Introduction to the Buddhist Scriptures
By Nina van Gorkom
General Aspects of Buddhism
In "The Buddha's Path", Volume I, I have explained the basic principles of the Buddha's teachings, and now, in this section, I would like to introduce the reader to the Buddhist scriptures which contain the teaching of the Buddha. I will quote more extensively from the texts with the aim to encourage the reader to study the texts himself. In that way he can verify himself that the Buddha's words were directed to the practice of what he taught, in particular to the development of right understanding of all phenomena of our life.
For the now following chapters I have used many ideas of the lectures for a radio program in Thailand by Ms. Sujin Boriharnwanaket. She quotes extensively from all three parts of the scriptures, explains their meaning and inspires people to relate them to their daily life. If we merely read the texts with the purpose of intellectual understanding, we fail to see the message they contain for our life at this moment and we do not understand the goal of the Buddha's teachings.
Abhidhamma in the Scriptures
We read in the "Kindred Sayings" (Salayatana Vagga, Kindred Sayings about Feeling, Book I, 7, Sickness):
Once the Exalted One was staying near Vesali, in Great Grove, at the Hall of the Peaked Gable.
Then the Exalted One at eventide rising from his solitude went to visit the sick-ward, and on reaching it sat down on a seat made ready. So seated the Exalted One addressed the monks, saying:--
"Monks, a monk should meet his end collected and composed . This is our instruction to you. And how, monks, is one collected?
Herein, monks, a monk dwells, contemplating the body in the body... feeling in the feeling... consciousness in consciousness... dhamma in dhamma, ardent, composed and thoughtful, having put away in this world the dejection arising from craving. Thus, monks, is a monk collected.
And how, monks, is a monk composed?
Herein, monks, in his going forth and in his returning a monk acts composedly. In looking in front and looking behind, he acts composedly. In bending or relaxing (his limbs) he acts composedly. In wearing his robe and bearing outer robe and bowl, in eating, drinking, chewing, and tasting he acts composedly. In easing himself, in going, standing, sitting, sleeping, waking, in speaking and keeping silence he acts composedly. Thus, monks, is a monk composed.
Monks, a monk should meet his end collected and composed. This is our instruction to you.
Now, monks, as that monk dwells collected, composed, earnest, ardent, strenuous, there arises in him feeling that is pleasant, and he thus understands: 'There is arisen in me this pleasant feeling. Now that is owing to something, not without cause. Owing to what? Owing to this same body. Now this body is impermanent, compounded, arisen owing to something. It is owing to this impermanent body, which has so arisen, that pleasant feeling has arisen as a consequence, and how can that be permanent?'
Thus he dwells contemplating impermanence in body and pleasant feeling, he dwells contemplating their transience, their waning, their ceasing, the giving of them up. As he thus dwells contemplating impermanence in body and pleasant feeling, contemplating their transience... the lurking tendency to lust for body and pleasant feeling is abandoned.
So also as regards painful feeling... the lurking tendency to repugnance for body and painful feeling is abandoned.
So also as regards neutral feeling... the lurking tendency to ignorance of body and neutral feeling is abandoned.
If he feels a pleasant feeling he understands: 'That is impermanent, I do not cling to it. It has no lure for me.' If he feels a painful feeling he understands likewise. So also if he feels a neutral feeling.
If he feels a pleasant feeling, he feels it as released from bondage to it.
So also, if he feels a painful feeling and a neutral feeling, he feels it as one released from bondage to it.
When he feels a feeling that his bodily endurance has reached its limit, he knows that he so feels. When he feels a feeling that life has reached its limit, he knows that he so feels. He understands: When body breaks up, after life is used up, all my experiences in this world will lose their lure and grow cold.
Just as, monks, because of oil and because of a wick a lamp keeps burning, but, when oil and wick are used up, the lamp would go out because it is not fed. Even so, monks, a monk, when he feels a feeling that his bodily endurance has reached its limit, that his life has reached its limit, when he feels a feeling that, when body breaks up, after life is used up, all his experience in this world will lose its lure and grow cold,- he knows that he so feels."
This sutta contains the essence of the Buddha's teaching: the development of satipatthana, right understanding of mental phenomena and physical phenomena, which leads to the eradication of all defilements. Just as a lamp will go out when oil and wick are used up the person who has eradicated defilements will not be reborn.
