Buddhism In Daily Life
by Nina van Gorkom
published by zolag.co.uk
It is a reality of life that we are bound to lose those who are dear to us. When a relative or one of our friends dies we feel much grief and we find it difficult to bear our loss. The Buddha’s teachings can help us to face reality, to see things as they are. Many times the Buddha spoke about the sorrow caused by the loss of dear people.
We read in the Discourse on Born of Affection (Middle Length Sayings II, no. 87):
Thus have I heard:
At one time the Lord was staying near Såvatthí in the Jeta Grove in Anåthapiùèika’s
monastery. Now at that time the dear and beloved little only son of a certain
householder had passed away. After he had passed away (the father) had no
inclination for work or for food. Going constantly to the cemetery, he wailed:
“Where are you, little only son? Where are you, little only son?” Then that
householder approached the Lord; having approached, having greeted the Lord, he
sat down at a respectful distance. The Lord spoke thus to that householder as he
was sitting down at a respectful distance:
“Do you not have,
householder, controlling faculties for stilling your own mind? There is a change
in your faculties.”
“But how could
there be no change in my faculties, Lord? For, Lord, my dear and beloved little
only son has passed away...”
“That is just it,
householder. For, householder, grief, sorrow, suffering, lamentation and despair
are born of affection, originate in affection.” “But for whom Lord, could
this hold good in this way: ‘Grief, sorrow, suffering, lamentation and despair
are born of affection, originate in affection’? For, Lord, bliss and happiness
are born of affection, originate in affection.”
householder, not rejoicing in what the Lord had said, repudiating it, rising
from his seat, departed...
The householder could not grasp the deep meaning of the Buddha’s.80 • Buddhism in Daily Life words. We should try to understand what the Buddha meant. We should try to understand what the Buddha taught about the world, about ourselves, about life and death. The Buddha summarized his teachings in the “Four Noble Truths”.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (V, Mahå-vagga, Book XII, Kindred Sayings about the Truths, Ch II, §1) that the Buddha explained the “Four Noble Truths” (ariya sacca) to his first five disciples in the Deerpark in Vårånasi. The first “Noble Truth” is the Truth of “dukkha” which can be translated as suffering or unsatisfactoriness.
The Buddha said:
Now this, monks, is
the ariyan truth about dukkha:
Birth is dukkha,
decay is dukkha, sickness is dukkha, death is dukkha; likewise sorrow and grief,
woe, lamentation and despair. To be conjoined with things we dislike, to be
separated from things we like— that also is dukkha. Not to get what one
wants–that also is dukkha. In a word, the five khandhas which are based on
grasping are dukkha.
The five khandhas, which are the mental phenomena and the physical phenomena in and around ourselves, are dukkha. One may wonder why they are dukkha. We take the mind for self, but what we call our mind are only mental elements or nåmas which arise and then fall away immediately. We take the body for self, but what we call our body are only physical elements or rúpas which arise and fall away. When we do not know the truth we think that these phenomena can stay; we take them for self. We might for instance think that sadness stays, but there is not only sadness, there are many other phenomena such as seeing, hearing and thinking. What we think is a long time of sadness is, in reality, many different phenomena succeeding one another; none of these phenomena stays.
Phenomena which are impermanent are not real happiness; so they are dukkha. Although dukkha is often translated as “suffering”, it is not only an unhappy feeling; the first “Noble Truth” pertains to all phenomena which arise and fall away. There is not anything in our life which is not dukkha. Even happy feeling is dukkha; it does not last.
The second “Noble Truth” is the origin of dukkha, which is
craving. The same sutta states:.Death • 81
Now this, monks, is
the ariyan truth about the arising of dukkha: It is that craving that leads back
to birth, along with the lure and the lust that lingers longingly now here, now
there: namely the craving for sensual pleasure, the craving to be born again,
the craving for existence to end. Such, monks, is the ariyan truth about the
arising of dukkha.
So long as there is craving in any form there will be a condition
for life, for the arising of nåma and rúpa. Thus, there will be
The third “Noble Truth” is the cessation of dukkha, which is
nibbåna. We read in the above quoted sutta:
And this, monks, is
the ariyan truth about the ceasing of dukkha:
Verily it is the
utter passionless cessation of, the giving up, the forsaking, the release from,
the absence of longing for this craving.
Craving is the origin of dukkha, whereas when there is the cessation
of craving there will be the extinction of rebirth and thus of
dukkha. Nibbåna is the end of dukkha. The arahat has, at the
attainment of enlightenment eradicated all craving and thus for
him there are no more conditions for rebirth, and that means the
end of dukkha
We read in the same sutta about the fourth “Noble Truth”:
Now this, monks, is
the ariyan truth about the practice that leads to the ceasing of dukkha:
Verily it is the
ariyan eightfold way, namely: Right understanding, right thinking, right speech,
right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right
The eightfold Path (ariya-magga) is the development of right understanding of all phenomena which appear in our daily life.
1 The ariyans who are not arahats have also at the attainment of enlightenment
experienced nibbåna and eradicated defilements, but there are four stages of enlightenment and at these stages defilements are progressively eradicated, as we have seen in Ch 8. The ariyans who are not arahats are sure to reach arahatship.
The sotåpanna will not be reborn more than seven times; thus, there is still
rebirth for him but he will reach the end of rebirth.
We come to know the world in and around ourselves, not through.82 • Buddhism in Daily Life speculation, but from our own experience.
How do we experience the world? We experience the world through seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, receiving impressions through the bodysense and through the mind. Everything we experience through the doors of the five senses and through the mind-door is extremely short, because all phenomena which arise fall away immediately. When we see, there is the world of visible object, but it does not last, it falls away again. When we hear, there is the world of sound, but it is impermanent. Likewise the world of smell, the world of taste, the world of tangible object and the world of mental objects; none of these worlds lasts.
In the Visuddhimagga (VIII, 39) we read about the shortness of the world:
...in the ultimate
sense the life-moment of living beings is extremely short, being only as much as
the occurrence of a single conscious moment. Just as a chariot wheel, when it is
rolling, rolls (that is, touches the ground) only on one point of (the
circumference of) its tyre, and, when it is at rest, rests only on one point, so
too, the life of living beings lasts only for a single conscious moment. When
that consciousness has ceased, the being is said to have ceased...
Life, person, pleasure, pain–just these alone
Join in one conscious moment that flicks by.
Ceased khandhas of those dead or alive
Are all alike, gone never to return.
No (world is) born if (consciousness is) not
Produced, when that is present, then it lives;
When consciousness dissolves, the world is dead...
What we call death is not really different from what happens at any moment of consciousness. Each moment a citta falls away there is death of citta. Each citta which arises falls away completely but it conditions the next citta. The last citta of this life, the dying-consciousness (cuti-citta), is succeeded by the first citta of the next life, the rebirth-consciousness (paìisandhi-citta). There is no self at any moment of our life and thus there is no self or soul which travels from this life to the next life.
