Deeds of Merit
By Sujin Boriharnwanaket.
Translated by Nina van Gorkom
(This book is not yet published in print form)
Mental Development (Bhaavanaa)
W. : We all have experienced that desirable things to which we cling and which give us happiness and pleasure are bound to cause sorrow and unpleasant feeling when they change, when they decline and come to an end. The Buddha taught that suffering, sorrow and misery originate in desire and that if one is free from desire there will not be suffering, sorrow and misery. This shows us that when we like something there is clinging, we wish that object to give us happiness and security. Clinging is dangerous, it is destructive to our life, because when there is clinging there will be fear. So long as there is clinging to life, there will be, for the ordinary people (who have not attained enlightenment) fear and dread where it concerns their life. Those who are attached to life will fear adversity in the form of poverty, loss of possessions, dishonour, blame, all those things which cause suffering.
The Dhamma the Buddha taught is like a medicine which cures mental disease. It will definitely cure the disease which is fear of the different adversities and dangers in life. The Buddha taught about kamma: if you do what is good, you will, in return, receive what is good, and if you do evil, you will, in return, receive what is evil. If people practise this teaching they will not worry or fear that the good deeds they have done will not bring good results. The reason why people generally worry day in day out is that, although they have not done good deeds, they wish to receive what is good. Or they worry because they have done evil deeds, but they do not wish to receive the results of those evil deeds.
As regards kamma, the deeds we have done, the Buddha taught us to practise right livelihood, that is, to make a living in the right way, so that danger and fear are eliminated which are caused by wrong livelihood. The Buddha taught us to develop any kind of kusala kamma according to our ability and inclination. We will now deal with the kind of meritorious action which is mental development, bhaavanaa. In the Thai language we use the word bhaavanaa in the sense of wishing something or praying. For example, when there is drought, we apply ourselves to bhaavanaa, wishing that it will rain. Or when it rains, we apply ourselves to bhaavanaa, wishing that the rain will quickly stop. Is this kind of bhaavanaa one of the meritorious actions?
S. : Applying oneself to bhaavanaa, wishing that it will rain or that the rain will stop is not the meritorious action of bhaavanaa. All meritorious actions are actually the elimination of the strength of defilements, stage by stage. First of all there is the level of kusala which is daana, the abandoning of clinging to possessions by giving away things for the benefit of someone else. Moreover, there is the level of kusala which is siila, the elimination of coarse defilements which cause evil deeds through body and speech, by which one hurts or harms other people. Then there is the level of kusala which is bhaavanaa, mental development. This includes samatha, the development of calm by the temporary subduing of medium defilements [33 as well as vipassanaa, the development of pa~n~naa which can, stage by stage, eradicate the subtle defilements completely.
W. : Therefore, bhaavanaa is, to a greater extent than the levels of kusala which are daana and siila, a means to eliminate defilements.
S. : That is true. In the case of daana, when we prepare things which we will give away, akusala citta can arise in between. Do you agree?
W. : This can happen. When I prepare food and other things I shall offer to the monks, it may happen that I cannot find the fruits which are as ripe as I wish them to be. Sometimes when I want to give packages of different things I notice that they are not complete because I forgot things, and I have to return home. Then I am annoyed. Thus we can see that while we give away things there are not all the time kusala cittas. Sometimes akusala citta with dosa arises more often than kusala citta. As regards siila, is it true that bhaavanaa eliminates defilements more than the level of kusala which is siila?
S. : When you, in a competition, win from someone else, are you glad?
W. : I am glad. If I, only by myself, am the winner, it is just me who is glad. But if our group of supporters is on the winning side, such as in a match, I am even more glad, because there are several people who share in the joy.
S. : When you win and you are glad, you find yourself important at that moment, while you are thinking, I am the winner.
W. : That is true. At such a moment I find it important that I really am the winner.
S. : When you, at that moment, find it important that you are the winner, there is conceit. Conceit may be coarse or more subtle. There is coarse conceit when one despises others because one finds oneself better, and shows this in action and speech. One can eliminate coarse conceit by showing respect when respect is due towards other people and at certain places. However, there may still be conceit in other ways, conceit which is not as strong as despising others by ones actions and speech. Such conceit may arise when one is glad because one is the winner. Therefore, siila is the way to eliminate coarse defilements, samatha is the way to subdue medium defilements, whereas vipassanaa, the development of insight, eradicates subtle defilements.
W. : Samatha and vipassanaa are meritorious actions included in mental development, bhaavanaa, but they are different in as far as samatha subdues medium defilements and vipassanaa eradicates subtle defilements. Why are both samatha and vipassanaa meritorious actions included in mental development?
S. : Both samatha and vipassanaa are included in the meritorious action of bhaavanaa because they eliminate akusala dhammas which are not as strong as to condition evil actions through body and speech. For example, when you are glad because you have won from someone else and you find yourselves important, there is akusala citta. When the citta is unhappy or slightly annoyed, it is akusala citta, even though the akusala does not appear to others. When one sees the disadvantage of all akusala dhammas which, even if they are not of the degree to condition bad actions through body or speech, still cause the citta to be impure, one will apply oneself to mental development. One will do so with the purpose of eliminating all akusala dhammas, of weakening their strength, until they are completely eradicated.