The Buddha taught about the realities which can be directly experienced in daily life when they appear, such as seeing, hearing, feeling, hardness or sound. All these phenomena are real in the absolute or ultimate sense. Absolute or ultimate truth is different from conventional truth . If one has never heard of the Buddha's teachings one only knows what is real in conventional sense. We think of ourselves and of the world around us, of people, animals, trees, and they seem to last. The world, person, animal or tree are real in conventional sense. The world and everything in it can only appear because consciousness arises just for a moment, thinks about it and then falls away immediately. Consciousness, in Pali : citta, is real in the absolute sense. The Buddha taught that in the absolute sense our life consists of mental phenomena, in Pali: nama, and physical phenomena, in Pali: rupa. Citta is nama, it experiences an object, whereas rupa does not experience anything. There are no mind and body which last and which belong to a self or person; what we take for our mind and body are only different namas and rupas, each with their own characteristic which can be experienced one at a time when it appears. They arise because of their appropriate conditions and then fall away immediately. They are impermanent and they do not belong to a self, they have no owner. There is only one citta arising at a time, but each citta is accompanied by several mental factors, in Pali: cetasikas. Both citta and cetasika are nama. Some cetasikas, such as feeling and remembrance accompany each citta, whereas unwholesome qualities such as attachment and aversion accompany only unwholesome cittas and wholesome qualities such as kindnes, generosity or understanding accompany wholesome cittas. Citta cannot arise without cetasikas and cetasikas cannot arise without citta, they condition one another. They arise together, experience the same object and then fall away together. Thus, what we call "person" is actually citta, cetasika and rupa which arise and fall away. Citta, cetasika and rupa are the three paramattha dhammas which are conditioned: they arise because of conditions and then fall away. There is a fourth paramattha dhamma which is unconditioned, which does not arise and fall away and this is nibbana. Nibbana is the reality which can only be experienced at the moment enlightenment is attained.
The development of right understanding of what is real in the ultimate sense is the only way leading to the eradication of defilements. When we study the scriptures, no matter whether it is the Vinaya, the Book of Discipline for the monks, the Suttanta or Discourses, or the Abhidhamma, we should never forget this goal. The Vinaya contains rules and guidelines for the monk's behaviour which can help him to reach perfection, the state of the arahat, who has eradicated all defilements. The Suttanta or Suttas are discourses of the Buddha to people of different levels of understanding at different places. In these discourses the Buddha speaks about birth, old age, sickness and death. He speaks about the suffering in the world and the cause of all suffering which is craving. He explains what is unwholesome and what is wholesome or beneficial, he points out the danger of defilements and the way to eradicate them by the development of understanding of all that is real. The Abhidhamma contains the description of all mental phenomena and physical phenomena of our life, their different conditioning factors and the way they are related to each other.
In the Abhidhamma all paramattha dhammas, ultimate realities, are enumerated and classified in detail, but also in the Suttas the Buddha explained about paramattha dhammas, about nama and rupa, in order to help people to gain understanding. The Suttas are mostly, but not entirely, in terms of conventional language. The Buddha knew the different accumulated inclinations of people and thus he chose the wording best suited to the persons addressed. He spoke to monks, laypeople, brahmins and philosophers who adhered to other beliefs. He made use of parables or of examples of events in daily life in order to help people to understand paramattha dhammas. Right understanding of paramattha dhammas should be developed in order to eliminate wrong view of realities. The study of the Abhidhamma helps us to have more understanding of what the Buddha taught in the suttas.
Not all people were ready to grasp what paramattha dhammas are, and therefore the Buddha would give them a "gradual discourse", or a discourse "in due order". We read, for example in the "Verses of Uplift" (Khuddaka Nikaya, Minor Anthologies), Ch V, 3, that, when the Buddha was staying near Rajagaha, in Bamboo Grove, a leper, named Suppabuddha, saw from afar that the Buddha was teaching dhamma to a great many people. He wanted to draw near the crowd, hoping to obtain some food. He noticed that there was no alms-giving, but that the Buddha was teaching dhamma and then he decided to listen. We read:
Now the Exalted One, grasping with his mind the thoughts of all that assembly, said to himself: Who, I wonder, of those present is of growth to understand dhamma? And the Exalted One saw Suppabuddha, the leper, sitting in that assembly, and at the sight he thought: This one here is of growth to understand dhamma. So for the sake of Suppabuddha, the leper, he gave a talk dealing in due order with these topics: on almsgiving, virtue, the heaven world, of the danger, meanness and corruption of sense-desires, and the profit of getting free of them.
And when the Exalted One knew that the heart of Suppabuddha, the leper, was ready, softened, unbiassed, elated and believing, then he unfolded those dhamma-teachings which the awakened ones have themselves discovered, namely: Dukkha, arising, ending, the Way.
Then just as a white cloth, free from stains, is ready to receive the dye, even so in Suppabuddha, the leper, as he sat there in that very seat, arose the pure, stainless dhamma-sight, the knowledge that whatsoever is of a nature to arise, that also is of a nature to end. And Suppabuddha, the leper, saw dhamma, reached dhamma, understood dhamma, plunged into dhamma, crossed beyond doubting, was free from all questionings, won confidence, and needing none other in the Master's message , rose from his seat, advanced to the Exalted One and sat down at one side....