It is ignorance which causes us to think and behave as if the.Death • 83 body and the mind were permanent. We are attached to the body and to the mind and we take them for self. We think that it is self who sees, hears, thinks and moves around. The clinging to self causes sorrow. We wish to be master of our body and our mind; we wish to control our life and to experience only pleasant things. When we are confronted with old age, sickness and death we are very sad. Those who are ignorant of reality cannot grasp the Buddha’s words that sorrow originates in attachment. This is in fact the second “Noble Truth”, the truth about the origination of dukkha which is craving. We should realize that all nåmas and rúpas which arise are impermanent, dukkha and anattå (non-self). The Buddha pointed out the impermanence of phenomena in many different ways. He spoke about the impermanence of the body in order to help people to become detached from the concept of “my body”. He spoke about the contemplation of the foulness of the body, and he recommended meditations on corpses in different stages of dissolution. We read in the Satipaììhåna-sutta (Middle Length Sayings I, no. 10):
And again, monks,
as a monk might see a body thrown aside in a
cemetary, dead for
one day or for two days or for three days, swollen,
decomposing; he focuses on this body itself
“This body, too,
is of a similar nature, a similar constitution, it has not got past that (state
The Visuddhimagga (Ch VI, 88) explains:
... For a living
body is just as foul as a dead one, only the characteristic of foulness is not
evident in a living body, being hidden by adventitious embellishments.
In order that people might realize the foulness of the living body as well, the Buddha spoke about the “Parts of the Body”. We read in the Satipaììhåna-sutta:
And again, monks, a
monk reflects on precisely this body itself,
1 His own body.
encased in skin and
full of various impurities, from the soles of the feet.84 • Buddhism in Daily Life up
and from the crown of the head down, that: “There is connected with this body
hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones,
marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, membranes, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentary,
stomach, excrement, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, serum, saliva,
mucus, synovic fluid, urine.”
Reflections on the foulness of the body can help us to become less
attached to it, but the most effective way to see the body as it
really is, is awareness and direct understanding of the rúpa-elements
which constitute the body. We read in the Satipaììhåna-sutta
that the Buddha spoke about the body in terms of the four
And again, monks, a
monk reflects on this body according to how it is placed or disposed in respect
of the elements, thinking: “In this body there is the element of extension,
the element of cohesion, the element of heat, the element of motion.”
The element of extension or solidity (Earth) appears in the charac-teristics of hardness and softness, the element of cohesion (Water) in the characteristics of fluidity and cohesion, the element of heat (Fire) in the characteristics of heat and cold, the element of motion (Wind) in the characteristics of motion or oscillation and pressure. These elements are the same, no matter whether we experience them in dead matter or in the body. Both dead matter and the body are only elements which are impermanent and non-self.
We should know the world as it really is by experiencing different characteristics of nåma and rúpa when they present themselves through the five sense-doors and through the mind-door. For example, when the characteristic of heat presents itself through the bodysense, it can be object of awareness. When softness appears it can be object of awareness. In this way we will get to know different characteristics of reality through our own experience and we will learn to see them as elements.
It is important to know different characteristics of realities when they present themselves in order to eliminate the clinging to the concept of self. We may think that the softness of the body belongs to “my body”. When we learn to be mindful of the characteristic.Death • 85 of softness more often we will find out that softness is a character-istic which is the same in dead matter and in the body. We will learn through experience that it is a characteristic which does not know or experience anything; that it is rúpa and not self. Thus we will become less attached to the concept of “my body”. When we are aware of realities such as seeing, sadness, happiness and thinking, we will learn that they are only different types of nåma which arise and fall away. They are dukkha. The eye is dukkha, seeing is dukkha, the feelings which arise on account of what is seen are dukkha.
It does not appeal to everybody to be mindful of nåma and rúpa as they appear in daily life. However, we have to consider what we really want in life. Do we want to continue being ignorant and taking body and mind for self? Do we want to live in darkness or do we want to develop wisdom so that there will be an end to dukkha? If we decide that we want to walk the way leading to the end of dukkha, we must develop wisdom in our daily life: when we see, hear or think, when we feel sad and when we feel happy. This is the only way to understand dukkha, the arising of dukkha, the ceasing of dukkha and the way leading to the ceasing of dukkha. When we realize how deeply rooted our ignorance is and how strong the attachment to the self, we will be motivated to learn to be mindful of nåma and rúpa.
The Buddha often spoke about mindfulness of death. He spoke about death in order to remind people of the impermanence of each moment. Life is extremely short and thus we should not waste any time, but we should learn to develop understanding of the present moment so that ignorance of realities can be eliminated. Ignorance cannot be eradicated within a short time. Only when one has attained the fourth and last stage of enlightenment, the stage of the arahat, are there no more defilements; only then ignorance is completely eradicated. We read in the Mahå-Parinibbåna-sutta (Dialogues of the Buddha II, no. 16, Ch VI, 10,11)
that when the Buddha passed away those who still had
conditions for sorrow wept:
1 I have used the translation of the Wheel Publication no. 67, 68, 69, Buddhist
Publication Society, Sri Lanka..86 • Buddhism in Daily Life
Then, when the
had passed away,
some monks, not yet freed from passion, lifted up their arms and wept; and some,
flinging themselves on the ground, rolled from side to side and wept, lament-ing:
“Too soon has the
Bhagavå come to his parinibbåna! Too soon has the Happy One come to his
parinibbåna! Too soon has the Eye of the World vanished from sight!”
But the monks who
were freed from passion, mindful and clearly comprehending, reflected in this
way: “Impermanent are all compounded things. How could this be otherwise?”
And the venerable
Anuruddha addressed the monks, saying: “Enough, friends! Do not grieve, do not
lament! For has not the Bhagavå declared before, that with all that is dear and
beloved there must be change, separation and severance? Of that which has
arisen, has come into being, is compounded and subject to decay, how can one
say: ‘May it not come to dissolution’ ?”
We read in the same sutta (Ch II, 32) that prior to his passing
away the Buddha said to Ånanda:
Now I am frail, Ånanda,
old, aged, far gone in years. This is my eightieth year and my life is spent...
Therefore, Ånanda, be an island to yourself, a refuge to yourself, seeking no
external refuge; with Dhamma as your island, Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no
And how, Ånanda,
is a monk an island to himself, a refuge to himself, seeking no external refuge;
with Dhamma as his island, Dhamma as his refuge, seeking no other refuge?
When he dwells
contemplating the body in the body, earnestly, clearly comprehending, and
mindfully, after having overcome desire and sorrow in regard to the world; he
dwells contemplating feeling in the feelings, mind in the mind, and mental
objects in the mental objects, earnestly, clearly comprehending, and mindfully,
after having overcome desire and sorrow in regard to the world, then, truly, he
is an island to himself, a refuge to himself, seeking no external refuge; having
Dhamma as his island and refuge, seeking no other refuge...
