Peter della santina fundamentals of buddhism

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  • 1. Fundamentals of Buddhism Dr Peter D. Santina e DHANET UD B S BO Y O K LIB R A R E-mail: Web site: www.buddhanet.netBuddha Dharma Education Association Inc.
  • 3. FOREWORD Buddhism has long been an important part of thecultural heritage of South East Asia. The monuments ofAngkor Wat in Cambodia and Borobudur in Indonesia arejust two of countless testimonies to the former greatnessof Buddhism in this region. In Singapore too Buddhism isan important element in the cultural heritage of the people.The fact that a large section of the Chinese Community aswell as the small but influential Srilankan Communityacknowledge Buddhism as the primary force shaping theirreligious ideals and moral values is more than proof ofthis. Nonetheless, it is certain that if Buddhism is tocontinue to exercise a positive influence upon present andfuture generations, it cannot remain content with theachievements of the past. The religious ideals and moralvalues of Buddhism which have proved so useful to pastgenerations must be transmitted to men and women livingin a changing world. In order that this can be accomp-lished, it is important that the teachings of the Buddha bemade available to the largest number of people. With this objective in mind, the SrilankaramayaBuddhist Temple invited Dr Santina to deliver a seriesof public lectures. The lectures outlined the funda-mentals of Buddhism and were well delivered. As aresult, it was decided to produce transcriptions of thelectures and publish them in the form of a book to bemade freely available. It is also hoped that thepublication will contribute in a small degree to theunderstanding of the genuine teachings of the Buddha. 1
  • 4. Sincerest thanks are extended to all those who lenttheir invaluable support and contribution to this projectand especially to Dr Santina for imparting to us his deepunderstanding of the Buddha Dharma. N Sumana Thera Resident Monk SRILANKARAMAYA BUDDHIST TEMPLE SINGAPORE VESAK 1984 2
  • 5. BUDDHISM: A MODERN PERSPECTIVE We are going to cover what we might call basicBuddhist teachings over a series of twelve lectures. Weare going to cover the life of the Buddha, the FourNoble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, Karma, rebirth,dependent origination, the three universal characteristicsand the five aggregates. But before I begin the series oflectures, I would like to deal today with the notion ofBuddhism in perspective. There are many ways inwhich different people in different cultures viewBuddhism and particularly, I think we can contrast thewestern or modern attitude towards Buddhism with thetraditional attitude. The reason why this kind of per-spective study is useful is because when we understandhow people of different cultures view a certain thing, wecan then begin to see some of the limitation or one-sidedness of our own view. In the west, Buddhism has aroused extensiveinterest and sympathy. There are many persons ofconsiderable standing in western societies who are eitherBuddhists or who are sympathetic towards Buddhism.This is most clearly exemplified by the remark made byAlbert Einstein in his autobiography, the remark that hewas not a religious man, but if he were one, he would bea Buddhist. This is quite surprising, and off-hand wewould not expect such a remark to be made by theFather of Modern Science. Yet if we look at contem-porary western societies, we will find an astrophysicistwho is a Buddhist in France, we will find an outstandingpsychologist who is a Buddhist at the University ofRome, and until recently a judge from England who is a 3
  • 6. Buddhist. We will look into the reasons for this interestin Buddhism in the west in a moment. But before we dothat I would like to compare this situation with thesituation that we find in this part of the world. In Europe generally, the attitude towards Buddhismis that it is very advanced, very rational and verysophisticated. It was therefore quite a shock to me when Icame to Singapore and found that a lot of people hereview Buddhism as old fashioned, irrational and too muchtied up with superstitions. This is one of the two attitudesthat work against the appreciation of Buddhism here. Theother is that Buddhism is so deep and so abstract that noone can ever understand it. It is a complete turnabout. Thisis what I mean by perspective, because in the westernperspective Buddhism has a certain image, while in thetraditional perspective we have another image. Thisnegative image that people have about Buddhism has tobe changed before they can really come to appreciate theBuddha’s teachings, before they can get a kind ofbalanced perspective regarding Buddhism. One of the first things that a westerner appreciates aboutBuddhism is that it is not culture bound, not bound toany particular society, race or ethnic group. There arecertain religions that are culture-bound, Judaism is oneexample. Buddhism is not. That is why historically wehave Indian Buddhists, Thai Buddhists, ChineseBuddhists, Srilankan Buddhists, Burmese Buddhists andso forth, and we are going to have in the near futureEnglish Buddhists, American Buddhists, FrenchBuddhists and so forth. This is because Buddhism is notculture-bound. It moves very easily from one culture to 4
  • 7. another because the emphasis in Buddhism is oninternal practice rather than on external practice. Itsemphasis is on the way you develop your mind ratherthan the way you dress, the kind of food you take, theway you wear your hair and so forth. The second point that I would like to make regardsthe pragmatism or the practicality of Buddhism. Instead oftaking an interest in metaphysics and academic theories,the Buddha deals with problems per se and approachesthem in a concrete way. This is again something which isvery much in agreement with western ideas aboututilitarianism. That is, if something works, use it. It is verymuch a part of western political, economic and scientificphilosophy. This attitude of pragmatism is clearlyexpressed in the Culama-lunkya Sutra where the Buddhamade use of the example of the wounded man. The manwounded by an arrow wishes to know who shoots thearrow, from which direction it comes, whether the arrowhead is made of bone or iron, whether the shaft is of thiskind of wood or another before he will have the arrowremoved. This man is likened to those who would like toknow about the origin of the Universe, whether the worldis eternal or not, finite or not before they will undertake topractise a religion. Just as the man in the parable will diebefore he has all the answers he wants regarding the originand nature of the arrow, such people will die before theywill ever have the answers to all their irrelevant questions.This exemplifies what we call the Buddha’s practicalattitude. It has a lot to say about the whole question ofpriorities and problem solving. We would not make muchprogress developing wisdom if we ask the wrongquestion. It is essentially a question of priority. The first 5
  • 8. priority for all of us is the problem of suffering. TheBuddha recognized this and said it is of no use for us tospeculate whether the world is eternal or not because weall have got an arrow in our chest, the arrow of suffering.We have to ask questions that will lead to the removal ofthis arrow. One can express this in a very simple way. Wecan see that in our daily life, we constantly make choicesbased on priority. If, for instance, we happen to becooking something on the stove and we decide that whilethe beans are boiling we will dust the house, and as wedust the house we smell something burning. We have tomake the choice, whether to carry on with our dusting orwhether to go to turn down the flame on the stove to savethe beans. In the same way, if we want to make progresstowards wisdom we have to recognize our priorities andthis point is made very clearly in the parable of thewounded man. The third point that I would like to refer to is theBuddha’s teaching on the importance of verificationthrough experience. This point is made clearly in Hisadvice to the Kalamas contained in the KesaputtiyaSutra. The Kalamas were a people very much like us inour modern day when we are exposed to so manydifferent teachings. They went to the Buddha andenquired that as there were so many different teachersand as all of them claimed that their doctrine was true,how were they to know who was telling the truth. TheBuddha told them not to accept anything out ofauthority, not to accept anything because it happens tobe written down; not to accept anything out of reverencefor their teacher; or out of hearsay; or because it soundsreasonable. But to verify, test what they have heard in 6
  • 9. the light of their own experience. When they know forthemselves that certain things are harmful then theyshould abandon them. When they know for themselvesthat certain things are beneficial, that they lead tohappiness and calm, then they should follow them. TheBuddha gives this advice that one has to verify whatone hears in the light of one’s experience. In the contextof the Buddha’s advice to the Kalamas, I think what theBuddha is saying is to use your own mind as a test tube.You can see for yourself that when greed and anger arepresent, they lead to suffering, pain and disturbance.And you can see for yourself that when greed and angerare absent from your mind, it leads to calm, tohappiness. It is a very simple experiment which we allcan do for ourselves. This is a very important pointbecause what the Buddha has taught will only beeffective, will only really change our life if we can carryout this kind of experiment in our life, if we can realizethe truth of the Buddha’s teachings through our ownexperience and verify it through our own experience.Only then can we really say that we are making progresson the path towards enlightenment. We can see a striking parallel between theBuddha’s own approach and the approach of science tothe problem of knowledge. The Buddha stresses theimportance of objective observation. Observation is in asense the key to the Buddha’s method of knowledge. Itis observation that yields the first of the Four NobleTruths, the truth of suffering. Again at the final stage ofthe Buddha’s path, it is observation that characterizesthe realization of the total end of suffering. So at thebeginning, in the middle and at the end of the Buddha’s 7
  • 10. path, observation plays an extremely important role.This is similar to the role that objective observationplays in the scientific tradition which teaches that whenwe observe a problem we must first formulate a generaltheory followed by a specific hypothesis. We find thesame thing happening in the teaching of the Four NobleTruths and here the general theory is that all things havea cause, and the specific hypothesis is that the causes ofsuffering are craving and ignorance. This truth that thecauses of suffering are craving and ignorance can beverified by the experimental method. In the context ofthe Four Noble Truths, the experimental method is thepath. Through the path, the truth of the Second NobleTruth (the truth of the cause of suffering), and the ThirdNoble Truth (the truth of the cessation of suffering) areverified because through this cultivation of the path oneeliminates craving and ignorance. And through the elim-ination of craving and ignorance one eliminates suffering.This experiment is repeatable just as in science becausenot only did the Buddha attain the end of suffering, but sotoo did all those who followed His path. So if we look closely at the Buddha’s approach tothe problem of knowledge, we find that His approach isvery similar to the scientific approach and this too hasaroused a tremendous amount of interest in the west.We can now begin to see why it is that Einstein couldmake a remark like the one that he did. We will seemore clearly why this is not as surprising as it seemsinitially because I would like to talk about the Buddhistmethod of analysis and we can begin to see it operatingvery clearly when we look at the Buddhist approach toexperience. 8
  • 11. Experience in Buddhism is comprised of twocomponents — the objective component and thesubjective component. In other words, the things aroundus and we the perceivers. Buddhism is noted for itsanalytical method in the area of philosophy andpsychology. What we mean by this is that the Buddhaanalyzes experience into various elements, the mostbasic of these being the five Skandhas or aggregates —form, feeling, perception, mental formation or volitionand consciousness. The five aggregates in turn can beanalyzed into the eighteen elements (Dhatus) and wehave a still more elaborate analysis in terms of thisseventy two elements. This method is analytical as itbreaks up things. We are not satisfied with a vaguenotion of experience, but we analyze it, we probe it, webreak it down into its component parts like we breakdown the chariot into the wheels, the axle and so on.And we do this in order to get an idea how things work.When we see for instance a flower, or hear a piece ofmusic, or meet a friend, all these experiences arise as aresult of components. This is what is called theanalytical approach. And again this analytical approachis not at all strange to modern science and philosophy.We find the analytical approach very substantially usedin science. In philosophy, we see the analytical traditionperhaps best in Bertrand Russell. There have beenstudies that compare quite successfully the philosophyof Bertrand Russell with the philosophy of the BuddhistAbhidharma. So in western science and philosophy, wefind a very close parallel with the Buddhist analyticalmethod and this again is one of the familiar features thathas attracted western thinkers and academics toBuddhism. In the area of psychology, psychologists are 9
  • 12. now deeply interested in the Buddhist analysis of thevarious factors of experience — feeling, idea, habit andso forth. They are now turning to Buddhist teachings togain a greater insight into their own disciplines. This growing interest in Buddhism and these manyareas of affinity between the teachings of the Buddhaand the tendencies of modern science, philosophy andpsychology have reached their apex at this very time inthe suggestions now proposed by quantum physics, thelatest developments in experimental theoretical physics.Here too we find that not only is the method of scienceobservation, experiment and analysis anticipated by theBuddha, but that some of the very specific conclusionsabout the nature of man and the universe that areindicated by the latest developments in quantum physicswere also indicated by the Buddha. For instance, theimportance of the mind. A noted physicist not long agoremarked that the Universe is really something like agreat thought. And it is said in the Dhammapada that themind precedes all things, that the mind is the maker ofall mental states. Similarly, the relativity of matter andenergy is mentioned. There is no radical divisionbetween mind and matter. All these indications are nowgradually being revealed by the latest developments inscience. So what has happened is that in the westerncontexts, academics, psychologists, and scientists havefound in Buddhism a tradition which is in harmony withsome of the basic tenets of western scientific thought. Inaddition to this, they find that Buddhism is particularlyinteresting because although the methods and the dis- 10
  • 13. coveries often resemble closely those of Buddhism, theyfind that in science so far, there is no path or method ofachieving an inner transformation. They have methodsof building better cities and expressways but they havenot had any system which will enable them to buildbetter people. So people in the west are turning toBuddhism. As an ancient tradition, it has many aspectsthat closely resemble practices in the western scientifictraditions and yet goes beyond the materialism of thewestern tradition, beyond the limits of the scientifictradition. 11
  • 14. THE PREBUDDHIST BACKGROUND We are going to begin today with a considerationof the prebuddhist situation in India. Normally Buddhiststudies courses begin with a study of the life of theBuddha. We are going to begin before the life of theBuddha. Personally I feel this is quite important as I feelit helps one to understand the life and teachings of theBuddha in their broader historical and conceptual con-text and to understand and appreciate better the natureof Buddhism and perhaps Indian thought as a whole. I do not know how many of you have visited India.We have in the North of India two great rivers — one isthe Ganges and the other is the Yamuna. These twogreat rivers have separate sources in the Himalayas andthey flow separately for a good proportion of theirlengths. They unite in the north eastern region of India.From there they flow on together to the Bay of Bengal.In a way the geography of these two great rivers is asymbol of the origin and development of Indianreligion, philosophy and thought because in Indianreligion too we have two great rivers which wereoriginally quite distinct and had separate origins andwhich for a considerable length of time were separatebut which at a certain point of time merged and flowedon united right to the present day. Perhaps as I go intothe prebuddhist history of India, we can keep in mindthe image of these two rivers originally separate and at acertain point merging and flowing together to the sea. When we look at the very early history of India, wefind that there existed in the 3rd Millennium B.C. a very 12
  • 15. highly developed civilization in the Indian subcontinent.This civilization is as old as those which are called thecradles of human culture, civilizations like those ofEgypt and Babylon. This civilization existed approxi-mately between the year 2800 B.C. and 1800 B.C. Itwas known as the Indus Valley Civilization or it issometimes called the Harappa Civilization, and itextended from what is now Western Pakistan, south to apoint which is near Bombay and eastward to a pointwhich is in the neighborhood of what is now Simla inthe foothills of the Himalayas. If you see a map of India,you will realize that this is a very considerable extent.Not only was this civilization stable for a thousandyears, it was also a very highly developed civilizationboth materially and spiritually. Materially the civiliz-ation was an agrarian one. They were skilled inirrigation and the planning of towns. In addition, theyhad a very highly developed spiritual culture. This isclear from the archaeological evidence that has beendiscovered at Mohenjodaro and Harappa. There is alsoevidence of the fact that they were literate. They haddeveloped a script which unfortunately we are not ableto decipher. The peaceful life of this civilization wasunfortunately interrupted in about the year 1800 or 1500B.C. by an invasion that came from the North West. Theinvading people were known as the Aryans and this is aterm that designated a people of Eastern Europe. Theorigin of the Aryans was in the grassy region extendingfrom Poland to Western Russia. The Aryans were verydifferent from the people of the Indus Valley Civiliz-ation because they were generally nomadic and pastoral. 13
  • 16. They did not have a highly developed urban civilization.They were a warlike expanding pioneer civilization thatlived in large part from the spoils and plunder that theygathered from the peoples they conquered in the courseof their migration. When the Aryans arrived in India,they very quickly destroyed the Indus Valley Civiliz-ation. The Indus Valley Civilization succumbed veryquickly to the military might of the Aryans. Whatexisted in India after the invasion was an Aryandominated civilization. Here we have a brief outline of the facts regardingthe early history of India. But let us look at the religiousoutlook of the people of the Indus Valley Civilizationand the Aryan Civilization which is of particular interestto us. The Indus Valley Civilization had a script whichwe are unfortunately unable to decipher. But ourinformation regarding the nature of this civilization isfrom two sources, first from the archaeological dis-coveries at the sites of Mohenjodaro and Harappa andsecond from the records of the Aryans who describedthe religious behaviour and beliefs of the people theyconquered. From the archaeological evidence we find anumber of symbols that are of religious significance,that are special to Buddhism: the symbols of the Bodhitree and animals such as the elephant and deer. Perhapsmost importantly there have been discovered severalimages of figures sitting in cross-legged postures withtheir hands resting on their knees, with their eyesnarrowed, half-closed quite evidently in postures ofmeditation. These archaeological findings have beenstudied by eminent scholars and the conclusion is thatwe can quite definitely trace the origin and practice of 14
  • 17. meditation to the Indus Valley Civilization. When welook at the descriptions of the religion of the IndusValley Civilization from the writings of the Aryans —the Vedas — we find the figure of a wandering asceticfrequently mentioned. We find that they practisedmeditation, that they were celibate, that they observedan austere life, that they were sometimes naked orclothed in most simple garments, that they wanderedabout homeless and that they taught in the way beyondbirth and death. If we put together the evidence of thearchaeological findings and the evidence of Aryanliterature, we find that there emerges a picture of thereligion of the people of the Indus Valley Civilization inwhich there are several important elements. First of all,meditation or mental concentration; secondly renunci-ation, abandoning the household life, living the life of awandering ascetic; thirdly that we have a conception ofrebirth over a long series of lives; fourthly we havea conception of moral responsibility beyond this life, thenotion of karma; and lastly we have a goal of religiouslife, a goal of liberation. These are the salient features ofthe religion of the very earliest Indian Civilization. By contrast, and it would be hard to find tworeligious views that are more different, let us look at thereligion of the Aryans. Here we find it much easier toconstruct a picture because we have a completeliterature with regard to their religion. When the Aryanscame to India, they had a religion which was totallysecular. They were an expanding pioneering society.There are many close parallels between the Aryanreligion and the religion of the Greeks. If you havecome across the description of the Greek pantheon you 15
  • 18. will find striking similarities between their pantheon andthe Aryan pantheon. You will find in the Aryan faith anumber of gods who are personifications of naturalphenomena. We have Indra for instance who was theGod of Lightning and the Thunderstorm personifyingpower, we have Agni the God of Fire, and Varuna theGod of Water. We have a religious set-up in which thepriest is the most important figure, while in the IndusValley Civilization the ascetic was the most importantfigure. In the Indus Valley Civilization renunciation wasthe ideal of religious life, while in the Aryan religion theideal state is the householder state. In the Indus ValleyCivilization we have a rejection of sons and offspring,while in the Aryan religion sons are the highest good.While in the Indus Valley Civilization we have thepractice of meditation, in the Aryan religion we have thepractice of sacrifice — sacrifice was an important meansof communication with the gods, of achieving victoriesin battles, of gaining offspring, of going to heaven.While in the Indus Valley Civilization we have belief inthe Law of Karma, and rebirth, in the Aryan Civilizationwe have no conception of rebirth. Just as in the IndusValley Civilization we have the notion of moral res-ponsibility extending over a series of lives, in the AryanCivilization we have no such notion. In fact the highestideal was loyalty, those values that contributed to thepower of the community. Finally while in the IndusValley Civilization we have liberation as the goal ofreligious life, in the Aryan Civilization we have heavenas the goal of religious life. The idea that they had ofheaven was a heaven modelled upon a perfected versionof this life. So if we want to sum up the differencesbetween the religions of these two civilizations, we can 16
  • 19. say that on the one hand the Indus Valley Civilizationstresses renunciation, meditation, rebirth, karma, thegoal of liberation; on the other hand the Aryan religionstresses this life, material well-being, wealth, power,fame and sacrifices as means of achieving these goals. Itwould be hard to find a set of more diametricallyopposed religious attitudes. In addition, there are twomore important elements of Aryan religion that weought to recall: caste — the division of society intosocial strata; and belief in the authority of the revealedscriptures, the Vedas. These two elements were notpresent in the Indus Valley Civilization. The history of Indian religion from 1500 B.C. upto 600 or 500 B.C., the time of the Buddha, the historyof those 1000 years in India is a history of gradualinteraction between these two totally opposed religiousviews. As the Aryans gradually spread and settledacross the gigantic Indian subcontinent, as theirpioneering exploits diminished, gradually these twototally opposed religious views began to influence,interact and merge with each other. This is the merging Ihad in mind when I talked about the merging of the twogreat rivers. Consequently by the time of the Buddha,we have a very heterogeneous religious scene. We canunderstand this clearly if we look at some of the factsregarding the life of the Buddha. For instance, we findthat when the Buddha was born, two groups of peoplemade prophecies regarding His future greatness. Thefirst prophecy was made by Asita. Asita was a hermit,who lived in the mountains and yet sources tell us thathe was a Brahmin, that he belonged to the priestly class.This in itself is already evidence of the interaction of the 17
