Buddha and His Teachings Chapters 11 – 20

The Buddha’s Royal Patrons

“A treacherous bog it is, this patronage
Of bows and gifts and treats from wealthy folk.
‘Tis like a fine dart, bedded in the flesh.
For erring human hard to extricate.”

—Mahākassapa Thera Gāthā (1053)

King Bimbisāra

King Bimbisāra, who ruled in Magadha with its capital at Rājagaha, was the Buddha’s first royal patron. Ascending the throne at the age of fifteen, he reigned for fifty-two years.

When Prince Siddhattha renounced the world and was seeking alms in the streets of Rājagaha as a humble ascetic, the king saw him from his palace and was highly impressed by his majestic appearance and dignified deportment. Immediately he sent messengers to ascertain who he was. On learning that he was resting after his meal under the Pāndavapabbata, the king, accompanied by his retinue, went up to the royal ascetic and inquired about his birthplace and ancestry.

The Ascetic Gotama replied:

“Just straight, O King, upon the Himalaya, there is, in the district of Kosala of ancient families, a country endowed with wealth and energy. I am sprung from that family which by clan belongs to the Solar dynasty, by birth to the Sākyas. I crave not for pleasures of the senses. Realising the evil of sensual pleasures and seeing renunciation as safe, I proceeded to seek the highest, for in that my mind rejoices. 164

Thereupon the king invited him to visit his kingdom after his enlightenment.

The Buddha meets King Bimbisāra

In accordance with the promise the Buddha made to King Bimbisāra before his enlightenment, he, with his large retinue of arahant disciples, went from Gayā to Rājagaha, the capital of the district of Magadha. Here he stayed at the Suppatittha shrine in a palm grove.

This happy news of the Buddha’s arrival in the kingdom and his high reputation as an unparalleled religious teacher soon spread in the city. The King, hearing of his arrival, came with a large number of his subjects to welcome the Buddha. He approached the Buddha, respectfully saluted him and sat at one side. Of his subjects some respectfully saluted him, some looked towards him with expression of friendly greetings, some saluted him with clasped hands, some introduced themselves, while others in perfect silence took their seats. As both the Buddha Gotama and the Venerable Kassapa were held in high esteem by the multitude they were not certain whether the Buddha was leading the holy life under or the latter under the former. The Buddha read their thoughts and questioned Venerable Kassapa as to why he had given up his fire-sacrifice. Understanding the motive of the Buddha’s question, he explained that he abandoned fire-sacrifice because he preferred the passionless and peaceful state of Nibbāna to worthless sensual pleasures. After this he fell at the feet of the Buddha and acknowledging his superiority said: “My teacher, Lord, is the Exalted One: I am the disciple. My teacher, Lord, is the Exalted One: I am the disciple.”

The devout people were delighted to hear of the conversion. The Buddha thereupon preached the Mahā Nārada Kassapa Jātaka 165 to show how in a previous birth when he was born as Nārada, still subject to passion, he converted Kassapa in a similar way.

Hearing the Dhamma expounded by the Buddha, the “eye of truth” 166 arose in them all. King Bimbisāra attained sotāpatti, and seeking refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, invited the Buddha and his disciples to his palace for the meal on the following day. After the meal the king wished to know where the Buddha would reside. The Buddha replied that a secluded place, neither too far nor too close to the city, accessible to those who desire to visit him, pleasant, not crowded during the day, not too noisy at night, with as few sounds as possible, airy and fit for the privacy of men, would be suitable.

The king thought that his Bamboo Grove would meet all such requirements. Therefore in return for the transcendental gift the Buddha had bestowed upon him, he gifted for the use of the Buddha and the Sangha the park with this ideally secluded bamboo grove, also known as ‘The Sanctuary of the Squirrels.’ It would appear that this park had no building for the use of bhikkhus but was filled with many shady trees and secluded spots. However, this was the first gift of a place of residence for the Buddha and his disciples. The Buddha spent three successive rainy seasons and three other rainy seasons in this quiet Veḷuvanārāma. 167

After his conversion the king led the life of an exemplary monarch observing uposatha regularly on six days of the month.

Kosala Devi, daughter of King Mahā Kosala, and sister of King Pasenadi Kosala, was his chief loyal queen. Ajātasattu was her son. Khemā who, through the ingenuity of the king, became a follower of the Buddha and who later rose to the position of the first female disciple of the order of nuns, was another queen.

Though he was a pious monarch, yet, due to his past evil kamma, he had a very sad and pathetic end.

Prince Ajātasattu, successor to the throne, instigated by wicked Devadatta Thera, attempted to kill him and usurp the throne. The unfortunate prince was caught red-handed, and the compassionate father, instead of punishing him for his brutal act, rewarded him with the coveted crown.

The ungrateful son showed his gratitude to his father by casting him into prison in order to starve him to death. His mother alone had free access to the king daily. The loyal queen carried food concealed in her waist-pouch. To this the prince objected. Then she carried food concealed in her hair-knot. The prince resented this too. Later she bathed herself in scented water and besmeared her body with a mixture of honey, butter, ghee, and molasses. The king licked her body and sustained himself. The over-vigilant prince detected this and ordered his mother not to visit his father.

King Bimbisāra was without any means of sustenance, but he paced up and down enjoying spiritual happiness as he was a sotāpanna. Ultimately the wicked son decided to put an end to the life of his noble father. Ruthlessly he ordered his barber to cut open his soles and put salt and oil thereon and make him walk on burning charcoal.

The King, who saw the barber approaching, thought that the son, realising his folly, was sending the barber to shave his grown beard and hair and release him from prison. Contrary to his expectations, he had to meet an untimely sad end. The barber mercilessly executed the inhuman orders of the barbarous prince. The good King died in great agony. On that very day a son was born unto Ajātasattu. Letters conveying the news of birth and death reached the palace at the same time.

The letter conveying the happy news was first read. Lo, the love he cherished towards his first-born son was indescribable! His body was thrilled with joy and the paternal love penetrated up to the very marrow of his bones.

Immediately he rushed to his beloved mother and questioned: “Mother dear, did my father love me when I was a child?”

“What say you, son! When you were conceived in my womb, I developed a craving to sip some blood from the right hand of your father. This I dare not say. Consequently I grew pale and thin. I was finally persuaded to disclose my inhuman desire. Joyfully your father fulfilled my wish, and I drank that abhorrent potion. The soothsayers predicted that you would be an enemy of your father. Accordingly you were named Ajātasattu (“unborn enemy.”)

I attempted to effect a miscarriage, but your father prevented it. After you were born, again I wanted to kill you. Again your father interfered. On one occasion you were suffering from a boil in your finger, and nobody was able to lull you into sleep. But your father, who was administering justice in his royal court, took you into his lap and caressing you sucked the boil. Lo, inside the mouth it burst open. O, my dear son, that pus and blood! Yes, your affectionate father swallowed it out of love for you.”

Instantly he cried, “Run and release, release my beloved father quickly!”

His father had closed his eyes for ever.

The other letter was then placed in his hand.

Ajātasattu shed hot tears. He realised what paternal love was only after he became a father himself.

King Bimbisāra died and was immediately after born as a deva named Janavasabha in the Cātummahārājika heaven.

Later, Ajātasattu met the Buddha and became one of his distinguished lay followers and took a leading part in the holding of the first convocation.

King Pasenadi Kosala

King Pasenadi Kosala, the son of King Mahā Kosala, who reigned in the kingdom of Kosala with its capital at Sāvatthī, was another royal patron of the Buddha. He was a contemporary of the Buddha, and owing to his proficiency in various arts, he had the good fortune to be made king by his father while he was alive.

His conversion must probably have taken place during the very early part of the Buddha’s ministry. In the Saṃyutta Nikāya it is stated that once he approached the Buddha and questioning him about his perfect enlightenment referred to him as being young in years and young in ordination. 168

The Buddha replied—”There are four objects, O Mahārāja, that should not be disregarded or despised. They are a Khattiya (a warrior prince), a snake, fire, and a bhikkhu (mendicant monk). 169

Then he delivered an interesting sermon on this subject to the king. At the close of the sermon the king expressed his great pleasure and instantly became a follower of the Buddha. Since then till his death he was deeply attached to the Buddha. It is said that on one occasion the king prostrated himself before the Buddha and stroked his feet covering them with kisses. 170

His chief queen, Mallikā a very devout and wise lady, well versed in the Dhamma, was greatly responsible for his religious enthusiasm. Like a true friend, she had to act as his religious guide on several occasions.

One day the king dreamt sixteen unusual dreams and was greatly perturbed in mind, not knowing their true significance. His brahmin advisers interpreted them to be dreams portending evil and instructed him to make an elaborate animal sacrifice to ward off the dangers resulting therefrom. As advised he made all necessary arrangements for this inhuman sacrifice which would have resulted in the loss of thousands of helpless creatures. Queen Mallikā, hearing of this barbarous act about to be perpetrated, persuaded the king to get the dreams interpreted by the Buddha whose understanding infinitely surpassed that of those worldly brahmins. The king approached the Buddha and mentioned the object of his visit. Relating the sixteen dreams 171 he wished to know their significance, and the Buddha explained their significance fully to him.

Unlike King Bimbisāra, King Kosala had the good fortune to hear several edifying and instructive discourses from the Buddha. In the Saṃyutta Nikāya there appears a special section called the Kosala Saṃyutta 172 in which are recorded most of the discourses and talks given by the Buddha to the king.

Once while the king was seated in the company of the Buddha, he saw some ascetics with hairy bodies and long nails passing by, and rising from his seat respectfully saluted them calling out his name to them: “I am the king, your reverences, the Kosala, Pasenadi.” When they had gone he came back to the Buddha and wished to know whether they were arahants or those who were striving for arahantship. The Buddha explained that it was difficult for ordinary laymen enjoying material pleasures to judge whether others are arahants or not and made the following interesting observations:

“It is by association (saṃvāsena) that one’s conduct (sīla) is to be understood, and that, too, after a long time and not in a short time, by one who is watchful and not by a heedless person, by an intelligent person and not by an unintelligent one. It is by conversation (serivihārena) that one’s purity (soceyyaṃ) is to be understood. It is in time of trouble that one’s fortitude is to be understood. It is by discussion that one’s wisdom is to be understood, and that, too, after a long time and not in a short time, by one who is watchful and not by a heedless person, by an intelligent person and not by an unintelligent one.”

Summing up the above, the Buddha uttered the following verses:

Not by his outward guise is man well known.
In fleeting glance let none place confidence.
In garb of decent well-conducted folk
The unrestrained live in the world at large.
As a clay earring made to counterfeit,
Or bronze half penny coated over with gold,
Some fare at large hidden beneath disguise,
Without, comely and fair; within, impure. 173

King Kosala, as ruler of a great kingdom, could not possibly have avoided warfare, especially with kings of neighbouring countries. Once he was compelled to fight with his own nephew, King Ajātasattu, and was defeated. Hearing it, the Buddha remarked:

“Victory breeds hatred.
The defeated live in pain.
Happily the peaceful live, giving up victory and defeat.” 174

On another occasion King Kosala was victorious and he confiscated the whole army of King Ajātasattu, saving only him. When the Buddha heard about this new victory, he uttered the following verse, the truth of which applies with equal force to this modern war-weary world as well:

“A man may spoil another, just so far
As it may serve his ends, but when he’s spoiled
By others he, despoiled, spoils yet again.
So long as evil’s fruit is not matured,
The fool doth fancy ‘now’s the hour, the chance!’
But when the deed bears fruit, he fareth ill.
The slayer gets a slayer in his turn;
The conqueror gets one who conquers him;
Th’abuser wins abuse, th’annoyer, fret.
Thus by the evolution of the deed,
A man who spoils is spoiled in his turn.” 175

What the Buddha has said to King Kosala about women is equally interesting and extremely encouraging to womankind. Once while the king was engaged in a pious conversation with the Buddha, a messenger came and whispered into his ear that Queen Mallikā had given birth to a daughter. The king was not pleased at this unwelcome news. In ancient India, as it is to a great extent today, a daughter is not considered a happy addition to a family for several selfish reasons as, for instance, the problem of providing a dowry. The Buddha, unlike any other religious teacher, paid a glowing tribute to women and mentioned four chief characteristics that adorn a woman in the following words:

“Some women are indeed better (than men).
Bring her up, O Lord of men.
There are women who are wise, virtuous,
who regard mother-in-law as a goddess, and who are chaste.
To such a noble wife may be born a valiant son,
a lord of realms, who would rule a kingdom.” 176

Some women are even better than men. “Itthi hi pi ekacciyā seyyā” were the actual words used by the Buddha. No religious teacher has made such a bold and noble utterance especially in India, where women are not held in high esteem.

Deeply grieved over the death of his old grandmother, aged one hundred and twenty years, King Kosala approached the Buddha and said that he would have given everything within his means to save his grandmother who had been as a mother to him. The Buddha consoled him, saying:

“All beings are mortal; they end with death, they have death in prospect. All the vessels wrought by the potter, whether they are baked or unbaked, are breakable; they finish broken, they have breakage in prospect.” 177

The king was so desirous of hearing the Dhamma that even if affairs of state demanded his presence in other parts of the kingdom, he would avail himself of every possible opportunity to visit the Buddha and engage in a pious conversation. The Dhammacetiya and Kannakatthala Suttas 178 were preached on such occasions.

King Kosala’s chief consort, the daughter of a garland-maker, predeceased him. A sister of King Bimbisāra was one of his wives. One of his sisters was married to King Bimbisāra and Ajātasattu was her son.

King Kosala had a son named Viḍūḍabha who revolted against him in his old age. This son’s mother was the daughter of Mahānāma the Sākya, who was related to the Buddha, and his grandmother was a slave-girl. This fact the king did not know when he took her as one of his consorts. Hearing a derogatory remark made by Sākyas about his ignoble lineage, Viḍūḍabha took vengeance by attempting to destroy the Sākya race. Unfortunately it was due to Viḍūḍabha that the king had to die a pathetic death in a hall outside the city with only a servant as his companion. King Kosala predeceased the Buddha.

The Buddha’s Ministry

“Freed am I from all bonds, whether divine or human.
You, too, O bhikkhus, are freed from all bonds.”

—Vinaya, Mahāvagga I.10

The Buddha’s beneficent and successful ministry lasted forty-five years. From his 35th year, the year of his enlightenment, till his death in his 80th year, he served humanity both by example and by precept. Throughout the year he wandered from place to place, at times alone, sometimes accompanied by his disciples, expounding the Dhamma to the people and liberating them from the bonds of saṃsāra. During the rainy season (vassāna) from July to November, owing to incessant rains, he lived in retirement as was customary with all ascetics in India in his time.

In ancient times, as today, three regular seasons prevailed in India, namely vassāna (rainy), hemanta (swinter), and gimhāna (hot). The vassāna or rainy season starts in Ásālha and extends up to Assayuga, that is, approximately from the middle of July to the middle of November.

During the vassāna period, due to torrential rains, rivers and streams usually get flooded, roads get inundated, communications get interrupted and people as a rule are confined to their homes and villages and live on what provisions they have collected during the previous seasons. During this time the ascetics find it difficult to engage in their preaching tours, wandering from place to place. An infinite variety of vegetable and animal life also appears to such an extent that people could not move about without unconsciously destroying them. Accordingly all ascetics including the disciples of the Buddha, used to suspend their itinerant activities and live in retirement in solitary places. As a rule the Buddha and his disciples were invited to spend their rainy seasons either in a monastery or in a secluded park. Sometimes, however, they used to retire to forests. During these rainy seasons people flocked to the Buddha to hear the Dhamma and thus availed themselves of his presence in their vicinity to their best advantage.

The First Twenty Years

First Year at Benares

After expounding the Dhammacakka Sutta to his first five disciples on the Ásālha full moon day, he spent the first rainy season in the Deer Park at Isipatana, near Benares. Here there was no special building where he could reside. Yasa’s conversion took place during this retreat.

Second, Third, and Fourth Years at Rājagaha

Rājagaha was the capital of the kingdom of Magadha where ruled King Bimbisāra. When the Buddha visited the king, in accordance with a promise made by him before his enlightenment, he offered his Bamboo Grove (veluvana) to the Buddha and his disciples. This was an ideal solitary place for monks as it was neither too far nor too near to the city. Three rainy seasons were spent by the Buddha in this quiet grove.

Fifth Year at Vesāli

During this year while he was residing in the Pinnacle Hall at Mahāvana near Vesāli, he heard of the impending death of King Suddhodana and, repairing to the king’s death chamber, preached the Dhamma to him. Immediately the king attained arahantship. For seven days thereafter he experienced the bliss of emancipation then passed away.

It was in this year that the bhikkhuṇī order was founded at the request of Mahā Pajāpati Gotamī. After the cremation of the king, when the Buddha was temporarily residing at Nigrodhārāma, Mahā Pajāpati Gotamī approached the Buddha and begged permission for women to enter the order. But the Buddha refused and returned to the Pinnacle Hall at Rājagaha. Mahā Pajāpati Gotamī was so intent on renouncing the world that she, accompanied by many Sākya and Koliya ladies, walked all the way from Kapilavatthu to Rājagaha and, through the intervention of Venerable Ánanda, succeeded in entering the order. 179

Sixth Year at Mankula Hill in Kosambi, near Allahabad

Just as he performed the “twin wonder” (yamaka pāihāriya180 to overcome the pride of his relatives at Kapilavatthu, even so did he perform it for the second time at Mankula Hill to convert his alien followers.

Seventh Year at Tāvatiṃsa Heaven

A few days after the birth of Prince Siddhattha Queen Mahā Māyā died and was born as a deva (god) in the Tusita Heaven. In this seventh year, during the three rainy months, the Buddha preached the Abhidhamma 181 to the devas of the Tāvatiṃsa Heaven where the mother-Deva repaired to hear him. Daily he came to earth and gave a summary of his sermon to the Venerable Sāriputta who in turn expounded the same doctrine in detail to his disciples. What is embodied in the present Abhidhamma Piṭaka is supposed to be this detailed exposition of the Dhamma by him.

It is stated that, on hearing these discourses, the deva who was his mother attained the first stage of sainthood.

Eighth Year at Bhesakalā Forest, near Suṃsumāra Rock, in the Bhagga District
Ninth Year at Kosambi

It was in this year that Māgandiyā harboured a grudge against the Buddha and sought an opportunity to dishonour him.

Māgandiyā was a beautiful maiden. Her parents would not give her in marriage as the prospective suitors, in their opinion, were not worthy of their daughter. One day as the Buddha was surveying the world, he perceived the spiritual development of the parents. Out of compassion for them he visited the place where the father of the girl was tending the sacred fire. The brahmin, fascinated by the Buddha’s physical beauty, thought that he was the best person to whom he could give his daughter in marriage and requesting him to stay there until his arrival, hurried home to bring his daughter. The Buddha in the meantime stamped his footprint on that spot and moved to a different place. The brahmin and his wife, accompanied by their daughter who was dressed in her best garments, came to that spot and observed the footprint. The wife who was conversant with signs said that it was not the footprint of an ordinary man but of a pure person who had eradicated all passions. The Brahmin ridiculed the idea, and, noticing the Buddha at a distance offered his daughter unto him. The Buddha describing how he overcame his passions said:

“Having seen Taṇhā, Arati, and Ragā, 182
I had no pleasure for the pleasures of love.
What is this body, filled with urine and dung?
I should not be willing to touch it, even with my foot.” 183

Hearing his Dhamma, the brahmin and his wife attained anāgāmi, the third stage of sainthood. But proud Māgandiya felt insulted and she thought to herself, “If this man has no need of me, it is perfectly proper for him to say so, but he declares me to be full of urine and dung. Very well, by virtue of birth, lineage, social position, wealth, and the charm of youth that I possess I shall obtain a husband who is my equal, and then I shall know what ought to be done to the monk Gotama.”

Enraged by the words of the Buddha, she conceived a hatred towards him. Later she was given as a consort to the king of Udena. Taking advantage of her position as one of the royal consorts, she bribed people and instigated them to revile and drive the Buddha out of the city. When the Buddha entered the city, they shouted at him, saying: “You are a thief, a simpleton, a fool, a camel, an ox, an ass, a denizen of hell, a beast. You have no hope of salvation. A state of punishment is all that you can look forward to.”

Venerable Ánanda, unable to bear this filthy abuse, approached the Buddha and said, “Lord, these citizens are reviling and abusing us. Let us go elsewhere.”

“Where shall we go, Ánanda?” asked the Buddha.

“To some other city, Lord,” said Ánanda.

“If men revile us there, where shall we go then?” inquired the Buddha.

“To still another city, Lord,” said Ánanda.

“Ánanda, one should not speak thus. Where a difficulty arises, right there should it be settled. Only under those circumstances is it permissible to go elsewhere. But who are reviling you, Ánanda?” questioned the Buddha.

“Lord, everyone is reviling us, slaves and all,” replied Ánanda. Admonishing Venerable Ánanda to practise patience, the Buddha said:

“As an elephant in the battle-field withstands the arrows shot from a bow, even so will I endure abuse. Verily, most people are undisciplined.”

“They lead the trained horses or elephants to an assembly. The king mounts the trained animal. The best among men are the disciplined who endure abuse.”

“Excellent are trained mules, so are thorough-bred horses of Sindh and noble tusked elephants; but the man who is disciplined surpasses them all.” 184

Again he addressed Venerable Ánanda and said, “Be not disturbed. These men will revile you only for seven days, and, on the eighth day they will become silent. A difficulty encountered by the Buddhas lasts no longer than seven days.” 185

Tenth Year at Pārileyyaka Forest

While the Buddha was residing at Kosambi, a dispute arose between two parties of bhikkhus—one versed in the Dhamma, the other in the Vinaya—with respect to the transgression of a minor rule of etiquette in the lavatory. Their respective supporters also were divided into two sections.

Even the Buddha could not settle the differences of these quarrelsome monks. They were adamant and would not listen to his advice. The Buddha thought: “Under present conditions the jostling crowd in which I live makes my life one of discomfort. Moreover these monks pay no attention to what I say. Suppose I were to retire from the haunts of men and live a life of solitude.” In pursuance of this thought, without even informing the Sangha, alone he retired to the Pārileyyaka Forest and spent the rainy season at the foot of a beautiful Sal tree.

It was on this occasion, according to the story, that an elephant and a monkey ministered to his needs. 186

Eleventh Year at Ekanālā, Brahmin Village

The following Kasībhāradvājā Sutta 187 was delivered here:

On one occasion the Buddha was residing at Ekanālā in Dakkhiṇagiri, the brahmin village in Magadha. At that time about five-hundred ploughs belonging to Kasībhāradvāja brahmin were harnessed for the sowing. Thereupon the Exalted One, in the forenoon, dressed himself and taking bowl and robe went to the working place of the brahmin. At that time the distribution of food by the brahmin was taking place. The Buddha went to the place where food was being distributed and stood aside. The brahmin Kasībhāradvāja saw the Buddha waiting for alms. Seeing him, he spoke thus: “I, O ascetic, plough and sow; and having ploughed and sown, I eat. You also, O ascetic, should plough and sow; and having ploughed and sown, you should eat.”

“I, too, O brahmin, plough and sow; having ploughed and sown, I eat,” said the Buddha.

“But we see not the Venerable Gotama’s yoke, or plough, or ploughshare, or goad, or oxen, albeit the Venerable Gotama says, “I too plough and sow; and having ploughed and sown, I eat,” remarked the brahmin.