1 The Buddha..Death
When we “contemplate” the body in the body, feeling in the
feelings, mind in the mind and mental objects in the mental
objects, we will learn not to see the self in the body, feelings,
mind and mental objects. Only if we are mindful of all the different kinds of nåma and rúpa which present themselves in our daily life will we see that they are impermanent, dukkha and anattå.
This is the only way leading to the end of dukkha, to the end of
• Buddhism in Daily Life.• 89
What is life? What is the origin of life? How and when does it end? These are questions people keep on asking themselves. Life is nåma and rúpa of the present moment. There is seeing now; is that not life? Attachment, aversion and ignorance may arise on account of what is seen; is that not life? There is thinking of what we have seen, heard, smelt, tasted and touched; is that not life? We have eyes, ears, nose, tongue, bodysense and mind; we experience objects through these six doorways and on account of what we experience defilements tend to arise. This is life at the present moment. But it was also life in the past and it will be life in the future, unless there is an end to defilements.
How did life start? Is there a beginning to our countless exist-ences? We cannot go back to the past. If we want to know what conditioned our life in the past we should know what it is that conditions our life at the present time. Is there ignorance now, when we see, hear, smell, taste, touch or think? Is there clinging now to nåma and rúpa? So long as we cling to visible objects, sounds, smells, flavours, to things touched and to objects experi-enced through the mind-door, there are conditions for life to go on. Life is conditioned by ignorance and craving.
We read in the Discourse pertaining to the Great Sixfold Sense-field (Middle Length Sayings III, no. 149) that the Buddha, while he was staying near Såvatthí in the Jeta Grove, said to the monks:
Monks, (anyone) not
knowing, not seeing eye as it really is, not knowing, not seeing material
shapes... visual consciousness... impact on the eye as it really is, and not
knowing, not seeing as it really is the feeling, whether pleasant, painful or
neither painful nor pleasant, that arises conditioned by impact on the eye, is
attached to the eye, is attached to material shapes, is attached to visual
consciousness, is attached to impact on the eye; and as for that feeling,
whether pleasant, painful or neither painful nor pleasant, that arises.90
• Buddhism in Daily Life conditioned by impact on the eye–to that too
is he attached. While he, observing the satisfaction, is attached, bound and
infatuated, the five khandhas of grasping go on to future accumulation. And his
craving, which is connected with again-becoming, accompanied by attachment and
delight, finding its pleasure here and there, increases in him. And his physical
anxieties increase, and mental anxieties increase, and physical torments
increase, and mental torments increase, and physical fevers increase, and mental
fevers increase. He experiences anguish of body and anguish of mind.
People wonder whether there is a first cause in the cycle of birth and death. How and when did ignorance first arise? It is of no use to speculate about a first cause, because this does not lead to the goal, which is the eradication of defilements. There is ignorance now; that is a reality. It is conditioned by past ignorance. If it is not eradicated there will be ignorance in the future, forever. Life is like a wheel, turning around, without any beginning.
We do not know from which plane we came, nor where we are going. Life is so short, it is like a dream. We are born with different characters and we have accumulated many defilements. We cannot go back to the past and find out how we accumulated our defilements. People in the past had defilements as well. Some of them could recollect their former lives and see how they accumulated defilements. In the Therígåthå (Psalms of the Sisters, Canto XV, 72, Isidåsi) we read about the life of Isidåsi who had one husband after another but could not please anyone of them. However, she became a bhikkhuní (nun) and she later attained arahatship. She was able to recollect her former lives and she knew then why she had to endure so much sorrow: in a former life she had committed adultery. This akusala kamma caused her to be reborn in hell where she had to stay for many centuries and to be reborn an animal three times. After that she was reborn as a human being three times, but had to suffer great misery in the course of those lives, until she attained arahatship.
Life is birth, old age, sickness and death. The sorrow we all experience in life is unavoidable so long as there are conditions for it. We read in the Therígåthå (Canto VI, 50, Paìåcårå’s Five Hundred) about women who suffered the loss of their children. They came to see Paìåcårå who herself had lost in one day her.Life • 91 husband, two children, parents and brother. She was mad with grief, but was able to recover. She became a sotåpanna, and later on she attained arahatship. She consoled the bereaved women:
The way by which
men come we cannot know;
Nor can we see the
path by which they go.
Why mourn then for him who came to you,
Lamenting through your tears: “My son! My son!”
Seeing you do not know the way he came,
Nor yet the manner of his leaving you?
Weep not, for such is here the life of man.
Unasked he came, unbidden did he go from here.
See! Ask yourself again whence came your son
To bide on earth this little breathing space?
By one way come and by another gone,
As man to die, and pass to other births–
So here and so from here–why would you weep?
We do not know from which plane of existence people have come
nor where they are going. The number of lives in the past is
incalculable and thus it is not surprising that in the course of
those lives people have been related to each other in many ways, as parents, brothers, sisters, children. Do we want to continue in the cycle of birth and death? We read in the Therígåthå (Canto VI, 55, Mahå-Pajåpatí) that Mahå-Pajåpatí, who had made an end to defilements, spoke thus:
... Now have I understood how Ill
Craving, the cause,
in me is dried up.
Have I not trod, have I not touched the end
Of Ill–the ariyan, the eightfold Path?
Oh! But ’tis long I’ve wandered down all time.
Living as mother, father, brother, son,
And as grandparent in the ages past–
Not knowing how and what things really are,
1 I am using the translation of the “Thera-therí-gåthå” by Ms. Rhys Davids:
Psalms of the Early Buddhists, P.T.S.
And never finding
what I needed sore..92 • Buddhism in
Daily Life But now my eyes have seen the Exalted One;
And now I know this living frame’s the last,
And shattered in the unending round of births.
No more Pajåpatí shall come to be!...
Events in our lives today have their conditions in the past.
Tendencies we have now we may have had in the past as well. Deeds we do now we may have performed in the past too. We read in the teachings that the Buddha said of both his own deeds and the deeds of others that similar ones had been performed in the past. We cannot recollect our former lives, but we know that we have accumulated defilements for countless aeons.
Is the word “defilement” not too strong an expression? We may think that we have a pure conscience marred only by a few imperfections and weak points. “Defilement” is the translation of the Påli term “kilesa”. Kilesa is that which is dirty, impure. When we know our own kilesas better we will see their loathsomeness and the sorrow they bring. We will see their dangers, we will realize how deeply rooted they are and how hard to eradicate. Our life is full of attachment, ill-will and ignorance. Not everybody sees that there will be less sorrow when defilements are eliminated.