W. : Has the word bhaavanaa as we use it in Thai any connection with what is meant by mental development in religious sense?
S. : There is some connection. When someone applies himself to the meritorious action of bhaavanaa, mental development, he may recollect time and again subjects which are the condition for the citta to be kusala, until the result of the kind of bhaavanaa he applies himself to has been attained. In Thai one uses the word bhaavanaa when the citta concentrates and thinks continuously, all the time, of a result one wishes to obtain.
W. : There are two kinds of bhaavanaa: samatha and vipassanaa. Since that is the case, the results of these two kinds must be different.
S. : That is true. For the development of samatha which leads to calm and steadiness of citta, one must recollect only subjects of meditation which are the condition for the citta to be ever more firmly established in calm, so that different degrees of samaadhi, concentration, can be attained.
W. : Is the citta which attains calm not called jhaanacitta?
S. : Jhaanacitta is the kusala citta accompanied by pa~n~naa which has reached the degree of attainment concentration, appanaa samaadhi [34. This citta is accompanied by calm, it is steadfast and firmly concentrated on only one object which is experienced through the mind-door. That citta does not experience any other object through eyes, ears, nose, tongue or bodysense.
W. : Since that is so, jhaana is different from other kinds of concentration, such as the concentration some people use while speaking special words to cure sickness, or concentration by which someone can see where particular things are, such as a Buddha statue which is buried under the earth, or the concentration of fortune tellers who know where things which were lost are. These kinds of concentration are not jhaana.
S. : These types of concentration are more like concentration of a beginning phase. Such concentration is not connected with kusala citta which develops samatha, thus it is not one of the meritorious actions. Therefore it is not samaadhi which has reached the level of jhaana.
W. : It is already most difficult to have kusala citta with calm just for a very short moment. The development of samatha to the degree of kusala citta with calm which has reached the stage of jhaana must be much more difficult.
S. : If someone wants to apply himself to the development of kusala citta with calm to the degree of attainment concentration, which is jhaana, he must have a detailed knowledge of samatha bhaavanaa. He must know which meditation subject he should recollect, and how he should do this with kusala citta accompanied by pa~n~naa, so that there is true calm and he can reach different levels of samaadhi, concentration. He should also know that there are different types of persons who develop kusala citta with calm and that these types of persons can, accordingly, attain different levels of calm. All this is very intricate. Do you wish to develop samatha to the degree of jhaana?
W. : One needs to study this subject in great detail, and, moreover, jhaana can only temporarily subdue defilements. Therefore, I prefer to develop insight, vipassanaa. Vipassanaa can eradicate defilements completely, so that they never arise again.
S. : It is still necessary to discuss samatha bhaavanaa, because we should know the difference between the level of bhaavanaa which is the temporary subduing of defilements by calm and the level which is the complete eradication of defilements.
W. : Even if we do not intend to develop calm to the degree of the different levels of samaadhi we can still frequently recollect in our daily life meditation subjects which condition calm and purity of citta, so that defilements are subdued and do not arise at such moments. We can make this into a habit so that it becomes our natural inclination. Can we call this the development of calm?
S.: Certainly. The frequent recollection of subjects which condition calm of citta is a way to prevent defilements from arising. But the degree of calm depends on awareness and understanding of the characteristic of the kusala citta with calm which is different from akusala citta. One should also know how conditions for higher degrees of calm can be developed.
W. : Not just any subject of recollection is suitable for the arising of kusala citta with calm. Some objects of thinking cause us to be absorbed with clinging and then there is certainly no calm. At times we think of something which makes us disturbed; we wish to possess it and try with all our energy to acquire it. For example, we may wish to have something special, such as a beautiful cloth; we keep on thinking of it and decide to buy just that. How can we in such situations recollect a subject which is the condition for kusala citta with calm?
S.: For the development of calm there are forty meditation subjects. If these subjects are often recollected they can be the condition for the development of calm. In that way calm will become firmly established so that the level of samaadhi will be reached. These forty subjects are called samatha kamma~n~nhaana, exercises of meditation in samatha.
These subjects have to be distinguished as to the different degrees of samaadhi they can condition. Some of them can be the condition only for the degree of access concentration, upacaara samaadhi, the concentration which is only approaching jhaana, not yet the degree of appanaa samaadhi, attainment concentration, which is jhaana. Some subjects can be the condition only for attainment concentration of the first stage of jhaana. Whereas some subjects are the condition for the first up to the fourth stage of jhaana. Other subjects can lead only to the fifth stage of jhaana. Other subjects again are the condition for the first up to the fifth stage of jhaana.
