference to society, yet it does exemplify the early Buddhist attitude to spiritual salvation: liberation is an individual matter, and the path to achieving it involves leaving society, not transforming it.
The Lion's Roar Sutta 
The Cakkavatti-sihanada Sutta addresses the relationship between criminal justice and social justice, especially the connection between poverty and violence. The Buddha often summarized his teachings into four noble truths: life is duhkha (unsatisfactory); the cause of duhkha; the end of duhkha; and the way to end duhkha. According to this Buddhist approach, the way to control crime naturally follows from correctly understanding the causes of crime. In this sutta the Buddha tells the story of a monarch in the distant past who initially venerated and relied upon the dhamma, doing as his sage advised: "Let no crime prevail in your kingdom, and to those who are in need, give property." Later, however, he began to rule according to his own ideas and did not give property to the needy, with the result that poverty became rife. Due to poverty one man took what was not given and was arrested; when the king asked him why, the man said he had nothing to live on. So the king gave him some property, saying that it would be enough to carry on a business and support his family.
Exactly the same thing happened to another man; and when other people heard about this they too decided to steal so they would be treated the same way. Then the king realized that if he continued to give property to such men, theft would continue to increase. So he decided to get tough on the next thief: "I had better make an end of him, finish him off once for all, and cut his head off." And he did.
At this point in the story, one might expect a moralistic parable about the importance of deterring crime, but it turns in exactly the opposite direction:
"Hearing about this, people thought: 'Now let us get sharp swords made for us, and then we can take from anybody what is not given, we will make an end of them, finish them off once and for all and cut off their heads.' So, having procured some sharp swords, they launched murderous assaults on villages, towns and cities, and went in for highway-robbery, killing their victims by cutting off their heads.
"Thus, from the not giving of property to the needy, poverty became rife, from the growth of poverty, the taking of what was not given increased, from the increase of theft, the use of weapons increased, from the increased use of weapons, the taking of life increased..."
Despite some fanciful elements, this myth has important implications for our understanding of crime and punishment. The first point is that poverty is presented as the root cause of immoral behavior such as theft, violence, falsehood, etc. Unlike what we might expect from a supposedly world-denying religion, the Buddhist solution has nothing to do with accepting our poverty karma. The problem begins when the king does not give property to the needy -- that is, when the state neglects its responsibility to maintain distributive justice. According to this influential sutta, crime, violence and immorality cannot be separated from broader questions about the justice or injustice of the social order. The solution is not to "crack down" harshly with severe punishments but to provide for people's basic needs. "The aim would be, not to create a society in which people in general were afraid to break the law, but one in which they could live sufficiently rewarding lives without doing so" (Wright 7). Today we prefer to throw our money at "wars on crime", but social indications suggest what the king belatedly realized, that such wars no one wins.
That brings us to the second point of the Lion's Roar Sutta, its understanding of violence. Instead of solving the problem, the king's violent attempt at deterrence sets off an explosion of violence that leads to social collapse. If punishment is sometimes a mirror-image of the crime, in this case the crimes are a mirror-image of the punishment. The state's violence reinforces the belief that violence works. When the state uses violence against those who do things it does not permit, we should not be surprised when some of its citizens feel entitled to do the same (Pepinsky 301). Such retributive violence "tends to confirm the outlook and life experiences of many offenders. Wrongs must be repaid by wrong and those who offend deserve vengeance. Many crimes are committed by people 'punishing' their family, the neighbors, their acquaintances" (Zehr 77). The emphasis on nonviolence within so much of the Buddhist tradition is not because of some otherworldly preoccupations; it is based upon the psychological insight that violence breeds violence. This is a clear example, if anything is, of the maxim that our means cannot be divorced from our ends. If there is no way to peace, peace itself must be the way. Since the state is not exempt from this truth, we must find some way to incorporate it into our judicial systems.
The Vinaya 
The Vinaya Pitaka is, in effect, a canonical compendium of the rules that bhikkhus and bhikkunis are expected to follow. The vinaya is based upon sila morality, which, although only one part of the three-part path (the others are samadhi concentration and prajna wisdom), provides the ethical foundation essential for all Buddhists. The five basic sila precepts are to abstain from killing, stealing, improper sexual behaviour, lying, and intoxicants. These precepts help us eradicate the three roots of evil: "As lust, malice and delusion are the basis of all undesirable volitional activity done by means of thoughts, word and body, the disciplinary code or Buddhist Laws are regarded as a means established for the rise of detached actions which finally result in pure expressions of body, speech and thought" (Ratnapala 42).
Although now rigidly codified, the vinaya approach is quite practical. Almost all rules originate from actual events (what we would call case law) rather than from hypothetical possibilities of wrong-doing. "The spirit of the law suggests that the laws act more or less as sign-posts or 'danger zones' indicating that one should be careful here, keeping in mind the example or examples of individuals who fell into trouble by this or that strategem" (Ratnapala 42). Since not derived from God or any other absolute authority, these rules are always open to revision, except for the four parajikas (sexual intercourse, stealing, killing a human being, and lying about one's spiritual attainment) which constitute automatic self-expulsion. Following the rules well is not in itself the goal; the reason for rules is that they promote personal and spiritual development.
The vinaya approach is very practical in another way too: in its realistic attitude towards human weakness. It is the nature of unenlightened human beings to be afflicted by greed, ill-will and delusion; that is, all of us are somewhat mad. As long as human beings are unenlightened, then, there will be crime. The extent of crime can be reduced by improving social and economic conditions, but no human society will ever be able to eradicate crime completely. This is consistent with the Buddhist attitude towards self-perfection: we improve only gradually, step by step, which implies that offences should be evaluated with tolerance and compassion.
If we are all somewhat insane, the insanity defense is always somewhat applicable, for there can be no presumption of free will or simple self-determination. Freedom is not a matter of liberating individual self-will (often motivated by greed, etc.) but overcoming such willfulness; not gained by removing external restraints, but by self-control and spiritual awakening. This denies the distinction we are usually quick to make between an offender and the rest of us. The rehabilitative model of secular therapy denies the offender's dignity and responsibility, as Conrad Brunk points out, but Buddhism avoids this problem by emphasizing the continuity between offenders and us: the difference is only a matter of degree -- at most. According to Buddhism, the issue is not punishment but correction, and the best antidote to crime is to help people realize the full consequences of their actions (Ratnapala12-13).
In determining the nature of an offence against the vinaya, everything about an offender's situation is taken into consideration in order to make the best possible judgement about what should be done: one's past, character and intelligence, the nature and conduct of one's associates, as well as whether or not one has confessed. This may be contrasted to our own judicial preoccupation with the black-or-white question of guilty/not guilty. "Degrees of severity of the offense may vary, but in the end there are no degrees of guilt", which teaches "the hidden message that people can be evaluated in simple dichotomies." From a perspective that takes the offender's self-reformation (and is there any other type?) seriously, such an approach is seriously flawed:
"Much evidence suggests that offenders often do not act freely or at least do not perceive themselves as capable of free action... Ideas of human freedom and thus responsibility necessarily take on a different hue in such a context." (Zehr 70)
The vinaya supports the notion that our preoccupation with guilt is based on an erroneous understanding of human nature and how it changes. "Guilt says something about the quality of the person who did this and has a 'sticky,' indelible quality." (Zehr 69). Buddhist emphasis on the transience of everything means there is nothing indelible about our unwholesome mental tendencies; deep-rooted ones may be difficult to eradicate, but that is because they are an engrained result of past habits, not an "essential" part of us.
The main concern of the vinaya is not ruling on guilt but determining the intention, because one's intention decides the nature of the offence. If there is no consent to commit an act one is not guilty of it; and the lighter the intention, the less grave the offence (Ratnapala 5, 93, 192).
Intention is also the most important factor in the operation of the law of karma, which according to Buddhism is created by volitional action: "I am the result of my own deed ... whatever deed I do, whether good or bad, I shall become heir to it."  A modern approach is to understand karma in terms of what Buddhism calls sankharas, our "mental formations" especially our habitual tendencies. These are very important for Buddhism because they are not tendencies we have but tendencies we are. Instead of being "my" habits, their interaction is what constructs my sense of "me". Then we are punished not for our sins but by them. People suffer or benefit not for what they have done but for what they have become, and what we intentionally do is what makes us what we are. My actions and my intentions build/rebuild my character just as food is assimilated to build/rebuild my physical body. If karma is this psychological truth about how we construct ourselves, or about how our selves are constructed by "our" greed, ill-will and delusion, then we can no longer accept the juridical presupposition of a self-determined subject wholly responsible for its own actions. Once we understand the mental tendencies that afflict all of us, desire for vengeance must be replaced with compassion that emphasizes reformation.
The system of punishments used within the sangha shows how these principles work in practice. The emphasis is on creating a situation that will help an offender to remember and reflect upon the offence, in order to overcome the mental tendencies that produced it. Most penalties involve what we now call probation. Probation is usually regarded as a modern method of treatment derived from English common law, but it has been widely used in Buddhism for 2500 years, because consistent with the Buddhist concern not to punish but to reform. Once the probation was successfully finished, the bhikkhu returned to his previous position and status, so "the social image of the offender was not harmed. After the penalty, he was received back and he enjoyed the identical position he had earlier without stigma or contempt. Human dignity thus was always regarded as important in the court and in the society, while under a penalty or after rehabilitation" (Ratnapala 77). This contrasts with the humiliation built into our present retributive approach. A major factor in many offences is low self-esteem, and a restorative system must address this explicitly by focusing on ways to help offenders build self-esteem in the act of accepting responsibility for their actions.
This does not contradict the Buddhist teaching that there is no separate self. "Reintegration requires that we view ourselves (and others) as a complex measure of good and evil, injuries and strengths, and that while we resist and disparage the evil and compensate for our weaknesses, we also recognize and welcome the good and utilize our strengths" (Van Ness and Strong on reintegrative shaming, 118). This is precisely the Buddhist view of human nature, which does not presuppose a unitary soul or self-determining subject, but understands the self to be a composite of unwholesome and wholesome tendencies.
To sum up, the vinaya approach suggests that, if we are serious in our desire for a judicial system that truly heals, we must find a way to shift our focus from punishing guilt to reforming intention.
Tibetan justice 
Traditional Tibet provides an opportunity to observe how well the above principles can operate in lay society. The presupposition of its legal system was that conflict is created by our incorrect vision of situations, itself caused by our mental afflictions. In Tibetan Buddhist teachings there are six root afflictions (desire, anger, pride, ignorance, doubt, and incorrect view) and twenty secondary ones (including belligerence, resentment, spite, jealousy, and deceit) that cause us to perceive the world in an illusory way and engage in disputes. Again, we notice a Socratic-like understanding of human conflict: our immoral behavior is ultimately due to our wrong understanding, which only a spiritual awakening can wholly purify.
As long as our minds are afflicted, there is no question of free will, and Tibet's judicial system did not presuppose it:
"The goal of a legal proceeding was to calm the minds and relieve the anger of the disputants and then -- through catharsis, expiation, restitution, and appeasement -- to rebalance the natural order... A primary purpose of trial procedure was to uncover mental states if possible, and punishment was understood in terms of its effect upon the mind of the defendant" (French 74-76).
This included the disputants attempting to reharmonize their relations after a court settlement. For example, the law codes specified a "getting together payment" to finance a meeting where all the parties would drink and eat together, to promote a reconciliation. In general, coercion was considered ineffective, for no one could be forced to follow a moral path. The disputants had to work out their own difficulties to find a true solution. Therefore even a decision accepted by all parties would lose its finality whenever they no longer agreed to it, and cases could be reopened at any later date (French 138).
This emphasis on reharmonizing was embodied both in legal philosophy and in the different types of judicial process used to settle problems. Legal analysis employed two basic forms of causation, immediate and root, both derived from Buddhist scriptures; the root cause was usually considered more important, because the source of animosity had to be addressed to finally resolve the strife. The most common type of judicial process was internal settlement by the parties themselves. If that did not work, private and unofficial conciliators could be tried; this was usually preferred because it was informal, saved reputations, allowed flexible compromises, and was much less expensive. A third process involved visiting judges at home to get their informal opinion of the best way to proceed. Official court proceedings were a last resort.
This emphasis on consensus and calming the mind presupposed something generally accepted in Tibet but less acceptable to us: a belief that it is only the mind, not material possessions or status relations, that can bring us happiness; in more conventional Buddhist terms, it is my state of mind that determines whether I attain nirvana or burn in one of the hells. This helps us to see the more individualistic assumptions operative in our own judicial system, which emphasizes the personal pursuit of happiness, freedom of restraint by others, and the right to enjoy one's property without interference.