We each have different expectations in life. We all want happiness
but each one of us has a different idea of happiness and the ways
to achieve it. Both in the Buddha’s time and today there are
“foolish people” and “wise people”. Foolish people think that it is
good to be attached to people and things. They say that one is
not really alive if one has no attachment. Because of their ignorance
they do not see cause and effect in their lives. When they have
pleasant experiences they do not see that these are only moments
which fall away immediately. When they experience
unpleasant things they blame others for their experience; they do
not understand that the real cause is within themselves, that the
cause is the bad deeds they themselves have performed. Those
who suffer mental anxieties and depressions and are destressed
about their daily life, try to escape from it in many different
ways. Some people find satisfaction in going to the movies. Others
1 Vipåkacitta is the result of kamma. Kusala kamma, good deeds, bring pleasant
results and akusala kamma, evil deeds, bring unpleasant results.
take alcoholic drinks or intoxicating drugs in order to live in a.Life • 93 different world or to feel like a different person. Those who flee from reality will not know themselves; they will continue to live in ignorance.
In the past and today there are people who reject the Buddha’s teachings or who misunderstand them. They do not see that life is conditioned by ignorance and craving. They do not know the way leading to the end of defilements. But those who see that defilements cause sorrow want to have less defilements. They listen to the teachings and apply themselves to dåna (generosity), to síla (morality) and to bhåvanå (mental development). Few people, however, are inclined to cultivate each day of their lives the wisdom which eradicates defilements. They are wise people. In the Thera-therí-gåthå (Psalms of the Brethren and Sisters) we read about men and women in the Buddha’s time who had the same struggles in life, the same anxieties and fears as people today. They had many defilements but they were able to eradicate them by following the eightfold Path. If they could do it, why can we not do it?
Those who are wise understand that life does not last and that it is therefore a matter of urgency to develop the way leading to the end of defilements. People are inclined to delay practising the Buddha’s teachings. We read in the Thera-gåthå (Måtanga’s Son, Canto III, 174):
Too cold! Too hot! Too late! Such is the cry.
And so, past men who shake off work (that waits
Their hand), the fateful moments fly,
But he who reckons cold and heat as less
Than straws, doing his duties as a man,
He no defaulter proves to happiness...
Do we think it is too cold, too hot, too late to be mindful? We always want to do something other than be mindful of the present moment. Is our highest aim in life enjoyment of the things which can be experienced through the senses? Is it wealth, physical comfort, the company of relatives and friends? People forget that none of these things last. They forget that as soon as we are born we are old enough to die. Those who are wise, however, see the impermanence of all conditioned things. In the Theragåthå (Canto.94 • Buddhism in Daily Life II, 145) we read that Vítasoka, when his hair was being dressed by the barber, looked into the mirror and saw some grey hairs. He was reminded of reality and developed insight. While he was sitting there he attained enlightenment. We read:
“Now let him
shave me!”— so the barber came.
From him I took the
mirror and, therein Reflected, on myself I gazed and thought:
“Futile for lasting is this body shown.”
(Thus thinking on the source that blinds our sight
My spirit’s) darkness melted into light,
Stripped are the swathing vestments
Now is there no
more coming back to be.
A look into the mirror can be most revealing! It can remind us of
impermanence. Thus we see that even when we perform the most
common activities of daily life we do not have to waste our time;
mindfulness can be developed. We may think that our daily tasks
prevent us from being mindful, but there are nåma and rúpa
presenting themselves through the six doors, no matter what we
are doing. Even when one is preparing food, insight can be devel-oped
and enlightenment can be attained. We read in the Therígåthå
(Canto I, 1) about a woman who was preparing food in the
kitchen. A flame burnt the food. She realized at that moment the
impermanence of conditioned realities and became then and there,
in the kitchen, a non-returner, anågåmí
. She entered the order of bhikkhunís and attained arahatship later on. She declared her attainment with the following verse:
Sleep softly, little Sturdy, take your rest
At ease, wrapt in the robe you yourself have made.
Stilled are the passions that would rage within,
Withered as potherbs in the oven dried.
1 Here I have added “of defilements”, following the Thai translation which uses
the word kilesa.
2 A person who has
realized the third stage of enlightenment..Life • 95
We may think that we cannot be mindful because we are too
restless and agitated. It is encouraging for us to read that people
in the Buddha’s time who were also oppressed by their many
defilements and who suffered from their obsessions, could never-theless
attain enlightenment. In the Therígåthå (Canto V, 38, “An
Anonymous Sister) we read about a nun who was troubled by
sense desires and could not find peace of mind. She was taught
Dhamma by Dhammadinnå and she attained the “six supernormal
powers”, the sixth of which is the destruction of all defilements
The text states:
For five-and twenty years since I came forth.
Not for one moment could my heart attain
The blessedness of calm serenity.
No peace of mind I found. My every thought
Was soaked with the passion of sense desires.
With outstretched arms and shedding futile tears
I went, a wretched woman, to my cell.
Then She to this poor Bhikkhuní drew near,
Who was my foster-mother in the faith.
She taught me the Dhamma, wherein I learnt
The factors, organs, bases of this self,
Impermanent compound. Hearing her words,
Beside her I sat down to meditate.
And now I know the days of the long past,
And clearly shines the Eye Celestial,
I know the thoughts of other minds, and hear
With sublimated sense the sound of things
Ineffable. The mystic potencies
I exercise; and all the deadly Drugs
That poisoned every thought are purged away.
A living truth for me this “Sixfold Knowledge”,
Accomplished is the Buddha’s Dhamma.
1 The five “mundane” powers or knowledges are: magical powers, divine ear, by
which one hears sounds heavenly and human, far and near, penetration of the minds of others, divine eye, by which one sees the passing away and rebirth of beings, and remembrance of former lives.
Those who are oppressed by their anxieties to such an extent that.96 • Buddhism in Daily Life they want to flee from reality may even think of committing suicide. In the Buddha’s time people were no different from people today. But even for those who have lost all hope there is a way by which they can be freed from despair, liberated from sorrow and fear. We read in the Therígåthå (Canto V, 40, Síhå) about a nun who was on the point of committing suicide. But at that moment her knowledge reached maturity and she became an arahat. The text states:
Distracted, harassed by desires of sense,
Unmindful of the “What” and “Why” of things,
Stung and inflated by the memories
Of former days, over which I lacked control–
Corrupting canker spreading over my heart–
I followed heedless dreams of happiness,
And got no steadiness of mind,
All given over to dalliance with sense,
So did I fare for seven weary years,
In lean and sallow misery of unrest.
I, wretched, found no ease by day or night,
So took a rope and
plunged into the wood:
“Better for me a friendly gallows-tree
Than indulging in a worldly life.”
Strong was the noose I made; and on a bough
I bound the rope and flung it round my neck,
When see!... my heart was set at liberty!