Then the brahmin Bhāradvāja addressed the Exalted One thus:

“A farmer you claim to be, but we see none of your tillage. Being questioned about ploughing, please answer us so that we may know your ploughing.”

The Buddha answered:

“Confidence (saddhā) is the seed, discipline (tapo) is the rain, wisdom (paññā) my yoke and plough, modesty (hiri) the pole of my plough, mind (mano) the rein, and mindfulness (sati) my ploughshare and goad.

“I am controlled in body, controlled in speech, temperate in food. With truthfulness I cut away weeds. Absorption in the Highest (arahantship) is the release of the oxen.

“Perseverance (viriya) is my beast of burden that carries me towards the bond-free state (āna). Without turning it goes, and having gone it does not grieve.

“Thus is the tilling done: it bears the fruit of deathlessness. Having done this tilling, one is freed from all sorrow.”

Thereupon the brahmin Kasībhāradvāja, filling a large bronze bowl with milk-rice, offered it to the Exalted One, saying “May the Venerable Gotama eat the milk-rice! The Venerable Gotama is a farmer, since the Venerable Gotama tills a crop that bears the fruit of deathlessness.”

The Exalted One, however, refused to accept this saying:

“What is obtained by reciting verses is not fit to be eaten by me. This, O brahmin, is not the rule of seers. The Enlightened reject such food. While this principle lasts, this is the livelihood.

“Serve the unique, cankerless, great sage of holy calm with other kind of food and drink, for he is like a field to him that desires to sow good deeds.”

Twelfth Year at Verañjā

A brahmin of Verañjā, hearing that the Buddha was residing at Verañjā near Naleru’s Nimba tree with a large company of his disciples, approached him and raised several questions with regard to his conduct. The brahmin was so pleased with his answers that he became a follower of the Buddha and invited him and his disciples to spend the rainy season at Verañjā. The Buddha signified his assent as usual by his silence.

Unfortunately at this particular time there was a famine at Verañjā and the Buddha and his disciples were compelled to live on food intended for horses. A horse-dealer very kindly provided them with coarse food available, and the Buddha partook of such food with perfect equanimity.

One day, during this period, Venerable Sāriputta, arising from his solitary meditation, approached the Buddha and respectfully questioned him thus: “Which Buddha’s dispensation endured long and which did not?”

The Buddha replied that the dispensations of the Buddhas Vipassi, Sikhī, and Vessabhū did not endure long. While the dispensations of the Buddhas Kakusandha, Koṇāgamana, and Kassapa endured long. 188

The Buddha attributed this to the fact that some Buddhas made no great effort in preaching the Dhamma in detail and promulgated no rules and regulations for the discipline of the disciples, while other Buddhas did so.

Thereupon Venerable Sāriputta respectfully implored the Buddha to promulgate the fundamental precepts (pātimokkha) for the future discipline of the Sangha so that the holy life may endure long.

“Be patient, Sāriputta, be patient,” said the Buddha and added:

“The Tathāgata alone is aware of the time for it. Until certain defiling conditions arise in the Sangha the Tathāgata does not promulgate means of discipline for the disciples and does not lay down the fundamental precepts (pātimokkha). When such defiling conditions arise in the Sangha, only then the Tathāgata promulgates means of discipline and lays down the fundamental precepts for the disciples in order to eradicate such defilements.

“When, Sāriputta, the Sangha attains long standing (rattaññū-mahattaṃ), full development (vepulla-mahattaṃ), great increase in gains (lābhagga-mahattaṃ😉 and greatness in erudition (bahussuta-mahattaṃ), defiling conditions arise in the Sangha. Then does the Tathāgata promulgate means of discipline and the fundamental precepts to prevent such defilements.

“Sāriputta, the order of disciples is free from troubles, devoid of evil tendencies, free from stain, pure, and well established in virtue. The last of my five-hundred disciples is a sotāpanna (stream-winner) not liable to fall, steadfast and destined for enlightenment.” 189

(The rainy season at Verañjā forms the subject of the Introduction to the Pārājikā Book of the Vinaya Piṭaka.)

At the end of this rainy season the Buddha went on a preaching tour to Soreyya, Saṇkassa, Kaṇṇakujja, Payāga, and then, crossing the river, stayed some time in Benares and returned thence to Vesāli to reside at the Pinnacle Hall in Mahāvana.

Thirteenth Year was spent at Cāliya Rock
Fourteenth Year at Jetavana Monastery, Sāvatthī

The Venerable Rāhula received his higher ordination at this time on the completion of his twentieth year.

Fifteenth Year at Kapilavatthu

The pathetic death of King Suppabuddha who was angry with the Buddha for leaving his daughter, Princess Yasodharā, occurred in this year. It may be mentioned that the Buddha spent only one rainy season in his birthplace.

Sixteenth Year at the city of Áḷavi

The conversion of Áḷavaka the demon, 190 who feasted on human flesh, took place in this year.

Áḷavaka, a ferocious demon, was enraged to see the Buddha in his mansion. He came up to him and asked him to depart. “Very well, friend,” said the Buddha and went out. “Come in,” said he. The Buddha came in. For the second and third time he made the same request and the Buddha obeyed. But when he commanded him for the fourth time, the Buddha refused and asked him to do what he could.

“Well, I will ask you a question,” said Áḷavaka, “If you will not answer, I will scatter your thoughts, or tear out your heart, or take you by your feet and fling you across the Ganges.”

“Nay, friend,” replied the Buddha, “I see not in this world inclusive of gods, brahmas, ascetics, and brahmins, amongst the multitude of gods and men, any who could scatter my thoughts, or tear out my heart, or take me by my feet and fling me across the Ganges. However, friend, ask what you wish.”

Áḷavaka then asked the following questions:

“Herein, which is man’s best possession?
Which well practised yields happiness?
Which indeed is the sweetest of tastes?
How lived, do they call the best life?”

To these questions the Buddha answered thus:

“Herein confidence is man’s best possession.
Dhamma well practised yields happiness.
Truth indeed is the sweetest of tastes.
Life lived with understanding is best, they say.”

Áḷavaka next asked the Buddha:

“How does one cross the flood?
How does one cross the sea?
How does one overcome sorrow?
How is one purified?”

The Exalted One replied:

“By confidence one crosses the flood,
by heedfulness the sea.
By effort one overcomes sorrow,
by wisdom is one purified.”

Áḷavaka then inquired:

“How is wisdom gained?
How are riches found?
How is renown gained?
How are friends bound?
Passing from this world to the next,
how does one not grieve?” 191

In answer the Buddha said:

“The heedful, intelligent person of confidence gains wisdom by hearing the Dhamma of the Pure Ones that leads to Nibbāna. He who does what is proper, persevering and strenuous, gains wealth. By truth one attains to fame. Generosity binds friends.

“That faithful householder who possesses these four virtues—truthfulness, good morals, courage and liberality—grieves not after passing away.

“Well, ask many other ascetics and brahmins whether there is found anything greater than truthfulness, self-control, generosity, and patience.

Understanding well the meaning of the Buddha’s words, Áḷavaka said:

“How could I now ask diverse ascetics and brahmins? Today I know what is the secret of my future welfare.

“For my own good did the Buddha come to Áḷavi. Today I know where gifts bestowed yield fruit in abundance. From village to village, from town to town will I wander honouring the Fully Enlightened One and the perfection of the sublime Dhamma.”

Seventeenth Year was spent at Rājagaha
Eighteenth Year was spent at Cāliya Rock
Nineteenth and Twentieth years were spent at Rājagaha

Buddha and Aṇgulimāla

It was in the 20th year that the Buddha converted the notorious murderer Aṇgulimāla. 192 Ahiṃsaka (Innocent) was his original name. His father was chaplain to the king of Kosala. He received his education at Taxila, the famous educational centre in the olden days, and became the most illustrious and favourite pupil of his renowned teacher. Unfortunately his colleagues grew jealous of him, concocted a false story, and succeeded in poisoning the teacher’s mind against him. The enraged teacher, without any investigation, contrived to put an end to his life by ordering him to fetch a thousand human right-hand fingers as teacher’s honorarium. In obedience to the teacher, though with great reluctance, he repaired to the Jālinī forest, in Kosala, and started killing people to collect fingers for the necessary offering. The fingers thus collected were hung on a tree, but as they were destroyed by crows and vultures he later wore a garland of those fingers to ascertain the exact number. Hence he was known by the name Aṇgulimāla (Finger-wreathed). When he had collected 999 fingers, so the books state, the Buddha appeared on the scene. Overjoyed at the sight, because he thought that he could complete the required number by killing the great ascetic, he stalked the Buddha drawing his sword. The Buddha by his psychic powers created obstacles on the way so that Aṇgulimāla would not be able to get near him although he walked at his usual pace. Aṇgulimāla ran as fast as he could but he could not overtake the Buddha. Panting and sweating, he stopped and cried: “Stop, ascetic.” The Buddha calmly said: “Though I walk, yet have I stopped. You too, Aṇgulimāla stop.” The bandit thought —”These ascetics speak the truth, yet he says he has stopped, whereas it is I who have stopped. What does he mean?”

Standing, he questioned him:

“You who are walking, monk, say: ‘I have stopped!’
And me you say, who have stopped, I have not stopped!
I ask you, monk, what is the meaning of your words?
How can you say that you have stopped but I have not?”

The Buddha sweetly replied:

“Yes, I have stopped, Aṇgulimāla, forever.
Towards all living things renouncing violence;
You hold not your hand against your fellow men,
Therefore I have stopped, but you still go on.”

Aṇgulimāla’s good kamma rushed up to the surface. He thought that the great ascetic was none other but the Buddha Gotama who out of compassion had come to help him.

Straightaway he threw away his armour and sword and became a convert. Later, as requested by him he was admitted into the Noble order by the Buddha with the mere utterance, ‘Come, O bhikkhu!’ (ehi bhikkhu).

News spread that Aṇgulimāla had become a bhikkhu. The king of Kosala, in particular, was greatly relieved to hear of his conversion because he was a veritable source of danger to his subjects.

But Aṇgulimāla had no peace of mind, because even in his solitary meditation he used to recall memories of his past and the pathetic cries of his unfortunate victims. As a result of his evil kamma, while seeking alms in the streets he would become a target for stray stones and sticks and he would return to the monastery ‘with broken head and flowing blood, cut and crushed’ to be reminded by the Buddha that he was merely reaping the effects of his own kamma.

One day as he went on his round for alms he saw a woman in travail. Moved by compassion, he reported this pathetic woman’s suffering to the Buddha. He then advised him to pronounce the following words of truth, which later came to be known as the Aṇgulimāla Paritta. 193

“Sister, since my birth in the ariya clan (i.e., since his ordination) I know not that I consciously destroyed the life of any living being. By this truth may you be whole, and may your child be whole.” 194

He studied this paritta and, going to the presence of the suffering sister, sat on a seat separated from her by a screen, and uttered these words. Instantly she was delivered of the child with ease. The efficacy of this paritta persists to this day.

In due course Venerable Aṇgulimāla attained arahantship.

Referring to his memorable conversion by the Buddha, he says:

“Some creatures are subdued by force,
Some by the hook, and some by whips,
But I by such a One was tamed,
Who needed neither staff nor sword.” 195

The Buddha spent the remaining twenty-five years of his life mostly in Sāvatthī at the Jetavana Monastery built by Anāthapiṇḍika, the millionaire, and partly at Pubbārāma, built by Visākhā, the chief benefactress.

The Buddha’s Daily Routine

“The Lord is awakened. He teaches the Dhamma for awakening.”

—Majjhima Nikāya

The Buddha can be considered the most energetic and the most active of all religious teachers that ever lived on earth. The whole day he was occupied with his religious activities except when he was attending to his physical needs. He was methodical and systematic in the performance of his daily duties. His inner life was one of meditation and was concerned with the experiencing of nibbānic bliss, while his outer life was one of selfless service for the moral upliftment of the world. Himself enlightened, he endeavoured his best to enlighten others and liberate them from the ills of life.

His day was divided into five parts: (i) the forenoon session, (ii) the afternoon session, (iii) the first watch, (iv) the middle watch, and (v) the last watch.

The Forenoon Session

Usually early in the morning he surveys the world with his divine eye to see whom he could help. If any person needs his spiritual assistance, uninvited he goes, often on foot, sometimes by air using his psychic powers, and converts that person to the right path.

As a rule he goes in search of the vicious and the impure, but the pure and the virtuous come in search of him.

For instance, the Buddha went of his own accord to convert the robber and murderer Aṇgulimāla and the wicked demon Áḷavaka, but pious young Visākhā, generous millionaire Anāthapiṇḍika, and intellectual Sāriputta and Moggallāna came up to him for spiritual guidance.

While rendering such spiritual service to whomsoever it is necessary, if he is not invited to partake of alms by a lay supporter at some particular place, he, before whom kings prostrated themselves, would go in quest of alms through alleys and streets, with bowl in hand, either alone or with his disciples.

Standing silently at the door of each house, without uttering a word, he collects whatever food is offered and placed in the bowl and returns to the monastery.

Even in his eightieth year when he was old and in indifferent health, he went on his rounds for alms in Vesāli.

Before midday he finishes his meal. Immediately after lunch he daily delivers a short discourse to the people, establishes them in the three refuges and the five precepts and if any person is spiritually advanced, he is shown the path to sainthood.

At times he grants ordination to them if they seek admission to the order and then retires to his chamber.

The Afternoon Session

After the noon meal he takes a seat in the monastery and the bhikkhus assemble to listen to his exposition of the Dhamma. Some approach him to receive suitable objects of meditation according to their temperaments; others pay their due respects to him and retire to their cells to spend the afternoon.

After his discourse or exhortation to his disciples, he himself retires to his private perfumed chamber to rest. If he so desires, he lies on his right side and sleeps for a while with mindfulness. On rising, he attains to the ecstasy of great compassion (mahā-karuṇā-samāpatti) and surveys, with his divine eye, the world, especially the bhikkhus who retired to solitude for meditation and other disciples in order to give them any spiritual advice that is needed. If the erring ones who need advice happen to be at a distance, there he goes by psychic powers, admonishes them and retires to his chamber.

Towards evening the lay followers flock to him to hear the Dhamma. Perceiving their innate tendencies and their temperaments with the buddha-eye, 196 he preaches to them for about one hour. Each member of the audience, though differently constituted, thinks that the Buddha’s sermon is directed in particular to him. Such was the Buddha’s method of expounding the Dhamma. As a rule the Buddha converts others by explaining his teachings with homely illustrations and parables, for he appeals more to the intellect than to emotion.

To the average man the Buddha at first speaks of generosity, discipline, and heavenly bliss. To the more advanced he speaks on the evils of material pleasures and on the blessings of renunciation. To the highly advanced he expounds the four noble truths.

On rare occasions as in the case of Aṇgulimāla and Khemā did the Buddha resort to his psychic powers to effect a change of heart in his listeners.

The sublime teachings of the Buddha appealed to both the masses and the intelligentsia alike. A Buddhist poet sings:

“Giving joy to the wise, promoting the intelligence of the middling, and dispelling the darkness of the dull-witted, this speech is for all people.” 197

Both the rich and the poor, the high and the low, renounced their former faiths and embraced the new message of peace. The infant sāsana (dispensation of the Buddha), which was inaugurated with a nucleus of five ascetics, soon developed into millions and peacefully spread throughout central India.

The First Watch

This period of the night extends from 6 to 10 p.m. and was exclusively reserved for instruction to bhikkhus. During this time the bhikkhus were free to approach the Buddha and get their doubts cleared, question him on the intricacies of the Dhamma, obtain suitable objects of meditation, and hear the doctrine.

The Middle Watch

During this period, which extends from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., celestial beings such as devas and brahmas, who are invisible to the physical eye, approach the Buddha to question him on the Dhamma. An oft-recurring passage in the suttas is: “Now when the night was far spent a certain deva of surpassing splendour came to the Buddha, respectfully saluted him and stood at one side.” Several discourses and answers given to their queries appear in the Saṃyutta Nikāya.

The Last Watch

The small hours of the morning, extending from 2 to 6 a.m., which comprise the last watch, are divided into four parts.

The first part is spent in pacing up and down (caṇkamana). This serves as a mild physical exercise to him. During the second part, that is from 3 to 4 a.m. He mindfully sleeps on his right side. During the third part, that is from 4 to 5 a.m., he attains the state of arahantship and experiences nibbānic bliss. For one full hour from 5 to 6 a.m. He attains the ecstasy of great compassion (mahā-karuṇā-samāpatti) and radiates thoughts of loving kindness towards all beings and softens their hearts. At this early hour he surveys the whole world with his buddha-eye to see whether he could be of service to any. The virtuous and those that need his help appear vividly before him though they may live at a remote distance. Out of compassion for them he goes of his own accord and renders necessary spiritual assistance.

The whole day he is fully occupied with his religious duties. Unlike any other living being he sleeps only for one hour at night. For two full hours in the morning and at dawn he pervades the whole world with thoughts of boundless love and brings happiness to millions. Leading a life of voluntary poverty, seeking his alms without inconveniencing any, wandering from place to place for eight months throughout the year preaching his sublime Dhamma, he tirelessly worked for the good and happiness of all till his eightieth year.

According to the Dharmapradīpikā the last watch is divided into these four parts. According to the commentaries the last watch consists of three parts. During the third part the Buddha attains the ecstasy of great compassion.

The Buddha’s Parinibbāna (Death)

“The sun shines by day. The moon is radiant by night.
Armoured shines the warrior king.
Meditating the brāhmaṇa shines.
But all day and night the Buddha shines in glory.”

—Dhp 387

The Buddha was an extraordinary being. Nevertheless he was mortal, subject to disease and decay as are all beings. He was conscious that he would pass away in his eightieth year. Modest as he was he decided to breathe his last not in renowned cities like Sāvatthī or Rājagaha, where his activities were centred, but in a distant and insignificant hamlet like Kusinārā.

In his own words the Buddha was in his eightieth year like “a worn-out cart.” Though old in age, yet, being strong in will, he preferred to traverse the long and tardy way on foot accompanied by his favourite disciple, Venerable Ánanda. It may be mentioned that Venerable Sāriputta and Moggallāna, his two chief disciples, predeceased him. So did Venerable Rāhula and Yasodharā.

Rājagaha, the capital of Magadha, was the starting point of his last journey.

Before his impending departure from Rājagaha King Ajātasattu, the parricide, contemplating an unwarranted attack on the prosperous Vajjian Republic, sent his Prime Minister to the Buddha to know the Buddha’s view about his wicked project.

Conditions of welfare

The Buddha declared that (i) as long as the Vajjians meet frequently and hold many meetings; (2) as long as they meet together in unity, rise in unity and perform their duties in unity; (3) as long as they enact nothing not enacted, abrogate nothing that has already been enacted, act in accordance with the already established ancient Vajjian principles; (4) as long as they support, respect, venerate and honour the Vajjian elders, and pay regard to their worthy speech; (5) as long as no women or girls of their families are detained by force or abduction; (6) as long as they support, respect, venerate, honour those objects of worship—internal and external—and do not neglect those righteous ceremonies held before; (7) as long as the rightful protection, defence and support for the arahants shall be provided by the Vajjians so that arahants who have not come may enter the realm and those who have entered the realm may live in peace—so long may the Vajjians be expected not to decline, but to prosper.

Hearing these seven conditions of welfare which the Buddha himself taught the Vajjians, the Prime Minister, Vassakāra, took leave of the Buddha, fully convinced that the Vajjians could not be overcome by the king of Magadha in battle, without diplomacy or breaking up their alliance.

The Buddha thereupon availed himself of this opportunity to teach seven similar conditions of welfare mainly for the benefit of his disciples. He summoned all the bhikkhus in Rājagaha and said:

(1) “As long, O disciples, as the bhikkhus assemble frequently and hold frequent meetings; (2) as long as the bhikkhus meet together in unity, rise in unity, and perform the duties of the Sangha in unity; (3) as long as the bhikkhus shall promulgate nothing that has not been promulgated, abrogate not what has been promulgated, and act in accordance with the already prescribed rules; (4) as long as the bhikkhus support, respect, venerate and honour those long-ordained Theras of experience, the fathers and leaders of the order, and respect their worthy speech; (5) as long as the bhikkhus fall not under the influence of uprisen attachment that leads to repeated births; (6) as long as the bhikkhus shall delight in forest retreats; (7) as long as the bhikkhus develop mindfulness within themselves so that disciplined co-celibates who have not come yet may do so and those who are already present may live in peace—so long may the bhikkhus be expected not to decline, but to prosper.

As long as these seven conditions of welfare shall continue to exist amongst the bhikkhus, as long as the bhikkhus are well-instructed in these conditions—so long may they be expected not to decline, but to prosper.

With boundless compassion the Buddha enlightened the bhikkhus on seven other conditions of welfare as follows:

“As long as the bhikkhus shall not be fond of, or delight in, or engage in, business; as long as the bhikkhus shall not be fond of, or delight in, or engage in, gossiping; as long as the bhikkhus shall not be fond of, or delight in sleeping; as long as the bhikkhus shall not be fond of, or delight in, or indulge in, society; as long as the bhikkhus shall neither have, nor fall under, the influence of base desires; as long as the bhikkhus shall not have evil friends or associates and shall not be prone to evil—so long the bhikkhus shall not stop at mere lesser, special acquisition without attaining arahantship.”

Furthermore, the Buddha added that as long as the bhikkhus shall be devout, modest, conscientious, full of learning, persistently energetic, constantly mindful and full of wisdom—so long may the bhikkhus be expected not to decline, but to prosper.

Sāriputta’s Praise

Enlightening the bhikkhus with several other discourses, the Buddha, accompanied by Venerable Ánanda, left Rājagaha and went to Ambalahikā and thence to Nālandā, where he stayed at the Pāvārika mango grove. On this occasion the Venerable Sāriputta approached the Buddha and extolled the wisdom of the Buddha, saying: “Lord, so pleased am I with the Exalted One that methinks there never was, nor will there be, nor is there now, any other ascetic or brahmin who is greater and wiser than the Buddha as regards self enlightenment.”

The Buddha, who did not approve of such an encomium from a disciple of his, reminded Venerable Sāriputta that he had burst into such a song of ecstasy without fully appreciating the merits of the Buddhas of the past and of the future.

Venerable Sāriputta acknowledged that he had no intimate knowledge of all the supremely Enlightened Ones, but maintained that he was acquainted with the Dhamma lineage, the process through which all attain supreme buddhahood, that is by overcoming the five nīvaraṇa namely, (i) sense-desires, (ii) ill will, (iii) sloth and torpor, (iv) restlessness and brooding, (v) indecision; by weakening the strong passions of the heart through wisdom; by thoroughly establishing the mind in the four kinds of mindfulness; and by rightly developing the seven factors of enlightenment.


From Nālandā the Buddha proceeded to Pāligāma where Sunīdha and Vassakāra, the chief ministers of Magadha, were building a fortress to repel the powerful Vajjians.

Here the Buddha resided in an empty house and, perceiving with his supernormal vision thousands of deities haunting the different sites, predicted that Pāliputta would become the chief city inasmuch as it is a residence for ariyas, a trading centre and a place for the interchange of all kinds of wares, but would be subject to three dangers arising from fire, water and dissension.