Tibetan officials were careful to distinguish religious beliefs from secular legal views when it came to settling a case. Nonetheless, Tibetan culture was permeated with a spiritual mentality, and the moral standards of the Buddha and his vinaya influenced every part of the legal system:
"Each Tibetan knew that the moral Buddhist cared more for the welfare of others than for his or her own welfare, gave to others rather than amasses a fortune, rigorously tried to prevent harm to others, never engaged in any of the nonvirtuous acts, had complete devotion to the Buddha and his path, worked to eliminate anger and desire for material goods, accepted problems with patience and endurance, and remained an enthusiastic perseverer in the quest for truth and enlightenment. As their was no confusion about this ideal, there was little ambiguity about how the moral actor would deal with a particular daily situation. Even though the average Tibetan may not have been any more likely to follow the moral path than a person in any other society, his or her understanding of that ideal path remained strong" (French 77).
Since all societies require norms as well as sanctions, we may ask what comparable standards prevail in Western cultures. Generally, ours are more competitive and atomistic. In U.S. law, for example, "the question becomes 'Would a reasonable person leave ice on the sidewalk and foresee harm to a passerby?' The court and the individuals are not expected to know or to ask the moral question 'What would a correctly acting moral human have done under the same circumstances?'" In Tibet the accepted standard was not "a reasonable man" but the moral person exercising self-control; the members of a Tibetan village or neighborhood recognized that they had responsibility for other members. Unless there are special circumstances, a U.S. adult has no legal duty or responsibility to help others. "Tibetans find such an attitude repulsive and inhuman" (French 77, 142).
This emphasis on ending strife and calming the mind implied different attitudes towards determining legal truth and using precedents. "Whereas the American view is that legal truth emerges from the clash of opposing forces asserting their interests, Tibetans saw little value in weathering such a process with all its extremity, anger, and passion. Truth was understood in one of two ways: as an ideal and separate standard [hence normally unattainable], or as consensus -- that is, the result when disagreeing parties reach a similar view of what happened and what should be done" (French 137). The necessity of consent so permeated the decision-making process that if the disputants could not agree, truth could not be reached.
This also reduced reliance on previous legal decisions as precedents. The need to work out the best way to end conflict meant that emphasis was on decisions harmonizing the group, rather than on decisions harmonizing with abstract legal principles. As a result, Tibetan jurisprudence eventually formulated a core of five factors to be considered: the uniqueness of each case (requiring a sensitivity to its particular features); what is suitable for punishment (no statutory guidelines for sentencing); considerations of karma (punishment should be oriented towards improving the offender's future life); the correct purposes of punishment (to reharmonize with the community and make offenders mindful of the seriousness of their offenses); and the correct types of punishment (incarceration was rare because of lack of facilities). Economic sanctions such as fines and damages were the most common, followed by physical punishment and forced labor; others included ostracism, publishing the offence, and reduction of official rank or loss of occupational status; capital punishment was also used occasionally. In general, local and nongovernmental decisionmakers were believed to be more likely to find solutions that would actually rectify behavior and restore community harmony.
In summary, Tibet provides an example of a country whose judicial system was organized according to very different principles. However, any attempt we might make to incorporate those principles into Western criminal justice would seem to be vitiated by one obvious problem: Buddhist Tibet was not a secular society. Its judicial system was not autonomous, for its framework of "legal cosmology" was derived from the Tibetan worldview, itself imbedded in a Buddhist cultural base. For a Tibetan, then, there was no clear division betwen religion and the state (French 346, 100). Such a judicial system is difficult to harmonize with our Western legal systems, which have evolved to fit secular and pluralistic societies. For the West, a distinction between religious and civil authority is basic.
Or is it? Is our judicial system an Enlightened secular alternative to such a religiously-based legal cosmology, or is it merely unaware of its own religious origins and assumptions? There is nothing unique about Tibet's legal system being derived from its worldview; that is true of any legal system. Ours too is embedded in a worldview which we take for granted just as much as Tibetans took for granted a Buddhist cosmology. I conclude by suggesting that, for us, the role of the Buddha has been assumed, in large part, by the state. This implies a rather different understanding of what is wrong with our criminal justice systems.
A Genealogy of Justice
Our understanding of justice, like every understanding of justice, is historically constructed. If we want to reconstruct justice, then, it is important to understand how we got where we are. But there is no perspectiveless perspective. It is our concern for restorative justice that enables us to see the history of jurisprudence in a new way.
In premodern Anglo-Saxon and Germanic law, the notion of a wrong to a person or his family was primary, that of an offense against the "common weal" secondary. Our distinction between civil and criminal law hardly existed, even for the most grave offenses. As monarchies grew more powerful, private settlements of crimes regarded as public wrongs were not permitted, because they were understood to undermine the Crown's authority.
This development intersected with another in the religious sphere. Initially, Christian practice had emphasized forgiving wrongdoing; like Buddhism, it was focused on reconciliation and spiritual salvation. Beginning in the eleventh century, however, theology and common law began to redefine crime as an offense against the metaphysical order, which causes a moral imbalance that needs to be righted. Crime became a sin against God, and it was the responsibility of the Church to purge such transgressions (Zehr 116).
These developments intersected in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the Reformation initiated a social crisis that culminated in the birth of the nation-state as we know it today. The religious schism increased the leverage of civil rulers and the balance of power between Church and state shifted to the latter. This allowed some rulers to appropriate the Church's mantle of spiritual charisma. Their power could become absolute because they filled the new vacuum of spiritual authority by becoming, in effect, "secular gods" accountable only to God. Thanks to reformers such as Luther and Calvin, who postulated a vast gap between corrupt humanity and God's righteousness, the deity was now too far away to supervise their power. Luther and Calvin endorsed the punitive role of the state, which took over God's role in administering punishment. The eventual overthrow of absolute rulers freed state institutions from responsibility to anything outside themselves, since now they "embodied the people".
This gives us a different perspective on the state's new role as the legal victim of all crimes, with a monopoly on justice. Instead of viewing the nation-state as a solely secular institution, we should understand that our historically-conditioned allegiance to it is due to the fact that it took over some of the authority of schismatic and therefore somewhat discredited Christianity. Yet the objectivity and impersonality of state justice led to an emphasis on formal law and due process, with little regard for the effects of this process on its participants (Wright 112). Such "law can be viewed as being inversely related to personal trust. With respect to trust, bureaucracy can be viewed as the antithesis of community" (Cordella 35).
The Anabaptists understood that such a state is inherently coercive and refused to engage in its civil affairs, because state authority was antithetical to their own mutualist vision of community. In short, they saw the basic problem that the rest of us are just beginning to understand: if the nation-state is a god, it is a false one -- an idol.
What does all this have to do with restorative justice? The all-important issue is the social context of justice. In a wonderful passage, Zehr discusses the relationship between Biblical justice and love:
"We tend to assume that love and mercy are different from or opposite to justice. A judge pronounces a sentence. Then as an act of mercy, she may mitigate the penalty. Biblical justice, however, grows out of love. Such justice is in fact an act of love which seeks to make things right. Love and justice are not opposites, nor are they in conflict. Instead, love provides for a justice which seeks first to make things right" (139).
I hope to have shown that the same is true for Buddhism: Buddhist justice grows out of a compassion for everyone involved when someone hurts another.
Logically, the opposite of love is hatred; but Jung and others have pointed out that the psychological opposite to love is fear. By no coincidence, Hobbes' theory of a social contract makes fear the origin of the state, for the absolute authority of the state is the only thing that can protect my self-interest from yours. True or not, that has become our myth: we legitimize the state's justice insofar as we accept that it is needed to protect us from each other.
This implies a sharp conflict between Biblical/Buddhist justice and state justice. The usual understanding of justice and mercy separates them; Zehr's Biblical understanding, and my Buddhist one, see justice growing out of mercy; but our myth about the social contract implies that the state's justice grows out of fear. If fear is indeed the opposite of love, we are faced with two contradictory paradigms about the origins and role of justice. Then the issue becomes which kind of society we want to live in.
1. Deirdre Golash, "Punishment", 11-12. This provocative paper presents the three main justifications for punishment, argues that each is flawed, and concludes that we should abolish our institutions of punishment.
2. There are many excellent works in English that provide an introduction of Buddhist teachings. For early Buddhism, see Rahula 1959; for Mahayana Buddhism, see Williams 1989.
3. Majjhima Nikaya ii 98ff, in The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, 710-717.
4. Digha Nikaya iii 65 ff, in The Long Discourses of the Buddha, 395-405.
5. This section draws heavily on Ratnapala's Crime and Punishment in the Buddhist Tradition.
6. Anguttara Nikaya iii, 59.
7. This section draws heavily on French's The Golden Yoke.
Camilleri, Joseph, "Human Rights, Cultural Diversity and Conflict Resolution", Pacifica Review, Vol. 6 no. 2 (1994).
Chakravarti, Uma, The Social Dimensions of Early Buddhism (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987).
Cordella, J. Peter, "Reconciliation and the Mutualist Model of Community", in Harold Pepinsky and Richard Quinney, Criminology as Peacemaking (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991).
French, Rebecca Redwood, The Golden Yoke: The Legal Cosmology of Buddhist Tibet (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995).
Golash, Deirdre, "Punishment: an insitutition in search of a moral grounding", in Christine Sistare, ed., Punishment: Social Control and Coercion (Center for Semiotic Research, 1994), pp. 11 -- 28. Gombrich, Richard, Theravada Buddhism (London: Routledge, 1988).
Liechty, Daniel, Abstracts of the Complete Writings of Ernest Becker (unpublished, distributed privately).
The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya, trans. Maurice Walshe (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995).
The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, trans. Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi (Boston: Wisdom, 1995).
Pepinsky, Harold, "Peacemaking in Criminology and Criminal Justice", in Harold Pepinsky and Richard Quinney, Criminology as Peacemaking (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991).
Rahula, Walpola, What the Buddha Taught (New York: Grove Press, 1959).
Ratnapala, Nandasena, Crime and Punishment in the Buddhist Tradition (New Delhi: Mittal Publications, 1993).
Van Ness, Daniel, and Karen H. Strong, Restoring Justice (Cincinnati: Anderson Publishing Company, 1997).
Williams, Paul, Mahayana Buddhism (London: Routledge, 1989).
Wright, Martin, Justice for Victims and Offenders (Milton Keynes, Open University Press, 1991).
Zehr, Howard, Changing Lenses: a new focus for crime and justice (Scottsdale, Penn: Herald Press, 1990, 1996).
for Entering Jhana
...Leigh Brasington / www.Dharma.org
instructions have been taken from a nine-day retreat offered by Leigh Brasington
at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in April of 2002. The Pali word jhana
(Sanskrit dhyana) is sometimes simply translated as "meditation," but
more accurately refers to an "absorption" into a very focused, very
stable state of concentration. In the classical tradition there are several stages
of jhana, each one more focused than the previous.]
Some people will experience some of the jhanas on this retreat; some people will not. The likelihood of you experiencing a jhana is inversely proportional to the amount of desire that you have for it. After all, the instructions given by the Buddha in the early texts for practicing jhana begin with "Secluded from sense desire, secluded from unwholesome states of mind, one approaches and abides in the first jhana." In order to experience a jhana, it is necessary to temporarily abandon the five hindrances [sense desire, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, doubt]. However, if you are craving a jhana, you've got sense desire and an unwholesome state of mind. You have to set those aside to be able to enter the jhana.
The method for entering jhana begins with generating access concentration. You begin by sitting in a comfortable, upright position. It needs to be comfortable, because if there is too much pain, aversion will naturally develop in the mind. You may be able to sit in a way that looks really good, but if your knees are killing you there will be pain and you will not experience any jhanas. So you need to find some way to sit that is comfortable. But it also needs to be upright and alert, because that tends to get your energy going in a beneficial way that keeps you awake. If you are too comfortable you will be overcome with sloth and torpor, which is an unwholesome state of mind that is totally useless for entering the jhanas.
So the first prerequisite for entering the jhanas is to put the body in a position that you can just leave it in for the length of the sitting without having to move. If you have back problems or some other obstacle that prevents you from sitting upright, then you need to find some other alert position that you can maintain comfortably.
Now this is not to say that you cannot move. It may be that you have taken a position and you discover that "My knee is killing me; I have to move because there is too much aversion." If you have to move, you have to move. Okay, be mindful of moving. The intention to move will be there before the movement. Notice that intention, then move very mindfully, and then re-settle yourself into the new position, and notice how long it takes for the mind to get back to that place of calm that it had before you moved. It is very important that you not move unmindfully.