  • 20. two traditions. In the Buddha’s time, Brahmins hadbegun to go forth as hermits. This was unheard of athousand years before. A little later, we are told that 108Brahmins were invited to the naming ceremony. Herewe have examples of priests who had not renounced thehousehold life, an example of an institution that pro-perly and originally belonged to the Aryan Civilization. How is it that the two traditions — the IndusValley tradition and the Aryan tradition, initially sodifferent were able to merge? I think the answer to thislies in the dramatic changes which took place in the lifeof the Indian people between the 2nd Millennium B.C.and the time of the Buddha. The Aryan expansion cameto an end when they had conquered the plains of India.This end of expansion brought about many social,economic and political changes. In the first place, thetribal political society evolved into the institution of theterritorial state so that no longer do you have a tribewith a very close personal set of loyalties. You havenow a territorial state where many people of varioustribes exist together. The kingdom of Magadha ruled byBimbisara in the time of the Buddha is an example of anemerging territorial state. Secondly, you have thisnomadic pastoral lifestyle gradually changed into amore urbanized agricultural settled lifestyle so that thepeople were now living in urban centres, and wereremoved from the natural forces that had beenpersonified in the gods. Economically, commercebecame important. So while in the early days of theAryan Civilization the priests and warriors were themost important figures — the priest because hecommunicated with the gods, the warrior because he 18
  • 21. waged wars against the enemy and brought spoils intothe community — now the merchants becameincreasingly important. We can see this in the days ofthe Buddha, the famous disciples who were merchants— Anathapindika to name only one. These social,economic and political changes contributed to anopenness on the part of the Aryans to accept thereligious ideas of the Indus Valley Civilization. Whilethe Aryans conquered the Indus Valley peoplemilitarily, the subsequent 1000 to 2000 years saw themcoming increasingly under the influence of ideas takenfrom the Indus Valley Civilization. So that by the firstfew centuries of the Common Era, the distinctionbetween the Aryan tradition and the Indus Valleytradition became more and more difficult to draw. Infact, this fact is at the bottom of the misconception whenit is said that Buddhism is a protest against Hinduism, orthat Buddhism is a branch of Hinduism. In Buddhism we have a religion which draws mostof its inspiration from the Indus Valley religion, theideas of renunciation, meditation, karma and rebirth,ultimate liberation — ideas which were important to theIndus Valley Civilization. The Buddha Himselfindicated the Indus Valley origins of His tradition whenHe said that the path which He taught was an ancientpath and the goal to which He pointed to was an ancientgoal. We also have a Buddhist belief in six Buddhasprior to the Buddha Shakyamuni within this aeon. Allthese point to a continuity between the tradition of theIndus Valley Civilization and the teachings of theBuddha. If we look at Buddhism and Hinduism we willfind a greater or lesser proportion of elements taken 19
  • 22. from either of the two traditions of the Indus ValleyCivilization and Aryan Civilization. For instance, if welook at Buddhism, the greater proportion was takenfrom the Indus Valley Civilization religion, a lesserproportion from the Aryan tradition. That is why wefind mention of the Aryan gods in Buddhist scripture,though their role is peripheral, an example of an Aryanelement in the Buddhism tradition. On the other hand, ifwe look at some schools of Hinduism, we find a greaterproportion of elements taken from the Aryan traditionand a lesser proportion from the Indus ValleyCivilization. We find caste emphasized, the authority ofthe revealed scripture of the Aryans – the Vedas –emphasized and sacrifices emphasized. Alongside, wefind a place made for renunciation, meditation, karmaand rebirth. 20
  • 23. LIFE OF THE BUDDHA Today I would like to spend a little bit of time onthe life of the Buddha. I do not intend to spend toomuch time on the life and career of the Buddha sincemost of the biography is essentially narrative. But Iwould like to take the opportunity today to drawattention to a few important Buddhist values whichcome through strikingly in the life of the Buddha. Last week we talked about the two traditions andhow the two traditions which were originally verydistinct gradually began to interact and eventually fusedin India and we said that the beginning of this process ofinteraction can be placed about the time of the Buddha.In fact during the time of the Buddha, we can see thebeginning of the interaction and it was a process thatcontinued until a thousand years later when the twotraditions fused and became difficult to differentiate. Itis not perhaps a coincidence that one of the primaryareas where the two traditions came into the most activecontact was in the area known as Madhyadesha, the areaaround what is now Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.This area was regarded by the Brahmins as an area ofchallenge to the Aryan tradition. It happens that whentwo traditions of this nature meet, it creates anatmosphere where there is a great potential for thegrowth of new religious directions. To a large extent wecan see the life and teachings of the Buddha in thiscontext. In addition to the interaction of the tworeligious traditions, there were also significant social,economic and political changes that were taking placeand which we have touched on last week. All these 21
  • 24. contributed to a heightened level of religiousconsciousness. It always happens in times of political andsocial upheaval that man looks inward, that man turnsto religion. When they see the institutions that theirforefathers took as stable and unchanging shaken, thereis a natural tendency to turn to religion, and this con-tributes to heightened religious consciousness and activ-ities. This is very much the case in the 6th century B.C. The values that emerge from the Buddha’s life thatI would like to highlight are essentially three, and theyare renunciation, loving-kindness and compassion, andwisdom. These three values emerge very clearly throughepisodes in the Buddha’s own life. Incidentally it is nocoincidence that these three qualities between themequal the attainment of Nirvana because as you knowthere are three defilements (Klesha) that cause us to beborn again and again — the defilements of desire,ill-will and ignorance. In this context we might alsoremember that renunciation is the antidote for desire,loving-kindness and compassion is the antidote forill-will, and wisdom is the antidote for ignorance.Through cultivating these three qualities one is able toeliminate the defilements and attain enlightenment. So itis no accident that these qualities should stand out soprominently in the life of the Buddha. Let us look at them one by one and let us start withrenunciation. As often happens, some of the very firstevidence of the Buddha’s renunciation manifested itselfwhile He was still very young. Renunciation is basicallya recognition that all existence is suffering. When onerecognizes the fact that all existence is suffering, this 22
  • 25. brings about what we might call a turning about, inother words, seeing that life is full of suffering onebegins to look for something more. This is whysuffering is the First Noble Truth. This recognition thatexistence is suffering is the essence of renunciation. Youmay know of Prince Siddhartha’s visit to the annualploughing ceremony at the age of seven. It was therethat while watching the ploughing the prince noticed aworm that had been unearthed by the plough devouredby a bird. This sight led the prince to contemplate therealities of life, to recognize the fact that all livingbeings kill each other for food and this is a great sourceof suffering. Already we see at this tender age in thebiography of the Buddha the beginning of thisrecognition that existence is suffering. If we look a littlebit later in the life of the Buddha, we will come to thefamous episode of the four sights which moved theprince to renounce the household life and to follow alife of asceticism to seek the truth. The sights of old age,sickness, death and an ascetic led Him to consider whyit was that He should feel uneasy when in fact He wasHimself not free from, was subject to old age, sicknessand death. This consideration led Him to develop asense of detachment from pleasure, led Him to seek thetruth by way of renunciation. It is interesting to note thatPrince Siddhartha’s renunciation is not renunciation outof despair. He enjoyed the greatest happiness and yetsaw these sufferings of life, recognizing that no matterhow great one’s indulgence in pleasures of the sensesmight be, eventually one would have to face thesesufferings. Recognizing this, He was moved to renouncethe household life and seek enlightenment for the sakeof all living beings. 23
  • 26. Let us next look at the quality of loving-kindnessand compassion. Here too we can see this qualitymanifested very early in the life of the Buddha. Themost striking example of this is the episode of thewounded swan. We are told that He and His cousinDevadatta were roaming in the park surrounding thepalace when Devadatta shot down a swan with his bowand arrow. Both boys ran towards the spot where theswan had fallen, but Siddhartha being the faster runnercame to the place where the wounded bird lay.Gathering the bird in His arms, He nursed the bird andthis brought about a reaction from Devadatta whoinsisted that the bird ought to be his since he was theone who shot it down. The boys brought this dispute tothe wise man of the court who decided that lifebelonged rightly to the one who preserved it, not to onewho destroyed it. Here we have a striking example ofthe Buddha’s attitude of loving-kindness and com-passion which grows directly out of this recognition thatthe nature of life is suffering. Later too after Hisenlightenment, the Buddha continued to display thisquality, as for instance in the famous episode in whichthe Buddha nursed the sick Tissa whose illness was suchthat the other members of the Order shunned him. Let us look at wisdom which is the third of thethree qualities. Wisdom is the most important of thethree qualities because after all it is wisdom that opensthe door to enlightenment. It is wisdom that uprootsignorance, the underlying cause of suffering. It is saidthat just as one can cut off the branches and trunk of atree and yet if the root of the tree is not taken out thebranches and trunk will grow again. So in the same way 24
  • 27. one can eliminate desire through renunciation, ill-willthrough loving-kindness and compassion, but so long asignorance is not eliminated, this desire and ill-will areliable to grow again. Wisdom is achieved primarily through meditation.We have an episode again early in the life of the Buddhain which we see His early development of skill inconcentrating the mind and this episode in fact occurredat the same time as the incident we considered amoment ago involving the bird and the worm. We aretold that after having witnessed the bird devouring theworm, having recognized the unhappy nature of life, theyoung prince sat under a tree and began to meditatespontaneously. He achieved the first level of meditationthrough concentrating the mind on the process ofin-breathing and out-breathing. So we have thisexperience of meditation in the early life of the Buddha,and later when He renounced the household life andwent forth to seek the truth, one of the first disciplineswhich He tried was again the discipline of mentalconcentration. We are told that He studied with twoforemost teachers of the time, Arada Kalama andUdraka Ramaputra and He learned from these teachersthe methods of mental concentration. Last week we saidthat amongst the discoveries made at Mohenjodaro andHarappa were images of the figures sitting in postures ofmeditation. We have very good reasons to believe thatthe methods of mental concentration go as far back asthe 3rd Millennium B.C. and it is very likely that thesetwo teachers were exponents of this tradition of mentalconcentration. Yet we find that the prince left the twoteachers because He found that meditation alone could 25
  • 28. not permanently end suffering. This is importantbecause, although in its emphasis on mentaldevelopment Buddhism is very much in the tradition ofthe Indus Valley Civilization, yet the Buddha goesbeyond the tradition of mere meditation. This is whatdistinguishes the Buddha’s teachings from the teachingsof many other Indian schools, particularly the teachingsof the tradition of Yoga. It is also what distinguishesBuddhism from some of the contemplative traditions ofother religions, because in Buddhism meditation byitself is not enough. Meditation is like sharpening apencil, sharpening the mind so to speak. Just as whenwe sharpen a pencil we sharpen it for a purpose, so thatwe can write with it, so in sharpening the mind we havea purpose and that purpose is wisdom. Sometimes thisrelationship between meditation and wisdom isexemplified by the example of a torch. Suppose wewant to see a picture in a darkened room with a torch. Ifthere are many draughts in the room, we will find thatthe light of the torch will flicker. Similarly, if our handshakes, the light cast by the torch will be unsteady, andwe will be unable to see the image. In the same way, ifwe want to penetrate into the real nature of things, if ourmind is unsteady, distracted, wavers as a result ofemotional disturbances, then we will not be able topenetrate into the real nature of things. The Buddhaapplied this discovery on the night of His enlightenmentwhen we are told that with His mind concentrated, madeone-pointed and supple by meditation, He directed it tothe understanding of the nature of reality and penetratedthe real nature of things. So the Buddha’s enlightenmentis the direct result of this combination of meditation andwisdom — concentration and insight. 26
  • 29. We also find other aspects of wisdom expressed inthe life of the Buddha, and one of the more importantones is of course the Middle Way. We do not have timetoday to discuss all the various levels of the meaning ofthe Middle Way but suffice it to say that the most basicsignificance of the Middle Way is the avoidance of theextreme of indulgence in pleasures of the senses and theextreme of tormenting the body. The Middle Way isexemplified in the life of the Buddha by His ownexperience of a life of luxury as a prince and by the sixyears of vigorous asceticism which He practised afterHe left His father’s palace. After realizing the futility ofthese extremes in His own experiences, He then hitupon the Middle Way which avoids these extremes. There are many other important episodes in the lifeof the Buddha. But if we can begin to see andunderstand the life of the Buddha as a lesson and notsimply as a biography containing a number of namesand places; if we can begin to appreciate the values andqualities that are exemplified in the life of the Buddha,we will have gained greater insight into the realsignificance of the life of the Buddha. 27
  • 30. FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS PART I This is the third in the series of lectures and we aregetting into the real heart of Buddhism with today’slecture because in the next hour or so I would like to saya few words regarding the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths are a very important aspectof the teachings of the Buddha. Their importance hasbeen stated in no uncertain terms by the Buddha. He hassaid that it is because we fail to understand the FourNoble Truths that we have run on so long in this cycleof birth and death. This indicates how important theFour Noble Truths are to the understanding of theBuddha’s teachings and to the realization of the goal ofHis teachings. Similarly, it is no coincidence that in theBuddha’s first sermon the DhammachakkappavattanaSutra to the five monks at the deer park near Benares,the Buddha spoke primarily about the Four NobleTruths and the Middle Path. Here we have two verysignificant indications of the importance of the FourNoble Truths. The Four Noble Truths in a sense are asummary of the Buddha’s teachings both from the pointof view of doctrine or theory and also from the point ofview of practice. So here in the Four Noble Truthswhich are the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause ofsuffering, the truth of the end of suffering and the truthof the path that leads to the end of suffering, we havethe foundation of the teachings of the Buddha forunderstanding and practice. Before we consider the Four Noble Truthsindividually, I would like to say a few words about the 28
  • 31. nature of the scheme that the Four Noble Truthsrepresent and in this context we can perhaps rememberthat medical science had enjoyed a certain amount ofdevelopment in ancient India. One of the structures thathad been developed by medical science in ancient Indiawas the four fold structure of disease, diagnosis, cureand treatment. Now if you think carefully about thesefour steps in the practice of medicine, the practice of theart of healing, you will see that they correspond quiteclosely to the Four Noble Truths. In other words,suffering corresponds to the illness; the cause ofsuffering corresponds to the diagnosis, in other wordsidentifying the cause of the illness; the end of sufferingcorresponds to the cure; and the path to the end ofsuffering corresponds to the treatment whereby one iscured of the illness. Now having said this about the therapeutic natureof the Four Noble Truths and the stages that theyrepresent, I would like to say something slightly moreconceptual but nonetheless very important for thecorrect understanding of the Four Noble Truths. WhenShariputra, one of the foremost disciples of the Buddhacame upon Ashvajit (who was one of the first fivemonks to whom the Buddha delivered the first sermon)and spoke to Ashvajit about the Buddha’s teachings,Ashvajit said, “I cannot tell you in great detail as I amrelatively new to the teachings, but I will tell youbriefly.” So Shariputra said, “Very well, tell me brieflythen,” and Ashvajit replied with a very brief summaryof the Buddha’s teachings which is as follows — Ofthings that proceed from a cause, their cause theTathagata has told, and also their cessation: Thus 29
  • 32. teaches the Great Ascetic. Shariputra was greatlyimpressed by this summary and he went to find hisfriend Maudgalyayana and the two of them soon joinedthe Order and became prominent disciples of theBuddha. This summary of the Buddha’s teachings tellsus something about the central concept that lies behindthe Four Noble Truths. It indicates the importance of therelationship between cause and effect. The idea of causeand effect is at the heart of the Buddha’s teachings andis at the heart of the Four Noble Truths. Now in whatsense? Specifically there is a starting point, the problemof suffering. This problem arises from causes. Finallyjust as there is suffering and the causes of suffering, sotoo there is an end of suffering and a cause for the endof suffering. In this case it is a negative process. In otherwords, when the causes of suffering are removed thensuffering ends. If you look at the Four Noble Truths you can seethat they divide quite naturally into two groups. Thefirst two, suffering and the cause of suffering belong tothe realm of birth and death. Symbolically they can berepresented as a circle, in the sense that they are circular.The causes of suffering lead to suffering, sufferingproduces the causes of suffering which again producesuffering. They are circular. They belong to samsara.The second two, the end of suffering and the path to theend of suffering can be symbolized in terms of a spiral.Movement is no longer circular. It is now directedupwards. If we keep this structure, the idea of cause andeffect at the back of our mind when we look at the FourNoble Truths, I think we can find them easier tounderstand. Similarly, if we remember the principle of 30
  • 33. cause and effect it will be of great value to us as wecontinue to study the Buddha’s teachings when wecome to consider karma and rebirth or when we come toconsider dependent origination. In short, throughout allthe Buddha’s teachings we will see that the principle ofcause and effect runs like a thread. Let us now look at the first of the Four NobleTruths, the truth of suffering (Duhkha). Many non-Buddhists and even some Buddhists have felt disturbedby the choice of suffering as the first of the Four NobleTruths and many have said that this is an indication ofpessimism. I often find non-Buddhists saying to me“Why is Buddhism so pessimistic? Why does it beginwith and emphasize suffering?” There are a number ofanswers to this question. Some of you may be familiarwith the distinction between pessimism, optimism andrealism. Let us put it this way. If one is suffering from adisease and one refuses to recognize the fact that one isill this is not being optimistic, this is merely beingfoolish. It is analogous to the ostrich burying its head inthe sand. If there is a problem the only sensible thing todo is to recognize the problem and see what can be doneto eliminate it. Secondly, if the Buddha had taught onlythe truth of suffering and had stopped at that, then theremight be some truth in the charge that the teachings ofthe Buddha are pessimistic. But the teachings of theBuddha do not end with the truth of suffering becausethe Buddha taught not only the truth of suffering butalso the truth of its cause and more importantly in thiscontext the truth of its cessation. 31
  • 34. All of us, I am quite sure, if we are honest withourselves, will admit that there is a fundamentalproblem with life. Things are not as they should be.Something in somewhere is not quite right. And nomatter how much we may try to run away from it, atsome time or other, perhaps in the middle of the night,or perhaps in the middle of a crowd, or perhaps in themoment during one’s work, we do come face to facewith ourselves, the realization that things are not all asthey should be, that something is wrong somewhere.This is what in fact impels people to seek solutions.They may seek solutions in more material things or theymay seek solutions in various therapies. In Buddhism, specifically the truth of suffering canbe divided into two categories, broadly speaking,physical and mental. Here the physical sufferings are thesufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death. You canrecall that last week we touched upon the Buddha’sencounter with sickness, old age and death in the formof the three sights — the sick man, old man and thecorpse. Here we find a fourth suffering, the suffering ofbirth. Birth is suffering because of the physical painsuffered by the infant and because birth impels all theother sufferings. Birth in a sense is the gateway to theother sufferings of sickness, old age and death whichfollow inevitably upon birth. I think one need hardlyspend much time on the suffering of sickness, old ageand death. Most of us have experience of suffering fromsickness and we have also observed the suffering ofsickness in our friends and relatives. We have allobserved the suffering of old age, the inability to work,to function and to think coherently. We have all 32
  • 35. observed the suffering of death, the pain, and the fearexperienced by the dying. These sufferings are aninevitable part of life. No matter how happy andcontented our lives may be, the sufferings of birth, oldage, sickness and death are absolutely unavoidable. In addition to these physical sufferings there aremental sufferings. There is the suffering of separationfrom our loved ones, separation either due to reasons ofwork or because those whom we love die or becausethose whom we love have to go away, or because wehave to leave them. Then there is the suffering ofcontact with those whom we dislike or those whodislike us. It can take very mild forms such as acolleague at work who is antagonistic to us and wedread to go to work because we know that this personwhom we dislike somehow always wants to find faultwith us. It can take more radical forms such aspersecution, torture and so forth. Finally there is thesuffering of frustrated desire, when we cannot get whatwe want, when we cannot get that job, the position thatwe want, when we cannot win over this or that person.These physical and mental sufferings are woven into thefabric of our existence. But what about happiness? Isthere no happiness or enjoyment in life? Of course thereis. But the pleasure or happiness which we experience inlife is impermanent. We may enjoy a happy situation,we may enjoy the company of someone we love, wemay enjoy youth and health and yet all these forms ofhappiness are impermanent. Sooner or later we willexperience suffering. 33
  • 36. If we really want to do something about suffering,to solve the problem of suffering, we must identify itscause. If the lights go out and we want to set it right wehave to identify its cause. We have to find out whether itis a short circuit or whether a fuse has blown or whetherperhaps the power supply has been cut off. Similarly,when we recognize the problem of suffering we have tolook for the cause. It is by understanding the cause ofsuffering that we can do something to solve theproblem. What is the cause of suffering according to theBuddha? The Buddha has taught that craving or desire(Trishna or Raga) is a great cause of suffering —craving for pleasant experiences, craving for materialthings, craving for eternal life and craving for eternaldeath. We all enjoy good food, we all enjoy fine music,pleasant company. We enjoy all these things and wewant more and more of these things. We try to prolongthese pleasant experiences. We try to get more andmore of these pleasures. And yet somehow we are nevercompletely satisfied. We may find that we are fond of aparticular kind of food and yet if we eat it again andagain we get bored with it. We try another kind of food.We like it, enjoy it and again we get bored with it. Wego on to look for something else, we get tired of ourfavourite piece of music. We get tired of our friends. Welook for more and more. Sometimes this chase afterpleasant experiences leads one to extremely negativeforms of behaviour such as alcoholism and drugaddiction. All of these are the cravings for satisfactionof our desires for pleasant experiences. It is said thattrying to satisfy one’s desire for pleasant experiences islike drinking salt water when one is thirsty. If one drinks 34