Suppabuddha listened to the Buddha's exposition of the four noble Truths: dukkha, the cause of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha and the way leading to the cessation of dukkha which is the eightfold Path . While Suppabuddha listened he attained the first stage of enlightenment, the stage of the sotapanna. He could not have attained enlightenment if he had not known what dhammas, realities, are. While he was seeing and hearing he had to be aware of the namas and rupas which were appearing and he had to penetrate their true nature. He could attain enlightenment because he had accumulated wisdom also in past lives.
We cannot understand the deep meaning of the suttas if we have no basic understanding of the paramattha dhammas as they have been described in the Abhidhamma. We cannot understand what has been stated in this sutta about Suppabuddha's enlightenment if we do not know that citta, cetasika and rupa, thus, paramattha dhammas, are the objects of insight. Suppabuddha had to clearly know the difference between the characteristics of nama and rupa as they appeared one at a time, and he had to realize them as conditioned realities before he could penetrate their impermanence, their nature of dukkha and of non-self . It takes an endlessly long time, even many lives, to develop understanding. However, a moment of understanding is never lost, it is accumulated. In the Seventh Book of the Abhidhamma, the "Patthana", translated as "Conditional Relations", different types of conditions for realities have been taught. One of these is the contiguity-condition (anantara-paccaya): each citta which arises is a condition for the succeeding one by way of contiguity-condition. Defilements and good qualities which arose in the past, even in past lives, are accumulated from one moment of citta to the next one, since each citta conditions the following one by way of contiguity-condition. The Abhidhamma clarifies how we accumulate different inclinations and how they condition the cittas arising at the present time.
We read further on that Suppabuddha went away after having heard the discourse and was then killed by a calf. When the monks asked the Buddha about Suppabuddha's rebirth the Buddha explained that he was a sotapanna, bound for full enlightenment. A sotapanna cannot be reborn in an unhappy plane. The monks then asked why he was born as a poor, wretched leper. The Buddha answered that in a former life he had insulted a "Silent Buddha". Because of that deed he was reborn in hell and in his last life he was born as a leper. In that life he became a sotapanna and then he was reborn in a heavenly plane.
We read in this sutta about kamma which produces result, but it is a subject which is difficult to understand. The study of the Abhidhamma is most helpful to gain more understanding of the different conditions for the namas and rupas of our life, including the condition of kamma which produces vipaka. We have read in the above-quoted sutta about the result Suppabuddha received when a calf caused his death. Not only pain felt at an accident is vipaka, but also seeing, hearing and the other sense-impressions are vipaka. They are vipakacittas arising time and again in daily life. The Abhidhamma teaches in detail about all the different types of kusala cittas, of akusala cittas and of cittas which are neither kusala nor akusala, including vipakacittas, and about all the different cetasikas which accompany cittas. We learn about the different objects cittas experience through the senses and the mind-door, and about the defilements arising on account of what is experienced. Also in the suttas we read about the experience of objects through the senses and the defilements which arise, but without the study of the Abhidhamma we cannot fully understand the sutta texts. I will illustrate this with a quotation from another sutta. We read in the "Kindred Sayings" (IV, Salayatana Vagga, Kindred Sayings on Sense, Second Fifty, Ch 5, 98, Restraint) that the Buddha said to the monks:
I will teach you, monks, restraint and lack of restraint. Do you listen to it. And how, monks, is one unrestrained?
There are, monks, objects cognizable by the eye, objects desirable, pleasant, delightful and dear, passion-fraught, inciting to lust. If a monk be enamoured of them, if he welcome them, if he persist in clinging to them, thus should he understand: "I am falling back in profitable states. This was called 'falling back' by the Exalted One."
(the same is said with regard to the other sense-doors and the mind-door.)
And how, monks, is one restrained?
There are objects cognizable by the eye... If a monk be not enamoured of them, if he welcome them not, ... thus should he understand: "I am not falling back in profitable states. This was called 'not falling back' by the Exalted One." Thus, monks, is one restrained.
The Abhidhamma helps us to understand the different functions of cittas arising in a process of cittas which experience objects through the six doors. In a process of cittas which experience an object through one of the sense-doors there are moments of vipaka and there are kusala cittas or akusala cittas which arise on account of the object which is experienced. The cittas arising in such a process arise each because of their own conditions and in a fixed order; there is no self who can direct the arising of particular cittas. There is no self who is unrestrained or restrained. When we read about the monk who is enamoured of the objects experienced through eyes, ears, or through the other senses, we may not realize that we all have attachment time and again after seeing, hearing and the other sense-impressions. When we read the above-quoted sutta with understanding of different cittas arising in processes we will see that this sutta reminds us of our defilements arising in daily life, even at this moment. If we do not know that defilements and wholesome qualities are cetasikas, conditioned realities, we may take them for self. We may cling to a concept of self who is practising the eightfold Path, whereas in reality wholesome cetasikas are performing their functions. We read in the suttas about the exertion of energy or effort for what is wholesome and about right effort of the eightfold Path. If we do not know that effort is a cetasika which can arise with akusala citta as well as with kusala citta there are bound to be many misunderstandings concerning the development of kusala and in particular the development of the eightfold Path. We read, for example, in the "Gradual Sayings" (II, Book of the Fours, Ch II, 3, Effort) :
There are four right efforts, O monks. What four?