This process encourages you to find a position where you don't have to move, because you'll notice the amount of disturbance that even a slight movement generates. And in order to get concentrated enough to have the jhanas manifest, you need a very calm mind.
Generating access concentration can be done in a number of ways. Today I will mostly talk about generating it using the breath, a practice known as anapana-sati. The first word, anapana, means "in-breath and out-breath," while the word sati means "mindfulness." The practice is therefore "mindfulness of breathing." When practicing anapana-sati, you put your attention on the breath. It is probably better if you can observe the physical sensations of the breath at the nostrils or on the upper lip, rather than at the abdomen or elsewhere. It is better because it is more difficult to do; therefore you have to concentrate more. Since we are trying to generate access concentration we take something that is do-able, though not terribly easy to do-and then we do it. When watching the breath at the nose, you have to pay attention very carefully.
In doing so you will watch the sensations, and then your mind will wander off. Then you'll bring it back and it will wander off, then you'll bring it back and it will wander off. Eventually though-maybe not in the next sitting, maybe not even in the next day-but eventually, you'll find that the mind sort of locks into the breath. You've been going first to one side and then the other, and finally you're there, and you know that you're there. You're really with the breath and the mind is not wandering off. Any thoughts that you have are wispy and in the background. The thoughts might be something like "Wow, I'm really with the breath now," as opposed to, "When I get to Hawaii, the first thing I'm going to do is "
When the thoughts are just slight, and they're not really pulling you away, you're with the sensations of the breath. This is the sign that you've gotten to access concentration. Whatever method you use to generate access concentration, the sign that you've gotten to access concentration is that you are fully present with the object of meditation. So if you are doing metta [loving-kindness meditation], you're just fully there with the feelings of metta; you're not getting distracted. If you're doing the body sweeping practice, you're fully there with the sensations in the body as you sweep your attention through the body. You're not thinking extraneous thoughts, you're not planning, you're not worrying, you're not angry, you're not wanting something. You are just fully there with whatever the object is.
If your practice is anapana-sati, there are additional signs to indicate you have arrived at access concentration. You may discover that the breath becomes very subtle; instead of a normal breath, you notice you are breathing very shallow. It may even seem that you've stopped breathing altogether. These are signs that you've arrived at access concentration. If the breath gets very shallow, and particularly if it feels like you've stopped breathing, the natural thing to do is to take a nice, deep breath and get it going again. Wrong! This will tend to weaken your concentration. By taking that nice deep breath, you drop down the level of concentration. Just stay with that shallow breathing. It's okay. You don't need a lot of oxygen, because you are very quiet.
If the breath gets very, very subtle, or if it disappears entirely, instead of taking a deep breath, shift your attention away from the breath to a pleasant sensation. This is the key thing. You watch the breath until you arrive at access concentration, and then you let go of the breath and shift your attention to a pleasant sensation. There is not much point in watching the breath that has gotten extremely subtle or has disappeared completely. There's nothing left to watch. Shift your attention to a pleasant sensation, preferably a pleasant physical sensation. You will need a good bit of concentration to watch a pleasant physical sensation, because a mildly pleasant feeling somewhere in your body is not nearly as exciting as the breath coming in and the breath going out. You've got this mildly pleasant sensation that's just sitting there; you need to be well-concentrated to stay with it.
The first question that may arise when I say "Shift your attention to a pleasant sensation" is "What pleasant sensation?" Well, it turns out that when you get to access concentration, the odds are quite strong that some place in your physical being there will be a pleasant sensation. Look at this statue of the Buddha: he has a smile on his face. That is not just for artistic purposes; it is there as a teaching mechanism. Smile when you meditate, because when you reach access concentration, you only have to shift your attention one inch to find the pleasant sensation.
Now when I tell you "Smile when you meditate," your reaction is probably "I don't feel like smiling when I meditate." I know this because when they told me to smile when I meditated, my reaction was "I don't feel like smiling." OK, so you don't feel like smiling. Nonetheless if you put a fake smile on your face when you start meditating, by the time you arrive at access concentration, the smile will feel genuine.
If you can smile when you meditate, it works very well for generating a pleasant sensation to focus upon when you arrive at access concentration; but actually, smiling seems to only work for about a quarter of my students. Too many people in this culture have been told "Smile whether you feel like it or not." And so now when I tell you "Smile whether you feel like it or not," your reaction is "No, I'm not gonna do that." OK. So you don't smile when you meditate. You'll have to find some other pleasant sensation.
Pleasant sensations can occur pretty much anywhere. The most common place people that find pleasant sensations when they get to access concentration is in the hands. What you want to do with your hands when you meditate is put them in a nice position in which you can just leave them. The traditional posture is one hand holding the other, with the thumbs lightly touching. This is a quite excellent posture because it has the tendency of moving the shoulders back and lining up your spine nicely. When the hands are held like this, many people find that eventually there is a nice, tingly, pleasant sensation that appears in the hands. You can also put your hands in all sorts of other positions - just place them however appeals to you. When you get to access concentration, if you notice that there's a nice pleasant feeling in the hands, drop the attention on the breath and focus entirely on the pleasantness of that sensation.
Another common place that people find a pleasant sensation is in the heart center, particularly if you're using metta as the access method. Just shift your attention to the pleasantness of that sensation. Other places people find pleasant sensations include the third eye, the top of the head, the shoulders-actually, you name a body part and I've had some student find a pleasant sensation there that they were able to focus upon long enough for the first jhana to arise. It does not matter where the pleasant sensation manifests; what matters is that there is a pleasant sensation and you're able to put your attention on it and-now here comes the really hard part-do nothing else.
You find the pleasant sensation, and shift your attention to the pleasant sensation. You observe the pleasantness of the pleasant sensation, and do nothing else. If you can do that, the pleasant sensation will begin to grow in intensity, it will become stronger. This will not happen in a linear way. It'll sort of grow a little bit, and then grow a little bit more and then hang out, and grow a little bit more and then eventually it will suddenly take off and take you into what is obviously an altered state of consciousness.
In this altered state of consciousness, you will be overcome with Rapture ... Euphoria Ecstasy Delight. These are all English words that are used to translate the Pali word pãti. Pãti is this physical sensation that literally takes you over and takes you into an altered state. It will be accompanied by an emotional sensation of joy and happiness. The Pali word is sukha, the opposite of dukkha [pain, suffering]. And, if you remain one-pointed on this experience of pãti and sukha-that is the first jhana.
So to summarize the method for entering the first jhana: You sit in a nice comfortable upright position, and generate access concentration by putting and maintaining your attention on a single meditation object. When access concentration arrises, then you shift your attention from the breath (or whatever your method is) to a pleasant sensation, preferably a pleasant physical sensation. You put your attention on that sensation, and maintain your attention on that sensation, and do nothing else.
The hard part is the do nothing else part. You put your attention on the pleasant sensation, and nothing happens, so you might think to yourself, "He said something was supposed to happen." No, I did not say to make comments about watching the pleasant sensation. Or, you might put your attention on the pleasant sensation and it starts to increase, so you think, "Oh! Oh! Something's happening!" No. Or it comes up just a little bit and then it stops, and you sort of try and help it. No. None of this works.
You are to simply observe the pleasant sensation. You become totally immersed in the pleasantness of the pleasant sensation. And I mean by this just what I say: the pleasantness of the pleasant sensation. I don't mean the location of the pleasant sensation; nor its intensity; nor its duration. I don't mean whether the pleasant sensation is increasing or decreasing or staying the same. Just focus entirely upon the pleasant aspect of the pleasant sensation, and the jhana will arise on its own.
All you can do is set up the conditions for the jhana to arise, by cultivating a calm and quiet mind focused on pleasantness. And then just let go-be that calm quiet mind focused on pleasantness-and the jhana will appear. Any attempt to do anything more does not work. You actually have to become a human being, as opposed to a human doing. You have to become a being that is simply focused on the pleasant sensation which is existing, and then the jhana comes all on its own.
So now I have given you the instructions for the first jhana. It's a little bit foolish for me to be giving it on the first day of the retreat, because you're not likely to get there any time soon. You're going to sit down and start rearranging the contents of your refrigerator, or something equally absurd. That's normal. Since I don't know when you're actually going to get to that state of access concentration, I give out the instructions on the first day so you have heard them. And when you realize you've arrived at access concentration, you will know what to do: shift your attention to a pleasant sensation and do nothing else.
But don't expect the necessary concentration to show up any time soon. In fact, don't go expecting anything. Expectations are the absolute worst things you can bring on a retreat. Simply do the meditation method. And when access concentration arises, recognize it, and shift your attention to a pleasant sensation. Don't try to do the jhanas. You can't. All you can do is pay attention to the object of meditation, and recognize when it's time to pay attention to another object.
These are the instructions. Are there any questions?
The Jhana Text:
Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhana, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion.
With the stilling of applied and sustained thought, I entered upon and abided in the second jhana, which has self-confidence and singleness of mind without applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of concentration.
With the fading away as well of rapture, I abided in equanimity, and mindful and fully aware, still feeling pleasure with the body, I entered upon and abided in the third jhana, on account of which noble ones announce: 'He has a pleasant abiding who has equanimity and is mindful.'
With the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous disappearance of joy and grief, I entered upon and abided in the fourth jhana, which has neither-pain-nor-pleasure and purity of mindfulness due to equanimity.
When my concentrated mind was thus purified, bright, unblemished, rid of imperfection, malleable, wieldy, steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to knowledge
[Majjhima Nikaya 4, etc. Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha. Nanamoli/Bodhi translation. Wisdom Publications 1995.]
on the Social Level
Bhikkhu P.A. Payutto
1. Kamma moves
In practical terms it can be said that the human world is the world of intentional action. Human beings have a very sophisticated level of intention, which, in conjunction with their thought processes, allows them to achieve things which would be impossible for other animals. Although the lower animals, too, possess intention, it is limited to a nominal degree, being largely on the instinctual level.
Human thinking is guided by intention. Intention is what fashions the thinking process and, through that, external conditions. Our way of life, whether on the individual level or on the level of societies, both small and large, is directed by intention and the thinking process. It would not be wrong to say that intention, being the essence of kamma, is what decides our fate as human beings.
Now let us look at an example of how intention affects society. Intention on the negative side is that which is influenced by defilements. There are many kinds of defilements. When these defilements enter into our minds they colour the way we think. Here I will mention three kinds of defilements which play an important role in directing human behaviour. They are:
a. Tanha: craving for personal gain.
b. Mana: desire to dominate.
c. Ditthi: clinging to views.
Normally when talking of defilements we tend to summarize them as greed, hatred and delusion, the roots of akusala. Greed, hatred and delusion are more or less defilements on the roots level. Tanha,mana and ditthi are the active forms of defilements, or the roles they play in human undertakings. They are the form defilements most often take on the social level.
The way these three defilements direct human activities can be seen even more clearly on the social scale than on the individual level. When people's minds are ruled by the selfish desire for personal gain, aspiring to pleasures of the senses, their actions in society result in contention, deceit and exploitation. The laws and conventions formulated by society to control human behaviour are almost entirely necessitated by these things. And in spite of all efforts these problems seem to be almost impossible to solve.
A simple example is the drug problem. People have a tendency to be drawn towards addictive things, and there are a great number of people who are trapped in this problem. And why is it so hard to deal with? Primarily, because of the drug peddlers. Their desire for the profit to be gained from the drug trade gives rise to the whole industry, and thus to the corruption, the gangs and so on. The industry has become so extensive and complex that any efforts to rectify the situation, including efforts to broadcast the dangers of drug abuse, are rendered ineffective. This problem of drug abuse, which is a problem on the social and national scale, arises from tanha.
Pollution is another case in point. When the indiscriminate dumping of chemicals and waste products presents a danger to the environment and public health, the government must create laws for the control of factories and waste disposal. But those running the industries are not inclined to give up their profits so easily. They find ways to evade or blatantly break the laws - in which case we find examples of government officials operating through selfishness. With minds dominated by greed and guided by selfishness, instead of carrying out the task expected of them, they take bribes. The law breakers go on unchecked, as does the pollution, causing strife for the whole of society. Both the presence of pollution, and the difficulty encountered in preventing and controlling it, arise from craving.
Corruption is another social problem which seems impossible to eradicate. This condition fans outwards to cause countless other problems in society, which are all in the end caused by craving. It is impossible to list all the problems caused by tanha.