Hearing of the Buddha’s arrival at Pāligāma, the ministers invited the Buddha and his disciples for a meal at their house. After the meal was over the Buddha exhorted them in these verses:

“Wheresoe’er the prudent man shall take up his abode.
Let him support the brethren there, good men of self-control,
And give the merit of his gifts to the deities
who haunt the spot.
Revered, they will revere him: honoured,
they honour him again,
Are gracious to him as a mother to her own, her only son.
And the man who has the grace of the gods,
good fortune he beholds.” 198

In honour of his visit to the city they named the gate by which he left “Gotama-Gate”, and they desired to name the ferry by which he would cross “Gotama-Ferry,” but the Buddha crossed the overflowing Ganges by his psychic powers while the people were busy making preparations to cross.

Future states

From the banks of the Ganges he went to Kotigama and thence to the village of Nadika and stayed at the Brick Hall. Thereupon the Venerable Ánanda approached the Buddha and respectfully questioned him about the future states of several persons who died in that village. The Buddha patiently revealed the destinies of the persons concerned and taught how to acquire the mirror of the Dhamma so that an ariya disciple endowed therewith may predict of himself thus: “Destroyed for me is birth in a woeful state, animal realm, Peta 199 realm, sorrowful, evil, and low states. A stream-winner am I, not subject to fall, assured of final enlightenment.”

The Mirror of the Dhamma (Dhammādāsa)

Then the Buddha explained the mirror of the Dhamma as follows:

“What, O Ánanda, is the mirror of the Dhamma?

“Herein a noble disciple reposes perfect confidence in the Buddha reflecting on his virtues thus:

“‘Thus, indeed, is the Exalted One, a Worthy One, a Fully Enlightened One, Endowed with wisdom and conduct, an Accomplished One, Knower of the worlds, an Incomparable Charioteer for the training of individuals, the Teacher of gods and men, Omniscient, and Holy.’ 200

“He reposes perfect confidence in the Dhamma reflecting on the characteristics of the Dhamma thus:

“‘Well expounded is the Dhamma by the Exalted One, to be self-realised, immediately effective, inviting investigation, leading onwards (to Nibbāna), to be understood by the wise, each one for himself.’ 201

“He reposes perfect confidence in the Sangha reflecting on the virtues of the Sangha thus:

“‘Of good conduct is the order of the disciples of the Exalted One; of upright conduct is the order of the disciples of the Exalted One; of right conduct is the order of the disciples of the Exalted One; of proper conduct is the order of the disciples of the Exalted One. These four pairs of persons constitute eight individuals. This order of the disciples of the Exalted One is worthy of gifts, of hospitality, of offerings, of reverence, is an incomparable field of merit to the world.’ 202

“He becomes endowed with virtuous conduct pleasing to the ariyas, unbroken, intact, unspotted, unblemished, free, praised by the wise, untarnished by desires, conducive to concentration.”

From Nadika the Buddha went to the flourishing city of Vesāli and stayed at the grove of Ambapāli, the beautiful courtesan.

Anticipating her visit, the Buddha in order to safeguard his disciples, advised them to be mindful and reflective and taught them the way of mindfulness.


Ambapāli, hearing of the Buddha’s arrival at her mango grove, approached the Buddha and respectfully invited him and his disciples for a meal on the following day. The Buddha accepted her invitation in preference to the invitation of the Licchavi nobles which he received later. Although the Licchavi nobles offered a large sum of money to obtain from her the opportunity of providing this meal to the Buddha, she politely declined this offer. As invited, the Buddha had his meal at Ambapāli’s residence. After the meal Ambapāli, the courtesan, who was a potential arahant, very generously offered her spacious mango grove to the Buddha and his disciples. 203

As it was the rainy season the Buddha advised his disciples to spend their retreat in or around Vesāli, and he himself decided to spend the retreat, which was his last and forty-fifth one, at Beluva, a village near Vesāli.

The Buddha’s Illness

In this year he had to suffer from a severe sickness, and “sharp pains came upon him even unto death.” With his iron will, mindful and reflective, the Buddha bore them without any complaint.

The Buddha was now conscious that he would soon pass away. But he thought that it would not be proper to pass away without addressing his attendant disciples and giving instructions to the order. So he decided to subdue his sickness by his will and live by constantly experiencing the bliss of arahantship.

Immediately after recovery, the Venerable Ánanda approached the Buddha, and expressing his pleasure on his recovery, remarked that he took some little comfort from the thought that the Buddha would not pass away without any instruction about the order.

The Buddha made a memorable and significant reply which clearly reveals the unique attitude of the Buddha, Dhamma, and the Sangha.

The Buddha’s Exhortation

“What, O Ánanda, does the order of disciples expect of me? I have taught the Dhamma making no distinction between esoteric and exoteric doctrine. 204 In respect of the truths the Tathāgata has no closed fist of a teacher. It may occur to anyone: ‘It is I who will lead the order of bhikkhus,’ or ‘The order of bhikkhus is dependent upon me,’ or ‘It is he who should instruct any matter concerning the order.’

“The Tathāgata, Ánanda, thinks not that it is he who should lead the order of bhikkhus, or that the order is dependent upon him. Why then should he leave instructions in any matter concerning the order?

“I, too, Ánanda, am now decrepit, aged, old, advanced in years, and have reached my end. I am in my eightieth year. Just as a worn-out cart is made to move with the aid of thongs, even so methinks the body of the Tathāgata is moved with the aid of thongs. 205 Whenever, Ánanda, the Tathāgata lives plunged in signless mental one-pointedness, by the cessation of certain feelings and unmindful of all objects, then only is the body of the Tathāgata at ease. 206

“Therefore, Ánanda, be you islands 207 unto yourselves. Be you a refuge to yourselves. Seek no external refuge. Live with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge. Betake to no external refuge. 208

“How, Ánanda, does a bhikkhu live as an island unto himself, as a refuge unto himself, seeking no external refuge, with the Dhamma as an island, with the Dhamma as a refuge, seeking no external refuge?

“Herein, Ánanda, a bhikkhu lives strenuous, reflective, watchful, abandoning covetousness in this world, constantly developing mindfulness with respect to body, feelings, consciousness, and Dhamma. 209

“Whosoever shall live either now or after my death as an island unto oneself, as a refuge unto oneself, seeking no external refuge, with the Dhamma as an island, with the Dhamma as a refuge, seeking no external refuge, those bhikkhus shall be foremost amongst those who are intent on discipline.”

Here the Buddha lays special emphasis on the importance of individual striving for purification and deliverance from the ills of life. There is no efficacy in praying to others or in depending on others. One might question why Buddhists should seek refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and the Sangha when the Buddha had explicitly advised his followers not to seek refuge in others. In seeking refuge in the Triple Gem (Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha) Buddhists only regard the Buddha as an instructor who merely shows the path of deliverance, the Dhamma as the only way or means, the Sangha as the living examples of the way of life to be lived. By merely seeking refuge in them Buddhists do not consider that they would gain their deliverance.

Though old and feeble the Buddha not only availed himself of every opportunity to instruct the bhikkhus in various ways but also regularly went on his rounds for alms with bowl in hand when there were no private invitations. One day as usual he went in quest of alms in Vesāli and after his meal went with Venerable Ánanda to the Capala Cetiya, and, speaking of the delightfulness of Vesāli and other shrines in the city, addressed the Venerable Ánanda thus:

Whosoever has cultivated, developed, mastered, made a basis of, experienced, practised, thoroughly acquired the four means of accomplishment (iddhipāda210 could, if he so desires, live for an aeon (kappa211 or even a little more (kappāvasesa). The Tathāgata, O Ánanda, has cultivated, developed, mastered, made a basis of, experienced, practised, thoroughly acquired the four means of accomplishment. If he so desires, the Tathāgata could remain for an aeon or even a little more.

The text adds that “even though a suggestion so evident and so clear was thus given by the Exalted One, the Venerable Ánanda was incapable of comprehending it so as to invite the Buddha to remain for an aeon for the good, benefit, and the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit, and happiness of gods and men”.

The sutta attributes the reason to the fact that the mind of Venerable Ánanda was, at the moment, dominated by Māra the evil one.

The Buddha Announces his Death

The Buddha appeared on earth to teach the seekers of truth things as they truly are and a unique path for the deliverance from all ills of life. During his long and successful ministry he fulfilled his noble mission to the satisfaction of both himself and his followers. In his eightieth year he felt that his work was over. He had given all necessary instructions to his earnest followers—both the householders and the homeless ones—and they were not only firmly established in his teachings but were also capable of expounding them to others. He therefore decided not to control the remainder of his life span by his will-power and by experiencing the bliss of arahantship. While residing at the Capala Cetiya the Buddha announced to Venerable Ánanda that he would pass away in three months’ time.

Venerable Ánanda instantly recalled the saying of the Buddha and begged of him to live for a kappa for the good and happiness of all.

“Enough Ánanda, beseech not the Tathāgata. The time for making such a request is now past,” was the Buddha’s reply.

He then spoke on the fleeting nature of life and went with Venerable Ánanda to the Pinnacled Hall at Mahāvana and requested him to assemble all the bhikkhus in the neighbourhood of Vesāli.

To the assembled bhikkhus the Buddha spoke as follows:

“Whatever truths have been expounded to you by me, study them well, practise, cultivate and develop them so that this holy life may last long and be perpetuated out of compassion for the world, for the good and happiness of the many, for the good and happiness of gods and men.”

“What are those truths? They are:

the four foundations of mindfulness,
the four kinds of right endeavour,
the four means of accomplishment,
the five faculties,
the five powers,
the seven factors of enlightenment, and
the Noble Eightfold Path.” 212

He then gave the following final exhortation and publicly announced the time of his death to the Sangha.

The Buddha’s Last Words

“Behold, O bhikkhus, now I speak to you. Transient are all conditioned things. Strive on with diligence. 213 The passing away of the Tathāgata will take place before long. At the end of three months from now the Tathāgata will pass away.

Ripe is my age. Short is my life. Leaving you I shall depart. I have made myself my refuge. O bhikkhus, be diligent, mindful and virtuous. With well-directed thoughts guard your mind. He who lives heedfully in this dispensation will escape life’s wandering and put an end to suffering. 214

Casting his last glance at Vesāli, the Buddha went with Venerable Ánanda to Bhandagāma and addressing the bhikkhus said:

Morality, concentration, wisdom, and deliverance supreme.
These things were realised by the renowned Gotama.
Comprehending them, the Buddha taught the doctrine to the
The Teacher with sight has put an end to sorrow
and has extinguished all passions.

The Four Great References

Passing thence from village to village, the Buddha arrived at Bhoganagara and there taught the four great citations or references (mahāpadesa) by means of which the word of the Buddha could be tested and clarified in the following discourse:

(1) “A bhikkhu may say thus: ‘From the mouth of the Buddha himself have I heard, have I received thus: “This is the doctrine, this is the discipline, this is the teaching of the Master.’ His words should neither be accepted nor rejected. Without either accepting or rejecting such words, study thoroughly every word and syllable and then put them beside the discourses (sutta) and compare them with the disciplinary rules (vinaya). If, when so compared, they do not harmonise with the discourses and do not agree with the disciplinary rules, then you may come to the conclusion. ‘Certainly this is not the word of the Exalted One, this has been wrongly grasped by the bhikkhu.’

“Therefore you should reject it.

“If, when compared and contrasted, they harmonise with the discourses and agree with the disciplinary rules, you may come to the conclusion: ‘Certainly this is the word of the Exalted One, this has correctly been grasped by the bhikkhu.’

“Let this be regarded as the first great reference.

(2) “Again, a bhikkhu may say thus: ‘In such a monastery lives the Sangha together with leading theras. From the mouth of that Sangha have I heard, have I received thus: “This is the doctrine, this is the discipline, this is the Master’s teaching.”‘ His words should neither be accepted nor rejected. Without either accepting or rejecting such words, study thoroughly every word and syllable and then put them beside the discourses and compare them with the disciplinary rules. If, when so compared, they do not harmonise with the discourses and do not agree with the disciplinary rules, then you may come to the conclusion: ‘Certainly this is not the word of the Exalted One, this has been wrongly grasped by the bhikkhu.’

“Therefore you should reject it.

“If, when compared and contrasted, they harmonise with the discourses and agree with the disciplinary rules, you may come to the conclusion: ‘Certainly this is the word of the Exalted One, this has correctly been grasped by the bhikkhu.’

“Let this be regarded as the second great reference.

(3) “Again, a bhikkhu may say thus: ‘In such a monastery dwell many theras and bhikkhus of great learning, versed in the teachings, proficient in the Doctrine, Vinaya (discipline), and matrices (mātikā). From the mouth of those theras have I heard, have I received thus: “This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the teaching of the Master.”‘ His words should neither be accepted nor rejected. Without either accepting or rejecting such words, study thoroughly every word and syllable and then put them beside the discourses and compare them with the disciplinary rules. If, when so compared, they do not harmonise with the discourses and do not agree with the disciplinary rules, then you may come to the conclusion: ‘Certainly this is not the word of the Exalted One, this has been wrongly grasped by the bhikkhu.’

“Therefore you should reject it.

“If, when compared and contrasted, they harmonise with the Suttas and agree with the Vinaya, then you may come to the conclusion: ‘Certainly this is the word of the Exalted One, this has been correctly grasped by the bhikkhu.’

“Let this be regarded as the third great reference.

(4) “Again, a bhikkhu may say thus: ‘In such a monastery lives an elderly bhikkhu of great learning, versed in the teachings, proficient in the Dhamma, Vinaya, and Matrices. From the mouth of that thera have I heard, have I received thus: “This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Master’s teaching.”‘ His words should neither be accepted nor rejected. Without either accepting or rejecting such words, study thoroughly every word and syllable and then put them beside the discourses and compare them with the disciplinary rules. If, when so compared, they do not harmonise with the discourses and do not agree with the disciplinary rules, then you may come to the conclusion: ‘Certainly this is not the word of the Exalted One, this has been wrongly grasped by the bhikkhu.’

“Therefore you should reject it.

“If, when compared and contrasted, they harmonise with the suttas and agree with the Vinaya, then you may come to the conclusion: ‘Certainly this is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Master’s teachings.’

“Let this be regarded as the fourth great reference.

“These, bhikkhus, are the four great references.”

The Buddha’s Last Meal

Enlightening the disciples with such edifying discourses, the Buddha proceeded to Pāva where the Buddha and his disciples were entertained by Cunda the smith. With great fervour Cunda prepared a special delicious dish called ‘sūkaramaddava’. 215 As advised by the Buddha, Cunda served only the Buddha with the sūkaramaddava and buried the remainder in the ground.

After the meal the Buddha suffered from an attack of dysentery and sharp pains came upon him. Calmly he bore them without any complaint.

Though extremely weak and severely ill, the Buddha decided to walk to Kusinārā 216 his last resting place, a distance of about three gāvutas 217 from Pāva. In the course of this last journey it is stated that the Buddha had to sit down in about twenty-five places owing to his weakness and illness.

On the way he sat at the foot of a tree and asked Venerable Ánanda to fetch some water as he was feeling thirsty. With difficulty Venerable Ánanda secured some pure water from a streamlet which, a few moments earlier, was flowing fouled and turbid, stirred up by the wheels of five hundred carts.

At that time a man named Pukkusa approached the Buddha, and expressed his admiration at the serenity of the Buddha, and, hearing a sermon about his imperturbability, offered him a pair of robes of gold.

As directed by the Buddha, he robed the Buddha with one and Venerable Ánanda with the other.

When Venerable Ánanda placed the pair of robes on the Buddha, to his astonishment, he found the skin of the Buddha exceeding bright, and said, “How wonderful a thing is it, Lord and how marvellous, that the colour of the skin of the Exalted One should be so clear, so exceeding bright. For when I placed even this pair of robes of burnished gold and ready for wear on the body of the Exalted One, it seemed as if it had lost its splendour.”

Thereupon the Buddha explained that on two occasions the colour of the skin of the Tathāgata becomes clear and exceeding bright—namely on the night on which the Tathāgata attains buddhahood and on the night the Tathāgata passes away.

He then pronounced that at the third watch of the night on that day he would pass away in the Sāla Grove of the Mallas between the twin Sāla trees, in the vicinity of Kusinārā.

Cunda’s Meritorious Meal

He took his last bath in the river Kukuttha and resting a while spoke thus—”Now it may happen, Ánanda, that some one should stir up remorse in Cunda the smith, saying: ‘This is evil to thee, Cunda, and loss to thee in that when the Tathāgata had eaten his last meal from your provisions, then he died.’ Any such remorse in Cunda the smith should be checked by saying: ‘This is good to thee, Cunda, and gain to thee, in that when the Tathāgata had eaten his last meal from your provision, then he died.’ From the very mouth of the Exalted One, Cunda, have I heard, from his very mouth have I received this saying: “These two offerings of food are of equal fruit, and of equal profit, and of much greater fruit and of much greater profit than any other, and which are the two?

“The offering of food which when a Tathāgata has eaten he attains to supreme and perfect insight, and the offering of food which when a Tathāgata has eaten he passes away by that utter cessation in which nothing whatever remains behind—these two offerings of food are of equal fruit and of equal profit, and of much greater fruit, and of much greater profit than any other.

“There has been laid up by Cunda the smith a kamma redounding to length of life, redounding to good birth, redounding to good fortune, redounding to good fame, redounding to the inheritance of heaven and of sovereign power.

“In this way, Ánanda, should be checked any remorse in Cunda the smith.”

Uttering these words of consolation out of compassion to the generous donor of his last meal, he went to the Sāla Grove of the Mallas and asked Venerable Ánanda to prepare a couch with the head to the north between the twin Sāla trees. The Buddha laid himself down on his right side with one leg resting on the other, mindful and self-possessed.

How the Buddha is Honoured

Seeing the Sāla trees blooming with flowers out of season, and other outward demonstrations of piety, the Buddha exhorted his disciples thus:

It is not thus, Ánanda, that the Tathāgata is respected, reverenced, venerated, honoured, and revered. Whatever bhikkhu or bhikkhuṇī, upāsaka or upāsika lives in accordance with the teaching, conducts himself dutifully, and acts righteously, it is he who respects, reverences, venerates, honours, and reveres the Tathāgata with the highest homage. Therefore, Ánanda, should you train yourselves thus: ‘Let us live in accordance with the teaching, dutifully conducting ourselves, and acting righteously.’

At this moment the Venerable Upavāna, who was once attendant of the Buddha, was standing in front of the Buddha fanning him. The Buddha asked him to stand aside.

Venerable Ánanda wished to know why he was asked to stand aside as he was very serviceable to the Buddha.

The Buddha replied that devas had assembled in large numbers to see the Tathāgata and they were displeased because he was standing in their way concealing him.

The Four Sacred Places

The Buddha then spoke of four places, made sacred by his association, which faithful followers should visit with reverence and awe. They are:

The birthplace of the Buddha, 218

The place where the Buddha attained enlightenment, 219

The place where the Buddha established the incomparable wheel of truth 220 (dhammacakka), and

The place where the Buddha attained parinibbāna. 221

“And they,” added the Buddha, “who shall die with a believing heart, in the course of their pilgrimage, will be reborn, on the dissolution of their body, after death, in a heavenly state.”

Conversion of Subhadda

At that time a wandering ascetic, named Subhadda, 222 was living at Kusinārā. He heard the news that the Ascetic Gotama would attain parinibbāna in the last watch of the night. And he thought, “I have heard grown-up and elderly teachers, and their teachers, the wandering ascetics, say that seldom and very seldom, indeed, do exalted, fully enlightened arahants arise in this world. Tonight in the last watch the Ascetic Gotama will attain parinibbāna. A doubt has arisen in me, and I have confidence in the Ascetic Gotama. Capable, indeed, is the Ascetic Gotama to teach the doctrine so that I may dispel my doubt.

Thereupon Subhadda, the wandering ascetic, went to Upavattana Sāla grove of the Mallas where the Venerable Ánanda was, and approaching him spoke as follows: “I have heard grown-up and elderly teachers and their teachers, the wandering ascetics, say that seldom, and very seldom, indeed, do exalted, fully enlightened arahants arise in this world. Tonight in the last watch the Ascetic Gotama will attain parinibbāna. A doubt has arisen in me, and I have confidence in the Ascetic Gotama. Capable, indeed, is the Ascetic Gotama to teach the doctrine so that I may dispel my doubts. Shall I, O Ánanda, obtain a glimpse of the Ascetic Gotama?”

“Enough, friend Subhadda, do not worry the Accomplished One. The Exalted One is wearied,” said the Venerable Ánanda.

For the second and third time Subhadda repeated his request, and for the second and third time Venerable Ánanda replied in the same manner.

The Buddha heard the conversation between the Venerable Ánanda and Subhadda, and addressing Ánanda, said:

“Nay, Ánanda, do not prevent Subhadda. Let Subhadda, O Ánanda, behold the Accomplished One. Whatsoever Subhadda will ask of me, all that will be with the desire for knowledge, and not to annoy me. And whatever I shall say in answer he will readily understand.”

Thereupon the Venerable Ánanda introduced Subhadda to the Buddha.

Subhadda exchanged friendly greetings with the Buddha and sitting aside said: “There are these ascetics and priests, O Gotama, who are leaders of companies and congregations, who are heads of sects and are well-known, renowned religious teachers, esteemed as good men by the multitude, as, for instance, Pūraṇa Kassapa, Makkhali Gosāla, Ajita Kesakambali, Pakudha Kaccāyana, Sañjaya Belatthiputta, Nigaṇha Nātaputta, 223 have they all, as they themselves claim, thoroughly understood the truth or not, or have some of them understood and some not?”

“Let it be, O Subhadda! Trouble not yourself as to whether all or some have realised it or not. I shall teach the doctrine to you. Listen and bear it well in mind. I shall speak.”

“So be it, Lord!” replied Subhadda.

The Buddha spoke as follows:

“In whatever dispensation there exists not the Noble Eightfold Path, neither is the first samaṇa (recluse), nor the second, nor the third, nor the fourth to be found therein. In whatever dispensation, O Subhadda, there exists the Noble Eightfold Path, there also are to be found the first samaṇa, the second samaṇa, the third samaṇa, the fourth samaṇa. 224 In this dispensation, O Subhadda, there exists the Noble Eightfold Path.

“Here, indeed, are found the first samaṇa, the second samaṇa, the third samaṇa, and the fourth samaṇa The other foreign schools are empty of samaṇas. If, O Subhadda, the disciples live rightly, the world would not be void of arahants. 225

“My age was twenty-nine when I went forth as a seeker after what is good. Now one and fifty years are gone since I went forth. Outside this fold there is not a single ascetic who acts even partly in accordance with this realisable doctrine.”

Thereupon Subhadda spoke to the Buddha as follows:

“Excellent, Lord, excellent! It is as if, O Lord, a man were to set upright that which was overturned, or were to reveal that which was hidden, or were to point the way to one who has gone astray, or were to hold a lamp amidst the darkness, so that whoever has eyes may see, even so has the doctrine been expounded in various ways by the Exalted One.

“And I, Lord, seek refuge in the Buddha, the Doctrine, and the Order. May I receive the lesser and the higher ordination in the presence of the Exalted One!”

“Whoever, Subhadda,” said the Buddha, “being already committed to the other doctrines desires the lesser 226 and the higher ordination, 227 remains on probation for four months. 228 At the end of four months, the disciples approving, he is ordained and raised to the status of a bhikkhu. Nevertheless, on understanding, I make individual exception.”