When we read about men and women in the Buddha’s time we
recognize ourselves and other people who are living today. We all
have accumulated lobha, dosa and moha. We all are hindered by
our many defilements. We sometimes wonder whether we will
ever reach the goal. Nibbåna seems to be far away. But in fact,
with every moment of right mindfulness of nåma or rúpa right
understanding can develop, and thus wrong view can be eliminated
and eventually enlightenment be attained. We read in the Ther-agåthå
(Canto XVI, 252, Målunkyå’s Son) about the son of Målunkyå
who listened to the Buddha and later attained arahatship. The
Sight of fair shape bewildering mindfulness,
If one but heed the image sweet and dear,
The heart inflamed in feeling does overflow,
And clinging stays. Thus in him do grow
Divers emotions rooted in the sight.
Greed and aversion and the heart of him
Does suffer grievously. Of him, thus heaping
Store of pain and suffering, the Buddha
Far from nibbåna!
(The same is said about the impressions through the other senses.)
He who for things he sees, no passion breeds,
But mindful, clear of head, can suffer sense
With uninflamed heart, no clinging stays;
And as he sees, so normally he feels;
For him no heaping up, but diminishing;
So does he heedfully pursue his way.
Of him, building no store of ill, the Buddha said:—
Near is nibbåna!
The Buddha’s teachings can change people’s character if they walk the way he taught. We read in the Theragåthå (Canto II, 139, Nanda) about Nanda, who had attained arahatship. He said:
Heedless and shallow once my thoughts were set
On all the bravery of outward show;
Fickle was I and frivolous; all my days
Were worn with wanton sensuality.
But by the Buddha’s skilful art benign,
Who of sun’s lineage comes, was I brought
To live by deeper thought, whereby my heart
From (the great swamp of endless) life I drew.
People in the Buddha’s time understood how mindfulness should
be developed every day of their lives. We read in the
1 The English text has here: “we say”, but I follow the Thai translation: “The
“Papañcasúdaní”, the commentary to the Middle Length Sayings ,.98 • Buddhism in Daily Life
in the section about the Satipaììhåna sutta (Middle Length Sayings
I, 10) that the Buddha taught the “Four Applications of Mindful-ness”
to the people of Kuru (in the District of Delhi). In Kuru all classes of people would develop mindfulness, even the slave-labourers. Those who did not develop mindfulness were considered as dead people. If we do not develop right understanding we are like dead people because we have to continue in the cycle of birth and death.
Those who are ignorant of Dhamma and those who are wise have different aims in life and they also have different views of the future. Some people think of a happy rebirth as the fulfilment of all their expectations in life. They hope for life to continue in heaven where there is bliss forever. Others may not think of an after-life, but they dream of an ideal world in the future, a world without wars, without discord among men. But they do not know how such a world could come into being.
Those who have right understanding of Dhamma know that what we call “world” is impermanent. This world arose by condi-tions and it will pass away again. World systems arise and dissolve. When it is the appropriate time a person is born who will be a Buddha who teaches the truth. But even the teachings do not stay; they are misinterpreted and corrupted because of people’s defilements. People today still have the opportunity to hear Dham-ma and develop the eightfold Path. Those who are wise do not dream of an ideal world in the future. They know that the most beneficial thing one can do both for oneself and for others is to eliminate defilements right at the present moment. The Buddha taught mental development to those who want to eliminate defile-ments. People have different accumulations. Some develop samatha (tranquil meditation), others vipassanå (insight, right understand-ing of realities); others again develop both samatha and vipassanå. Those who develop vipassanå will know what the world really is; they will know that there are “six worlds”: the world of visible object, of sound, of odour, of flavour, of tangible objects and of mental objects. They will know that these worlds are impermanent.
1 The “Four Applications of mindfulness” are: Mindfulness of the Body, of
Feelings, of Cittas and of Dhammas. All nåmas and rúpas which are objects of mindfulness are included in these four “applications”.
The Buddha knew with clear vision all worlds in all ways and.Life • 99 under every aspect; he is called “Knower of the Worlds” (lokavidú)
Those who still have craving cannot see that the end of rebirth is the end of dukkha. Those who see the impermanence of all conditioned things can eliminate craving stage by stage. The arahat does not cling to life any more. For him there will be an end to life, that is: an end to nåma and rúpa, never to arise again, an end to birth, old age, sickness and death. The arahat realizes that the end to birth is true happiness, true peace. In the Theragåthå (Canto XVI, 248) we read that the arahat Adhimutta was assailed by robbers who were amazed by his calmness. Adhimutta said:
... He who has passed beyond, from grasping free,
Whose task is done, sane and immune, is glad,
Not sorry, when the term of lives is reached,
As one who from the slaughter-house escapes.
He who the ideal order has attained,
All the world over seeking nought to own,
As one who from a burning house escapes,
When death is drawing near he grieves not...
Ignorance and clinging condition our life. When ignorance and clinging are eradicated there are no more conditions for rebirth. The end of birth is the end of dukkha. As we have read in the above-quoted Discourse on the Great Sixfold Sense-field (Middle Length Sayings III, no 149), the Buddha said about the person who does not see things as they are, that he experiences “anguish of body and anguish of mind”. He said about the person who sees things as they are:
monks, knowing and seeing eye as it really is, knowing
and seeing material
shapes... visual consciousness... impact on the eye
as it really is,
and knowing, seeing as it really is the feeling, whether
or neither painful nor pleasant, that arises condi-tioned
by impact on the
eye, is not attached to the eye nor to material
shapes nor to
visual consciousness nor to impact on the eye; and that
1 See Visuddhimagga VII, 36--46.
pleasant or painful or neither painful nor pleasant,.100 • Buddhism in Daily Life that
arises conditioned by impact on the eye–neither to that is he attached. While
he, observing the peril, is not attached, bound or infatuated, the five khandhas
of grasping go on to future diminution.
And his craving
which is connected with again-becoming, accompanied
by attachment and
delight, finding its pleasure here and there,
decreases in him.
And his physical anxieties decrease, and mental
and bodily torments... and mental torments... and
decrease, and mental fevers decrease. He experiences
happiness of body
and happiness of mind..• 101
The Development of Calm
If there be none in front, nor none behind
Be found, is one alone and in the woods
Exceeding pleasant does his life become.
Come then! alone I’ll get me hence and go
To lead the forest-life the Buddha praised,
And taste the welfare which the brother knows,
Who dwells alone with concentrated mind...
Those were the words of a prince who longed to live in the forest (Theragåthå, Canto X, 234, Ekavihåriya). Do we not all have moments when we wish to have none in front and none behind us, moments when we wish to dwell alone? It seems impossible to find tranquillity in daily life. We have people around us the whole day, and there is noise everywhere. The real cause of our restlessness, however, is not outside but inside ourselves; the real cause is our defilements. We may not commit grave crimes such as killing or stealing, but we think unwholesome thoughts and we spend much time in talking about other people’s mistakes and shortcomings. We harm ourselves in that way. Unwholesomeness is harmful, to both body and mind. We can see the difference in appearance between a restless person and someone who is serene and full of loving-kindness.