  • 37. salt water to satisfy one’s thirst, one’s thirst, rather thanbeing quenched, is only increased. Not only do we crave for pleasant experiences butwe also crave for material things. You can see thisclearly in children. I have a five year old son. Take himinto a toy shop and he will want every toy in the shop.And perhaps he will buy a toy. Almost as soon as he hasbought the toy he begins to lose interest in it, andwithout fail, within a few days the toy will be neglectedin the corner of the room and he will want another toy.While this can be seen very clearly in young children,are we any different? After we have bought that new cardon’t we want another one? After we have got a newhouse don’t we think “Well, this house is quite nice, butit will be even nicer if I can get a better one, one with alittle garden or one with four rooms, or a point block, ora condominium.” And it goes on and on, whether it is atrain set or a bicycle or a video recorder or a MercedesBenz. It is said that the desire for acquiring wealth orpossession is involved with three major sufferings, orproblems. The first one is the problem of getting it. Youhave to work, and save enough to buy that car or thathouse. Secondly, there is the suffering of protecting it.You worry that someone might bang your car, youworry that your house may burn down or be damagedby the rain. Finally there is the suffering of losing them,because sooner or later they will fall apart. Craving for existence or eternal life is a cause ofsuffering. We all crave for existence, we all crave forlife. Despite all the suffering and frustration of life weall crave for life. And it is this craving which causes us 35
  • 38. to be born again and again. Then there is the desire forannihilation, the desire for non-existence, what wemight call the desire for eternal death. This expressesitself in nihilism and in suicide. Craving for existence isone extreme. Craving for non-existence is anotherextreme. You may ask, “Is craving alone a sufficient causeof suffering? Is craving alone enough to explainsuffering? Is the answer as simple as that?” The answeris no. There is something that goes deeper than craving.There is something which in a sense is the foundation ofcraving. And that something is ignorance (Avidya). Ignorance is not seeing things as they really are, orfailing to understand the reality of experience or thereality of life. All those who are well educated may feeluneasy about being told that they are ignorant. I canrecall what Professor Lancaster who visited Singapore afew months ago said regarding this. He said this is oneof the most difficult things to explain to universitystudents in the United States when they begin a coursein Buddhist studies because they are all very happy andproud to be in the university. Here you have to tell themthat they are ignorant. He says always the hands shootup immediately, “How are we ignorant? In what senseare we ignorant?” Let me say this. Without the rightconditions, without the right training and without theright instruments we are unable to see things as theyreally are. None of us would be aware of radio waves ifit were not for the radio receiver. None of us would beaware of bacteria in a drop of water if it were not formicroscopes, and none of us would be aware of 36
  • 39. molecular structure if it were not for the latesttechniques of electron microscopy. All these facts aboutthe world in which we live in are known and observedonly because of special training, special conditions andspecial instruments. When we say that ignorance isfailure to see things as they really are, what we mean isthat so long as one has not developed one’s ability toconcentrate one’s mind and insight so one is ignorant ofthe true nature of things. We are familiar with the fearthat we experience when we see a shape in the darknessby the side of the road while walking home alone late atnight. That shape by the side of the road may be a treestump. Yet it is our ignorance that causes us to quickenour steps, perhaps our palms may begin to perspire, wemay reach home in a panic. If there were a light therewould be no fear and no suffering because there wouldbe no ignorance. We would have seen the tree stump forwhat it is. Specifically in Buddhism, we are speaking aboutignorance regarding the self, taking the self as real. Thisis the fundamental cause of suffering. We take our bodyor ideas or feelings as a self, as a real independent egojust as we take the tree stump for a potential assailant.Once we have this idea of self we have an idea ofsomething that is apart from or different from ourselves.Once we have this idea of something that is apart ordifferent from ourselves, then it is either helpful orhostile. It is either pleasant or unpleasant to ourselves.From this notion of self we have craving and ill-will.Once we believe in the real existence of ourselves, that“we” exist in reality, independently, apart from allothers, apart from all the physical objects that surround 37
  • 40. us, we crave and desire and want those things whichbenefit us and we are averse towards those things whichdo not benefit us, which damage us or which areunhelpful to us. Because of this failure to see that in thisbody and mind there is no independent, permanent self,desire and ill-will inevitably thrive. Out of the root andthe trunk of ignorance grow the branches of craving —desire, greed, ill-will, anger, hatred, envy, jealousy,pride and the whole lot. All these branches grow out ofthe root and trunk of ignorance and these branches bearthe fruits of suffering. So here, ignorance is the under-lying cause, and craving, ill-will, greed and anger arethe secondary or subsequent causes. After having identified the causes of suffering oneis in a position to put an end to suffering. Just aswhen one might identify the cause of that pain in one’slower abdomen on the left side as appendicitis, onewould then be in a position to remove the cause of thepain. One can put an end to suffering by eliminating thecause of suffering, by eliminating craving, ill-will andignorance. Here we come to the Third Noble Truth, thetruth of the end of suffering. In dealing with the truth of the end of suffering, thefirst obstacle that we have to overcome is the doubt thatexists in some minds of whether an end of suffering isreally possible. Whether one can really end suffering, orwhether one can really be cured. It is in this context thatconfidence or faith plays an important role inBuddhism. When we speak of confidence or faith we donot speak of faith in the sense of blind acceptance. Wespeak of faith in the sense of recognizing or admitting 38
  • 41. the possibility of achieving the goal of the end ofsuffering. If you do not believe that a doctor can cureyou of that pain in your abdomen you will never go to adoctor, you will never take the medicine or have theoperation and as a result you may die of that illnesswhich could be cured. So confidence, belief in thepossibility of being cured is an indispensable pre-requisite. Here too, as in other cases, people may say,“How can I believe in the possibility of Nirvana? Howcan I believe that the end of suffering is really possiblewhen I have never experienced it?” Well, as I said amoment ago, none of us would have experienced radiowaves were it not for the development of radioreceivers, and none of us would have experiencedmicroscopic life were it not for the invention of themicroscope. Even now none of us here, unless there isany physicist in this room, have actually observedelectrons and yet we accept them because there are thoseamong us with the special training, and specialinstruments who have observed electrons. So here too asregards the possibility of the end of suffering and thepossibility of attaining Nirvana, we ought not to rejectthe possibility of attaining Nirvana outright simplybecause we have not experienced it, simply because wehave not seen it for ourselves. Many of you may befamiliar with the old story of the turtle and the fish. Oneday the turtle left the pond and spent a few hours on thebank. When he returned to the water he told the fish ofhis experiences on the bank. The fish would not believehim. The fish would not believe that there existed aplace known as dry land because it was totally unlikewhat the fish knew, what the fish was familiar with. Thefish would not believe that there was a place where 39
  • 42. creatures walked rather than swam, where one breathedair rather than water, and so forth. There are manyhistorical examples of this tendency to rejectinformation that does not tally with what we alreadybelieve, or what we are already familiar with. WhenMarco Polo returned to Italy from his travels to the FarEast, he was imprisoned because his account did nottally with what was then believed about the nature of theuniverse. When Copernicus advanced the theory thatthe sun did not circle the earth but in fact that the casewas the opposite, he was disbelieved and ridiculed. Weought to be on guard against dismissing the possibilityof the complete end of suffering or the possibility ofattaining Nirvana simply because we have not ex-perienced it ourselves. Once we accept that the end ofsuffering is possible, that we can be cured of an illness,then we can proceed with the steps that are necessary inorder to achieve that cure. But unless and until webelieve that that cure is possible there is no question ofsuccessfully completing the treatment. In order thereforeto realize progress on the path, to realize eventually theend of suffering one has to have at least confidence inthe possibility of achieving the goal, in the possibility ofattaining Nirvana. 40
  • 43. FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS PART II When we speak of the end of suffering, the truth ofthe cessation of suffering, we are speaking of the goal ofthe Buddhist path. In one place the Buddha says thatjust as the ocean, though vast, is of one taste — the tasteof salt, so it is in His teachings. Although there are manyitems, all these teachings as vast as the ocean have onlyone taste, and that is the taste of Nirvana. As you willsee, although there are many items of Buddhistteachings — the Four Noble Truths, the three ways ofpractice, dependent origination, the three characteristicsand so on — all these teachings have one goal in view andthat goal is the cessation of suffering. It is the goal thatgives all the various teachings that we find in Buddhismtheir directions and purposes. The end of suffering is thegoal of Buddhist practice and yet this end of suffering isnot something which is only transcendental, which isonly ultimate. This is interesting because yesterday Iwas asked to speak on the origin and development of theSemitic religions and at the end of the session one of thequestions raised was “What is the final goal of theSemitic religions and what is the distinction between thespiritual goal offered by the Semitic religions and thegoal offered by Buddhism?” In the case of the Semiticreligions, I think it is fair to say that there are two goals.One refers to this life, and is expressed in the sense ofbuilding a kingdom of love, prosperity and justice inthis world. The other higher goal refers to attainingheaven in the after-life. But in Buddhism we have amuch more comprehensive treatment. In other words,this goal of the end of suffering that the Buddha speaks 41
  • 44. of is very broad and comprehensive in its meaning.Because when we speak of the end of suffering, we canmean the end of suffering here and now, eithertemporarily or permanently. Let us see whether we canexplain this in greater detail. Suppose we happen to bein dire poverty — insufficient food, medicine, schoolsand so forth. There are sufferings such as birth, sickness,disease and old age, separation from one’s loved ones,contact with those we dont want contact. When we remedythe situation here and now through achieving prosperity,through developing our medical and educationalsystems, our sufferings are reduced. Buddhism teachesthat the particular happiness or suffering that isexperienced in this life is the result of our actions donein the past. In other words, if we are in fortunateconditions, these conditions are the results of good orwholesome actions done in the past. Similarly, thosewho find themselves in less fortunate conditions, thoseconditions are the results of unwholesome actions donein the past. What does Buddhism offer in the way of the end ofsuffering? Practising Buddhism results in the short termin relative happiness in this life. This happiness can beof a material variety in the sense of better materialconditions or it can be of a spiritual variety in the senseof greater peace or happiness of mind. All of these areachievable in this very life here and now. This is onedimension of the end of suffering in this life. And this isequivalent to what the Semitic religions call the king-dom on earth. In addition to this, the end of sufferingmeans happiness and good fortune in the next life, in thesense of rebirth in fortunate circumstances, in circum- 42
  • 45. stances of happiness, prosperity, health, well-being,success and so on. And this can be as a human being onthis earth or it can be in the heavens. We can liken it tothe heaven that the Semitic religions speak of. The goalof Buddhism initially means happiness and prosperity inthis life and next. But the goal of Buddhism is morethan just that and it is here that Buddhism differs fromthe Semitic religions because not only does Buddhismpromise happiness and prosperity in this life and next,Buddhism also offers liberation — Nirvana, the total,absolute and permanent cessation of suffering. This isthe ultimate and final goal of Buddhism. When we speak of Nirvana, we encounter certainproblems of expression because when we are speakingof an experience, the exact nature of that experiencecannot be communicated. It has to be experienceddirectly. This is true of all experiences whether they bethe experiences of the taste of salt, sugar, chocolate orwhatever. All these experiences cannot be exactlydescribed. I often ask people here in Singapore in orderto make this point. Imagine I have just recently arrivedin Singapore and I have not eaten a durian. How wouldyou describe to me the taste of a durian? Would it bepossible to describe accurately the taste of a durian if Ihave not eaten one myself? We can describe it by meansof comparison or simile or by means of negation. So, forinstance, you might say that a durian is slightly sour,that it has a mealy texture. You might say a durian issomething like a jackfruit or you might say a durian isnot like a banana. So we have a similar kind of problemwhen we come to try to describe Nirvana. We find that 43
  • 46. the Buddha and Buddhist teachers have used these kindsof devices to describe Nirvana. The Buddha described Nirvana as supremehappiness, as peace, as immortal. Similarly, He hasdescribed Nirvana as uncreated, unformed, as beyondthe earth, as beyond water, fire, air, beyond the sun andmoon, unfathomable, unmeasurable. So we have twoapproaches to the description of Nirvana. One is thepositive approach where we liken Nirvana to somethingwhich we experience in this world where, say, when oneexperiences intense happiness accompanied by pro-found peace of mind one can imagine that one isexperiencing a faint glimpse of Nirvana. But a jackfruitis not really like a durian. Similarly, we can say thatNirvana is not like anything in this world, is not like anyexperience that we have from day to day. It is uncreated.It is beyond the sun and the moon. It is beyond all thesenames and forms which we are used to thinking in termsof, through which we experience the world. The point ofall these is that to understand what Nirvana is really likeone has to experience it for oneself. To know what adurian is really like, one has to eat it. No amount ofessays, no amount of descriptions of durians will evenapproach the experience of eating one. One has toexperience the end of suffering for oneself and the waythat one does it is through eliminating the causes ofsuffering — the defilements of desire (Raga) ill-will(Dosha) and ignorance (Avidya). When one has totallyeliminated these causes of suffering, then one willexperience for oneself Nirvana. 44
  • 47. How does one remove these causes of suffering?What are the means through which one can remove thedefilements that lead to suffering? This is the pathtaught by the Buddha. It is the Middle Path, the path ofmoderation. You will recall that the life of the Buddhabefore His Enlightenment falls into two quite distinctperiods. The period before renunciation was a periodwhen He enjoyed all the luxury possible. For instance,we are told that He had three palaces, one for eachseason. He experienced luxury to an extent which wecan scarcely imagine. This period of luxury wassuperseded by six years of extreme asceticism andself-mortification when He abandoned the essentialamenities of life, a period in which He lived in the open,wore the poorest garments and fasted for lengthyperiods. In addition to these privations, He experiencedthe suffering of torturing His body through variouspractices of self-mortification — sleeping on beds ofthorns and sitting in the midst of fires in the heat of thenoon-day sun. Having experienced the extremes ofluxury and privation, having reached the limits of theseextremes, He saw their futility and He discovered theMiddle Way that avoids the extremes of indulgence inpleasures of the senses and self-mortification. It wasthrough realizing the nature of the extremes in His ownexperience that He was able to arrive at the Middle Path,the path that avoids the two extremes. As we shall see inthe subsequent weeks, the Middle Path is capable ofmany profound and significant interpretations, but mostimportantly and most essentially, it means moderationin one’s approach to life, in one’s attitude, in all things. We use the example of the three strings of the lute toillustrate the Middle Path. The Buddha once had a 45
  • 48. disciple by the name of Sona who practised meditationso intensely that he could not progress in his meditation.He began to think of abandoning his life as a monk. TheBuddha, who understood his problem, said to him,“Sona, before you became a monk you were amusician”. Sona said that was true. So the Buddha said,“As a musician which string of the lute produces apleasant and harmonious sound. The over-tight string?”“No,” said Sona, “The over-tight string produces anunpleasant sound and is moreover likely to break at anymoment.” “The string that is too loose?” Again, “No,the string that is too loose does not produce a tunefulsound. The string that produces a tuneful sound is thestring that is not too tight and not too loose.” So here thelife of luxury is too loose, without discipline. The life ofmortification is too tight, too tense, too likely to causethe breakdown of the mind and body just as theover-tight string is likely to break at any moment. Specifically, the path to the Buddhist goal is like amedical prescription. When a competent doctor treats apatient for a serious illness, his prescription is not onlyphysical, it is also psychological. If one is suffering, forinstance, from heart disease, one is not only givenmedication. One is also asked to control one’s diet andto avoid stressful situations. Here too when we look atthe specific instructions with regard to following thepath to the end of suffering, we can see that theinstructions refer not only to one’s body – actions andwords – but also to one’s thoughts. In other words, theNoble Eightfold Path, the path to the end of suffering isa comprehensive path, an integrated therapy. It isdesigned to cure the disease through eliminating the 46
  • 49. causes, through treatment that applies not only to thebody but also to the mind. Right understanding is the first step of the NobleEightfold Path and it is followed by Right Thought,Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, RightEffort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.Why do we begin with Right Understanding? It isbecause in order to climb a mountain we have to havethe summit clearly in view. In this sense, the first stepdepends on the last. We have to have our goal in view ifwe are to travel a path to reach that goal. In this sense,Right Understanding gives direction and an orientationto the other steps of the path. We see here that the firsttwo steps of the path, Right Understanding and RightThought refer to the mind. Through Right Under-standing and Right Thought we eliminate ignorance,greed and anger. But it is not enough to say that throughRight Understanding and Right Thought we eliminateignorance, greed and anger because in order to achieveRight Understanding and Right Thought we also need tocultivate, to purify our mind and our body. The way thatthis is done is through the other six steps of the path. Wepurify our physical existence so that it will be easier topurify our mind, and we purify our mind so that it willbe easier to attain Right Understanding. For convenience’ sake, the Noble Eightfold Pathhas been traditionally divided into the three groups oftraining or the three ways of practice and they aremorality or good conduct (Shila), meditation or mentaldevelopment (Samadhi), and wisdom or insight (Prajna).The eight steps of the path are divided into these three 47
  • 50. ways of practice as follows — Right Speech, RightAction and Right Livelihood belong to the way of goodconduct; Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and RightConcentration belong to the way of mental develop-ment; and Right Understanding and Right Thoughtbelong to the way of wisdom. Because it is necessary topurify our words and actions before we can purify ourmind, we begin our progress along the path with goodconduct. As the Noble Eightfold Path is the means ofarriving at the goal of Buddhism, we will be spendingthe next three weeks dealing with these three ways ofpractice. 48
  • 51. MORALITY Last week we completed our survey of the FourNoble Truths and in so doing the last topic that we dealtwith was the Noble Eightfold Path to the end ofsuffering. We used the analogy of mountain climbingwhen we talked about treading the Eightfold Path to theend of suffering. We have said that just as when oneclimbs a mountain the first step depends on the last, thelast depends on the first because we have to have oureyes firmly fixed on the summit of the mountain and yetwe also have to be careful not to stumble while takingthe first few steps up to the mountain path. So here inclimbing a mountain, each portion of the path dependson the other portions. In this sense, regarding the NobleEightfold Path, all the steps of the path are interrelated,are dependent on one another. We cannot do away withany one step. Nonetheless, for practical purposes theeight steps of the path have been divided into three waysof practice, or three divisions of training. These threedivisions are good conduct or morality (Shila), mentaldevelopment or meditation (Samadhi) and finally wis-dom or insight (Prajna). Although conceptually andstructurally, the first step depends upon the last and thelast depends upon the first; although they are dependenton one another, still in practical terms when one climbsa mountain one has to climb the lowest slope first. Onemay be attracted to the summit, but in order to get thereone has to cover the lower slope first. It is for this verypractical reason that we find the eight steps of the Eight-fold Path grouped into these three ways of practice. 49
  • 52. The first of these three ways is good conduct.Good conduct forms a foundation for further progresson the path, for further personal development. It is saidthat just as the earth is the base of all animate andinanimate things, so is morality the foundation of allqualities. When we look around us we can see thateverything rests upon the earth, whether it be thebuilding, whether it be the tree and bush, or whether itbe the animal. The earth is the foundation, and in thesame manner morality is the foundation of all qualities,all virtues, all attainments ranging from the mundane tothe supra-mundane, ranging from success, good fortuneall the way up to skill in meditation, wisdom andenlightenment. Through this metaphor, we can under-stand the importance of good conduct as a foundationfor following the path, as a basis for achieving results onthe path. Why do we take time to stress the importance ofgood conduct as a foundation for progress on the path?The reason is that there is a tendency to think of goodconduct as rather boring, rather dull. Meditation soundsmore exciting and interesting. Philosophy has a kind offascination about it. There is a dangerous tendency toneglect the importance of good conduct and to go to themore exciting parts of the path. But if we do not createthis foundation of good conduct, we will not succeed intreading the other parts of the path. We have to understand the way in which theprecepts or the rules of good conduct are establishedwithin Buddhism because there are various ways inwhich moral or ethical codes are established. If you look 50
  • 53. at the moral codes of the major religions, you will findthat there is a surprising correspondence. If you look atthe moral teachings of Confucius, of Lao Tzu, of theBuddha, of Hindu teachers, Christians, Muslims, andJews, you will find that regarding the basic rules ofmorality, there is a large degree of correspondence. Butwhile the rules in many cases correspond, the attitude,the ways in which the rules are presented, understoodand interpreted differ considerably from religion toreligion. Essentially, to generalize, there are two ways inwhich moral codes can be established. One way wemight call the authoritarian way, and the other we mightcall the democratic way. And a good example of thefirst is God’s handing down the Ten Commandments toMoses on the mountain. On the other hand inBuddhism, I think what we have here might be called ademocratic way of establishing the rules of goodconduct. You might wonder why I say that. After all wedo have the rules of good conduct laid down inscriptures. So you might ask is this not similar to God’shanding down the tablets to Moses? But I think this isnot really so because if we look closely at the scriptures,we do find what lies behind the rules of good conduct,and the principles that lie behind that are the foundationof the rules of good conduct, are the principles ofequality and reciprocity. What equality means is that all living beings areequal in their essential attitudes. In other words, allliving beings want to be happy. They fear pain, deathand suffering. All want to live, to enjoy happiness andsecurity. And this is also true to all living beings just asit is true to ourselves. We can call this equality the great 51