Some subjects which are recollected by kusala citta and which can be the condition for calm to the degree of access concentration but not to the degree of jhaana, have to be distinguished as to the types of people for whom they are suitable.
W. : As regards the meditation subjects which are recollected by kusala citta and which can accordingly be the condition for different degrees of samaadhi, I find all this very subtle and detailed. One must really study this subject in order to understand it and one must really develop samatha in the right way, without misleading oneself, for the attainment of calm which is firmly established, that is to say, the different degrees of samaadhi.
Which subject among the forty meditation subjects do you think we should recollect in our daily life? Which subjects are suitable as a condition for the development of calm with the purpose of subduing defilements? This is another level of kusala besides the levels of daana, generosity, and siila, morality.
S. : The monks are accustomed to practise continuously, for a long time, four meditation subjects of samatha, in order to have calm of citta and to subdue defilements which can disturb them. Laypeople can also practise these four meditation subjects. The Dhamma and the Vinaya which the monks practise can also be applied by layfollowers in their own situation, as a means of subduing defilements.
W. : What are these four meditation subjects?
S. : Recollection of the excellent qualities of the Buddha, the development of mettaa (loving kindness), perception of repulsiveness and mindfulness of death.
W. : Before going to sleep we praise the excellent qualities of the Buddha by reciting the words: Itipi so bhagavaa: -araha~n, sammaasambuddho, vijjaa cara~nasampanno, sugato, lokaviduu, anuttaro purisadamma-saarathi, satthaa devamanussaana~n, buddho, bhagavaa tii. This means: That Blessed One is such since he is accomplished, fully enlightened, endowed with (clear) vision and (virtuous) conduct, sublime, the knower of the worlds, the incomparable leader of men to be tamed, the teacher of gods and men, enlightened and blessed. Is this a way of mental development which is calm?
S. : The recitation we do every night before going to sleep is the paying of respect to the Buddha. This is a meritorious action of the level of siila, because it is kusala performed through body and speech. But for kusala citta with calm of the level of samatha it is not sufficient to merely recite words, but it is also necessary to recollect, to ponder over the excellent qualities of the Buddha.
W. : In which way can I recollect the excellent qualities of the Buddha?
S. : We can recollect the wisdom of the Buddha by which he attained enlightenment. We can recollect the purity of the Buddha who completely eradicated all defilements. We can recollect the great compassion of the Buddha who taught the Dhamma in manifold ways with the purpose of helping all living beings. At the moment we recollect the excellent qualities of the Buddha there is kusala citta with calm, which is free from defilements, because we do not think of other things which can cause the arising of defilements. The citta which recollects the qualities of the Buddha is pure and it is inclined to practise the Dhamma as it has been taught by the Buddha. At such moments the citta is gentle, one will not hurt or harm someone else. There is mettaa and benevolence, one wishes happiness for everybody. When we are developing the inclination to mettaa and benevolence for others we should take care not to be absorbed in pleasant objects [35. We can prevent this by considering the foulness of the body, both of ourselves and of others [36. If we neglect considering this we may go the wrong way and have attachment and infatuation instead of pure loving kindness. In order to prevent the citta to pursue objects which are pleasant and lead to infatuation, we should recollect death which will come certainly. Nobody knows when death will come, whether it will come after a long time or very soon. If we always recollect death it will help us more and more not to be neglectful of kusala. The opportunity for birth as a human being is very rare and therefore we should develop every poassible kind of kusala.
W. : Summarizing our conversation, I conclude that there are, apart from daana and siila, other ways of developing kusala, namely, those kinds of kusala which are included in bhaavanaa. When the citta is not intent on daana, siila or bhaavanaa, it is akusala citta.
In daily life it is difficult to develop calm to the level of attainment concentration, which is jhaana. However, there is still a way to prevent the citta from thinking of things which cause the arising of defilements. We can think of subjects which are the condition for purity of citta. These subjects are: recollection of the excellent qualities of the Buddha, the development of mettaa, consideration of the foulness of the body and mindfulness of death.
If we see the disadvantage and danger of all degrees of defilements, and if we try to develop kusala with the purpose of eliminating all these degrees of defilements, it is beneficial to consider the topics of the discussion we just had.
The Elimination of Different Degrees of Defilements
W. : As we have seen, meritorious actions can be classified as threefold: generosity, morality and mental development. The third kind of meritorious action, mental development or bhaavanaa, includes both samatha, the development of calm, and vipassanaa, the development of insight. For laypeople it is most difficult to develop in daily life samatha to the degree of attainment concentration, appanaa samaadhi, which is jhaana. However, they can still develop calm by recollecting time and again specific meditation subjects which condition calm and purity of citta. These subjects are: the recollection of the excellent qualities of the Buddha, the development of mettaa, consideration of the foulness of the body and mindfulness of death.
As regards kusala which is vipassanaa, why can its development lead to the complete eradication of defilements?
S. : The development of vipassanaa, insight, can eliminate the strength of defilements until they are completely eradicated at the different stages of enlightenment. In vipassanaa pa~n~naa is developed which understands the true characteristics of the realities which are appearing at the present moment.