Tanha also works in conjunction with mana, the craving for power and influence. From ancient times countries have fought and killed each other through this desire for power; sometimes at the instigation of one individual, sometimes through a faction, and sometimes collectively as whole countries. Coupled with the craving for personal gain, the craving for power gives rise to the exploitation, nationalism and expansionism in the world with all its subsequent chaos. You could say that the world turns almost entirely at the instigation of tanha, craving, and mana, pride. Human history is largely the story of these defilements.
2. The importance of ditthi in the creation of kamma
However, if we look more deeply into the processes taking place, we will see that the defilement which exerts the most influence is the third one ditthi. Ditthi is view or belief, the attachment to a certain way of thinking. The type of personal gain or power and influence aspired to are decided by ways of thinking. When there is the view that a certain condition is desirable and will provide true happiness, craving for personal gain is biased toward that end. Craving and pride generally play a supporting role to one ditthi. Ditthi is therefore the most important and powerful of these three defilements.
The direction of society is decided by ditthi. A sense of value of any given thing, either on an individual or social basis, is ditthi. With this ditthi as a basis, there follow the attempts to realise the object of desire. People's behaviour will be influenced accordingly. For example, with the belief that happiness is to be found in the abundance of material goods, our actions and undertakings will tend to this end. This is a wrong view, thus the undertakings resulting from it will also be wrong. All attempts at so-called progress will be misguided and problem-ridden. Material progress thus brings problems in its wake. It is founded on two basically wrong and harmful views: 1. That humanity must conquer nature in order to achieve well-being and find true happiness; 2. That happiness is dependent on material wealth. These two views are the directors of the modern surge for progress.
Looking deeply into the kind of civilization which is exerting its influence over the entire world today, we can see that it is founded on the basic premise that mankind is separate from nature. Mankind was created to have dominion over nature, free to exercise his will to manipulate nature as he desired. In the present time it is becoming obvious that many of the problems arising from material progress, particularly the environmental ones, are rooted in this basic misconception.
Guided by wrong view, everything else goes wrong. With right view, actions are guided in the right direction. Thus, a desire for personal gain can be beneficial. But with wrong view or wrong belief all actions become harmful. On the individual level, this expresses itself in the belief in the desirability of certain conditions and the efforts to obtain them. Such action has ditthi as its foundation. On the social level, we find the attitudes adhered to by whole societies. When there is a conviction in the desirability of any given thing, society praises and exalts it. This collective praise becomes a social value, a quality adhered to by society as a whole, which in turn pressures the members of the society to perpetuate such beliefs or preferences. It is easy to see the influence social values have on people. Sociologists and psychologists are very familiar with the role played by social values and the effect they have. From social values, beliefs extend outwards to become belief systems, ideologies, political and economic systems, such as capitalism, communism and so on, and religions. When theories, beliefs and political ideologies are blindly adhered to they are products of the defilement of ditthi.
From one person these ideas fan out to become properties of whole groups and societies. One individual with wrong view can effect a whole society. A case in point is the country of Cambodia. One leader, guided by wrong view, desiring to change the social system of Cambodia, proceeded to try to realize his aim by authorizing the killing of millions of people and turning the whole country upside down. Another example is the Nazis, who believed that the Jewish race was evil and had to be destroyed, and that the Aryan race were to be the masters of the world. From this belief arose all the atrocities which occurred during the Holocaust in World War II.
Then there are economic systems and ideologies, such as Communism and Consumerism: many of the changes that have taken place in the world over the last century have been based on belief in these ideologies. And now it seems that it was all somehow some kind of mistake! Eventually we have to turn around and undo the changes, which is another momentous upheaval for the population, as can be seen in Russia at the present time.
One of the ways in which ditthi causes problems on a social level is in the field of religion. When there is clinging to any view, human beings resort to exploitation and violence in the name of religion. Wars fought in the name of religion are particularly violent. This kind of clinging has thus been a great danger to mankind throughout history. The Buddha recognized the importance of ditthi and greatly emphasised it in his teaching. Even belief in religion is a form of ditthi which must be treated with caution in order to prevent it from becoming a blind attachment. Otherwise it can become a cause of persecution and violence. This is why the Buddha stressed the importance of ditthi, and urged circumspection in relation to it, as opposed to blind attachment.
On the negative side, intention works through the various defilements, such as those mentioned just now. On the positive side we have the opposite kind of influences. When people's minds are guided by good qualities, the resulting events within society will take on a different direction. And so we have the attempts to rectify the problems in society and create good influences. Human society for this reason does not become completely destroyed. Sometimes human beings act through metta, kindness, and karuna, compassion, giving rise to relief movements and human aid organizations. As soon as kindness enters into human awareness, human beings will undertake all sorts of works for the purpose of helping others.
International incidents, as well as relief movements, are motivated by intention, fashioned by either skilful or unskilful qualities, proceeding from mental kamma into verbal and bodily kamma. These institutions or organizations then proceed to either create or solve problems on the individual level, the group level, the social level, the national level, the international level and ultimately the global level.
The importance of ditthi, whether as a personal view, a social value or an ideology, cannot be over-emphasised. The reader is invited to consider, for example, the results on society and the quality of life if even one social value, that of materialism, were to change into an appreciation of skilful action and inner well-being as the foundations for true happiness.
3. External influences and internal reflection
When people live together in any kind of group it is natural that they will influence each other. People are largely influenced by their environment. In Buddhism we call this paratoghosa - literally, the sound from outside, meaning the influence of external factors. Paratoghosa refers to external influences, or the social environment. These can be either harmful or beneficial. On the beneficial side, we have the kalya.namitta, the good friend. The good friend is one kind of external influence. The Buddha greatly stressed the importance of a kalyaa.namitta, even going so far as to say that association with a kala.namitta was the whole of the holy life (brahmacariya).
Most people are primarily influenced by paratoghosa of one kind or another. On the individual level this refers to contact with others, the influence of which is obvious. Young children, for example, are readily influenced and guided by adults. On the larger scale, beliefs, social Values, and the consensus of the majority serve the same function. People born into society are automatically exposed to and guided by these influences.
In general we can see that most people simply follow the influences from the social environment around them. An example is India in the time of the Buddha. At that time the Brahmanist religion completely controlled the social system, dividing the whole of society into four castes - the ruling caste, the intellectual or religious caste (the Brahmins), the merchant caste and the menial caste. This was the status quo for society at that time. Most people born into that society would naturally absorb and unquestioningly accept this state of affairs from the society around them.
But occasionally there arise those who dare to think for themselves. These are the ones who will initiate action to correct the problems in society by understanding how they come about. This is called the arising of yoniso-manasikara, skilful reflection, which sees the mistaken practices adopted by society and looks for ways to improve them, as did the Buddha in ancient India, seeing the fault of the caste system. The Buddha pointed out that a person's real worth cannot be decided by his birth station, but by his actions, good or evil as the case may be. From the Buddha's skilful reflection, yoniso-manasikara, a new teaching arose, which became the religion of Buddhism.
Without skilful reflection humanity would be utterly swamped by the influence of external factors (paratoghosa) such as religious beliefs, traditions and social values. We can see how traditions and customs mould human attitudes. Most people are completely swayed by these things, and this is the kamma that they accumulate. We could even say that traditions and customs are social kamma that has been accumulated through the ages, and these things in turn mould the beliefs and thoughts of the people within that society. These things are all social kamma.
Every once in a while there will be one who, gauging the social conventions and institutions of the time with yonisornanasikjira, will instigate efforts to correct mistaken or detrimental beliefs and traditions. These means for dealing with problems will become new systems of thought, new social values and ways of life, which in turn become social currents with their own impetus. In fact these social currents are originated by individuals, and from there the masses follow. Thus we can say that society leads the individual, but at the same time, the individual is the originator of social values and conventions. Thus, in the final analysis, the individual is the important factor.
4. Personal responsibility in relation to social kamma
How does a socially accepted view become personal kamma? Personal kamma here arises at the point where the individual agrees to the values presented by society. Take, for example, the case of an autocrat who conceives a craving for power under the influence of maana. This is a condition arising within one person, but it spreads out to affect a whole society. In this case, what kamma does the society incur? Here, when the king or despot's advisers agree to and support his wishes, and when the people allow themselves to be caught up in the lust for greatness, this becomes kamma for those people also, and thus becomes kamma on a social scale. It may seem that this chain of events has arisen solely on account of one person, but this is not so. All are involved and all are kammically responsible, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the extent of their personal involvement and their support. The views and desires conceived by the despot become adopted by the people around him. There is a conscious endorsement of that desire by the people. The craving for Power and greatness thus spreads throughout the population and increases in intensity.
This agreement, or endorsement, of social values, is an intentional act on the level of each individual, which for most is done without skilful reflection. For instance, the concept of "progress" so often spoken about in the present time is one based on certain assumptions. But most people do not enquire into the basic assumptions on which this concept is based. Thus the concept of "progress" goes unchallenged. This lack of reflection is also a kind of kamma, as it leads to the submission to the social value concerned. Here in Thailand, we are accepting the social values introduced to us by the West. This has a marked influence on Thai society. Being exposed to this form of belief, the Thai people think that the material progress from the West is a good thing. Adopting this way of thinking, their whole way of life is affected, leading to a rejection of religion and a decline in morals.
It is not difficult to see the lack of reflection present in most people in society. Even to understand the workings of things on an elementary level, such as in seeing the cause and effect involved in personal actions, is beyond normal understanding. Most people follow the crowd. This is the way society usually operates, and this is social kamma.
All in all, contrary to the widespread image of Buddhism as a passive religion encouraging inaction, responsible social action is rather encouraged in the Buddha's teaching. There are numerous teachings given on factors encouraging social concord, such as the four sa"ngaha vatthu, the Foundations for Social Unity: dana, generosity: piyavaca, kindly speech; atthacariya, helpful action; and samanattata, impartiality or equal participation.
However, in Buddhism, all action should ideally arise from skilful mental qualities. A seemingly well-intentioned action can be ruined by the influence of unskilful mental states, such as anger or fear, or it can be tainted through ulterior motives. On the other hand, simply to cultivate skilful mental states without resultant social action is not very productive. So we can look at virtue on two levels: on the mental level we have, for example, the Four Sublime States (Brahmavihara). These are the bases of altruistic action, or, at the least, of harmonious relations on a social level. On the second level we have the external manifestations of these skilful qualities, such as in the four sangaha vatthu, the Foundations of Unity. These two levels of virtue are interrelated.
The Four Sublime States are metta, goodwill, friendliness; karuna, compassion, the desire to help other beings; mudita, sympathetic joy, gladness at the good fortune of others; and upekkha, impartiality or equanimity.
Metta, goodwill, is a mental stance assumed towards those who are in the normal condition, or on an equal plane with ourselves; karuna, compassion, is a proper mental attitude toward those who are in distress; mudita, sympathetic joy, is the attitude toward those who are experiencing success; upekkha, equanimity or impartiality, is even-mindedness toward the various situations in which we find ourselves.
Now these four qualities, when looked at in practical terms, can be seen to manifest as the Four Foundations of Social Unity. Dana, giving or generosity, is more or less a basic stance towards others in society, an attitude of generosity, which can be based on metta, giving through goodwill; karuna, giving through compassion; or mudita, giving as an act of encouragement . Although this giving usually refers to material things, it can also be the giving of knowledge, labour and so on.
The second foundation of unity is piyavaca, kindly speech, which is usually based on the first three Sublime States. Friendly speech, based on metta, as a basic attitude in everyday situations; kindly speech, based on karuna, in times of difficulty, as with words of advice or condolence; and congratulatory speech, based on mudita, as in words of encouragement in times of happiness and success. However, when confronted with problems in social situations, piyavaca can be expressed as impartial and just speech, based on upekkha.
The third factor is atthacariya, useful conduct, which refers to the volunteering of physical effort to help others. In the first factor, generosity, we had the giving of material goods. In the second factor, kindly speech, we have the offering of gentle speech. With this third item we have the offering of physical effort in the form of helpful conduct. This help can be on ordinary occasions, such as offering help in a situation where the recipient is not in any particular difficulty. Help in this instance is more or less a 'friendly gesture,' thus is based on metta, goodwill. Help can be offered in times of difficulty, in which case it is help based on karuna, compassion. Help can be offered as an encouragement in times of success, in which case it is based on mudita, sympathetic joy or gladness at the good fortune of others. Thus, atthacariya, helpful conduct, may be based on any of these three Sublime States.