  • 54. universality of the Buddhist vision in which all livingbeings are equal. On the basis of this equality, we areencouraged to act with the awareness of reciprocity. Reciprocity means that just as we would not like tobe killed, robbed, abused and so forth, so would allother living beings not like to have these things happento them. One can put this principle of reciprocity quitesimply by saying “do not act towards others in a waywhich you would not want them to act towards you”.Given these principles of equality and reciprocity, it isnot hard to see how they stand behind, how they createthe foundation for the rules of good conduct. Let us now look specifically at the contents ofgood conduct in Buddhism. The way of practice of goodconduct includes three parts of the Noble EightfoldPath, and these three parts are Right Speech, RightAction, and Right Livelihood. Speech is an extremelyimportant part of our life. We often tend to under-estimate the power of speech. We often tend to exercisevery little control over our faculty of speech. Thisshould not be so. We have all been very greatly hurt bysomeone’s words at some time of our life. Andsimilarly, we have been encouraged by the words ofanother. In the sphere of politics, we can see how thosewho are able to communicate effectively are able toinfluence people tremendously for better or for worse.Hitler, Churchill, Martin Luther King were allaccomplished speakers who were able to influencemillions of people with their words. It is said that aharsh word can wound more deeply than weapons. Agentle word can change the heart and mind of the most 52
  • 55. hardened criminal. Probably more than anything else,the faculty of speech differentiates man from animals.So if one is to develop a society in which harmony,well-being, communication and co-operation are goalswhich are to be realized, one must control, cultivate andutilize one’s faculty of speech positively. All the rules of good conduct involve respect thatis founded upon the understanding of equality andreciprocity. In this context, right speech involves respectfor truth and respect for the welfare of others. If onespeaks with these criteria in mind, one will becultivating right speech and through this one willachieve greater harmony within society. Traditionallywe speak of four aspects of right speech. Right speechmeans to avoid lying, to avoid back biting or slander, toavoid harsh speech, and to avoid idle talk. Some of youmay recall the Buddha’s instruction to Rahula regardingthe importance of avoiding lying. He used the exampleof a vessel. The vessel had a tiny bit of water in thebottom and He asked, “Rahula, see the small amount ofwater in the bottom of the vessel. Those who are notashamed of lying, their virtue is small, their renunciationis small like the small amount of water in the vessel.”Then the Buddha threw away the water and said, “thosewho are not ashamed of lying throw away their virtuejust as this water is thrown away.” Then the Buddhashowed Rahula the empty vessel and said, “just soempty is the virtue, the renunciation of those whohabitually tell lies.” Thus He used the vessel as a means to illustrate thepoint that lying is intimately associated with one’s 53
  • 56. practice of wholesome actions, with one’s goodconduct, with one’s character. Once we are confidentthat we can act in one way and speak in another, thenwe will not be afraid to act badly, because we will beconfident that we can cover up our bad actions by lying.Lying therefore opens the door to all kinds ofunwholesome actions. Slander is divisive. It createsquarrels between friends. It creates pain and discord. Sojust as one would not want to be divided from one’sfriend by slander, so ought one not to slander another.So also one ought not to abuse others with harsh words,but on the contrary should speak courteously to othersas one would like to be spoken to oneself. Regardingidle talk, often you hear of people saying that we cannoteven indulge in a bit of idle talk. It is not quite that bad.Here the kind of idle talk that is particularly indicatedrefers to malicious gossips, diverting oneself, entertain-ing oneself, recounting the faults and failings of others.Rather than use this faculty of speech which is sopowerful for deception, for dividing others, for abusingothers, for idling away time at the expense of others,why not use it constructively, to communicate meaning-fully, to unite others, to encourage understandingbetween neighbours and friends, and to communicatehelpful, meaningful advice. The Buddha once said,“Pleasant speech is as sweet as honey, truthful speech isas beautiful as a flower, and wrong speech is unwhole-some and filthy”. So let us try for our own good and thatof others to cultivate Right Speech, respect for truth, andrespect for the welfare of others. The next part of the path that falls under goodconduct is Right Action. Right Action entails respect for 54
  • 57. life, respect for property, and respect for personalrelationships. We will recall what was said a momentago about life being dear to all. It is said in theDharmapada that all tremble at punishment, all feardeath, and that all living beings love life. So again,keeping in mind the principles of equality andreciprocity, we ought not to kill living beings. Onemight be ready to accept this in regard to human beings,but we might demur with regard to other livingcreatures. Some of the developments that we have seentaking place in the world of science and technology inrecent years ought to give the most skeptical free-thinker food for thought. When one destroys a certainstrain of insects, is one absolutely sure of accomplishingthe greatest good, the long-term good of theenvironment? Or do we more often than not contributeunwittingly to an imbalance which creates even greaterproblems in the future? Respect for property — not tosteal from or cheat others. This is important becausethose who take what is not given, by stealth, by treachery,are as guilty of breaking this precept as those who stealby force. In other words, the employer who does notpay his employee an honest wage that is commensuratewith his work is guilty of taking what is not given.Similarly, the employee who collects a salary and shirkshis duties is guilty of lack of respect for property.Finally respect for personal relationships means to avoidadultery, to avoid sexual misconduct. You can see how,if these guidelines are sincerely cultivated within asociety, such a society will be a better place to live in. The third step of the Noble Eightfold Path includedin the way of good conduct is Right Livelihood. Right 55
  • 58. Livelihood is an extension of the rules of Right Actionto one’s role as a breadwinner in a society. We haveseen that with regard to Right Speech and Right Actionthe underlying principles behind the rules are respect fortruth, life, property and personal relationships. RightLivelihood means that one ought not to earn a living insuch a way as to violate these principles which areunderlying principles of good conduct. Specifically,there are five kinds of livelihood that are discouragedfor Buddhists. These are trading in animals forslaughter, dealing in slaves, dealing in weapons, dealingin poisons, and dealing in intoxicants, those are drugsand alcoholic drinks. These five kinds of livelihood arediscouraged because they contribute to the ills of societyand because they violate the principles of respect for lifeand so forth. Dealing in the slaughter of animals violatesrespect for life. Dealing in slaves violates respect for lifeand personal relationships. Dealing in deadly weaponsviolates the principle of respect for life. Dealing inpoisons violates the principle of respect for life. Dealingin intoxicants violates the principle of respect for thewelfare of others. All these trades contribute to theinsecurity, to the suffering and discord in society. How does good conduct function? We have saidthat, in regard to society, following the rules of goodconduct creates a society characterized by harmony andpeace. All social goals can be achieved through theprinciples and rules of good conduct based upon thefundamental recognition of equality and reciprocity. Inaddition, the individual also benefits through thepractice of good conduct. In one Sutra, the Buddha said,“he who has practised respect for life and so forth, he 56
  • 59. feels as a king duly crowned and his enemies subdued.He feels at peace, at ease.” The practice of good conductcreates within the individual an inner sense of peace, ofstability, of security and of strength. Once he has createdthat inner peace, he can then fruitfully and successfullypractise the other steps of the path. He can cultivate anddevelop meditation. He can achieve wisdom only whenhe has created both inwardly and outwardly in hisrelationships with others and in himself the necessaryfoundation of good conduct. Very briefly, these are the origin, contents and goalof good conduct. I would like to touch on one pointbefore I stop today, and that is when people look at therules of good conduct, they often say how can theypossibly follow the rules of good conduct? It is terriblydifficult to observe the precepts. For instance, even theprecept against taking life can sometimes seem awfullydifficult to follow. When you clean up your kitchen, youquite likely may kill some ants. Again, it may seemdifficult to always observe the precept of Right Speech.How are we to deal with this problem which is agenuine one? It is not the point whether we can observeall the rules of good conduct all the time. The point is, ifthe rules of good conduct are well founded, if we canaccept that equality and reciprocity are principles webelieve in, if we acknowledge that the rules areappropriate to implementing those principles, then it isour duty to practise, to follow the rules of good conductas much as we can. That is not to say that we will beable to follow the rules absolutely all the time. But it isto say that if we accept that in order to live at peace withourselves and others, we ought to respect the life of 57
  • 60. other living beings, respect their property and so forth.And if a situation arises in which we find ourselvesunable to apply a particular rule in a particular situation,then that is not the fault of the rule. That simply is thegap between our own practice and the ideal. When a navigator steers his ship across the oceanby the stars, he is not able to follow precisely the courseindicated by the stars. Yet the stars are his guide and byfollowing the stars however inaccurately or approxi-mately, he reaches his destination. In the same way,when we follow the rules of good conduct we do notpretend that we can observe them all the time. This iswhy for instance the five precepts are called the trainingprecepts and that is why we take them again and again.What we have in the rules of good conduct is aframework through which we can try to live in accordwith the fundamental principles that illuminate theBuddhist teachings, the principle of the equality of allliving beings and the principle of respect for others. 58
  • 61. MENTAL DEVELOPMENT Our topic today is mental development. We aregoing to look at the steps of the Noble Eightfold Paththat fall into the group known as mental development,meditation or Samadhi. We have spoken about how thesteps of the path are interrelated and in this context it isparticularly interesting to understand the position ofmental development because standing as it is betweengood conduct and wisdom it is relevant and importantfor both of them. You may ask why this is the case. Infact sometimes people have said to me regarding theneed for meditation: if one simply follows the moralprecepts, is that not sufficient to lead a moral life? I think there are several answers to this question.First of all, in Buddhism there is not only one goal.Besides the goal of happiness and good fortune, there isalso the goal of freedom. If one wants to attain the goalof freedom, the only way that can be achieved isthrough wisdom. And in order to achieve wisdom onehas to purify the mind, develop the mind throughmeditation. Even for the practice of good conduct, forthe observance of moral rules, mental development isnecessary. Why? Because it is relatively easy to followthe rules of good conduct when things are going well. Ifwe have a good job, if we live in a stable society, if weearn sufficiently to support ourselves and our families, itis relatively easy to observe the precepts. But when wefind ourselves in circumstances of stress, of instability,as for instance when we lose our job, when we findourselves in a situation where lawlessness prevails, thisis the point at which the observance of good conduct 59
  • 62. comes under attack. In this kind of circumstance, theonly thing that can safeguard our practice of goodconduct is mental development, strengthening of themind, attaining control over the mind. In that way,mental development on the one hand serves as asafeguard of our practice and on the other hand it servesto prepare the mind to see things as they really are, toprepare the mind to attain wisdom which will open thedoor to freedom, to enlightenment. Mental developmenttherefore has an extremely important role in the practiceof the Noble Eightfold Path. This emphasis on mental development is notsurprising if we remember the importance of the role ofthe mind in experience in Buddhism. I remember aweek before last, someone in the audience remarked thatit seemed as though the mind was the most importantthing in regard to the steps of the Noble Eightfold Path.I remarked that this was a very significant and truestatement. We find this very clearly in the Buddha’sown words. The Buddha has said that the mind is thesource of all mental states, that all mental states arefashioned by the mind. It is also said that the mind is thesource of all virtues, of all qualities. In order to attainthese virtues, one must discipline the mind. Mind is thekey to changing the nature of our experience. It wasonce said that if we had to cover the whole surface ofthe earth in order to protect our feet from being cut bysticks and stones, if we had to cover the whole surfaceof the earth with leather, this would be a very difficultundertaking. But by covering only the surface of ourfeet with leather it is as if the whole surface of the earthwere covered with leather. In the same way if we had to 60
  • 63. purify the whole universe of greed, anger and delusion,it would be a very difficult task. Simply by purifyingour own mind of greed, anger and delusion it is as if thewhole universe were purified of these defilements. Thatis why in Buddhism we focus upon the mind as the keyto achieving a change in the way we experience life, inthe way we relate to other people. The importance of the mind has recently beenrecognized by scientists, psychologists and doctors.Some of you may be aware of some of the techniquesthat are being used by medical practitioners in the west.A number of doctors have successfully employedtechniques very similar to the techniques of meditationin order to help patients overcome chronic diseases anddisorders. This is now a recognized fact within themedical profession. Not long ago I was told of a caseinvolving the wife of a professor. Their family doctorhas begun to use techniques of mental development totreat patients who are suffering from certaincomplaints. The lady was told that she would need anoperation to correct a certain disorder. Alternatively, itwas suggested that she practice this technique of mentaldevelopment twice a day for a period of two months.Having practised this, it was found that she no longerrequired the operation. We can all understand theinfluence the mind has on our attitude by looking at ourown experience. We know how we occasionally feelhappy and have a positive attitude towards ouractivities, and when this happens we are efficient, werespond and we are able to carry out our activities in thebest possible way. On other occasions when our mind isdisturbed and depressed, we find that we cannot even 61
  • 64. discharge simple tasks efficiently. In this way, we cansee how important the mind is in all spheres of activity. There are three steps of the Noble Eightfold Paththat are included in this mental development group andthey are Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and RightConcentration. Together these three steps encourage andenable one to be self reliant, attentive and calm. First ofall, in its most general sense Right Effort meanscultivating a positive attitude towards our undertakings.We can call Right Effort enthusiasm as well. It meansundertaking our tasks with energy, with a will to carrythem through. It is said in one text that we ought toembark upon our tasks in the same way as an elephantenters a cool lake during the heat of the midday sun.With this kind of effort, we can then be successful inwhatever we plan to do, whether in our career, in ourstudy, or in our practice of the Dharma. In this senseeffort is also related to confidence. It is a practicalapplication of confidence. If we fail to put effort intowhatever we do, we cannot hope to succeed. But effortmust be controlled, must be balanced, and here we canrecall what we said regarding the Middle Path, thestrings of the lute, the overly tight string and the overlyloose string. So effort should never become too tense,too extreme, and similarly, it should not become tooslack, should not be abandoned. This is what we meanby Right Effort, a controlled, sustained, enthusiastic,cheerful determination. Right Effort is defined as four fold. It is the effortto prevent unwholesome thoughts from arising. It is theeffort to reject unwholesome thoughts once they have 62
  • 65. arisen. It is the effort to cultivate wholesome thoughts. Itis the effort to maintain wholesome thoughts. This last isparticularly important because it is often the case thateven when we have succeeded in cultivating wholesomeattitudes, all too often these are short-lived. Betweenthem, these four aspects of Right Effort focus the energyof Right Effort upon our mental states in such a way asto reduce and eventually eliminate the number ofunwholesome mental states that we entertain in ourmind and to increase and firmly establish wholesomethoughts as a natural integral part of our mental states. The second step of the Noble Eightfold Path that isincluded in the group of mental development is RightMindfulness. Right Mindfulness is essential even in ourdaily life. This Buddhist teaching, in fact I wouldventure to say all Buddhist teachings, can be explained,can be exemplified with situations that belong toeveryday life, that are familiar to all of us. In fact if youlook at the Buddha’s own teachings, you will find thatHe always used examples that were familiar to hisaudience when teaching the Dharma. So here too inregard to mindfulness, we may do well to look at theimportance of mindfulness in our ordinary mundaneactivities. Mindfulness is awareness or attention, avoid-ing a distracted and clouded state of mind. There wouldbe many fewer accidents if everyone were mindful. Sowhether one is driving a car, or crossing a busy street, ordoing accounts, whatever one is doing, that task wouldbe more effectively carried out if one is attentive andmindful. It will increase one’s efficiency, productivity,and similarly it will reduce the number of accidents thatoccur due to inattention, due to the failure to be aware. 63
  • 66. Specifically, in regard to the practice of theDharma, mindfulness acts as a rein upon our mind. Inthis sense, if we consider how our mind normallybehaves, we can see a need for a rein, a control upon ourmind. A moment ago, there was a gust of wind whichcaused a window over here on my right to bang. I amsure that most of our minds immediately focussed uponthat sound. Similarly, at almost every moment of ourlife, our minds are running after objects of the senses.The mind is never concentrated, or still. The objects ofthe senses may be sounds, or they may be sights. As youdrive down the streets, your eyes may be caught by anattractive advertisement, your mind will be attracted tothat advertisement. When you smell someone’sperfume, your mind will become entangled with thatobject. All these are the causes of distraction. So inorder to control, to minimize this distraction, we need akind of guard which can protect the mind frombecoming entangled with objects of the senses, frombecoming entangled in unwholesome thoughts. Thisguard is mindfulness. The Buddha once told a storyabout two acrobats — master and apprentice. On oneoccasion the master said to the apprentice, “You protectme, and I will protect you. In this way we will performour tricks and come down safely.” But the apprenticesaid, “No master, that will not do. I will protect myselfand you will protect yourself.” In the same way we haveto guard our own mind. Some people may say this israther selfish. What about teamwork? But I think that isa fundamental misunderstanding. A chain is only asstrong at its weakest link. A team is only as efficient asits members. A team of distracted persons who areincapable of discharging their own responsibilities will 64
  • 67. be an inefficient team. Similarly, in order that we canplay an effective role in relation to our fellow beings,we must first guard our mind. Suppose you have a finecar. You will be careful to park the car in such a placeso that it will not be hit by another motorist. Even atwork or at home, you will occasionally look out of thewindow to make sure the car is all right. You will besure to take it to the mechanic regularly. You will besure to wash it regularly. In the same way all of uspossess one thing which is far more valuable than anyother possession. That one thing is our mind. Recognizing the value of our mind, we ought toguard it. This is being mindful. This is an aspect ofmental development which we can practise at any timeand in any place. Sometimes I find people saying to methat it is extremely difficult to practise meditation, andoften people are also somewhat afraid to practisemeditation. By and large, they are thinking of concen-tration meditation or sitting meditation. But even if oneis not prepared to practise concentration meditation,certainly Right Effort and Right Mindfulness can bepractised without any fear of any adverse consequences.It simply entails being aware and attentive, watchingyour mind, seeing where it is going, seeing what it isdoing. Just as when I am talking to you now, with onecorner of my mind I can watch my mind, keep an eye onmy mind. What am I thinking of? Is my mind on what Iam saying to you, or am I thinking about what happenedthis morning, or last week, or what I will be doingtomorrow. I once heard a teacher saying that if you aremaking a cup of tea, Buddhism means making a cup oftea well, focussing, concentrating the mind on what one 65
  • 68. is doing. This is true no matter what one is doing —cleaning the house, going to school, or cooking. Nomatter what one is doing, one can practise mindfulness,the practice of watching the mind, of keeping an eye onthe mind. The practice of mindfulness traditionally hasplayed an important role in Buddhism. At one place, theBuddha has called the practice of mindfulness the oneway to achieve the end of suffering. Specifically, thepractice of mindfulness has been developed to includefour particular applications. These are application ofmindfulness with regard to body - awareness of thepositions of one’s limbs and so forth; mindfulness withregard to feelings pleasant, unpleasant or neutral;mindfulness with regard to moments of consciousness;and lastly mindfulness with regard to objects. Thesefour stations of mindfulness have continued to play animportant role in the practice of Buddhist meditation. Let us go on to consider the third step, and that isconcentration, or it is sometimes called meditation, ortranquility. You will recall that we traced the origin ofmeditation all the way back to the Indus ValleyCivilization. Concentration has nothing to do withfrenzy, or torpor, or semi-consciousness. Concentrationis the practice of focussing the mind single-pointedly ona single object. The object may be physical or mental.When total single-pointedness of the mind upon a singleobject is achieved through concentration, the mind istotally absorbed in the object to the exclusion of allthoughts, distractions, wavering, agitation, or drowsi-ness. This is the object of the practice of Right Concen- 66
  • 69. tration, to focus the mind single-pointedly upon oneobject. Most of us have had intimations of this kind ofstate. Occasionally something approaching single-pointedness of mind occurs spontaneously whenlistening to a favourite piece of music, or watching thesea or sky. One may have experienced the momentwhen the mind rests single-pointedly, undistractedlyupon that object, that sound or that form. Concentration may be practised in a number ofways. The object of concentration may be a sight suchas a flame, an image, or a flower, or it may be an idea,an immaterial thing such as space, such as loving-kindness. When one practises concentration, onerepeatedly focuses the mind on the object. Thiseventually, gradually leads to the ability to rest the mindupon the object without distraction. When this can beachieved for a protracted period, then one has achievedsingle-pointedness. It is important to note that thisaspect of mental development has to be practised withthe guidance of an experienced teacher. This is becausethere are a number of technical factors that conditionsuccess or failure and they include posture, attitude,duration and occasion of practice. And it is difficult foranyone to get all these right simply by reading a book.Nonetheless, one need not become a monk to practisethis kind of meditation, one need not live in a forest, andone need not abandon one’s daily activities. One canbegin with relatively short periods, as short as ten tofifteen minutes a day. When one’s ability in this kind of meditation isdeveloped, it has two principal benefits. Firstly, it leads 67
  • 70. to mental and physical well-being, comfort, joy, calm,tranquility. Secondly, it turns the mind into aninstrument capable of seeing things as they really are. Itprepares the mind to attain wisdom. When we talk aboutseeing things as they really are, we liken thedevelopment towards this ability to the development ofspecialized instruments in science through which wehave been able to observe atomic particles and so forth.Had it not been for the development of the radioreceiver we would not be aware of radio waves.Similarly, if we do not develop our mind through thecultivation of Right Effort and Right Mindfulness andespecially single-pointedness of the mind, ourunderstanding of the real state of things, of truth willremain an intellectual knowledge. In order to turn ourunderstanding of the Four Noble Truths from bookknowledge into direct experience we have to achieveone-pointedness of the mind. It is at this point thatmental development is ready to turn its attention towisdom. It is at this point that we see the role ofconcentration in Buddhism. I touched upon this brieflywhen I spoke of the Buddha’s decision to leave the twoteachers Arada Kalama and Udraka Ramaputra and ofHis combination of concentration or meditation withpenetrative insight on the night of His enlightenment.So here too, single-pointedness of the mind is notenough. It is similar to sharpening the pencil to writewith, or the sharpening of the axe which we use to cutoff the roots of greed, hatred and delusion. When weachieve single-pointedness of the mind, we are thenready to conjoin tranquility with penetrative under-standing, meditation with wisdom. 68