Then said Subhadda:

“If, Lord, those already committed to other doctrines, who desire the lesser and the higher ordination in this dispensation, remain on probation for four months, I too will remain on probation; and after the lapse of that period, the disciples approving, let me be received into the order and raised to the status of a bhikkhu.”

Thereupon the Buddha addressed Ánanda and said:

“Then, Ánanda, you may ordain Subhadda.”

“So, be it, Lord!” replied Ánanda.

And Subhadda, the wandering ascetic, spoke to the Venerable Ánanda as follows:

“It is a gain to you, O Venerable Ánanda! It is indeed a great gain to you, for you have been anointed by the anointment of discipleship in the presence of the Exalted One by himself.”

Subhadda received in the presence of the Buddha the lesser and the higher ordination.

And in no long time after his higher ordination, the Venerable Subhadda, living alone, remote from men, strenuous, energetic, and resolute, realised, in this life itself, by his own intuitive knowledge, the consummation of that incomparable life of holiness, and lived abiding in that state for the sake of which sons of noble families rightly leave the householder’s life for the homeless life. He perceived that rebirth was ended, completed was the holy life which after this life there was none other.

And the Venerable Subhadda became one of the arahants.

He was the last personal convert of the Buddha.

The Last Words to Ánanda

The Venerable Ánanda desired to know what they should do with the body of the Tathāgata.

The Buddha answered, “Do not engage yourselves in honouring the remains of the Tathāgata. Be concerned about your own welfare (i.e., arahantship). Devote yourselves to your own welfare. Be heedful, be strenuous, and be intent on your own good. There are wise warriors, wise brahmins, wise householders who are firm believers in the Tathāgata. They will do honour to the remains of the Tathāgata.”

At the conclusion of these interesting religious talks Venerable Ánanda went aside and stood weeping at the thought: “Alas! I am still a learner with work yet to do. But my Master will finally pass away—he who is my sympathiser.”

The Buddha, noticing his absence, summoned him to his presence and exhorted him thus—”Enough, O Ánanda. Do not grieve, do not weep. Have I not already told you that we have to separate and divide and sever ourselves from everything that is dear and pleasant to us?

“O Ánanda, you have done much merit. Soon be freed from defilements.”

The Buddha then paid a tribute to Venerable Ánanda, commenting on his salient virtues.

After admonishing Venerable Ánanda in various ways, the Buddha ordered him to enter Kusinārā and inform the Mallas of the impending death of the Tathāgata. Mallas were duly informed, and came weeping with their wives, young men, and maidens, to pay their last respects to the Tathāgata.

The Last Scene

Then the Blessed One addressed Ánanda and said:

“It may be, Ánanda, that you will say thus: ‘Without the Teacher is the sublime teaching! There is no Teacher for us.’ Nay, Ánanda, you should not think thus. Whatever Doctrine and Discipline have been taught and promulgated by me, Ánanda, they will be your teacher when I am gone. 229

“Let the Sangha, O Ánanda, if willing, abrogate the lesser and minor rules after my death,” 230 remarked the Buddha.

Instead of using the imperative form the Buddha has used the subjunctive in this connection. Had it been his wish that the lesser rules should be abolished, he could have used the imperative. The Buddha foresaw that Venerable Kassapa, presiding over the first council, would, with the consent of the Sangha, not abrogate any rule hence his use of the subjunctive, states the commentator.

As the Buddha has not clearly stated what these minor rules were and as the arahants could not come to any decision about them, they preferred not to alter any rule but to retain all intact.

Again the Buddha addressed the disciples and said: “If, O disciples, there be any doubt as to the Buddha, or the doctrine, or the order, or the path, or the method, question me, and repent not afterwards thinking—we were face to face with the Teacher, yet we were not able to question the Exalted One in his presence.” When he spoke thus the disciples were silent.

For the second and third time the Buddha addressed the disciples in the same way. And for the second and third time the disciples were silent.

Then the Buddha addressed the disciples and said: “Perhaps it may be out of respect for the teacher that you do not question me. Let a friend, O disciples, intimate it to another.”

Still the disciples were silent.

Thereupon the Venerable Ánanda spoke to the Buddha as follows:

“Wonderful, Lord! Marvellous, Lord! Thus am I pleased with the company of disciples. There is not a single disciple who entertains a doubt or perplexity with regard to the Buddha, the doctrine, the order, the Path and the Method.”

“You speak out of faith, Ánanda, with regard to this matter. There is knowledge in the Tathāgata, that in this company of disciples there is not a single disciple who entertains a doubt or perplexity with regard to the doctrine, the order, the path and the method. Of these five hundred disciples, Ánanda, he who is the last is a Stream Winner, not subject to fall but certain and destined for enlightenment. 231

Lastly the Buddha addressed the disciples and gave his final exhortation:

“Behold, O disciples, I exhort you. Subject to change are all component things. (Vayadhammā saṇkhārā. Appāmadena sampādetha). Strive on with diligence.” These were the last words of the Blessed One.

The Passing Away

The Buddha attained to the first ecstasy (jhāna). Emerging from it, he attained in order to the second, third, and fourth ecstasies. Emerging from the fourth ecstasy, he attained to “the realm of the infinity of space” (ākāsānañcāyatana). Emerging from it he attained to “the realm of the infinity of consciousness” (viññāṇañcāyatana). Emerging from it, he attained to “the realm of nothingness” (ākiñcaññāyatana). Emerging from it, he attained to “the realm of neither-perception-nor-non-perception” (nevasaññānāsaññāyatana). Emerging from it, he attained to “the cessation of perceptions and sensations” (saññāvedayitanirodha).

Venerable Ánanda, who had then not developed the divine eye, addressed Venerable Anuruddha and said: “O Venerable Anuruddha, the Exalted One has passed away.”

“Nay, brother Ánanda, the Exalted One has not passed away but has attained to “the cessation of perceptions and sensations.”

Then the Buddha, emerging from “the cessation of perceptions and sensations”, attained to “the realm of neither-perception-nor-non-perception.” Emerging from it, he attained to “the realm of nothingness.” emerging from it, he attained to “the realm of the infinity of consciousness.” Emerging from it, he attained to “the realm of the infinity of space.” Emerging from it, he attained to the fourth ecstasy. Emerging from it, he attained to the third ecstasy. Emerging from it, he attained to the second ecstasy. Emerging from it, he attained to the first ecstasy. Emerging from it, he attained to the second ecstasy. Emerging from it, he attained to the third ecstasy. Emerging from it, he attained to the fourth ecstasy. Emerging from it, and immediately after, the Buddha finally passed away. 232

The Teachings of the Buddha

What is Buddhism?

“This doctrine is profound, hard to see, difficult to understand, calm, sublime, not within the sphere of logic, subtle, to be understood by the wise.”

—Majjhima Nikāya


The Buddha has passed away, but the sublime teaching, which he expounded during his long and successful ministry and which he unreservedly bequeathed to humanity, still exists in its pristine purity.

Although the Master has left no written records of his teachings, his disciples preserved them, by committing to memory and transmitting them orally from generation to generation.

Three months after the death of the Buddha, in the eighth year of King Ajātasattu’s reign, 500 pre-eminent arahants concerned with preserving the purity of the doctrine held a convocation at Rājagaha to rehearse it. The Venerable Ánanda Thera, the Buddha’s beloved attendant who had the special privilege and honour of hearing the discourses from the Buddha himself, and the Venerable Upāli Thera were chosen to answer questions about the Dhamma (doctrine) and the Vinaya (discipline) respectively.

This first council compiled and arranged in its present form the Pali Tipiṭaka, which represents the entire body of the Buddha’s teaching.

Two other councils 233 of arahants were held 100 and 236 years later respectively, again to rehearse the word of the Buddha because attempts were being made to pollute the pure teaching.

About 83 BCE, during the reign of the pious Sinhala King Vaagāmani Abhaya, 234 a council of arahants was held, and the Tipiṭaka was, for the first time in the history of Buddhism, committed to writing at Aluvihāra 235 in Sri Lanka.

Thanks to the indefatigable efforts of those noble and foresighted arahants, there is no room either now or in the future for higher critics or progressive scholars to adulterate the pure teaching.

The voluminous Tipiṭaka, which contains the essence of the Buddha’s teaching, is estimated to be about eleven times the size of the Bible.

The word Tipiṭaka (Skt. Tripiṭaka) means “three baskets.” They are the basket of discipline (vinaya piṭaka), the basket of discourses (sutta piṭaka) and the basket of ultimate doctrine (abhidhamma piṭaka).

Vinaya Piṭaka

The Vinaya Piṭaka, which is regarded as the sheet anchor of the holy order, deals mainly with the rules and regulations of the order of bhikkhus (monks) and bhikkhunīs (nuns). For nearly twenty years after the enlightenment of the Buddha, no definite rules were laid down for control and discipline of the Sangha (order). Subsequently as occasion arose, the Buddha promulgated rules for the future discipline of the Sangha. Reasons for the promulgation of rules, their various implications, and specific Vinaya ceremonies of the Sangha are fully described in the Vinaya Piṭaka. The history of the gradual development of the sāsana from its very inception, a brief account of the life and ministry of the Buddha, and details of the three councils are some other additional relevant contents of the Vinaya Piṭaka. Indirectly it reveals useful information about ancient history, Indian customs, ancient arts, and sciences. One who reads the Vinaya Piṭaka cannot but be impressed by the democratic constitution of the Sangha, their holding of possessions in common, the exceptionally high moral standard of the bhikkhus, and the unsurpassed administrative abilities of the Buddha, who anticipated even the present parliamentary system. Lord Zetland writes: “And it may come as a surprise to many to learn that in the assemblies of the Buddhists in India two thousand years and more ago are to be found the rudiments of our own parliamentary practice of the present day.” 236

The Vinaya Piṭaka consists of the following five books:

1. Pārājika Pali
2. Pācittiya Pali
Vibhaṇga (Major Offences)
(Minor Offences)
3. Mahāvagga Pali
4. Cullavagga Pali
5. Parivāra Pali
Khandaka (Greater Section)
(Lesser Section)
(Epitome of the Vinaya)

Sutta Piṭaka

The Sutta Piṭaka consists chiefly of instructive discourses delivered by the Buddha to both the Sangha and the laity on various occasions. A few discourses, expounded by disciples such as the Venerables Sāriputta, Moggallāna, and Ánanda, are incorporated and are accorded as much veneration as the word of the Buddha himself, since they were approved by him. Most of the sermons were intended mainly for the benefit of bhikkhus, and they deal with the holy life and with the exposition of the doctrine. There are several other discourses which deal with both the material and the moral progress of his lay followers. The Sigālovāda Sutta, 237 for instance, deals mainly with the duties of a layman. There are also a few interesting talks given to children.

This Piṭaka may be compared to a book of prescriptions, since the discourses were expounded on diverse occasions to suit the temperaments of various persons. There may be seemingly contradictory statements, but they should not be misconstrued as they were uttered by the Buddha to suit a particular purpose; for instance, to the self-same question he would maintain silence, when the inquirer was merely foolishly inquisitive, or give a detailed reply when he knew the inquirer to be an earnest seeker after the truth.

The Sutta Piṭaka consists of the following five Nikāyas (collections):

1. Dīgha Nikāya (Collection of Long Discourses)

2. Majjhima Nikāya (Collection of Middle-length Discourses)

3. Saṃyutta Nikāya (Collection of Kindred Sayings)

4. Aṇguttara Nikāya (Collection of Gradual Sayings)

5. Khuddaka Nikāya (Smaller Collection)

This fifth is subdivided into fifteen books:

1. Khuddakapāha (Shorter Texts)

2. Dhammapada (The Way of Truth)

3. Udāna (Inspired Utterances)

4. Itivuttaka (“Thus said” Discourses)

5. Sutta Nipāta (Collected Discourses)

6. Vimāna Vatthu (Stories of Celestial Mansions)

7. Peta Vatthu (Stories of Departed Ones)

8. Theragāthā (Verses of the Elder Monks)

9. Therīgāthā (Verses of the Elder Nuns)

10. Jātaka (Birth Stories of the Bodhisatta)

11. Niddesa (Expositions)

12. Paṭisambhidāmagga (Path of Analytical Knowledge)

13. Apadāna (Lives of Arahants)

14. Buddhavaṃsa (History of the Buddha)

15. Cariyā Piṭaka (Modes of Conduct)

Abhidhamma Piṭaka

The Abhidhamma Piṭaka is the most important and most interesting of the three containing as it does the profound philosophy of the Buddha’s teaching in contrast to the simpler discourses in the Sutta Piṭaka.

Abhidhamma, the higher doctrine of the Buddha, expounds the quintessence of his profound teachings. 238

According to some scholars Abhidhamma is not a teaching of the Buddha, but is a later elaboration of scholastic monks. Tradition, however, attributes the nucleus of the Abhidhamma to the Buddha himself. The mātikā or Matrices of the Abhidhamma, such as kusalā dhammā (wholesome states), akusalā dhammā (unwholesome states), and abyākata dhammā (indeterminate states), etc., which have been elaborated in six of the books, 239 were expounded by the Buddha. To the Venerable Sāriputta is assigned the honour of having explained all these topics in detail.

Whoever the great author or authors may have been, it has to be admitted that the Abhidhamma must be the product of an intellectual genius comparable only to the Buddha. This is evident from the intricate and subtle paāna-pakaraṇa which describes in detail the various causal relations.

To the wise truth-seekers, Abhidhamma is an indispensable guide and an intellectual treat. Here is found food for thought to original thinkers and to earnest students who wish to develop wisdom and lead an ideal Buddhist life. Abhidhamma is not a subject of fleeting interest designed for the superficial reader.

Modern psychology, limited as it is, comes within the scope of Abhidhamma inasmuch as it deals with mind, thoughts, thought-processes, and mental properties; but it does not admit of a psyche or a soul. It teaches a psychology without a psyche.

If one were to read the Abhidhamma as a modern textbook on psychology, one would be disappointed. No attempt has here been made to solve all the problems that confront a modern psychologist.

Consciousness (citta) is defined. Thoughts are analysed and classified chiefly from an ethical standpoint. All mental properties (cetasika) are enumerated. The composition of each type of consciousness is set forth in detail. How thoughts arise is minutely described. Bhavaṇga and javana thought-moments, which are explained only in the Abhidhamma, and which have no parallel in modern psychology, are of special interest to research students in psychology. Irrelevant problems that interest students and scholars, but have no relation to one’s Deliverance, are deliberately set aside.

Matter is summarily discussed, but it has not been described for physicists. Fundamental units of matter, material properties, source of matter, relationship of mind and matter are explained. Abhidhamma does not attempt to give a systematised knowledge of mind and matter. It investigates these two composite factors of the so-called being, to help the understanding of things as they truly are. A philosophy has been developed on those lines. Based on that philosophy, an ethical system has been evolved to realise the ultimate goal, Nibbāna.

As Mrs. Rhys Davids rightly says:

“Abhidhamma deals with (i) what we find within us, around us; and of (ii) what we aspire to find.”

While the Sutta Piṭaka contains the conventional teaching (vohāra desanā), the Abhidhamma Piṭaka contains the ultimate teaching (parāmaha desanā).

It is generally admitted by most exponents of the Dhamma that a knowledge of the Abhidhamma is essential to comprehend fully the teachings of the Buddha, as it presents the key that opens the door of reality.

The Abhidhamma Piṭaka is composed of the following seven works:

1. Dhammasaṇgaṇī (Classification of Dhamma)

2. Vibhaṇga (Book of Analysis)

3. Dhātukathā (Discourse on Elements)

4. Puggala Paññatti (The Book on Individuals)

5. Kathāvatthu (Points of Controversy)

6. Yamaka (The Book of Pairs)

7. Pahāna (The Book of Causal Relations)

Is Buddhism a Philosophy?

The sublime Dhamma, enshrined in these sacred texts, deals with truths and facts that can be tested and verified by personal experience and is not concerned with theories and speculations, which may be accepted as profound truths today and thrown overboard tomorrow. The Buddha did not expound revolutionary philosophical theories, nor did he attempt to create a new material science. In plain terms he explained both what is within and what is without, so far as it concerns emancipation from the ills of life, and revealed the unique path of deliverance.

Furthermore, the Buddha did not teach all that he knew. On one occasion while the Buddha was staying in a forest, he took a handful of leaves and said: “O bhikkhus, what I have taught you is comparable to the leaves in my hand, and what I have not taught you, to the leaves in the forest.” 240 He taught what he deemed was absolutely essential for one’s purification, and was characteristically silent on questions irrelevant to his noble mission. Incidentally, he forestalled many a modern scientist and philosopher.

Heraclitus (500 BCE) believed that everything flows (pante rhei) and that the universe is a constant becoming. He taught that nothing ever is; everything is becoming. It was he who made the famous statement that a person cannot step into the same stream twice. Pythagoras (532 BCE) taught, among other things, the theory of transmigration of souls. Descartes (1596-1650) declared the necessity of examining all phenomena at the bar of reasonable doubt. Spinoza (1632-1677) while admitting the existence of a permanent reality, asserted that all existence is transitory. In his opinion sorrow was to be conquered by finding an object of knowledge which is not transient, not ephemeral, but is immutable, permanent, everlasting. Berkeley (1685-1776) thought that the so-called atom was a metaphysical fiction. Hume (1711-1776) analysed the mind and concluded that consciousness consists of fleeting mental states. In the view of Hegel (1770-1831) “the entire phenomenon is a becoming.” Schopenhauer (1788-1860) in his World as Will and Idea has presented the truth of suffering and its cause in Western garb. Henri Bergson (1859-1941) advocated the doctrine of change, and emphasised the value of intuition. William James (1842-1910) referred to a stream of consciousness and denied the existence of a soul.

The Buddha expounded these truths of transience (anicca), sorrow (dukkha), and soullessness (anattā) more than 2500 years ago.

The moral and philosophical teachings of the Buddha are to be studied, to be practised, and above all to be realised by one’s own intuitive wisdom. As such the Dhamma is compared to a raft which enables one to cross the ocean of life. 241

Buddhism, therefore, cannot strictly be called a philosophy because it is not merely “the love of, inducing the search after, wisdom.” 242 Nor is Buddhism “a hypothetical interpretation of the unknown (as in metaphysics), or of the inexactly known (as in ethics or political philosophy).” 243

If by philosophy is meant “an inquiry not so much after certain particular facts as after the fundamental character of this world in which we find ourselves, and of the kind of life which such a world it behoves us to live, 244 Buddhism may approximate to a philosophy, but it is very much more comprehensive. 245

Philosophy deals mainly with knowledge and is not concerned with practice; whereas Buddhism lays special emphasis on practice and realisation.

Is Buddhism a Religion?

Prof. Rhys Davids writes:

“What is meant by religion? The word, as is well-known, is not found in languages not related to our own, and its derivation is uncertain. Cicero, in one passage, derived it from re and lego, and held that its real meaning was the repetition of prayers and incantations. Another interpretation derives the word from re and logo, and makes its original sense that of attachment, of a continual binding (that is, no doubt to the gods). A third derivation connects the word with lex, and explains it as a law-abiding, scrupulously conscientious frame of mind.” 246

Buddhism is not strictly a religion in the sense in which that word is commonly understood, for it is not “a system of faith and worship,” owing any allegiance to a supernatural God.

Buddhism does not demand blind faith from its adherents. Hence mere belief is dethroned and for it is substituted “confidence based on knowledge.” It is possible for a Buddhist to entertain occasional doubts until he attains the first stage of sainthood (sotāpatti) when all doubts about the Buddha, Dhamma, and the Sangha are completely resolved. One becomes a genuine follower of the Buddha only after attaining this stage. 247

The confidence of a follower of the Buddha is like that of a patient in respect of a noted physician, or of a student regarding his teacher. Although a Buddhist seeks refuge in the Buddha as his incomparable guide and teacher who indicates the path of purity, he makes no servile surrender.

A Buddhist does not think that he can gain purity merely by seeking refuge in the Buddha or by mere faith in him. It is not within the power even of a Buddha to wash away the impurities of others. Strictly speaking, one can neither purify nor defile another. The Buddha, as teacher, may be instrumental, but we ourselves are responsible for our purification.

In the Dhammapada (v. 145) the Buddha says,

“By oneself alone is evil done:
by oneself is one defiled.
By oneself alone is evil avoided:
by oneself alone is one purified.
Purity and impurity depend on oneself:
No one can purify another.”

A Buddhist is not a slave to a book or to any individual. Nor does he sacrifice his freedom of thought by becoming a follower of the Buddha. He is at full liberty to exercise his own free will and develop his knowledge even to the extent of attaining buddhahood himself, for all are potential Buddhas. Naturally Buddhists quote the Buddha as their authority, but the Buddha himself discarded all authority.

Immediate realisation is the sole criterion of truth in Buddhism. Its keynote is rational understanding (sammā diṭṭhi). The Buddha advises seekers of truth not to accept anything merely on the authority of another but to exercise their own reasoning and judge for themselves whether a thing is right or wrong.

On one occasion the citizens of Kesaputta, known as Kālāmas, approached the Buddha and said that many ascetics and brahmins who came to preach to them used to exalt their own doctrines and denounce those of others, and that they were at a loss to understand which of those worthies were right.

“Yes, O Kā1āmas, it is right for you to doubt, it is right for you to waver. In a doubtful matter, wavering has arisen,” 248 remarked the Buddha and gave them the following advice which applies with equal force to modern rationalists as it did to those sceptic brahmins of yore.

“Come, O Kālāmas, Do not accept anything on mere hearsay (i.e., thinking that thus have we heard it from a long time). Do not accept anything by mere tradition (i.e., thinking that it has thus been handed down through many generations). Do not accept anything on account of rumours (i.e., by believing what others say without any investigation). Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures. Do not accept anything by mere supposition. Do not accept anything by mere inference. Do not accept anything by merely considering the appearances. Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your preconceived notions. Do not accept anything merely because it seems acceptable (i.e., should be accepted). Do not accept anything thinking that the ascetic is respected by us (and therefore it is right to accept his word.)

“But when you know for yourselves—these things are immoral, these things are blameworthy, these things are censured by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to ruin and sorrow—then indeed do you reject them.

“When you know for yourselves—these things are moral, these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to well-being and happiness—then do you live and act accordingly.” 249

These wise sayings of the Buddha, uttered some 2500 years ago, still retain their original force and freshness even in this enlightened twentieth century.

With a homely illustration >Jñānasāra-samuccaya repeats the same counsel in different words.

“Tāpāc chedāc ca nikasat svarnam iva panditaih
Parikshya blikshavo grāhyam madvaco na tu gauravāt.”

“As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it
(on a piece of touchstone),
so are you to accept my words after examining them
and not merely out of regard for me.”

The Buddha exhorted his disciples to seek the truth, and not to heed mere persuasion even by superior authority.

Now, though it be admitted that there is no blind faith in Buddhism, one might question whether there is no worshipping of Buddha images and such-like idolatry amongst Buddhists.

Buddhists do not worship an image expecting worldly or spiritual favours, but pay their homage to what it represents. A Buddhist goes before an image and offers flowers and incense not to the image but to the Buddha. He does so as a mark of gratitude, reflecting on the virtues of the Buddha and pondering on the transience of flowers. An understanding Buddhist designedly makes himself feel that he is in the noble presence of the Buddha, and thereby gains inspiration to emulate him.

Referring to images, the great philosopher Count Kaiserling writes, “I know nothing more grand in this world than the figure of the Buddha. It is the perfect embodiment of spirituality in the visible domain.” 250

Then again Buddhists do not worship the bodhi tree, but consider it a symbol of enlightenment, and so, worthy of reverence.