Finally we have samanattata, literally, 'making oneself accessible or equal.' This is a difficult word to translate. It means to share with other people's pleasures and pains, to harmonize with them, to be one with them. It refers to sharing, co-operation and impartiality. We could say that it means to be humble, such as when helping others in their undertakings even if it is not one's duty, or to be fair, such as when arbitrating in a dispute.
In regards to Buddhism, therefore, while social action is encouraged, it should always stem from skilful mental states rather than idealist impulses. Any social action, no matter how seemingly worthwhile, will be ruined if it becomes tainted with unskilful intentions. For this reason, all action, whether individual or socially oriented, should be done carefully, with an awareness of the real intention behind it.
Here are some of the Buddha's words on kamma on the social level:
At that time, the leaders among those beings came together. Having met, they conferred among themselves thus: 'Sirs! Bad doings have arisen among us, theft has come to be, slander has come to be, lies have come to be, the taking up of the staff has come to be. Enough! Let us choose one among us to admonish rightly those who should be admonished, to rebuke rightly those who should be rebuked, to banish rightly those who should be banished, and we will apportion some of our wheat to him.' With that, those beings proceeded to approach one being of fine attributes, more admirable, more inspiring and more awesome than any of the others, and said to him, 'Come, Sir, may you rightly admonish those who should be admonished, rightly rebuke those who should be rebuked, and rightly banish those who should be banished. We in turn, will apportion some of our wheat to you.' Acknowledging the words of those other beings, he became their leader ... and there came to be the word 'king'
In this way, bhikkhus, when the ruler of a country fails to apportion wealth to those in need, poverty becomes prevalent. Poverty being prevalent, theft becomes prevalent. Theft being prevalent, weapons become prevalent. When weapons become prevalent, killing and maiming become prevalent, lying becomes prevalent ... slander ... sexual infidelity ... abuse and frivolity ... covetousness and jealousy ... wrong view becomes prevalent." [D. I. 70].
 Those who are involved in the industry often try to justify themselves with the rationalisation that they are merely satisfying a demand, but Buddhism teaches awareness of Wrong livelihood, the trade in things which will cause harm to other beings. This includes animals (for slaughter), slaves (which could include prostitutes), weapons and drugs and alcohol. From the Buddhist perspective, the trader is not immune from blame for the damage caused by these things.
 Of course, that Pol Pot possessed such views was also largely due to external influences. Thus, external influences and individual action are intricately enmeshed. The kamma created in this instance would have been his conscious endorsement and wholehearted support of these views.
 In this context it is notable that religious wars have never been fought in the name of Buddhism, probably for the reasons given above.
 The'good friend'here is one who will guide one to betterment, who can teach the Dhamma, rather than a friend as the term is normally understood.
 Yoniso-manasikara must be naturally founded on internal reflection. Thus it is not simply an intellectual consideration of social problems, but must be incorporated into the entire stream of Dhamma practice.
 The so-called 'silent majority' is thus not free of ethical responsibility. Such a silence, if accompanied by the resignation and acquiescence it usually generates, is in itself a condonement of social values and events, conditioned by the extent of apathy or lack of reflection involved.
 Mahasammata, lit., the Great Elect.
in the World with Dhamma
by Ajahn Chah
Most people still don't know the essence of meditation practice. They think that walking meditation, sitting meditation and listening to Dhamma talks are the practice. That's true too, but these are only the outer forms of practice. The real practice takes place when the mind encounters a sense object. That's the place to practice, where sense contact occurs. When people say things we don't like there is resentment, if they say things we like we experience pleasure. Now this is the place to practice. How are we going to practice with these things? This is the crucial point. If we just run around chasing after happiness and away from suffering all the time we can practice until the day we die and never see the Dhamma. This is useless. When pleasure and pain arise how are we going to use the Dhamma to be free of them? This is the point of practice.
Usually when people encounter something disagreeable to them they don't open up to it. Such as when people are criticized: "Don't bother me! Why blame me?" This is someone who's closed himself off. Right there is the place to practice. When people criticize us we should listen. Are they speaking the truth? We should be open and consider what they say. Maybe there is a point to what they say, perhaps there is something blame-worthy within us. They may be right and yet we immediately take offense. If people point out our faults we should strive to be rid of them and improve ourselves. This is how intelligent people will practice.
Where there is confusion is where peace can arise. When confusion is penetrated with understanding what remains is peace. Some people can't accept criticism, they're arrogant. Instead they turn around and argue. This is especially so when adults deal with children. Actually children may say some intelligent things sometimes but if you happen to be their mother, for instance, you can't give in to them. If you are a teacher your students may sometimes tell you something you didn't know, but because you are the teacher you can't listen. This is not right thinking.
In the Buddha's time there was one disciple who was very astute. At one time, as the Buddha was expounding the Dhamma, he turned to this monk and asked, "Sariputta, do you believe this?" Venerable Sariputta replied, "No, I don't yet believe it." The Buddha praised his answer. "That's very good, Sariputta, you are one who us endowed with wisdom. One who is wise doesn't readily believe, he listens with an open mind and then weighs up the truth of that matter before believing or disbelieving."
Now the Buddha here has set a fine example for a teacher. What Venerable Sariputta said was true, he simply spoke his true feelings. Some people would think that to say you didn't believe that teaching would be like questioning the teacher's authority, they'd be afraid to say such a thing. They'd just go ahead and agree. This is how the worldly way goes. But the Buddha didn't take offense. He said that you needn't be ashamed of those things which aren't wrong or bad. It's not wrong to say that you don't believe if you don't believe. That's why Venerable Sariputta said, "I don't yet believe it." The Buddha praised him. "This monk has much wisdom. He carefully considers before believing anything." The Buddha's actions here are a good example for one who is a teacher of others. Sometimes you can learn things even from small children; don't cling blindly to positions of authority.
Whether you are standing, sitting, or walking around in various places, you can always study the things around you. We study in the natural way, receptive to all things, be they sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings or thoughts. The wise person considers them all. In the real practice, we come to the point where there are no longer any concerns weighing on the mind.
If we still don't know like and dislike as they arise, there is still some concern in our minds. If we know the truth of these things, we reflect, "Oh, there is nothing to this feeling of liking here. It's just a feeling that arises and passes away. Dislike is nothing more, just a feeling that arises and passes away. Why make anything out of them?" If we think that pleasure and pain are personal possessions, then we're in for trouble, we never get beyond the point of having some concern or other in an endless chain. This is how things are for most people.
But these days they don't often talk about the mind when teaching the Dhamma, they don't talk about the truth. If you talk the truth people even take exception. They say things like, "He doesn't know time and place, he doesn't know how to speak nicely." But people should listen to the truth. A true teacher doesn't just talk from memory, he speaks the truth. People in society usually speak from memory, he speaks the truth. People in the society usually speak from memory, and what's more they usually speak in such a way as to exalt themselves. The true monk doesn't talk like that, he talks the truth, the way things are.
No matter how much he explains the truth it's difficult for people to understand. It's hard to understand the Dhamma. If you understand the Dhamma you should practice accordingly. It may not be necessary to become a monk, although the monk's life is the ideal form for practice. To really practice, you have to forsake the confusion of the world, give up family and possessions, and take to the forests. These are the ideal places to practice.
But if we still have family and responsibilities how are we to practice? Some people say it's impossible to practice Dhamma as a layperson. Consider, which group is larger, monks or laypeople? There are far more laypeople. Now if only the monks practice and laypeople don't, then that means there's going to be a lot of confusion. This is wrong understanding. "I can't become a monk..." Becoming a monk isn't the point! Being a monk doesn't mean anything if you don't practice. If you really understand the practice of dhamma then no matter what position or profession you hold in life, be it a teacher, doctor, civil servant or whatever, you can practice the Dhamma every minute of the day.
To think you can't practice as a layman is to lose track of the path completely. Why is it people can find the incentive to do other things? If they feel they are lacking something they make an effort to obtain it. If there is sufficient desire people can do anything. some say, "I haven't got time to practice the Dhamma." I say, "Then how come you've got time to breathe?" Breathing is vital to people's lives. If they saw Dhamma practice as vital to their lives they would see it as important as their breathing.
The practice of dhamma isn't something you have to go running around for or exhaust yourself over. Just look at the feelings which arise in your mind. When the eye sees form, ear hears sounds, nose smells odors and so on, they all come to this one mind, "the one who knows." Now when the mind perceives these things what happens? If we like that object we experience pleasure, if we dislike it we experience displeasure. That's all there is to it.
So where are you going to find happiness in this world? Do you expect everybody to say only pleasant things to you all your life? Is that possible? No, it's not. If it's not possible then where are you going to go? The world is simply like this, we must know the world -- Lokavidu -- know the truth of this world. The world is something we should clearly understand. The Buddha lived in this world, he didn't live anywhere else. He experienced family life, but he saw its limitations and detached himself from them. Now how are you as laypeople going to practice? If you want to practice you must make an effort to follow the path. If you persevere with the practice you too will see the limitations of this world and be able to let go.
People who drink alcohol sometimes say, "I just can't give it up." Why can't they give it up? Because they don't yet see the liability in it. If they clearly saw the liability of it they wouldn't have to wait to be told to give it up. If you don't see the liability of something that means you also can't see the benefit of giving it up. Your practice becomes fruitless, you are just playing at practice. If you clearly see the liability and the benefit of something you won't have to wait for others to tell you about it. Consider the story of the fisherman who finds something in his fish-trap. He knows something is in there, he can hear it flapping about inside. Thinking it's a fish, he reaches his hand into the trap, only to find a different kind of animal. He can't yet see it, so he's in two minds about it. On one hand it could be an eel,  but then again it could be a snake. If he throws it away he may regret it...it could be an eel. On the other hand, if he keeps holding on to it and it turns out to be a snake it may bite him. He's caught in a state of doubt. His desire is so strong he holds on, just in case it's an eel, but the minute he brings it and sees the striped skin he throws it down straight away. He doesn't have to wait for someone to call out, "It's a snake, it's a snake, let go!" The sight of the snake tells him what to do much more clearly than words could do. Why? Because he sees the danger -- snakes can bite! Who has to tell him about it? In the same way, if we practice till we see things as they are we won't meddle with things that are harmful.
People don't usually practice in this way, they usually practice for other things. They don't contemplate things, they don't reflect on old age, sickness and death. They only talk about non-aging and non-death, so they never develop the right feeling for Dhamma practice. They go and listen to Dhamma talks but they don't really listen. Sometimes I get invited to give talks at important functions, but it's a nuisance for me to go. Why so? Because when I look at the people gathered there I can see that they haven't come to listen to the Dhamma. Some are smelling of alcohol, some are smoking cigarettes, some are chatting... they don't look at all like people who have come out of faith in the Dhamma. Giving talks at such places is of little fruit. People who are sunk in heedlessness tend to think things like, "When he's ever going to stop talking? ... Can't do this, can't do that ..." and their minds just wander all over the place.
Sometimes they even invite me to give a talk just for the sake of formality: "Please give us just a small Dhamma talk, Venerable Sir." They don't want me to talk too much, it might annoy them! As soon as I hear people say this I know what they're about. These people don't like listening to Dhamma. It annoys them. If I just give a small talk they won't understand. If you take only a little food, is it enough? Of course not.
Sometimes I'm giving a talk, just warming up to the subject, and some drunkard will call out, "Okay, make way, make way for the Venerable Sir, he's coming out now!" -- trying to drive me away! If I meet this kind of person I get a lot of food for reflection, I get an insight into human nature. It's like a person having a bottle full of water and then asking for more. There's nowhere to put it. It isn't worth the time and energy to teach them, because their minds are already full. Pour any more in and it just overflows uselessly. If their bottle was empty there would be somewhere to put the water, and both the giver and the receiver would benefit.
In this way, when people are really interested in Dhamma and sit quietly, listening carefully, I feel more inspired to teach. If people don't pay attention it's just like the man with the bottle full of water... there's no room to put anymore. It's hardly worth my while talking to them. In situations like this I just don't get any energy arising to teach. You can't put much energy into giving when no-one's putting much energy into receiving.
These days giving talks tends to be like this, and it's getting worse all the time. People don't search for truth, they study simply to find the necessary knowledge to make a living, raise families and look after themselves. They study for a livelihood. There may be some study of Dhamma, but not much. Students nowadays have much more knowledge than students of previous times. They have all the requisites at their disposal, everything is more convenient. But they also have a lot more confusion and suffering than before. Why is this? Because they only look for the kind of knowledge used to make a living.
Even the monks are like this. Sometimes I hear them say, "I didn't become a monk to practice the Dhamma, I only ordained to study." These are the words of someone who has completely cut off the path of practice. There's no way ahead, it's a dead end. When these monks teach it's only from memory. They may teach one thing but their minds are in completely different place. Such teachings aren't true.