  • 71. WISDOM Today we are going to complete our survey of theNoble Eightfold Path. In the last two weeks, we havelooked at good conduct and mental development.Today, we have the third group to look at, and that is thewisdom group. Here we have an interesting situationwhich we attended to sometime ago when we discussedthe Four Noble Truths. When one sees the NobleEightfold Path listed in sequence, one begins with RightUnderstanding and yet in the context of the three folddivision of good conduct, mental development andwisdom, wisdom comes at the end. One tries to explainthis by using the analogy of climbing a mountain. Whenone sets out to climb a mountain one has the summit inview and it is the sight of the summit that givesdirection to one’s path. In that sense, even when onebegins to climb the mountain, one has one’s eyes on thesummit. As such, right understanding is necessary rightat the beginning of the path. Yet in practical terms onehas to climb the lower steps, scale the intermediateridges before one reaches the summit, the attainment ofwisdom. In practical terms, therefore, wisdom comes atthe end of one’s practice of the path. Wisdom is described as the understanding of theFour Noble Truths, or the understanding of dependentorigination and so forth. What is meant by this is thatwhen we speak of the attainment of wisdom, we areconcerned with transforming these items of the doctrinefrom simple intellectual facts to real personal facts. Weare interested in changing this knowledge from merebook learning to real living experience. And the way 69
  • 72. this is done is through the cultivation of good conductand specifically through the cultivation of mentaldevelopment. Otherwise, anyone can read in a book theexplanation of the Four Noble Truths and so forth andyet this is not the same as attaining wisdom. As theBuddha Himself said, it is through failing to understandthe Four Noble Truths and dependent origination thatwe have all run on in this cycle of birth and death.Obviously when He said this, He meant somethingdeeper than simply failure to be acquainted intellect-ually with these items of doctrine. Understanding herehas to be taken in the sense of Right Understanding,direct understanding, in the sense of seeing. This isperhaps why so frequently the language of seeing isused to describe the attainment of wisdom. We speak interms of seeing the Truth, of seeing things as they reallyare. Because the attainment of wisdom is not an intel-lectual or academic exercise. It is seeing, understandingthese truths directly. When this kind of directunderstanding of the truth is gained, this is equivalent togaining enlightenment. This opens the door to freedom,freedom from suffering and to Nirvana. Wisdom is thekey thing in Buddhism. In other religions, we find thatfaith is paramount. In still other religions, we find thatmeditation is supreme as for instance in Yoga. InBuddhism, faith is preliminary, meditation is instru-mental. The real heart of Buddhism is wisdom. The two steps of the Noble Eightfold Path that areincluded in wisdom are Right Understanding and RightThought. Right Understanding can be said to be seeingthings as they really are. Understanding the truth aboutthings rather than simply seeing them as they appear to 70
  • 73. be. What this means is insight, penetrative under-standing, seeing beyond the surface of things. If wewant to explain this in doctrinal terms, we will have tospeak about the Four Noble Truths, dependentorigination, impermanence, not-self and so forth. Butfor the moment let us just speak about the means ofgaining Right Understanding. Here we can again see thescientific attitude of the teachings of the Buddha.Because when we come to look at the means ofacquiring Right Understanding, we see that we beginwith objective observation of the situation and ofourselves. We join objective observation with enquiry,examination and consideration. In acquiring Right Understanding, we find thatthere are two types of understanding. One is theunderstanding that we acquire by ourselves. The other isthe understanding that we acquire through others, thatwe are shown by others. Ultimately, these two types ofunderstanding merge because in the final analysis realunderstanding of Right Understanding has to be ourown. But in the meantime, one can distinguish betweenRight Understanding that we achieve through obser-vation of the environment and the Right Understandingthat we achieve through the study of the teachings. Justas with regard to our situation, we are asked to observeobjectively what we see, what we experience and thenexamine and consider its significance, so when weapproach the teachings of the Buddha we are asked tostudy them, to listen to them and then to consider them,to examine them. Whether we speak in terms ofobservation and enquiry, or whether we refer to study ofthe doctrine and we speak in terms of reading, or listen- 71
  • 74. ing and consideration, the third step in this process ofacquiring understanding is meditation. It is on this thirdstage of the process of acquiring Right Understandingthat the two types of understanding merge. To summar-ize, the means of acquiring Right Understanding is asfollows — on the first stage, one has to observe, studyand read. On the second stage, one has to examineintellectually what one has observed, studied and read.On the third stage, one has to meditate upon what onehas examined, considered and determined. Let us use apractical example. Let us say we intend to travel to acertain destination. In order to do so, we acquire a roadmap which shows the route to reach the destination. Welook first at the map for the directions. Then we mustreview what we have seen, review the map, examine themap to be certain that we understand the directions.Only then do we actually travel to our destination. Thisis analogous to meditation. Again supposing we havebought a new piece of equipment. It is not enough toread the instructions. We have to reread the instructions,examine them to be certain that we understand themintellectually. When we are certain that we have clari-fied our intellectual understanding, we can then proceedto actually operate the new piece of equipment. This isanalogous to meditation, to meditating upon what wehave acquired through observation, learning, consider-ation and examination. On the third stage, through medi-tation these facts become part of our living experience. Perhaps we might spend a few moments discussingthe attitude that one can do well to cultivate inapproaching the teachings of the Buddha. It is said thatone who approaches the teachings ought to seek to 72
  • 75. avoid three faults in his attitude and these faults areillustrated with the example of a vessel. In this context,we are the vessel, the teachings are what are to be filledinto the vessel. Suppose the vessel is covered with a lid,we will not be very successful in filling the vessel, saywith milk. This is similar to one who listens to theteachings with a closed mind, a mind that is alreadymade up. The Dharma cannot enter, fill the vessel.Again supposing we have a vessel that has a hole in thebottom. If we fill the vessel with milk, the milk will runout of the hole. This is similar to those of us who findthat what we hear does not stay with us. And finallythere is the case of the vessel in which there areimpurities. Suppose we fill the vessel with milk beforehaving cleaned it. Suppose there is some spoiled milkleft in the vessel. The fresh milk that we fill into thevessel will be spoilt. In the same way if we listen to theteachings with an impure mind, with impure attitudes,because for instance we want to achieve a certainamount of honour, or fame, with these kinds of selfishattitudes or desires, we are like a vessel tainted byimpurities. We must seek to avoid these faults in ourapproach to the teachings of the Buddha, in the study ofthe Dharma. Alternatively, it is said that one might listento the Dharma in the way that a patient listens to theinstructions of the physician. In this context, the Buddhais the physician, the Dharma is the medicine, we are thepatients and the practice of the Dharma is the means bywhich we can be cured of the disease, the disease of thedefilements – greed, anger and delusion – that producesuffering. We will surely achieve some degree of RightUnderstanding if we approach the study of the Dharmawith this notion in mind. 73
  • 76. We often divide Right Understanding into twoaspects. The first relates to the ordinary level while thesecond relates to a deeper level. Sometime ago, wespoke about the goals that Buddhism offers, in the senseof two levels of goals — happiness and good fortune inthis life and the next, and ultimate liberation. Here too,in discussing Right Understanding, we see that there aretwo levels, two aspects of Right Understanding. Thefirst aspect corresponds to the first type of goal, and thesecond corresponds to attaining liberation. The firstaspect of Right Understanding is the understanding ofthe relation between cause and effect in the sphere ofmoral responsibility of our actions and our behavior.This briefly stated means that we will experience theeffects of our actions. If we act well, if we observe theprinciples of respect for life, property, truth and so forth,if we act in these wholesome ways we will experiencethe good effects of our actions. We will enjoy happinessand fortunate circumstances in this life and the next.Conversely, if we act badly, we will experience un-happiness, miseries and unfortunate circumstances inthis life and the next. On the level of understanding as it relates to theultimate goal of the teachings of the Buddha, we areconcerned with Right Understanding in terms of seeingthings as they really are. When we say seeing things asthey really are, what do we mean? Again one can getdoctrinal answers to this question. It can mean seeingthings as impermanent, as dependently originated, asnot-self, as impersonal, as seeing the Four Noble Truths.All these answers are correct. All express somethingabout seeing things as they really are, seeing the reality 74
  • 77. of things. In order to arrive at an understanding of thisfirst and in a sense the last step of the Noble EightfoldPath, we have to look for something that all theseexpressions of Right Understanding have in common.When we describe Right Understanding in all thesevarious ways, all these descriptions are opposed toignorance, to bondage, to entanglement in the cycle ofbirth and death. When the Buddha attained enlighten-ment, His experience was essentially an experience ofdestruction of ignorance. This experience is describedby the Buddha Himself most frequently in terms ofunderstanding the Four Noble Truths and understandingdependent origination. Both the Four Noble Truths anddependent origination are concerned with thedestruction of ignorance. In this sense, ignorance is thecentral problem, the central idea in both the formula ofthe Four Noble Truths and dependent origination. Let us look at the Four Noble Truths again for amoment. The key to transforming one’s experience fromthe experience of suffering to the experience of the endof suffering is understanding the Second Noble Truth,the truth of the cause of suffering. Once we understandthe cause of suffering, we can then act to achieve theend of suffering. The Four Noble Truths as we havediscussed are divided into two groups, two of them to beabandoned, and two of them to be gained — the truth ofsuffering and the truth of the cause of suffering are to beabandoned, and the truth of the end of suffering and thetruth of the path to the end of suffering are to be gained.Understanding the cause of suffering enables one to dothis. We can see this clearly in the Buddha’s descriptionof His experience on the night of His enlightenment. 75
  • 78. When He saw the cause of suffering, when He under-stood that desire, ill-will and ignorance were the causesof suffering, this opened the door to His enlightenment.Ignorance, desire and ill-will are the causes of suffering.If we want to reduce our examination to the mostessential concept, we must focus upon ignorance be-cause it is due to ignorance that desire and ill-will arise. Essentially, ignorance is the idea of a permanent,independent self. It is this conception of an “I” opposedand separate from the people and things around us.Once we have the notion of an “I”, we have aninclination to favour those things that sustain this “I” andto be averse to those things that we think threaten this“I”. It is this conception of the self that is the funda-mental cause of suffering, the root of the variousnegative emotions — desire, anger, ill-will, envy, greedand jealousy. It is ignorant of the fact that the so-called“I”, the self, is just a convenient name for a collection ofever-changing, dependent, contingent factors. Is there aforest apart from the trees? The self is just a convenientname for a collection of processes. The self is a cause ofsuffering and fear. In this context the self is likened tomistaking a rope for a snake in the semi-darkness. If wecome upon a rope in the darkness, we may assume therope is in fact a snake and this assumption is a cause offear. Similarly, in ignorance we take the impersonal,impermanent processes of feelings, perceptions, and soforth to be a self, and as a result we respond to situationswith hope and fear. We desire certain things, we areaverse to others. We are fond of certain people, wedislike others. So ignorance in this sense is the mistakennotion of a permanent ego, of a real self. This teaching 76
  • 79. of not-self does not contradict the law of moralresponsibility, the Law of Karma. In fact, you will recallthat we described Right Understanding in terms of twoaspects, understanding the Law of Karma, and here interms of seeing things as they really are, understandingthe nature of existence. Once this egoism is removed,once this erroneous notion of the self is dispelled byRight Understanding, greed, anger and the rest do notoccur. When this is stopped the end of suffering isgained. I do not expect this to be completely clear toeveryone immediately. We shall be spending severalsessions in the next few weeks deepening and expand-ing the examination of the nature of ignorance. Let us go on to the next part of the path thatbelongs to the wisdom group and that is Right Thought.Here we begin to see the reintegration, the reapplicationof the wisdom group to the sphere of good conductbecause thought has an immense influence on one’sbehaviour. The Buddha has said if one acts and speakswith a pure mind, then happiness follows as one’sshadow that never leaves. And if one speaks and actswith an impure mind, then suffering follows as thewheel follows the hoof of the ox. Thought has atremendous influence on one’s behaviour. Right Thoughtmeans avoiding desire and ill-will. So you can see howimportant wisdom is because the cause of suffering isdescribed in terms of desire, ill-will and ignorance.Right Understanding removes ignorance. Right Thoughtremoves desire and ill-will. So Right Understanding andRight Thought remove the causes of suffering. 77
  • 80. To remove desire and greed we need to cultivaterenunciation or detachment. To remove ill-will, we needto cultivate loving-kindness and compassion. How doesone cultivate the attitudes of renunciation, loving-kindness and compassion which will act as antidotes fordesire and ill-will? Firstly, renunciation is cultivated bymeditating upon the unsatisfactory nature of existence,particularly the unsatisfactoriness of pleasures of thesenses. We liken pleasures of the senses to salt water. Athirsty man who drinks salt water only finds that histhirst increases. He achieves no satisfaction. TheBuddha also likened pleasures of the senses to a certainfruit called the Kimbu fruit. It is a fruit that is verypleasant in appearance. It has an attractive skin. It isfragrant and tasty. But it causes disaster as it ispoisonous when eaten. Similarly, pleasures of the sensesare attractive, enjoyable and yet they cause disaster. Soin order to cultivate detachment, one has to consider theundesirable consequences of pleasures of the senses. Inaddition, one has to contemplate, to understand that thenature of samsara is suffering. That no matter where onemay be born within the confines of the cycle of birthand death, that situation is pervaded by suffering. Thenature of samsara is suffering just as the nature of fire isheat. Through understanding the unsatisfactory natureof existence, and through recognizing the undesirableconsequences of pleasures of the senses one cancultivate detachment. One can cultivate loving-kindness and compassionthrough recognizing the essential equality of all livingbeings. All fear death, all tremble at punishments.Recognizing this, one should not kill or cause others to 78
  • 81. be killed. All desire happiness, all fear pain. In this, weare all alike. All living beings are alike. Recognizingthis, one should not place oneself above others, oneshould not regard oneself differently from the way inwhich one would regard others. This recognition of thefundamental equality of all living beings is basic to thecultivation of loving-kindness and compassion. All wanthappiness just as I want happiness. Understanding this,one ought to regard all living beings with loving-kindness and compassion. One ought to cultivate thiswish that all living beings may be happy. Just as I fearsuffering and pain, and wish to avoid it, so do all livingbeings fear suffering and pain, and wish to avoid it.Understanding this, one develops and cultivates an atti-tude that wishes to see all living beings free from suffering. In this way, we can develop and cultivate theattitudes of renunciation, loving-kindness and com-passion which between them counteract and eventuallyeliminate greed and anger. Finally through wisdom,having eliminated ignorance, greed and anger, havingpurified ourselves of those three defilements, we canattain freedom, the final goal that is the purpose of theNoble Eightfold Path, the bliss of Nirvana. 79
  • 82. KARMA Today we have come to a couple of related ideaswhich are common in Buddhism and they are the ideasof karma and rebirth. These ideas are closely inter-related, but because the subject is a fairly wide one, wewill begin to deal with the idea of karma today andrebirth in the following lecture. We know that what binds us in samsara are thedefilements — desire, ill-will and ignorance. We spokeabout this when we talked about the Second NobleTruth — the truth of the cause of suffering. Thesedefilements are something which every living being insamsara shares, whether we speak of human beings oranimals or beings who live in the other realms which wedo not normally perceive. In this, all living beings arealike and yet amongst all the living beings that we cannormally perceive, there are many differences. Forinstance, some of us are wealthy, some are less wealthy,some are strong and healthy, others are disabled and soforth. There are many differences amongst living beingsand even more so there are differences between animalsand human beings. These differences are due to karma.What we all share – desire, ill-will and ignorance – arecommon to all living beings, but the particular conditionin which we find ourselves is the result of our particularkarma that conditions the situation in which we findourselves, the situation in which we may be wealthy,strong and so forth. These circumstances are decided bykarma. It is in this sense that karma explains the differ-ences amongst living beings. It explains why somebeings are fortunate while others are less fortunate, 80
  • 83. some are happy while others are less happy. TheBuddha has specifically stated that karma explains thedifferences between living beings. You might also recallthat the understanding of how karma affects the birth ofliving beings in happy or unhappy circumstances — theknowledge of how living beings move from happycircumstances to unhappy circumstances, and viceversa, from unhappy to happy circumstances as a resultof their karma — was part of the Buddha’s experienceon the night of His enlightenment. It is karma thatexplains the circumstances that living beings findthemselves in. Having said this much about the function of karma,let us look more closely at what karma is. Let us definekarma. Maybe we can define karma best by firstdeciding what karma is not. It is quite often the case thatwe find people misunderstanding the idea of karma.This is particularly true in our daily casual use of theterm. We find people saying that one cannot changeone’s situation because of one’s karma. In this sense,karma becomes a sort of escape. It becomes similar topredestination or fatalism. This is emphatically not thecorrect understanding of karma. It is possible that thismisunderstanding of karma has come about because ofthe popular idea that we have about luck and fate. Itmay be for this reason that our idea of karma hasbecome overlaid in popular thought with the notion ofpredestination. Karma is not fate or predestination. If karma is not fate or predestination, then what isit? Let us look at the term itself. Karma means action,means “to do”. Immediately we have an indication that 81
  • 84. the real meaning of karma is not fate because karma isaction. It is dynamic. But it is more than simply actionbecause it is not mechanical action. It is not unconsciousor involuntary action. It is intentional, conscious,deliberate, wilful action. How is it that this intentional,wilful action conditions or determines our situation? It isbecause every action must have a reaction, an effect.This truth has been expressed in regard to the physicaluniverse by the great physicist Newton who formulatedthe law which states that every action must have anequal and opposite reaction. In the moral sphere ofconscious actions, we have a counterpart to the physicallaw of action and reaction, the law that everyintentional, wilful action must have its effect. This iswhy we sometimes speak either of Karma-Vipaka,intentional action and its ripened effect, or we speak ofKarma-Phala, intentional action and its fruit. It is whenwe speak of intentional action together with its effect orfruit that we speak of the Law of Karma. In its mostbasic sense, the Law of Karma in the moral sphereteaches that similar actions will lead to similar results.Let us take an example. If we plant a mango seed, theplant that springs up will be a mango tree, andeventually it will bear a mango fruit. Alternatively, if weplant a Pong Pong seed, the tree that will spring up willbe a Pong Pong tree and the fruit a Pong Pong. As onesows, so shall one reap. According to one’s action, soshall be the fruit. Similarly, in the Law of Karma, if wedo a wholesome action, eventually we will get awholesome fruit, and if we do an unwholesome actioneventually we will get an unwholesome, painful result.This is what we mean when we say that causes bringabout effects that are similar to the causes. This we will 82
  • 85. see very clearly when we come to specific examples ofwholesome and unwholesome actions. We can understand by means of this generalintroduction that karma can be of two varieties —wholesome karma or good karma and unwholesomekarma or bad karma. In order that we should notmisunderstand this description of karma, it is useful forus to look at the original term. In this case, it is kushalaor akushala karma, karma that is wholesome orunwholesome. In order that we understand how theseterms are being used, it is important that we know thereal meaning of kushala and akushala. Kushala meansintelligent or skilful, whereas akushala means notintelligent, not skilful. This helps us to understand howthese terms are being used, not in terms of good and evilbut in terms of skilful and unskilful, in terms ofintelligent and unintelligent, in terms of wholesome andunwholesome. Now how wholesome and how un-wholesome? Wholesome in the sense that those actionswhich are beneficial to oneself and others, those actionsthat spring not out of desire, ill-will and ignorance, butout of renunciation, loving-kindness and compassion,and wisdom. One may ask how does one know whether anaction that is wholesome or unwholesome will producehappiness or unhappiness. The answer is time will tell.The Buddha Himself answered the question. He hasexplained that so long as an unwholesome action doesnot bear its fruit of suffering, for so long a foolishperson will consider that action good. But when thatunwholesome action bears its fruit of suffering then he 83
  • 86. will realize that the action is unwholesome. Similarly, solong as a wholesome action does not bear its fruit ofhappiness, a good person may consider that actionunwholesome. When it bears its fruit of happiness, thenhe will realize that the action is good. So one needs tojudge wholesome and unwholesome action from thepoint of view of long-term effect. Very simply, whole-some actions result in eventual happiness for oneselfand others, while unwholesome actions have the oppo-site result, they result in suffering for oneself and others. Specifically, the unwholesome actions which are tobe avoided relate to the three doors or means of action,and these are body, speech and mind. There are threeunwholesome actions of the body, four of speech andthree of mind that are to be avoided. The three unwhole-some actions of body that are to be avoided are killing,stealing and sexual misconduct. The four unwholesomeactions of speech that are to be avoided are lying,slander, harsh speech and malicious gossip. The threeunwholesome actions of mind that are to be avoided aregreed, anger and delusion. By avoiding these tenunwholesome actions we will avoid their consequences.The unwholesome actions have suffering as their fruit.The fruit of these unwholesome actions can take variousforms. The fully ripened fruit of the unwholesomeactions consists of rebirth in the lower realms, in therealms of suffering — hell, hungry ghosts and animals.If these unwholesome actions are not sufficient to resultin rebirth in these lower realms, they will result inunhappiness in this life as a human being. Here we cansee at work the principle of a cause resulting in a similareffect. For example, habitual killing which is motivated 84