It is not easy to change our habits. If we are used to speaking in an unwholesome way then we cannot expect to change ourselves at once. For how long have we been accumulating unwholesome-ness? Because of our accumulated unwholesome tendencies we are hindered in doing good deeds, speaking in a wholesome way and having wholesome thoughts, and we are restless and agitated. We would like to have peace of mind but we do not know where to find it.
Dåna (generosity), síla (morality) and bhåvanå (mental devel-opment) are ways of having kusala cittas instead of akusala cittas..102 • Buddhism in Daily Life The Buddha encouraged people to develop all kinds of whole-someness, be it dåna, síla or bhåvanå. At the moment of kusala citta there are no lobha, dosa and moha and there is calm. When we offer food to the monks and pay respect to them there is calm. There is not always opportunity for dåna or síla but there is at any time opportunity for the way of kusala which is mental devel-opment, bhåvanå, and this includes: the study and the teaching of Dhamma, samatha (development of calm) and vipassanå. Dåna and síla can be performed with paññå or without it, but for mental development paññå is indispensable.
As regards the form of bhåvanå which is the study of Dhamma, we will have more understanding of the teachings through reading the Tipiìaka, the Three Collections of the Vinaya, the Suttanta and the Abhidhamma. If we study the Dhamma, ponder over it and also explain it to others, there are conditions for kusala cittas with paññå. Both our own life and the lives of others will be enriched. The study of the Dhamma will help us to have right understanding of our life.
Samatha, the development of calm, and vipassanå, the develop-ment of insight, are included in bhåvanå, but they each have a different aim and a different way of development. The aim of samatha is calm. In samatha defilements are temporarily subdued, but they are not eradicated. The aim of vipassanå is seeing things as they are. The right understanding, paññå, which is developed in vipassanå can eradicate defilements.
Through samatha one develops the calm which is temporary freedom from lobha, attachment, dosa, aversion, and moha, igno-rance.
When we realize how often in a day there are akusala
cittas, we would like to develop more wholesome thoughts.
Samatha is a way of developing kusala cittas, also at the moments when there is no opportunity for dåna or síla. Samatha is a means of developing a higher degree of calm, but one must have right understanding of the way of its development and one must know the characteristic of calm which is wholesome. Some people may think that there is calm when they are alone in the woods, but is that always the calm which is wholesome? Instead of kusala cittas there may be attachment, aversion and ignorance. Thus, in order to develop samatha one must have a very precise knowledge of the different cittas which arise, otherwise one is likely to take for.The development of calm • 103 calm what is in fact akusala citta.
For the development of samatha there are specific meditation
subjects (kammaììhåna), forty in all
. It depends on the individual which subject conditions calm for him. If one would try to use, instead of one or more among these forty meditation subjects, any other object, it would not help one to attain true calm.
Right understanding of the characteristic of calm and of the meditation subject is the most important factor for the development of samatha. One may think that samatha is a matter of just con-centrating on one object, but which type of citta arises while one tries to concentrate? Are we attached to an idea of “my concentra-tion”? When the citta is akusala citta there is no mental develop-ment.
Thus, it is essential to know when the citta is kusala citta
and when it is not.
What is concentration? Concentration or one-pointedness, in
Påli “ekaggatå cetasika” or “samådhi”, is a mental factor, cetasika
which accompanies each citta. Its function is to focus on one object. For example, seeing is a citta which experiences visible object. One-pointedness or ekaggatå cetasika, which accompanies the citta, is focusing on only that object. Each citta can have only one object at a time and ekaggatå cetasika focuses on that object.
No matter whether there is seeing, hearing, a citta with attachment,
aversion, generosity or wisdom, there is ekaggatå cetasika ac-companying
these different moments. The quality of ekaggatå
cetasika depends on the citta it accompanies. When ekaggatå
cetasika accompanies akusala citta it is also akusala, and when it accompanies kusala citta it is also kusala.
As regards right concentration in samatha, this can arise only if there is right understanding of the development of calm. When there is calm there is at the same time right concentration as well which accompanies the kusala citta.
Can samatha be developed in daily life or do we have to lead a
1 For details see: Visuddhimagga, Ch IV—IX.
2 Cetasika is a mental factor accompanying citta. There is only one citta at a
time, but each citta is accompanied by several cetasikas which each perform their own function. Some cetasikas accompany each citta, others do not. There are akusala cetasikas which accompany only akusala citta, and there are “sobhana cetasikas” (beautiful cetasikas) which accompany only sobhana citta.
secluded life? If one intends to develop higher degrees of calm,.104 • Buddhism in Daily Life there are specific conditions which have to be fulfilled, as we will see. However, not everybody is able to or intends to develop higher degrees of calm. If we have right understanding of samatha, there can also be conditions for moments of calm in daily life. We can, in daily life, reflect for example on the loathsomeness of the body or on corpses, which are among the forty meditation subjects which can condition calm. For some people the meditations on a corpse can be helpful to have less attachment to sense-impressions. We all have to see dead people or dead animals at times. When we have read about the meditations on corpses and pondered over them there is a condition for the arising of wholesome thoughts at such moments, instead of akusala cittas with aversion. We may remember what the Buddha said about the impermanence of all conditioned things.
We read in the Thera-therígåthå (Psalms of the Brethren, Psalms
of the Sisters) about people who were restless, who could not
find peace of mind. Meditations on corpses and the foulness of
the body reminded them of the truth of impermanence. In the
Theragåthå (Canto VI, 213, Kulla) we read about the monk Kulla
who had been infatuated with sense pleasures. The Buddha rec-ommended
him to meditate in the charnel field. The meditation
on the putrefaction of the body was the condition for him to
attain calm to the degree of the first stage of jhåna, absorption. On that basis he developed insight and attained arahatship. The following verses are an expression of his attainment:
Kulla had gone to where the dead lie still
And there he saw a woman’s body cast,
Untended in the field, the food of worms.
“Behold the foul compound, Kulla, diseased,
Impure, dripping, exuding, pride of fools.”
Grasping the mirror of the holy Norm
To win the vision by its lore revealed,
I saw reflected there, without, within,
The nature of this empty, fleeting frame,
As is this body, so that one was once.
1 The Dhamma.
And as that body, so will this one be....The
development of calm • 105
Kulla was reminded of the truth and saw things as they are.
There are people for whom the meditation on corpses or on the loathsomeness of the body is not helpful; they may instead be inclined to the recollections of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, which are also included among the forty meditation sub-jects.