This is how the world is. If you try to live simply, practicing the Dhamma and living peacefully, they say you are weird and anti-social. They say you're obstructing progress in society. They even intimidate you. Eventually you might even start to believe them and revert to the worldly ways, sinking deeper and deeper into the world until it's impossible to get out. Some people say, "I can't get out now, I've gone in to deeply." This is how society tends to be. It doesn't appreciate the value of Dhamma.
The value of Dhamma isn't to be found in books. those are just the external appearances of Dhamma, they're not the realization of Dhamma as a personal experience. If you realize the Dhamma you realize your own mind, you see the truth there. When the truth becomes apparent it cuts off the stream of delusion.
The teaching of the Buddha is the unchanging truth, whether in the present or in any other time. The Buddha revealed this truth 2,500 years ago and it's been the truth ever since. This teaching should not be added to or taken away from. The Buddha said, "What the Tathagata has laid down should not be discarded, what has not been laid down by the Tathagata should not be added on to the teachings." He "sealed off" the Teachings. Why did the Buddha seal them off? Because these Teachings are the words of one who has no defilements. No matter how the world may change these Teachings are unaffected, they don't change with it. If something is wrong, even if people say it's right doesn't make it any the less wrong. If something is right, it doesn't change any just because people say it's not. Generation after generation may come and go but these things don't change, because these Teachings are the truth.
Now who created this truth? The truth itself created the truth! Did the Buddha create it? No, he didn't. The Buddha only discovered the truth, the way things are, and then he set out to declare it. The truth is constantly true, whether a Buddha arises in the world or not. The Buddha only "owns" the Dhamma in this sense, he didn't actually create it. It's been here all the time. However, previously no-one had searched for and found the Deathless, then taught it as the Dhamma. He didn't invent it, it was already there.
At some point in time the truth is illuminated and the practice of Dhamma flourishes. As time goes on and generations pass away the practice degenerates until the Teaching fades away completely. After a time the Teaching is re-founded and flourishes once more. As time goes on the adherents of the Dhamma multiply, prosperity sets in, and once more the Teaching begins to follow the darkness of the world. And so once more it degenerates until such a time as it can no longer hold ground. Confusion reigns once more. Then it is time to re-establish the truth. In fact the truth doesn't go anywhere. When Buddhas pass away the Dhamma doesn't disappear with them.
The world revolves like this. It's something like a mango tree. The tree matures, blossoms, and fruits appear and grow to ripeness. They become rotten and the seed goes back into the ground to become a new mango tree. The cycle starts once more. Eventually there are more ripe fruits which proceed to fall, rot, sink into the ground as seeds and grow once more into trees. This is how the world is. It doesn't go very far, it just revolves around the same old things.
Our lives these days are the same. Today we are simply doing the same old things we've always done. People think too much. There are so many things for them to get interested in, but none of them leads to completion. There are the sciences like mathematics, physics, psychology and so on. You can delve into any number of them but you can only finalize things with the truth.
Suppose there was a cart being pulled by an ox. The wheels aren't long, but the tracks are. As long as the ox pulls the cart the tracks will follow. The wheels are round yet the tracks are long; the tracks are long yet the wheels are merely circles. Just looking at a stationary cart you can't see anything long about it, but once the ox starts moving you see the tracks stretching out behind you. As long as the ox pulls, the wheels keep on turning...but there comes a day when the ox tires and throws off its harness. The ox walks off and leaves the empty cart sitting there. The wheels no longer turn. In time the cart falls apart, its components go back into the four elements -- earth, water, wind and fire.
Searching for peace within the world you stretch the cart wheel tracks endlessly behind you. As long as you follow the world there is no stopping, no rest. If you simply stop following it, the cart comes to rest, the wheels no longer turn. Following the world turns the wheels ceaselessly. Creating bad kamma is like this. As long as you follow the old ways there is no stopping. If you stop there is stopping. This is how we practice the Dhamma.
to Your Meditation
Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
October 22, 1958
Translated from the Thai by
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While we meditate here on the word buddho, we have to make up our minds that we're going to stay right here with someone venerable, in the same way that we'd be a monk's attendant. We'll follow after him and watch out for him and not run off anywhere else. If we abandon our monk, he's going to abandon us, and we'll be put to all sorts of hardships. As for the monk, he'll be put to hardships as well, as in the story they tell:
Once in the time of the Buddha there was a rich moneylender couple who had been married a long time but without any children. Both of them really wanted a son who could carry on the family line and receive their inheritance. So they talked the matter over and decided to invite a monk to their home to inform him of their predicament, to see if he could use his meditative powers to help intercede with the devas so that they could have a child. When they had made their decision, they told one of their male servants to go into a nearby forest to invite a meditating monk to come have a meal in their home.
The next morning before dawn, the servant got ready to go into the forest to a hut where a meditating monk had taken up residence. Now, this servant had once been a hunter and still had all his old hunting instincts. He had even kept his crossbow and arrows and other hunting equipment, and maintained them in good shape. When his master had sent him to invite the monk, which would require going into the forest, he was happy to go, for it would give him a chance to do a little hunting on the side. So he snuck his crossbow and arrows out of the house under his shirt.
When he got halfway to the monk's hut, he realized that it wouldn't be proper to approach a monk while armed, so he decided to hide his weapons on the side of the path. On the way back, he'd be able to pick them up. So he stashed the crossbow and arrows behind a bush near the path. Then he went on his way empty-handed until he came across an old monk sitting in front of a hut. After bowing down to the monk, he said to him, "Venerable sir, my master the moneylender and his wife have asked me to come invite you to a meal in their house this morning and have told me to take you there. Would you please be so kind as to accept their invitation."
The old monk, on hearing this, decided to accept. Now it so happened that he didn't have an attendant of his own, so he had the servant carry his bowl and shoulder bag. Then he picked up his cane and headed out in unsteady steps toward the moneylender's house. As they walked along, he asked the servant, "Where is your master's house? How far is it from here? How do you get there?" The servant answered all his questions. After they had walked on a little further, the servant remembered the crossbow and arrows hidden behind the bush on the side of the path. The thought occurred to him that he'd like to abandon the old monk, pick up his weapons, and sneak off to do a little hunting in the forest. After all, he told himself, he had already given explicit directions to the old monk, so he'd be able to find his way on his own.
Then he came up with a plan. He told the old monk, "I've got to go to the bathroom really bad, so let me head into the woods for a moment. You can walk on ahead. When I'm finished I'll catch up with you."
The old monk wasn't the least bit suspicious and thought that the servant was telling the truth, so he let the servant go off while he hurried on ahead, afraid that it was getting late and that he wouldn't get to the moneylender's house in time for his meal. As for the servant, he turned off the path and headed for the bush where he had hidden his crossbow and arrows. But before he got there, one of the forest devas decided to test his loyalty to the old monk. So the deva metamorphosed himself into a large golden swan and pretended to have a broken wing, flying an erratic course under the trees near the path the servant was following.
The servant heard the sound of a bird flapping its wings -- flip-flap, flip-flap -- and, looking up, saw an enormous golden swan zig-zagging back and forth, looking like it couldn't get away. Seeing this, he got really excited, thinking that he'd have to shoot this bird for food for sure. In his excitement he forgot that he was carrying the monk's bowl and shoulder bag, and thought instead that he had a quiver strapped to his back and a crossbow on his shoulder. So he reached into the shoulder bag and pulled out the old monk's betel nut crusher, about two feet in length, and took aim with it as if it were a crossbow or a rifle. Then he took his stance and pulled back on the crusher, at the same time making the sound of a gun firing, byng, byng, byng. But of course he never hit the bird at all.
As for the old monk, after walking on a ways he began to forget the servant's directions, so he turned left and right, right and wrong, and couldn't find his way out of the forest. He looked back over his shoulder to see if the servant was catching up with him, but the servant never came. All he could hear was the sound -- byng, byng, byng -- echoing through the forest, but no matter how much he called out, there was never any answer. The later it got, the hotter the sun, and the more tired and hungry he got -- for after all, he was very old -- so he made up his mind to turn around and retrace his steps, staggering back to his hut.
Meanwhile, the servant -- exhausted from trying to shoot the golden swan without success -- was ready to give up. So the deva, seeing that he had had enough fun with the servant, pretended to be shot and fell down panting heavily on the path a little ways ahead. Thrilled, the servant came running up to pick up the bird, but just as he bent over to grasp hold of it, it disappeared in a flash. This frightened the servant, and suddenly it dawned on him that some forest spirit had been deceiving him. That's when he remembered the old monk. So in his panic he dropped the bowl and shoulder bag and ran away with his arms flailing, all the while calling out to the monk, "Help me! Help me!" But the monk was nowhere to be found. So the servant hurried straight home and told his master everything that had happened. The moneylender was so furious that he punished the servant by making him sleep outside the walls of the house compound and go without food for three days. On top of that, he cut back his daily wage.
This story shows the hardships that come when a person isn't loyal to his monk, when he runs away from his responsibilities and abandons his monk. He causes all sorts of problems for himself and for others as well. The old monk had to go without food for a day. Having lost his bowl, shoulder bag, and betel nut crusher, he was forced to search for new requisites. As for the moneylender and his wife, they didn't get the things they had hoped for.
When you apply this story to the Dhamma, it becomes a lesson worth remembering. If you're not loyal to your meditation object or to yourself, if you forget the breath you're meditating on with buddho, buddho, and let your mind go wandering off in thoughts and concepts, it's as if you've abandoned the monk you're supposed to look after. You don't follow him; you don't act the role of his student as you had intended to. The results that you had hoped for will thus get ruined. In other words, your mind won't get established in concentration. All kinds of hardships -- the five Hindrances -- will come flowing into the heart, and no peace will appear. This causes you to suffer and to miss out on the good results that you should have achieved.
At the same time, you cause hardships to others -- i.e., the monk sitting up here giving you a Dhamma talk. He wastes his time, talking for hours until his rear end hurts. Instead of lying around his hut at his leisure, he has to sit here jabbering away with no results to show for it at all.
So keep this story in mind as a lesson in teaching yourself to be intent in doing what's good. Don't be the sort of person who -- like the servant in the story -- is disloyal to his monk.
There's another story to illustrate the good things that come from being loyal to your monk, which I'll tell to you now.
Once there was a moneylender couple who had a large mansion in the city of Varanasi. Both husband and wife were avid merit-makers. Every year during the Rains retreat they would invite a monk to have his meal in their home each day for the entire three months.
Now the moneylender couple had a slave couple working in their household. The duty of the slave woman was to pound the rice and separate it into various grades. The highest grade rice was for giving the monk as alms. The second grade rice was for the moneylender couple to eat. The third grade rice was for the servants in the household, and the fourth grade -- the lowest grade rice mixed with bran -- was for the slave couple to eat themselves. As for the slave woman's husband, his primary duty was to cut firewood in the forest and make the fire for cooking the rice. His secondary duty was to wait at the mansion gate each morning to welcome the monk who would come for the meal, and to carry his bowl and shoulder bag up to the house for him. And if I remember rightly, the monk who was invited for the meal that year was a Private Buddha. At any rate, when the monk had finished his meal, the slave would carry his bowl and bag from the front door of the house back out to the mansion gate. As he performed this duty every day, the slave came to develop a strong affection for the monk. And the monk felt compassion for the slave. If he had any fruits or other delicacies left from his meal, he would always share them with the slave. This made the slave feel an even greater loyalty toward the monk -- to the point where the moneylender couple allowed him to enter the house as the monk's attendant.
One day the slave got to follow the monk all the way into the dining room. Before reaching the dining room, he passed the bedroom, the parlor, and the moneylenders' private dining room. He got to see all the many beautiful and expensive things decorating the moneylender couple's home. On the way out, after the meal, he happened to see the moneylenders' favorite dog -- a male -- eating food from a dish near the door to the dining room. He couldn't help noticing that the dog's food was fine rice with curries, and that the dish was made of silver. He thought to himself, "Look at all the merit this dog has. It gets to live in the house and doesn't have to run around looking for food on the ground outside like other dogs. When the time comes, someone fixes food for it to eat, and the food looks so delicious. The rice is a higher grade than what my wife and I get to eat. And its dish is a fine one made of silver. If only I could be reborn as a moneylender's dog, just think of how happy I'd be!"