W. The Dhamma which the Buddha taught explains the characteristics of all realities the Buddha himself penetrated when he attained enlightenment. Can we not say that the study of the Dhamma as taught by the Buddha is the knowledge of the characteristics o all realities?
S. : The understanding which stems from the study of the Dhamma and from listening is theoretical understanding. It can, for those who never heard the Dhamma before or had no knowledge about the characteristics of realities, only eliminate ignorance of the teachings, and wrong understanding about them. However, theoretical understanding cannot eradicate defilements, because it is not pa~n~naa which directly penetrates the true characteristics of the realities which are appearing even at this very moment.
W. : When there is decline and change, no matter whether it concerns ourselves or other people, when there is pain, sickness and dying, or when things break up and are destroyed, we experience that there is impermanence, dukkha (suffering) and anattaa (non-self). Can we call this level of understanding the understanding of the Dhamma, of the true characteristics of realities and can this understanding lead to the complete eradication of defilements? We know when things have the nature of dukkha, impermanence and anattaa.
S. : Such kind of understanding cannot lead to the complete eradication of defilements. Pa~n~naa of that level does not penetrate the characteristics of the realities which are non-self, which are arising and falling away and have the nature of dukkha, at each moment, even at this very moment.
W. : Your words remind me of disease and death. We are confronted with death for example when we read in the newspaper about people who died of a disease or an accident. When we visit people in hospital and we see all those who are sick and have to suffer different diseases or when we go to cremations, we face suffering and in those situations we are not absorbed in pleasure. However, our defilements, namely lobha (attachment), dosa (aversion) and moha (ignorance), are still there, they have not lost any of their strength.
S. : There are different degrees of defilements, they can be coarse, medium or subtle. Coarse defilements appear when we perform unwholesome deeds through body or speech. As to medium defilements, we can notice these when different kinds of them arise with the citta. Other people may not notice the arising of our medium defilements since we, at such moments, do not perform akusala through body or speech, but when a specific type of defilement arises with the citta we ourselves can know it.
W. : People may sit still or they may be lying down without doing anything, but their cittas are still active. They may think of different subjects and on account of these like or dislike arises. Or when we see or hear something, like, dislike, avarice or jealousy arise within ourselves. Nobody would notice the unwholesome qualities of someone else so long as the person in question does not do anything by action or speech which harms others. These unwholesome qualities must be medium defilements. Why are they medium defilements and not coarse defilements?
S. : They are medium defilements, they are not as strong as coarse defilements.
W. : Jealousy which has arisen and merely causes the citta not to rejoice in or appreciate someone elses good deeds which should be appreciated, must be medium defilement. It appears, and thus it can be known, but it is not the condition for the committing of akusala kamma through body or speech. However, if strong jealousy arises it can be the condition for lying. We often read in the newspaper about people who injure each other because of jealousy, and this happens most of all in the relationship of husband and wife who jealously guard each other. Jealousy of such degree is already coarse defilement because it is the condition for doing harm through body and speech. When we notice coarse defilements and medium defilements we can understand them. But when do subtle defilements arise and how can we know them?
S. : So long as one has not become an ariyan (an enlightened person) one cannot eradicate defilements completely. Subtle defilements are still dormant in the citta all the time as latent tendencies. Even when we are asleep or when we perform generous deeds, observe siila or develop calm, there are still subtle defilements.
W. : It is right to call them subtle defilements, because even when we develop kusala of the degree of daana, siila or samatha they are still there as latent tendencies. Can subtle defilements become weaker when we perform daana, observe siila and develop samatha?
S. : When we perform deeds of generosity, observe siila or develop samatha defilements are subdued depending on the degree of kusala which is performed. At those very moments they do not arise and thus there is no further accumulation of them. However, by these ways of kusala the subtle defilements cannot be eradicated.
W. : If that is the case, I understand that the elimination of the different degrees of defilements, coarse, medium or subtle, is dependent on the degree of kusala which is performed. For example, by the performing of kusala of the degree of daana akusala through body or speech cannot be eliminated. Moreover, by the observing of siila or the development of calm subtle defilements cannot be eradicated.
S. : The right cause brings the right result.There are the three degrees of defilements which are coarse, medium and subtle. The kinds of kusala which can eliminate them are also of different degrees: kusala of the degree of siila eliminates coarse defilements, kusala of the degree of samaadhi developed in samatha subdues medium defilements, and kusala which is the development of pa~n~naa in vipassanaa eradicates subtle defilements.
W. : Can kusala of the degree of siila and of the degree of calm be performed together with pa~n~naa?
S. : It can, but these kinds of kusala can be performed by pa~n~naa of different degrees, different from the pa~n~naa which is developed in vipassanaa.