Though such external forms of homage are prevalent amongst Buddhists, the Buddha is not worshipped as a God.

These external objects of homage are not absolutely necessary, but they are useful and they help one to concentrate one’s attention. An intellectual could dispense with them as he could easily focus his attention on the Buddha, and thus visualise him.

For our own good, and out of gratitude, we pay such homage, but what the Buddha expects from his disciples is not obeisance but the actual observance of his teaching.

Just before the Buddha passed away, many disciples came to pay their respects to him. One bhikkhu, however, remained in his cell absorbed in meditation. This matter was reported to the Buddha who summoned him and, on enquiring the reason for his absence, was told: “Lord, I knew that Your Reverence would pass away three months hence, and I thought the best way of honouring the Teacher was by attaining arahantship even before the decease of Your Reverence.”

The Buddha extolled the praiseworthy conduct of that loyal and dutiful bhikkhu, saying: “Excellent, excellent! He who loves me should emulate this bhikkhu. He honours me best who practises my teaching best.” 251

On another occasion the Buddha remarked, “he who sees the Dhamma sees me.” 252

Furthermore, it must be mentioned that there are no petitionary or intercessory prayers in Buddhism. However much one may pray to the Buddha one cannot be saved. The Buddha does not and cannot grant worldly favours to those who pray to him. A Buddhist should not pray to be saved, but should rely on himself and strive with diligence to win his freedom and gain purity. Advising his disciples not to depend on others but to depend on oneself and to be self-reliant, the Buddha says:

Tumhehi kiccaṃ ātappaṃ akkhātāro tathāgatā.

“Striving should be done by yourselves.
The Tathāgatas are teachers.”      (Dhp v. 276)

The Buddha not only speaks of the futility of prayers 253 but also disparages a slave mentality. Instead of prayers the Buddha emphasises the importance of meditation that promotes self-discipline, self-control, self-purification and self-enlightenment. It serves as a tonic both to the mind and heart. Meditation is the essence of Buddhism.

In Buddhism there is not, as in most other religions, an almighty god to be obeyed and feared. Buddhism denies the existence of a supernatural power, conceived as an almighty being or a causeless force. There are no divine revelations nor divine messengers or prophets. A Buddhist is therefore not subservient to any higher supernatural power which controls his destinies and which arbitrarily rewards and punishes. Since Buddhists do not believe in revelations of a divine being, Buddhism does not claim the monopoly of truth and does not condemn any other religion. “Intolerance is the greatest enemy of religion.” With his characteristic tolerance, the Buddha advised his disciples not to get angry, discontented, or displeased even when others spoke ill of him, or of his teaching, or of his order. “If you do so,” the Buddha said, “you will not only bring yourselves into danger of spiritual loss, but you will not be able to judge whether what they say is correct or not correct”—a most enlightened sentiment. Denouncing unfair criticism of other faiths, the Buddha states: “It is as a man who looks up and spits at heaven—the spittle does not soil the heaven, but it comes back and defiles his own person.” 254

Buddhism expounds no dogmas that one must blindly believe, no creeds that one must accept on good faith without reasoning, no superstitious rites and ceremonies to be observed for formal entry into the fold, no meaningless sacrifices and penances for one’s purification.

Buddhism cannot, therefore, be strictly called a religion, because it is neither a system of faith and worship, nor “the outward act or form by which men indicate their recognition of the existence of a god or gods having power over their own destiny to whom obedience, service, and honour are due.” 255

Karl Marx said: “Religion is the soul of soulless conditions, the heart of a heartless world, the opium of the people.” Buddhism is not such a religion, for all Buddhist nations grew up in the cradle of Buddhism and their present cultural advancement is clearly due mainly to the benign influence of the teachings of the Buddha.

However, if, by religion, is meant “a teaching which takes a view of life that is more than superficial, a teaching which looks into life and not merely at it, a teaching which furnishes men with a guide to conduct that is in accord with this in-look, a teaching which enables those who give it heed to face life with fortitude and death with serenity,” 256 or a system of deliverance from the ills of life, then certainly Buddhism is a religion of religions. 257

Is Buddhism an Ethical System?

Buddhism contains an excellent moral code, including one for the monks and another for the laity, but it is much more than an ordinary moral teaching.

Morality (sīla) is only the preliminary stage and is a means to an end, but not an end in itself. Though absolutely essential, it alone does not lead to one’s deliverance or perfect purity. It is only the first stage on the path of purity. Beyond morality is wisdom (paññā). The base of Buddhism is morality, and wisdom is its apex. As the pair of wings of a bird are these two complementary virtues. Wisdom is like unto man’s eyes; morality is like unto his feet. One of the appellatives of the Buddha is vijjācaraṇa sampanna—endowed with wisdom and conduct.

Of the four noble truths that form the foundation of Buddhism, the first three represent the philosophy of the Buddha’s teaching; the fourth the ethics of Buddhism based on that philosophy.

Morality in Buddhism is not founded on any doubtful divine revelation, nor is it the ingenious invention of an exceptional mind, but it is a rational and practical code based on verifiable facts and individual experience. In the opinion of Prof. Max Müller, the Buddhist moral code is one of the most perfect which the world has ever known.

Prof. Rhys Davids says: “Buddhist or no Buddhist, I have examined every one of the great religious systems of the world; and in none of those have I found anything to surpass in beauty and comprehensiveness the Noble Eightfold Path of the Buddha. I am content to shape my life according to that path.”

It is interesting to note that according to Buddhism there are deeds which are ethically good and bad, deeds which are neither good nor bad, and deeds which tend to the ceasing of all deeds. Good deeds are essential for one’s emancipation, but when once the ultimate goal of the holy life is attained, one transcends both good and evil.

The Buddha says: “Righteous things (dhamma) you have to give up: how much more the unrighteous things (adhamma).” 258

The deed which is associated with attachment (lobha), ill will (dosa) and delusion (moha) is evil. That deed which is associated with non-attachment (alobha), goodwill (adosa), and wisdom (paññā), is good.

The deeds of an arahant, a stainless one, possess no ethical value as he has gone beyond both good and evil. This does not mean that he is passive. He is active, but his activity is selfless and is directed to help others to tread the path he has trodden himself. His deeds, ordinarily accepted as good, lack creative power as regards himself. Unlike the actions of a worldling his actions do not react on himself as a kammic effect.

His actions, in Pali, are called kiriya (functional). Purest gold cannot further be purified.

The mental states of the four types of supramundane path consciousness, namely, sotāpatti (stream-winner), sakadāgāmi (once-returner), anāgāmi (non-returner) and arahantta (worthy), though wholesome (kusala), do not tend to accumulate fresh kamma, but, on the contrary, tend to the gradual cessation of the individual flux of becoming, and therewith to the gradual cessation of good and evil deeds. In these types of supramundane consciousness the wisdom factor (paññā), which tends to destroy the roots of kamma, is predominant; while in the mundane types of consciousness volition (cetanā) which produces kammic activities is predominant.

What is the criterion of morality according to Buddhism?

The answer is found in the admonition given by the Buddha to young sāmaṇera Rāhula.

“If there is a deed, Rāhula, you wish to do, reflect thus: ‘Is this deed conducive to my harm, or to others’ harm, or to that of both?’ Then is this a bad deed entailing suffering. From such a deed you must resist.

“If there is a deed you wish to do, reflect thus: ‘Is this deed not conducive to my harm, nor to others’ harm, nor to that of both?’ Then is this a good deed entailing happiness. Such a deed you must do again and again.” 259

In assessing morality a Buddhist takes into consideration the interests both of himself and others—animals not excluded.

In the Mettā Sutta 260 the Buddha exhorts:

“As the mother protects her only child
even at the risk of her own life;
even so let one cultivate boundless houghts
of loving kindness towards all being.” 261

The Dhammapada states:

“All fear punishment, to all life is dear.
Comparing others with oneself,
let one neither hurt nor kill.” (v. 129)

To understand the exceptionally high standard of morality the Buddha expects from his ideal followers, one must carefully read the Dhammapada, Sigālovāda Sutta, Vyagghapajja Sutta, Mangala Sutta, Mettā Sutta, Parābhava Sutta, Vasala Sutta, Dhammika Sutta, etc.

As a moral teaching it excels all other ethical systems, but morality is only the beginning and not the end of Buddhism.

In one sense Buddhism is not a philosophy, in another sense it is the philosophy of philosophies.

In one sense Buddhism is not a religion, in another sense it is the religion of religions.

What Buddhism is

Buddhism is neither a metaphysical path nor a ritualistic path.

It is neither sceptical nor dogmatic.

It is neither eternalism nor nihilism.

It is neither self-mortification nor self-indulgence.

It is neither pessimism nor optimism but realism.

It is neither absolutely this-worldly nor other-worldly.

It is not extravert but introvert.

It is not theocentric but homo-centric.

It is a unique path of enlightenment.

The original Pali term for Buddhism is Dhamma, which, literally, means that which upholds or sustains (him who acts in conformity with its principles and thus prevents him from falling into woeful states). There is no proper English equivalent that exactly conveys the meaning of the Pali term.

The Dhamma is that which really is. It is the doctrine of reality. It is a means of deliverance from suffering and deliverance itself. Whether the Buddhas arise or not the Dhamma exists from all eternity. It is a Buddha that realises this Dhamma, which ever lies hidden from the ignorant eyes of men, till he, an enlightened one, comes and compassionately reveals it to the world.

“Whether the Tathāgatas appear or not, O bhikkhus, it remains a fact, an established principle, a natural law that all conditioned things are transient (anicca), sorrowful (dukkha) and that everything is soulless (anattā). This fact the Tathāgata realises, understands and when he has realised and understood it, announces, teaches, proclaims, establishes, discloses, analyses, and makes it clear, that all conditioned things are transient, sorrowful, and that everything is soulless.” 262

In the Alagaddūpama Sutta (MN 22) the Buddha says: “One thing only does the Buddha teach, namely, suffering and the cessation of suffering.”

This is the doctrine of reality.

The Udāna states: “Just as, O bhikkhus, the mighty ocean is of one flavour, the flavour of salt, even so, O bhikkhus, this Dhamma is of one flavour, the flavour of deliverance (vimutti). 263

This is the means of deliverance.

This sublime Dhamma is not something apart from oneself. It is purely dependent on oneself and is to be realised by oneself. As such the Buddha exhorts: 264

Attadīpā viharatha attapaṭisāranā.

Abide with oneself as an island,
with oneself as a refuge.

Dhammadīpā viharatha, dhammapaṭisaraṇā,
n’āñña patisaranā

Abide with the Dhamma as an island,
with the Dhamma as a refuge.
Seek not for external refuge.

Some Salient Characteristics of Buddhism

“Well expounded is the Dhamma by the Exalted One to be self-realised, with immediate fruit, inviting investigation, leading on to Nibbāna, to be comprehended by the wise, each for himself.”

— Majjhima Nikāya

Foundations of Buddhism

The four noble truths, which the Buddha himself discovered and revealed to the world, are the chief characteristics and the unshakable foundations of Buddhism.

They are suffering (the raison d’être of Buddhism), its cause, i.e., craving, its end, i.e., Nibbāna (the summum bonum of Buddhism), and the middle way.

The first three represent the philosophy of Buddhism, while the fourth represents the ethics of Buddhism in accordance with that philosophy.

All these four truths that constitute the Dhamma of the Buddha are dependent on this body itself. They are incontrovertible facts wholly associated with man and other beings.

Whether Buddhas arise or not these truths exist in the universe. It is the Buddhas that reveal them to the world.

Buddhism rests on the pivot of suffering. Although Buddhism emphasises the existence of suffering yet it does not follow that Buddhism is a pessimistic religion. On the contrary it is neither totally pessimistic nor totally optimistic but realistic.

One would be justified in calling the Buddha a pessimist if he had merely emphasised the truth of suffering without suggesting a means to end suffering and gain eternal happiness.

The Buddha perceived the universality of sorrow and prescribed a remedy for this universal sickness of humanity. The highest conceivable happiness, according to the Buddha, is Nibbāna, which is the total extinction of suffering.

The author of the article on “Pessimism” in the Encyclopaedia Britannica writes:

“Pessimism denotes an attitude of hopelessness towards life, a vague general opinion that pain and evil predominate in human affairs. The original doctrine of the Buddha is in fact as optimistic as any optimism of the West. To call it ‘pessimism’ is merely to apply to it a characteristically Western principle according to which happiness is impossible without personality. The true Buddhist looks forward with enthusiasm to absorption into eternal bliss.”


The Buddha does not expect his followers to be constantly brooding on the ills of life and so make their lives unhappy.

Joy (pīti) has to be cultivated by every Buddhist as one of the essentials or prerequisites of enlightenment. In the opinion of many unbiased writers, Buddhists are reputed to be the happiest people in the whole world. They have no inferiority complex that they are wretched sinners.

The members of the noble order, who lead the holy life in the fullest possible manner, are perhaps the happiest persons. “Aho sukhaṃ, aho sukhaṃ“—”Oh, happy indeed! Oh, happy indeed!” and “We shall be living in Joy”—are some of the oft-repeated favourite sayings of his followers.

One day a certain deity approached the Buddha and questioned him thus:

Who in the forest make their wonted haunt—
The saintly livers of the holy life—
Who by one daily meal do break their fast:
Tell me how look they so serene of hue? 265

The Buddha replied;

They make no lamentation o’er the past,
They yearn not after that which is not come,
By what now is do they maintain themselves;
Hence comes it that they look serene of hue.

Happily the bhikkhus live in the eternal present with no worries about either the past or the future.

Causal Law in Terms of Happiness

In the Saṃyutta Nikāya is found an interesting interpretation of the dependent origination (paticca samuppāda) in terms of happiness. The Buddha says:

Suffering leads to confidence (saddhā); confidence to rapture (pāmojja); rapture to joy (pīti); joy to tranquillity (passaddhi); tranquillity to happiness (sukha); happiness to concentration (samādhi); concentration to knowledge and vision of things as they truly are (yathābhūta-ñāṇadassana); the knowledge and vision of things as they truly are to repulsion (nibbidā); repulsion to non-attachment (virāga); non-attachment to deliverance (vimutti); deliverance to the extinction of passions (taṇhakkhaya); i.e., to arahantship. 266

This important passage clearly indicates how suffering can lead to happiness and ultimately to sainthood.

Tolerance of Buddhism

No blind faith is necessary to understand these four noble truths. The first two Truths, which are mundane (lokiya), can be experienced by worldlings themselves. The second two Truths, which are supramundane (lokuttara), can be experienced by attaining saintship.

It is on the bedrock of these facts, which could be verified by personal experience and tested by anybody, that the Buddha-Dhamma is built, and not on the fear of the unknown. Buddhism is therefore rational and intensely practical.

In the Dhamma there is nothing that is impractical or irrational. The Buddha practised what he taught; he taught what he practised. What he most emphasises in his teaching is practice, for creeds alone cannot purify a person.

The Dhammapada states:

Though much he recites the sacred texts but acts not accordingly, that heedless man is like a cow-herd who counts others’ kine; he has no share in the blessings of a recluse — v. 19

A rational and practical system cannot contain any mysterious or esoteric doctrine. In the Parinibbāna Sutta the Buddha emphatically declares:

I have taught the truth without making any distinction between esoteric and exoteric doctrine; for in respect of the truth Tathāgata has no such thing as the closed fist of a teacher who keeps something back. 267

Anantaraṃ and abāhiraṃ are the words used by the Buddha. If the Buddha had thought—”This much of my doctrine I will not teach others,” or “Only this much of my doctrine I will teach others,” he would have fallen into the category of teachers who keep a closed fist. If the Buddha had thought, “To these persons I will teach,” or “To these persons I will not teach,” the Buddha would have created an inner circle and outer circle. The Buddha makes no such distinction.

With respect to secret doctrines the Buddha says in the Aṇguttara Nikāya: 268

O disciples, there are three to whom secrecy belongs, and not openness. Who are they? Secrecy belongs to women, not openness; secrecy belongs to priestly wisdom, not openness; secrecy belongs to false doctrine, not openness. The doctrines and rules proclaimed by the perfect Buddha shine before all the world and not in secret.

It is true that the Buddha had not expressed his view about some problems that perplex mankind. He was characteristically silent on these controversial subjects because they were irrelevant to his noble mission and unessential to one’s emancipation.

On a certain occasion a certain bhikkhu, named Māluṇkyaputta, approached the Buddha and impatiently demanded an immediate solution of some speculative problems on the threat of discarding the robe forthwith. He said:

Lord, these theories have not been elucidated, have been set aside, and rejected by the Exalted One—whether the world is eternal or not eternal; whether the world is finit e or infinite; whether the life-principle (jīva) is the same as the body or whether the life-principle is one and the body is another; whether the Tathāgata, after death, is or is not; whether the Tathāgata, after death both is and is not; whether the Tathāgata, after death neither is nor is not.

The Buddha advised him not to waste time and energy over such idle speculation which was detrimental to moral progress:

It is as if a person were pierced by an arrow thickly smeared with poison and he should say to the surgeon who wants to extract it: I shall not allow the arrow to be extracted until I know the details of the person who wounded me, the nature of the arrow with which I was pierced, etc. That person would die before this would ever be known by him. In the same way that person would die before these questions had ever been elucidated. 269

The solving of these metaphysical questions did not lead to disenchantment, passionlessness, enlightenment, or Nibbāna.

On another occasion when his disciples sought information about these points he silenced them by citing the parable of the elephant and blind men. 270

An elephant was presented to some blind men to describe what it looked like. Those who touched the different parts of the elephant’s body expressed their own peculiar ideas about the elephant. They argued amongst themselves and their arguments naturally ended in a quarrel.

Useless speculations that do not tend to emancipation and that merely gratify curiosity, the Buddha dismisses with his characteristic silence.

Buddhism does not profess to provide an explanation to all ethical and philosophical problems that interest mankind. Neither does it deal with idle speculations and theorisings that do not tend to edification. Buddhism has a practical and specific purpose—the cessation of suffering—and with that goal in view, all irrelevant side issues are completely set aside. Nevertheless, every encouragement is given to keen investigation into the real nature of life.

No coercions, persecutions, or fanaticisms play any part in Buddhism. To the unique credit of Buddhism it must be said that throughout its peaceful march of 2500 years no drop of blood has been shed in the name of the Buddha, no mighty monarch has wielded his powerful sword to propagate the Dhamma, and no conversion has been made either by force or by repulsive methods. Yet the Buddha was the first and the greatest missionary that lived on earth. Buddhism has spread, and is still spreading rapidly throughout the world, and is making peaceful penetration to all countries mainly owing to the intrinsic merit and unsurpassing beauty of its teachings and not at all with the aid of Imperialism, militarism or any other indirect proselytising agencies.

Aldous Huxley writes: “Alone of all the great world religions Buddhism made its way without persecution, censorship or inquisition. In all these respects its record is enormously superior to that of Christianity, which made its way among people wedded to materialism and which was able to justify the bloodthirsty tendencies of its adherents by an appeal to savage bronze-age literature of the Old Testament.”

Lord Russell remarks: “Of the great religions of history, I prefer Buddhism, especially in its earliest forms; because it has had the smallest element of persecution.”

In the name of the Buddha no sacred place was reddened with the blood of innocent women, no sincere thinkers were burnt alive, and there was no merciless roasting of heretics.

Buddhism which teaches nothing mysterious does not speak of miracles. The Buddha no doubt possessed supernormal powers as a result of his mental culture, but he did not perform miracles. The yamaka pāihāriya, 271 for instance, erroneously rendered “twin miracle,” is a psychic phenomenon which only a Buddha can perform. In this particular case, by his psychic powers, he makes fire and water issue from the pores of the body simultaneously.

Buddhism appeals more to the intellect than to the emotion. It is concerned more with the character of the devotees than with their numerical strength.

On one occasion Upāli the millionaire, a follower of Nigaṇha Nātaputta, approached the Buddha and was so pleased with the Buddha’s exposition of the Dhamma that he instantly expressed his desire to become a follower of the Buddha. But the Buddha advised him, saying, “Of a verity, O householder, make a thorough investigation. It is well for a distinguished man like you to make a thorough investigation.”

Upāli, who was overwhelmed with joy at this unexpected utterance of the Buddha, said:

Lord, if I had become a follower of another teacher, his followers would have taken me round the streets in procession proclaiming that such and such a millionaire had renounced his former religion and had embraced theirs. But, Lord, you advise me to investigate further. The more pleased am I with this salutary advice of yours. And he appreciatively repeated or—For the second time I seek refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.

Though Upāli became a Buddhist by conviction, the Buddha, quite in keeping with his boundless compalssion and perfect tolerance, advised him to support his former religious teacher in accordance with his practice.

Exhorting all seekers of truth not to be influenced by external authorities or by mere persuasions, the Buddha even went to the extent of requesting his disciples not to bow down submissively to superior authority.

Buddhism is saturated with this spirit of free inquiry and complete tolerance. It is the teaching of the open mind and the sympathetic heart which, lighting and warming the whole universe with its twin rays of wisdom and compassion, sheds its genial glow on every being struggling in the ocean of birth and death.

So compassionate and tolerant was the Buddha that he did not exercise his power to give commandments to his lay-followers. Instead of using the imperative “You must do this or you must not do this”—he says, “It is proper for you to do this, it is proper for you not to do this.”

The ordinary precepts which Buddhists are expected to observe are not commandments but modes of discipline (sikkhāpada) which they take of their own accord.

This tolerance and sympathy the Buddha extended to men, women, and all living beings.

Buddhism and Caste

It was the Buddha who, for the first time in the known history of mankind, attempted to abolish slavery and “invented the higher morality and the idea of the brotherhood of the entire human race and in striking terms, ‘condemned’ the degrading caste-system which was firmly rooted in Indian Society at that time.

In the Vasala Sutta (Sn i.7) he Buddha declared:

By birth is not one an outcast,
By birth is not one a brahmin.
By deeds is one an outcast,
By deeds is one a brahmin. 272

The Vāseha Sutta 273 relates that two young brahmins had a discussion with regard to what constitutes a brahmin. One maintained that birth made a brahmin, while the other contended that conduct made a brahmin. As neither could convince the other both of them agreed to refer the matter to the Buddha.

So they approached the Buddha and presented their case before him.

The Buddha at first reminded the questioners that although in the case of plants, insects, quadrupeds, serpents, fishes and birds there are many species and marks by which they could be distinguished, yet in the case of men there are no such species and marks. Then he explained how men differentiated themselves according to their various occupations. In conclusion the Buddha commented:

Birth makes no brahmin, nor non-brahmin makes;
‘Tis life and doing that mould the brahmin true.
Their lives mould farmers, tradesmen, merchants, serfs;
Their lives mould robbers, soldiers, chaplains, kings.

Another interesting dialogue concerning this problem of caste appears in the Madhurā Sutta (MN 84).

The king of Madhurā makes the following report to the Venerable Kaccāna.

“The brahmins say thus, Kaccāna, ‘The brahmins are the most distinguished of the four divisions into which the people are classified; every other division is inferior. The brahmins alone are accounted pure, not those who are not brahmins. The brahmins are the legitimate sons of Brahmā, born from his mouth, specially made by him, heirs of Brahmā.’ What do you, Sir, say to this?”