  • 87. by ill-will and anger and which results in the taking ofthe life of other beings will result in rebirth in the hellswhere one’s experience is saturated by anger and ill-willand where one may be repeatedly killed. If killing is notsufficiently habitual or weighty to result in rebirth in thehells, killing will result in shortened life as a humanbeing, separation from loved ones, fear or paranoia.Here too we can see how the effect is similar to thecause. Killing shortens the life of others, deprives othersof their loved ones and so forth, and so if we kill we willbe liable to experience these effects. Similarly, stealingwhich is borne of the defilement of desire may lead torebirth as a hungry ghost where one is totally destituteof desired objects. If it does not result in rebirth as aghost, it will result in poverty, dependence upon othersfor one’s livelihood and so forth. Sexual misconductresults in martial distress or unhappy marriages. While unwholesome actions produce unwhole-some results — suffering, wholesome actions producewholesome results — happiness. One can interpretwholesome actions in two ways. One can simply regardwholesome actions as avoiding the unwholesomeactions, avoiding killing, stealing, sexual misconductand the rest. Or one can speak of wholesome actions inpositive terms. Here one can refer to the list of whole-some actions that includes generosity, good conduct,meditation, reverence, service, transference of merits,rejoicing in the merit of others, hearing the Dharma,teaching the Dharma and straightening of one’s ownviews. Just as unwholesome actions produce suffering,these wholesome actions produce benefits. Again effectshere are similar to the actions. For example, generosity 85
  • 88. results in wealth. Hearing of the Dharma results inwisdom. The wholesome actions have as their conse-quences similar wholesome effects just as unwholesomeactions have similar unwholesome effects. Karma, be it wholesome or unwholesome, ismodified by the conditions under which the actions areperformed. In other words, a wholesome or unwhole-some action may be more or less strong depending uponthe conditions under which it is done. The conditionswhich determine the weight or strength of karma may bedivided into those which refer to the subject – the doer ofthe action – and those which refer to the object – thebeing to whom the action is done. So the conditions thatdetermine the weight of karma apply to the subject andobject of the action. Specifically, if we take the exampleof killing, in order for the act of killing to have itscomplete and unmitigated power, five conditions mustbe present — a living being, the awareness of theexistence of a living being, the intention to kill theliving being, the effort or action of killing the livingbeing, and the consequent death of the living being.Here too, we can see the subjective and the objectiveconditions. The subjective conditions are the awarenessof the living being, the intention to kill and the action ofkilling. The objective conditions are the presence of theliving being and the consequent death of the livingbeing. Similarly, there are five conditions that modifythe weight of karma and they are persistent, repeatedaction; action done with great intention and determin-ation; action done without regret; action done towardsthose who possess extraordinary qualities; and actiondone towards those who have benefited one in the past. 86
  • 89. Here too there are subjective and objective conditions.The subjective conditions are persistent action; actiondone with intention; and action done without regret. Ifone does an unwholesome action again and again withgreat intention and without regret, the weight of theaction will be enhanced. The objective conditions arethe quality of the object to whom actions are done andthe nature of the relationship. In other words, if onedoes a wholesome or unwholesome action towardsliving beings who possess extraordinary qualities suchas the arhats, or the Buddha, the wholesome orunwholesome action done will have greater weight.Finally the power of wholesome or unwholesome actiondone towards those who have benefited one in the past,such as one’s parents, teachers and friends, will begreater. The objective and subjective conditions togetherdetermine the weight of karma. This is importantbecause understanding this will help us to understandthat karma is not simply a matter of black and white, orgood and bad. Karma is moral action and moralresponsibility. But the working of the Law of Karma isvery finely tuned and balanced so as to match effectwith cause, so as to take into account the subjective andobjective conditions that determine the nature of anaction. This ensures that the effects of actions are equalto and similar to the nature of the causes. The effects of karma may be evident either in theshort term or in the long term. Traditionally we dividekarma into three varieties related to the amount of timethat is required for the effects of these actions tomanifest themselves. Karma can either manifest itseffects in this very life or in the next life or only after 87
  • 90. several lives. When karma manifests its effects in thislife, we can see the fruit of karma within a relativelyshort length of time. This variety of karma is easilyverifiable by any of us. For instance, when someonerefuses to study, when someone indulges in harmfuldistractions like alcohol and drugs, when someonebegins to steal to support his harmful habits; the effectswill be evident within a short time. They will be evidentin loss of livelihood and friendship, health and so forth.We cannot see the long-term effect of karma, but theBuddha and His prominent disciples who have develop-ed their minds are able to perceive directly the long-termeffects. For instance, when Maudgalyayana was beatento death by bandits, the Buddha was able to tell that thisevent was the effect of something Maudgalyayana haddone in a previous life when he had taken his agedparents to the forest and having beaten them to death,had then reported that they had been killed by bandits.The effect of this unwholesome action done many livesbefore was manifested only in his last life. At death wehave to leave everything behind — our property and ourloved ones, but our karma will accompany us like ashadow. The Buddha has said that nowhere on earth orin heaven can one escape one’s karma. So when theconditions are correct, dependent upon mind and body,the effects of karma will manifest themselves just asdependent on certain conditions a mango will appear ona mango tree. We can see that even in the world ofnature certain effects take longer to appear than others.If for instance, we plant the seed of a papaya, we willobtain the fruit in shorter period than if we plant theseed of a durian. Similarly, the effects of karma manifesteither in the short term or in the long term. 88
  • 91. Besides the two varieties of karma, wholesome andunwholesome karma, we should mention neutral orineffective karma. Neutral karma is karma that has nomoral consequence either because the very nature of theaction is such as to have no moral consequence orbecause it is done involuntarily and unintentionally. Forexample, sleeping, walking, breathing, eating, handi-craft and so forth in themselves have no moralconsequence. Similarly, unintentional action is ineffect-ive karma. In other words, if one accidentally steps onan insect, being unconscious of its existence, this alsoconstitutes neutral karma because there is no intention— the intentional element is not there. The benefits of understanding the Law of Karmaare that this understanding discourages one from per-forming unwholesome actions which have suffering astheir fruit. Once we understand that in our own lifeevery action will have a similar and equal reaction, oncewe understand that we will experience the effect of thataction, wholesome or unwholesome, we will refrainfrom unwholesome behavior, not wanting to experiencethe effects of these unwholesome actions. And similarly,understanding that wholesome actions have happinessas their fruit, we will cultivate these wholesome actions.Reflecting on the Law of Karma, of action and reactionin the moral sphere encourages us to renounce unwhole-some actions and cultivate wholesome actions. We willlook more closely at the specific effects of karma infuture lives and how karma conditions and determinesthe nature of rebirth in our lecture next week. 89
  • 92. REBIRTH Today we are going to continue a theme that webegan two weeks ago when we talked about the teachingof karma. We are going to consider the results of karma inthe next life, in other words rebirth. But before I begin toconsider specifically the Buddhist teaching regardingrebirth, I think we need to spend a little bit of time on theconcept of rebirth in general. This is because it is aconcept which many people have difficulty with,particularly over the last few decades when we havebecome increasingly conditioned to think in what passesfor scientific terms, in what most people would naivelybelieve to be scientific terms. Thinking in this way hascaused many people to discard the idea of rebirth assomething that smacks of superstition, that is a part of anold-fashioned way of looking at the world. So I think weneed to redress the balance and create a certain amount ofopenness to the concept of rebirth before we treatspecifically the Buddhist teaching on rebirth. There are a number of approaches that we can taketo what we might call outlining the case for the realityof rebirth. One line which we might take would be torecall that in almost all the major cultures of the world,at one time or another, there had been a strong belief inthe reality of rebirth. This is particularly true in Indiawhere the idea of rebirth can be traced back to the veryearliest period of Indian civilization where all the majorIndian religions, be they theism or atheism, be theyschools of Hinduism or non-Hindu doctrines likeJainism, believe in the reality of rebirth. Similarly, inother cultures there has been a belief in rebirth, as for 90
  • 93. instance even in the Mediterranean world, there is a lotof evidence that belief in rebirth was quite commonbefore and during the first few centuries of the CommonEra. So the belief in rebirth has been an important partof the human way of thinking about one’s situation. Specifically, within the Buddhist tradition, we havethe testimony of the Buddha on the matter of rebirth. Onthe night of His enlightenment, the Buddha acquiredthree varieties of knowledge and the first of these wasthe detailed knowledge of His past lives. He was able torecollect the conditions in which He had been born inHis past lives. He was able to remember what His nameshad been, what His occupations had been and so on.Besides the Buddha’s testimony, His prominentdisciples were also able to recollect their past lives.Ananda, for instance, acquired the ability to recollect hispast life soon after his ordination. Similarly, throughoutthe history of Buddhism, saints, scholars and meditatorshave been able to recollect their past lives. Nonetheless, neither of these two arguments forrebirth can be expected to be completely convincing in ascientific and rational environment. So perhaps we needto look a bit closer to home so to speak, and here we gethelp from a very unexpected direction. Most of us maybe aware that in the past twenty or thirty years therehave been a huge amount of scientific investigations ofthe question of rebirth and these investigations havebeen pursued by psychologists and parapsychologists.Gradually through these investigations, we have built upa very convincing case for the reality of rebirth, a casewhich is developed along scientific lines. There have 91
  • 94. been many books published in which the details of theseinvestigations have been described and discussed. Onescholar who has been particularly active in this area inrecent years is Professor Ian Stevenson of the Universityof Virginia, USA. He has published findings on morethan twenty cases of rebirth. Some of us may be familiarwith the case of the woman who was able to recall herpast life more than a hundred years before as BrideyMurphy in a foreign land which she had never visited inher present life. I am not going to go through thesespecific cases in detail because if one is interested in thisscientific evidence for rebirth one can read about it foroneself. Nonetheless, I think we are now at a pointwhere even the most skeptical of us will have to admitthat there is a lot of circumstantial evidence in favour ofthe reality of rebirth. But in making the case for rebirth, we can lookeven closer to our own experience, and here we need torecall and examine it in the true Buddhist way to seewhat meaning we can distill from our own experience.All of us in this room have our own particular capabil-ities, our own particular likes and dislikes, and I think itis fair to ask whether these are all merely the result ofchance. For instance, some of us are more capable atsport than others, some of us have a talent for mathe-matics, others have a talent for music, some of us likeswimming, others are afraid of water. Are all these dif-ferences in our abilities and attitudes merely the result ofchance? There are incredible peculiarities in the natureof our experiences. Let me take my own case. I wasborn in a Roman Catholic family in the United States.There was absolutely nothing in my early background to 92
  • 95. indicate that by the age of twenty I would have travelledto India and that I would spend the next fourteen yearsof my life predominantly in Asia, and that I wouldbecome deeply involved in Buddhist studies. Then, too, there are those situations in which wesometimes feel a strong presentiment that we have beenin a particular place before although we have not visitedthis place in our present life. Or, sometimes we feel thatwe have known someone before. Sometimes we meet aperson and within a very short space of time we feel thatwe have known that person thoroughly. Alternatively,sometimes we have known a person for years and yetwe are not close to that person. These experiences offeeling that we have been to a place before or haveknown a person before are so common and universaleven in a culture which knows almost nothing ofrebirth. There is a particular phrase for this experience,the French words “deja vu” which mean “already seen orexperienced”. If we are not dogmatic, when we add upall the evidence of rebirth — the persistent belief inrebirth in many cultures in many different timesthroughout history, the Buddha’s own testimony, thetestimony of His prominent disciples, the evidencepresented by scientific investigations, and our ownpersonal intimations that we have been here before – wehave to admit that there is at least a good possibility thatrebirth is a reality. In Buddhism, rebirth is part of the continuousprocess of change. In fact, we are not only reborn at thetime of death, we are born and reborn at every moment.This too, like many other Buddhist teachings, is easily 93
  • 96. verifiable by reference to our own experience and byreference to the teachings of science. For instance, themajority of the cells in the human body die and arereplaced many times during the course of one’s life.Even those few cells which last one’s entire life undergoconstant internal changes. This is part of the process ofbirth, death and rebirth. If we look at the mind too, wefind that mental states of worry, happiness and so forthare changing every moment. They die and are replacedby new states. So whether we look at the body or themind, our experience is characterized by continuousbirth, death and rebirth. In Buddhism, it is taught that there are variousrealms, spheres or dimensions of existence. There arethirty-one planes of existence listed, but for ourpurposes, we are going to utilize a simpler schemewhich enumerates six realms of existence. In general,the six realms may be divided into two groups, one ofwhich is relatively fortunate and the other relativelymiserable. The first group includes three of the sixrealms and they are the realm of the gods, the realm ofthe demigods and the realm of human beings. Rebirth inthese fortunate realms is the result of wholesome karma.The second group includes the three realms that areconsidered relatively miserable. They are sometimescalled the realms of woe, and they are the realm ofanimals, the realm of hungry ghosts and the realm ofhell beings. Rebirth in these states of woe is the result ofunwholesome karma. Let us look at each of these realms individually andstarting from the realm at the bottom, let us look at the 94
  • 97. realm of the hell beings (Niraya). There are various hellsin Buddhism, and they are principally eight hot hellsand eight cold hells. In the hells, beings sufferincalculable and inexpressible pain. It is said that thesuffering experienced as a result of being pierced bythree hundred spears in a single day in this life is only aminute fraction of the suffering experienced in hell. Thecause of rebirth in hell is continuous, habitual violentactions — habitual killing, cruelty and so forth, actionsthat are borne of ill-will. Beings born in the hells sufferthe pain of hell until their unwholesome karma isexhausted. This is important because we must note thatin Buddhism no one suffers eternal damnation. Whentheir unwholesome karma is exhausted, beings in hellare reborn in a more fortunate realm of existence. The next realm is the realm of the hungry ghosts(Pretas). Beings in this realm suffer chiefly from hungerand thirst, and from heat and cold. They are completelybereft of the objects of their desire. It is said that whenthe hungry ghosts perceive a mountain of rice or a riverof fresh water, and rush towards that vision, they findthe mountain of rice is only a heap of pebbles, and theriver of fresh water only a ribbon of blue slate.Similarly, it is said that in the summer even the moon ishot, while in the winter even the sun is cold for them.The foremost cause of rebirth as a hungry ghost isavarice and miserliness borne of greed. As with thehells, the beings in this realm are not condemned toeternal existence in the form of hungry ghosts, for whentheir unwholesome karma is exhausted, they will bereborn in a higher realm. 95
  • 98. In the next realm which is the realm of animals(Tiryak), the living beings suffer from a variety ofunhappy circumstances. They suffer from the fear andpain that is the result of constantly killing and eatingone another. They suffer from the depredations of manwho kills them for food or for their hides, horns or teeth.Even if they are not killed, domestic animals are forcedto work for man and are driven on by hooks and whips.All these are a source of suffering. The principal cause ofrebirth as an animal is ignorance. In other words, theblind, heedless pursuit of one’s animal-like desires, thepreoccupation with eating, sleeping and sexual desire,and the disregard of developing one’s mind to thepractice of virtue and so forth lead one to be reborn asan animal. Now when I say for instance that habitualkilling is the cause of rebirth in the hells, or that greed isthe cause of rebirth in the realm of the hungry ghosts, orthat ignorance is the cause of rebirth in the realm ofanimals, it does not mean that a specific hateful, greedyor ignorant action will result in rebirth amongst theappropriate class of beings — the hells, the realms ofhungry ghosts or the realm of animals. What it doesmean is that there is a relationship between hatred andrebirth in the hells, and between greed and rebirth in therealm of hungry ghosts, and between ignorance andrebirth in the realm of the animals. If unimpeded, ifunbalanced by other virtuous actions, such actions ifhabitual are likely to result in rebirth in these three statesof woe. I am going to skip the realm of human beings forthe moment and go on to the realm of demigods(Asuras). The Asuras are more powerful physically and 96
  • 99. are more intelligent mentally than human beings. Yetthey suffer because of jealousy and conflict. Mytho-logically, it is said that the Asuras and the gods share acelestial tree. While the gods enjoy the fruits of thiscelestial tree, the Asuras are custodians of the roots ofthe tree. The Asuras are envious of the gods andconstantly attempt to take the fruits of the tree from thegods. As a result of this, they fight with the gods, andare defeated by the gods and suffer greatly as aconsequence. Because of this constant jealousy, envyand conflict, existence amongst the Asuras is unhappyand unfortunate. As with the other realms, there is acause of rebirth amongst the demigods. On the positiveside, the cause is generosity. On the negative side, thecauses are anger, envy and jealousy. The sixth realm, the realm of the gods (Devas) isthe happiest amongst the six realms. As a result ofhaving done wholesome actions, of having observed themoral precepts and having practised meditation, livingbeings are reborn amongst the gods where they enjoysensual pleasure or spiritual pleasure, or tranquillitydepending upon the level within the realm of the gods inwhich they are born. Nonetheless, the realm of the godsis not to be desired because the happiness of the gods isimpermanent. No matter how much they may enjoytheir existence as a god, when the force of their karma isexhausted, when the merits of their good conduct andthe power of their experience in meditation areexhausted, the gods fall from heaven and are reborn inanother realm. At this moment, at the moment of theirdeath, it is said that the gods suffer even more mentalanguish than the physical pain suffered by beings in the 97
  • 100. other realms. The negative factor associated with birthin the realm of the gods is pride. So here, as you can see, we have an affliction ordefilement associated with the five realms — hellbeings, hungry ghosts, animals, demigods and the gods,and they are ill-will, desire, ignorance, jealousy andpride. Birth in any of these five realms is undesirable.Birth in the three lower realms is undesirable forobvious reasons, because of the intense suffering andbecause of the total ignorance of the beings who inhabitthese realms. Even rebirth in the realms of the demigodsand the gods too is undesirable. This is because,although one experiences a certain degree of happinessand power, existence amongst the demigods and gods isimpermanent. Besides, because of the distractions andpleasures in these realms, beings there never think oflooking for a way out of the cycle of birth and death.This is why it is said that of the six realms, the mostfortunate, opportune and favored is the human realm.This is why I have left the human realm to the last. The human realm (Manushya) is the most favouredof the six realms because as a human being one has themotivation and the opportunity to practise the Dharmaand to achieve enlightenment. One has this motivationand opportunity because the conditions conducive topractising the path are present. In the human realm, oneexperiences both happiness and suffering. The sufferingin this realm, though terrible, is not so great as thesuffering in the three realms of woe. The pleasure andhappiness experienced in the human realm is not sogreat as the pleasure and happiness experienced in the 98
  • 101. heavens. As a result, human beings are neither blindedby the intense happiness experienced by the beings inthe heavens, nor distracted by the unbearable sufferingthat beings in the hells experience. Again, unlike theanimals, human beings possess sufficient intelligence torecognize the necessity to look for a means to achievethe total end of suffering. Human birth is difficult to gain from a number ofpoints of view. First of all, it is difficult to gain from thepoint of view of its cause. Good conduct is the foremostcause of rebirth as a human being, but how rare is trulygood conduct. Again, human birth is difficult to gainfrom the point of view of number, for human beings areonly a small fraction of the living beings who inhabitthe six realms. Moreover it is not enough simply to beborn as a human being because there are countlesshuman beings who do not have the opportunity to prac-tise the Dharma. It is therefore not only necessary to beborn as a human being, it is also necessary to have theopportunity to practise the Dharma, to develop one’squalities of morality, mental development and wisdom. The Buddha spoke about the rarity and theprecious nature of opportune birth amongst humanbeings. He used a simile to illustrate this point. Supposethe whole world were a vast ocean, and on the surface ofthis ocean there were a yoke floating about, blown aboutby the wind, and suppose at the bottom of the oceanthere lived a blind tortoise which came to the surface ofthe ocean once every hundred years. Just as difficult asit would be for that tortoise to place its neck through theopening in that yoke floating about in the ocean, just so 99
  • 102. difficult is it to attain opportune birth as a human being.Elsewhere, it is said that just as if one were to throw ahandful of dried peas against a stone wall, and just as ifone of these peas were to stick in a crack in the wall, soto be born as a human being with the opportunity topractise the Dharma is similarly difficult. It is foolish to waste human existence along withthe conducive conditions that we enjoy in free societies,the opportunity that we have to practise the Dharma. Itis extremely important that having this opportunity wemake use of it. If we fail to practise the Dharma in thislife, there is no way of knowing where in the six realmswe will be reborn, and when we shall have such achance again. We must strive to free ourselves from thecycle of rebirth because failing to do so means that wewill continue to circle endlessly amongst these sixrealms of existence. When the karma, wholesome orunwholesome, that causes us to be born in any of the sixrealms is exhausted, rebirth will occur, and we will findourselves again in another realm. In fact, it is said thatall of us have circled in the these six realms sincebeginningless time, that if all the skeletons that we havehad in our various lives were heaped up, the pile wouldexceed the height of Mount Sumeru. If all the mothers’milk that we have drunk throughout our countlessexistences were collected, the amount would exceed theamount of water in all the oceans. So now that we havethe opportunity to practise the Dharma, we must do sowithout delay. In recent years, there has been a tendency to interpretthe six realms in psychological terms. Some teachers have 100