Herein, a monk rouses his will not to permit the arising of evil, unwholesome states that have not arisen- to abandon evil, unwholesome states already arisen- to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen- to maintain wholesome states already arisen and not allow them to disappear; he makes an effort (for it), stirs up his energy, exerts his mind and strives.
Someone may believe that whenever he tries to develop the eightfold Path there is right effort which is wholesome, but in reality there may be effort arising with akusala citta rooted in attachment, he may take effort for "my effort". Mindfulness arises because of its appropriate conditions, not by trying to make it arise. When awareness and right understanding of nama and rupa arise there is at that moment also right effort which accompanies the kusala citta. Thus, it is essential to study details of cetasikas which accompany the different types of citta. The study of the Abhidhamma can help us to have a more precise understanding of the realities of daily life.
Some people doubt whether the Abhidhamma is the Buddha's teaching. The commentator Buddhaghosa explains that the Buddha, at the attainment of enlightenment, penetrated the truth of all realities, and that he in the fourth week after his enlightenment contemplated the contents of the seven books of the Abhidhamma. He preached the Abhidhamma first to the devas of the heavenly plane of the "Thirtythree", headed by his mother. After that he conveyed the method of the Abhidhamma to Sariputta. Thus, the codified Abhidhamma litterature as we have it today goes back to the Buddha's chief disciple Sariputta. When we study the Abhidhamma and the suttas and compare them, we will notice that also numerous suttas are in terms of paramattha dhammas, dealing with the khandhas (aggregates), the elements, the sense-fields (ayatanas) and the cittas. Also the Vinaya deals with cittas and with many different degrees of defilements which can accompany citta. The Vinaya reminds the monk to scrutinize himself, to be aware also of akusala cittas. While the monk goes out to collect almsfood and while he accomplishes his daily tasks he should develop mindfulness and understanding of nama and rupa. All three parts of the Buddhist scriptures are in conformity with each other, they help people to develop right understanding of all realities, each in their own situation of life. Historical reasons may not cure doubts about the authenticity of the scriptures, but careful examination and consideration of the contents of the Buddhist teachings themselves can convince us of their authenticity and their immense value for the development of the way leading to freedom from all suffering.
When someone takes up the first book of the Abidhamma, the "Dhammasangani ", translated as "a Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethics", he may feel confused about the many classifications and enumerations of cittas, of their accompanying cetasikas and of rupas. These are not abstract categories just to be read and memorized, but they are realities which arise time and again in daily life. When they appear they can be objects of awareness and right understanding. The development of satipatthana, right understanding of nama and rupa as impermanent, dukkha and non-self, is the aim of the teaching of the Abhidhamma. The first book of the Abhidhamma should be read together with its commentary the "Atthasalini", translated in two volumes as "The Expositor". The great commentator Buddhaghosa, who lived in the sixth century A.D. , wrote this commentary. The footnotes of the translation of the first book of the Abhidhamma refer to the corresponding parts in its commentary, and the reader will see for himself that the commentary is most helpful for the correct understanding of the Abhidhamma . Buddhaghosa came from India to Sri Lanka where he edited and rendered into the Pali language ancient Singhalese commentaries he found there. The commentaries to most of the Buddhist scriptures are from his hand, but they are based on the ancient commentaries. The "Visuddhimagga", an encyclopedia of the teachings written by Buddhaghosa, which is translated as "The Path of Purification", and also the "Abhidhammattha Sangaha", a compendium of the Abhidhamma written by Anuruddha , are of great assistance for the understanding of the Abhidhamma.
In the above-quoted sutta on restraint and lack of restraint we read that the monk who is not enticed by pleasant objects is restrained. Someone may have restraint by temporarily suppressing his likes and dislikes, but when there are conditions for defilements they will arise again. Only through the development of right understanding of realities can there be restraint which is enduring. The development of satipatthana is exclusively the teaching of the Buddha and thus this is implied in all parts of the scriptures, also when it is not expressively mentioned. We read in the "Middle Length Sayings" (II, 97, Discourse with Dhananjani) that Sariputta taught the brahman Dhananjani when he was sick about the meditations which are the "Divine Abidings" of lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. With these meditations, when they are developed, jhana or absorption can be attained. However, jhana is not the goal of the Buddha's teachings. We read that the Buddha said to Sariputta:
"But why did you, Sariputta, although there was something further to be done, having established the brahman Dhananjani (only) in the less, in the Brahma-world, rising from your seat, depart?"