The Venerable Kaccāna replied that it was an empty assertion and pointed out how a wealthy person could employ as his servant a member of any class or caste and how a vicious person could be born in a woeful state and a virtuous person in a blissful state despite their particular castes, adding that a criminal, irrespective of his caste, would be punished for his crime. He emphasised the fact that all joining the order receive equal honour and reverence without any discrimination.

According to Buddhism caste or colour does not preclude one from becoming an adherent of the Buddha or from entering the noble order of the Sangha where all are treated as ariyas. Fishermen, scavengers, courtesans, together with warriors and brahmins, were freely admitted into the order and were also given positions of rank.

Upāli, the barber, was made, in preference to all others, chief disciple in matters pertaining to the vinaya discipline. Sunīta, who was honoured by kings and nobles as an arahant, was a timid scavenger. The philosophic Sāti was the son of a fisherman. The courtesan Ambapāli joined the order and attained arahantship. Rajjumālā, who was converted by the Buddha as she was about to commit suicide, was a slave girl. So was Puṇṇā whose invitation to spend a rainy season was accepted by the Buddha in preference to that of the millionaire Anāthapiṇḍika, her own master. Subhā was the daughter of a smith. Cāpā was the daughter of a deer-stalker. Such instances could be multiplied from the books to show that portals of Buddhism were wide open to all without any distinction.

The Buddha provided equal opportunities for all and raised, rather than lowered, the status of people.

In Buddhism one finds milk for the babe and meat for the strong, and it appeals equally to both the rich and the poor.

Buddhism and Women

It was also the Buddha who raised the status of women and brought them to a realisation of their importance to society.

Before the advent of the Buddha women in India were not held in high esteem. One Indian writer, Hemacandra, looked down upon women as “the torch lighting the way to hell” (narakamārgadvārasya dīpika).

The Buddha did not humiliate women, but only regarded them as feeble by nature. He saw the innate good of both men and women and assigned to them their due places in his teaching. Sex is no barrier for purification or service.

Sometimes the Pali term used to connote women is mātugāma, which means ‘mother-folk’ or ‘society of mothers.’ As a mother a woman holds an honourable place in Buddhism. The mother is regarded as a convenient ladder to ascend to heaven, and a wife is regarded as the ‘best friend’ (paramā sakhā) of the husband.

Although at first the Buddha refused to admit women into the order on reasonable grounds, yet later he yielded to the entreaties of Venerable Ánanda and his foster mother, Mahā Pajāpatī Gotamī, and founded the order of bhikkhuṇīs (nuns). It was the Buddha who thus founded the first society for women with rules and regulations.

Just as arahants Sāriputta and Moggallāna were made the two chief disciples in the order of bhikkhus, the oldest democratically constituted celibate order, even so the arahants Khemā and Uppalavaṇṇā were made the two chief female disciples in the order of bhikkhuṇīs. Many other female disciples, too, were named by the Buddha himself as amongst most distinguished and pious followers. Amongst the Vajjis, too, freedom of women was regarded as one of the causes that led to their prosperity. Before the advent of the Buddha women did not enjoy sufficient freedom and were deprived of an opportunity to exhibit their innate spiritual capabilities and their mental gifts. In ancient India, as is still seen today, the birth of a daughter to a family was considered an unwelcome and cumbersome addition.

On one occasion while the Buddha was conversing with King Kosala, a messenger came and informed the king that a daughter was born unto him. Hearing it, the king was naturally displeased. But the Buddha comforted and stimulated him, saying:

A woman child, O Lord of men, may prove
Even a better offspring than a male. 274

To women who were placed under various disabilities before the appearance of the Buddha, the establishment of the order of bhikkhuṇīs was certainly a blessing. In this order queens, princesses, daughters of noble families, widows, bereaved mothers, helpless women, courtesans—all despite their caste or rank met on a common footing, enjoyed perfect consolation and peace, and breathed that free atmosphere which was denied to those cloistered in cottages and palatial mansions. Many, who otherwise would have fallen into oblivion, distinguished themselves in various ways and gained their emancipation by seeking refuge in the order.

Khemā, the first chief female disciple, was the beautiful consort of King Bimbisāra. She was at first reluctant to see the Buddha as she heard that the Buddha used to refer to external beauty in disparaging terms. One day she paid a casual visit to the monastery merely to enjoy the scenery of the place. Gradually she was attracted to the hall where the Buddha was preaching. The Buddha, who read her thoughts, created by his psychic powers a handsome young lady, standing aside fanning him. Khemā was admiring her beauty. The Buddha made this created image change from youth to middle age and old age, till it finally fell on the ground with broken teeth, grey hair, and wrinkled skin. Then only did she realise the vanity of external beauty and the fleeting nature of life. She thought:

“Has such a body come to be wrecked like that? Then so will my body also.”

The Buddha read her mind and said:

They who are slaves to lust drift down the stream,
Like to a spider gliding down the web
He of himself wrought. But the released,
Who all their bonds have snapt in twain,
With thoughts elsewhere intent, forsake the world,
And all delight in sense put far away. 275

Khemā attained arahantship and with the king’s consent entered the order. She was ranked foremost in insight amongst the bhikkhuṇīs.

Paācārā, who lost her two children, husband, parents and brother, under very tragic circumstances, was attracted to the Buddha’s presence by his will-power. Hearing the Buddha’s soothing words, she attained the first stage of sainthood and entered the order. One day, as she was washing her feet she noticed how first the water trickled a little way and subsided, the second time it flowed a little further and subsided, and the third time it flowed still further and subsided. “Even so do mortals die,” she pondered, “either in childhood, or in middle age, or when old.” The Buddha read her thoughts and, projecting his image before her, taught her the Dhamma. She attained arahantship and later became a source of consolation to many a bereaved mother.

Dhammadinnā and Bhaddā Kāpilanī were two bhikkhuṇīs who were honoured exponents of the Dhamma.

In answer to Māra, the Evil One, it was bhikkhuṇī Somā 276 who remarked:

What should the woman-nature count in her who, with mind well-set and knowledge advancing, has right to the Dhamma? To one who entertains doubt with the question: ‘Am I a woman in these matters, or am I a man, or what then am I?’—the Evil One is fit to talk.

Amongst the laity too there were many women who were distinguished for their piety, generosity, devotion, learning and loving kindness.

Visākhā, the chief benefactress of the order, stands foremost amongst them all. 277

Suppiyā was a very devout lady who, being unable to procure some flesh from the market, cut a piece of flesh from her thigh to prepare a soup for a sick bhikkhu.

Nakulamātā was a faithful wife who, by reciting her virtues, rescued her husband from the jaws of death.

Sāmāvatī was a pious and lovable queen who, without any ill will, radiated loving kindness towards her rival even when she was burnt to death through her machination.

Queen Mallikā on many occasions counselled her husband, King Pasenadi.

A maid-servant, Khujjuttarā, secured many converts by teaching the Dhamma.

Punabbasumātā was so intent on hearing the Dhamma that she hushed her crying child thus:

O silence, little Uttarā! Be still,
Punabbasu, that I may hear the Norm
Taught by the Master, by the Wisest Man.
Dear unto us is our own child, and dear
Our husband; dearer still than these to me
Is’t of this Doctrine to explore the Path. 278

A contemplative mother, when questioned why she did not weep at the loss of her only child, said:

Uncalled he hither came,
unbidden soon to go;
E’en as he came, he went.
What cause is here for woe? 279

Sumanā and Subhaddā were two sisters of exemplary character who had implicit faith in the Buddha.

These few instances will suffice to illustrate the great part played by women in the time of the Buddha.

Buddhism and Harmlessness

The boundless kindness of the Buddha was directed not only to all human beings but also to the dumb animals as well. It was the Buddha who banned the sacrifice of animals and admonished his followers to extend their loving kindness (mettā) to all living beings—even to the tiniest creature that crawls at one’s feet. No man, he taught, has the right to destroy the life of another as life is precious to all.

A bhikkhu is expected to exercise this loving kindness to such an extent that he is forbidden by the Vinaya rules even to dig or cause to dig the ground. He cannot even drink water without it being filtered.

Asoka, the greatest Buddhist King, wrote on rock and monolith, saying: “The living must not be nourished with the living. Even chaff with insects must not be burnt.”

A genuine Buddhist must practise this mettā towards every living being and identify himself with all, making no distinctions whatever. It is this Buddhist mettā, one of the most salient characteristics of Buddhism, which attempts to break all the barriers of caste, colour and creed which separate one man from another. If followers of different faiths cannot meet on a common platform like brothers and sisters just because they belong to different religions, then surely the religious teachers have failed in their noble missions.

In that noble toleration edict, which is based on the Culla Vyūha and Mahā Vyūha Suttas, King Asoka says: “Concourse alone is best, that is, all should hearken willingly to the doctrines professed by others.”

In its teaching Buddhism has no features to confine it to any particular nation or any particular country. It is universal in its appeal.

To the Buddhist there is no far or near, no enemy or foreigner, no renegade or untouchable, since universal love, realised through understanding, has established the brotherhood of all living beings. A real Buddhist is a citizen of the world.

Some salient characteristics of Buddhism are, therefore, its rationality, practicability, efficacy, non-aggressiveness, harmlessness, tolerance, and universality.

Buddhism is the noblest of all unifying and uplifting influences that has operated for more than 2500 years.

Nations have come and gone. Empires built on might and force have flourished and perished. But the Dhamma empire of the Buddha, founded on love and reason, still flourishes and will continue to flourish as long as its followers adhere to its noble principles.

The Four Noble Truths

“Light arose in me in things not heard before.”

— Dhammacakka Sutta

Truth (sacca) is that which is. Its Sanskrit equivalent is satya, which means an incontrovertible fact.

According to Buddhism there are four such truths pertaining to this so-called being.

In the Rohitassa Sutta the Buddha states:

In this very one-fathom long body along with its perceptions and thoughts, do I proclaim the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world, and the path leading to the cessation of the world. 280

In this particular context the term “world” (loka) implies suffering

This interesting passage refers to the four noble truths which the Buddha himself discovered by his own intuitive knowledge. Whether the Buddhas arise or not these Truths exist and it is a Buddha that reveals them to the deluded world. They do not and cannot change with time because they are eternal Truths. The Buddha was not indebted to anyone for his realisation of them. He himself said: “They were unheard before.” 281

These Truths are in Pali termed ariyasaccāni. They are so called because they were discovered by the Greatest Ariya, the Buddha, who was far removed from passion.

The first Truth deals with dukkha, which for need of a better English equivalent, is rendered by suffering or sorrow. As a feeling dukkha means that which is difficult to be endured (du, difficult, kha, to endure). As an abstract truth dukkha is used in the sense of “contemptible” (du) and “emptiness” (kha). The world rests on suffering hence it is contemptible. The world is devoid of any reality—hence it is empty or void. Dukkha, therefore, means contemptible void.

Average men are only surface-seers. An ariya sees things as they truly are. To an ariya all life is suffering and he finds no real happiness in this world which deceives mankind with illusory pleasures. Material happiness is merely the gratification of some desire. “No sooner is the desired thing gained than it begins to be scorned.” Insatiate are all desires.

All are subject to birth (jāti), and consequently to decay (jarā), disease (vyādhi), and finally to death (maraṇa). No one is exempt from these four inevitable causes of suffering.

Impeded wish is also suffering. We do not wish to be associated with things or persons we detest, nor do we wish to be separated from things or persons we love. Our cherished desires are not, however, always gratified. What we least expect or what we least desire is often thrust on us. At times such unexpected unpleasant circumstances become so intolerable and painful that weak ignorant folk are compelled to commit suicide as if such an act would solve the problem.

Real happiness is found within, and is not to be defined in terms of wealth, power, honours or conquests. If such worldly possessions are forcibly or unjustly obtained, or are misdirected, or even viewed with attachment, they will be a source of pain and sorrow for the possessors.

Ordinarily the enjoyment of sensual pleasures is the highest and only happiness to an average person. There is no doubt a momentary happiness in the anticipation, gratification, and recollection of such fleeting material pleasures, but they are illusory and temporary. According to the Buddha non-attachment (virāgatā) or the transcending of material pleasures is a greater bliss.

In brief, this composite body itself is a cause of suffering.

This First Truth of suffering, which depends on this so-called being and various aspects of life, is to be carefully analysed and examined. This examination leads to a proper understanding of oneself as one really is.

The cause of this suffering is craving or attachment (taṇhā) which is the second noble truth.

The Dhammapada (v. 216) states:

From craving springs grief, from craving springs fear,
For him who is wholly free from craving,
there is no grief, much less fear.

This craving is a powerful mental force latent in all, and is the chief cause of most of the ills of life. It is this craving, gross or subtle, that leads to repeated births in Saṃsāra and makes one cling to all forms of life.

The grossest forms of craving are attenuated on attaining sakadāgāmi, the second stage of sainthood, and are eradicated on attaining anāgāmi, the third stage of sainthood. The subtle forms of craving are eradicated on attaining arahantship.

Both suffering and craving can only be eradicated by following the middle way, enunciated by the Buddha himself, and attaining the supreme Bliss of Nibbāna.

The Third noble truth is the complete cessation of suffering which is Nibbāna, the ultimate goal of Buddhists. It is achieved by the total eradication of all forms of craving.

This Nibbāna is to be comprehended by the mental eye by renouncing all internal attachment to the external world. 282

This Truth has to be realised by developing the Noble Eightfold Path which is the Fourth noble truth. This unique path is the only straight route that leads to Nibbāna. It avoids the extreme of self-mortification that weakens one’s intellect and the extreme of self-indulgence that retards one’s moral progress.

It consists of the following eight factors:

1. Right Understanding (sammā diṭṭhi)

2. Right Thoughts (sammā saṇkappa)

3. Right Speech (sammā vācā)

4. Right Action (sammā kammanta)

5. Right Livelihood (sammā ājīva)

6. Right Effort (sammā vāyāma)

7. Right Mindfulness (sammā sati)

8. Right Concentration (sammā samādhi)

1. Right Understanding is explained as the knowledge of the four noble truths. In other words, it is the understanding of oneself as one really is, because, as the Rohitassa Sutta states, these truths are concerned with the “one-fathom long body of man.” The keynote of Buddhism is this right understanding.

2. Clear vision or right understanding leads to clear thinking. The second factor of the noble Eightfold Path is, therefore, Sammā Saṇkappa. The English renderings—”Right Resolutions,” “Right Aspirations”—do not convey the actual meaning of the Pali term. Right Ideas or Right Mindfulness comes closer to the meaning. “Right Thoughts” may be suggested as the nearest English equivalent.

By saṇkappa is meant the “vitakka” mental state, which, for want of a better rendering, may be called “initial application.” This important mental state eliminates wrong ideas or notions and helps the other moral adjuncts to be diverted to Nibbāna.

It is one’s thoughts that either defile or purify a person. One’s thoughts mould one’s nature and control one’s destiny. Evil thoughts tend to debase one just as good thoughts tend to elevate one. Sometimes a single thought can either destroy or save a world.

Sammā saṇkappa serves the double purpose of eliminating evil thoughts and developing pure thoughts.

Right Thoughts, in this particular connection, are threefold. They consist of:

Nekkhamma—Renunciation of worldly pleasures, or selflessness which is opposed to attachment, selfishness, and self-possessiveness.

Avyāpāda—Loving kindness, goodwill, or benevolence, which is opposed to hatred, ill will, or aversion, and

Avihiṃsā—Harmlessness or compassion, which is opposed to cruelty and callousness.

These evil and good forces are latent in all. As long as we are worldlings these evil forces rise to the surface at unexpected moments in disconcerting strength. When once they are totally eradicated on attaining arahantship, one’s stream of consciousness gets perfectly purified.

Attachment and hatred, coupled with ignorance, are the chief causes of all evil prevalent in this deluded world. “The enemy of the whole world is lust, through which all evils come to living beings. This lust when obstructed by some cause is transformed into wrath.”

One is either attached to desirable external objects or is repulsed with aversion in the case of undesirable objects. Through attachment one clings to material pleasures and tries to gratify one’s desire by some means or other. Through aversion one recoils from undesirable objects and even goes to the extent of destroying them as their very presence is a source of irritation. With the giving up of egoism by one’s own intuitive insight, both attachment and hatred automatically disappear.

The Dhammapada states:

There is no fire like lust, no grip like hate,
There is no net like delusion, no river like craving. (v. 251)

As one ascends the spiritual ladder one renounces by degrees both gross and subtle attachment to material pleasures like grown-up children giving up their petty toys. Being children, they cannot be expected to possess an adult’s understanding, and they cannot be convinced of the worthlessness of their temporary pleasures. With maturity they begin to understand things as they truly are and they voluntarily give up their toys. As the spiritual pilgrim proceeds on the upward path by his constant meditation and reflection, he perceives the futility of pursuing base material pleasures and the resultant happiness in forsaking them. He cultivates non-attachment to the fullest degree. “Happy is non-attachment in this world, so is the transcending of all sensual pleasures,” is one of the early utterances of the Buddha.

The other most rebellious passion is anger, aversion, ill will, or hatred, all of which are implied by the Pali term vyāpāda. It consumes the person in whom it springs and consumes others as well. The Pali term avyāpāda, literally, non-enmity, corresponds to that most beautiful virtue mettā (Skt. maitri) which means loving kindness or goodwill towards all without any distinction. He whose mind is full of loving kindness can harbour no hatred towards any. Like a mother who makes no difference between herself and her only child and protects it even at the risk of her own life, even so does the spiritual pilgrim who follows this middle path radiate his thoughts of loving kindness identifying himself with all. Buddhist mettā embraces all living beings, animals not excluded.

Avihiṃsā or karuṇā—harmlessness or compassion is the third and the last member of saṇkappa.

Karuṇā is that sweet virtue which makes the tender hearts of the noble quiver at the sufferings of others. Like Buddhist mettā, Buddhist karuṇā too is limitless. It is not restricted only to co-religionists or co-nationals or to human beings alone. Limited compassion is not true karuṇā.

A compassionate one is as soft as a flower. He cannot bear the sufferings of others. He might at times even go to the extent of sacrificing his own life to alleviate the sufferings of others. In every Jātaka story it is evident that the Bodhisatta endeavoured his best to help the distressed and the forlorn and to promote their happiness in every possible way.

Karuṇā has the characteristics of a loving mother whose thoughts, words, and deeds always tend to relieve the distress of her sick child. It has the property of not being able to tolerate the sufferings of others. Its manifestation is perfect non-violence and harmlessness—that is, a compassionate person appears to be absolutely non-violent and harmless. The sight of the helpless states of the distressed is the proximate cause for the practise of karuṇā. The consummation of karuṇā is the eradication of all forms of cruelty. The direct enemy of karuṇā is cruelty and the indirect enemy is homely grief.

Buddhist mettā appeals to both the rich and the poor, for Buddhism teaches its followers to elevate the lowly, help the poor, the needy, and the forlorn, tend the sick, comfort the bereaved, pity the wicked, and enlighten the ignorant.

Compassion forms a fundamental principle of both Buddhist laymen and bhikkhus.

Speaking of Buddhist harmlessness, Aldous Huxley writes:

Indian pacifism finds its complete expression in the teaching of the Buddha. Buddhism teaches ahiṃsā or harmlessness towards all beings. It forbids even laymen to have anything to do with the manufacture and sale of arms, with the making of poison and intoxicants, with soldiering or the slaughtering of animals.

The Buddha advises his disciples thus:

Wherefore, O bhikkhus, however men may speak concerning you, whether in season or out of season, whether appropriately or inappropriately, whether courteously or rudely, whether wisely or foolishly, whether kindly or maliciously, thus, O bhikkhus, must you train yourselves: ‘Unsullied shall our minds remain, neither shall evil words escape our lips. Kind and compassionate ever shall we abide with hearts harbouring no ill will. And we shall enfold those very persons with streams of loving thoughts unfailing, and forth from them proceeding we shall radiate the whole wide world with constant thoughts of loving kindness, ample, expanding, measureless, free from enmity, free from ill will.’ Thus must you train yourselves.

He whose mind is free from selfish desires, hatred and cruelty, and is saturated with the spirit of selflessness, loving kindness and harmlessness, lives in perfect peace. He is indeed a blessing to himself and others.

3. Right Thoughts lead to Right Speech, the third factor. It deals with refraining from falsehood, slandering, harsh words, and frivolous talk.

He who tries to eradicate selfish desires cannot indulge in uttering falsehood or in slandering for any selfish end or purpose. He is truthful and trustworthy and ever seeks the good and beautiful in others instead of deceiving, defaming, denouncing or disuniting his own fellow beings. A harmless mind that generates loving kindness cannot give vent to harsh speech which first debases the speaker and then hurts another. What he utters is not only true, sweet and pleasant but also useful, fruitful and beneficial.

4. Right Speech follows Right Action which deals with abstinence from killing, stealing and sexual misconduct.

These three evil deeds are caused by craving and anger, coupled with ignorance. With the gradual elimination of these causes from the mind of the spiritual pilgrim, blameworthy tendencies arising therefrom will find no expression. Under no pretence would he kill or steal. Being pure in mind, he would lead a pure life.

5. Purifying thoughts, words and deeds at the outset, the spiritual pilgrim tries to purify his livelihood (Right Livelihood) by refraining from the five kinds of trade which are forbidden to a lay-disciple. They are trading in arms (sattha-vāṇijja), human beings (satta-vāṇijja), flesh (maṃsa-vāṇijja), i.e., breeding animals for slaughter, intoxicating drinks (majja-vāṇijja), and poison (visa-vāṇijja)

Hypocritical conduct is cited as wrong livelihood for monks.

Strictly speaking, from an Abhidhamma standpoint, by right speech, right action and right livelihood are meant three abstinences (virati) but not the three opposite virtues.

6. Right Effort is fourfold-namely:

The endeavour to discard evil that has already arisen,

The endeavour to prevent the arising of unarisen evil,

The endeavour to develoli> unarisen good, and

The endeavour to promote the good which has already arisen.

Right Effort plays a very important part in the Noble Eightfold Path. It is by one’s own effort that one’s deliverance is obtained and not by merely seeking refuge in others or by offering prayers.

In man are found a rubbish-heap of evil and a store-house of virtue. By effort one removes this rubbish-heap and cultivates these latent virtues.

7. Right Effort is closely associated with Right Mindfulness. It is the constant mindfulness with regard to body (kāyānupassanā), feelings (vedanānupassanā), thoughts (cittānupassanā), and mind objects (dhammānupassanā).

Mindfulness on these four objects tends to eradicate the misconceptions with regard to desirability (subha), so-called happiness (sukha), permanence (nicca), and an immortal soul (atta) respectively.

8. Right Effort and Right Mindfulness lead to Right Concentration. It is the one-pointedness of the mind.

A concentrated mind acts as a powerful aid to see things as they truly are by means of penetrative insight.

Of these eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path the first two are grouped in wisdom (paññā), the second three in morality (sīla) and the last three in concentration (samādhi).

Sīla = Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
Samādhi = Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration
Paññā = Right Understanding
Right Thoughts

According to the order of development sīla, samādhi, and paññā are the three stages of the Path.

Strictly speaking, from an ultimate standpoint, these factors that comprise the Noble Eightfold Path signify eight mental properties (cetasika) collectively found in the four classes of supramundane consciousness (lokutttara-citta) whose object is Nibbāna.

They are paññindriya (faculty of wisdom), vitakka (initial application), virati (three abstinences,) viriya (energy), sati (mindfulness) and ekaggatā (one-pointedness) respectively.