People who abstain from akusala committed through body or speech can do so by pa~n~naa which realizes the danger of these kinds of akusala. Some people see the danger of clinging to sense objects, of clinging to visible object, sound, odour, flavour and tangible object, which cause agitation and restlessness of citta. They can only suppress such clinging by recollecting very often meditation subjects of samatha which are the condition for calm and purity of citta, for being intent on kusala for a long time. This can be done by pa~n~naa of the level of samatha, the pa~n~naa which sees the danger of clinging to sense objects and which knows the way to develop the calm which is detachment from sense objects. But kusala of the degree of vippassanaa is developed by pa~n~naa of another level. This kind of pa~n~naa knows the true characteristics of the realities which are appearing and the aim of its development is the elimination of ignorance which is the cause of the arising of wrong view and the other defilements. The pa~n~naa developed in vipassanaa, when it has become keener, is able to eradicate all defilements at the subsequent stages of enlightenment when the four noble Truths are realized [37.
W. : It seems that like and dislike of sense objects cannot be abandoned by samatha.
S. : By samatha like and dislike can be temporarily subdued but defilements cannot be eradicated. Only by pa~n~naa developed in vipassanaa ignorance, wrong view and all defilements can be completely eradicated. This kind of pa~n~naa clearly knows the true characteristics of the realities which appear. If this degree of pa~n~naa does not yet arise defilements cannot be eradicated.
W. : We see that people in the Buddhas time were very skilled in the development of samatha to the degree of jhaana. They were equipped with supernormal powers, they could even travel by air. However, their skill in jhaana declined when they became infatuated with material things, with possessions or honour. Devadatta, for example, could travel by air, he exercised supernormal powers so that even Prince Ajaatasattu [38 gained confidence in him. However, because of his jealousy of the Buddha and his desire of possessions and honour, his skill in jhaana declined. This shows us that subtle defilements are stubborn and that they are deeply rooted. Even though those people had developed a high degree of concentration they could not eradicate defilements.
S. : Someone who sees that through samatha defilements cannot be eradicated will develop kusala of the level of vipassanaa in order to eliminate ignorance, doubt and wrong view with regard to realities. He will develop vipassanaa until defilements are completely eradicated at the subsequent stages of enlightenment. He does not expect or desire calm and purity of citta, by which defilements are only temporarily subdued, neither is he infatuated with enjoyment of pleasant sense objects, of visible object, sound, odour, flavour or tangible object. The experience of these objects is vipaaka, the result of kusala kamma. No matter how enjoyable the sense objects one experiences are, they are still impermanent, they will change, decline and come to an end all the time.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (I, Sagaathaa-vagga, Ch I, The Devas, 2, Paradise Suttas, 1 Paradise):
Thus have I heard:- The Exalted One was once staying near Saavatthii, at Jetas Grove, in Anaathapi~n~nikas Park. And the Exalted One addressed the monks saying, Bhikkhus! Lord, they replied. And he said:
In times gone by, bhikkhus, a certain deva of the Three-and-Thirty gods [39, while wandering as he chose to stay in Nandana Wood, attended by a troop of nymphs, and supplied and provided with and surrounded by celestial sensuous enjoyments, uttered this verse:-
They know no bliss who see not Nandana,
Abode of folk divine, splendid Thrice-Ten!
When he had so said, a certain deva rejoined with a verse:-
Do you not know, O fool, how saints have said:
Impermanent are all conditioned things;
Their nature it is to rise and pass away.
They come to pass, they cease....
Happy the mastery of them and the peace!
W. : This shows us that these two devas had different opinions about happiness, and this was in accordance with the degree of pa~n~naa they had developed. The Nandana Grove in the Heaven of the Thirty-three must be most enjoyable and enticing. One of the devas said that he who had not seen Nandana did not know happiness.
S. : The Nandana Grove is certainly more enjoyable, more attractive than the human world because it is in a happy sensuous plane of existence [40 which is higher than the human plane. However, the enjoyment of enticing objects in the different heavenly planes cannot cause a wise person to be deluded and infatuated.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (I, Sagaathaa-vagga, Ch V, The Sisters 7, Upacaalaa) that Maara, the Evil One, wanted to tempt Upacaala to cling to rebirth in different heavenly planes, but in all these planes one is involved with clinging to sense pleasures. Those who are infatuated with sense objects are ruled by Maara. Therefore, Upacaala did not wish to be reborn anywhere. She said:
On fire is all the world, and racked in flames.
Ablaze is all the world, the heavens do quake.
But that which quakes not, immovable,
Untrodden by the average worldlings feet,
Where Maara comes not, nor has way-gate -
There abides my heart in blest retreat.
W. : Maara really is a queer person. He cannot stand it to see that someone is developing kusala. He visits the Buddha, the monks and the nuns and tries to disturb them all the time. People may perform different kinds of kusala, but if they have not eradicated jealousy they are in a frightening situation, because they can be reborn as Maara.
As regards the development of vipassanaa, I find this subject most intricate because it deals with the eradication of subtle defilements. Can we know the characteristics of subtle defilements?