After he had accompanied the monk to the mansion gate, he went back to his shack and told his wife about all the things he had seen in the moneylenders' house, and especially about the dog eating high grade rice and curries from a silver dish. Then he added, "Neither you nor I have any really happiness or ease in our lives. You're exhausted every day from having to pound the rice. As for me, I have to slash through the forest to find firewood and to make the fire for cooking the rice for everyone in the household. But all we get to eat is the lowest grade rice mixed with bran. We shouldn't have been born as human beings. If only we could be reborn like that moneylenders' dog!"
From that day on, the memory of the moneylenders' dog kept occupying his thoughts. At the same time, though, he still remained loyal to the monk. But just a few days later he had an attack of horrible cramps and died. After he stopped breathing, his spirit didn't go off anywhere, but kept hovering around the moneylenders' house -- both because it was still fixated on the dog and because it felt attached to the monk. Every morning it would follow the monk in and out of the house.
One day, after offering the monk his meal, the moneylender couple presented him with many additional offerings. When he had finished eating, he carried all the offerings out the door where the dog was lying on guard. Seeing the monk with his arms all full of things, the dog thought that he had stolen them from the moneylender couple. So it rushed at him and started to bark. The spirit of the slave, hovering behind the monk, slipped right into the dog's open mouth and into its stomach -- and then couldn't get out.
So now it was stuck. It couldn't follow the monk in and out of the house as it had every morning. Instead it could only stir around restlessly in the dog's stomach, which of course had an effect on the dog's behavior. It couldn't lie still, and kept getting into places it didn't belong. The moneylender couple noticed it acting abnormally and, mystified, had one of their servants put it outside in a pen with the other dogs of the household. Before too long, the dog mated with a female, and the female became pregnant. And so now the slave was reborn as a puppy in the female's womb. While it was in the womb, it still wanted to follow the monk in and out of the house, but it couldn't get out. All it could do was thrash around in its mother's womb, causing her all sorts of misery and pain.
When her time came, the female finally gave birth to a male puppy much larger and stronger than normal. This was because the puppy's consciousness had such a strong desire to get out and see the monk all along. As soon as it was born, it opened its eyes wide and started to run -- because actually it had been running ever since its time in the womb. So the next morning, when it saw the Private Buddha come to the mansion gate, it was overjoyed. It ran up and jumped all over him, grabbing his shoulder bag from his hand and running after him all the way into the dining room in the moneylenders' house. This amazed the moneylender couple and made them feel strong affection for it.
The next morning happened to be the last day of the Rains retreat, which was the final day of the monk's invitation to eat in the moneylender couple's home. So before leaving the house after he had finished his meal, the monk said to the moneylender couple, "Because today is the last day of your invitation, I would like to give you my blessing and take my leave to return to the seclusion of my hermitage in the forest." Then he turned to the puppy, "Tomorrow I won't be coming to your masters' home any more now, so I want you to stay here and guard your masters with loyalty. Don't follow me out into the forest, okay?"
When the puppy heard the Private Buddha say this, it was so heart-broken that it dropped dead on the spot. Through the power of its love and loyalty for the Private Buddha, it was reborn as a deva's son in heaven, with a large following and many divine treasures. His palace was more lovely than that of anyone else's, his looks more handsome than any other deva's son in heaven. His voice was alluring, his fragrance like that of flowers. Any female deva who heard his voice or smelled his fragrance wanted to see him. On seeing him, she would want him as her mate.
All of this was the result of the goodness of the slave's sincere loyalty to the Private Buddha. The only bad part of his story was that moment he got fixated on the moneylenders' dog, which was why he had to spend one lifetime as a puppy. But because the good kamma of his mind was stronger, it was able to wipe out the kamma of his animal birth and take him to heaven.
This story is another example that you should take to heart in your practice of training the mind. You have to be very, very careful. Don't let any Hindrances come in and take over your mind while you're practicing concentration. Don't let your monk run away from you, and don't you abandon your monk to go running after dogs. If your mind doesn't stay with your monk -- i.e., the factors of your meditation -- all sorts of troubles will result, as in the stories I've told you here. As for the goodness that comes from keeping track of your monk, it will send you to good states of becoming and birth, and will raise your mind ultimately to the level of the transcendent.
* * *
Wrong concentration is concentration lacking mindfulness and alertness. Wrong release is when you get beyond distractions by falling asleep.
Another form of wrong concentration is when you lose track of your breath and your body. Another form is when you don't lose track of them, but you get deluded -- as when you get fixated on signs or light, and assume yourself to have gained some special attainment. You fall for these things and hold onto them as being trustworthy and true. In this way, they turn into the corruptions of insight (vipassanupakkilesa) and all sorts of skewed perceptions.
* * *
A pure mind is one that has grown dispassionate to thoughts of past and future, and has no hankering for any sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, or ideas at all.
Revised: Fri 25 May 2001
Sister Khema was born in Germany, educated in Scotland and China, and later
became a United States citizen. She now lives at Wat Buddha Dhamma Forest
Monastery near Sydney Australia, which was established in 1978 on land
purchased and donated by her. In 1979 she ordained as a Nun in Sri Lanka,
and in 1982 she established the International Buddhist Women's Center near
Colombo. She spends most of her time teaching meditation course in different
parts of the world. Rains Retreat is spent in Sri Lanka.
In Buddhism we use the words "self" and "no-self," and so it is important to
understand just what this "no-self," anatta, is all about, even if it is
first just an idea, because the essence of the Buddha's teaching hinges on
this concept. And in this teaching Buddhism is unique. No one, no other
spiritual teacher, has formulated no-self in just this way. And because it
has been formulated by him in this way, there is also the possibility of
speaking about it. Much has been written about no-self, but in order to know
it, one has to experience it. And that is what the teaching aims at, the
experience of no-self.
Yet in order to experience no-self, one has first to fully know self.
Actually know it. But unless we do know what this self is, this self called
"me," it is impossible to know what is meant by "there is no self there." In
order to give something away, we have to first fully gave it in hand.
We are constantly trying to reaffirm self. Which already shows that this
"self" is a very fragile and rather wispy sort of affair, because if it
weren't why would we constantly have to reaffirm it? Why are we constantly
afraid of the "self" being threatened of its being insecure, of its not
getting what it needs for survival? If it were such a solid entity as we
believe it to be, we would not feel threatened so often.
We affirm "self" again and again through identification. We identify with a
certain name, an age, a sex, an ability, an occupation. "I am a lawyer, I am
a doctor. I am an accountant, I am a student." And we identify with the
people we are attached to. "I am a husband, I am a wife, I am a mother, I am
a daughter, I am a son." Now, in the manner of speech, we have to use "self"
in that way -- but it isn't only in speech. We really think that that "self"
is who we are. We really believe it. There is no doubt in our mind that that
"self" is who we are. When any of these factors is threatened, if being a
wife is threatened, if being a mother is threatened, if being a lawyer is
threatened, if being a teacher is threatened -- or if we lose the people who
enable us to retain that "self" -- what a tragedy!
The self-identification becomes insecure, and "me" finds it hard to say
"look at me," "this is me." Praise and blame are included. Praise reaffirms
"me." Blame threatens "me." So we like the praise and we dislike the blame.
The ego is threatened. Fame and infamy -- same thing. Loss and gain. If we
gain, the ego gets bigger; if we lose, it gets a bit smaller. So we are
constantly in a quandary, and in constant fear. The ego might lose a little
bit of its grandeur. It might be made a bit smaller by someone. And it
happens to all of us. Somebody is undoubtedly going to blame us for
something eventually. Even the Buddha was blamed.
Now the blame that is levied at us is not the problem. The problem is our
reaction. The problem is that we feel smaller. The ego has a hard time
reasserting itself. So what we usually do is we blame back, making the
other's ego a bit smaller too.
Identification with whatever it is that we do and whatever it is that we
have, be it possessions or people, is, so we believe, needed for our
survival. "Self" survival. If we don't identify with this or that, we feel
as if we are in limbo. This is the reason why it is difficult to stop
thinking in meditation. Because without thinking there would be no
identification. If I don't think, what do I identify with? It is difficult
to come to a stage in meditation in which there is actually nothing to
identify with any more.
Happiness, too, may be an identification. "I am happy." "I am unhappy."
Because we are so keen on survival, we have got to keep on identifying. When
this identification becomes a matter of the life or death of the ego, which
it usually is, then the fear of loss becomes so great that we can be in a
constant state of fear. Constantly afraid to lose either the possessions
that make us what we are, or the people that make us what we are. If we have
no children, or if they all die, we are no longer a mother. So fear is
paramount. The same goes for all other identifications. Not a very peaceful
state of living and what is it due to? Only one thing: ego, the craving to
This identification results, of course, in craving for possessing. And this
possessing results in attachment. What we have, what we identify with, we
are attached to. That attachment, that clinging, makes it extremely
difficult to have a free and open viewpoint. This kind of clinging, whatever
it may be that we cling to -- it may not be clinging to motor cars and
houses, it may not even be clinging to people -- but we certainly cling to
views and opinions. We cling to our world view. We cling to the view of how
we are going to be happy. Maybe we cling to a view of who created this
universe. Whatever it is we cling to, even how the government should run the
country, all of that makes it extremely difficult to see things as they
really are. To be open-minded. And it is only an open mind which can take in
new ideas and understanding.
Lord Buddha compared listeners to four different kinds of clay vessels. The
first clay vessel is one that has holes at the bottom. If you pour water
into it, it runs right out. In other words, whatever you teach that person
is useless. The second clay vessel he compared to one that had cracks in it.
If you pour water into it, the water seeps out. These people cannot
remember. Cannot put two and two together. Cracks in the understanding. The
third listener he compared to a vessel that was completely full. Water
cannot be poured in for it's full to the brim. Such a person, so full of
views he can't learn anything new! But hopefully, we are the fourth kind.
The empty vessels without any holes or cracks. Completely empty.
I dare say we are not. But may be empty enough to take in enough. To be
empty like that, of views and opinions, means a lack of clinging. Even a
lack of clinging to what we think is reality. Whatever we think reality is,
it surely is not, because if it were, we would never be unhappy for a single
moment. We would never feel a lack of anything. We would never feel a lack
of companionship, of ownership. We would never feel frustrated, bored. If we
ever do, whatever we think is real, is not. What is truly reality is
completely fulfilling. If we aren't completely fulfilled, we aren't seeing
complete reality. So, any view that we may have is either wrong or it is
Because it is wrong or partial, and bounded by the ego, we must look at it
with suspicion. Anything we cling to keeps us bound to it. If I cling to a
table-leg, I can't possibly get out the door. There is no way I can move. I
am stuck. Not until I let go will I have the opportunity to get out. Any
identification, any possession that is clung to, is what stops us from
reaching transcendental reality. Now we can easily see this clinging when we
cling to things and people, but we cannot easily see why the five khandhas
are called the five clung-to aggregates. That is their name, and they are,
in fact, what we cling to most. That is an entire clinging. We don't even
stop to consider when we look at our body, and when we look at our mind, or
when we look at feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness --
vedana, sañña, sankhara, and viññana. We look at this mind-and-body,
nama-rupa, and we don't even doubt the fact that this is my feeling, my
perception, my memory, my thoughts, and my awareness of my consciousness.
And no one starts doubting until they start seeing. And for that seeing we
need a fair bit of empty space apart from views and opinions.
Clinging is the greatest possessiveness and attachment we have. As long as
we cling we cannot see reality. We cannot see reality because clinging is in
the way. Clinging colors whatever we believe to be true. Now it is not
possible to say "all right, I'll stop clinging." We can't do that. The
process of taking the "me" apart, of not believing any more that this is one
whole, is a gradual one. But if meditation has any benefit and success, it
must show that first of all there is mind and there is body. There isn't one
single thing acting in accord all the time. There is mind which is thinking
and making the body act. Now that is the first step in knowing oneself a
little clearer. And then we can note "this is a feeling" and "I am giving
this feeling a name" which means memory and perception. "This is the thought
that I am having about this feeling. The feeling has come about because the
mind-consciousness has connected with the feeling that has arisen."
Take the four parts of the khandhas that belong to the mind apart. When we
do that while it is happening -- not now when we are thinking about at-but
while it is happening, then we get a inkling that this isn't really me, that
these are phenomena that are arising, which stay a moment, and then cease.
How long does mind-consciousness stay on one object? And how long do
thoughts last? And have we really invited them?
The clinging, the clung-to, are what make the ego arise. Because of clinging
the notion of "me" arises and then there is me, and me having all the
problems. Without me would there be problems? If there weren't anyone
sitting inside me -- as we think there is -- who is called I or me or John,
Claire, then who is having the problem? The khandhas do not have any
problems. The khandhas are just processes. They are phenomena, and that is
all. They are just going on and on and on. But because I am grasping at
them, and trying to hold on to them, and saying: "it's me, it's me feeling,
it's me wanting,." then problems arise.