All these factors denote the mental attitude of the aspirant who is striving to gain his deliverance.


“All living beings have kamma as their own.”

— Majjhima Nikāya

Kamma 283 is the law of moral causation. Rebirth is its corollary. Both kamma and rebirth are interrelated, fundamental doctrines in Buddhism.

These two doctrines were prevalent in India before the advent of the Buddha. Nevertheless, it was the Buddha who explained and formulated them in the completeness in which we have them today.

What is the cause of the inequality that exists amongst mankind?

How do we account for the unevenness in this ill-balanced world?

Why should one be brought up in the lap of luxury, endowed with excellent mental, moral, and physical qualities, and another in absolute poverty, in abject misery? Why should one be born a millionaire and another a pauper? Why should one be a mental prodigy and another an idiot? Why should one be born with saintly characteristics and another with criminal tendencies? Why should some be linguists, artists, mathematicians, and musicians from the very cradle? Why should others be congenitally blind, deaf, and deformed? Why should some be blessed and others cursed from their birth?

Either there is a definite cause for this inequality or there is not. If there is not, the inequality is purely accidental.

No sensible person would think of attributing this inequality to blind chance or pure accident.

In this world nothing happens to any person that he does not for some reason or other deserve. Usually the actual reason or reasons cannot be comprehended by men of ordinary intellect. The definite invisible cause or causes of the visible effect may not necessarily be confined to the present life, but could be traced to a proximate or remote past birth. With the aid of telesthesia and retrocognitive knowledge, may it not be possible for a highly developed seer to perceive events which are ordinarily imperceptible to the physical eye? Buddhists affirm such a possibility.

The majority of mankind attribute this inequality to a single cause such as the will of a creator. The Buddha explicitly denies the existence of a creator as an Almighty Being or as a causeless cosmic force. 284

Now, how do modern scientists account for the inequality of mankind?

Confining themselves purely to sense-data, they attribute this inequality to chemico-physical causes, heredity, and environment.

Julian Huxley, a distinguished biologist, writes:

Some genes control colour, others height or weight, others fertility or length of life, others vigour and the reverse, others shape or proportions. Possibly all, certainly the vast majority, of hereditary characteristics are gene-controlled. For mental characters, especially the more complex and subtle ones, the proof is more difficult, but there is every evidence that they are inheritable, and no evidence that their inheritance is due to a different mechanism from that for bodily characters. That which is inherited in our personality and bodily peculiarities depends somehow upon the interaction of this assorted battery of genes with which we are equipped at fertilisation. 285

One must admit that all such chemico-physical phenomena, revealed by scientists, are partly instrumental—but could they be solely responsible for the subtle distinctions that exist amongst individuals? Yet, why should identical twins who are physically alike, inheriting like genes, enjoying the same privileges of upbringing, be temperamentally, intellectually and morally totally different?

Heredity alone cannot account for these vast differences. Strictly speaking, it accounts more plausibly for some of the similarities than for most of the differences.

The infinitesimally minute chemico-physical germ, which is supposed to be about a 30-millionth part of an inch across, inherited from parents, explains only a portion of man, his physical foundation. With regard to the more complex and subtle mental, intellectual, and moral differences we need more enlightenment. The theory of heredity cannot satisfactorily account for the birth of a criminal in a long line of honourable ancestors, for the birth of a saint in a family of evil repute, for the arising of infant prodigies, men of genius and great spiritual teachers.

Dealing with this question of heredity, Dr. Th. Pascal writes in his interesting book Reincarnation:

To return to the role played by the germ in the question of heredity we repeat that the physical germ, of itself alone, explains only a portion of man; it throws light on the physical side of heredity, but leaves in as great darkness as ever the problem of moral and intellectual faculty. If it represented the whole man, one would expect to find in any individual the qualities manifested in his progenitors and parents—never any other; these qualities could not exceed the amount possessed by the parents, whereas we find criminals from birth in the most respectable families, and saints born to parents who are the very scum of society. You may come across identical twins, i.e., beings born from the same germ, under the same conditions of time and environment, one of whom is an angel and the other a demon, though their physical forms closely resemble each other. Child prodigies are sufficiently numerous to trouble frequently the thinker with the problem of heredity. In the lineage of these prodigies has there been found a single ancestor capable of explaining these faculties, as astonishing as they are premature? If, to the absence of a cause in their progenitors is added the fact that genius is not hereditary, that Mozarts, Beethovens and Dantes have left no children stamped from birth as prodigies or genius, we shall be forced to the conclusion that, within the limits it has taken up, materialism is unable to explain heredity. Nor is heredity always realised; many a physical characteristic is not reproduced. In families tainted with dangerous physiological defects, many children escape the evil, and the diseased tendencies of the tissues remain latent in them, although they often affect their descendants. On the other hand extremely divergent mental types are often met with in the same family, 286 and many a virtuous parent is torn with grief on seeing the vicious tendencies of the child. So we find that heredity and environment either fail to fulfill their promise or else give what was not theirs to give.

According to Buddhism this inequality is due not only to heredity, environment, “nature and nurture,” 287 but also to the operation of the law of kamma or, in other words, to the result of our own inherited past actions and our present doings. We ourselves are responsible for our own happiness and misery. We create our own heaven. We create our own hell. We are the architects of our own fate.

The Cause of Inequality

Perplexed by the seemingly inexplicable, apparent disparity that exists amongst humanity, a young truth-seeker named Subha approached the Buddha and questioned him regarding it.

What is the reason, what is the cause, O Lord, that we find amongst mankind the short-lived (appāyukā) and the long-lived (dīghāyukā), the diseased (bavhābādhā) and the healthy (appābādhā), the ugly (dubbaṇṇā) and the beautiful (vaṇṇavantā), the powerless (appesakkā) and the powerful (mahesakkā), the poor (appabhogā) and the rich (mahābhogā), the low-born (nīcakulīnā) and the high-born (uccākulīnā), the ignorant (duppaññā) and the wise (paññavantā)?

The Buddha’s reply was:

All living beings have actions (kamma) as their own, their inheritance, their congenital cause, their kinsman, their refuge. It is kamma that differentiates beings into low and high states.” 288

He then explained the causes of such differences in accordance with the law of cause and effect.

If a person destroys life, is a hunter, besmears his hand with blood, is engaged in killing and wounding, and is not merciful towards living beings, he, as a result of his killing, when born amongst mankind, will be short-lived.

If a person avoids killing, leaves aside cudgel and weapon, and is merciful and compassionate towards all living beings, he, as a result of his non-killing when born amongst mankind, will be long-lived.

If a person is in the habit of harming others with fist or clod, with cudgel or sword, he, as a result of his harmfulness, when born amongst mankind, will suffer from various diseases.

If a person is not in the habit of harming others, he, as a result of his harmlessness, when born amongst mankind, will enjoy good health.

If a person is wrathful and turbulent, is irritated by a trivial word, gives vent to anger, ill will and resentment, he, as a result of his irritability, when born amongst mankind, will become ugly.

If a person is not wrathful and turbulent, is not irritated even by a torrent of abuse, does not give vent to anger, ill will and resentment, he, as a result of his amiability, when born amongst mankind, will become beautiful.

If a person is jealous, envies the gains of others, marks of respect and honour shown to others, stores jealousy in his heart, he, as a result of his jealousy, when born amongst mankind, will be powerless.

If a person is not jealous, does not envy the gains of others, marks of respect and honour shown to others, stores not jealousy in his heart, he, as a result of his absence of jealousy, when born amongst mankind, will be powerful.

If a person does not give anything for charity, he, as a result of his greediness, when born amongst mankind, will be poor.

If a person is bent on charitable giving, he, as a result of his generosity, when born amongst mankind, will be rich.

If a person is stubborn, haughty, honours not those who are worthy of honour, he, as a result of his arrogance and irreverence, when born amongst mankind, will be of low-birth.

If a person is not stubborn, not haughty, honours those who are worthy of honour, he, as a result of his humility and deference, when born amongst mankind, will be of high-birth.

If a person does not approach the learned and the virtuous and inquire what is good and what is evil, what is right and what is wrong, what should be practised and what should not be practised, what should be done and wht should not be done, what conduces to one’s welfare and what to one’s ruin, he, as a result of his non-inquiring spirit, when born amongst mankind, will be ignorant.

If a person does approach the learned and the virtuous and makes inquiries in the foregoing manner, he, as a result of his inquiring spirit, when born amongst mankind, will be intelligent. 289

Certainly, we are born with hereditary characteristics. At the same time we possess certain innate abilities that science cannot adequately account for. To our parents we are indebted for the gross sperm and ovum that form the nucleus of this so-called being. There they remain dormant until this potential germinal compound is vitalised by the kammic energy needed for the production of the foetus. Kamma is therefore the indispensable conceptive cause of this being.

The accumulated kammic tendencies inherited, in the course of previous lives, at times play a far greater role than the hereditary parental cells and genes in the formation of both physical and mental characteristics.

The Buddha, for instance, inherited, just like every other person, the reproductive cells and genes from his parents. But physically, morally, and intellectually there was none comparable to him in his long line of honourable ancestors. In the Buddha’s own words, he belonged not to the royal lineage, but to that of the ariyan Buddhas. He was certainly a superman, an extraordinary creation of his own kamma.

According to the Lakkhaṇa Sutta (DN 30) the Buddha inherited exceptional physical features such as the thirty-two major marks, as the result of his past meritorious deeds. The ethical reason for acquiring each physical feature is clearly explained in the discourse.

It is obvious from this unique case that kammic tendencies could not only influence our physical organism, but also nullify the potentiality of the parental cells and genes—hence the significance of the Buddha’s enigmatic statement: “We are the heirs of our own actions.”

Dealing with this problem of variation the Atthasālinī states:

Depending on this difference in kamma appears the difference in the birth of beings, high and low, base and exalted, happy and miserable. Depending on the difference in kamma appears the difference in the individual features of beings as beautiful and ugly, high-born and low-born, well-built and deformed. Depending on the difference in kamma appears the difference in worldly conditions of beings as gain and loss, fame and disgrace, blame and praise, happiness and misery.

By kamma the world moves, by kamma men
Live; and by kamma are all beings bound
As by its pin the rolling chariot wheel.
By kamma one attains glory and praise.
By kamma bondage, ruin, tyranny,
Knowing that kamma bears fruit manifold,
Why say ye, ‘In the world no kamma is’? 290

Thus, from a Buddhist standpoint, our present mental, moral, intellectual, and temperamental differences are preponderantly due to our own actions and tendencies, both past and present.

Everything is Not Due to Kamma

Although Buddhism attributes this variation to the law of kamma, as the chief cause amongst a variety, it does not however assert that everything is due to kamma. The law of kamma, important as it is, is only one of the twenty-four causal conditions (paccaya), described in Buddhist philosophy. 291

Refuting the erroneous view that “Whatsoever weal or woe or neutral feeling is experienced, is all due to some previous action (pubbekatahetu),” the Buddha states:

So, then, owing to previous action, men will become murderers, thieves, unchaste, liars, slanderers, babblers, covetous, malicious, and perverse in view. Thus for those who fall back on the former deeds as the essential reason, there is neither the desire to do, nor effort to do, nor necessity to do this deed or abstain from that deed. 292

This important text contradicts the belief that all physical circumstances and mental attitudes spring solely from past kamma. If the present life is totally conditioned or wholly controlled by our past actions, then kamma is certainly tantamount to fatalism or pre-determination or pre-destination. One will not be free to mould one’s present and future. If this were true, free will would be an absurdity. Life would be purely mechanical, not much different from a machine. Whether we are created by an Almighty God who controls our destinies and fore-ordains our future, or are produced by an irresistible past kamma that completely determines our fate and controls our life’s course, independent of any free action on our part, is essentially the same. The only difference then lies in the two words God and kamma. One could easily be substituted for the other, because the ultimate operation of both forces would be identical.

Such a fatalistic doctrine is not the Buddhist law of kamma.

The Five Niyāmas

According to Buddhism there are five orders or processes (niyāmas293 which operate in the physical and mental realms.

They are:

Utu niyāma, physical inorganic order; e.g., seasonal phenomena of winds and rains, the unerring order of seasons, characteristic seasonal changes and events, causes of winds and rains, nature of heat, etc. belong to this group.

Bīja niyāma, order of germs and seeds (physical organic order); e.g., rice produced from rice seed, sugary taste from sugar-cane or honey, and peculiar characteristics of certain fruits. The scientific theory of cells and genes and the physical similarity of twins may be ascribed to this order.

Kamma niyāma, order of act and result; e.g., desirable and undesirable acts produce corresponding good and bad results.

As surely as water seeks its own level, so does kamma, given opportunity, produce its inevitable result, not in the form of a reward or punishment but as an innate sequence. This sequence of deed and effect is as natural and necessary as the way of the sun and the moon, and is the retributive principle of kamma.

Inherent in kamma is also the continuative principle.

Manifold experiences, personal characteristics, accumulated knowledge, and so forth are all indelibly recorded in the palimpsest-like mind. All these experiences and characters transmigrate from life to life. Through lapse of time they may be forgotten as in the case of our experiences of our childhood. Infant prodigies and wonderful children, who speak in different languages without receiving any instruction, are note-worthy examples of the continuative principle of kamma.

Dhamma niyāma, order of the norm; e.g., the natural phenomena occurring at the birth of a bodhisatta in his last birth. Gravitation and other similar laws of nature, the reason for being good, etc. may be included in this group.

Citta niyāma, order of mind or psychic law; e.g., processes of consciousness, constituents of consciousness, power of mind, including telepathy, telesthesia, retro-cognition, premonition, clairvoyance, clairaudience, thought-reading, and such other psychic phenomena, which are inexplicable to modern science.

Every mental or physical phenomenon could be explained by these all-embracing five orders or processes which are laws in themselves. Kamma as such is only one of these five orders. Like all other natural laws, they demand no lawgiver.

Of these five, the physical inorganic order, the physical organic order and the order of the norm are more or less of the mechanical type though they can be controlled to some extent by human ingenuity and the power of mind. For example, fire normally burns, and extreme cold freezes, but man has walked unscathed over fire and meditated naked on Himalayan snows; horticulturists have worked marvels with flowers and fruits; and yogis have performed levitation. Psychic law is equally mechanical, but Buddhist training aims at control of mind, which is possible by right understanding and skilful volition. Kamma law operates quite automatically and, when the kamma is powerful, man cannot interfere with its inexorable result though he may desire to do so; but here also right understanding and skilful volition can accomplish much and mould the future. Good kamma, persisted in, can thwart the reaping of bad.

Kamma is certainly an intricate law whose working is fully comprehended only by a Buddha. The Buddhist aims at the final destruction of all kamma.

Kamma-vipāka (fruit of action) is one of the four unthinkables (acinteyya), states the Buddha in the Aṇguttara Nikāya. 294

What Is Kamma?

Volition is kamma.

— Aṇguttara Nikāya


The Pali term kamma literally means action or doing. Any kind of intentional action whether mental, verbal, or physical is regarded as kamma. It covers all that is included in the phrase: “Thought, word and deed.” Generally speaking, all good and bad actions constitute kamma. In its ultimate sense kamma means all moral and immoral volition (kusala akusala cetanā). Involuntary, unintentional or unconscious actions, though technically deeds, do not constitute kamma, because volition, the most important factor in determining kamma, is absent. 295

The Buddha says: “I declare, O bhikkhus, that volition (cetanā) is kamma. Having willed one acts by body, speech and thought.”

Every volitional action of persons, except those of Buddhas and arahants, is called kamma. An exception is made in their case because they are delivered from both good and evil. They have eradicated both ignorance and craving, the roots of kamma. “Destroyed are their (germinal) seeds (khīna-bijā), selfish desires no longer grow,” states the Ratana Sutta. 296 This does not mean that the Buddhas and arahants are passive. They are tirelessly active in working for the real well-being and happiness of all. Their deeds, ordinarily accepted as good or moral, lack creative power as regards themselves. Understanding things as they truly are, they have finally shattered their cosmic fetters—the chain of cause and effect.

Some religions attribute this unevenness to kamma, but they differ from Buddhism when they state that even unintentional actions should be regarded as kamma.

According to them, “the unintentional murderer of his mother is a hideous criminal. The man who kills or who harasses in any way a living being without intent, is none the less guilty, just as a man who touches fire is burnt.” 297

This astounding theory undoubtedly leads to palpable absurdities.

The embryo and the mother would both be guilty of making each other suffer. Further the analogy of the fire is logically fallacious. For instance, a man would not be guilty if he got another person to commit the murder, for one is not burnt if one gets another to put his hand into the fire. Moreover unintentional actions would be much worse than intentional wrong actions, for, according to the comparison, a man who touches fire without knowing that it would burn is likely to be more deeply burnt than the man who knows.

In the working of kamma its most important feature is mind. All our words and deeds are coloured by the mind or consciousness we experience at such particular moments.

When the mind is unguarded, bodily action is unguarded; speech also is unguarded; thought also is unguarded. When the mind is guarded, bodily action is guarded; speech also is guarded; and thought also is guarded. 298

By mind the world is led, by mind is drawn:
And all men own the sovereignty of mind.”
If one speaks or acts with a wicked mind,
pain follows one as the wheel, the hoof of the draught-ox.

… If one speaks or acts with a pure mind,
happiness follows one as the shadow that never departs.”

—Dhp. vv. 1,2

Immaterial mind conditions all kammic activities.

Kamma does not necessarily mean past actions. It embraces both past and present deeds. Hence, in one sense, we are the result of what we were; we will be the result of what we are. In another sense, it should be added, we are not totally the result of what we were; we will not absolutely be the result of what we are. The present is no doubt the offspring of the past and is the parent of the future, but the present is not always a true index of either the past or the future—so complex is the working of kamma. For instance, a criminal today may be a saint tomorrow; a good person yesterday may be a vicious one today.

It is this doctrine of kamma that the mother teaches her child when she says: “Be good and you will be happy and we will love you. But if you are bad, you will be unhappy and we will not love you.”

Like attracts like. Good begets good. Evil begets evil. This is the law of kamma.

In short kamma is the law of cause and effect in the ethical realm, or as some Westerners prefer to say, “action influence.”

Kamma and Vipāka

Kamma is action, and vipāka, fruit or result, is its reaction. Just as every object is accompanied by a shadow, even so every volitional activity is inevitably accompanied by its due effect. Like potential seed is kamma. Fruit, arising from the tree, is the vipāka, effect or result. As kamma may be good or bad, so may vipāka, fruit, be good or bad. As kamma is mental, so vipāka too is mental; it is experienced as happiness or bliss, unhappiness or misery according to the nature of the kamma seed. Ánisamsa are the concomitant advantageous material conditions, such as prosperity, health and longevity.

When vipāka’s concomitant material conditions are disadvantageous, they are known as ādīnava (evil consequences), and appear as poverty, ugliness, disease, short life span and the like.

By kamma are meant the moral and immoral types of mundane consciousness (kusala akusala lokiya citta), and by vipāka, the resultant types of mundane consciousness (lokiya vipākacitta).

According to Abhidhamma, 299 kamma constitutes the twelve types of immoral consciousness, eight types of moral consciousness pertaining to the sense realm (kāmāvacara), five types of moral consciousness pertaining to the realms of forms (rūpāvacara), and four types of moral consciousness pertaining to the formless realms (arūpāvacara).

The eight types of supramundane (lokuttara) consciousness are not regarded as kamma, because they tend to eradicate the roots of kamma. In them the predominant factor is wisdom (paññā) while in the mundane it is volition (cetanā).

The nine types of moral consciousness pertaining to the realms of form and the formless realms are the five rūpāvacara and four arūpāvacara jhānas (ecstasies) which are purely mental.

Words and deeds are caused by the first twenty types of mundane consciousness. Verbal actions are done by the mind by means of speech. Bodily actions are done by the mind through the instrument of the body. Purely mental actions have no other instrument than the mind.

These twenty-nine 300 types of consciousness are called kamma because they have the power to produce their due effects quite automatically, independent of any external agency.

Those types of consciousness which one experiences as inevitable consequences of one’s moral and immoral thoughts are called resultant consciousness pertaining to the sense realm. The five types of resultant consciousness pertaining to the realms of form and the four types of resultant consciousness pertaining to the formless realms are called vipāka or fruition of kamma.

As we sow, so we reap somewhere and sometime, in this life or in a future birth. What we reap today is what we have sown either in the present or in the past.

The Saṃyutta Nikāya 301 states:

According to the seed that’s sown,
So is the fruit you reap therefrom
Doer of good (will gather) good.
Doer of evil, evil (reaps).
Sown is the seed, and planted well.
Thou shalt enjoy the fruit thereof.

Kamma is a law in itself which operates in its own field without the intervention of any external, independent ruling agency.

Inherent in kamma is the potentiality of producing its due effect. The cause produces the effect, the effect explains the cause. The seed produces the fruit, the fruit explains the seed, such is their relationship. Even so are kamma and its effect.

“The effect already blooms in the cause.”

Happiness and misery, which are the common lot of humanity, are the inevitable effects of causes. From a Buddhist standpoint they are not rewards and punishments, assigned by a supernatural, omniscient ruling power to a soul that has done good or evil. Theists who attempt to explain everything by this one temporal life and an eternal future life, ignoring a past, may believe in a post-mortem justice, and may regard present happiness and misery as blessings and curses conferred on his creation by an omniscient and omnipotent divine ruler, who sits in heaven above controlling the destinies of the human race. Buddhism that emphatically denies an arbitrarily created immortal soul, believes in natural law and justice which cannot be suspended by either an Almighty God, or an all-compassionate Buddha. According to this natural law, acts bring their own rewards and punishments to the individual doer whether human justice finds him or not.

Some there are, who cavil thus: So you Buddhists too administer the opium of kammic doctrine to the poor, saying:

You are born poor in this life on acount of your past evil kamma. He is born rich on account of his past good kamma. So be satisfied with your humble lot, but do good to be rich in your next life.

You are being oppressed now because of your past evil kamma. That is your destiny. Be humble and bear your sufferings patiently. Do good now. You can be certain of a better and happier life after death.

The Buddhist doctrine of kamma does not expound such fatalistic views. Nor does it vindicate a post-mortem justice. The All-merciful Buddha, who had no ulterior selfish motives, did not teach this law of kamma to protect the rich and comfort the poor by promising illusory happiness in an afterlife.

According to the Buddhist doctrine of kamma, one is not always compelled by an iron necessity, for kamma is neither fate nor predestination imposed upon us by some mysterious unknown power to which we must helplessly submit ourselves. It is one’s own doing reacting on oneself, and so one has the power to divert the course of kamma to some extent. How far one diverts it, depends on oneself.

The Cause of Kamma

Ignorance (avijjā) or not knowing things as they truly are, is the chief cause of kamma. Dependent on ignorance arise kammic activities (avijjā paccaya saṇkhārā), states the Buddha in the paticca samuppāda (dependent origination).

Associated with ignorance is its ally craving (taṇhā), the other root of kamma. Evil actions are conditioned by these two causes.

All good deeds of a worldling (puthujjana), though associated with the three wholesome roots of generosity (alobha), goodwill (adosa) and knowledge (amoha), are nevertheless regarded as kamma because the two roots of ignorance and craving are dormant in him. The moral types of supramundane path consciousness (maggacitta) are not regarded as kamma because they tend to eradicate the two root causes.

The Doer of Kamma

Who is the doer of kamma? Who reaps the fruit of kamma? “Is it a sort of accretion about a soul?”