S. : Coarse and medium defilements appear and can therefore be known. As to subtle defilements, we know that they are there, just because coarse and medium defilements are arising. The subtle defilements are the condition for the arising of coarse and medium defilements. The subtle defilements can be eradicated by pa~n~naa which is developed until it clearly sees the true nature of the realities which appear and penetrates the four noble Truths. Different kinds of subtle defilements are eradicated at the subsequent stages of enlightenment, until they are all completely eradicated when arahatship has been reached.
W. : It will take a long time before pa~n~naa is developed to the degree that it realizes the four noble Truths. We know that in the Buddhas time some people developed pa~n~naa for ten years, or twenty years. In this time it will be more than that and moreover, it will be much more difficult to develop pa~n~naa.
S. : Before someone can reach the lifespan in the course of which he realizes the four noble Truths and becomes an ariyan, he must have been developing pa~n~naa in past lives, even for ten thousand or hundred thousand aeons. It is necessary to accumulate pa~n~naa so that different stages of insight can arise. That is the kind of pa~n~naa which clearly realizes the true nature of the realities which are appearing. If someone intends to practise vipassanaa without first acquiring correct understanding of cause and effect with regard to the right practice, he cannot develop vipassanaa at all.
W. : Therefore, we should discuss first the realities which are appearing and which can be known by pa~n~naa.
S. : If we do not discuss first these realities so that they can be understood, there cannot even be pa~n~naa of the beginning level which stems from listening and study. If there is no pa~n~naa of the beginning level, one cannot develop higher levels of pa~n~naa.
Listening to the Dhamma
W. : We all desire happiness and this is nothing else but the pleasant objects which are experienced through the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the bodysense and the mind. Or do we believe that we can experience other objects apart from these? If we remember past events of our childhood, we can understand that the happiness of a child is caused by eating, going out and playing. This happiness is not different from the pleasure we find in visible object, sound, odour or flavour. The life of a child is different from the life of an adult who has to endure hardship to earn a living, especially if he is the head of a family. He carries a heavy burden which tires him both physically and mentally. Some adults feel that they would prefer to lead again the life of a child, because they would have no responsibilities and no tasks which make them exhausted. Students are looking forward to the time they have finished their study and they can have a job, so that they can earn money themselves, and this means happiness to them. But as soon as they begin to earn a living they are confronted with problems in their work and then they become discouraged. They wish to go back to the time they were students. When someone starts with a job he is happy with the first salary he receives. Later on, however, he is no longer satisfied; he wants to receive more money because he sees other people who are only newcomers in the job but still receive a greater salary. Therefore, he comes to suffer from an inferiority complex. Some people who do the same work already for a long time become bored and they wish to change their job. The person who is a government official believes that it is better to be a merchant. A merchant who suffers losses in his business thinks that it is better to become a government official, because then one has a fixed salary and does not have to risk losing his money and going bankrupt; he will be more at ease as his future is concerned.
We may ask ourselves whether we are born into this life just for all these matters? Are we born in order to work, to eat, to sleep, to be absorbed in visible object, sound, odour, flavour, day in day out, and then to die ? Or do we find that the principles of the Dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha, is a necessity of our life? The Dhamma teaches Buddhists that life does not merely end with the termination of this existence. So long as humans still have defilements they have to continue being in the cycle of birth and death all the time. It all depends on kamma, deeds committed in the past, whether someone will have a happy birth or an unhappy birth, whether he will experience happiness or sorrow. Of all the deeds which were committed only kusala kamma can be our refuge. The Buddha taught about kusala kamma by way of the ten meritorious actions, pu~n~na kiriya vatthu. We dealt already with eight among them, namely:
di~n~nhujukamma, correction of ones views according to the true
nature of reality,
daana, giving, offering things for the benefit of someone else,
pattidaana, transference of merit, making known to others the good
deeds one has done, so that they can rejoice in them,
pattanumodana, the appreciation of someone elses kusala,
siila, morality, the abstaining from akusala through body and
apacaayana, paying respect to whom respect is due,
veyyaavacca, helping someone else,
bhaavanaa, the development of kusala which eliminates medium
defilements and subtle defilements. Bhaavanaa includes both
samatha and vipassanaa.
Now we will speak about two other meritorious actions included in bhaavanaa: Dhamma savana, listening to the Dhamma, and Dhamma desanaa, teaching Dhamma. Why are these two kinds of meritorious actions included in bhaavanaa?
S. : Listening to the Dhamma and teaching Dhamma are included in bhaavanaa because they are kusala which is of the level of pa~n~naa. Moreover, listening to the Dhamma and explaining the Dhamma are helpful for kusala of the level of mental development. If one does not listen to the Dhamma, one cannot investigate and understand the right cause leading to the proper effect in mental development. Then pa~n~naa of the level of bhaavanaa cannot arise.
W. : The development of samatha leads to calm which is firm and steady; in samatha different degrees of samaadhi, concentration, can be attained by means of which medium defilements are subdued. Samatha was developed also before the Buddhas enlightenment.