"It occurred to me, Lord: 'These brahmans are very intent on the Brahma-world. Suppose I were to show the brahman Dhananjani the way to companionship with Brahma?'"
"Sariputta, the brahman Dhananjani has died and has uprisen in the Brahma-world."
This sutta reminds us not to forget the goal of the Buddha's teachings, that is: the eradication of defilements through the development of satipatthana. We cannot understand any sutta if we do not begin to develop understanding of the nama or rupa which appears in our daily life. In the following sutta the importance is stressed of listening to the teachings, considering them and putting them into practice. We read in the "Kindred Sayings"(II, Nidana-vagga, Ch XX, Kindred Sayings on Parables, 7, The Drum-peg) that the Buddha said to the monks:
Once upon a time, monks, the Dasarahas had a kettle-drum called Summoner. As it began to split the Dasarahas fixed in ever another peg, until the time came that the Summoner's original drumhead had vanished and only the framework of pegs remained.
Even so, monks, will the monks become in the future. Those Suttantas uttered by the Tathagata, deep, deep in meaning, not of the world, dealing with the void, to these when uttered, they will not listen, they will not lend a ready ear, they will not bring to them an understanding heart, they will not deem those doctrines that which should be learnt by heart, that which should be mastered.
But those Suttantas which are made by poets, which are poetry, which are a manifold of words, a manifold of phrases, alien, the utterances of disciples, to these when uttered they will listen, they will lend a ready ear, they will bring an understanding heart, they will deem these doctrines that which should be learnt by heart, which should be mastered. Thus it is, monks, that the Suttantas uttered by the Tathagata, deep, deep in meaning, not of the world, dealing with the void, will disappear.
Wherefore, monks, you are thus to train yourselves:-- To these very Suttantas will we listen, will we give a ready ear, to these will we bring an understanding heart. And we will deem these doctrines that which should be learnt by heart, and mastered:-- even thus.
The Buddha's teachings will disappear by wrong understanding of them and by wrong practice. Today we are fortunate that we still have access to the teachings. Therefore, we should not neglect to study them and to put them into practice.
The Long Road towards Clear Understanding
The Buddha had at his enlightenment penetrated the four noble Truths. He had become a Fully Enlightened One who could teach the truth to others and show them the Path leading to the eradication of defilements. In the scriptures we read about countless monks, nuns and laypeople, who listened to the Buddha and also penetrated the four noble Truths. They could do so because they had already during innumerable lives accumulated right understanding of all realities appearing through the six doors. We read time and again in the scriptures that the Buddha explained about the objects which are experienced through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. We read, for example, in the "Kindred Sayings" (V, Maha-vagga, Book XII, Kindred Sayings about the Truths, Ch II, 4, Sphere of Sense) that the Buddha said:
Monks, there are these four ariyan truths. What four? The ariyan truth about dukkha, that about the arising of dukkha, that about the ceasing of dukkha, and the ariyan truth about the practice that leads to the ceasing of dukkha.
And what, monks, is the ariyan truth about dukkha?
Dukkha, it should be said, is the six personal spheres of sense. What six?
The sense-sphere of the eye, of the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body, the mind. This, monks, is called "the ariyan truth about dukkha."
And what, monks, is the ariyan truth about the arising of dukkha?
It is that craving that leads back to rebirth, along with the lure and the lust that linger longingly now here, now there: namely, the craving for sensual delight, the craving to be born again, the craving for existence to end. This is the ariyan truth about the arising of dukkha.
And what, 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. This is the ariyan truth about the ceasing of dukkha.
And what, monks, is the ariyan truth about the practice that leads to the ceasing of dukkha?
Verily it is this ariyan eightfold way, to wit: right view, right thinking, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is the ariyan truth about the practice that leads to the ceasing of dukkha.
These, monks, are the four ariyan truths. Wherefore, an effort must be made to realize: This is dukkha. This is the arising of dukkha. This is the ceasing of dukkha. This is the practice that leads to the ceasing of dukkha.
"Sphere of sense" is the translation of the Pali term "ayatana". We read in the "Book of Analysis" (Vibhanga), the second book of the Abhidhamma , in Chapter 3, "Analysis of the Bases", about the twelve ayatanas, here translated as "bases". They are: the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body, the mind, visible object, sound, odour, flavour, tangible object and mind-object. The ayatana of the mind includes all cittas. Thus, nama and rupa can be classified in several ways and the classification by way of ayatanas is one of them. In this section of the "Book of Analysis", in 1, "Analysis according to the Discourses", it is said of each of the bases that it is "impermanent, dukkha, non-self, a changeable thing". This is a reminder that the ayatanas are objects of insight, otherwise their true nature cannot be penetrated. Here we see again that the Abhidhamma points to the goal, the development of right understanding.