In answering these subtle questions, Venerable Buddhaghosa writes in the Visuddhimagga:

No Doer is there who does the deed,
Nor is there one who feels the fruit,
Constituent parts alone roll on,
This indeed is right discernment. 302

According to Buddhism there are two realities—apparent and ultimate. Apparent reality is ordinary conventional truth (sammuti sacca). Ultimate reality is abstract truth (parāmaha sacca).

For instance, the table we see is apparent reality. In an ultimate sense the so-called table consists of forces and qualities.

For ordinary purposes a scientist would use the term water, but in the laboratory he would say H2O.

In the same way, for conventional purposes such terms as man, woman, being, self and so forth are used. The so-called fleeting forms consist of psycho-physical phenomena which are constantly changing, not remaining for two consecutive moments the same.

Buddhists therefore do not believe in an unchanging entity, in an actor apart from action, in a perceiver apart from perception, in a conscious subject behind consciousness.

Who then is the doer of kamma? Who experiences the effect?

Volition or will (cetanā) is itself the doer. Feeling (vedanā) is itself the reaper of the fruits of action. Apart from these pure mental states (suddhadhammā) there is none to sow and none to reap.

Just as, says the Venerable Buddhaghosa, in the case of those elements of matter that go under the name of tree, as soon as at any point the fruit springs up, it is then said the tree bears fruit or “thus the tree has fructified,” so also in the case of “aggregates” (khandhas) which go under the name of deva or man, when a fruition of happiness or misery springs up at any point, then it is said “that deva or man is happy or miserable.”

In this respect Buddhists agree with Prof. William James when, unlike Descartes, he asserts: “Thoughts themselves are the thinkers.” 303

Where is Kamma?

“Stored within the psyche,” writes a certain psychoanalyst, “but usually inaccessible and to be reached only by some, is the whole record, without exception, of every experience the individual has passed through, every influence felt, every impression received. The subconscious mind is not only an indelible record of individual experiences but also retains the impress of primeval impulses and tendencies, which so far from being outgrown as we fondly deem them in civilised man, are subconsciously active and apt to break out in disconcerting strength at unexpected moments.”

A Buddhist would make the same assertion with a vital modification. Not stored within any postulatory “psyche,” for there is no proof of any such receptacle or store-house in this ever-changing complex machinery of man, but dependent on the individual psycho-physical continuity or flux is every experience the so-called being has passed through, every influence felt, every impression received, every characteristic—divine, human, or brutal—developed. In short the entire kammic force is dependent on the dynamic mental flux (citta santati) ever ready to manifest itself in multifarious phenomena as occasion arises.

“Where, Venerable Sir, is kamma?” King Milinda questioned the Venerable Nāgasena.

“O Mahārāja,” replied the Venerable Nāgasena, “Kamma is not said to be stored somewhere in this fleeting consciousness or in any other part of the body. But dependent on mind and matter it rests manifesting itself at the opportune moment, just as mangoes are not said to be stored somewhere in the mango tree, but dependent on the mango tree they lie, springing up in due season.” 304

Neither wind nor fire is stored in any particular place, nor is kamma stored anywhere within or without the body.

Kamma is an individual force, and is transmitted from one existence to another. It plays the chief part in the moulding of character and explains the marvellous phenomena of genius, infant prodigies, and so forth. The clear understanding of this doctrine is essential for the welfare of the world.

The Working of Kamma

“By kamma is this world led.”

— Atthasālinī

The working of kamma is an intricate law which only a Buddha can fully comprehend. To obtain a clear understanding of this difficult subject it is necessary to acquaint oneself with thought-processes (cittavīthi) according to Abhidhamma.

Mind or consciousness, the essence of the so-called being, plays the most important part in the complex machinery of man. It is mind that either defiles or purifies one. Mind in fact is both the bitterest enemy and the greatest friend of oneself.

When a person is fast asleep and is in a dreamless state, he experiences a kind of consciousness which is more passive than active. It is similar to the consciousness one experiences at the moment of conception and at the moment of death (cuti). The Buddhist philosophical term for this type of consciousness is bhavaṇga which means factor of life, or indispensable cause or condition of existence. Arising and perishing every moment, it flows on like a stream not remaining the same for two consecutive moments.

We do experience this type of consciousness not only in a dreamless state but also in our waking state. In the course of our life we experience bhavaṇga thought-moments more than any other type of consciousness. Hence bhavaṇga becomes an indispensable condition of life.

Some scholars identify bhavaṇga with subconsciousness. According to the Dictionary of Philosophy subconsciousness is “a compartment of the mind alleged by certain psychologists and philosophers to exist below the threshold of consciousness.”

In the opinion of Western philosophers subconsciousness and consciousness co-exist. But, according to Buddhist philosophy, no two types of consciousness co-exist. 305

Nor is bhavaṇga a sub-plane. It does not correspond to F. W. Myer’s subliminal consciousness either. There does not seem to be any place for bhavaṇga in Western philosophy. Perhaps we may be using these philosophical terms with different meanings.

Bhavaṇga is so called because it is an essential condition for continued existence. Life-continuum has been suggested as the closest English equivalent for bhavaṇga.

This bhavaṇga consciousness, which one always experiences as long as it is uninterrupted by external stimuli, vibrates for a thought-moment and passes away when a physical or mental object enters the mind. Suppose, for instance, the object presented is a physical form. Now, when the bhavaṇga stream of consciousness is arrested, sense door consciousness (pañcadvārāvajjana), whose function is to turn the consciousness towards the object, arises and passes away. Immediately after this there arises visual consciousness (cakkhuviññāṇa) which sees the object, but yet knows no more about it. This sense operation is followed by a moment of the reception of the object so seen (sampaṭicchana). Next arises the investigating thought-moment (santīraṇa) which momentarily examines the object so seen. This is followed by the determining thought-moment (votthapana) when discrimination is exercised and free will may play its part. On this depends the subsequent psychologically important stage javana. It is at this stage that an action is judged; whether it be moral or immoral, kamma is performed at this stage. If viewed rightly (yonisomanasikāra), it becomes moral; if wrongly (ayonisomanasikāra), immoral.

Irrespective of the desirability or the undesirability of the object presented to the mind, it is possible for one to make the javana process moral or immoral. If, for instance, one meets an enemy, anger will arise automatically. A wise person might, on the contrary, with self-control, radiate a thought of love towards him. This is the reason why the Buddha states (Dhp. 165):

By self is evil done,
By self is one defiled,
By self is no evil done,
By self is one purified.
Both defilement and purity depend on oneself.
No one is purified by another.

It is an admitted fact that environment, circumstances, habitual tendencies and the like condition our thoughts. On such occasions free will is subordinated. There exists however the possibility for us to overcome those external forces and produce moral and immoral thoughts exercising our own free will.

An extraneous element may be a causative factor, but we ourselves are directly responsible for the actions that finally follow.

It is extremely difficult to suggest a suitable rendering for javana.

Apperception is suggested by some. Impulse is suggested as an alternative rendering, which seems to be less satisfactory than apperception. Here the Pali term is retained.

Literally, javana means running. It is so called because, in the course of a thought-process, it runs consequently for seven thought-moments, or, at the time of death, for five thought-moments with an identical object. The mental states occurring in all these thought-moments are similar, but the potential force differs.

This entire thought-process which takes place in an infinitesimal part of time ends with the registering consciousness (tadālambana) lasting for two thought-moments. Thus one thought-process is completed at the expiration of seventeen thought-moments.

Books cite the simile of the mango tree to illustrate this thought-process: A man, fast asleep, is lying at the foot of a mango tree with his head covered. A wind stirs the branches and a fruit falls beside the head of the sleeping man. He removes his head covering, and turns towards the object. He sees it and then picks it up. He examines it, and ascertains that it is a ripe mango fruit. He eats it, and swallowing the remnants with saliva, once more resigns himself to sleep.

The dreamless sleep corresponds to the unperturbed current of bhavaṇga. The striking of the wind against the tree corresponds to past bhavaṇga and the swaying of the branches to vibrating bhavaṇga. The falling of the fruit represents the arrest bhavaṇga. Turning towards the object corresponds to sense-door adverting consciousness; sight of the object, to perception; picking up, to receiving consciousness; examination, to investigating consciousness; ascertaining that it is a ripe mango fruit, to determining consciousness.

The actual eating resembles the javana process, and the swallowing of the morsels corresponds to retention. His resigning to sleep resembles the subsidence of the mind into bhavaṇga again.

A Thought-Process

Diagram 3. Stream of Bhavaṇga

Of the seven thought-moments, as stated above, the effect of the first thought-moment, the weakest in potentiality, one may reap in this life itself. This is called ‘immediately effective’ (diha-dhammavedaniya) kamma. If it does not operate in this life, it becomes ineffective (ahosi).

The next weakest is the seventh thought-moment. Its effect one may reap in the subsequent birth. Hence it is termed ‘subsequently effective’ kamma (upapajja vedanīya kamma), which, too, automatically becomes ineffective if it does not operate in the second birth.

The effect of the intermediate thought-moments may take place at any time in the course of one’s wanderings in saṃsāra until the final emancipation. This type of kamma is termed ‘indefinitely effective’ (aparāpariyavedanīya).

There is thus a classification of kamma with reference to its time of operation:

Dihadhammavedanīya kamma (immediately effective kamma)

Upapajjavedanīya kamma (subsequently effective kamma)

Aparāpariyavedanīya kamma (indefinitely effective kamma), and

Ahosi kamma (ineffective kamma).

Immediately Effective kamma:


The result of a good kamma reaped in this life:

A husband and his wife possessed only one upper garment to wear when they went out-of-doors. One day the husband heard the Dhamma from the Buddha and was so pleased with the doctrine that he wished to offer his only upper garment, but his innate greed would not permit him to do so. He combatted with his mind and, ultimately overcoming his greed, offered the garment to the Buddha and exclaimed “I have won, I have won.” The king was delighted to hear his story and in appreciation of his generosity presented him thirty-two robes. The devout husband kept one for himself and another for his wife and offered the rest to the Buddha. 306

The result of a bad kamma reaped in this life:

A hunter who went hunting to the forest, followed by his dogs, met by the wayside a bhikkhu who was proceeding on his alms round. As the hunter could not procure any game, he thought it was due to the unfortunate meeting of the bhikkhu. While returning home he met the same bhikkhu and was deeply enraged at this second encounter. In spite of the entreaties of the innocent bhikkhu the hunter set the dogs on him. Finding no escape therefrom, the bhikkhu climbed a tree. The wicked hunter ran up to the tree, and pierced the soles of the bhikkhu’s feet with the point of an arrow. The pain was so excruciating that the robe the bhikkhu was wearing, fell upon the hunter completely covering him. The dogs, thinking that the bhikkhu had fallen from the tree, devoured their own master. 307

Subsequently Effective kamma:

A millionaire’s servant returned home in the evening after his laborious work in the field, to see that all were observing the eight precepts as it was the full moon day. Learning that he also could observe them even for half a day, he took the precepts and fasted at night. Unfortunately he died on the following morning and as a result of his good action was born as a deva. 308

Ajātasattu, son of King Bimbisāra, was born immediately after his death, in a state of misery as the result of killing his father.

Indefinitely Effective kamma:

No person is exempt from this class of kamma. Even the Buddhas and arahants may reap the effects of their past kamma.

The arahant Moggallāna in the remote past, instigated by his wicked wife, attempted to kill his mother and father. 309 As a result of this he suffered long in a woeful state, and in his last birth was clubbed to death by bandits.

To the Buddha was imputed the murder of a female devotee of the naked ascetics.

This was the result of his having insulted a paccekabuddha in one of his previous births.

The Buddha’s foot was slightly injured when Devadatta made a futile attempt to kill him. This was due to his killing a step-brother of his in a previous birth with the object of appropriating his property.

There is another classification of kamma according to function (kicca):

Anaka kamma (reproductive kamma),

Upatthambhakakamma (supportive kamma),

Upapīḍakakamma (counteractive kamma),

Upaghātakakamma (destructive kamma).

Every subsequent birth, according to Buddhism, is conditioned by the good or bad kamma which predominated at the moment of death. This kind of kamma is technically known as reproductive (janaka) kamma. The death of a person is merely “the temporary end of a temporary phenomenon.” Though the present form perishes another form which is neither absolutely the same nor totally different takes its place according to the thought that was powerful at the death moment since the kammic force which hitherto actuated it is not annihilated with the dissolution of the body. It is this last thought-process which is termed ‘reproductive kamma’ that determines the state of a person in his subsequent birth.

As a rule the last thought-process depends on the general conduct of a person. In some exceptional cases, perhaps due to favourable or unfavourable circumstances, at the moment of death a good person may experience a bad thought and a bad person a good one. The future birth will be determined by this last thought-process, irrespective of the general conduct. This does not mean that the effects of the past actions are obliterated. They will produce their inevitable results at the appropriate moment. Such reverse changes of birth account for the birth of vicious children to virtuous parents and of virtuous children to vicious parents.

Now, to assist and maintain or to weaken and obstruct the fruition of this reproductive kamma another past kamma may intervene. Such actions are termed ‘supportive’ (upatthambhaka) kamma and ‘counteractive’ (upapīḍaka) kamma respectively.

According to the law of kamma the potential energy of the reproductive kamma can be totally annulled by a more powerful opposing past kamma, which, seeking an opportunity, may quite unexpectedly operate, just as a counteractive force can obstruct the path of a flying arrow and bring it down to the ground. Such an action is termed ‘destructive’ (upaghātaka) kamma which is more powerful than the above two in that it not only obstructs but also destroys the whole force.

As an instance of the operation of all the four, the case of Venerable Devadatta who attempted to kill the Buddha and who caused a schism in the Sangha may be cited.

His reproductive good kamma destined him to a birth in a royal family. His continued comfort and prosperity were due to the action of the supportive kamma. The counteractive kamma came into operation when he was subjected to such humiliation as a result of his being excommunicated from the Sangha. Finally the destructive kamma brought his life to a miserable end.

The following classification is according to the priority of effect (vipākadānavasena):

Garuka kamma,

Ásanna kamma,

Áciṇṇa kamma, and

Katattā kamma.

The first is garuka kamma which means a weighty or serious action. It is so called because it produces its effects for certain in this life or in the next.

On the moral side the weighty actions are the jhānas or ecstasies, while on the immoral side they are the subsequently-effective heinous crimes (ānantariya kamma)—namely, matricide, parricide, the murder of an arahant, the wounding of the Buddha, and the creation of a schism in the Sangha.

If, for instance, any person were to develop the jhānas and later to commit one of these heinous crimes, his good kamma would be obliterated by the powerful evil kamma. His subsequent birth will be conditioned by the evil kamma in spite of his having gained the jhānas earlier. For example, Venerable Devadatta lost his psychic powers and was born in a woeful state because he wounded the Buddha and caused a schism in the Sangha.

King Ajātasattu, as the Buddha remarked, would have attained the first stage of sainthood if he had not committed parricide. In this case the powerful evil kamma obstructed his spiritual attainment.

When there is no weighty kamma to condition the future birth a ‘death-proximate’ (āsanna) kamma might operate. This is the action one does, or recollects, immediately before the dying moment. Owing to its significance in determining the future birth, the custom of reminding the dying person of his good deeds and making him do good on his death-bed still prevails in Buddhist countries.

Sometimes a bad person may die happily and receive a good birth if fortunately he remembers or does a good act at the last moment. This does not mean that although he enjoys a good birth he will be exempt from the effects of the evil deeds he has accumulated during his life-time.

At times a good person, on the other hand, may die unhappily by suddenly remembering an evil act or by conceiving a bad thought, perchance compelled by unfavourable circumstances.

‘Habitual’ (āciṇṇa) kamma is the next in priority of effect. It is the kamma that one constantly performs and recollects and towards which one has a great liking.

Habits whether good or bad become second nature. They more or less tend to mould the character of a person. At leisure moments we often engage ourselves in our habitual thoughts and deeds. In the same way at the death-moment, unless influenced by other circumstances, we, as a rule, recall to mind our habitual thoughts and deeds.

The last in this category is ‘cumulative’ (katattā) 310 kamma which embraces all that cannot be included in the foregoing three. This is as it were the reserve fund of a particular being.

The last classification is according to the plane in which the effects take place. They are:

Evil actions (akusala) which may ripen in the sense sphere (kāmaloka).

Good actions (kusala) which may ripen in the sense sphere.

Good actions which may ripen in the realms of form (rūpaloka), and

Good actions which may ripen in the formless realms (arūpaloka).

Evil Actions that may Ripen In The Sense Sphere

There are ten evil actions caused by deed, word, and mind which produce evil kamma. Of them three are committed by deed—namely, killing (pāṇātipāta), stealing (adinnādāna), and sexual misconduct (kāmesu micchācāra).

Four are committed by word—namely, lying (musāvāda), slandering (pisunavācā), harsh speech (pharusavāca), and frivolous talk (samphappalāpa).

Three are committed by mind—namely, covetousness (abhijjhā), ill will (vyāpāda), and false view (micchādiṭṭhi).

Killing means the intentional destruction of any living being. The Pali term pāna strictly means the psycho-physical life pertaining to one’s particular existence. The wanton destruction of this life force, without allowing it to run its due course, is pāṇātipāta. Pāna means that which breathes. Hence all animate beings, including animals, are regarded as pāna, but not plants 311 as they possess no mind. Bhikkhus, however, are forbidden to destroy even plant life. This rule, it may be mentioned, does not apply to lay-followers.

The following five conditions are necessary to complete the evil of killing: i. a living being, ii. knowledge that it is a living being, iii. intention of killing, iv. effort to kill, and v. consequent death.

The gravity of the evil depends on the goodness and the magnitude of the being concerned.

The killing of a virtuous person or a big animal is regarded as more heinous than the killing of a vicious person or a small animal because a greater effort is needed to commit the evil and the loss involved is considerably great.

The evil effects of killing are: brevity of life, ill-health, constant grief due to the separation from the loved, and constant fear.

Five conditions are necessary for the completion of the evil of stealing: namely, i. another’s property, ii. knowledge that it is so, iii. intention of stealing, iv. effort to steal, and v. actual removal.

The inevitable consequences of stealing are: poverty, misery, disappointment, and dependent livelihood.

Four conditions are necessary to complete the evil of sexual misconduct: namely, i. the thought to enjoy, ii. consequent effort, iii. means to gratify, and iv. gratification.

The inevitable consequences of sexual misconduct are: having many enemies, union with undesirable wives and husbands, and birth as a woman or an eunuch.

Four conditions are necessary to complete the evil of lying: namely, i. an untruth, ii. deceiving-intention, iii. utterance, and iv. actual deception.

The inevitable consequences of lying are: being subject to abusive speech and vilification, untrustworthiness, and stinking mouth.

Four conditions are necessary to complete the evil of slandering: namely, i. persons that are to be divided, ii. the intention to separate them or the desire to endear oneself to another, iii. corresponding effort, and iv. the communication.

The inevitable consequence of slandering is the dissolution of friendship without any sufficient cause.

Three conditions are necessary to complete the evil of harsh speech: namely, i. a person to be abused, ii. angry thought, and iii. the actual abuse.

The inevitable consequences of harsh speech are: being detested by others though absolutely harmless, and having a harsh voice.

Two conditions are necessary to complete the evil of frivolous talk: namely, i. the inclination towards frivolous talk, and ii. its narration.

The inevitable consequences of frivolous talk are defective bodily organs and incredible speech.

Two conditions are necessary to complete the evil of covetousness, namely, i. another’s possession, and ii. adverting to it, thinking ‘would this be mine!’

The inevitable consequence of covetousness is non-fulfilment of one’s wishes.

Two conditions are necessary to complete the evil of ill will: another person, and the thought of doing harm.

The inevitable consequences of ill will are ugliness, manifold diseases, and detestable nature.

False view is seeing things wrongly. False beliefs such as the denial of the efficacy of deeds are also included in this evil. Two conditions are necessary to complete this evil: perverted manner in which the object is viewed, and the understanding of it according to that misconception.

The inevitable consequences of false view are base desires, lack of wisdom, dull wit, chronic diseases, and blameworthy ideas.

According to Buddhism there are ten kinds of false views: 312

There is no such virtue as ‘generosity’ (dinnaṃ). This means that there is no good effect in giving alms.

There is no such virtue as ‘liberal alms giving (itthaṃ), or

Offering gifts to guests (hutaṃ).’ Here, too, the implied meaning is that there is no effect in such charitable actions.

There is neither fruit nor result of good or evil deeds.

There is no such belief as ‘this world’ or

‘A world beyond’ i.e., those born here do not accept a past existence, and those living here do not accept a future life.

There is no mother or

Father, i.e., there is no effect in anything done to them.

There are no beings that die and are being reborn (opapātika).

There are no righteous and well disciplined recluses and brahmins who, having realised by their own super-intellect this world and world beyond, make known the same. (The reference here is to the Buddhas and arahants).

Good Kamma That May Ripen in the Sense Sphere

There are ten kinds of such meritorious actions (kusalakamma:

generosity (dāna),

morality (sīla),

meditation (bhāvanā)

reverence (apacāyana),

service (veyyāvacca),

transference of merit (pattidāna),

rejoicing in others’ good actions (anumodanā),

hearing the doctrine (dhammasavana),

expounding the doctrine (dhammadesanā), and

straightening one’s own views (dihujjukamma).

Sometimes these ten moral actions are regarded as twelve by introducing sub-divisions to (7) and (10).

Praising of others’ good actions (pasaṃsā) is added to rejoicing in others’ merit (anumodanā). Taking the three refuges (saraṇa) and mindfulness (anussati) are substituted for straightening of one’s views.

Generosity’ yields wealth. ‘Morality’ gives birth in noble families and in states of happiness. ‘Meditation’ gives birth in realms of form and formless realms, and helps to gain higher knowledge and emancipation. ‘Transference of merit’ acts as a cause to give in abundance in future births. ‘Rejoicing in others’ merit’ is productive of joy wherever one is born. Both ‘expounding and hearing the Dhamma’ are conducive to wisdom. ‘Reverence’ is the cause of noble parentage. ‘Service’ produces large retinue. ‘Praising others’ good works’ results in getting praise to oneself. ‘Seeking the three refuges’ results in the destruction of passions. ‘Mindfulness’ is conducive to diverse forms of happiness.

Kusala Kamma That May Ripen in the Realms of Form

These are the following five 313 kinds of (rūpa-jhānas) or ecstasies which are purely mental:

The first jhāna moral consciousness which consists of initial application (vitakka), sustained application (vicāra), pleasurable interest (pīti), happiness (sukha), and one-pointedness (ekaggata).

The second jhāna moral consciousness which consists of sustained application, pleasurable interest, happiness, and one-pointedness.

The third jhāna moral consciousness which consists of pleasurable interest, happiness and one-pointedness.

The fourth jhāna moral consciousness which consists of happiness and one-pointedness, and

The fifth jhāna moral consciousness which consists of equanimity (upekkhā) and one-pointedness.

These jhānas have their corresponding effects in the realms of form.

Kusala Kamma That May Ripen in the Formless Realms

These are the four arūpa jhānas which have their corresponding effects in the formless realms—namely:

Moral consciousness dwelling in the ‘infinity of space’ (ākāsānañcāyatana),

Moral consciousness dwelling on the ‘infinity of consciousness’ (viññāṇa ñcāyatana),

Moral consciousness dwelling on ‘nothingness’ (ākiñcaññāyatana), and




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