S. : Since the Buddhas enlightenment there are forty meditation subjects of samatha in all and these can be the condition for the subduing of defilements, for calm of citta. Before the Buddhas enlightenment some of these meditation subjects did not exist, such as the Recollection of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. These are meditation subjects on the excellent qualities of the Triple Gem which could not be recollected before the Buddhas enlightenment.
W. : Before the Buddhas enlightenment vipassanaa could not be developed either.
S. : No, it could not. In vipassanaa the pa~n~naa is developed which can eradicate subtle defilements completely. If the Buddha had not at the time of his enlightenment penetrated the way to develop this level of pa~n~naa and if he had not taught to others how to develop it, nobody would be able to develop this kind of pa~n~naa at all.
W. : At the present time people generally have a problem with listening to the Dhamma or studying it. If someone is interested in listening to the Dhamma and if he visits the Temple he may be afraid that others who see him find that he is exaggerating or that he is old-fashioned, not up to date. What is your opinion about this?
S. : Listening to the Dhamma means listening to the Dhamma which the Buddha taught to his followers and which he taught to different persons at different places, from the time he had attained enlightenment until shortly before he passed away completely. At the present time nobody knows whether during a past life he had ever listened to the Buddha in person as he taught Dhamma more than 2500 years ago, or whether he had listened to the Dhamma even during the time of previous Buddhas. We do not know what kind of person we were, what we did and where we lived, but in this life we have an opportunity to listen to the Dhamma which the Buddha left us as our teacher. The Dhamma we can hear is more excellent than anything else.
In answer to your question whether people who listen to the Dhamma or study the Dhamma in the Temple are old-fashioned or not, I want to go back in time more than 2500 years ago. We read in the Middle Length Sayings (I, 32, Greater Discourse in Gosi~nga) that the Buddha was staying in a grove in the Gosi~nga saal-wood together with many famous disciples who were preeminent in different fields. We read:
... Then the venerable Moggallaana the Great, emerging from solitary meditation towards evening, approached the venerable Kassapa the Great; having approached , he spoke thus to the venerable Kassapa the Great: Let us go, reverend Kassapa, we will approach the venerable Saariputta so as to hear Dhamma.
Yes, your reverence, the venerable Kassapa the Great answered the venerable Moggallaana the Great in assent. Then the venerable Moggallaana the Great and the venerable Kassapa the Great and the venerable Anuruddha approached the venerable Saariputta so as to hear Dhamma. The venerable aananda saw the venerable Moggallaana the Great and the venerable Kassapa the Great and the venerable Anuruddha approaching the venerable Saariputta so as to hear Dhamma; having seen them, he approached the venerable Revata; having approached, he spoke thus to the venerable Revata: Reverend Revata, some who are true men are approaching the venerable Saariputta so as to hear Dhamma; let us go, reverend Revata, we will approach the venerable Saariputta so as to hear Dhamma.
We then read that when Saariputta saw them he welcomed them and that they had Dhamma discussion.
W. : Although all these monks had excellent qualities and were preeminent in different ways they still were never tired of having Dhamma discussions.
S. : We read in the Mahaa-Sutasoma Jaataka ( Jaataka V, no. 537) that the Bodhisatta, during the life he was King Sutasoma said to his father:
Dear father, it is not increase in wealth I desire, but increase in learning, and he uttered these stanzas:
Increase in holy lore I most desire
And to the friendship of the saints aspire;
No rivers can the void of ocean fill,
So I good words imbibe, insatiate still.
As flames for wood and grass insatiate roar,
And seas fed with streams crave more and more,
Even so do sages, mighty lord of lords,
Insatiate listen to well-spoken words.
If from the mouth of my own slave I ever
Should verses full of deepest import hear,
His words I would accept with honour due,
Unsated still with doctrines good and true.
Thus, King Sutasoma would like to listen all the time.
W. : But I still have doubts about something. The Elders who were disciples and who were mentioned in the Mahaa-Gosi~nga sutta had penetrated the Dhamma, they had attained the stage of arahatship and they were preeminent in different fields. I wonder about which subjects they had discussions.
S. : We read that the venerable Saariputta first said to aananda:
Let the venerable aananda come; good is the coming of the venerable aananda who is the Lords attendant, the Lords companion. Delightful, reverend aananda, is the Gosi~nga saal-wood, it is a clear moonlight night, the saal-trees are in full blossom, methinks deva-like scents are being wafted around. By what type of monk, reverend aananda, would the Gosi~nga saal-wood be illumined?
W. : aananda was preeminent in having heard much [41 and thus he was likely to answer that the Gosi~nga saal-wood was illumined by a monk who had heard much. Then Saariputta asked the same question to the other disciples.