Some people find it monotonous that in the scriptures it has been stressed again and again that the realities appearing through the six doors should be understood. There are no other realities besides those which appear one at a time through the sense-doors and the mind-door. The Buddha repeatedly spoke about those realities for fortyfive years so that people would begin to be mindful of them. We know that seeing is different from hearing, but when they actually appear we are ignorant of them. Citta arises and falls away very quickly; it seems that seeing and hearing occur at the same time, but in reality this is impossible. There can only be one citta at a time which experiences one object. The Buddha taught again and again about the realities appearing through the six doors in order to remind us of them; we are most of the time forgetful of them when they appear. We are absorbed in thinking of what we saw or heard, of concepts which are not real in the absolute sense, instead of developing understanding of absolute realities such as seeing, hearing or thinking.
We read in the above-quoted sutta about craving which is the second noble Truth. Craving for all the objects we experience arises time and again because it has been accumulated. We are not only attached to visible object, sound and the other sense-objects we experience, but also to seeing, hearing and the experiences through the other doors. We read in the sutta about a threefold craving: craving for sensual delight (kama-tanha), for becoming (bhava-tanha) and for non-becoming (vibhava-tanha) . Even when someone is not attached to sense-pleasures he may be attached to jhana or absorption concentration and rebirth in higher planes of existence which is the result of jhana. Then there is craving for becoming. This kind of craving may be without wrong view or with wrong view. When it is accompanied by wrong view it is clinging to eternity-belief, the belief in the existence of a persisting personality. The craving for non-becoming is always accompanied by wrong view, it is clinging to annihilation, the belief that there is annihilation at death.
So long as there is any form of clinging there are conditions for the continuation of the cycle of birth and death and thus there will be dukkha. The sutta exhorts us to develop the eightfold Path since this leads to the end of dukkha. Before the truth of dukkha can be realized right understanding of nama and rupa has to be developed stage by stage, and this is an endlessly long process. Also the Buddha had to accumulate understanding very gradually during his lives as a Bodhisatta before he could realize the four noble Truths. We read in the "Gradual Sayings" (I, Book of the Threes, Ch XI, Enlightenment, 101, Before) that the Buddha said:
Before my enlightenment, monks, when I was yet but a Bodhisat, this occurred to me: What, I wonder, is the satisfaction in the world, what is the misery in the world, what is the escape therefrom?
Then, monks, this occurred to me: That condition in the world owing to which pleasure arises, owing to which arises happiness,- that is the satisfaction in the world. That impermanence, that suffering, that changeability in the world,- that is the misery in the world. That restraint, that riddance of desire and passion in the world,- that is the escape therefrom.
So long, monks, as I did not thoroughly comprehend, as it really is, the satisfaction in the world as such, the misery in the world as such, the escape therefrom as such, so long did I not discern the meaning of being enlightened with perfect enlightenment unsurpassed in the world with it devas, its Maras and Brahmas, together with the host of recluses and brahmins, of devas and mankind. But, monks, when I fully comprehended, as it really is, the satisfaction in the world as such, the misery in the world as such, the escape therefrom as such,- then did I discern the meaning of being enlightened in the world... Then did knowledge and insight arise in me, thus: Sure is my heart's release. This is my last birth. Now is there no more becoming again.
Seeking satisfaction in the world, monks, I had pursued my way. That satisfaction in the world I found. In so far as satisfaction existed in the world, by insight I saw it well. Seeking for the misery in the world, monks, I had pursued my way. That misery in the world I found. In so far as misery existed in the world, by insight I saw it well. Seeking for the escape from the world, monks, I had pursued my way. That escape from the world I found. In so far as escape from the world existed, by insight I saw it well....
With regard to the words, "Seeking satisfaction in the world, monks, I had pursued my way", the commentary to this sutta (the Manorathapurani) states: "Ever since the time when he was the brahmin Sumedha." Aeons and aeons ago the Buddha was born as the brahmin prince Sumedha. During that life he made the resolve to become a Buddha in the future. We read in the above quoted sutta, "That satisfaction in the world I found. In so far as satisfaction existed in the world, by insight I saw it well." The Buddha had to develop as a Bodhisatta right understanding of all realities, also of his defilements. He did not avoid being aware of sense-pleasures.