  • 103. suggested that the experience of the six realms is availableto us in this very life. Undoubtedly, this is true so far as itgoes. Those men and women who find themselves inprisons, tortured, killed, and so forth are undoubtedlyexperiencing a situation similar to that of the hell beings.Similarly, those who are miserly and avariciousexperience a state of mind similar to that of the hungryghosts. And those who are animal-like experience a stateof mind similar to that of the animals. Those who arequarrelsome, powerful and jealous experience a state ofmind similar to that of the Asuras. Those who are proud,tranquil, serene and exalted experience a state of mindsimilar to that of the gods. Yet, while it is undoubtedlytrue that the experience of the six realms is to some extentavailable to us in this human existence, I think it would bea mistake to assume or to believe that the six realms ofexistence do not have a reality which is as real as ourhuman experience. The hells, the realm of the hungryghosts, animals, demigods and gods are as real as ourhuman realm. We will recall that mind is the creator of allmental states. Actions done with a pure mind motivatedby generosity, love and so forth result in happy mentalstates or states of existence like the human realm and therealm of the gods. But actions done with an impure mindaffected by greed, ill-will and so forth result in unhappylives like those of the hungry ghosts and hell beings. Finally, I would like to distinguish rebirth fromtransmigration. You may have noticed that inBuddhism, we consistently speak of rebirth and nottransmigration. This is because in Buddhism we do notbelieve in an abiding entity, in a substance that trans-migrates. We do not believe in a self that is reborn. This 101
  • 104. is why when we explain rebirth, we make use ofexamples which do not require the transmigration of anessence or a substance. For example, when a sprout isborn from a seed, there is no substance that trans-migrates. The seed and the sprout are not identical.Similarly, when we light one candle from anothercandle, no substance travels from one to the other, andyet the first is the cause of the second. When one billiardball strikes another, there is a continuity, the energy anddirection of the first ball is imparted to the second. It isthe cause of the second billiard ball moving in aparticular direction and at a particular speed. When westep twice into a river, it is not the same river and yetthere is continuity, the continuity of cause and effect. Sothere is rebirth, but not transmigration. There is moralresponsibility, but not an independent, permanent self.There is the continuity of cause and effect, but notpermanence. I want to end with this point because wewill be considering the example of the seed and thesprout, and the example of the flame in an oil lamp nextweek when we discuss dependent origination. And withthe help of the teaching of dependent origination, wewill understand better how dependent origination makesmoral responsibility and not-self compatible. 102
  • 105. DEPENDENT ORIGINATION Today, in this tenth session, we are going to takeup a very important topic in Buddhist studies and this isthe teaching of dependent origination. I am aware of thefact that many people believe that dependent originationis a very difficult subject and I would not say that thereis no truth in that belief. In fact, on one occasionAnanda remarked that despite its apparent difficulty, theteaching of dependent origination was actually quitesimple; and the Buddha rebuked Ananda saying that infact the teaching of dependent origination was verydeep. Certainly in the teaching of dependent originationwe have one of the most important and profoundteachings in Buddhism. Yet I sometimes feel that ourfear of dependent origination is to some extentunwarranted. There is nothing particularly difficult, forinstance, in the term dependent origination. After all, weall know what dependent means, and what birth,origination or arising means. It is only when we begin toexamine the function and application of dependentorigination that we have to recognize the fact that wehave a very profound and significant teaching. Someindication of this can be gained from the Buddha’s ownstatements. Very frequently, we find that the Buddhaexpressed His experience of enlightenment in one oftwo ways, either in terms of having under stood theFour Noble Truths, or in terms of having understood thenature of dependent origination. Again, the Buddha hasoften mentioned that in order to attain enlightenmentone has to understand the Four Noble Truths; orsimilarly, one has to understand dependent origination. 103
  • 106. On the basis of the Buddha’s own statements, wecan see a very close relationship between the FourNoble Truths and dependent origination. What is it thatthe Four Noble Truths and dependent origination havein common? The principle that both have in common isthe principle of causality — the law of cause and effect,of action and consequence. In one of our earlier lectureswe have mentioned that the Four Noble Truths aredivided into two groups. The first two — suffering andthe causes of suffering, and the last two — the end ofsuffering and the path to the end of suffering. In both ofthese groups, it is the law of cause and effect thatgoverns the relationship between the two. In otherwords, suffering is the effect of the cause of suffering;and similarly, the end of suffering is the effect of thepath to the end of suffering. Here too in regard to depen-dent origination, the fundamental principle at work isthat of cause and effect. In dependent origination, wehave a more detailed description of what actually takesplace in the causal process. Let us take a few examplesthat establish the nature of dependent origination. Let ustake first an example used by the Buddha Himself. TheBuddha has said the flame in an oil lamp burns depen-dent upon the oil and the wick. When the oil and thewick are present, the flame in an oil lamp burns. If eitherof these is absent, the flame will cease to burn. Thisexample illustrates the principle of dependent origin-ation with respect to a flame in an oil lamp. Let us takethe example of the sprout. Dependent upon the seed,earth, water, air and sunlight the sprout arises. There arein fact innumerable examples of dependent originationbecause there is no existing phenomenon that is not theeffect of dependent origination. All these phenomena 104
  • 107. arise dependent upon a number of causal factors. Verysimply, this is the principle of dependent origination. Particularly, we are interested in the principle ofdependent origination as it applies to the problem ofsuffering and rebirth. We are interested in howdependent origination explains the situation in which wefind ourselves here. In this sense, it is important toremember that dependent origination is essentially andprimarily a teaching that has to do with the problem ofsuffering and how to free ourselves from suffering, andnot a description of the evolution of the universe. Letme briefly list the twelve components or links that makeup dependent origination. They are ignorance, mentalformation, consciousness, name and form, the sixsenses, contact, feeling, craving, clinging, becoming,birth, and old age and death. There are two principal ways in which we canunderstand these twelve components. One way tounderstand them is sequentially, over a period of threelifetimes: the past life, the present life and the futurelife. In this case, ignorance and mental formation belongto the past life. They represent the conditions that areresponsible for the occurrence of this life. The followingcomponents of dependent origination – consciousness,name and form, the six senses, contact, feeling, craving,clinging and becoming – belong to this life. In brief, theseeight components constitute the process of evolutionwithin this life. The last two components – birth, andold age and death – belong to the future life. According tothis scheme, we can see how the twelve components ofdependent origination are distributed over the period of 105
  • 108. three lifetimes, and how the first two — ignorance andmental formation — result in the emergence of this lifewith its psycho-physical personality and how in turn,the actions performed in this life result in rebirth in thefuture life. This is one popular and authoritative way ofinterpreting the twelve components of dependentorigination. But for today, I am going to focus on anotherinterpretation of the relation between the twelve com-ponents of dependent origination. This interpretation toois authoritative and has the support of recognizedBuddhist masters and saints. This interpretation mightbe called a cyclical interpretation because it does notdepend upon a distribution of the twelve componentsamongst three lifetimes. Rather, it divides the twelvecomponents into three groups, and these are defilements(Klesha), actions (Karma), and sufferings (Duhkha).This scheme has the advantage of not relying upon atemporal distribution amongst three lifetimes. Accord-ing to this scheme, ignorance, craving and clingingbelong to the group of defilements. Mental formationand becoming belong to the group of actions. Theremaining seven, that is, consciousness, name and form,the six senses, contact, feeling, birth, and old age anddeath belong to the group of sufferings. Through thisinterpretation we can see how the teaching of the FourNoble Truths and particularly the teaching of theSecond Noble Truth — the truth of the cause ofsuffering, is conjoined with the teaching of karma andrebirth; and how together these two important teachingsexplain in a more complete way the process of rebirthand the origination of suffering. 106
  • 109. You may recall that in the context of the FourNoble Truths, we have said that ignorance, desire andill-will are the causes of suffering. If we look here at thethree components of dependent origination that areincluded in the group of defilements, we will find ig-norance, craving and clinging. Here too, ignorance is themost basic. It is because of ignorance that we crave forpleasures of the senses, for existence and for non-existence. Similarly, it is because of ignorance that wecling to pleasures of the senses, to pleasant experiences,to ideas and, perhaps most significantly, to the idea ofan independent, permanent self. This ignorance —craving and clinging — is the cause of actions. The two components of dependent origination thatare included in the group of actions are mentalformation and becoming. Mental formation refers to theimpressions or habits that we have formed in our streamof conscious moments — our conscious continuum.These impressions or habits are formed by repeatedactions. We can illustrate this by means of an exampletaken from geography. We know that rivers form theircourse by means of a process of repeated erosion. Asrain falls on a hillside, that rain gathers into a rivulet.That rivulet gradually creates a channel for itself, andgradually grows into a stream. Eventually, as thechannel of the stream is deepened and widened by re-peated flows of water, the stream becomes a river whichdevelops well-defined banks and a definite course. Inthe same way, our actions become habitual. These habitsbecome part of our personality and we take these habitswith us from life to life in the form of mental formationor habit energy. Our actions in this life are conditioned 107
  • 110. by the habits which we have formulated over countlessprevious lives. So to return to the analogy of the channelof the river and the water in it, we might say that mentalformations are the channel of the river, and the actionsthat we perform in this life are the fresh water that flowagain through the eroded channel created by previousactions. The actions that we perform in this life arerepresented by the component known as becoming. Sohere, as regards mental formation and becoming, wehave the habits that we have developed over the courseof countless lives combined with new actions performedin this life, and these two together result in rebirth andsuffering. To summarize, we have the defilements which maybe described as impurities of the mind — ignorance,craving and clinging. These mental impurities result inactions, actions done in previous lives which haveresulted in the formulation of habit energy, and actionsdone in the present life which on the whole are liable toconform to the patterns established in previous lives.Together, these impurities of the mind and these actionsresult in rebirth. In other words, they result in con-sciousness, in name and form, in the six senses, incontact between the six senses and the objects of the sixsenses, in feeling which is born of that contact, in birth,and in old age and death. In this interpretation, the fivecomponents of dependent origination included in thegroups of defilements and actions – ignorance, craving,clinging, mental formation and becoming – are the causesof rebirth and suffering. Consciousness, name and form,the six senses, contact, feeling, birth, and old age anddeath are the effects of the defilements and actions. 108
  • 111. Together, the defilements and actions explain the originof suffering and the particular circumstances in whicheach of us find ourselves, in which we are born. Youmay recall that in one of our earlier lectures, we refer tothe fact that whereas the defilements are common to allliving beings, actions differ from individual toindividual. So whereas the defilements account for thefact that all of us are prisoners within samsara, yetactions account for the fact that some are born as humanbeings, others are born as gods, and others as animals.In this sense, the twelve components of dependentorigination present a picture of samsara with its causesand its effects. There would be no point in painting this picture ofsamsara if we do not intend to use this picture to changeour situation, to get out of samsara. It is in this sensethat recognizing the circularity of samsara, thecircularity of dependent origination is the beginning ofliberation. How is this so? So long as defilements andactions are present, rebirth and suffering will occur.When we see that repeatedly, ignorance, craving,clinging and actions will lead to rebirth and suffering,we will recognize the need to break this vicious circle.Let us take a practical example. Suppose you arelooking for the home of an acquaintance whom youhave never visited before. Suppose you have beendriving about for half an hour or more and have failed tofind the home of your friend, and suppose suddenly yourecognize a landmark that you saw half an hour pre-viously. Suppose you again come upon the landmark,and it dawns upon you that you have passed thelandmark half an hour ago. At that moment it will also 109
  • 112. probably dawn upon you that you have been goingaround in circles, and you will stop and look at yourroad guide, or enquire the way from a passer-by so as tostop going around in circles and reach your destination.This is why the Buddha has said that he who seesdependent origination sees the Dharma and he who seesthe Dharma sees the Buddha. This is why the Buddhahas, as I have mentioned earlier, said that understandingdependent origination is the key to liberation. So oncewe see the functioning of dependent origination, we canthen set about breaking this vicious circle of dependentorigination. We can do this by removing the impuritiesof the mind – ignorance, craving and clinging. Once theseimpurities are eliminated, actions will not be performed,and habit energy will not be produced. Once actionscease, rebirth and suffering will also cease. I would like to spend a little bit of time on anotherimportant meaning of dependent origination and that isdependent origination as an expression of the MiddleWay. During one of our earlier lectures, we hadoccasion to refer to the Middle Way, and on thatoccasion we confined ourselves to only perhaps themost basic meaning. We have said that the Middle Waymeans avoiding the extreme of indulgence in pleasuresof the senses and the extreme of self-mortification. Inthat context the Middle Way is synonymous with mod-eration. Now in the context of dependent origination,the Middle Way has another meaning which is related tothe earlier meaning but deeper. In this context theMiddle Way means avoiding the extremes of eternalismand nihilism. How is this so? The flame in the oil lampexists dependent upon the oil and the wick. When either 110
  • 113. of these are absent, the flame will be extinguished.Therefore, the flame is neither permanent nor indepen-dent. Similarly, this personality of ours depends upon acombination of conditions – defilements and actions. It isneither permanent nor independent. Recognizing theconditioned nature of our personality, we avoid theextreme of eternalism, of affirming the existence of anindependent, permanent self. Alternatively, recognizingthat this personality, this life does not arise throughaccident, or mere chance, but is instead conditioned bycorresponding causes, we avoid the extreme of nihilism,the extreme of denying the relation between action andconsequence. While nihilism is the primary cause ofrebirth in states of woe and is to be rejected, eternalismtoo is not conducive to liberation. One who clings to theextreme of eternalism will perform wholesome actionsand will be reborn in states of happiness, as a humanbeing or even as a god, but he will never attain liber-ation. Through avoiding these two extremes, throughunderstanding the Middle Way, we can achieve happi-ness in this life and in the future life by performingwholesome actions and avoiding unwholesome actions,and eventually we can achieve liberation. The Buddha has constructed His teachings withinfinite care. The Buddha’s teachings are sometimeslikened to the behaviour of a tigress towards her young.When a tigress carries her young in her teeth, she ismost careful to see that her grip is neither too tight nortoo loose. If her grip on the neck of her young is tootight, it will injure or kill the cub. If her grip is too loose,the cub will fall and will be injured. Similarly, theBuddha was careful to see that we should avoid the 111
  • 114. extremes of eternalism and nihilism. Because He sawthat clinging to the extreme of eternalism would be likea chain that would bind us in samsara, the Buddha wascareful to teach us to avoid belief in an independent andpermanent self. Because He saw the possibility offreedom destroyed by the sharp teeth of belief in theself, the Buddha asked us to avoid the extreme ofeternalism. Yet understanding that clinging to theextreme of nihilism would lead to catastrophe – rebirth inthe states of woe – He was careful to teach the reality ofthe law of cause and effect, of moral responsibility.Because He saw that one would fall into the misery ofthe lower realms by denying the law of moral respon-sibility, He taught us to avoid the extreme of nihilism.This objective is admirably achieved through theteaching of dependent origination which safeguards ourunderstanding of the conditioned, dependent and imper-manent nature of this personality and our understandingof the reality of the law of cause and effect. In the context of dependent origination, we haveestablished the dependent, impermanent nature of thepersonality, the self, by means of underlining itsdependent nature. In the two weeks to follow, we aregoing to arrive at the impermanence and impersonalityof the self through examining its composite nature andthrough analyzing it into its constituent parts. By thesemeans, we will elucidate the truth of not-self that opensthe door to enlightenment. 112
  • 115. THE THREE UNIVERSALCHARACTERISTICS The subject today is the three universalcharacteristics of existence. This is an important part ofthe teachings of the Buddha. Like the Four NobleTruths, karma, the teaching of dependent originationand the five aggregates, the teaching of the threecharacteristics is part of what we might call the doctrinalcontents of wisdom. In other words, when we talk aboutthe knowledge and the understanding that is implied bywisdom, we have this teaching in mind. Before we examine the characteristics individually,let us come to an understanding of what they mean andin what way they are useful. First of all, what is acharacteristic and what is not? A characteristic is some-thing which is necessarily connected with somethingelse. Because the characteristic is necessarily connectedwith something, it can tell us about the nature of thatthing. Let us take an example. Heat for instance is acharacteristic of fire but not a characteristic of water.Heat is the characteristic of fire because the heat of thefire is always and invariably connected with fire. On theother hand, the heat of water depends on external factors— an electric stove, the heat of the sun and so forth. Butthe heat of fire is natural to fire. It is in this sense thatthe Buddha uses the term “characteristic” to refer to factsabout the nature of existence, that are always connectedwith existence and that are always found in existence.The characteristic heat is always connected with fire. Sowe can understand something about the nature of fire 113
  • 116. from heat. We can understand that fire is hot. We canunderstand that we can use fire to cook our food, towarm ourselves and so forth. The characteristic of heattells us something about fire, how to use fire and whatto do with fire. If we were to think of the characteristicof heat as connected with water, it would not help us touse water because heat is not always connected withwater. We cannot cook our food with water. We cannotwarm ourselves with water. So when the Buddha saidthat there are three characteristics of existence, Hemeant that these characteristics are always present inexistence, and that they help us to understand what to dowith existence. The three characteristics of existence that we have inmind are the characteristics of impermanence (Anitya),suffering (Duhkha) and not-self (Anatma). These threecharacteristics are always present in or are connected withexistence, and they tell us about the nature of existence.They help us to know what to do with existence. What welearn to develop as a result of understanding the threecharacteristics is renunciation. Once we understand thatexistence is universally characterized by impermanence,suffering and not-self, we eliminate our attachment toexistence. Once we eliminate our attachment to existence,we gain the threshold of Nirvana. This is the purpose thatunderstanding the three characteristics serves. It removesattachment by removing delusions, the misunderstandingthat existence is permanent, is pleasant and has somethingto do with the self. This is why understanding the threecharacteristics is part of the contents of wisdom. 114
  • 117. Let us look at the first of the three characteristics ofexistence, the characteristic of impermanence. The factof impermanence has been recognized not only inBuddhist thought but also elsewhere in the history ofphilosophy. It was the ancient Greek philosopherHeraclitus who remarked that one could not step into thesame river twice. This remark, which implies the ever-changing and transient nature of things is a verybuddhistic remark. In the Buddhist scriptures, it is saidthat the three worlds (Dhatus) are impermanent likeautumn clouds; that birth and death are like a dance; andthat human life is like a flash of lightning or a waterfall.All these are compelling images of impermanence andthey help us to understand that all things are marked orcharacterized by impermanence. If we look at our own personality, we will find thatour bodies are impermanent. They are subject toconstant change. We grow thin. We grow old and grey,our teeth fall out, our hair falls out. If one needs anyproof of the impermanence of the physical form, oneneed only look at one’s own photograph on one’s owndriving licence or passport over the years. Similarly, ourmental states are impermanent. At one moment we arehappy, and at another moment we are sad. As infants,we hardly understand anything. As adults, in the primeof life we understand a great deal more. And again inold age we lose the power of our mental faculties andbecome like infants. Our minds are also characterized byimpermanence. This is true also of the things that we seearound us. Everything we see around us is imper-manent. Not one thing will last forever — not the officeblocks, nor the temples, nor the rivers and islands, nor 115
  • 118. the mountain chains, nor the oceans. We know for a factthat all these natural phenomena, even those that appearto be the most durable, even the solar system itself willone day decline and become extinct. This process of constant change of all things —personal and impersonal, internal and external, goes onconstantly even without our noticing it, and it affects usintimately in our daily life. Our relations with otherindividuals are subject to the characteristic of imper-manence and change. Friends become enemies, enemiesbecome friends. Enemies even become relatives.Relatives become enemies. If we look closely at our life,we can see how all our relationships with other peopleare marked by impermanence. Our possessions are alsoimpermanent. Those things that we dearly love — ourhomes, our automobiles, our clothes, all these areimpermanent. All of them will decay and eventually bedestroyed. So in every aspect of our life, whether it bepersonal or material, or whether with regard to ourrelationships with others, or whether it be our possess-ions, impermanence is a fact, verified by direct imme-diate observation. Understanding impermanence is important notsimply for our practice of the Dharma but also in ourdaily life. How often do friendships deteriorate and endbecause one of the persons involved has failed to takeaccount of the fact that his friend’s attitudes, interestsand so forth have changed? How often do marriages failbecause one, or both, of the parties fails to take accountof the fact that his or her partner has changed? It isbecause we lock ourselves into fixed, artificial unchang- 116
  • 119. ing ideas of the character and personality of our friendsand relatives that we fail to develop our relationshipswith them positively and because of this failure we oftenfail to understand one another. Similarly, in one’s careeror public life, one cannot hope to succeed if one doesnot keep abreast of changing situations like, forinstance, new trends in one’s profession or discipline.So whether it is in regard to our personal life or inregard to our public life, understanding impermanenceis necessary if we are to be effective and creative in theway that we handle our personal or professional affairs. While understanding impermanence yields theseimmediate benefits, here and now, it is particularlyeffective as an aid to our practice of the Dharma. Theunderstanding of impermanence is an antidote to desireand ill-will. It is also an encouragement to our practiceof the Dharma. And finally, it is a key to understandingthe ultimate nature of things, the way things really are. Remembering death especially is said to be like afriend and a teacher to one who wishes to practise theDharma. Remembering death acts as a discouragementto excessive desire and ill-will. How many quarrels,petty disagreements, life-long ambitions and enmitiesfade into insignificance before the recognition of theinevitability of death? Throughout the centuries,Buddhist teachers have encouraged sincere practitionersof the Dharma to remember death, to remember theimpermanence of this personality. Some years ago, Ihad a friend who went to India to study meditation. Heapproached a very renowned and learned Buddhistteacher and asked him for some meditation instructions. 117