S. : After aananda had answered, Saariputta asked Revata, Anuruddha, Mahaa-Kassapa and Mahaa-Moggallaana the same thing.
W. : And the disciples answered each in accordance with the special quality in which they excelled.
S. : The venerable Revata answered that the Gosi~nga saal-wood was illumined by a monk who delighted in solitary meditation (samaapatti). This is kusala citta with calm to the degree of samaadhi which is jhaana and which has nibbaana as object. The Gosi~nga saalwood was illumined according to Anuruddha because of a monk who surveys the world with purified deva-vision; according to the venerable Mahaa-Kassapa because of a monk who is a forest-dweller and praises forest-dwelling.
W. : What is the meaning of forest-dwelling?
S. : Forest-dwelling (dhuta~nga) includes special ascetical practises, apart from the observing of the monks siila [42.
W. : What did Mahaa-Moggallaana answer?
S. : According to Mahaa-Moggallaana the Gosi~nga saal-wood was illumined because of monks who were giving expositions on Abhidhamma and had discussions about this subject, asking each other questions and giving answers.
W. : Did anyone ask Saariputta himself why the Gosi~nga saal-wood was illumined?
S. : After Mahaa-Moggallaana had given an answer he questioned Saariputta.
W. : What did Saariputta answer?
S. : He answered that the Gosi~nga saal-wood was illumined because of a monk who has developed the mind and is not under minds rule. He answered actually more extensively but this is the essence.
W. : To what conclusion did they all come? Each of them gave a different answer.
S. : They agreed to visit the Buddha. Whatever the Buddha would declare they would keep that in mind.
W. : They would not insist on their own viewpoint.
S. : They realised that their wisdom could not equal the Buddhas wisdom. If one would use a simile of weighing things, their exposition of the Dhamma could be compared to weighing by hand whereas the Buddhas exposition of the Dhamma could be compared to weighing with an extremely precise scale.
W. : And the words of which disciple the Buddha delared to be well spoken?
S. : The Buddha said that the words by all in turn were well spoken. He spoke the following words in answer to the question by what type of monk the Gosi~nga saal-wood was illumined:
...In this connection, Saariputta, a monk, returning from alms-gathering after the meal, sits down cross-legged, the back erect, having raised up mindfulness in front of him, and thinking: I will not quit this cross-legged (position) until my mind is freed from the cankers without any residuum (for rebirth) remaining. By such a type of monk, Saariputta, would the Gosi~nga saal-wood be illumined.
Do you think that the Elders who visited the Buddha in order to listen to the Dhamma were old fashioned, not up to date?
W. : No, I do not think so. Nobody can call those people old fashioned who had special qualities, who were preeminent, and who heard the Dhamma directly from the Buddha himself.
Buddhists who have confidence want to listen to the Dhamma and want to pay respect to the Buddha. People who had great authority, such as King Pasenadi of Kosala, King Ajaatasattu, King Bimbisara, together with the princes and royal attendants, the people of the Mallas, a great number of brahmins and layfollowers, they all went together to pay hommage and respect to the Buddha and to listen to the Dhamma in different dwelling places. These places were the Jeta Grove or the Bamboo Grove which were delightful, and the dwelling place on top of Mount Raajagaha which was very peaceful. Therefore, people who had confidence and were interested in hearing the Dhamma from the Buddha could not be old fashioned at all.
S. : If people with a citta full of confidence in the Triple Gem go to the Temple in order to listen to the Dhamma and study the Dhamma, no matter whether in the Buddhas time, today or at any time, this is actually listening to the Dhamma which the Buddha penetrated at the time of his enlightenment and which he taught to others. Therefore, Buddhists should know that listening to the Dhamma and studying it is not something which is outdated. People who are not up to date do not know this, whereas people who know what listening to the Dhamma really means are not old fashioned. And what is more important, knowledge of the Dhamma is knowledge of the Truth the Buddha penetrated at the time of his enlightenment and preached to others, because he wished in his great compassion to help those who are living in this world. Knowledge of the Dhamma which the Buddha taught is more excellent than all the knowledge one can acquire from other people.
W. : People highly estimate different fields of worldly knowledge and science which can give us benefit and which contributes to our wellbeing and convenience in daily life. However, this is only knowledge of ordinary people who are different from the Buddha. Therefore, we should not regard worldly knowledge more highly than knowledge of the Dhamma.
S. : Do you know what is most valuable in your life?
W. : I believe that for us Buddhists seeing or hearing the Dhamma of the Exalted One is the most valuable thing in life. Everybody surely desires to see the Buddha or hear the voice of the Buddha who speaks with a heart full of compassion. The Buddhas appearance and the sound of his voice were admired by countless Buddhists who had great confidence in him and gave him the highest honour. But we, at the present time, can acquire very little merit, because we have no opportunity to see the Buddha, to visit him, or to hear the exposition of the Dhamma directly from the Buddha himself.
S. : We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Sixes, Ch III, 10, Above all ) about six things which are valuable above all, namely: the seeing above all, the hearing above all, the gain above all, the training above all, the service above all and the ever minding above all [43.
W. : These six things which are valuable above all must also concern the listening to the Dhamma. Therefore we will deal again presently with these six excellent things.