We read in the "Chronicle of the Buddhas"(II A, Account of Sumedha, Khuddaka Nikaya, Buddhavamsa, translated in "The Minor Anthologies of the Pali Canon, Part III) that Sumedha who lived in great luxury, decided to retire from worldly life in order to seek the way to the end of the cycle of birth and death. We read (vs. 7- 10):
Sitting in seclusion I thought thus then: "Again-becoming is dukkha, also the breaking up of the physical frame.
Liable to birth, liable to ageing, liable to disease am I then; I will seek the peace that is unageing, undying, secure.
Suppose I, casting aside this putrid body filled with various ordures, should go indifferent, unconcerned?
There is, there must be that Way; it is impossible for it not to be. I shall seek that Way for the utter release from becoming....
When he saw people clearing a way for the Buddha Dipankara he also helped clearing a section of the road. We read (vs. 52-57):
Loosening my hair, spreading my bark-garments and piece of hide there in the mire, I lay down prone.
"Let the Buddha go treading on me with his disciples. Do not let him tread in the mire- it will be for my welfare."
While I was lying on the earth it was thus in my mind: If I so wished I could burn up my defilements today.
What is the use while I (remain) unknown of realizing dhamma here? Having reached omniscience, I will become a Buddha in the world with the devas.
What is the use of my crossing over alone, being a man aware of my strength? Having reached omniscience, I will cause the world together with the devas to cross over.
By this act of merit of mine towards the supreme among men I will reach omniscience, I will cause many people to cross over.
Cutting through the stream of samsara , shattering the three becomings , embarking in the ship of Dhamma , I will cause the world with the devas to cross over....
The Buddha Dipankara declared Sumedha to be a future Buddha. Sumedha reflected on the ten perfections he had to accumulate from life to life. He renewed his resolution to become a Buddha many times during the lives he met other Buddhas who came after the Buddha Dipankara. He had to listen to the Dhamma preached by them, he had to consider carefully what he heard and he had to be aware of nama and rupa over and over again.
When we read about the Bodhisatta who had to accumulate right understanding from life to life, we can be reminded that we cannot expect to realize the four noble Truths within a short time. It is difficult to penetrate the truth that all conditioned namas and rupas are arising and falling away and that they are thus dukkha. Just a moment ago sound impinged on the earsense, but it is already gone. Seeing, hearing, hardness appear, but they disappear immediately. Thinking about the impermanence of realities is not the same as realizing their arising and falling away as they appear one at a time. Before panna reaches the stage of insight which is the direct experience of the arising and falling away of nama and rupa, their different characteristics have to be distinguished. There must be awareness of rupa which appears as rupa, and awareness of nama which appears as nama. So long as one confuses their different characteristics one will keep on taking them for self.
In the "Discourse on the Sixfold Cleansing"(Middle Length Sayings III, 112) the Buddha speaks about a monk who declares "profound knowledge", who states that he has reached the end of birth, thus, that he is an arahat. The Buddha said that he might be questioned about his understanding so that one knows whether he speaks the truth. In this sutta we read about all realities appearing through the six doors which are the objects of right understanding, no matter whether someone is a beginner on the Path or an arahat.
We read that the Buddha said to the monks that one may ask the monk who states that he is an arahat the following question:
Your reverence, these four modes of statement have been rightly pointed out by that Lord who knows and sees, perfected one, fully Self-Awakened One. What four? That which when seen is spoken of as seen, that which when heard is spoken of as heard, that which when sensed is spoken of as sensed, that which when cognised is spoken of as cognised .
The Buddha said that the monk might be questioned as to what he knows and sees in respect to these "four modes of statement", so that he can say that he is freed from the "cankers" with no grasping remaining. We read that that monk would be in accordance with dhamma were he to say:
"I, your reverences, not feeling attracted to things seen... heard... sensed... cognised, not feeling repelled by them, independent, not infatuated, freed, released, dwell with a mind that is unconfined. So, your reverences, as I know thus, see thus in repect of these four modes of statement, I can say that my mind is freed from the cankers with no grasping (remaining)."
The Buddha said that the monks should rejoice in that monk's words and approve of them. Then a further question might be asked and this concerns his knowledge of the five khandhas or aggregates, here referred to as the "groups of grasping". We read that that monk would be in accordance with dhamma were he to say:
"I, your reverences, having known that material shape (rupa)... feeling... perception(sanna) ... the habitual tendencies (sankharakkhandha, all cetasikas other than feeling and perception) ... consciousness, is of little strength, fading away, comfortless; by the destruction, fading away, stopping, giving up and casting out of grasping after and hankering after material shape... feeling... perception... the habitual tendencies... consciousness which are mental dogmas, biases and tendencies, I comprehend that my mind is freed...."