  • 120. The teacher was reluctant to teach him because he wasnot convinced of his sincerity. My friend persisted andasked him again and again. Finally, the teacher said tohim, “You will die, meditate upon that.” Meditation ondeath is extremely beneficial. We all need to rememberthe certainty of our death. From the moment of ourbirth, we move inexorably towards death. Rememberingthis, and remembering that at the time of death, wealth,family and fame will be of no use to us, we must turnour mind to the practice of the Dharma. We know thatdeath is absolutely certain. There has never been asingle living being who has escaped death. Yet, while death itself is certain, the time of deathis uncertain. We can die at any moment. It is said thatlife is like a candle in the wind, or a bubble of water. Atany moment it may be snuffed out. At any moment itmay burst. Understanding that the time of death isuncertain, and that we have now the conditions andopportunity to practise the Dharma, we ought to practiseit quickly so that we may not waste this opportunity andthis precious human life. Finally, understanding impermanence is an aid tothe understanding of the ultimate nature of things.Seeing that all things are perishable, and change everymoment, we also begin to see that things have nosubstantial existence of their own. That in our personsand in the things around us, there is nothing like a self.So in this sense, impermanence is directly related to thethird of the three characteristics, the characteristic ofnot-self. Understanding impermanence is a key tounderstanding not-self. We will talk more about this 118
  • 121. later. For the moment, let us now go on to the second ofthe three characteristics, the characteristic of suffering. The Buddha has said that whatever is impermanentis suffering, and whatever is impermanent and sufferingis also not-self. Whatever is impermanent is sufferingbecause impermanence is an occasion for suffering. It isan occasion for suffering and not a cause of sufferingbecause impermanence is only an occasion for sufferingso long as ignorance, craving and clinging are present.How is that so? In our ignorance of the real nature ofthings, we crave and cling to objects in the forlorn hopethat they may be permanent, that they may yield per-manent happiness. Failing to understand that youth,health and life itself are impermanent, we crave forthem, we cling to them. We long to hold on to our youthand to prolonging our life and yet because they areimpermanent by nature, they slip through our fingerslike sand. When this occurs, impermanence is anoccasion for suffering. Similarly, we fail to recognizethe impermanent nature of possessions, power andprestige. We crave and cling to them. Once they end,impermanence is an occasion for suffering. Theimpermanence of all situations in samsara is a particularoccasion for suffering when it occurs in the so-calledfortunate realm. It is said that the suffering of the gods iseven greater than the suffering of living beings dwellingin the lower realms of existence when they see that theyare about to fall from the heavens into lower realms ofexistence. Even the gods trembled when the Buddhareminded them of impermanence. So because eventhose pleasant experiences which we crave and cling to 119
  • 122. are impermanent, so impermanence is an occasion forsuffering and whatever is impermanent is also suffering. Now we come to the third universal characteristicof existence, the characteristic of not-self, or imperson-ality, or insubstantiality. This is in a sense one of thereally distinctive features of Buddhist thought and of theteachings of the Buddha. During the later developmentof religion and philosophy in India, some Hindu schoolsbecame increasingly similar to the teachings of theBuddha, in their techniques of meditation and in someof their philosophical ideas. So it became necessary forBuddhist masters to point out that there was still onedistinctive feature that set Buddhism apart from theHindu schools that so closely resembled it. Thatdistinctive feature is the teaching of not-self. Sometimes, this teaching of not-self is an occasionfor confusion because often we wonder how one candeny the self. After all, we do say “I am speaking” or “Iam walking,” or “I am called so and so”, or “I am thefather or the son of such and such a person.” So howcan we deny the reality of that “I”? In order to clarifythis, I think it is important to remember that theBuddhist rejection of the “I” is not a rejection of thisconvenient designation, the name “I”. Rather, it is arejection of the idea that this name “I” stands for asubstantial, permanent and changeless reality. When theBuddha said that the five factors of personal experiencewere not the self, and that the self was not to be foundwithin them He meant that on analysis, this name “I” didnot correspond to any essence or entity. The Buddha hasused the example of the chariot and the forest to explain 120
  • 123. the relation between the term “I” and the components ofpersonal experience. The Buddha has explained that theterm “chariot” is simply a convenient name for acollection of parts that is assembled in a particular way.The wheels are not the chariot. Neither is the axle, andneither is the carriage, and so forth. Similarly, anindividual tree is not a forest. Neither is a number ofindividual trees a forest. There is no forest apart fromthe individual trees. The term forest is just a convenientname for an assembly of individual trees. This is thethrust of the Buddha’s rejection of the self. TheBuddha’s rejection is a rejection of the belief in a real,independent, permanent entity that is represented by theterm “I”. Such a permanent entity would have to beindependent, would have to be sovereign in the way thata king is master of those around him. It would have tobe permanent, immutable and impervious to change,and such a permanent entity, such a self is nowhere tobe found. The Buddha has applied the following analysis tothe body and mind to indicate that the self is nowhere tobe found either in the body or the mind. The body is notthe self. For if the body were the self, the self would beimpermanent, would be subject to change, decay,destruction, and death. So the body cannot be the self.The self does not possess the body, in the sense that Ipossess a car or a television, because the self cannotcontrol the body. The body falls ill, gets tired and oldagainst our wishes. The body has a shape which oftendoes not agree with our wishes. So in no way does theself possess the body. The self is not in the body. If wesearch our body from the top of our head to the tip of 121
  • 124. our toes, we can nowhere locate the self. The self is notin the bone, nor in the blood, nor in the marrow, nor inthe hair, nor in the spittle. The self is nowhere to befound within the body. Similarly, the mind is not theself. The mind is subject to constant change. The mindis forever jumping about like a monkey. The mind ishappy at one moment and unhappy at the next. So themind cannot be the self for the mind is constantlychanging. The self does not possess the mind becausethe mind becomes excited or depressed against ourwishes. Although we know that certain thoughts arewholesome, and certain thoughts are unwholesome, themind pursues unwholesome thoughts and is indifferenttowards wholesome thoughts. So the self does notpossess the mind because the mind acts independentlyof the self. The self is not in the mind. No matter howcarefully we search the contents of our mind, no matterhow carefully we search our thoughts, feelings, andideas, we can nowhere find the self. There is a verysimple exercise that anyone of us can perform. We canall sit quietly for a brief period of time and look withinour body and mind, and without exception we will findthat we cannot locate the self anywhere within the bodynor the mind. The conclusion remains that the self is justa convenient name for a collection of factors. There isno self, no soul, no essence, no core of personal ex-perience apart from the ever-changing, interdependent,impermanent physical and mental factors of personalexperience such as our feelings, ideas, thoughts, habits,and attitudes. Why should we care to reject the idea of self? Howcan we benefit by rejecting the idea of self? Here too, 122
  • 125. we can benefit in two important ways. First of all, in oureveryday life, on a mundane level we can benefit in thatwe will become more creative, more comfortable, andmore open people. So long as we cling to the self, wewill always have to defend ourselves, to defend ourpossessions, property, prestige, opinions and even ourwords. But once we give up this belief in an indepen-dent and permanent self, we will be able to relate toother people and situations without paranoia. We will beable to relate freely, spontaneously and creatively.Understanding not-self is therefore an aid to living. Even more importantly, understanding not-self is akey to enlightenment. The belief in a self is synonymouswith ignorance, and ignorance is the most basic of thethree defilements. Once we identify, imagine, or con-ceive of ourselves as an entity, we immediately create aschism, a separation between ourselves and the peopleand things around us. Once we have this conception ofself, we respond to the persons and things around useither with desire or with aversion. In this sense, the selfis the real villain of the piece. Seeing that the self is thesource and the cause of all suffering, and seeing that therejection of the self is the cause of the end of suffering,rather than trying to defend, protect and preserve theself, why should we not do our best to reject andeliminate this idea of the self? Why should we notrecognize that personal experience is like a banana treeor like an onion, that when we take it apart piece bypiece, that when we examine it critically and analytic-ally, we find that it is empty of any essential, substantialcore, that it is devoid of the self? 123
  • 126. When we understand that all things areimpermanent, are full of suffering, and are not-self, andwhen our understanding of these truths is not merely in-tellectual or academic but through study, considerationand meditation, the facts of impermanence, sufferingand not-self become part of our immediate experience.Through the understanding of impermanence, suffering,and not-self, we will have freed ourselves of thefundamental errors that imprison us within the cycle ofbirth and death — the error of seeing things aspermanent, the error of seeing things as pleasant and theerror of seeing things as self. When these delusions areremoved, wisdom arises. Just as when darkness isremoved, light arises. And when wisdom arises, oneexperiences the peace and freedom of Nirvana. This week we have confined ourselves to lookingat personal experience in terms of body and mind. Nextweek we will look more deeply into the Buddhistanalysis of personal experience in terms of the elementsof our physical and mental universe. 124
  • 127. THE FIVE AGGREGATES This is the last in the series of twelve sessions thatwe have spent together, and in this last session we aregoing to look at the teaching of the five aggregates(Skandhas — Rupa, Vedana, Samjna, Samskara andVijnana). In other words, we are going to look at theBuddhist analysis of personal experience or theBuddhist analysis of the personality. Throughout the last lectures, I have had occasionsa number of times to make the point that Buddhistteachings have been found relevant to modern life andthought in the fields of science, psychology and soforth. Here, in regard to the analysis of personal ex-perience into the five aggregates, this is also the case.Modern psychologists and psychiatrists have been par-ticularly interested in this analysis. It has even beensuggested that in the Abhidharma and in the analysis ofpersonal experience into the five aggregates, we have apsychological equivalent to the table of elements work-ed out in modern science. What we have in the Buddhistanalysis of personal experience is a very careful inven-tory and evaluation of the elements of our experience. What we are going to do today is basically anextension and a refinement of what we were doing at theend of last week’s lecture. There, we spent some time onthe teachings of impermanence, suffering and not-self.In the course of looking at the teaching on not-self, wehave explored briefly how the analysis of personalexperience can be carried out along two lines, and that iswith regard to the body, and with regard to the mind. 125
  • 128. You will recall that we have examined the body andmind to see whether in either of them we can locate theself, and we have found that the self is not to be foundin either of them. We have concluded that the name‘self’ is just a convenient term for a collection ofphysical and mental factors, in the same way that thename ‘forest’ is just a convenient term for a collectionof trees. This week, we are going to take our analysisstill further, and rather than looking at personalexperience simply in terms of body and mind, we aregoing to analyze personal experience in terms of the fiveaggregates. Let us first look at the aggregate of matter or form(Rupa). The aggregate of form corresponds to what wewould call material or physical factors. It includes notonly our own bodies, but also the material objects thatsurround us — the earth, the oceans, the trees, thebuildings, and so forth. Specifically, the aggregate ofform includes the five physical sense organs and thecorresponding physical objects of the sense organs.These are the eyes and visible objects, the ears andsound, the nose and smell, the tongue and taste, and theskin and tangible objects. But physical elements by themselves are notenough to produce experience. The simple contactbetween the eyes and visible objects, or between theears and sound cannot result in experience withoutconsciousness (Vijnana). The eyes can be in conjunctionwith the visible object indefinitely without producingexperience. The ears too can be exposed to soundindefinitely without producing experience. Only the 126
  • 129. co-presence of consciousness together with the senseorgan and the object of the sense organ producesexperience. In other words, it is when the eyes, thevisible object and consciousness come together that theexperience of a visible object is produced. Conscious-ness is therefore an indispensable element in the pro-duction of experience. Before we go on to our consideration of the mentalfactors of personal experience, I would like to mentionbriefly the existence of one more set of an organ and itsobject, and here I speak of the sixth-sense — the mind.This is in addition to the five physical sense organs —eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin. Just as the fivephysical sense organs have their corresponding physicalobjects, the mind has for its object ideas or properties(dharmas). And as in the case of the five physical senseorgans, consciousness is present to unite the mind andits object so as to produce experience. Let us now look at the mental factors of experienceand let us see if we can understand how consciousnessturns the physical factors of experience into personalconscious experience. First of all, we must rememberthat consciousness is mere awareness, or meresensitivity to an object. When the physical factors ofexperience, as for example the eyes and a visible object,come into contact, and when consciousness too becomesassociated with the physical factors of experience, visualconsciousness arises. This is mere awareness of a visibleobject, not anything like what we could call personalexperience. The way that our personal experience isproduced is through the functioning of the other three 127
  • 130. major mental factors of experience and they are theaggregate of feeling, the aggregate of perception and theaggregate of mental formation or volition. These threeaggregates function to turn this mere awareness of theobject into personal experience. The aggregate of feeling or sensation (Vedana) isof three kinds — pleasant, unpleasant and indifferent.When an object is experienced, that experience takes onone of these emotional tones, either the tone of pleasure,or the tone of displeasure, or the tone of indifference. Let us next look at the aggregate of perception(Samjna). This is an aggregate which many people finddifficult to understand. When we speak of perception,we have in mind the activity of recognition, or identifi-cation. In a sense, we are talking about the attaching of aname to an object of experience. The function of per-ception is to turn an indefinite experience into anidentified and recognized experience. Here, we arespeaking of the formulation of a conception of an ideaabout a particular object. Just as with feeling where wehave a emotional element in terms of pleasure, dis-pleasure or indifference; with perception, we have aconceptual element in the sense of introducing adefinite, determinate idea about the object of experience. Finally, there is the aggregate of mental formationor volition (Samskara). This aggregate may be describedas a conditioned response to the object of experience. Inthis sense, it partakes of the meaning of habit as well.We have spent some time discussing the component ofmental formation when we considered the twelve com-ponents of dependent origination. You will remember 128
  • 131. that on that occasion, we described mental formation asthe impression created by previous actions, the habitenergy stored up from countless former lives. Here, asone of the five aggregates also, the aggregate of mentalformation plays a similar role. But it has not only astatic value, it also has a dynamic value because just asour reactions are conditioned by former deeds, so areour responses here and now motivated and directed in aparticular way by our mental formation or volition.Mental formation or volition therefore has a moraldimension just as perception has a conceptual dimen-sion, and feeling has a emotional dimension. You willnotice I use the terms mental formation and volitiontogether. This is because each of these terms representsone half of the meaning of Samskara — mentalformation represents the half that comes from the past,and volition represents the half that functions here andnow. So mental formation and volition function todetermine our responses to the objects of experience andthese responses have moral consequences in the sense ofwholesome, unwholesome or neutral. We can now see how the physical and mentalfactors of experience worked together to producepersonal experience. To make this a little clearer, let ustake the help of a couple of concrete examples. Let ussay after today’s lecture you decide to take a walk in thegarden. As you walk in the garden, your eyes come intocontact with a visible object. As your attention focuseson that visible object, your consciousness becomesaware of visible object as yet indeterminate. Youraggregate of perception will identify that visible objectas, let us say, a snake. Once that happens, you will 129
  • 132. respond to that visible object with the aggregate offeeling — the feeling of displeasure, or morespecifically that of fear. Finally, you will react to thatvisible object with the aggregate of mental formation orvolition, with the intentional action of perhaps runningaway or perhaps picking up a stone. In all our dailyactivities, we can see how all the five aggregates worktogether to produce personal experience. At this verymoment, for instance, there is contact between twoelements of the aggregate of form — the sound of myvoice and your ears. Your consciousness becomes awareof the sound of my voice. Your aggregate of perceptionidentifies the words that I am speaking. Your aggregateof feeling responds with an emotional response —pleasure, displeasure or indifference. Your aggregate ofmental formation or volition responds with a con-ditioned reaction — sitting in attention, daydreaming orperhaps yawning. We can analyze all our personalexperience in terms of the five aggregates. There is one point that has to be rememberedregarding the nature of the five aggregates, and that isthat each and all of them are in constant change. Theelements that constitute the aggregate of form areimpermanent and are in a state of constant change. Wediscussed this last week — the body grows old, weak,sick and so forth. The things around us are alsoimpermanent and change constantly. Our feelings tooare constantly changing. We may respond today to aparticular situation with a feeling of pleasure. To-morrow, we may respond to that same situation with thefeeling of displeasure. Today we may perceive an objectin a particular way. At a later time, under different cir- 130
  • 133. cumstances, our perception will change. In semi-darkness we perceive a rope to be a snake. The momentthe light of the torch falls upon that object, we perceiveit to be a rope. So our perceptions like our feelings andlike the material objects of our experience are everchanging and impermanent. So too, our mental form-ations are impermanent and ever-changing. We alter ourhabits. We can learn to be kind and compassionate. Wecan acquire the attitudes of renunciation and equanimityand so forth. Consciousness too is impermanent andconstantly changing. Consciousness arises dependentupon an object and a sense organ. It cannot existindependently. As we have seen, all the physical andmental factors of our experience like our bodies, thephysical objects around us, our minds and our ideas areimpermanent and constantly changing. All these aggre-gates are constantly changing and impermanent. Theyare processes, not things. They are dynamic, not static. What is the use of this analysis of personalexperience in terms of the five aggregates? What is theuse of this reduction of the apparent unity of personalexperience into the various elements of form, feeling,perception, mental formation or volition, and conscious-ness? The purpose of this analysis is to create thewisdom of not-self. What we wish to achieve is to arriveat a way of experiencing the world which is notconstructed upon and around the idea of a self. We wantto see personal experience in terms of processes, interms of impersonal functions rather than in terms of aself and what affects a self because this will create anattitude of equanimity, an attitude which will help usovercome the emotional disturbances of hope and fear. 131
  • 134. We hope for happiness, we fear pain. We hope forpraise, we fear blame. We hope for gain, we fear loss.We hope for fame, we fear infamy. We live in a state ofalternating between hope and fear. We experience thesehopes and fears because we understand happiness andpain and so forth in terms of the self. We understandthem as personal happiness and pain, as personal praiseand blame, and so forth. But once we understand themin terms of impersonal processes, and once through thisunderstanding we get rid of the idea of the self, we canovercome hope and fear. We can regard happiness andpain, praise and blame and all the rest with equanimity,with even-mindedness, and we will then no longer besubject to the imbalance of alternating between hopeand fear. 132
  • 135. CONCLUSION I would like to spend a few moments by way ofconclusion to reflect upon what we have done over thepast weeks and relate it to what we can do now and inthe future. The teachings of the Buddha are exceedingly vastand very profound. In fact, over the past weeks, we haveonly managed to survey a few of the fundamentalteachings of the Buddha, and these too onlysuperficially. Yet, you may feel that what we havecovered is a lot, and you may feel that it is impossible topractise all that we have discussed. In fact, it is said thatit is difficult even for a monk living in isolation topractise all of the fundamental teachings of the Buddha.No small wonder that it is difficult for laymen andwomen like ourselves who have many secularresponsibilities. Nonetheless, if one succeeds in sincere-ly cultivating and practising even a few of the manyteachings of the Buddha, then one will have succeededin making this life more meaningful. One will be certainthat one will again in the future encounter circumstancesfavourable to the practice of the Dharma and to theeventual realization of liberation. Everyone can achieve the highest goal inBuddhism, be he a layman or a monk. All we need to dois to make an honest effort to follow the Noble Eight-fold Path. It is said that those who have realized thetruth, like the Buddha Shakyamuni and His prominentdisciples did not do so accidentally. They did not fallfrom the sky like rain, nor did they spring up from theearth like grain. The Buddha and His disciples were 133
  • 136. once ordinary sentient beings like you and me. Theywere once afflicted by the impurities of the mind, desire,ill-will and ignorance. It is through contacting theDharma, through purifying their words and deeds,through developing their minds and through acquiringwisdom that they became free, exalted beings able toteach and help others to realize the truth. There istherefore no doubt that if we apply ourselves to theteachings of the Buddha, we too can attain the ultimategoal of Buddhism. We too can become like the Buddhaor like His prominent disciples. It is of no use merely to listen to the Dharma or toread the Dharma. Similarly, it is of no use merely towrite articles about the Dharma, or to give lecturesabout the Dharma if we do not put it into practice. It hasbeen said that those of us who call themselves Buddhistscan profit by occasionally taking stock. If we see thatover the past years our practice of the Buddha’steachings has brought about a slight change in thequality of our experience (and it will be a slight change),then we will know that the teachings are having someeffect. If all of us put the teachings into practice, there isno doubt that we will realize their benefits. If we seek toavoid harming others, if we try our best to help otherswhenever possible, if we learn to be mindful, if we learnto develop our ability to concentrate our mind, if wecultivate wisdom through study, careful considerationand meditation, there is no doubt that the Dharma willbenefit us. It will first lead us to happiness andprosperity in this life and in the next. Eventually, it willlead us to the ultimate goal of liberation, the everlastingbliss of Nirvana. 134