Or they may recollect “virtue” (síla) or “generosity” (dåna),
which are other meditation subjects. The recollection of generosity
may encourage us to more generosity. In the Visuddhimagga (VII,
107) we read that the person who starts to develop this recollection
should make the following resolution: “From now on, when there
is anyone present to receive, I shall not eat even a single mouthful
without having given a gift.” After he has given a gift he can
recollect the following: “It is gain for me, it is great gain for me,
that in a generation obsessed by the stain of avarice I abide with
my heart free from stain of avarice, and am freely generous and
openhanded, that I delight in relinquishing, expect to be asked,
and rejoice in giving and sharing.” For this recollection one must
know the characteristic of generosity; one cannot recollect gener-osity
and one cannot become calm with this meditation subject if
one is not generous in one’s daily life.
There are meditations which are the “divine abidings”
(Brahmavihåras). They are: loving-kindness (mettå), compassion (karuùå), sympathetic joy (muditå) and equanimity (upekkhå). However, these qualities cannot be one’s meditation subjects if one does not practise them in daily life. How could one develop the meditation subject of loving-kindness if one does not know the characteristic of loving-kindness as it appears in daily life? We may have moments of pure loving-kindness but there are bound to be many moments of selfish affection in between. Are we not attached to people? It is necessary to know exactly when there is a moment of pure loving-kindness and when there is attachment. There must be right understanding which clearly dis-tinguishes between these characteristics and thus we see again that right understanding is indispensable for samatha.
If one knows the characteristic of loving-kindness one can develop it and then it can condition calm. This subject can help us to have kusala citta instead of thoughts of ill-will.
Mindfulness of breathing is another meditation subject. In order to develop calm with this subject one must have right understanding.106 • Buddhism in Daily Life of it and know how to be mindful of the characteristic of breath. According to the Visuddhimagga mindfulness of breathing is one of the most difficult meditation subjects and, since breath is very subtle, not everyone is able to be mindful of it.
What is breath? What we call breath is rúpa, a physical phenom-enon. Rúpas of the body can be conditioned by one of the four following factors: by kamma, by citta, by temperature or by food. Breath is conditioned by citta. So long as there is citta there is breath conditioned by citta. We all cling to our life and all the things we enjoy in life, but life is very fragile. Life is supported by breath, rúpa which arises and then falls away. When we have drawn our last breath, death occurs and of what use are then our possessions and all the things to which we cling so much? When mindfulness of breath is developed with right understanding it can condition the calm which is temporary freedom from defile-ments.
However, the characteristic of breath must be known
The Visuddhimagga (VIII, 197, f.f.) explains that breath appears where it touches the nosetip or upper lip. It falls away immediately at the place where it appears. One should not follow the going out and coming in of breath, one should only be aware of breath where it touches the nosetip or upper lip. The Visuddhimagga explains this by way of similes, one of which is the simile of a gate-keeper:
This is the simile
of the gate-keeper: just as a gate-keeper does not examine people inside and
outside the town, asking, “Who are you? Where
have you come from? Where are you going? What have you got in your hand?”—
for those people are not his concern–but does examine each man as he arrives
at the gate, so too, the incoming breaths that have gone inside and the outgoing
breaths that have gone outside are not this bhikkhu’s concern, but they are
his concern each time they arrive at the (nostril) gate itself.
If one follows the going out and the coming in of breath one’s mind will, according to the Visuddhimagga (VIII, 197) be “distracted by disquiet and perturbation”. Right understanding of the method of development of this subject is indispensable. If one thinks that all that is necessary is just trying very hard to concentrate on.The development of calm • 107 breath one may concentrate with lobha, dosa and moha. If one enjoys watching one’s breath and if one aims at feeling relaxed there is attachment and this is not bhåvanå. Some people may be inclined to do breathing exercises for their health, but, if one wants to develop calm one must know what is bhåvanå and what is not bhåvanå. The aim of this meditation subject is calm which is wholesome and thus there must be paññå which knows exactly when the citta is kusala citta and when it is akusala citta. When there are moments of calm there is no clinging.
It is extremely difficult to be mindful of breath in the right way so that there can be true calm, freedom from lobha, dosa and moha. It may happen that one takes for breath what is not breath, the rúpa conditioned by citta. Some people follow the movement of the abdomen and they erroneously take this for mindfulness of breath. If one has no accumulations for mindfulness of breath, one should not force oneself to take up this subject. There are many other subjects of meditation which can condition calm.
There can be mindfulness of breath both in samatha and in vipassanå. What is the difference between the object of mindfulness in samatha and the object of mindfulness in vipassanå? In samatha there is sati which is mindful, non-forgetful, of breath in order to temporarily subdue defilements. In samatha the object of mindful-ness is not, as is the case in vipassanå, the characteristic of whatever nåma or rúpa appears at the present moment through one of the six doors. There is paññå in both samatha and vipassanå, but the paññå in samatha does not know nåma and rúpa as they are, as non-self (anattå). The paññå in samatha knows when the citta is kusala citta and when it is akusala citta; it knows how to develop the calm which is temporary freedom from defilements. The aim of vipassanå is seeing things as they are. In vipassanå right under-standing is developed of all nåmas and rúpa which appear, no matter what one’s activities are. Also when one develops calm by means of mindfulness of breathing there are nåmas and rúpas which appear and these can be known as they really are: as impermanent and non-self. The paññå of vipassanå knows nåma and rúpa as they are.
Several of the meditation subjects of samatha can be our recol-lections in daily life and they can condition moments of calm.
Some people, however, may have accumulations to develop higher.108 • Buddhism in Daily Life degrees of calm, even to the stage of jhåna, absorption. When there is a higher degree of calm ekaggatå cetasika or samådhi (concentration) which accompanies the citta with calm is of a higher degree as well. Samådhi develops when there are the right conditions, one cannot force oneself to become concentrated.
In the development of samatha there are three stages of samådi:
the preliminary stage or parikamma samådhi, access concentration
or upacåra samådhi and attainment concentration or appanå samå-di,
which accompanies jhånacitta. When there is still the preliminary
stage of samådhi, parikamma samådhi, the citta is aware of the
meditation subject, but it is not jhånacitta; it is citta of the sensuous
plane of consciousness, kåmåvacara citta. Kåmåvacara cittas are
the cittas which arise in daily life when, for example, we see,
think or wish for something. When samådhi has reached the
stage of access concentration, upacåra samådhi, there is a higher degree of calm but at that stage the citta is still kåmåvacara citta, not jhånacitta. When samådhi has reached the stage of attainment concentration, appanå samådhi, the citta is jhånacitta. The jhåna-citta experiences the meditation subject with absorption; at that moment one is free from sense-impressions and thus also from the defilements which are bound up with them. The jhånacitta is of a higher level of consciousness than kåmåvacara citta.