If we really want to get rid of suffering, completely and totally, then
clinging has to go. The spiritual path is never one of achievement; it is
always one of letting go. The more we let go, the more there is empty and
open space for us to see reality. Because what we let go of is no longer
there, there is the possibility of just moving without clinging to the
results of the movement. As long as we cling to the results of what we do,
as long as we cling to the results of what we think, we are bound, we are
Now there is a third thing that we do: we are interested in becoming
something or somebody. Interested in becoming an excellent meditator.
Interested in becoming a graduate. Interested in becoming something which we
are not. And becoming something stops us from being. When we are stopped
from being, we cannot pay attention to what there really is. All this
becoming business is, of course, in the future. Since whatever there is in
the future is conjecture, it is a dream world we live in. The only reality
we can be sure of is this particular moment right now; and this particular
moment as you must be able to be aware of -- has already passed and this one
has passed and the next one has also passed. See how they are all passing!
That is the impermanence of it all. Each moment passes, but we cling, trying
to hold on to them. Trying to make them a reality. Trying to make them a
security. Trying to make them be something which they are not. See how they
are all passing. We cannot even say it as quickly as they are doing it.
There is nothing that is secure. Nothing to hold on to, nothing that is
stable. The whole universe is constantly falling apart and coming back
together. And that includes the mind and the body which we call "I." You may
believe it or not, it makes no difference. In order to know it, you must
experience it; when you experience it, it's perfectly clear. What one
experiences is totally clear. No one can say it is not. They may try, but
their objections make no sense because you have experienced it. It's the
same thing as biting into the mango to know its taste.
To experience it, one needs meditation. An ordinary mind can only know
ordinary concepts and ideas. If one wants to understand and experience
extraordinary experiences and ideas, one has to have an extraordinary mind.
An extraordinary mind comes about through concentration. Most meditators
have experienced some stage that is different then the one they are use to.
So it is not ordinary any more. But we have to fortify that far more than
just the beginning stage. To the point where the mind is truly
extraordinary. Extraordinary in the sense that it can direct itself to where
it wants to go. Extraordinary in the sense that it no longer gets perturbed
by everyday events. And when the mind can concentrate, then it experiences
states which it has never known before. To realize that your universe
constantly falls apart and comes back together again is a meditative
experience. It takes practice, perseverance and patience. And when the mind
is unperturbed and still, equanimity, evenmindedness, peacefulness arise.
At that time the mind understands the idea of impermanence to such an extent
that it sees itself as totally impermanent. And when one sees one's own mind
as being totally impermanent, there is a shift in one's viewpoint. That
shift I like to compare with a kaleidoscope that children play with. A
slight touch and you get a different picture. The whole thing looks quite
different with just a slight shift.
Non-self is experienced through the aspect of impermanence, through the
aspect of unsatisfactoriness, and through the aspect of emptiness. Empty of
what? The word "emptiness" is so often misunderstood because when one only
thinks of it as a concept, one says "what do you mean by empty?" Everything
is there: there are the people, and there are their insides, guts and their
bones and blood and everything is full of stuff -- and the mind is not empty
either. It's got ideas, thoughts and feelings. And even when it doesn't have
those, what do you mean by emptiness? The only thing that is empty is the
emptiness of an entity.
There is no specific entity in anything. That is emptiness. That is the
nothingness. That nothingness is also experienced in meditation. It is
empty, it is devoid of a specific person, devoid of a specific thing, devoid
of anything which makes it permanent, devoid of anything which even makes it
important. The whole thing is in flux. So the emptiness is that. And the
emptiness is to be seen everywhere; to be seen in oneself. And that is what
is called anatta, non-self. Empty of an entity. There is nobody there. It is
all imagination. At first that feels very insecure.
That person that I've been regarding with so much concern, that person
trying to do this or that, that person who will be my security, will be my
insurance for a happy life -- once I find that person -- that person does
not really exist. What a frightening and insecure idea that is! What a
feeling of fear arises! But as a matter of fact, it's just the reverse. If
one accepts and bears that fright and goes through it, one comes to complete
and utter relief and release.
I'll give you a simile: Imagine you own a very valuable jewel which is so
valuable that you place your trust in it so that should you fall upon hard
times, it will look after you. It's so valuable that you can have it as your
security. You don't trust anybody. So you have a safe inside your house and
that is where you put your jewel. Now you have been working hard for a
number of years and you think you deserve a holiday. So now, what to do with
the jewel? Obviously you cannot take it with you on your seaside holiday. So
you buy new locks for the doors to your house and you bar your windows and
you alert your neighbors. You tell them about the proposed holiday and ask
them to look after you house -- and the safe in it. And they say they will,
of course. You should be quite at ease and so you go off on your holiday.
You go to the beach, and it's wonderful. Marvelous. The palm trees are
swaying in the wind, and the spot you've chosen on the beach is nice and
clean. The waves are warm and it's all lovely. The first day you really
enjoy yourself. But on the second day you begin to wonder; the neighbors are
very nice people, but they do go and visit their children. They are not
always at home, and lately there has been a rash of burglaries in the
neighborhood. And on the third day you've convinced yourself that something
dreadful is going to happen, and you go back home. You walk in and open the
safe. Everything is all right. You go over to the neighbors and they ask,
"Why did you come back? We were looking after your place. You didn't have to
come back. Everything is fine."
The next year, the same thing. Again you tell the neighbors, "Now this time
I am really going to stay away for a month. I need this holiday as I've been
working hard." So they say, "Absolutely no need to worry, just take off. Go
to the beach." So once more you bar the windows, lock the doors, get
everything shipshape, and take off for the beach. Again, it's wonderful,
beautiful. This time you last for five days. On the fifth day you are
convinced that something dreadful must have happened. And you go home. You
go home, and by golly, it has. The jewel is gone. You are in a state of
complete collapse. Total desperation. Depressed. So you go to the neighbors,
but they have no idea what has happened. they've been around all the time.
Then you sit and consider the matter and you realize that since the jewel is
gone, you might as well go back to the beach and enjoy yourself!
That jewel is self. Once it is gone, all the burden of looking after it, all
the fears about it, all the barring of doors and windows and heart and mind
is no longer necessary. You can just go and enjoy yourself while you're
still in this body. After proper investigation, the frightening aspect of
losing this thing that seemed so precious turns out to be the only relief
and release from worry that there is.
There are three doors to liberation: the signless, the desireless, and
emptiness. If we understand impermanence, anicca, fully, it is called the
signless liberation. If we understand suffering, dukkha, fully, it is the
desireless liberation. If we understand no-self, anatta, fully, then it is
the emptiness liberation. Which means we can go through any of these three
doors. And to be liberated means never to have to experience an unhappy
moment again. It also means something else: it means we are no longer
creating kamma. A person who has been completely liberated still acts, still
thinks, still speaks and still looks to all intents and purposes like
anybody else, but that person has lost the idea that I am thinking, I am
speaking, I am acting. Kamma is no longer being made because there is just
the thought, just the speech, just the action. There is the experience but
no experiencer. And because no kamma is being made any longer, there is no
rebirth. That is full enlightenment.
In this tradition, three stages of enlightenment have been classified before
one comes to the fourth stage, full enlightenment. The first stage, the one
we can concern ourselves with -- at least theoretically -- is called
sotapanna. Stream-enterer. It means a person who has seen Nibbana once and
has thereby entered the stream. That person cannot be deterred from the Path
any more. If the insight is strong, there may be only one more life-time. If
the insight is weak, it can be seven more life-times. Having seen Nibbana
for oneself once, one loses some of the difficulties one had before. The
most drastic hindrance that one loses is the idea that this person we call
"I" is a separate entity. The wrong view of self is lost. But that doesn't
mean that a sotapanna is constantly aware of no-self. The wrong view is
lost. But the right view has to be reinforced again and again and
experienced again and again through that reinforcement.
Such a person no longer has any great interest, and certainly no belief, in
rites and rituals. They may still be performed because they are traditional
or that are customary, but such a person no longer believes they can bring
about any kind of liberation (if they ever believed that before). And then a
very interesting thing is lost: skeptical doubt. Skeptical doubt is lost
because one has seen for oneself that what the Buddha taught was actually
so. Until that time skeptical doubt will have to arise again and again
because one can easily think: "Well, maybe. Maybe it's so, but how can I be
sure?" One can only be sure through one's own experience. Then, of course,
there is no skeptical doubt left because one has seen exactly that which has
been described, and having seen it, one's own heart and mind gives an
understanding which makes it possible to see everything else.
Dhamma must have as its base the understanding that there is no special
entity. There is continuity, but there is no special entity. And that
continuity is what makes it so difficult for us to see that there really
isn't anybody inside the body making things happen. Things are happening
anyway. So the first instance of having seen a glimpse of freedom, called
stream-entry, makes changes within us. It certainly does not uproot greed
and hate -- in fact, they are not even mentioned. But through the greater
understanding such a person has, the greed and the hate lessen. They are not
as strong anymore, and they do not manifest in gross ways, but do remain in
The next stages are the once-returner, then the non-returner, then the
arahat. Once-returner, one more life in the five-sense world. Non-returner,
no human life necessary, and arahat, fully enlightened. Sensual desire and
hate only go with non-returners, and complete conceit of self, only with
So we can be quite accepting of the fact that since we are not arahats, we
still have greed and hate. It isn't a matter of blaming oneself for having
them: it's a matter of understanding where these come from. They come from
the delusion of me. I want to protect this jewel which is me. That is how
they arise. But with the continued practice of meditation, the mind can
become clearer and clearer. It finally understands. And when it does
understand, it can see transcendental reality. Even if seen for one
thought-moment, the experience is of great impact and makes a marked change
in our lives.
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54, Sangharaja Mawatha
Kandy, Sri Lanka
This electronic edition was transcribed from the print edition in 1994 by
Pat Lapensee under the auspices of the DharmaNet Dharma Book Transcription
Project, with the kind permission of the Buddhist Publication Society.
Revised: Sun 3 October 1999
Meditation mapped in monks
people often feel a sense of no space
Scientists investigating the effect of the meditative state on Buddhist monk's brains have found that portions of the organ previously active become quiet, whilst pacified areas become stimulated.
Andrew Newberg, a radiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, US, told BBC World Service's Discovery programme: "I think we are poised at a wonderful time in our history to be able to explore religion and spirituality in a way which was never thought possible."
Using a brain imaging technique, Newberg and his team studied a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks as they meditated for approximately one hour.
When they reached a transcendental high, they were asked to pull a kite string to their right, releasing an injection of a radioactive tracer. By injecting a tiny amount of radioactive marker into the bloodstream of a deep meditator, the scientists soon saw how the dye moved to active parts of the brain.
Sense of space
Later, once the subjects had finished meditating, the regions were imaged and the meditation state compared with the normal waking state.
The scans provided remarkable clues about what goes on in the brain during meditation.
"There was an increase in activity in the front part of the brain, the area that is activated when anyone focuses attention on a particular task," Dr Newberg explained.
In addition, a notable decrease in activity in the back part of the brain, or parietal lobe, recognised as the area responsible for orientation, reinforced the general suggestion that meditation leads to a lack of spatial awareness.
Dr Newberg explained: "During meditation, people have a loss of the sense of self and frequently experience a sense of no space and time and that was exactly what we saw."
The complex interaction between different areas of the brain also resembles the pattern of activity that occurs during other so-called spiritual or mystical experiences.
Newberg's earlier studies have involved the brain activity of Franciscan nuns
during a type of prayer known as "centring".
As the prayer has a verbal element other parts of the brain are used but Dr Newberg also found that they, "activated the attention area of the brain, and diminished activity in the orientation area."
This is not the first time that scientists have investigated spirituality. In 1998, the healing benefits of prayer were alluded to when a group of scientists in the US studied how patients with heart conditions experienced fewer complications following periods of "intercessory prayer".
And at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston last month, scientists from Stanford University detailed their research into the positive affects that hypnotherapy can have in helping people cope with long-term illnesses.
Scientific study of both the physical world and the inner world of human experiences are, according to Dr Newberg, equally beneficial.
"When someone has a mystical experience, they perceive that sense of reality to be far greater and far clearer than our usual everyday sense of reality," he said.
He added: "Since the sense of spiritual reality is more powerful and clear, perhaps that sense of reality is more accurate than our scientific everyday sense of reality."