We then read that the person who declares himself to be an arahat might be questioned about the six elements of extension (or solidity), cohesion, radiation (temperature, appearing as heat or cold), motion , space and consciousness . Further on we read that the monk who declares himself to be an arahat might be questioned about his understanding of the twelve ayatanas, sense-fields. After that we read that he might be questioned about the tendency to pride. Pride or conceit is eradicated at the attainment of the fourth stage of enlightenment, the stage of the arahat. It cannot be eradicated at the attainment of the first three stages of enlightenment.
We then read about the monk's life of non-violence and fewness of wishes, and of his observance of purity of sila, his moral conduct in speech and deeds. We read about his "guarding of the six doors" through mindfulness:
If I saw visible object with the eye I was not entranced by the general appearance, I was not entranced by the detail. If I dwelt with this organ of sight uncontrolled, covetousness and dejection, evil unskilled states, might flow in. So I fared along controlling it, I guarded the organ of sight, I achieved control over it...
The same is said with regard to the other doorways. There is no self who can control the sense-doors, but at the moment of awareness there is no akusala citta on account of the objects presenting themselves. Further on we read about the monk's mindfulness in any situation, no matter what he is doing or what his posture is: walking, standing, sitting or lying down. We read, "I was one who comported myself properly", and this refers to mindfulness and right understanding of realities which appear. We then read about his attainment of the "four meditations", namely the four stages of rupa- jhana, fine-material absorption. Only the person who has accumulations for the attainment of jhana can attain it, but he should not take his attainment for self, he should not cling to jhana. The attainment of jhana is not a necessary condition for the development of vipassana and enlightenment. Further on we read that the monk said:
"Thus with the mind composed, quite purified, quite clarified, without blemish, without defilement, grown soft and workable, stable, immovable, I directed my mind to the knowledge of the destruction of the cankers. I understood as it really is: This is dukkha... this the arising of dukkha... this the stopping of dukkha... this the course leading to the stopping of dukkha. I understood as it really is: These are the cankers... this is the arising of the cankers... this the stopping of the cankers... this the course leading to the stopping of the cankers. When I knew and saw this thus, my mind was freed from the canker of the sense-pleasures and my mind was freed from the canker of becoming and my mind was freed from the canker of ignorance. In freedom the knowledge came to be that I was freed and I comprehended: Destroyed is birth, brought to a close the Brahma-faring, done is what was to be done, there is no more of being such or so. So, your reverences, as I know thus, see thus, in respect of this consciousness-informed body and all external phenomena, I can say that my tendency to pride that 'I am the doer, mine is the doer' has been properly extirpated"....
This sutta reminds us of the conditions which are necessary for the attainment of enlightenment. The objects of which right understanding is to be developed are so near: the five khandhas, the "sense-fields" or ayatanas, the elements, all the objects which impinge time and again on the six doors, but we have accumulated such an amount of ignorance. It is a long road, but even a short moment of awareness and understanding are worth while because then there are conditions for having less ignorance.
We read in the above-quoted sutta that the monk, when he saw visible object, was not entranced by the general appearance nor by the detail. Seeing is a reality different from paying attention to the general appearance and the details of something. After seeing has fallen away we think of concepts of people and things. Concepts are not real in the ultimate sense and thus they are not objects of which right understanding is to be developed, but thinking is real and thus there can be awareness of it. We should not try to be aware only of seeing and avoid being aware of thinking, be it thinking with kusala citta or with akusala citta. We read in the "Theragatha" (Psalms of the Brothers of the Khuddaka Nikaya), in Canto IV, 186, about the "Elder" Nagasamala who developed mindfulness and right understanding naturally, also when he was walking for almsfood. On his way he noticed a girl who was dancing. We read:
Bedecked with trinkets and with pretty frock,
Wreathed with flowers, raddled with sandal wood,
In the main street, before the multitude
A nautch girl danced to music's fivefold sound.
Into the city I had gone for alms,
And passing I beheld the dancer decked
In brave array, like snare of Mara laid.
Thereat arose in me the deeper thought:
Attention to the fact and to the cause.
The misery of it all was manifest;
Distaste, indifference the mind possessed.
And so my heart was set at liberty.
O see the seemly order of the Dhamma!
The Threefold Wisdom have I made my own,
And all the Buddha bids me do is done.
Nagasamala could not help noticing the girl who was dancing, but he had wise attention to all realities of his daily life, he realized them as impermanent, dukkha and non-self. He had developed all stages of insight and because of his accumulated wisdom he could attain the stage of arahatship.
We may find it difficult to be mindful when we watch on T.V. different events such as a person who is dancing or singing, or when we are engaged in conversation with other people. However, this story reminds us that we should not look for particular situations we believe to be favorable for mindfulness. Whatever situation we are in is conditioned already, and, no matter where we are, there are realities appearing through six doors: the khandhas, ayatanas or elements. In being aware of any reality which naturally appears, we take one little step on the long road to clear understanding.