If people do not know about the different stages of samådhi
they may erroneously think that they have jhånacittas or they
may doubt whether they have attained jhåna or not. The jhånacitta
is accompanied by paññå. If one has doubts it is clear that there
is no paññå. Even if one has no intention to cultivate jhåna it is
useful to know about the different degrees of samådhi. One might
have cultivated jhåna in a past life and if there are the right
conditions, one of the degrees of samådhi could arise. People
who have not studied Dhamma may have confused ideas about concentration and about jhåna. There is right concentration and wrong concentration. When people concentrate on a meditation subject in the wrong way, for example with lobha, there is wrong concentration. They may, because of wrong concentration, have unusual experiences which they take for jhåna. Or they may even take such experiences for the attainment of nibbåna.
There are several stages of jhåna and each higher stage is more subtle and more refined than the preceding one. There is rúpa-.The development of calm • 109 jhåna, which is translated as “fine-material jhåna”, and arúpa-jhåna, which is translated as “immaterial jhåna”. Arúpa-jhåna is more subtle than rúpa-jhåna; the meditation subjects of arúpa-jhånacitta do not pertain to objects which can be experienced through the senses.
Of the forty meditation subjects, some can lead only to access concentration, upacåra samådhi, some to rúpa-jhåna but not to the highest stage, and some lead to the highest stage of rúpa-jhåna.
There are four (or, for some people five) stages of rúpa-jhåna
Those who see the disadvantages of the meditation subjects of rúpa-jhåna, which are less refined than those of arúpa-jhåna, develop the meditation subjects of arúpa-jhåna. There are four stages of arúpa-jhåna, which are: the sphere of boundless space, the sphere of boundless consciousness, the sphere of nothingness and the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. Percep-tion in the fourth arúpa-jhåna is very subtle.
Of those who develop samatha only very few can attain jhåna.
Much skill has to be developed in order to attain jhåna. One
should know the conditions for the attainment of jhåna and what
can obstruct its attainment. We read in the Visuddhimagga (XII,
8) how difficult it is to attain the preliminary stage of samådhi,
parikamma samådhi, or access concentration, upacåra samådhi,
to attain jhåna and to develop the skills in jhåna in order to
acquire supernatural powers.
People today want to experience something which is beyond
this world because they feel distressed about life or they are
bored. Wouldn’t we sometimes like to know the future? We may be curious as to what fortune-tellers can predict about our life.
Many of us read the horoscope in the daily newspaper, and even
when we say that we do not believe in those things we cannot
help attaching some importance to them. Sick people who cannot
be cured by a doctor go to healers who claim that they can treat
diseases in a more effective way than doctors. We may well go to
1 For the attainment of jhåna one has to develop jhåna-factors, specific
cetasikas. At each higher stage of rúpa-jhåna jhåna-factors are abandoned, they are no longer needed. Some people can at the second stage abandon two factors instead of one factor and thus for them there are four stages of jhåna instead of five stages.
fortune-tellers, or to people who claim to have clairvoyance, but.110 • Buddhism in Daily Life we still do not know ourselves. We still have defilements, we still have ignorance, we still have to continue in the cycle of birth and death. So long as there are attachment, ill-will and ignorance in one’s heart, true happiness cannot be found.
In the Buddha’s time people developed jhåna until they became quite skilful and they even acquired supernatural powers. Those who have attained the highest stage of rúpa-jhåna and of arúpa-jhåna and have acquired “mastery” in the attainment of the these stages, can apply themselves to the development of supernatural powers. The development of those powers is extremely difficult; only very few of those who attain jhåna can develop them. The supernatural powers developed by means of samatha are: mirac-ulous powers such as flying through the air, walking on water, diving into the earth; the “Celestial Ear” or clairaudiance; the power to discern the thoughts of others; the power of recollecting one’s past lives; the “Celestial Eye” (claivoyance), by means of which one also sees the passing away and rebirth of beings.
We read in the Discourse on the Fruits of the Life of a Recluse (Dialogues of the Buddha I, no. 2, 77, 78) that the Buddha spoke to the King of Magadha about the recluse who had supernatural powers. The Buddha said to the King:
With his heart thus
serene, made pure, translucent, cultured, devoid of evil, supple, ready to act,
firm and imperturbable, he applies and bends down his mind to the modes of the
Wondrous Gift. He enjoys the Wondrous Gift in its various modes–being one he
becomes many, or having become many he becomes one again; he becomes visible or
invisible; he goes, feeling no obstruction, to the further side of a wall or
rampart or hill, as if through air; he penetrates up and down through solid
ground, as if through water; he walks on water without breaking through, as if
on solid ground; he travels crosslegged in the sky, like birds on wing; even the
Moon and the Sun, so powerful, so mighty though they be, does he touch and feel
with his hand; he reaches in the body even up to the heaven of Brahmå...
In Buddhism one learns to study cause and effect. People are
impressed by extraordinary things when they do not know the
conditions that give rise to them. Each phenomenon in our life
has conditions through which it arises. When we know this we
are not surprised by strange phenomena. Moggallåna,
Anuruddha.The development of calm
and other disciples has supernatural powers, but they did not
cling to them or take them for self because they realized that
those phenomena arose because of conditions.
Samatha is a high degree of kusala kamma and it brings about kusala vipåka. Samatha can help people to be more calm. But defilements cannot be eradicated by samatha, even if calm is developed to the degree of jhåna. Nor can defilements be eradicated by supernatural powers. Jhåna and supernatural powers do not lead to the end of ignorance. The Buddha, when he was still a Bodhisatta, developed samatha, but he also developed vipassanå in order to become the Fully Enlightened One, the Buddha.
In the Vinaya (Book of the Discipline I, Påråjika, Defeat I, 1, 4) we read that the Buddha spoke to the brahmin of Verañja about the “three watches” of the night in which he attained enlightenment. In the first watch he recollected, by means of supernatural powers developed through samatha, his former lives. In the second watch he saw, by means of supernatural powers, the passing away and rebirth of beings. In the third watch his defilements were eradicated and he attained Buddhahood. We read:
Then with mind
collected... I directed the mind towards the knowledge of the destruction of the
cankers. I knew as it really is: This is dukkha, this is the arising of dukkha,
this is the stopping of dukkha, this is the course leading to the stopping of
dukkha... In me, thus knowing, thus seeing, my mind was freed from the canker of
sensual pleasures, my mind was freed from the canker of becoming, my mind was
freed from the canker of false views, my mind was freed from the canker of
ignorance. (To me) freed, came knowledge through the freedom; I knew: Destroyed
is rebirth, lived is the Brahma-life, done is what was to be done, there is no
beyond for this state of things. This was, brahmin, the third knowledge attained
by me in the third watch of the night. Ignorance was dispelled, knowledge arose,
darkness was dispelled, light arose...
The four ariyan truths can be known through vipassanå. How
could one know that nåma and rúpa are dukkha unless one is
mindful of their characteristics when they appear at the present
moment? Only thus will we know that they are impermanent and
dukkha, unsatisfactory. This kind of knowledge leads to the erad-ication
defilements..112 • Buddhism in Daily Life.• 113